The majority of the population of Himachal is that of Hindus, but Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians also have respectable place here. There are no communal clashes in Himachal Pradesh. Respect for each other’s religion and status can be seen all over the Pradesh.
Dress too reflects cultural mode of the inhabitants. In India, almost every region has its own identity revealed through the dress and wearing. Mode of the dress is also dictated by climate, traditions, influence of adjoining areas and the fashions brought in by the Government Officials posted to an area and the local lad returning from his stint of work in other lands. Impact of westernization is clearly visible now on people’s dresses. Spread of education and industrialization has added new dimensions to the outlook and clothing choice of the traditional looking people.
The dresses in the hills are conditioned after their climate, much of which calls for woolen garments. As a result sheep-breeding is one of the main occupations here and spinning and weaving a community functions. Spinning is such an occupation of the hill people as to which they will resort whenever their hands are free. During close months of the winter, when hill people are spared from agricultural work, are confined to their hamlets, spinning is their usual occupation.
Till a decade back, women had come little under the impact of outside dresses. But now sari is too much in evidence. While traditional ‘Kameez’, ‘Kurta’ and ‘Salwar’ cut in a distinctive Himachal style, continue to be popular with ‘Dupatta’,’Dathu’ or ‘Scarf’ over the head. During chilling days, women like to put on coat or waist coat. Men use woolen shirts with long coats and sometimes sleeveless woolen jacket on the top of the coat. Come to Himachal in winter and it is time to wrap a traditional Kinnauri or Kullu shawl, with crown of the famed Himachali cap perhaps with a small bunch of ‘tikema’ flowers tucked in its brim.
Himachal woolens are indeed a visual treat. The immense variety includes shawls, topis (caps), patoos (homespun local tweed), dohrus (woolen saris that are fastened with two silver pins called bhoomni), lohiyas, Pyjamas, mufflers, jackets, stoles, moja (socks), zomba or pichaya (woolen shoes), chhauli (blankets), gudmas, carpets etc.
Himachal’s Kullu valley is renown for its shawls. Interestingly, these owe their origin to Kinnaur. Initially the designs of Kullu and Kangra were in checks. Later when the Kullu weavers ‘liberated’ themselves from the shadow of Kinnaur, they adopted designs of stripes, leaves and flowers. However, Kinnauri weavers continue to retail their distinctive individuality because of the inaccessibility of this remote area.
Jurkhi resembling achkan, waist coat, kurta and woolen pyjamas are other popular dresses. ‘Doru’, which is wrapped round the body like a sari, is used in Kinnaur and in Chamba district, full sleeved blouse and a shawl dropped over the shoulders and held together in front by silver hooks is a popular dress. Material used in in most of these dresses is locally made. The ‘Chola’ gathered around the waist by a black rope is worn in many lines. This is made of wool and called ‘Dora’. In this waistband are tucked, a Kulhari (axe), a Bansuri (flute) and often a Drat (sickle).
Some of the well known old and new dresses found favour with the people of the state are:
- Turban and Cap : While turban is a dress of ‘better off’ and high placed persons, the cap is used by commoner. Turban was quite popular in the past, now on its way to disappearance. Woolen caps which are circular in shape are quite popular outside the state too, with the name of Himachali cap. Two famous designs of caps are; ‘Kullu topi’ and ‘Bushahri topi’.
- Jhaggi (women garment, Mandi, Kullu and Rampur Bushahr) : It is a woolen garment long enough, to reach the knees, combined with trousers of the same material. Jhaggi is tied with a ‘gachi’ or a woolen rope around the waist.
- Choli : This covers the breast of woman, which appears along with ‘dupatta’, ‘ghagra’ and ‘suthan’. Choli was a popular garment in the past, made with great skill, finely embroidered and fitted with pieces of coloured glasses, porcelain and beads.
- Ghagra and Suthan (Petticoat and long trousers) : The dress, now the relic of the past, has been popular with the Mandi women. Dupatta or shawl is thrown on the head and the body to make this a complete dress.
- Dhattu is a piece of cloth square in size and is used as head wear by most of the women in rural areas of Himachal Pradesh. Dhattus are in various colours.
- Kurta and Blanket is quite popular dress used in upper areas of the state.
- Anga is a type of overgarment reaching to the knees, had been quite popular among the menfolk in Mandi and and Kangra district. Anga also stands for Choli (or bodice meant for covering the breast). Now this garment is not much in use.
- Chapkan (Rohru tehsil of Shimla and Pabbar valley) is a type of frock used along with trousers, angu, gachi and Pahari cap by men only.
- Chopta or Chhupta is a gown touching the knees with V-shape neck cut, is used by both men and women in Rampur, Kotkhai, Kotgarh and Kumharsain areas of Shimla district.
- Pishwaz is a type of coloured gown made of very fine muslin. This was a dress common in both Mandi and Chamba. Waist coat for breast and dupatta for head respectively are the other components which go along with pishwaj or pashwaj. It was another name of ‘ghagra’ or ‘cholu’ having a short bodice reaching to the waist and below it the skirts fall away in numerous folds.
- Cholu : An ordinary dress of male in the Kangra valley consisted of a cap, kurti or a cholu. Cholu was longer garment reaching to the knees. Kacch or short breeches (garment fitting around the waist and below the knees) along with cholu has now disappeared.
- Chuba (male dress in the upper areas of district Shimla and Kinnaur) : Other dresses that go along with chuba are gachi, trousers. Coat, shirt, waist coat and chadaru i.e. blanket. Round cap of black colour is a much preferred dress for head wear. The women of Pabbar valley in Kinnaur and Rohru tehsil of Shimla do use ‘Chuba’, a type of frock.
- Reshta (women dress in Rohru tehsil of Shimla district) is a long gown touching the ankles. With a tight-fitting for the breast and back, it is a loose garment with plaits downwards.
- Pattu (blanket) is a uniform and multipurpose garment all over the state. It is a woolen sheet of homespun texture woven in chessboard style. In winter it is used as a wrapper around the body. The pattu is also used for carrying things of household. Pattu wearing flowers is called phooldar pattu. The phooldar pattu is also known as ‘Bushashri dhari’ and it seems that it was Rampur Bushahr which first introduced the designs and flowers on the plain blanket sheet. The simplest patterns to appear on ‘pattus’ are that of check and chessboard type.
- Patti is tweed with short width and is used for making coats, waist coat, chola (long coat) and pyjamas both for men and women.
- Rumal : Himachalis are very fond of embroidered handkerchiefs. Chamba rumals have been marked for their craftmanship in embroidery. The art work on Chamba rumal is a type of miniature paintings. Chamba rumal has been favoured in the Mughal darbar and also preserved in the museums in India and abroad.
- Sadari is a jacket used by both male and females in Kotgarh and Kumharsain areas of Shimla district.
- Gachi is a simple white sheet of cloth used by females over ‘chapta’ or chhupta around their waists.
- Namda is prepared from wool by beating it and not by weaving on looms. Namda is a good substitute for durry by it is not recommended for rough use.
- Loia (used by menfolk of Sirmaur district) is a woolen gown, supported on the shoulders and hangs down over the back. The sleeves of the loia are seldom worn though no loia is ever without them. The Himachal Pradesh university has adopted, loia and Pahari cap and its academic robes which are used by degree holders at the time of convocation.
- Gudma is so warm as to serve the purpose of a quilt. It is made from biang wool. Biang wool is produced only in Tibet and Kashmir. After 1962 Indo-China conflict, Kashmir is the only source to procure it. Some garments worn by males and females of the state are similar to those used elsewhere in northern India.
Male dresses : Kurta, Pyjama, Shirt, Trousers etc.
Female dresses : Sarees, Kameej, Salwar, Dupatta, Scarf, Chureedar, Pyjamee etc.
- Pollans (used in Kullu, Mandi, Shimla, Sirmaur, Chamba and part of Kinnaur and Lahaul-spiti) is a footwear used both for indoor and outdoor purposes. When indoors they are used like slippers and when outside they are used like shoes. The sole of the ‘pollan’ is made of bhang fibre and is quite tough for wear and tear.
- Shawls in Himachal Pradesh can be seen in two type viz. plain and designed. From the material point of view, there are shawls which are woven from home spun yarn and there are also shawls which are a product of imported yarn called ‘RUFFLE’. Colour selection and combination in the designed shawls presents the variegated work of art and craft. Plain shawls of pashmina are termed as ‘loi’ in Kullu valley.