(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)
In essence, any shirt can be termed a ‘Chola’, however today this term is used almost exclusively for a type of long shirt or tunic, which was once very popular in India. Even today one can see Hindu, Sikh and Muslim ascetics and holy persons wearing a ‘Chola’.
It would not be inappropriate here to step outside of our main topic on Nihangs to consider some generic items relating to the ‘Chola’.
In India, many families perform a religious ceremony during which clothes are put on newborn baby. This ceremony also is called ‘Chola’ from which we can clearly see that originally every shirt, whether it is long or short, was regarded as ‘Chola’, although this word is used solely for long shirts/tunics nowadays.
There are many kinds of such long shirts. We shall look at some of them below: –
A simple Punjabi ‘Kurta’ is called ‘Chola’ if it is long enough. There is very famous song, in which the word ‘Chola’ has been used for long ‘Kurta’: –
Mera Rang De Basantee Chola Maaye, Rang De Basantee Chola.
The Bengali Kurta is slightly different from Punjabi Kurta. It has a different type of collar than that of Punjabi Kurta. There is also another kind of Bengali Kurta, which is made without a collar.
A traditional Bengali Kurta does not have buttons on the arms, although these have now been added for purposes of convenience.
On bases of ‘Kali’ (a particular part of ‘Kurta’), there are two kinds of Bengali Kurtas. One is without of ‘Kalis’ and other with them. There can be many ‘Kalis’, from four to hundred, even more.
The ‘Chola’ worn by Sikh saints is originally a Bengali Kurta with ‘Kalis’.
When the historic Budhha Dal and Taruna Dal were fighting against the rulers and Muslim invaders, most of their members used to wear only Kachhehra and turban. They would cover their bodies with blankets. Giani Gian Singh writes in his ‘Panth Prakash’: –
Khat Ras Ka Wah Swaad Na Jaanai.
Kaprha Aur Na Tan Par Thhaanai.
Kamar Jaangheeya, Ik Sir Patka.
Bhoore Giltee Baana Jatka.
(They [the Singhs] do not know taste of six flavors. They do not wear any other clothes. There is underwear around their waists and a turban on their heads. They wear blankets, a Jatt dress).
A painting, in which a Nihang is seen without ‘Chola’
Later, they started to wear shirts too. Foreigner painters have illustrated Nihangs in shirts, which are not as long as the cholas in which we see Nihangs today, as their underwear (‘Kachhehra’) is visible. Such shirts or ‘Cholas’ can be seen nowadays amongst a handful of the southern Sikhs in India.
A painting, in which a Nihang is seen in small ‘Chola’
Modern Nihangs wear long shirts, which cover their ‘Kachhehras’.
A Nihang in a long ‘Chola’
It is a kind of ‘Chola’, which was worn predominantly by Muslim rulers in India. The Hindu Kings too under India’s Muslim sultanate used to wear such ‘Cholas’ in Mogul courts. In some paintings, the Hindu sovereign King Chhatrapati Shivaji Maratha and his army men are shown in such attire.
Shivaji with his Hindu army men, who are in ‘Cholas’
A Nihang in skyblue ‘Chola’
An important facet to note about modern day Nihang Cholas is their structure. Similar to an ordinary shirt, the Chola will have buttons all along the front side as opposed to only a few as is the case with an ordinary kurta. This buttons stopped at the waist where the modern Chola has a �pati� (belt) for wrapping around the �Kamarkasa� (cumberband) in which Nihangs keep their weapons. The bottom section of the chola (below the �patti� for the �Kamarkasa�) is open and flowing like a tunic. Many now also have other conventional items similar to western shirts and military wear in terms of pockets and inclusion of �shoulder boards�.