Daura Suruwal: The classic Nepali apparel
The story behind Nepal's beloved garb
-  18 Feb 2018 | nepaltraveller.com
There is something mesmerising about this garb: it has its own history, its own religious beliefs; it’s been through mass movements, revolutions, controversies; and it has witnessed major political changes. After all, it is the national dress of Nepal—an important part of Nepali identity.
The creator of Greater Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah unified Nepal through military conquests during the 1700s. Conquering kingdoms bit by bit, he laid the foundation for a beautiful country decorated by people belonging to 125 different ethnicities. However, the unification of Nepal culturally and nationally can be accredited to this three-piece attire, Daura Suruwal and Dhaka Topi. It is culturally accepted and followed by people of all ethnic groups across the country.
There is something mesmerising about this garb: it has its own history, its own religious beliefs; it's been through mass movements, revolutions, controversies; and it has witnessed major political changes. After all, it is the national dress of Nepal—an important part of Nepali identity.
Also known as Labeda Suruwal, Daura Suruwal worn with a Dhaka Topi and a jacket or a sleeveless vest completes the Nepali national dress. Worn on the upper-half of the body, Daura is a shirt-like clothing without buttons or zipper. It is tied together by four sets of strings: two near the shoulders and slightly above the breast, and two near the waist. On the other hand, Suruwal in Nepali means “pants” or “pyjamas”. However, Suruwal, when paired up with Daura, is stitched very loose on the thighs which gradually narrows down to the ankle and the huge waistband is pulled tightly and bundled at the top. For any newcomer, attempting to wear Daura Suruwal without any expert assistance can be a daunting experience; however, once you get the hang of it, it will truly look marvellous on you, regardless of your shape and size.
Although the fabrics for Daura Suruwal have altered over time, its design has remained the same for centuries. Due to various religious belief attached to its arrangements, Daura Suruwal has been designed the same. The eight strings of Daura are denoted as "Astamatrika-Singini" and each has their own specific name based on religious symbolism. According to the eastern mythology, the number eight itself is an auspicious number that represents good fortune and the eight ties serving to wrap the body represents good luck. Daura has five "Kallis" (pleats) which represents "Pancha Buddha" and the closed neck of the Daura signifies the snake around the Lord Shiva’s neck.
According to Hera Bahadur Shakya, owner of Rastriya Daura Suruwal, whose family has been making Daura Suruwal for over a century, “Daura Suruwal is a symbol of good luck. Astamatrika resides in it, so when we wear Daura, God is considered to live in us.” He further adds on, “Since Daura Suruwal is considered as a symbol of good omen, people assigned it as the national dress in the hope that they would bring good news after embarking on a quest wearing it.”
They say that the culture of Daura Suruwal runs back to medieval Nepal. However, the story of how Daura Suruwal became a national dress is entirely associated with an auspicious historical event that happened in the late 1840s. According to legends, when Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana (the first Nepali to visit Britain), the architect of Rana supremacy, arrived in London, he felt cold. At that time, the official attire consisted of Daura Suruwal and a black topi (bhadgaule topi) without any jacket or sleeveless vest or even the now popularly worn Dhaka topi. He was then gifted a jacket and a vest by the then government of Britain and thus he wore the combination of Daura Suruwal, coat and vest during his entire European visit. After his return, he ordered all his kinfolk to do the same and it became an unwritten code of conduct amongst aristocrats, upperclassmen and nobilities which later trickled down to common people.
Hera Bahadur Shakya has been involved in this business for approximately half a century. During this period, he has made Daura Suruwal for the then royal family, prime ministers, government officials and prominent Nepali figures. According to some of his previous interviews, “The demand for Daura Suruwal has changed according to the government in power." Reminiscing old times, he adds, "During the Panchayat era(specifically during late King Birendra’s rule), the market was extremely flooded. It was the official Nepali attire. From prime ministers to pions, all government employees had to wear it, there were no exceptions.” Before 2006, Shakya and his family used to make Daura Suruwal exclusively for the royal family and the government officers. Later, after the Mass Movement II (a political movement that abolished the monarchy), Shakya thought of adopting some other means of livelihood due to the fear of not having any business. At that time, Daura Suruwal was no longer regarded as the official attire and many controversies around it.
Waiting for Mr Shakya, I overheard a man trying to convince an employee to finish his son’s Daura Suruwal in two weeks. Just next to him, I saw a bored teenaged boy with his mother waiting patiently in a long line for the master to take his measurements. I asked him, "Babu why the long face?” to which he irately replied, “I am going to get my head shaved and my mom wants me to wear a Daura Suruwal.” Referring to Bratabandha (a ceremony that marks the adulthood of young boys, where they are required to shave their hair), he says that he doesn’t really wear Daura Suruwal except for religious ceremonies or big family parties. The younger generation isn’t very compatible with Daura Suruwal. There was a time when it was only worn in weddings and ceremonies. Nevertheless, in recent years, the sentiment to preserve this culture has been felt by a large number of Nepali living abroad. As one decides to move abroad, they realise for the first time why one’s national identity matters.
Rastriya Daura Suruwal, Shakya’s store has been in business for three generations. Although you could find tons of Daura Suruwal store in Bangemudha, next to Shakya’s shop, Rastriya Daura Suruwal is considered as one of the oldest stores to sell/make Daura Suruwals. On my first visit to his store, I was puzzled by the crowd inside.
Daura Suruwal and Dhaka topi have also won the hearts of many foreigners. Other things may or may not introduce Nepali society to the outside world but Daura Suruwal paired with Dhaka Topi surely does— it is the classic Nepali apparel.