Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru Maulana Abul Kalaam Azaad
This long jacket with closed collar is a unique garment found only in the subcontinent and has the distinction of being worn ONLY by the elite and by the scholars. Now rare but still seen here and there, it remains the only male garment NOT graced by the so called emancipated females. This and a lot more of interesting facts have been written in a very light manner by Syed Mashood Jamal of Islamia Inter College Shahjahan Pur, U.P. India and can be seen in its original form in Urdu at
Here I dare to try to reproduce a translation for the benefit of my readers.
[by Syed Mashood Jamal(Urdu)]
[Translated by Shakil Akhtar]
There is a saying that a barber can turn a man into a gentleman. But it will be unfair to attribute this honour only to barbers, as the washer man, the tailor as well as shoemakers too have a lot to contribute in this regard. Even so there are in our society a group of people who in their entire life never so mush as touch a razor or a pair of scissors and yet they are as a rule very gentle, not withstanding the fact that they are subject to general ridicule in ordinary conversation in the society. (Sikhs). But you cannot do without a tailor if you are to convert yourself to an acceptable gentleman.
From the day man has started covering himself, a myriad of dresses and garments have been invented, tried and reinvented that helped him look a little different from the animals on the outside at least, and even looked a little civilized, but the inner self still remained untouched. During the rise and fall of many civilizations, many garments have been invented but none were such that would identify the wearer as civilized or otherwise. Finally it was the subcontinent that came up with a garment that was reserved for the civilized, elite, scholars and the intellectual thinkers alone. This was named “Sherwani” which never graced any one except a select few. And if ever it was worn by an ordinary folk, it was like:
“If others wore it they looked misplaced”.
Before the independence, the elite, who as a rule were sporting straight faces, well formed physique, a good height and carrying a walking stick with style wore sherwanis reaching well below the knees that displayed the status given them by Allah as well as the wealth given them by the English. These sherwanis also were a key in enhancing the aura of the intellectuals and were a statement for the gentleness of the gentlemen. After the independence the land lords were striped of their land and of their high status curtailing the use of sherwanis greatly, but still the scholars and the gentlemen kept the tradition alive somehow. Slowly with the decline of Urdu civilization, the sherwani too all but disappeared from the society. There was a general rise in wealth but the true rich were gone. Also education was made common but the true learning went missing. In the light of new standards, the norms of being a gentleman and of being civilized changed. Today both the master and the slave seem to have no qualms as far as dress is concerned. Since the sherwani couldn’t degrade itself, it went down with the true learning and with the true status.
Not long ago our poets and literary men always wore only sherwanis. As they were invariably also scholars, the sherwani too was dear to them. There were among these many who professed progressiveness (communism) and still remained stuck with their attire of sherwani and traditional cap, not withstanding the fact that this attire represented the old system of land lords and conservatism. Some even famously asked their women folk to turn their head scarf in to a flag, without themselves abandoning the sherwani. But at long last the red revolution was not to be and the sherwanis that were reeking with the scent of knowledge and of intellect became ragged. Now at last the progressive folk saw inescapable connection of conservatism in the sherwani and thus now on the stage of poetry and literature we see that together with the real intellect and real poetry, the sherwani too has all but disappeared.
A sherwani has the distinction of being the attire of the civilized and of the men of status. After wearing it one finds himself sort of restricted as far as behaviour is concerned. It is no longer possible for one to display unacceptable behaviour. Folks wearing a sherwani prefer verbal or written exchanges to physical blows in case of a dispute. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan knew this when he made in Aligarh University the wearing of sherwani mandatory. We cannot but hail his wisdom and foresightedness in this regard too. As a result one can see a considerably less student commotion and a lot better disipline these days in Aligarh University as compared with other institutions. This is so in spite of the fact that the wearing of a sherwani there has become a sort of routine and a sherwani’s real meaning has gone.
Another unique quality of a sherwani is that it can be worn at virtually any occasion without fear of it being unsuitable. Wearing it, you may go to a wedding or a funeral, for consolation on a bereavement or for a courtesy visit to a patient. You might also wear it on social, political or literary meetings. This multipurpose sherwani is equally graceful in functions where food is served and that is perhaps why the mullah (the clergy) is even now found wearing it.
Our women folk have tried, owing to career, fashion or in the name of emancipation of female, all sorts of attire including jeans, jackets and coat paint, but never the sherwani. This shows that a sherwani is the only garment capable of really covering a person in true sense.
If a sherwani is worn by even a questionable person turns him instantly in to a respectable one. That is perhaps the reason that at the time of marriage the grooms wear a sherwani. To make sure that he is hidden completely, at least till the nikah is done, his face is kept hidden behind garlands.
Sherwani is a symbol of a slow and quite type of populace and it could not match today’s fast and direction less life and thus had to be abandoned. But it is to be noted that the people who wore sherwani and now do not still remain slow and have failed to match their style with the demands of a fast life. Today’s new generation lack the values, traditions, sincerity and serenity that is the hallmark of a sherwani.
AYE MERI SHERWANI
Halat pe ab main teri aansu baha raha hun
Har chaak e nau se tere aankhen laDa raha hun
Phir bakhiya o rafu ka barbat baja raha hun
De sakta kaash tujh ko mein umr jaa viadaani
Aye meri sherwani.
(Note: The above line could not be translated without being meaning less).