For the love of kurtas

Image: Pahari hill women. Taken by an unknown photographer in the 1890s. Public Domain via Wiki Commons

So simple, that its genius is invisible; so ubiquitous in eastern histories, that its exact roots are impossible to pinpoint; so functional, that its beauty deserves its own definition; the kurta is undoubtedly one of South Asia’s most recognised sartorial symbols. With its basic silhouette constructed upon the shape of the human torso, kurtas carry a degree of androgyny that lends well to all work settings. Kurtas are probably the most widely worn work outfit across the subcontinent. But, it is also much more than a staunch work garment. Like the saree, the kurta too has its many manifestations adding to a complex history. Thickly starched in cottons, it is the strong, durable uniform of the working woman or man; made in fine silks and adorned with embroidery, the kurta is a stylish, and culturally appropriate garment admitted to any formal occasion. In breezy cottons or linens, it is an indispensable part of the preferred at-home ensemble for many. A clean, crisp and well-pressed kurta upon a political stage is a statement of cultural dignity and authority with a definite nod to the working classes. These many layered sensibilities of the kurta and its profoundly uncomplicated beauty is precisely what draws Rithihi to curate an evolving collection of these beloved tunics.

Look at this photograph of Pahari hill women clad in kurtas during the late nineteenth century. To us at Rithihi, this image perfectly sums up the beauty of the kurta, showing this simple garment’s ability to speak of people, their lives and cultures so eloquently. Set against a backdrop of a typical Jammu-Kashmir farmhouse where these women probably worked for most part of their day, the hardy, practical kurtas are almost symbolic of their lifestyle. At the same time, the kurtas do not take away the room to express their culture, identity, or even individual beauty; rather, the simplicity of the tunics allow the beautiful jewellery, braids and those distinctly spirited eyes to shine out even more brightly. Ingenious, versatile, and absolutely beautiful, the kurta is one of our favourite elements of South Asian fashion.