A kurta (or sometimes kurti, for women) is a long loose-fitting collarless shirt worn in many regions of South Asia, but now also modernized, and worn around the world. It is a tunic, or upper body garment, plain or with embroidered decoration, such as chikan, which can be loose or tight in the torso, typically falling either just above or somewhere below the knees of the wearer; it has slits on the sides, also of variable length; it can be worn by both men and women; it is traditionally collarless, though standing collars are increasingly popular; and it can be worn over ordinary pajamas, loose shalwars, churidars, or less traditionally over jeans. Kurtas are worn both as casual everyday wear usually in cotton) and as formal attire (sometimes in silk).
Sculptures and paintings from Deogarh, Bagh, Ajanta and Sarnath depict full sleeved jama-kurta like garment. Indians wearing long fitted shirt like Kurta and baggy pants like shalwar have also been depicted in a six inch high ivory sculpture of an elephant chess piece dated to the 8-10th century CE from Bibliothèque nationale de France. However, according to historian Emma Tarlo, the shalwar was first worn by Muslim women after the Muslim conquest of northern India in the 12th and 13th centuries, and its use gradually spread, making it a regional style of northern India. According to historian Poulomi Saha, until the arrival of the Muslims in India during the medieval period, the Hindus primarily wore only draped single lengths of cloth.
A traditional kurta is composed of rectangular fabric pieces with perhaps a few gusset inserts, and is cut so as to leave no waste fabric. The cut is usually simple, although decorative treatments can be elaborate.
The front and back pieces of a simple kurta are also rectangular. The chak, or side seams, are left open for 6-12 inches above the hem, which gives the wearer some ease of movement.
The kurta usually opens in the front; some styles, however, button at the shoulder seam. The front opening is often a hemmed slit in the fabric, tied or buttoned at the top; some kurtas, however, have plackets rather than slits. The opening may be centered on the chest, or positioned off center.
A traditional kurta does not have a collar. Modern variants may feature stand-up collars of the type known to tailors and seamstresses as "mandarin" collars. These are the same sort of collars seen on achkans, sherwanis, and Nehru jackets.
Kurtas worn in the summer months are usually made of thin silk or cotton fabrics; winter season kurtas are made of thicker fabric such as wool or "Khadi silk", a thick, coarse, handspun and handwoven silk that may be mixed with other fibers. A very common fabric for the kurta pajama is linen, or a linen-cotton mix ideal for both summers and winters.
Kurtas are typically fastened with tasselled ties, cloth balls, and loops, or buttons. Buttons are often wood or plastic. Kurtas worn on formal occasions might feature decorative metal buttons, which are not sewn to the fabric, but, like cufflinks, are fastened into the cloth when needed. Such buttons can be decorated with jewels, enameling, and other traditional jewelers' techniques.
Tailors from the Indian subcontinent command a vast repertoire of methods, traditional and modern, for decorating fabric. It is likely that all of them have been used, at one time or another, to decorate kurtas. However, the most common decoration is embroidery. Many light summer kurtas feature Chikan embroidery, a specialty of Lucknow, around the hems and front opening. This embroidery is typically executed on light, semi-transparent fabric in a matching thread. The effect is ornate but subtle.
Regional styles include the Bhopali, Hyderabadi, Lucknowi and straight-cut kurtas. The Bhopali kurta (taking its name from Bhopal) is a loose kurta with pleats at the waist, flowing like a skirt reaching midway between the knees and the ankles. It is worn with a straight pajama. [note 1] The Hyderabadi kurta is named after the former royal state of Hyderabad and is a short top which sits around the waist, with a keyhole neck opening. It was popular with the local royal households. Traditionally, the Hyderabadi kurta was of white material, but modern versions can be of any colour. Over the kurta, some versions have net material, the combination of which is called jaali karga, worn by men and women. The traditional Lucknowi kurta can either be short or long, using as much as 12 yards of cloth. The traditional Lucknowi kurta styles have an overlapping panel. However, the term "Lucknowi kurta" now applies to the straight-cut kurta embroidered using local Chikan embroidery. Another style is the kali or kalidar kurta which is similar to a frock and has many panels. The kalidar kurta is made up of several geometrical pieces. It has two rectangular central panels in the back and the front. The kali kurta is worn by men and women.
The straight-cut traditional kurta is known as "Panjabi" in West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam. Local embroidery designs give a regional outlook to the traditional kurta. In Assam, the Panjabi is worn with a scarf (Gamosa) using local prints. Other designs include Bengali Kantha embroidery; Multani crocheted designs of Multan (Punjab, Pakistan); the Phulkari kurta using the Phulkari embroidery of the Punjab region; Bandhani tye-dyeing of the Cholistan Desert; Delhi style kurtas which include the wooden beaded kurta and a kurta heavily laden with embroidery; and the Sindhi kurta made out of heavy local material called rilli. Sindhi kurtas utilise mirrors and the local art of bandhani (creating patterned textiles by resisting parts of a fabric by tying knots on it before it is dyed).[note 2] The traditional Punjabi kurta of the Punjab region is wide and falls to the knees and is cut straight. The modern version of the regional kurta is the Mukatsari kurta which originates from Muktsar in Punjab. This modern Punjabi kurta is famous for its slim-fitting cuts and smart fit designs. It is very popular among young politicians.
Jeans and straight-cut kurtaEdit
Kurtas are often worn with jeans. Women sometimes wear kurtas as blouses, usually over jeans pants. Jeans are sometimes preferred over pajamas or leggings as they are more durable for rough use. Most colours of kurtas match with blue jeans. In 2014, an Indian family court in Mumbai ruled that a husband objecting to his wife wearing a kurta and jeans and forcing her to wear a sari amounts to cruelty inflicted by the husband and can be a ground to seek divorce. The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.
Leggings and straight cut kurtaEdit
In modern usage, a short kurta for women is referred to as the kurti. However, traditionally, the kurti refers to waistcoats, jackets and blouses which sit above the waist without side slits, and are believed to have descended from the tunic of the Shunga period (2nd century B.C.). Kurtis are typically much shorter than the traditional garments and made with lighter materials, like those used in sewing kameez.
- Jama (coat)
- Kurti top
- Shalwar kameez
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- Shukla, Pravina (2015), The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India, Indiana University Press, p. 71, ISBN 978-0-253-02121-2 Quote: "The kurta—the tunic—is likewise variable in its cut. It might be wide or tight, there is variety in the length and width of the sleeves, the height of the slits on either side and especially the shape of the neck. The length of the tunic varies as well, ranging from upper-thigh to well below the knee. Like most garments of this type, worn by people in many countries in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, the tunic always covers the crotch area of both genders.
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