moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark

Kaftan – India

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Silk! The fabric equivalent of precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum – historically reserved for the nobler part of society. Needless to say, this garment was traditionally worn only by the aristocracy.

From the beautifully picturesque “land of high passes”, Ladakh, neighbouring the Himalayas as well as the Kuen Lun mountain range, this homespun kaftan stems from the very sparsely populated Jammu and Kashmir borderland of Northern India. According to the collectors, Tine Skotte and Martijn van Beek, most ladakhis refer to the garment as Nambu Kos – traditional men’s wear, conveying status through its quality of fabric!

Factory made kaftans are available in the local bazaar at a much lower price than the local nambu, and are made from a much thinner textile. During winter, the woven nambu is brushed up to a thicker texture, almost like wolly fleece. Nowadays, more low-cost cotton and synthetic materials are used for the kaftans, especially during summer – but the garment is in many ways considered rather old-fashioned, and thus no longer worn by many men in the province’s largest town, Leh. Conveying status, the garment thus also conveys commitment to a fading tradition.

/ Ciara Coogan


Photo: © 2014 Jacob Due, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.

Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck,

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