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Jan 1, 2024

Artful Weaving Nepali Topi

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File Photo: The Writer wearing Nepali Topi along with Daura Suruwal with the then first President of the Federal Democratic  Republic of Nepal Dr. Ram Baran Yadav.
File Photo: The Writer wearing Nepali Topi along with Daura Suruwal with the then first President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal Dr. Ram Baran Yadav.

Every year on January 1, National Topi Day is celebrated with various programs in Kathmandu and Patan.

As the influence of western culture is increasing in the country, some young people started a campaign to celebrate ‘Topi Diwas’ from Bikram Sambat 2070–2014 AD.

Later, social media has been established as a day with its discussion.

According to Sanskrit scholars, the then first Rana Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana’s sister Dambar Kumari made a Topi (hat) and gifted it to her brother.

Bhadgaon Yopi and Dhaka Topi are considered as Nepali Topi. But different communities of Nepal wear hats that reflect their identity and tradition.

Kathmandu’s curio shops are a kaleidoscope of bright bangles, baubles, textures and religious images-a dazzling array of crafts, many handmade in Nepal and some created in shops from across Asia.

There are one-of-kind items for every taste, from soiled utilitarian to lustrous collector quality.

But what among this international potpourri is genuinely Nepalese? And what history and artisanship lie behind those crafts indigenous to this once-isolated Himalayan country.

Much of what a traveller sees while strolling along Durbar Marg, in hotels and gifts shops, and around Thamel, Ason, Patan and Bhaktapur is indeed Made in Nepal. And much is not.

Among the authentic Nepalese items are carved wooden picture frames and wall decorations, painted religious scrolls called thangkas, brass and bronze pots and figurines, block-printed paper, inlaid silver jewellery, painted papier mache masks, the famous Gurkha soldiers’ Khukuri, wool carpets and hand-woven and block-printed cloth called Dhaka and Dhaka Topi, Bhadgaunle Topi. etc.

Village workshops and craft collective throughout Nepal produce a great variety of cloth. The best known are the Dhaka cloth used in ladies blouses, topi cloth for hats, Dolpo blankets, soft Pashmina woolen shawls, and colourful block-printed hand-loomed cloth that weave, working with hand spun, vegetable dyed fibers in traditional patterns.

There are many beautiful varieties, including bold-striped Bhaktapur cloth, intricately-woven imported Bhutanese cloth, and a domestic silk called tussar.

In Kathmandu’s shops the visitors could buy some fine examples of Sherpa aprons, yak and sheep wool coats, Tibetan belts, Nepali raw silk shawls and the like.

“What is the word for all those caps the men wear?” An American friend of this writer, who was in Kathmandu these days, asked, eyeing the passing crowd.

The simple answer was “Topi.”

“Well, kid, these are the most unusual things I’ve seen so far. Let’s find out where the weavers are!” she bubbled.

Nepali Topi. I had always taken it for granted. All I knew about where they came from was having seen them by the hundreds in little 3 x 3 foot stalls in one of the busiest downtown streets- Ason Tole.

The traditional art of weaving the cotton cloth from which topis are made, called Dhaka cloth. The Dhaka is woven in various parts of Kathmandu. However, Patan, Palpa are the most famous places from where the cloth for topi comes.

Besides this, there is also another kind of topi which is called as Bhadgaounle topi. This topi will be little thicker materials and always will be of black colour.

Wearing a topi is a must when a man wears Nepali formal dress called Daura Suruwal. The person could wear the Palpali Dhaka Topi or Bhandgaunlye Topi that depends upon the people.

Whatever it wears, it looks very nice and a different kind of dress compared to the Western suit. Thus, this writer had accumulated many reactions from many people around the world saying “very good dress”.

The Daura Suruwal – Nepal’s national dress is worn during official functions at home and abroad.

Besides the colourful Dhaka cloth, the shops in the Kathmandu Valley display all manner of textiles arts and crafts of Nepal, including Sherpa weavings, buffalo skin purses of fine workmanship, embroidery, handmade Bhaktapur paper products, dolls, herb teas, macramé, batik, appliqué, block printed fabrics, and lovely, durable rugs made from Allo nettle fibers. There are also selections of quality hand-woven wool and cotton fabrics by the meter. All the handicrafts are sold at surprisingly low prices.

In order to preserve the traditional craft material, the Nepal Government has encouraged the weavers by providing beneficiaries and also urged them to introduce new colour and adapt traditional designs for items which appeal to the export and tourist markets.

The Dhaka cloth items came in a wide variety: table clothes, placemats, and napkins, short and long neck scarves and belts, bordered kimonos, shawls and pillows- to name a few.

There could be found numerous shops where Dhaka cloth is sold. Part of the fun is shopping in Nepal is creeping down alleys and wading through crowded bazaars to make those discoveries yourself.

The work of Nepal’s skilled weavers has been greeted enthusiastically in countries where it died out long ago; many visitors are enhanced by the handmade cloth they find here and return home with an amazing variety of items produced by Himalayan weavers. Some are so taken by the work that they now import it to North America, Europe and Australia. Weaving in Nepal and the combining of ancient techniques with modern designs is heading in promising directions. With Goddess Saraswati’s blessing, the ancient craft lives on.

Cloth is one of Nepal’s less commercialized crafts. However, foreigners are buying and using our traditional crafts. Craftsmanship has a very big potential for growth. It will be the one aspect of our culture that will never die. For it will always reflect the life of the people and the history of the country.