Although Nepal is made up of many different cultures, there are a couple of items that most men across the country will wear at some time or another, perhaps even every day.
Once the national dress, young men now only wear it on occasions such as weddings. But, the daura suruwal is still an ethnic fashion statement.
King Mahendra, undoubtedly the most patriotic of the Nepali kings, made the daura suruwal mandatory for all civil servants in and outside the land in the mid-20th century. Before him, in the 19th century, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur had established it as a dress code for those in government.
These days, there is a revival of pride in the numerous cultures that comprise Nepali society, meaning that more men are incline to wear items according to their own cultures. But, the daura suruwal still has its place. For example, on the recent visit of the Prime Minister to India, he was dressed proudly in a daura suruwal. It could be said that the daura suruwal is the uniform of Nepali political figures.
The daura suruwal looks elegant on anybody. It’s actually simple attire, in keeping with the simple nature of Nepalis. It’s comprised of a loose top with ties instead of buttons, and trousers that fit easily on the top but are quite difficult to get into at the bottom because they’re tight.
The crowning glory of a Nepali man’s dress is the topi, or hat. It is the quintessential mark of the Nepali man, as ubiquitous as the mountains and valleys of beautiful Nepal. You’ll see it everywhere, in cities and towns and villages and hamlets, in offices and shops and hotels and restaurants. You’ll also see it when traveling in buses and taxis and tempos and rickshaws. You just cannot miss it. It distinguishes the Nepali man like nothing else, and it’s a symbol of national pride. It’s shaped like one of those magnificent Himalayan peaks. It’s on the head of the farmer in the field and the businessman in his factory. Once, not too long ago, it was mandatory to wear a topi in all government institutions, including the parliament. If you wanted to enter them, you had to wear one.
Now, the topi is less important, but you’ll still see it worn on numerous Nepali heads. The older folks, especially, have become habituated to it. The first thing they do on waking is to the put on the topi. Many men just don’t feel dressed without a topi on their heads.
During festivals and celebrations, men wear either black or pastel-colored topis with subtle and sophisticated designs. No groom’s outfit is complete without a topi, and in most religious rituals, it is the rule to wear a topi when putting on the tika.
It might not be as imposing as the American cowboy’s Stetson or as flamboyant as the Mexican amigo’s sombrero, or as distinguished as the British gentleman’s bowler hat, but in its very simplicity, the Nepali topi is graceful and noble. It is perfectly suited to the humble nature of the people and the modest state of the nation itself.
The topi comes in two kinds. The older version is known as the Bhadgaunle topi. It is completely black and pretty rigid, too. The name refers to Bhaktapur, whose original name was Bhadgaon, and is made only in Bhaktapur. It has some distinctive patterns woven into it, and the texture is somewhat rough to the touch. Go through a Nepali’s family album and you’ll be sure to see the Bhadgaunle topi worn by long-gone folks in black and white photographs.
The other kind of Nepali topi is the Palpali Dhaka topi, more popular today. This topi comes in many subdued colors and refined patterns. The Palpali Dhaka topi’s name comes from the fact that it’s made of a particular type of cloth called Dhaka, which is made in the western district of Palpa. It’s cotton and is very soft to the touch.
The Nepali topi binds people of the more than 100 ethnic that make up the country’s populace. So many languages and so many lifestyles and cultures and traditions, all bound together into one people, one nation by the humble topi. So, hats off to the Nepali topi!