How the Shalwar Kameez Became the Dress of the Pathans or Pushtoons
The Shalwar Kameez is known by two names as the ‘Punjabi dress’ and also has the ‘Pathani suite’. It consists of a shirt that extends normally to the knees and a loose trouser that has a hard embroidered lower collar with a cord to tie it around the waist. These dresses are extremely popular now, but there is a romantic history of these dresses and their adoptions by the Afghans and Pushtoons as their main dress.
Before the 19th century the dress of the Pushtoons was a loose robe. It was similar to the robe worn by present day Arabs. From 1805 onwards the Pushtoons came into conflict with the Sikhs and a series of battles were the order of the day. The Pushtoons and the Afghans were badly defeated and lost the entire Northwest Frontier to the Sikh army. Thus Multan, Peshawar, Jamrud, Khyber were all lost to the Sikh army. The general who led the Sikh army was Hari Singh Nalwa who spread terror in the minds of the Afghns.So great was the dread of Hari Singh among the Afghan mothers often put their Children to sleep with the admonition; sleep otherwise Nalwa will come.
Repeated defeats at the hands of the Sikhs unnerved the Afghans who feared capture at the hands of the Sikhs and Nalwa in particular. Nalwa had a ruthless reputation, but him as per Sikh tenets never attacked or killed women and old people. It was then that it dawned on the Pushtoons that the Sikh women wore the Shalwar kameez. This was the standard dress of the Sikh women and remains so even today. The Pathan thought that the best way to escape the wrath of Nalwa was to don the Punjabi dress i.e. Shalwar kameez and escape from the clutches of the Sikhs and Nalwa. Thus Pathans would escape from the stranglehold of the Sikhs by wearing the Shalwar kameez. The dress over the decades was adopted by the Pathan and is also now known as the ‘Pathani suite’.
The veracity of the above is confirmed by Miangul Aurangzeb, Wali of Swat in a letter to the Taliban as late as the start of the 21st century. The above facts are recounted by Vanit Nalwa in her book Hari Singh Nalwa-champion of the Khalsa (2009). Some Muslim scholars have opined that the Shalwar kameez came from Turkey, but facts do not support this hypothesis.