Traditional women’s dresses of Gilgit-Baltistan

By Zaib R Mir

The primary purpose of the clothing was to protect people from extreme weather conditions and other harsh environmental elements. Ancient humans were covering their bodies with leaves, animal skin, fur and other materials. Reasons for wearing clothing changed over time. People started to wear cloths for decoration, tribal affiliation, and symbol of profession or rank. Archeological Research has discovered that weaving had started around 27 thousand years back. Traditional and cultural dresses provide important information and knowledge about the cultural and historical heritage of a society. Traditional dresses or clothing are influenced by geographical, religious, economical and moral factors.

Gilgit Baltistan has a diverse cultural heritage. Because of the geographic location the region traditional dress of Gilgit Baltistan has some link to the traditional dresses of central Asia, China, Iran and Turkey. With passage of time and new geographical linkage the traditional dress also gradually changed.

Wearing a traditional dress is one way to show our real appreciation for our culture and to represent human diversity. By dressing in traditional clothing we can show our interest to preserve the cultural heritage and understand the life style of our ancestors.

Trousers or shalwar (phirwal, tumboon, Chanalay )

The name shalwar is derived from the Turkish word salvar for trouser. This was later adopted in Urdu and other local languages. The Traditional shalwar of Gilgit Baltistan is very similar to Turkish salvar. It is loose, long, baggy trouser. Traditionally, silk, cotton and velvet fabric was used.   The trousers are loose but narrow and fitted around the ankles and shins. The narrow ankle part of the trousers were sometimes tucked into colorful traditional hand knitted socks. The shalwar was best designed according to local needs. Traditionally horses were used to travel from one place to others. The loose trousers were comfortable to ride on saddle horseback. The narrow part around the ankle would protect against the cold air. And the loose upper part was perfectly comfortable to ride. In addition this dress was also suitable for working in fields and sitting in traditional way in home. The loose part makes it easy for the wearer to bend while working and sitting on the floor.

Kameez  ( kurtani , peeran, Cheelo)

Kameez or tunic is the upper part dress. Traditional kameez is loose fitted and heel long. The collar of the kamiz was high and was designed as a modern day man’s shirt collar. The Islamic tradition of covering the full body is fulfilled by this design. For bridal dresses colorful embroidered bands were stitched around collars and the lower end of the shirt and sleeves. A small pocket was attached in front or sides of kammeez. A fabric with floral pattern is used for kameez and plain fabric is used for trouser.

Dopata or shawl  (phatek, cheel)

Dopata or shawl is an integral part of the traditional ladies dress. Different color of dopata is used. Young ladies wear bright colors while elder ladies prefer dark colors.

Traditional cap

The most elegant part of the women dress of Glgit Baltistan is the traditional cap. Various types of caps are used. The most popular cap  is the beautiful embroidered Iraghi cap with traditional piece of jewel called silsila. Many other types of caps are used in various regions. Please refer to my article my cap my pride published in Pamir times.

Over time the local dress has changed considerably.  The reasons for these changes are inevitable. Modernization, globalizations , regional and global influences are  are the main reasons for these changes. On one hand this change is very important to keep ourselves update with modern world at the same time it is also important to keep our cultural heritage alive. We can keep these traditions alive by giving them a modern touch but preserving the actual tradition.

Zaib R Mir is a needle and thread artist and Artisan from Gilgit Baltistan. She works actively to promote, preserve and revive the cultural heritage of Gilgit Baltistan. For details please visit facebook page zaib’s arts and crafts

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