Tracing The Origins Of The Indian Kurta

Tracing The Origins Of The Indian Kurta
Wikipedia, Delhiwear

Kurtas have become the traditional attire of South Asia. It's worn in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Even now when western clothes have taken over in India, Kurtas can be seen in weddings, festivals and celebrations or worn by our parents and grandparents on a daily basis. No matter where you might be in the world, you can spot a fellow South Asian with the silhouettes of the genderless Kurta.

The word, 'kurta' has its origins in Urdu, and Sanskrit but in Persian it means a shirt without a collar. The Persians also introduced stitching and ended the era of wrapped garments worn since the beginning of civilization. They created 'varbana' that were tunics with slits on both sides; a characteric of kurta itself. The Kushan empire, founded by Yuezhi, a nomadic people from Central Asia, came to India in the 2nd century and brought with them these tunics that grew to be popular in the Gupta empire.

Ancient Persian attire
Ancient Persian attirePinterest

Kurta-Pyjama became the royal attire and in the Mughal period, many variations of the same were created. Anarkali kurtas gained popularity in the era and were names after a renowned courtesan of Mughal Empire. Pyjamas saw many evolutions too like churidar, salwar, dhilja, gharara and farshi.

The Rajputs wore similar kurtas and churidars as the Mughal emperors and Nizam women wore a sleeve-less kurta with coaties (a shot-sleeved jacket)

Anarkali popular in the Mughal era
Anarkali popular in the Mughal eraPinterest

Then came the Bhopali kurta. The capital city of Madhya Pradesh had a distinctive culture with Turkish, Persian and Northern Indian Islamic influences and so did its clothing The Bhopali kurta was a long kurta with pleats above the waist ending just above the ankle. During Independence movement in India, citizens burned British-made clothing and exclusively wore kurtas. The pyjamas worn by the British also gained popularity all over the world at the time.

Sherwani originated in Lucknow 19th century British India as the European style court dress of regional Mughal nobles and royals of northern India. It was evolved from a Persian cape (balaba or chapkan), which was gradually given a more Indian form (angarkha), and finally developed into the sherwani a long coat that can be worn over a kurta.

The last Nizam of Hyderabad wearing a Sherwani
The last Nizam of Hyderabad wearing a SherwaniWikipedia

Traditionally, kurtas were made out of cotton, khadi or silk but now fabrics like linen and rayon are also used. Over time the attire found home in each state of India slowly mutating according to the regional culture. Now we have the muktsari kurta, pathani kurta, Lucknowi kurta, Bengali kurta, Punjabi kurta, etc. They're worn with different kinds of pyjamas, mundus, dhotis or jeans.

This iconic, and cozy, centuries-old garment is a beloved clothing choice by most of South Asia. From bejeweled Anarkalis to intricate embroidered kurtas with churidars to patiala, this single attire has been transformed many a times and always makes a return into the fashion landscape every year with new designs. It also crossed borders and was worn by Princess Diana, The Beatles, Oprah and Robert Downey Jr. Kurtas are functional, extremely comfortable and a timeless piece of clothing that can officially be declared as part of the Indian cultural heritage.

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