Women In Traditional Dress, Kinnaur

Culture & Heritage


The people of Himachal celebrate life every day, and it’s apparent in their ethnic diversity. Hospitable culture of the god’s land reflects in everything, right from their attire and dances to the festivals and fairs celebrated. Close bonding to the roots is ingrained in the land and when it’s time to celebrate, the people put forth a spectacle with gaiety and enthusiasm. Such is the charm that travellers from far and near, who visit the state, every year outnumber the residents.

The art of Himachal has grown out from a fusion of cultural strains, migrations and religious beliefs. Several surviving works have found expression in wall murals, illustrated books, miniatures and religious paintings. Patronized by the rulers of hill valley kingdoms, indigenous art forms blended with Mughal style blossomed into what collectively has come to known as the famed Kangra school of paintings. Regional specific art styles in Basholi Kalam, Kangra Kalam, Mandi Kalam, Chamba Kalam, Guler Kalam, Kullu Kalam, Arki Kalam, Bilaspur Kalam, Nurpur Kalam and others can only be differentiated by connoisseurs and collectors. Religious Tibetan art, under the patronage of monasteries in Kinnaur, Lahaul & Spiti, achieved a brilliance of its own.
Kangra Paintings
The fame of Kangra school of miniature paintings is such that reputed museums around the world have masterpieces permanently displayed at their galleries. Paintings from Guler, Basohli, Chamba, Nurpur and Kangra, patronised by the rulers between 17th and 19th century, collectively form part of this school of paintings.

Exhibiting the taste and lifestyles of the times, and religious themes are mainly the subjects of this art form. In most artworks, the goddess-like portrayal of women with beautiful figures and facial features give these paintings a rare charm.

Kangra miniature paintings occupy a prominent place at State Museum at Shimla, Museum of Kangra Art at Dharamshala, Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba and at the Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum, located near the Kangra Fort.

Thangka Paintings
Painted with a religious zeal, beautiful Thangka paintings depicting themes from the Buddha’s life, popular instances from the Jataka tales, Bodhisattvas, female deity of Tara, mandala’s and other religious events are carefully preserved at many monasteries. They are brought out to adorn walls or the venues when important ceremonies are conducted. Many domestic altars also portray these rare paintings.

Most of these elaborate paintings, on linen or silk canvases, are created strictly in accordance to rules of the iconography. Thangkas are painted on auspicious dates by the monks, in a fragrant environment of lighted incense sticks and chants of sutras (doctrines). Traditionally, the pigments of vegetable colours and mineral dust, bound by gum, were used on these artworks.

Mural Wall Paintings
Himachal is a Mecca of beauty and art for the visitor who has a taste for it. One historical art form that embellishes many religious monuments, forts and palaces are the murals, the wall paintings that depict gods, goddesses, palace scenes, of nature and from common daily lives in fine colours. Wall paintings at the Tabo Monastery, Narvadeshwar Temple in Sujanpur, Arki palace, on the ceiling at Rang Mahal in Chamba and others are works by master artists who never got and never sought any recognition. Over centuries, many of these wall painting may have lost their luster but the artistic brilliance still shines through.

Nicholas Roerich Art Gallery
Nicholas Roerich, a voluntary exile from Russia, was already a master painter before he emigrated to settle at Naggar in Kullu valley. His paintings of the mountains, a prized possession of global private collectors and many museums, are unique creations in the gallery of world art.

After the death of senior Roerich, his son Svetoslav formed a trust and converted the Roerich home at Naggar into an art gallery in 1962. At the gallery-cum-museum are paintings and personal belongings of the master artist on permanent display along with works of others artists. Paintings of Kullu, Spiti and Lahaul form a large part of the works on display.

Museum of Himachal Culture Folk Art
Located near Hadimba Temple in Manali, the Museum of Himachal Culture & Folk Art has models crafted in wood of various temples and forts from the valley. Artefacts, crafts, masks representing local deities and musical instruments carrying a green patina of age takes visitors on a journey back in time.

The natural splendour of Himachal has an influence on the crafts native to the region. From the low-lying plains of Kangra to the majestic landscape of Lahaul, Himachal has a rich wealth of crafts which has found expression in exquisite wood carvings, beautiful metalware, gracious jewellery patterns, sermons in stone craft and others. Traversing the land, one may stumble upon great works of art and craftsmanship in remote village and valleys. Hidden pockets of local talent have survived the times at many places in the hills.

Wood carving
Age old temples in areas like Minghal, Chadrari, Bharmaur in Chamba district, Kullu, Karsog (Mandi), Sarahan (Shimla) and Kinnaur having finely chiselled wood carvings of gods, goddesses, court scenes and those from everyday life cut out on pillars, wall panels, roof ceilings, wood beams, doors and at other places. This timeless treasure is a heritage from which younger generations take inspiration to improve upon the craft.

Not spoken of much, the wood carving tradition of Himachal is also visible in household stuff like cradles, bedsteads, rolling pins, churners or wooden utensils. Pahari architecture also demonstrate excellent woodworking and attention to detail in crafting wooden houses which advocate form and functionality over a strong structural foundation.

The skill of embroidery is a favourite pastime as well as an engaging skill among Pahari women. Creating household accessories like tablecloths, rumals (handkerchief), coverlets, caps and other stuff, are some of products that these skilled embroiders make. The embroidery of the Chamba Rumal, the Kullu & Kinnauri Shawls are counted among the finest crafts of India.

Leather Crafts
Himachal is known for its fine leather crafts like making of shoes, sandals and belts, especially the aesthetically made Chamba Chappal (Slipper). The beautiful embodiment of zari, glitter or colourful threads in the Chappal is famous among travellers, making them a sought after souvenir.

Gemstones cast in silver or gold has fascinated men and women since the dawn of civilization and it has been no different for Himachal. The village goldsmith was a trade that kept alive motifs, and designs from generation to generation. Over the centuries, intricately designed jewellery in silver and gold, embellished with patterns and precious jewels, became the most prized possessions of village women, and even of those who lived in palaces. Design variations are also noticeable in the jewellery patterns of Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla, Sirmaur, Chamba and other parts of the state. The body parts for which ornaments are commonly made are the head, forehead, ears, nose, neck, arms, wrists, fingers ankles and toes.

Cutting a hard granite stones and patiently chiselling out an idol that is worshipped for generations as a deity signifies the importance stone craft had among the hill community. Most of the masterpiece stone craft works that have survived hundreds of years are attributed to anonymous craftsman.

Gazing at the many stone temples of Mandi, the Laxmi Narayan temple of Chamba, the rock-cut Temples at Masroor (Kangra), the Shiva temple at Bajaura in Kullu or the Shiva temple at Baijnath (Kangra), one cannot but admire the brilliance and artistic skill of the craftsman who worked on them.

In everyday lives, one can get a glimpse of stone carving skills in the angithis (classical stoves), kundi (round pots) and chakki (stone mill) which are used in Kinnaur, Mandi, Chamba and Shimla since ages.

For a largely agrarian society surviving in a difficult geography, evoking the gods with music and song for good crops and harvest, narrating a tragedy or a failed lover affair to a slow tune was what had the people sing, dance, share, celebrate and preserve as a community. Song and dance of the land is best showcased at festivals, marriages and other celebrations where the people, true to their culture, come attired in colourful traditional dresses to partake in merrymaking.

There are both solo and group dances in Himachal. Solo dances are popular in Bilaspur, Solan, Sirmaur and parts of Shimla. In Bilaspur it is called Gidha, in Sirmaur and parts of Shimla it is Munjara. Solo dances are usually performed in the open but evening dances are held in covered courtyards or large rooms.

The Nati, a group dance of Mandi, Shimla, Kullu, Sirmaur, Kinnaur and Chamba in which hundreds of people take part, has become the most popular dance form of the state. Performed in open spaces, at temple courtyards, the dancers form a circle which allows both swaying to the tune and synchronized movement to step styles that can vary from valley to valley and region to region. Ample diversity of local cultures is seen in the dance styles of Nati performances. Both men and women participate in a Nati, mostly in separate groupings.

Some other popular dances are Rakshasa (demon), Kayang, Bakayang, the Bnayangchu, the Jataru Kayang, Chohara, Shand and Shabu, Lang-dar-ma, Jhanjhar, Jhoor, Gi and Rasa which display the cultural diversity of the land.

Musical instruments like Narsingha, Karnal, Flute, Ektara, Kindari, Jhanjh, Manjira, Chimta, Ghariyal, and Ghunghru reverberate to lend foot-tapping melody to the songs and dances. These instruments are supported by drums which vary in their design and sound. Some of them include Dhol, Dolki, Nagara, Doru and Hudak. Percussion instruments like Manjira, Ghanta, Thali and Kokatha Murchang add that distinct sound to any song.
Folk Songs of Himachal Pradesh
The songs and music echo the cultural richness of the land. Plethora of soul-touching folk songs capture the beliefs, history, love tales, heroic deeds, hard times, parting, mysteries of life and death and other themes in the local idiom. These traditional songs have a soothing charm even when sung without accompanying musical instruments.

Most of the Himachali songs are centred on the respect and gratitude for gods, the splendour of changing seasons and the warmth of love ballads. These melodic songs combine with the sublime dance forms and musical instruments at important festivals, rituals, fairs and small festivities which celebrate the mysteries of life. Natives living in the far off valleys sing these tunes that binds the community together in its isolation, especially in winters.

Popular Folk Songs

Jhoori Song
This is a love song has its roots embedded deep in the Mahasu and Sirmaur regions. Jhoori, meaning lover or beloved, is sung by both men and women, but only women dance to this song usually during gatherings. While singing Jhoori, each piece is sung in four lines, followed by the last syllable of which the first line is pronounced in a long-lasting fashion.

Jhanjhoti Song
Jhanjhoti is a classical song mostly sung by professional singers since it is based on ragas like Brindabani Sarang, Durga, Tilang and Desh. Popular songs based on ragas that are sung include the Phulmu-Ranjhu, which recites a tragic happening, Kunju-Chanchalo that reverbs a love conversation and the Raja-Gaddan, a song that is about wooing of Gaddan Nokhu by Raja Sansar Chand Katoch of Kangra.

Laman Song
A popular song style that recites the beauty of falling in love. Laman, native to the Kullu valley, is a melody whose opening line rhymes with the second line that sets out the theme for the song. The end of the line is prolonged with syllables like Oa, Aa that form the note.

Samaskara Song
Samaskara folk songs reflect the vastness of the mountainous land and are sung at festivals, gatherings or moments of celebration. The singers (mostly women) need to be good in their ragas to sing these ear-pleasing melodies.

These folk songs are more like ballads, sung with joy in the heart to celebrate auspicious occasions like Shivratri, Marriages. Anchaliyan or Anchali songs are accompanied by string puppets which add to the charm of the occasion.

Songs native to a particular region are in plenty and they give an insight into the livelihood of the natives.

Popular Dance Forms

Jhamakada is an eloquent dance form native to Kangra Valley. The group dance is performed only by women, usually at sacred ceremonies and during marriages.

Losar Shona Chuksam
Losar Shona Chuksam is a folk dance form native to Kinnaur district. This dance form has immense religious significance, who perform it during the Tibetan New Year that usually falls in April and May. Chuksam is mostly performed by the farmers as a tribute to agriculture and its significance in rural life. This dance is signified by the knee movement of the dancers which replicates the movement of farmers sowing seeds on their farms.

The Nati, a group dance of Mandi, Shimla, Kullu, Sirmaur, Kinnaur and Chamba in which hundreds of people take part, has become the most popular dance form of the state. Performed in open spaces, at temple courtyards, the dancers form a circle which allows both swaying to the tune and synchronized movement to step styles that can vary from valley to valley and region to region. Ample diversity of local cultures is seen in the dance styles of Nati performances. Both men and women participate in a Nati, mostly in separate groupings.

Dancers swathe in ethnic attires groove to the beats of musical instruments like dhol, nagara and narsingha. In this dance form, people twirl their bodies in slow swaying movements.

Chham Dance
Chham dance, also known as Devil Dance, is one of the most vivid and splendid dance forms of Himachal that is performed by a sect of red-robbed Buddhist monks at monasteries on special occasions and festivities. Dancers wrap in intimidating masks, headgear and costumes, embodying the evil spirits that bring natural disasters and diseases to mankind. The intimidating circular movements of the dancers sync with the drum beats, cymbals and long pipes to create a hypnotic atmosphere. According to the legend, the dance form is pious and is performed to exorcise evil spirits and demons, bringing harmony and peace to the desolate land of Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur.

Lahauli Dance
Another dance form that’s native to Lahaul is the Lahauli dance. In this dance form, the native dancers sway in circles, taking big steps with their hands interlocked. Their bodies are adorned with beautiful gowns featuring embroidered borders. The beautiful presentation is accompanied by the beats of instruments like Daman and Surna.

Thoda from the hinterlands of Himachal Pradesh is a dance form that originated from the martial arts. Also known as the dance of archery, Thoda is performed by two teams, one who are descendants of Kauravas and the other of Pandavas. The two opposing sides make continuous attempts to attack each other and defend themselves at the same time in this dynamic presentation. They use arrows and bows swiftly and skilfully to create an illusion of real battle.

Dandras and Dangi
The Dandras and Dangi are two dance forms native to the Gaddis of Chamba. The Dandras is a smooth dance style where Gaddi dancers lower and then raise their legs while moving in a circular motion. Usually, the natives perform it to the rhythm of Dhamal and Lahauli Drums as the dancers utter the words Jey Jey and Shee Shee.

Dangi on the other hand is usually performed by the Gaddi women who immaculately dance in lines and semi-circular motion, joining hands and then turning away in a graceful manner. Dangi combined with the love ballads of Sunni and Bhukhu creates an atmosphere of joy and happiness which makes everyone tap their feet.


Climate of Kinnaur influences the native’s style of living and attire. The cold climate has the people take to woollen clothes around the year. Weather can change abruptly at high altitudes, turning a bright sunny morning day into a bone chilling cold evening. The woollen dress is best suited for such weather changes. The weavers have added artistic patterns to the cloth woven that make the dress distinctive to the region.

Men dress up in woollen shirts called chamn kurti and woollen churidar pajama with a chhuba (a woollen coat similar to an achkan) on top and a sleeveless woollen jacket outside it. Women prefer to wear a shawl like wrap-around garment called dohru paired with choli, a type of full sleeve blouse. The dohru is preferred in darker shades with vibrant coloured embroidery on it. Women also carry beautifully coloured pattu (shawl which is slightly thicker and heavier than a normal shawl) draped around their shoulders.

Kinnauri Topi (cap)
A trademark headgear is part of the traditional dress of Kinnaur. Both men and women wear the round woollen cap called Thepang, which is flat on the top. Generally light grey in colour with a green or red coloured velvet band running around the cap’s outer fold to grace the wearer’s forehead. The cap is a mark of respect and a crown of the natives.

Kinnauri Shawl
The Kinnauri Shawl has geometrical design on both ends. It is weaved in two pieces of equal length and then stitched in the centre. Colour choice for the base varies between white, grey, natural brown and black, while the shawls are patterned in red, green, pink, black, white, blue, orange and yellow colours. Out of these, five colours bear significance to the five elements that find mention in the Vedas – white here stands for water, yellow for earth, green for air, red for fire and blue represents ether or wind.

In addition to the pattern at the ends, Kinnauri shawl is also made as Kinnauri teen patti, which has three patterns woven in stripes in vivid colours, and All-Over Kinnauri shawl, a masterpiece with beautiful pattern woven all over the shawl.

In Kinnaur, different weaving process is used for commercial and locally used shawls. While marketable ones are woven on the frame loom, ones for local consumption are weaved in pit-looms with designs embroidered by hand. Sheep wool is the staple raw material, though finer quality shawls are made using wool of migratory Himalayan goats, Pashmina goats and Angora rabbits.

Price of a shawl varies according to the quality of wool and the width of patterns used in it. Owing to the high cost of labour involved in the sorting of fine pashmina wool, shawls made from pashmina are most expensive.

Kinnauri Patti
Kinnauri Patti is a coarse fabric made from sheep wool, though best quality patti is made of wool obtained from the first shearing of a lamb. It is woven on a handloom and is generally used to make closed neck coats (band gale ka coat), pajamas, pants, or chhuba.


Shimla is endowed with a rich culture which is deep rooted in all aspects of life including the way of dressing and celebration. The attire in Shimla district tends to change with the change in dialect, but a suit, which is tailored knee-length shirt paired with a salwar/pajama and a waistcoat called saluka in Kotgarh and Rampur regions and jacket or sadri elsewhere, is largely how women like to dress. Women also wear a head scarf called dhatu.

Women in Kotgarh, Rampur, interiors of Rohru region can also be seen in a long dress called rezta (a body length gown with pleats at the waist that give the lower half the look of a long skirt) combined with a saluka and dhatu. In winters, females wear a woollen garment called Pakhti (a gown). The men in all parts of Shimla wear a kurta, a pyjama called suthan and a saluka, though stitching style of the kurta may vary from one region to another.


The local climate has much to do with the dress styles and it is no different for those living in Kullu valley. Bestowed with a moderate climate that gets cold for winter has the traditional dresses use more of woollen fabrics to stay warm round the year. Western dresses have made inroads but the traditional dresses still haven’t lost their charisma.

Traditional Kullu men dress up in Chola which is a long woollen coat with creases, a tight pant known as Suthan, Loi which is a gents shawl, Dora which is a kind of a belt and Kullu Topi which is a flat round-shaped cap having colourful border. In cold climatic conditions, men wear Loi (also known as chaddar), a gent’s shawl usually made in brown, grey or white wool. The wrap is woven in light woollen fabric that has narrow borders at the ends.

Just like men, women also take pride in wearing traditional attire which typifies their beauty. To keep warm, women wear Pattoo which is the traditional dress of local women worn over the suit (consisting of shirt up to the knees and Pyjami). The shawl like, but much thicker, heavier and longer than a shawl, Pattoo is a comfortable dress. As headdress, Dhatu and Thipu, which are square pieces of cloth for covering the head, are adorned.

Kullu Caps
The traditional Kullu cap is a headwear famous for its style and comfort, worn mostly by men. The cap made from sheep or finer Pashmina wool and lately of Angora rabbit wool has a beautiful design facing the front side which is weaved in cotton, wool or velvet material. The circular cap comes in a variety of colours and patterns which makes them a perfect souvenir for loved ones.

Kullu Shawls
Made from the some of the finest quality woollen fabrics, Kullu shawls draped over the dress to catch body warmth, are famous for their bright coloured patterns in geometric or floral designs, of the stripes running on the sides or the borders of the shawl. The patterned shawls are worn by women while men prefer plain shawls which are known as Loi. Kullu shawls, made from lambswool and Angora fibres, are much in demand all over the country. The more expensive shawls are crafted from Pashmina that sell at a premium.

Kullu Muffler
Just like the shawls, hand-woven Kullu mufflers made from pashmina, merino or angora wool are famous for their fine embroidery and style quotient. They have elaborate geometric patterns on both ends. The accessory is worn around the neck by men and women as a fashion statement, but more so to keep warm in winters.

One can take home the famous Kulluvi Pullan which are a type of footwear made from the hemp fibre. The top of a Pullan is crafted out of goat hair and embellished with colourful designs in woollen threads.


Chamba is the land of immense beauty which has preserved age-old traditions, crafts and cultural essence of the state. The attire of the locals and in particular natives of the remote regions living in higher valleys of Churah and Pangi present a vibrant society that still takes pride in its local dress. The Gujjar and Gaddi tribes, inhabitants of the Bharmaur, upper parts of Bhattiyat, Churah and Salooni regions living a nomadic life have native dress styles that simply fascinate.

Gaddi costumes

Clothing truly reveals the demographics and survival instinct of Gaddis known for their nomadic lifestyle. The males wrap themselves in Chola (long woollen coat), Dor (coat tied around the waist), Patti (pajamas worn underneath), Dur (golden earrings) and Topi (cap made from woollen material). They also wear a pointy cap representing the Mount Kailash. This cap is kept folded in warm weather but as soon as the cold wave intensifies, it is pulled down to provide protection from chilly weather. The Gaddi cap is also adorned with dry flowers and beads or a Kalgi (tuft of feathers). Complementing their male counterparts, females wear a simple shirt with a half belt in the front and a churidar suthan concealed under Chola or Cholu and Luanchari (frilled long frock) reaching down to the ankles. To cover the head, women use Jhund (a veil of Dor or Duppata), commonly known as Ghunghat or Ghundu. Jewellery like Jhumka (earrings), Balu (nose ring made of gold), Chiri (ornament worn on the forehead, secured by strings), Chakdi (worn on back of the head with help of silver clips), and Gorju and Toke (silver bracelets worn in pairs) are an integral part of the traditional attire that local women use to beautify themselves.

Gujjar Costumes
As compared to the Gaddis, Gujjars like to wear dark and gaudy coloured combinations which gives them a distinct look. The head-dress is epitomized by a turban (like Mughal turbans) made from simple white muslin cloth and a long, loose shirt (called Kameej) up to the knees. Typically blue and black in colour, is worn. Over the shirt, a black coloured waistcoat with frills is adorned, while a Ghutna (churidar pyjama) and a Themat (Lungi) sheaths the body from the waist down to the toe tip. This attire of the Gujjars is exemplified by the Chaddar (warm shawl) worn over the shoulders.

Females wear a round cap called Joji on their head, Kalidar (black kurta) stitched in colourful threads going up to the knees on the upper body, and Churidar Suthan – a tight pyjama unto the ankles and loose up to thighs, on the lower body. They also wrap themselves with a Chaddar (warn shawl) around their head and upper body part.

Lahaul and Spiti

Lahaul is one of the coldest inhabited regions of the Himalayas and the natives use woollen clothing to keep them warm around the year. Men wear woollen trousers usually of dark colour along with full-sleeved shirts known as Kurtis. To complete the look, a loose gown called Kattar in grey, black, or white colour is worn over the dress. Women dress in tight fitting pajamas and a full gown called Dugpo which is secured to the waist with a sash. Both men and women adorn the famous Lahauli caps to complete the traditional attire. Unlike the Kullivi cap, the Lahauli cap is uni-coloured with no patterns.

Spiti valley dress, which differs from that of Lahaul, has long loose frocks or coats, known by different names that depend on the material used, to cover up the whole body is some of the harshest weather conditions of the state. The ones made from wool are called Righoay, ones crafted from sheep or goat skin are Thakpa and if made from cotton lines with goat or sheep fur they are dubbed as Charlak. To give warmth to the back and abdomen, they are tied with a sash called Kira. Tight woollen trousers called Suthan are worn underneath. A cotton or silk under-coat that locals call Tochay is worn under the coat.

Women of Spiti drape themselves in loose cotton frocks called Tochay or woollen frock-coat called Righoay with long, full-sleeved collarless and button-less shirts known as Hoojuk underneath. These are complemented by red or black trousers. To add colour to the whole attire, embroidered stoles known as Lingches are wrapped around the back, neck and shoulders. A fur-lined cape called Lokpa is also worn over the dress. Both men and women wear round caps with a green-coloured front piece adorned with a thin bordered outline.


Traditional attire of Sirmaur district is very similar to Shimla. Women in this region wear salwar-kameez with dhatu, while men wear a long woollen coat called Lohiya with pajama and a cap similar to Kinnauri topi.

Mandi, Solan, Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Kangra, Una

Traditionally women in these districts dress up in a long blouse like shirt, a long skirt called ghaghra and a pajama/suthan, while men wear a frock like kurta with multiple pleats and pyajama. Though with passage of time, kurta and pajama for men, and salwar suit for women have become a more preferred choice, married women carry duppata over their head as a veil. In the hilly regions of Solan and Mandi, which are in vicinity of Shimla, women wear suit salwar with dhatu (head scarf).