There was a time in India when the headgear was a representation of a person’s class, region and stature,” says curator Anamika Pathak, of the exhibition ‘Traditional Head Gear of India’ at the National Museum, Delhi. “You would know from a distance if it’s the Badshah Salamat or a commoner. The distinction is no more there.”
The 10-piece exhibition is the first in a series of micro exhibitions by the museum, where they will pull out rare artefacts and artworks from their reserve collection and place it on display for two-three weeks. The exhibition has
specimens of the printed turban, embroidered dopalli, Maratha stitched cap and zardozi cap.
Pathak explains that less than a century ago, pagdi or topi were an inseparable part of men’s attire in the country, sometimes of women as well. “A variety of materials — muslin, cotton, silk, wool — were used to create the headgear.
Later on, jewels were also added to decorate it,” she says, pointing to a deep blue Banarasi silk pagdi on display, with zari work, brocade and golden tassels. Next to it are other forms of caps from Central India, including the Lucknowi satin silk topi and the Banarasi dopalli topi.
The dopalli or two-layered cap was stitched from one side and worn on the head, usually by the nawabs of Awadh. Also part of the display is a turban representative of those worn by the Rajputs, usually made out of block-printed cotton. On the other hand, the cap worn in the neighbouring state of Gujarat would be hooded. It was often embroidered with silk thread and mirror work, examples of which can be seen at the exhibition.
Not only did caste and region, time also played a role in the evolution of the headgear, Pathak says. “Each phase of Indian history shows some distinct or peculiar style of wearing a pag (turban). For instance, the Maurya-Sunga period exhibits show the tying of pag in two stages. The first, the top-knot for covering the hair bun, and
the next, covering the head. The Medieval period witnessed interesting styles of tying the turban. For instance, Akbar’s atpati turban — a loosely worn, carefree style — became widely popular,” she says. It is believed that Aurangzeb used to make his own cap.
The next exhibitions at the National Museum will be about rare paintings, terracotta objects and arms and ammunition.
“Traditional Head Gear of India” is at National Museum, Janpath, Delhi, till August 8