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Posted On 28 Feb 2021


History of Sherwani

First form of sherwani like coat can be traced to Kushan king Kanishka who ruled northern Indian subcontinent and came to throne in 78 AD. The overcoat is depicted on a stone statue which was sculpted at Mathura school of Art. Both the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art flourished in the time of Kanishka and saw creation of beautiful Buddhist sculptures. The Kushans had migrated from colder regions and the coat in the statue was reminiscent of the Central Asian winter. This overcoat seems to be the antecedent of modern day Sherwani. The garment went through a long history and eventually manifested in the form of Jama and Farzi of Mughal times. The Ain-i Akbari of Abul Fazl provides several types of the garment resembling an overcoat which eventually took the form of a Sherwani.

Amongst the objects of clothing worn by the royalty and which must have been copied by the nobility the following resemble a modern day Sherwani.

Takauchiyah is defined by Abul Fazl the court historian of Akbar as a coat without lining. It earlier had slits in the lower part and was tied at the waist but Akbar removed the slits and made the fastening to the right. A plain takauchiya could be made from one to three rupees (silver coin) of Mughal times. While takauchiya tied to the right there was another similar garment known as Peshwaz which was had ties in the front. Another type of coat mentioned by Abul Fazl was Dutahi which used to require six yards of cloth for the outside. There is mention of a coat having sixty rows and a different type of stitch which was called shastkhat. The cost of making this type of coat is two rupees per yard.

Jamah-i pumbahdar was a wadded or cushioned coat and is also known as Qaba and was a commonly worn dress by the royalty and nobility. It could be made between quarter to one rupee. Farji had no binding and was open in the front. It was worn over the jamah and could be made for the cost of quarter to one rupee.

These upper body garments which resembled coats remained in use by the high class nobility of the Indian society for a long time. The garments were customized according to the weather and location. Eventually with the decline of the Mughals and the rise of the regional centres of power in places like Lucknow, Hyderabad and Murshidabad certain changes began to be seen in the jama garment. It is known that now in place of the strings that were in use, the use of buttons also began for the purpose of fastening of the garment. This seems to be an influence of the Europeans who had gained power and prominence in the 18th -19th centuries.

The British who controlled majority of the Indian subcontinent made heavy influences on the northern Indian elite dress of jama. It was eventually a combination of the buttoned coats worn by the British and the jama of the pre-modern culture that led to the creation of Sherwani. The Muslim Reformer, Syed Ahmad Khan who aimed at modernizing the backward, ignorant Muslims wished for Muslims to have both the modern outlook and a connection to ones traditions and culture. He also wished it to be reflected in the appearance of the people and students associated with the ideals. This was manifested in the form of Aligarh Sherwani which seems to be a result of coming together of Mughal jama and European coat.

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Lubna Irfan

Hsitory Professor

Womens's College, AMU Aligarh