The Shalwar Kameez and its adoption by Pathans and Afghans

Hari Singh Nalwa
Hari Singh Nalwa

Dress of the Pathans

History is a peculiar combination of a record of wars and its effects. It also affected the dress worn at that time. One dress that is so common among the men and women of the North West Frontier and Punjab is the Shalwar Kameez. It consists of a loose shirt up to the knees and under it is a trouser called the Shalwar which is tied at the waist with cord. The shalwar is broad at the thighs and tapers to an embroidered collar around the ankles. This was the original dress , but now many innovations have been made.

This was the standard dress of the Sikh women in the Punjab, but was never worn by the men. In the 19th century one man named Hari Singh Nalwa terrorized the Afghans and the men of the frontier. Hari Singh Nalwa was a general of the army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh who was intent on expanding the Sikh empire further west. His capital was Lahore.

In a series of battles from Multan, Jamrud, Peshawar the Afghans were badly beaten. The name of Nalwa now created a great fear psychosis among the Pathans and they wondered what to do. Hari Singh was a ruthless man and the Afghans were loathing to be captured by him.

They also learnt that Hari Singh as per his code of conduct spared the women and the children. The Afghans thought of a plan to escape from the battle field. They decided that the best course was to wear the shalwar kameez, the dress worn by the Sikh women and escape. This ruse was successful in a number of cases particularly during the night. The Afghans and the Nathans thus started wearing the shalwar Kameez and now it is worn by both men and women in the North West Frontier and Punjab. It has become the standard dress of the Afghan and Pathan men. People may well ask, as to what was the dress of the Pathans before they adopted the Shalwar Kameez. The Pathans wore a robe similar to what the Arabs wear now.

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ata1515 profile image

ata1515 4 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

Another interesting story about the people of the Indian subcontinent. In the West we often overlook the history of other people, but you continue to bring interesting facts and knowledge to the table.

The interactions between the Sikh, Mughal, Arab, and Hindi empires is a lesson that Western scholars should pay more attention to because it shaped an important part of the world, and shows that different cvilizations share many characteristics.

Khalid 3 years ago

Pathans actualy inveted the sikhs - dont twist facts salwar kameez is pure Pathan attire adopted by others like punjabis.

Karanpal Singh 3 years ago

Due to the panic of Hari Singh Nalwa, pathans started to wear salwar kameez. because they were loosers.

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MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore Author

Thanks for commenting Karanpal

Afridan 3 years ago

It is a pure myth that pashtuns were terrorized by Hari nalwa....what a joke of the century... a sardar terrorize pastuns.....get a life loosers....even all sardars of the world can not face a single pashtun tribe like Afridis or orakzais.....Pashtun is a race of warriors...not like pussy cat sardars...

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MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore Author

Dear brother Afridan, please be civil in your comments. You are entitled to your opinion, so are others. Please read about the Battle of Saragrahi 12 Sept 1897.

faisal 3 years ago


Naveed Yousafzai 3 years ago

First i say a big LOL .....then I say what you are relating to a 19th century dress code has been the garment of Pashtuns for centuries ...Sikhs have been wearing Kurta and Dhoti till this day ...What you say about Qameez and Shalwar are not even words of Pashto (The Language of Pashtun) ....BTW there is a quote in Pashto about Sikhs that 'Da her Sikha da para yao Durrani wai'....see for the translation and you know the history ...and please...write sense next time !

Sohail 2 years ago

The Pakhtuns are since 5 thousand years. The happy story n music to every Sikh ears are talking of 19 th century when Pathans were also living in Australia at tht time. Secondly, the Punjab of pakistan (Lahore) n most of Northern Indian States gives y the whole idea who adopted whose dress n religion n land. N this was conquered way back.

MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you Sohail for commenting

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