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The Turbans (Pugrees) of Pakistan

Posted on September 24, 2008
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Culture & Heritage, Society
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Mast Qalandar

As promised in my earlier post on The Caps of Pakistan, it is now time to talk about Purgees, or turbans. Turban in Pakistani culture is more than just a headwear. It is also a symbol of one’s honor.

Kicking the turban off a person’s head (pugree uchalna) is tantamount to inflicting an insult on him. On the other hand, dropping one’s turban at someone’s feet is a sign of extreme humility and asking forgiveness. In southern Punjab and Sindh, a peasant or hari would drop his turban at the feet of the zamindar or the feudal lord when formally greeting him. While doing so, he would also bend down to touch the zamindar’s feet.



Some of the readers might recall the political slogan of Nawaz Sharif’s campaign, back in 1988: “Jaag, Punjabi jaag. Teri pug nooN lag gaya daagh” (Wake up Punjabi and look at your turban. It is stained!). Sharif ‘s campaign advisors had coined this slogan to wean away the Punjabi voters from Benazir Bhutto, a Sindhi, by appealing to their ethnicity and chauvinism. Even though it was a dumb idea to coin a divisive slogan like that, it does, however, show the importance a turban plays in the Pakistani value systems.

Another instance where the honor attached to a turban was dramatically highlighted was the popular TV serial of the 1980s, Waris. Remember, how the protagonist in the play, Chaudhry Hashmat, takes pride in his lands, his haveli, his old feudal values — and, of course, his turban? In the poignant finale of the play, when the river breaks the dyke in high flood, and the water comes rushing into the village, everyone abandons the village except the Chaudhry. He is seen standing in his haveli, in knee-deep water, with his turban sitting proudly on his head, as always. He doen’t want to abandon his lands, his haveli and his turban — his honor. Eventually, when the water rises to his waist and then to his neck, the Chaudhry realizes he is going to drown. Even then, instead of saving his life, he carefully takes off his turban and, as if handling something sacred, places it carefully on a high cornice in the room, and disappears in the rising floodwaters.

Let’s now look at the different turbans, worn in Pakistan, and their anatomy. First, the name – Turban – in English means any wrapping of cloth or fabric around one’s head. In Arabic it is called “amaama”, in Persian “dastaar”, in Urdu “pugree” or ” kullah” in Punjabi “pugree” or “pug”, and in Pushto “patkaiy” or “patka.” (I do not know the Sindhi or Balochi for turban. Readers, please fill in!).

Starting with NWFP, one of the traditional turbans is a two-piece affair. One piece consists of a dome-shaped hard cap or kulla. It is finely embroidered with golden thread. The more intricate and dense the embroidery the pricier is the kulla. The other piece, called lungi, consists of a long and narrow piece of cotton cloth (not to be confused with the lungi that men in rural Punjab wear instead of a shalwar). The lungi of the turban comes in different colors, often in stripes, is starched, carefully gathered and skillfully wrapped around the kulla. (You can wrap the lungi around the kulla only when wearing the kulla, not otherwise.) One end of the lungi is stuck in the folds and stands like the crest of a hoopoe or peacock; it is called shamla. The other end forms the tail, which hangs loosely at the back of the person. Wrapping a lungi around the kulla requires a bit of skill. This type of turban is also called Peshwari kullah. It’s a spectacular headwear but a bit bulky, and sits well on persons of larger frame.

Even though different caps and bare heads have become more common over the years, this flamboyant Peshawari turban is still worn in the NWFP, FATA and adjoining districts.

Whenever an important visitor descends on NWFP, he is presented the Peshawari turban and is made to wear it during the reception, sometime with comic results.

The other turban, which is worn mostly in the tribal areas, is a one-piece affair consisting of only lungi, which is wrapped around the bare head in a peculiar fashion. There are slight variations in how this turban is wrapped around by different individuals or tribes, but it is a distinctive tribal headwear in the borderlands of NWFP. It’s worn without any cap or kulla and, unlike the Peshawari Kulla, the shamla or crest in this type of turban is not prominent. Its tail is either hangs loose at the back of the person or, more often, pulled over the shoulder in front — and occasionally, depending on the fastidiousness of the wearer, serves as a handkerchief. I have never quite understood how this turban is wrapped and how does it hold itself.

The Punjab, as I have said elsewhere, is and has been the land of turbans – pugrees and pugs – Their use, however, has declined over the years and bare heads and a variety of caps have taken their place. In fact, in Lahore or any other urban center, one rarely sees a turban except on ceremonial occasions and marriages, where they make the bridegroom wear one – usually a cheap replica of the elite pugree.

Present day Chaudhrys of Punjab, unlike Chaudhry Hashmat of the TV play Waris, prefer to cover their pates with a comb-over or, occasionally, with braided peaked caps — and dark glasses — rather than with a traditional pugree. However, in rural Punjab the pugrees and pugs are still widely worn.

A Punjabi pugree, like the Peshawari turban, is a 2-piece affair except that its inner kulla is relatively soft and conical in shape and the outer wrapping is usually, but not always, white and is made of starched, coarse muslin. Like the Peshawari turban the pugree too, has a prominent shamla or crest (sometime called turra) and a tail. The height of the shamla or turra varies from individual to individual and place to place.

The uniform of the prestigious Aitchison College, Lahore, includes a flamboyant pugree as head-wear. It has a golden embroidered kulla wrapped in a turquoise blue “lungi”. Students are required to wear it once or twice a week or on special occasions. Unlike the Peshawri turban it does not unravel easily with a tug at the tail. Probably because of its softer kulla and the muslin lungi, which ties together pretty tightly.

The Punjabi pug on the other hand, is simply a long and narrow piece of coarse cotton, usually but not always white, wrapped around the head. Peasants in villages will use a whole array of colors for the pug. While the pugree is the headwear of the rural elite, commoners mostly wear the pug. While the basic elements of both the pugree and the pug remain the same throughout Punjab, there are variations in the color of the materials used and the way the two are wrapped around the kulla or tied around the head.

Probably the most spectacular of turbans worn in Pakistan is the one worn by Baloch sardars. It consists of fine, spotless white cotton wrapped around the head in a manner that only a Baloch can figure out and handle. It does not have a crest or “shamla” Its tail, instead of hanging loosely at the back, comes down on one side of the turban, loosely snakes around the chin and then up on the other shoulder, the end tucked in the folds of the turban, thus framing the face of the person in the folds of white cotton. The turban tail is also used to cover one’s face during dust storms.

With his characteristic beard and mustache, a Baloch sardar cuts a striking figure in his white turban, and sometimes, when riding a horse, looks as if he has just walked off a Hollywood set.

Sindhi landlords of Baloch origin also wear the Baloch turban. Sindhi peasants, however, other than wearing the Sindhi cap, wear a simple turban somewhat similar to Punjabi pug except that instead of white cotton they also use ajrak — a colorful, hand-printed, coarse cotton cloth — as wrapping.

There is one more turban that became ubiquitous in parts of the NWFP and Balochistan in the decade of 1990s and then almost disappeared after 9/11. We hope it doesn’t come back. If you haven’t guessed it, I am talking of the black turban of the Taliban.

Mast Qalandar dabbles in everything – history, culture, education, poetry, armchair politics and, when sufficiently provoked, religion. He has lived mostly in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar and also in several nooks and crannies of Pakistan. Currently he divides his time between Islamabad and New York.

59 Comments on “The Turbans (Pugrees) of Pakistan”

  1. Daktar says:
    December 11th, 2006 11:58 am

    Wow. Another striking and beautiful post! Thank You. I am emailing it to my non-Pakistani friends.

  2. December 11th, 2006 12:06 pm

    MQ: What category do the ‘haree pagree waaley’ fall into? Nowadays they seem to be the most ardent pagree lovers found in the cities of Pakistan.

  3. December 11th, 2006 12:08 pm

    Thank you for another great post, MQ.

    As we were formatting this, I came across another really nice write-up in The Seattle Times that explains the differences between different types of turbans globally. Here.

  4. Adnan Ahmad says:
    December 11th, 2006 12:56 pm

    Beautiful post! Loved the part about Waris. I saw it as a rerun on ptv and was just mesmerized by it.

  5. ayesha says:
    December 11th, 2006 2:19 pm

    Wonderfully researched post! Was a very informative read.

  6. MQ says:
    December 11th, 2006 2:53 pm

    [quote] “What category do the ‘haree pagree waaley’ fall into?” [/quote]

    Bilal,
    Did you know what the “haree pugree waalas” are referred to by folks in Pakistan? “Jannati totay” or “Parrots of Paradise”! No one but only Lahoris could up with a name like this.

    Incidentally, the two men in green turbans in the pictures do not seem to b a “parrots of paradise”. Their style of turbans and the rest of their attire suggests they are “malangs” or “mujawars” of somw shrine — a benign lot.

  7. mahvesh says:
    December 11th, 2006 3:19 pm

    Hi,
    this was a great piece and reminded me of my great grandfather…we have some of his pics and in every pic he has t his huge pagree on his head…now i truly understand the meaning of it…

  8. Baber says:
    December 11th, 2006 3:50 pm

    Very nice post. Baloch’s living in Karachi wear that turban only on weddings now. People look more like warriors then grooms, thats what I think. One person I know started growing beared before his wedding, people think the turban goes better with the beared on the face. I have to wear one eventually on mine.

  9. really bored says:
    December 11th, 2006 3:59 pm

    That’s one nice photoessay you got there – never thought that turbans would make an interesting read :-)

  10. Samdani says:
    December 11th, 2006 5:57 pm

    Great work. Good resource. I have also emailed it to friends.

    The green, specially this shade is usually religious and you see them at lots of shrines as you said.

    Another thing to mention might be how many military uniforms have pugrees as the cap. The US coast guard recently disallowed Sikh turbans as uniform. We have soem uniforms that require pugrees like Frontier Constabulary I think. Also both Pakistan and Indian soldiers at Wagah BOTH wear pugrees. Starched. Ours black, theirs red and gold. Ours with malatia shalwar kameez.

  11. Sa'ad says:
    December 11th, 2006 8:42 pm

    Thank you MQ, you answered the question that i came to ask. Who really ARE the ‘haree pagree waaley’? Is it a cult of wannabe maulanas? Are they molvis with bad hair day? Do they belong to Greenpeace Pakistan? Who are they?? And why are they always seen in a pair?

    BTW, i love that baloch turban even though im from punjab.

    That group photo also can be captioned as ‘Beards of pakistan’ (hey, the 5′o click shadow also counts as beard)

  12. December 12th, 2006 2:54 am

    Amazing post… Turban of Pakistan rangers at Wahgah border is one of my favorites. These guys look really great…

  13. TURAB says:
    December 12th, 2006 4:57 am

    great post MQ… keep it up… interestingly enough in Pakistan different sects of Muslims wear different coloured turbans to represent their sect..(nothing against it just my $0.02) Rangers wali is waqi something and Mushi looks good too! ;)

  14. Pakpics says:
    December 12th, 2006 5:45 am

    Excellent post & what styles of Pugs. Geo

  15. MQ says:
    December 12th, 2006 6:41 am

    Turab,

    Yes, there is a variety of religious turbans worn in Pakistan, which could be a subject of separate post. But, you know, unraveling a religious turban can be a bit risky.

  16. December 12th, 2006 7:46 am

    How about writing a post on chapals (shoes) of Pakistan.

  17. Formerly Yahya says:
    December 12th, 2006 8:02 am

    You know I was thinking the same thing. Let’s hope chappals tickle MQ’s fancy too. :)

  18. MQ says:
    December 12th, 2006 8:32 am

    Adil,

    I checked the Seattle Times article. Very interesting pictures and a good description. Incidentally, I discovered that there is also a documentary on Indian Pugrees.

    DhartiPakistan,
    A great picture of the ranger in turban! I wish the picture had shown the full “Shamla”.

  19. khalid says:
    December 12th, 2006 12:17 pm

    Another very informative post,thanks ,everyday day we learned something new and most of the things we have been watching,seeing or sometime doing doing ourself or somebody in the family or friend but never knew the background, through ATP everyday we are learning something new.
    thks

  20. December 12th, 2006 1:27 pm

    Thanks so much for this informative post. A friend and I were recently debating turbans in Pakistan vs. India and this helps so much. You guys are doing a great service by adding such a wealth of information on Pakistan to the Internet.

  21. drpak says:
    December 12th, 2006 11:56 pm

    Amazing post. Really well done!!

  22. December 13th, 2006 7:51 am

    After reading the posts, one pug was stuck in mind and took me a while to share this one. This pug is rare of its kind in Pakistan and is worn by Prince Malik Ata, the hereditary lord of Fatehjang. He also appeared in famous Urdu serial “Alpha Bravo Charlie”.

  23. Ishaq says:
    December 13th, 2006 9:46 am

    The essay and the pugs look so beautiful. I always thought pugrees were not very impressive. But looking at this I feel like wanting to wear one myself.

  24. Franck S. says:
    December 13th, 2006 12:28 pm

    Really informative and eye catching.

    It should also be mentioned that in all cultures turbans are not just decorative they are also functional. They serve multiple utilities and are often multi-purpose devices.

  25. MQ says:
    December 13th, 2006 9:59 am

    Ishaq,

    Do you know what? One of the things I always wished to do here in New York, for sheer “masti”, was to wear a Peshawri Kulla or a Baloch pugree and ride the subway. Normally people here don’t stare at anyone but I bet they will have hard time ignoring the Kullah or the Pugree.

  26. MQ says:
    December 13th, 2006 1:53 pm

    Franck S.

    You are right. Turbans are a multi-purpose head-wear. Other than protecting one’s head from sun and cold, the Punjabi ‘pug’ also serves the purpose of a helmet, protecting the head from the blow of a “daang” or a wooden pole used during village brawls — not an uncommon phenomenon in the rural Punjab. Other than that the village folks also use the unfolded ‘pug’ as a shopping bag, when the shopkeeper has none to offer.

    There are numerous other ways in which the unfolded pug is used. On the other hand, the proper two-piece pugree or a Peshwari kullah are more of a decorative head-wear.

  27. Sohaib says:
    December 24th, 2006 1:08 pm

    Having studied in Aitchison College for two interesting years, I remember how every Friday we were supposed to wear those fancy pugrees. While the junior students looked at them as a source of pride, making sure theirs were beautifully upright and starched, for the senior students it was more of a joke or necessary evil, just to make sure the principal doesn’t cane them for not wearing one. I myself, being originally from a less prestigious school with no such “grand” traditions, found the whole exercise rather fascinating.

  28. Nazeem Khan says:
    January 21st, 2007 2:07 pm

    Sir, I have recently acquired a Pug/longi as a souvenir from Kabul.Could some one please send me instructions in
    how to tie a pugree,Punjabi fashion.I.E with shamla.
    many thanks.
    Nazeem.

  29. MQ says:
    January 22nd, 2007 12:59 am

    Nazeem Khan,

    Even though I don’t have a first hand experience, I can volunteer some tips, based on my observation, for tying an ordinary Punjabi pug:

    1. Gather the lungi into a sort of loose rope. If you have seen a dyer gathering a women’s dopatta after he has dyed it, you would know what I mean.
    2. Stand in front of a large mirror holding the lungi (what is now a rope) in your both hands like you hold a tie when putting it around your collar.
    3. Hold one end of the lungi in your teeth.
    4. start tying the rest of the lungi (using both hands) around your head — a bit tightly but not too tight. The lungi is usually long enough for 3 or 4 or even 5 rounds depending the size of one’s head
    5. Make sure you don’t follow the same track each time you wrap the lungi around your head. The tracks should criss cross each other. Otherwise the pugree won’t hold.
    5. When you run out of the length of the lungi tuck the end inside the folds to a side.
    6. Release the other end from your teeth and also tuck it in the folds somewhere.

    Try doing this a few times until you get the desired result just as you try a new tie until you get a knot of your choice.

  30. Peter says:
    March 4th, 2007 2:08 pm

    Interesting, very interesting! Your knowledge is priceless!!

  31. MQ says:
    March 4th, 2007 10:26 pm

    [quote post="460"]“Interesting, very interesting! Your knowledge is priceless!!”[/quote]

    Thanks!

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