Indian headdresses, with the passage of time, have changed their
shape, dimension and name but they have always remained at the core
of out cultural impulse.
The impulse to ornament
and cover the head dated back to the Vedic era. Still functional,
the pugree is more than a mere headgear, a rudimentary and functional
object to protect the wearer from the scorching heat or the biting
cold, dust and snow storms. It is a live example of unity in
diversity. Headdresses are more than a customary identification of a
region or a clan. It is the symbol of honour, pride and prestige.
Culturally speaking Guru
Govind Singh gave a new meaning and power to the pugree (turban)
when he florified its wearers. It was unique gesture to rekindle the
lost glory of the heritage of pugree was sign of pride and prestige
for martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their motherland. In
religious functions throughout the headdress plays a ritualistic
No traditional marriage
in India can be seen where the groom or the bride does not sport some
kind of headgear. To enhance socio-cultural bonds the exchange of
pugrees is a very common phenomenon, especially in marriages. The
headdress heritage is in vogue all the time at the time of
birth or death and even beyond wherein the eldest son takes over the
reign of the family after the demise of the family head in a ceremony
called rasam pugree.
In Rajasthan the pugree
is of various shapes which symbolize the caste and social status of
the wearer. Middle class people sport cotton pugrees known as chira
The colours of
headdresses varied with the change of season and they were laden with
symbolic meaning. Today these symbolisms have passed into oblivion
but the fact remains that if somebody wants to surrender socially, he
places his pugree at the feet of the other a symbol of
The same symbol of pugree
with its multi-dimensional social ethos merged into political
symbolism during Indias freedom struggle. It played a much
more important role during Indias struggle for independence.
It was the symbol of Indian pride. When the Britishers were trying
hard to penetrate the Indian socio-political field, the Indians were
nurturing anti-European feelings. Once Gandhiji remarked, people
these days dislike anything that has a European flavour.
Boycott and a bonfire of European clothes gained currency in the
early 19th century and it kindled a new spirit, a new hope
of pan-Indianness. As a reaction to the Western cultural onslaught
people started giving symbolic importance to Indian headgears. It
became a symbol of protest against the British subjugation. Our
freedom struggle is a live example of the tens of thousands of
martyrs who sported their own specific pugree or cap to demonstrate
their pride for their motherland.
In the context of the
Jallianwala Bagh massacre one can find a picture of the notorious
Crawling Lane where a Punjabi elderman is forced to crawl
under the threat of the bayonet but even then his traditional
headdress is held high in silent symbolic protest.
In the twentieth century
the Gandhi topi (cap) gained the status of unchallenged
symbolism of freedom struggle. Emma Tarlo observed that Gandhi
wanted a cap suitable for Indian conditions. He did not realize that
it would become a symbol of opposition to the British. In the book,
Clothing Matters, Emma Tarlo further quoted Gandhiji:
thinking over all these various type of
headgear, I came to the conclusion that the Kashmiri cap is the best.
It is light as well elegent; it is easy to make; it can be folded
which makes it easily portable
which colour would be most
suitable for the cap? Not a single colour appealed to me. So I fixed
The cap being the folding sort, it would be quite
easy to press after washing and iron out a fresh, clean, smooth cap!
What could be better or more becoming? So having thought this out I
made this cap.
The Gandhi topi became
the conscious creation of headdress to provide a pan-Indian symbol.
This symbol and its ethos were echoed by all the top leaders
Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr. Saiffudin Kichlu, Dr.
Rajendra Prasad, Lal Bahadur Shastri and other innumerable leaders.
Emulating the origin of the Gandhi topi, Maulana Azad and Sheikh
Abdullah always sported the traditional Kashmiri topi
the symbol of their association with fellow brethren. Even a
multitude of the masses who participated in the freedom struggle
sported this Gandhi topi when trying to unfurl the tricolor.
If one looks back it
becomes crystal clear now the headdress in its different dimensions
along with its unfathomable power worked wonders towards creating a
close association between the leaders and masses. Spiritual leaders
like Swami Vivekananda and poets like Rabindranath Tagore or
Subramaniam Bharati all sported a typical kind of headdress to
demonstrate Indianness with it manifold diversities. Likewise, be it
the Gandhi topi or the conical Bangalore headdress prevalent
in Gujarat or warp up turbans of different kinds, they created a
pulsation of pan-Indianness.