I am fond of Bengali song ‘Bawshonto Eshe Geche ….’ It’s from a popular Bengali movie ‘Chotushkone’. Since today is the Vasant Panchami and this Hindu festival marks the beginning of spring, it’s the right time for playing the song. I don’t miss that. But even before the arrival of Saraswati puja amidst winter, at times both my wife and I chanted these lines to invite spring. This year, the winter appears a bit wayward to me. I am a patient of high blood-pressure. Perhaps, for this reason I suffered a lot this time. My sleep was disturbed on many occasions and along with this I tasted some peculiar dreams. In one such dream, I found myself on the steering of a heavy truck. It was evening and I drove the vehicle from its initial parking place to a different location, just for a mischief. But, in the process I was caught red handed by a person who was aware of the registration number of the vehicle and its garage. I woke up at that critical moment to realize that it was a pure dream. So far I recollect, only once in my life time more than fifteen years back during the peak of insurgency I drove a canter truck for few moments when we were returning from a successful operation.
In another dream, I found myself in a posh hotel. The bathroom was quite big and there was a giant bathtub. Till that period, everything was alright but what I was planning to do I can not narrate in words. After the nightmare, on that night I had to attend toilet. It was the longer call. There had been few other experiences in the dream which I had forgotten as I discovered a way of getting out of this awful experience.
I can not sleep wrapping my head and face. One night, I covered my ears making a Pagree (turban) with my muffler. That night I had a sound sleep. So, I repeated the tricks and was successful in my endeavor. Such benign use of Pagree was beyond my imagination. Fastening of a ribbon or cloth around skull always gives a person confidence. Glaring examples are tennis stars. You can not imagine portrait of players like Björn Borg, John Patrick McEnroe, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and so on without a bandana around their heads.
The word TURBAN has been derived from the ancient Persian word dulband through the Turkish tarbush which is a long scarf wrapped around the head. In ancient Egypt, the turban was worn as an ornamental head dress. They called it ‘pjr’, from which is derived the word ‘pugree’, so commonly used in India. It is a common head-dress for men in Middle Eastern and South-Asian countries. Early Persians in modern Iran and Phrygians in modern Turkey wore a conical cap (Phrygian cap) encircled by bands of cloth, which historians have suggested as the prototype of the modern turban. An early reference of the turban is found in the Roman author Ovid's Metamorphoses, dating to the 1st century BC. Ovid recounts the myth that Midas king of the Phrygians, an Indo-European people of central Turkey, wore a royal purple turban to cover his donkey ears. A style of turban called a phakeolis continued to be worn in that region by soldiers of the Byzantine army in the period 400-600 AD. The Prophet Muhammad, who lived during 570-632 AD, is believed to have worn a turban in white, the most holy colour. Many Muslim men choose to wear green, because it represents paradise, especially among followers of Sufism. In parts of North Africa, where blue is common, the shade of a turban can signify the tribe of wearer.
The Sanskrit word pak, from which the Punjabi pagg, or turban, is obviously derived, stands for maturity and greyness of hair. The turban of a Sikh is a gift given on Baisakhi Day of 1699 by the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh. After giving Amrit to the Five Beloved Ones, he gave us bana, the distinctive dress that includes the turban. It is helpful to understand the historical context of his action. During Guru Gobind Singh’s time, the turban, or “dastar,” as it is called in Persian, carried a totally different connotation from that of a hat in Europe. The turban represented respectability and was a sign of nobility. At that time, a Mughal aristocrat or a Hindu Rajput could be distinguished by his turban. The Hindu Rajputs were the only Hindus allowed to wear ornate turbans, carry weapons and have their mustache and beard. Also at that time, only the Rajputs could have Singh (“lion”) or Kaur (“princess”) as their second name. Even the Gurus did not have Singh as part of their name, until the Tenth Guru. The Sikh Gurus sought to end all caste distinctions and vehemently opposed stratification of society by any means. They diligently worked to create an egalitarian society dedicated to justice and equality. The turban is certainly a gift of love from the founders of the Sikh religion and is symbolic of sovereignty that is of Divine concession. People in Punjab have been and still do exchange turbans with closest friends. Once they exchange turbans they become friends for life and forge a permanent relationship.
Pheta is the Marathi name for the traditional turban worn in Maharashtra, India. In ceremonies such as weddings, festive and cultural and religious celebrations as well it are common to wear Pheta. In many parts it is customary to offer male dignitaries a traditional welcome by offering a Pheta to wear. The choice of colour may indicate the occasion for which it is being worn and also may be typical to the place it is being worn in. Typical colours include Saffron (to indicate valour) and White (to indicate peace). In the past, wearing a Pheta was considered a mandatory part of clothing. Turbans worn in Rajasthan are referred to as the Pagari. They vary in style, colour and size. They also indicate a wearer's social class, caste, region and the occasion it being worn for. Its shape and size may also vary with the climatic conditions of the different regions. Turbans in the hot desert areas are large and loose. Farmers and shepherds, who need constant protection from the elements of nature, wear some of the biggest turbans. Rajasthani turbans are a prominent tourist attraction. Tourists are often encouraged to participate in turban-tying competitions.
Apart from Pagri, Gamucha (also gamocha, gamchcha, gamcha) is also used in India and Bangladesh as head-wear. However, traditionally it’s a thin, coarse, cotton towel that is used to dry the body after bathing or wiping sweat. It is often just worn on one side of the shoulder. Its appearance varies from region to region. Gamucha has been traditionally worn as scarf by male folks of Orissa which was mentioned in Oriya Mahabharata by Sarala Dasa. Male villagers wear it as dhoti. Weavers of traditional tantubaya or jugi community migrated from Bangladesh to Tripura and weavers of Orissa produce good quality gamucha. Assamese Gamucha is traditional attire. Gamchas can be turned into an effective weapon against wolves, leopards, wild dogs or feral dogs or even dacoits, by knotting a large stone pebble into one end and using it like bolas.
There is nice little joke about the Behari Gamucha. Mokama Bridge over the Ganges connects North Bihar and South Bihar. Its span is about two kilometers and it was constructed in late fifties. It was very malaria-prone then. So, the workers engaged in the construction stitched a mosquito net of giant size collectively. Initially they were very happy with their efforts, but soon they realized that the concentration of mosquitoes both inside and outside the net is alike. Actually, the users of the mosquito net were regularly irregular in going out and coming inside the net and the insects did not miss the opportunity to sneak inside and suck blood. Ultimately, the labourers realized that it would not serve their purpose. They took their individual share of the cloth which they started using as Gamucha.
Gamucha had once saved my life. It was the spring of 1971 and our country was fighting battle with Pakistan. I was then a primary school boy. One morning I was digging a ‘V’-shaped trench with one of my friend. I had tied a Gamucha as Pagri. My friend was cutting the earth just behind me with a spade. Accidentally the sharp edge of his spade landed on my head and it touched my scalp cutting the layers of cloth and causing only a minor bleeding injury.
During my travel across northern and eastern India in extreme summer I have noticed both Pagri and Gamucha are the best protection against the ‘Loo’. Lastly, there is a winter connection of Pagri. In Tibet there is a place called Pagri Valley. It lies in an alpine steppe zone on the south Tibet, with an average annual temperature -0.2, and an extreme maximum temperature of 19.3. Pagri is rich in minerals, wild animals, plants, and tourism resources.