A Sikh woman, 1870s

A Sikh woman, 1870s


Albumen print, Punjab

A3 (297mm x 420mm)
170 gsm illustration printing paper (specially chosen for its excellent anti-aging and anti-yellowing properties)
This print is a faithful reproduction of the original
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About the Print

With photographic studies of Sikh women in the 19th century being rare, the very existence of the present portrait is nothing short of exceptional. This lack of visual archives reflects not only the patriarchal attitudes of Victorian photographers and their male Sikh contemporaries but also female modesty. According to one British military official who toured the villages of Punjab during the First World War, half a century after this photograph was taken, women were still ‘difficult to get a good look at, as at the approach of a stranger they disappear or hastily cover their faces’.

Just about the only place where Sikh women were visible to European eyes was the metropolitan city of Amritsar. Descriptions abound of the dress of Sikh women as being of the classic Punjabi kind – bright, colourful and garnished with plenty of jewellery. This traditional ensemble is evident in this full-length study of a Sikh lady. The chunni headscarf was worn at all times over the head as it was considered indecent to appear in public without it. This was worn with a loose kurta or long dress and an ample pair of churidar pyjama trousers tight at the ankles (although some women preferred to wear a petticoat instead). Punjabi women were particularly fond of jewellery, and a variety of ornaments made by highly skilled craftsmen were often worn from head to toe. Our subject wears bale earrings, a mala necklace and stacks of chure bangles that cover her forearms.

Image credit: © Toor Collection

Print series: Empire of the Sikhs

Published in: In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures from the Toor Collection of Sikh Art by Davinder Toor with an introduction by William Dalrymple