Thursday, July 12, 2007

And the winner is....the salwar kameez!

Go to any part of India - North, South, East, West - and you'll find Indian women wearing the salwar kameez with grace and style.

For a dress that's a relative newcomer on the horizon (hey, it's not more than 800 years old in India), it sure has taken the market by storm.

In Delhi, there are probably more women in salwar kameezes than sarees. In fact, in large sections of North India, especially the Punjab, it has pretty much replaced the saree. In South India, the salwar kameez is being embraced with fervour even in small villages, and is sold in traditional southern cotton fabrics and designs. Movie stars and television soap actresses wear it as well, giving the modern 'Indo-Western' salwar kameezes social sanction and acceptance.

I wonder how the salwar kameez has managed to win over the Indian woman! Was it more modest than the saree? Did it flatter the Indian figure? Was it more convenient; did the Indian woman enjoy the freedom of wearing trousers? Did it start out as something that peasant women could wear easily to work in the fields? Or was it upper class and aspirational, an attempt to emulate the court fashions of the Delhi Sultanate?

I guess I'll never know. But I'll tell you this - this dress is going to be among the most lasting legacies of Turko-Mongol rule in India.

The word kameez comes from the Arabic qamis, which is related to the Latin word camisa (shirt). The word salwar comes from the Persian word for pants. But the garments have been Indianised, assimilated into the mainstream, and embellished with embroidery and mirrorwork and all the textile crafts of India. The assimilation is so complete that the salwar kameez has lost its original foreign connotations.

Next time you're in Chandni Chowk, take a quick look at Jain traders selling salwar kameezes to hordes of Hindu and Muslim women. It's probably among the best examples of India's multi-cultural ethos that you'll see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder how the salwar kameez has managed to win over the Indian woman!
'cos it hides all her sins