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A traditional cotton kurta with wooden cuff-links-style buttons, centre placket opening with chikan embroidery

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.[1] 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.[1] Kurtas are worn both as casual everyday wear usually in cotton) and as formal attire (sometimes in silk).



The word kurta is a borrowing into English from Hindustani language, and there in turn from Persian ("P. masculine, a collarless shirt").[2] It was first used in English in the early 20th century.[3]

According to S. M. Katre, the word kurta is of Central Asian origin.[4]


Sculptures and paintings from Deogarh, Bagh, Ajanta and Sarnath depict full sleeved jama-kurta like garment.[5][6] 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.[7] 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.[8][9] 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.[10]


Close up of front opening kurta with plackets and cuff links
Close up of knot-and-loop button for a kurta with off-centre slit opening

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 sleeves of a traditional kurta fall straight to the wrist; they do no narrow, as do many Western-cut sleeves. Sleeves are not cuffed, just hemmed and decorated.

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 variantsEdit

Man in short panjabi kurta, East Bengal (Bangladesh), 1860
Bhangra dance performers in Punjab wearing kurta and tehmat
Punjabi woman in short kurta 1874
A blue khadi kurta
Scholar in panjabi kurta, East Bengal (Bangladesh), 1860
Pakistan Frontier Constabulary soldiers wearing kurtas at Torkham border crossing gate
Indian Army 15th Sikh Regiment, wearing kurtas, arrives in Marseille, France, on their way to fight the Germans during the First World War
Assamese Gamosa and Panjabi
Man in dhoti kurta
Man in kurta, Ferozepur, 1845
Pahari (Hill) women in kurtas, Kashmir, 1890
Kurta, India, 20th century, cotton blend - Saint Ignatius Church, San Francisco, CA
Statues of women in kurta
Men's Kurta
Kurta styles

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.[11] It is worn with a straight pajama.[12] [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.[15][16] Traditionally, the Hyderabadi kurta was of white material,[17] 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.[18] The traditional Lucknowi kurta can either be short[19] or long, using as much as 12 yards of cloth.[20] The traditional Lucknowi kurta styles have an overlapping panel.[21] 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.[21] The kalidar kurta is made up of several geometrical pieces. It has two rectangular central panels in the back and the front.[22] The kali kurta is worn by men[23] and women.

The straight-cut traditional kurta is known as "Panjabi" in West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam.[24][25] Local embroidery designs give a regional outlook to the traditional kurta. In Assam, the Panjabi[26] is worn with a scarf (Gamosa) using local prints. Other designs include Bengali Kantha embroidery;[27] Multani crocheted designs of Multan (Punjab, Pakistan);[28] the Phulkari kurta[29] using the Phulkari embroidery of the Punjab region;[30] Bandhani tye-dyeing of the Cholistan Desert;[31] Delhi style kurtas which include the wooden beaded kurta and a kurta heavily laden with embroidery;[32] and the Sindhi kurta made out of heavy local material called rilli.[33] 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[35] and is cut straight.[36] 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.[37]

Jeans and straight-cut kurtaEdit

Kurtas are often worn with jeans.[38] Women sometimes wear kurtas as blouses, usually over jeans pants.[39] Jeans are sometimes preferred over pajamas or leggings as they are more durable for rough use. Most colours of kurtas match with blue jeans.[40] 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.[41] The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.[41]

Leggings and straight cut kurtaEdit

Ladies' kurtas/blouses, along with leggings, are most popular in the Indian subcontinent, and the community from the Indian subcontinent in Singapore and Malaysia.[42]


In modern usage, a short kurta for women is referred to as the kurti. However, traditionally, the kurti refers to waistcoats,[43] jackets and blouses[44] 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.).[45] Kurtis are typically much shorter than the traditional garments and made with lighter materials, like those used in sewing kameez.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Bhopali kurta was popular with the local royal families and is believed to have been adopted from the dress of Turkey by Sultan Jehan Begum[13] who reigned between 1901 and 1926 C.E.[14]
  2. ^ which is believed to have originated in Sindh and spread to Gujarat via Rajasthan[34]


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ McGregor, Ronald Stuart (1993), The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, p. 206, ISBN 978-0-19-864339-5
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition. 1989. The first use is attributed to W.G. Lawrence in T. E. Lawrence, Home Letters, 1913, "Me in a dhoti khurta, White Indian clothes."
  4. ^ Katre, S. M. (1943). "THE INFLUENCE OF POPULAR DIALECTS ON SANSKRIT". Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 24 (1/2): 9–26. ISSN 0378-1143.
  5. ^ Dance In Indian Painting. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 9788170171539.
  6. ^ Verma, Mohini (1989). Dress and Ornaments in Ancient India: The Maurya and Śuṅga Periods. Indological Book House.
  7. ^ Flood, Finbarr Barry (2015). A Companion to Asian Art and Architecture. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 377–379. ISBN 1119019532.
  8. ^ Tarlo, Emma (1996), Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, p. 28, ISBN 978-0-226-78976-7 Quote: "The comparatively limited range of stitched clothes available in pre-medieval India was, however, greatly expanded during the Sultanate and Moghul periods when various types of trousers, robes and tunics gained in popularity (Chaudhuri 1976: 51). ... Muslim women generally wore a veil (dupata), a long tunic (kamiz) with trousers (shalwar) or the wide flared skirt-like trouser (gharara). Following the Muslim conquest of northern India, many Hindu women gradually adopted such dress, eventually making it the regional style for parts of Northern India. (page 28)"
  9. ^ Fraile, Sandra Santos (11 July 2013), "Sikhs in Barcelona", in Blanes, Ruy; Mapril, José, Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe: The Best of All Gods, BRILL, pp. 263–, ISBN 978-90-04-25524-1 Quote: "The shalwar kamiz was worn traditionally by Muslim women and gradually adopted by many Hindu women following the Muslim conquest of northern India. Eventually, it became the regional style for parts of northern India, as in Punjab where it has been worn for centuries. (page 263)"
  10. ^ Saha, Poulomi (16 April 2019), An Empire of Touch: Women's Political Labor and the Fabrication of East Bengal, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-54964-6 Quote: "Through its recognizability, clothing communicated a shared sociality in particularly situated ways in British India where, until the arrival of Muslims in the medieval period brought stitched cloth, Hindus primarily wore only single lengths of cloth."
  11. ^ Jamila Brij Bhushan (1958), The Costumes and Textiles of India
  12. ^ Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan, Volume 20, Issues 27-39 (1968)
  13. ^ Cine Blitz, Volume 29, Issue 1 (2003)
  14. ^ S.R. Bakshi and O.P. Ralha (2008), Madhya Pradesh Through the Ages
  15. ^ Kumar, Ritu (2006), Costumes and Textiles of Royal India
  16. ^ Mohan Lal Nigam, Anupama Bhatnagar (1997), Romance of Hyderabad Culture
  17. ^ Javed, Arifa Kulsoom (1990), Muslim Society in Transition
  18. ^ Aslan, Reza (2011), Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Words Without Borders): Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East [1]
  19. ^ Mukherji, P. C., The Pictorial Lucknow (1883)
  20. ^ Ravi Bhatt. The Life and Times of the Nawabs of Lucknow
  21. ^ a b Karampuri, Aradhana (2005), Punjabi Dress Drafting and Cutting
  22. ^ Bhandari, Vandana (2005), Costume, Textiles and Jewellery of India: Traditions in Rajasthan [2]
  23. ^ Rashtriya, Sahara, Volume 2, Issue 2 (1991)
  24. ^ Fraser, Bashabi (2008) Bengal Partition Stories: An Unclosed Chapter. Anthem Press [3]
  25. ^ Redclift, Victoria (2013) Statelessness and Citizenship: Camps and the Creation of Political Space. Routledge [4]
  26. ^ Census of India, 1971: Series 3: Assam, Volume 6, Part 3 [5]
  27. ^ Naik, Shailaja D. (1996), Traditional Embroideries of India
  28. ^ Official Journal of the European Communities: Legislation, Volume 30, Issues 248-256 (1987) [6]
  29. ^ The Journal of industry and trade, Volume 21. Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India., 1971 [7]
  30. ^ Naik, Shailaja D. (1996), Traditional Embroideries of India
  31. ^ Nasreen Askari, Liz Arthur, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries Merrell Holberton, (1999) Uncut cloth [8]
  32. ^ United States Treaties and Other International Agreements, Volume 21, Part 3 (1971) [9]
  33. ^ Pakistan Exports, Volume 28 (1977)
  34. ^ Ranjan, Aditi, and Ranjan, M. P. (2009), Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopedia of Indian Handicrafts [10] and is also practiced in the Punjab region.
  35. ^ Punjab District Gazetteers: Attock district, 1930. Printed 1932
  36. ^ Asoke Kumar Bhattacharyya, Pradip Kumar Sengupta (1991), Foundations of Indian Musicology: Perspectives in the Philosophy of Art and Culture [11]
  37. ^ Puneet Pal Singh Gill (04.01.2012) The Chandigarh Tribune. "Muktsari-style kurta pyjama a fad" [12]
  38. ^ "Regal chic", The Telegraphk, Calcutta, April 24, 2004. Quote: "The first sequence was a range of traditional saris in silk and cotton, moving on to kurtis and jeans and short kurtas in silk and georgette."
  39. ^ [Yet, jeans are among the most comfortable outfits as they can go with just about anything, a short top or even a kurta.]
  40. ^ [13]
  41. ^ a b PTI (2014-06-28). "Wife's jeans ban is grounds for divorce, India court rules". Retrieved 2015-10-28.
  42. ^ Jaime Koh, Stephanie Ho Ph.D (2009), Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia [14]
  43. ^ Forbes, Duncan (1861), A Smaller Hindustani and English Dictionary
  44. ^ Bahri, Hardev (2006), Advanced Learner's Hindi English Dictionary
  45. ^ Panjab University Research Bulletin: Arts, Volume 13, Issue 1 - Volume 14, Issue (1982) [15]