It has many
different names. Call it Salwar Kameez,
Shalwar, Curidar, Kameez & pyjama.
India has been known to have wonderful dresses
and costumes specially Salwar Kameez. Though the
majority of Indian women wear traditional costumes,
the men in India can be found in more conventional
western clothing. Tailored clothing is very common
in India as women's blouses have to be made-to-fit.
Clothing for both men and women has evolved and
is keeping designers busy.
Kameez helps keep cool on those hot sweltering days
as it doesn't cling to the body.
A Brief History of Shalwar Kameez
Shalwar kameez is the traditional dress worn by
various peoples of south-central Asia. Specially
in India and Pakistan it's very popular dress. Shalwar
is a short loose or paraller trourser pyjama. It
can also be narrow which is called churidar.
Kameez is like shirt or tunic. Kameez is traditionally
cut straight but now with changing Indian fashion
and world fashion needs, the designs & cuts have
To beautify shalwar (salwar) kameez, wear stole,
it's called dupatta. The stole or scarf comes in
variety of fabric such as bandhani, silk, georgette,
etc. For younger generation, dupatta is simply a
stylish accessory that can be worn over one shoulder
or draped around the chest and over both shoulders.
unstitched fabric in history has somehow been
given sacred overtones. The belief was that the
unstitched fabric was pure. This garment can fit
any size and if worn properly can accentuate or
conceal. This supremely graceful traditional dress
can also be worn in several ways : Maharashtrian
: Navvari, Gujarati style, Bengali style, Kerala
style, Irula style, Pinkosa (farmer) style, etc.
Thus there are many ways of wearing a sari, as
well as its color and texture. It could be of
shimmering silk or the finest gauzy cotton. Perhaps
a pastel-hued solid color or a myriad of woven
flowers. It may even be embroidered with golden
threads, or finished with a richly tasseled border.
The way and kind the sari worn is very much indicative
of the status, age, occupation, region and religion
of a woman and is true especially in India.
The traditional Indian dress is the Sari which
can be worn in many ways. Underneath the sari
one wears a Petticoat: - a waist-to-floor length
skirt, tied tightly at the waist by a drawstring
and a Choli : a blouse that ends just below the
bust. The Salwar Kameez in india is the second
most popular dress and is gaining in popularity
fast with the younger generation. The Salwar Kameez
in india too has had many design changes. The
new designers have come up with great variations
of the Salwar Kameez. Women also wear Lehngas.
The Lehnga : Apart from the choli, women in Rajasthan
wear a form of pleated skirt known as the ghagra
or lehenga. This skirt is secured at the waist
and leaves the back and midriff bare. The heads
are however covered by a length of fine cotton
known as "odhni" or "dupatta"
of Indian Fashion
Any account of historical Indian fashion runs
into serious difficulties not for want of literary
evidence or of archaeological and visual materials:
of both of these there is a fair measure that
is available. The difficulty arises when one tries
to collate the information that can be culled
from these sources. The descriptions in literary
works, for all their great poetic beauty and elegance,
are, in the nature of things, not precise and
one has to guess and reconstruct.
the descriptions are so general that they can
fit more than one costume quite different from
each other. All this is not to say that a broad,
general idea cannot be formed of the kinds of
costumes worn in the ancient, medieval or the
late medieval periods in India. What one is denied
is the possibility of going into the many subtleties
that Indian costumes possess. Their range is remarkably
wide, according to the great size of the country,
and geographical differences, and the bewildering
diversity of its ethnic groups is added the complex
factor of the coming in, at regular intervals,
of foreign peoples into India at different periods
of time and in varying numbers.
costumes that these people brought along did not
stay necessarily apart from the mainstream of
Indian dresses - that one could have dealt with
- but, with the Indian genius for adaptation and
modification, these costumes become altered, even
metamorphosed, and eventually assimilated to the
broad, native Indian range of dress.
has, therefore, to sift and isolate, and then
relate and bring together, the evidence available
which is not the easiest of tasks in the context
of Indian history where material culture does
not always get the attention it does elsewhere.
Salwar Kameez in India. Through sharp analysis
of Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Hindi, as much as Arabic
and Persian sources, they have brought within
reach a rich body of material. The inherent difficulty
in the matter of interpreting this material and
relating it to surviving archaeological and visual
evidence naturally leaves some matters obscure,
and others open to controversy. But a very substantial
body of information has been collected.
question that needs to be disposed of rather early
is whether, in the indigenous Indian tradition
wear, stitched garments were known or used at
all. From time to time statements have been made
that the art of sewing was unknown to the early
Indians, and that it was an import from outside.
Serious and early students of Indian costumes,
like Forbes Watson, have stated, mostly on the
authority of other scholars, that the art of sewing
came to India only with the coming of the Muslims.'
This tatement needs no longer to be taken seriously.
has been established, not only was the needle
and its use known to Indians from the very beginning
of the historic periods that we know of; the art
of sewing was practiced, and one comes upon clear
and early references to stitched garments that
leave very little doubt about the matter.'
It is possible that the view that "before the
invasion of India by the Mohammedans, the art
of sewing was not practiced there" was formed
not on the basis of any historical or scholarly
inquiry into this matter but simply 'observation':
observation of the dresses of two different categories
of people, those who were far more rooted in the
Indian soil and could thus be taken as representing
the long Indian tradition of wearing costumes
in a particular fashion, and those who could be
linked with outsiders' who came to India late,
and visibly preferred different kinds of dresses.
observation could only have been superficial;
besides, clear distinction needs to be made between
the knowledge of, and the use of, sewing. It is
possible perhaps also to draw a distinction between
what, in the Indian context, can be designated
as "timeless" costumes, and those that are time-bound".
The 'timeless' Indian dress of men, thus, consists
of garments that use no stitching, garments in
other words that, as Forbes Watson says, "leave
the loom, ready for wear". The Dhoti, the Scarf
or Uttariya, and the Turban, which have never
really disappeared from any part of India, belong
to this category, and their marked visibility
in India could have led one erroneously to conclude
that the early Indians did not use any sewn garments.
for women, the Dhoti or the Sari as the lower
garments, combined with a Stanapatta or breast-band
for covering the breasts, forms a basic ensemble,
and once again consists of garments that do not
have to be stitched, the breast-garment being
simply fastened in a knot at the back. And the
Dhoti or the Sari worn covering both legs at the
same time or, in the alternative, with one end
of it passed between the legs and tucked at the
back in the fashion that is still prevalent in
large area of India. But the preference of Indian
men and women for these garments, rational and
understandable in the context of the generally
hot Indian climate, does not afford any proof
that for long periods of time the Indians knew
no other garments than those which "left the loom,
ready for wear".
is not easy to make out everything in Alberuni's
description, but there is little doubt that he
is referring to a dhoti when he speaks of 'turbans
used for trousers', and a kaupina when he is speaking
of 'a rag of two fingers' breadth bound over the
loins. But the amusing reference to 'trousers
lined with as much cotton as would suffice to
make a number of counterpanes and saddle rugs'
is not easy to make out. Possibly he is referring
to dhotis of considerable length and fullness
that were tucked between the legs and at the waist
problems arise with the accounts of Chinese writers.
Wherever they speak of costume, not too much is
added to our information although there is much
precision and detail when it comes to their description
of the trade in textiles from different parts
of the country. This is understandable because
one of the principal concerns of the many travellers
to India was trade precisely of this kind, sometimes
in these very materials.
the same, the information made available is not
without interest, and one notices carefully the
comment of someone like Chau j ' u-kua, the inspector
of foreign trade in Fu-kien in the 12th century,
concerning the dress worn by the ruler of Malabar:
-"The ruler of the country has his body draped,
but goes bare-footed. He wears a turban and a
loin-cloth both of white cotton cloth. Sometimes
he wears a white cotton shirt with narrow sleeves".
period of the Sultanates in northern India is
marked, once again, by much interest, both on
the part of the Indian writers, and of the newly-arrived
Muslims in matters concerning fabrics and dyes
and costumes. But the earlier difficulty of accurately
interpreting this information persists, for even
though long lists become available, these remain
confined to names for which we have no pictorial
equivalents in the matter of costumes, and no
analytical descriptions in respect of fabrics
and the like - in the paintings from the Sultanate
period, an area in which our knowledge has increased
remarkably in the last quarter of a century or
so, there is much that one can observe, but to
give precise names to costumes still remains difficult.
can at best try and find relationships between
terms for costumes or verbal descriptions, and
the dresses that we see men and women wearing
in Sultanate-period paintings, whether of the
Indo-Persian style or those that we associate
with western India, principally Jaina paintings
produced in Gujarat and Rajasthan. When one makes
the effort, however, interesting results sometimes
in the paintings of the Laur Chanda in the Prince
of Wales Museum of Bombay, or the Aranyaka Parva
of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, or the recently
discovered Devi Mabatntya in the Himachal Pradesh
Museum at Simla, the long-sleeved kutia-like garments
made of fine cotton material, with fastenings
at the right or the left, come remarkably close
to the early description by Alberuni of the kurtakas
worn by Indians which have lappets with 'slashes'
both on the right and the left sides. But this
kind of close correspondence is not always easy
to establish in other articles.
Varna-ratnakara of jyotirishvara of the early
14th century, the Prithvichanda-charita also of
the 14th or 15th century, and the compilation
by Sandesara, the Varnaka~Samuccaya, have remarkably
long and detailed lists of stuffs known to India
in that period, but there is no correspondingly
detailed information on costumes.
interesting development at the same time is that
certain Persian writers,- including Amir Khusrau,
begin using Hindi words, or words of the vernaculars,
in their descriptions of Indian fabrics. in his
usual engaging style, thus, Khusrau speaks of
'cloths that redeem the past life, decoration
of the person and ornament of the body likejbanbariali
and bibari - that are like a pleasant gift of
a springtide and sit as lightly on the body as
moonlight on the tulip or dew drops on the morning
enthusiasm for Indian fabrics, especially the
fine muslins manufactured in Deogiri, far exceeds
his notions of precision in the matter of description,
but whatever he says is never without interest.
Thus, writing of Deogiri in A.D. 1322, he says:"
12. The fineness of its cloths is difficult to
describe; the skin of the moon removed by the
executioner-star would not be so fine. One would
compare it with a drop of water if that drop fell
against nature, from the fount of the sun.
hundred yard of it can pass the eye of a needle,
so fine is its texture, and yet the point of the
steel needle can pierce through it with difficulty.
It is so transparent and light that it looks as
if one is in no dress at all but has only smeared
the body with pure water.When it comes to a description
of the costumes worn by the Sultans or the notables
at any of the Islamic courts of north India, the
flavour changes completely, for the writers, nearly
all of them Muslims of foreign extraction, suddenly
seem to move into a world of terms and articles
that they are familiar with.
while in Batutah might write in very general terms
of the costumes worn by Indian women ('the women
of this city and of the whole coast do not wear
sewn cloths but only unsewn garments. They form
a girdle with one of the extremities of the garment
and cover their heads and breasts with the other.),
the description by Umari of the dresses worn by
the notables of Delhi suddenlv becomes animated
and more vivid:"
linen garments which are imported from Alexandria
and the land of the Russians are worn only by
those whom the Sultan honours with them. The others
wear tunics and robes of fine cotton. Thev make
garments with this material which resembles the
robes (makati) of Baghdad. But these latter as
also those called wasafi differ very much from
those of India as regards fineness, beauty of
color and delicacy.
of their Tartar (Tatari) robes are embroidered
with gold (muzarkasa bi-dhabab). Some wear garments
with both sleeves having a tiraz border of gold
embroidery (zarkasb). Others, for example the
Mongols, place the tiraz inscription between the
is in this very strain that we have other descriptions
from this period, Firuz Shah T'Ughlaq and his
courtiers wearing different kinds of dresses.
The Sultan himself is said to have worn a kulab
costing a lac of tankas which once belonged to
his predecessor. In public audience, he is said
to have worn a barani with embroidered sleeves,
but in private he wore a shirt. The officers are
said to be wearing silken robes in public and
shirts in private life.
the Amirs and the Maliks and other officers at
the Sultanate courts are described as wearing
"gowns (tatailyat),jakalwat and Islamic qabas
of Khawarizm tucked in the middle of the body"
and short turbans which did not exceed five or
six forearms. Of other Amirs we learn that they
were as well dressed "as the soldiers except that
they did not use belts and at times they let down
a piece of cloth in front of them after the manner
of the sups.