Bhutan Culture – The kira’s evolution through time
The kira’s evolution through time
19 July, 2010 – Not long ago Bhutanese women wore kira with big hemchus (pockets) and the hemline openly displaying the ankles of sturdy barefooted women. This image is construed from the black and white pictures from books on Bhutan; and from old grannies, who still wear their kiras the old way.
The hemline has dropped from ankle to heel and the hemchus, once used to carry many things, has disappeared.
The modern woman looks taller, with her kira hemline almost sweeping the floor. Handbags have replaced hemchus as an indispensable complement to the kira.
Like any fashion trend, the change is driven by practical reasons. In the past, the hemline was higher, because women had to work in the fields; and one close to the ankle would make them fall when running after cows. An office going woman would look funny that way in her boots or stilettos.
There has emerged too a new trend called the half kira, believed to have come from the south to suit the hot climate. Given its convenience, it was immediately welcomed by women in general, though thought unacceptable.
Schoolgirls recall how teachers used to check them at assembly to see if they were wearing half kira. To give themselves a breather, necklines dropped. The three-tiered koma became popular among schoolgirls and office goers. Those, who couldn’t afford it, attached pieces of cloth at both ends of the kira, so the neck could be free.
The evolution of the kira has driven the thinkhab, a dress pin with rings, into protected glass boxes in museums. The thinkhab and its successor, the koma, are not where they once belonged – on the shoulders of women. The koma has evolved into a brooch used to hold the tego together, or the kira at the hips. Similarly, the bja, which once lined the inner ends of the kira, is non-existent, except in some school dresses.
Weavers say that the modern full kira needs more yarn, because it accommodates the high heels. And the half kira has undergone an evolution; and now tailors stitch easy to wear kiras with straps and hooks, which keeps it in place; unlike the elusive kera, which comes off loose or moves up and down.
|The textile museum will organise an exhibition on the evolution of the kira in first week of August. In September, the museum will organise its annual textile design competition and craft festival. The craft festival this year will showcase a jewellery line, which will attempt to reintroduce accessories, like the flat and the half dorji, which were very popular before.|
Even the kera, hidden away beneath the tego, has evolved. “Keras were thick and served a purpose of protecting the back of women, who usually carried heavy loads,” said Tshering Uden Penjor, chief curator with the textile museum.
The idea of beauty and fashion changes so rapidly that this has changed the way women wear the kira. Layers (of flimsy material) may be in fashion today, but Bhutanese women donned layers in the past. They put on two or three heavy kiras simply to make them look bigger. This would be a fashion crime now, when women want to look slimmer.
“Big, back then, was the epitome of Bhutanese beauty,” says Tshering Uden Penjor. “It all boils down to what is comfortable and fashionable.”
Women also wore two tegos in the past. The tego was once worn in place of wonju. “Only later, in the ‘30s or ‘40s, when the Bhutanese aristocracy interacted with the Tibetan aristocracy, did the wonju come about,” said Tshering Uden Penjor.
“There’s been development of the tego ever since its existence, and today it has evolved into a form fitting style,” said Tshering Uden. “The evolution can be seen in the way it is cut.”
Before tegos were short with sleeves that started from the waist. They barely touched the waistline, and were worn short to show off the fullness of a woman.
The latest fad, the jacket style tego started when a Vietnamese instructor working with Zorig Chusom trained Bhutanese tailors in early 2000. They started developing the tego. Now tailors and designers produces variations of the style.
With the advent of the jacket style tego, the proper wonju might be headed towards extinction like the bja and the koma. Lately, women have material stitched to their tego collar and sleeves in place of a separate wonju. Similarly, the strap and hook half kira might push the kera to extinction.
This raises the question of what is a full set of kira – a set of kira, tego, wonju, koma and kera or a half kira with a tego. There is no doubt that the kira has kept evolving and will evolve to fit the taste of the generations to come.
There are two schools of thoughts on the evolution of the kira in Bhutan. One believes that the kira, which gives Bhutanese women their identity, should not undergo any change at all. The other welcomes change, but says the essence should be maintained. They believe that culture is dynamic.
According to Dasho Sangay Wangchuk, with development changes are unavoidable. “Whatever is convenient, small and fashionable is welcomed by people,” he said. “But diverting completely from tradition would be bad.”
He added that the kira has evolved a lot, and women preferred half kira, but the good thing was that it still looked like a kira. The kira is believed to have been worn by Bhutanese women way before men wore their gho.
Tshering Uden said that there are evidences that the gutsum, from which the kira was adapted, was worn before the 1600’s, when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel introduced the modified Tibetan chuba to the Bhutanese men as gho. Also the legend that the Chinese princess, known as Ashi Jhazam introduced the back strapped loom supports the belief. Ashi Jhazam was supposedly hiding in Bhutan trying to avoid marrying the Tibetan king Songstshen Gembo.