By Dirgha Raj Prasai : Nepal is blessed with one of the richest cultures in the world. Culture has been called ‘the way of life for an entire society’. The sovereign- Nepal is multi-ethic and multi-lingual. The national attire of Nepal bears its own identity and importance. The origin and the base of the Nepali culture are rooted in the Vedic Age. The traditional attires and customs are taken to be an integral part of a nation’s culture. A thousand years before the start of Bikram Sambat (Nepali calendar) the development of the definite set of attires that we have today started. During the Vedic Age people dressed in what we proudly take to be our national attires today-Bhoto, Daura-Suruwal and Dhaka Topi (cap) for men and Sari and Cholo for women. Women wore these silky clothes as befitted their body in a silk manner. There is mention of the Nepali attires in Amarkosh written by Amar Banda as well. The Nepali attires are entwined with the culture as its base, and all Nepali people feel dignified in spreading its identity. The crest of this cap (Topi) is shaped resembling a Mt. Everest, and symbolizes the great Himalayas. These Bhadgaunle cap and Dhaka Topi are spangled with various decorations whose importance is known throughout the world.
The land is rich with unique cultural groups like Sherpa, Tamang, Newars Tharu, Dhimal, Yadav, Jha, Rajbanshi, Ahir, and so many indigenous groups. Daura-Suruwal, typically termed as ‘Labeda-Suruwal’ is the traditional Nepali dress. The dress has several religious beliefs identifying its designs and has therefore remained the same for the years. The Daura has eight strings that serve to tie itself up around the body. Eight is the lucky number in Nepali mythology. Also, the Daura has five pleats or Kallis, signifying Pancha Buddha or Pancha Ratna. And the closed neck of the Daura signifies the snake around the Lord Shiva’s neck. Yes, Nepal is home to various ethnic groups and castes, and creeds; the sheer geographical variations and climate determines the use of Daura-Suruwal in both the regions of Himalayas, and the Terai plains.
The necessity arising from such differences have to be taken into consideration. The adoption of traditional attires in accordance to the necessities is not wrong. Parliament is a national legislative body. When attending the routine programs and the formal ones, the state must provide legitimacy to representatives wanting to wear their indigenous traditional attires, but not the foreigners’ dresses. However, when attending the formal programs if these representatives dare wear foreign shirts, pants, Lungi, Kurtha etc. then it will not only ridicule themselves but humiliate the entire nation. After the 2006 people’s uprising there have been attempts at drawing controversy around the issue of national attire, which is not acceptable. It is matter of grief that some senior culprit leaders of Madhesi parties have ordered to joint to their cadres to burn the ‘National Dress’ in public which is very suicidal action. It is known, only traitors do such anti-nationalist action. It will be a matter of pride to all Nepalese People to represent Nepal in national and international formal programs by wearing the traditional Dhaka Topi and Daura-Suruwal.
Nepal’s national attire holds importance on the basis of religious and magical chants associated to our religion. In order to resolve the crisis eight pieces (Kalli), which is symbolic of Astha Matrika-Chanti Bhoto, Cholo, Daura-Suruwal, Jama are sewn. Suruwal is donned at an auspicious occasion after it is sewn from five pieces of cloth which is symbolic of Pancha Bhairav (Five the guard of God and Goddess). Nepal’s traditional national attire is famous in the United Nation’s assembly as well. In consideration of the importance of the national attire the high officials of our nation embraced them when appearing in formal programs for sake of the nation’s dignity. They have been presenting the identity of our nation. The Daura-Suruwal, a creation of artistic venture, the coat bearing the portion of our stylistic national flag and the Topi that resembles the structure of Mt. Everest are the pride of our nationality.
Veteran journalist Yuvraj Ghimire writes about the national attire- ‘There must be legitimate ground for all indigenous representatives to wear their respective traditional attires when appearing at the parliament. The national attire holds the status of the nation’s cultural identity. Mayalposh and Suruwal are not only customary in Kathmandu, but in the east and western regions including other parts of the country, the attire is accepted as common culture. When the Maoist leaders became Prime Ministers and Ministers they did not have any qualms about wearing shirt and tie. The Nepali attire was not acceptable for them.’
If the Madeshes leaders- Jaya Prakash Gupta, Bijaya Gachhedar, Rajendra Mahato, Mahanta Thakur attain in the international seminar with their local dresses, they will look as clown. And if they use the National dress- Daura Suruwal and Topi, they will be recognized as the Nepalese leaders. The Dhoti, Kurtha and naked head identifies the Indian national dress while Bakkhu represents the Bhutanese. So, for the sake of the identity of our nationality, we should wear the National dress which is already internationally recognized.
A nationalist thinker Chitraraj Kumar Tripathi also has mentioned – ‘The originality of our Daura-Suruwal is like the eight pieces of the patches of cloth sewn to the garment. The Suruwal is made up of five stitches of patches of cloth while the Topi is sewn with two patches of clothing. Talking of the history, in 585 A.D (642 B.S), during the time of King Narendradev-520 Bikram era, a Chinese traveler Wanghuyangche, who had traveled between Nepal and India, mentioned people wearing clothes covering their whole body. It is found that that in 1380 A.D (1437 B.S) King Jayasthiti Malla had ordained that butchers’ to wear Daura with sleeves. However, it seems that the use of such a Daura was determined by the climate resulting in the variation with types of Daura and Topi as Bakate, Thute, Kane, Pete, Eksaro, Dobbari. The clothes used by Prithvinarayan Shah and Damodar Pandey show that Laveda was extensively used.
The Laveda Suruwal used by Prithvinarayan Shah had higher importance, now this clothe has been modified. Except the coat, the traditional Topi, Daura, Suruwal including other clothes do not resemble any other clothes. The modified version of the Suruwal that Prithvinarayan Shah’s state Guru Ranganath had used can be viewed in Nepal Museum. Looking at the then clothes used in Gorkha state we can surmise that Daura-Suruwal and Topi had been used not only by Bhramins, Chetrsi, but also by the Limbu, Rai, Magar, Tamang and various other ethnic people scattered throughout Senbanshi state, Baishi and Chaubishi states and other smaller kingdoms outside the Valley.
In 1890 (1947 B.S) when Edward VII had stayed in India, The Nepalese PM Bir Shumsher organized a hunting program at Thori of Chitwan. In this hunting expedition the Rana courtiers were clad in Nepali Daura-Suruwal over which they wore a coat. This picture can be viewed at the museum in Kathmandu. In some areas of Terai and Himalayan regions Dhoti, Lungi, Kamij and Bakkhu have been in use for convenience. Although the use of Daura-Suruwal may not be convenient to be in use for 12 months, it can become a matter of dignity pertaining to formal programs, in which national attire ought to be used when Nepali people need their own traditional attire. The national identity is manifest in the national attire. In a recent event the Nepalese of Darjeeling had worn Nepali attire as a symbol of their solidarity and their origin.
Survey expert Budhinarayan Shrestha writes- ‘In Nepal Daura-Suruwal reflects as much identity as that reflected by the national flag with the symbols of Moon-Sun. National attire is something one must wear at national level of formal ceremonies. During the invitations to international conventions and ceremonies organized at various nations, in representation of the nation, national attire can reflect the identity of the nation. During state visits and formal visits by head of state or head of government, wearing the national attire becomes compulsory for the dignity of the nation. But if three officials of Nepal wear three different types of dress during such state and formal visits then what could be of more shame?
Nepal’s kings Tribhuvan, Mahendra, Birendra, Rana Prime Ministers, and after the rise of democracy-1950, Matrika Prasad Koirala, B.P Koirala, Tanka Prasad Acharya, Dr. K.I Singh, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Surya Bahadur Thapa, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, the communist leaders Manmohan Adhikary, Madav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal, the chairman of the parliament, Speaker, ministers, officials of the Royal Council, constitutional heads and members of Nepali Congress, UML and all the parties including the Madhesis had been wearing the national attire during foreign visits, and when attending national programs. Poets Leknath Poudyal, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Sidhicharan Shrestha, Bhimnidhi Tiwari, Gopal Pandey, Bhawani Bhichu, Madhav Prasad Ghimire, Satyamohan Joshi among other prominent personalities have been taking pride in wearing the national attire.
I had seen Balkrishna Sama and Chitadhar Hridaya modify the national attire and coat in accordance to their taste, when presenting themselves before the people. However, following the people’s uprising in 2006 controversies have surrounded subjects of national identity such as the national attire. It was a great mistake that the Maoist leader Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai did not use the national dress in the time of Prime minister’s oath official programme and have been discarding the Nepalese national dress and they wore the shirt paint as an ordinary person loosing their respect. We must all understand that this kind of act is not at all dignifying for the high ranking personality. Nepali people regardless of where they live, abroad or in the nation, ought to wear national attire at least at the times of formal occasions, they may wear other dresses at other occasions. It is our duty to embrace our national attire Daura-Suruwal. It will not be in our interest to tug at any subjects of national identity that are established as our identity and originality. Traditional attires and customs and the national attire should not be brought into controversy. To avoid or minimize the National Dress is not good for a ‘Sovereign Nepal.’