Knocking the turban off a man’s head (پگڑی اچھالنا) is a common expression in Pakistan meaning insulting or defaming a person. And dropping one’s turban at someone’s feet is a sign of humility, submission — or asking for forgiveness. In Pakistani culture, a turban is more than just headwear. It’s also a symbol of one’s pride.
A popular TV serial in the 1980s, Waris, dramatically highlighted the importance of a man’s turban. The protagonist in the play, Chaudhry Hashmat, a big landowner takes pride in being the chaudhry or the chief of the village, his generations-old haveli (mansion), his old feudal values — and of course, in his turban that he wears all the time.
In the poignant finale of the play, when the nearby river in a high flood breaks the dike and water comes rushing into the village, the villagers abandon their homes. But Chaudhry Hashmat is seen standing inside his haveli in knee-deep water, with his turban proudly sitting on his head as always. He does not want to abandon his haveli. The water continues to rise, to his waist, and then to his neck. Realizing that he’s going to drown, Chaudhry Hashmat carefully takes off his turban and, as if handling something sacred, places it on a high cornice on the wall, and disappears in the rising floodwater.
Turban in English means any wrapping of cloth or fabric around one’s head. In Arabic it is called amaama (عمامہ ), in Persian dastaar (دستار ), in Urdu pugree (پگڑی ), in Punjabi also pugree or “pug” (پگ ), and in Pushto “patkaiy” (پٹکے ).
Pakistani turbans come in numerous shapes and colors.
One of the more flamboyant turbans is the Peshawari turban, so named because it was, and still is, made in Peshawar and is worn mostly by the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and also in some adjoining districts.
It is a two-piece affair consisting of an embroidered dome-shaped hard cap or kulla (کلاہ) and a long narrow piece of cotton cloth, lungai, which comes in different colors and stripes. The lungai is skillfully wrapped around the kulla with one end tucked in its folds in such a manner that it sticks out like the crest of a hoopoe or a peacock. It’s called shamla. The other end of the lungai forms the tail, which hangs loose at the back of the head.
Even though bare heads and caps of different types have become more common over the years, especially in the urban areas, this colorful turban is still worn in KP and its tribal areas, and also in the adjoining districts of Punjab.
Whenever an important guest, especially a politician, drops in, the hosts present him with the local turban as a gesture of respect. The turban sometimes doesn’t quite fit the guest’s head, resulting in a comic effect. I wonder if the hosts make an effort to get the measurement of the visitor’s head beforehand or allow the guest to have a look in the mirror before he mounts the stage wearing an ill-fitting turban.
Another turban, which is worn mostly in the tribal areas of KP, is a one-piece affair consisting of only a lungai, which is wrapped around a soft skull cap or just the bare head in a peculiar fashion. There are variations of how this turban is wrapped around by different individuals or tribes.
Unlike the Peshawari turban, the shamla or crest in this type of turban is not prominent but is half-tucked inside the folds. Its tail either hangs loose at the back of the person’s head or, more often, pulled over the shoulder in front, and, depending on the fastidiousness of the person, may serve as a handkerchief.
I have never quite understood, though, how this turban is wrapped around the head and how it holds itself.
Punjab is and has been the land of pugrees and pugs. Their use, however, has declined over the years. In urban areas, one rarely sees a turban except at weddings where they make the bridegroom wear one — sometimes a replica of the elite pugree.
A Punjabi pugree, like the Peshawari turban, is also a 2-piece affair with slight variation in the shape of the inner kulla. Its lungai is mono-color, often white, and, like the Peshawari turban, the Punjabi pugree also has a prominent shamla or crest and a tail.
The uniform of the prestigious Aitchison College, Lahore, includes a flamboyant pugree as headwear. It has a golden embroidered kulla wrapped in a turquoise blue lungai. Students are required to wear it once or twice a week or on special occasions.
The Punjabi pug, on the other hand, is a simple, long, and narrow piece of coarse cotton, wrapped around the bare head. While the pugree is the headwear of the rural elite, common folk and peasants mostly wear the pug.
The pug also has an unintended but important advantage. It acts as a safety helmet against a strike by a laathi or daang, the long wooden clubs that are used in village brawls between rival groups, not an uncommon occurrence.
Rural Sindh is mostly the land of Sindhi cap, described elsewhere. They also wear a turban similar to the Punjabi pug except that instead of plain cotton they use ajrak — a colorful, hand-printed, coarse cotton cloth — as wrapping.
Another spectacular turban 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 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 head, loosely snakes around the chest, and goes up back into the folds of the turban, dramatically framing the face of the person. The turban’s 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 when riding a horse, he looks as if he has just walked off a Hollywood set.
If interested, you may like to read Mirza Ghalib’s interest in the Peshawari turban here:
The Caps of Pakistan, here: