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21st September 2010. It has been two decades since 62-year-old Hira Bahadur Shakya, proprietor of Rastriya Daura Suruwal Tailors at Bangemudha, sensed that his trade was under threat as Nepal´s traditional dress with over six centuries of history was clearly faltering in its battle against Western-style apparel.Since the advent of multiparty democracy, the population in the capital has almost quadrupled, but Shakya´s clientele has remained the same in size, giving credence to his fears that the daura suruwal is loosing its centuries-old charm.
“Many Nepalese men flying abroad make it a point to include at least one daura suruwal set in their baggage,” he added with a smile that betrayed gratitude for the foreign-bound. The remaining chunk of Shakya´s clientele consists of a section of political leaders, heads of constitutional bodies, and government officials who have given continuity to the pre-1990s practice of wearing daura suwural at least during office hours.
Especially after the crowning of King Birendra, it became mandatory for civil servants of all ranks, apart from the prime minister and other ministers, to wear daura suruwal, coat and Nepali cap during office hours. Though daura suruwal remained the official dress of the nation after 1990, monitoring was lax and so compliance was not total. However, senior officials in the civil service, most government ministers and all the successive prime ministers rigorously stuck to the official dress code.
But after the momentous changes of 2006 through 2008, daura suruwal lost further ground. On August 18, 2008, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal took the oath of office as prime minister in a Western-style business suit. The only thing indigenous he wore on that occasion was a Nepali topi.
“The daura-suruwal business is relatively good when the Nepali Congress is in government,” he said. “But when the Maoists were in government, not even a single daura suruwal combine was ordered by people in the administration or government,” he added wryly. But people like Shakya now have reason to cheer.
In mid-August this year, the cabinet reinstated daura suruwal as the “Nepali dress” or the official dress for Nepali males. Henceforth, Nepalese officials will be required to wear daura suruwal, coat and Nepali cap during official ceremonies.
Malla Era Dress?
Though there is no historical document conclusively proving the origin of the daura suruwal, it is clear the style existed well before the Malla period. “Many human statues at Changunarayan, Tindhara and Balkumari dating back to the Malla period and even the Lichchhavi era prove that daura suruwal existed then,” said culture expert Satya Mohan Joshi.
Also, the statues of the 17th century king Pratap Malla of Kathmandu, the 18th century kings Bhupatindra Malla of Bhaktapur and Yog Narendra Malla of Patan, that exist to this day, show them wearing what looks like an earlier version of the daura suruwal. “While the daura suruwal and topi are indigenous, the jacket or coat is British influence,” said Joshi, who himself always wears daura suruwal.
It´s widely held that Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur sailed for England in 1852 wearing daura suruwal and a Nepali cap. When he returned to Nepal nearly a year later, there was a new addition to his outfit: the coat. Thereafter, daura suruwal, coat and Nepali cap became the official Nepali dress.
Daura suruwal was also the common man´s dress in Kathmandu Valley throughout the Rana regime when the capital was a forbidden city for foreigners.