The traditional dress worn by any community throughout the world is influenced by a number of factors that include weather, religion, social and cultural practices of that particular area. Men may err on their sense of dressing but women never compromise on their dress up. Kashmiri women have their own norm of dressing and over the years it has changed a lot, which includes the head-dress that clings on the head of these beautiful women. Being a conservative society and the keeping in view the influence of the patriarchy hierarchy, most of Kashmiri women do always cover their hair and thence the head most of the times.
Few of the elderly readers may remember their grand or great grand-mothers honing the traditional headdress called the 'Kasaab'. Essentially a cap that had intricate design and studded with artificial pearls these women would wear it and then pin on a cloth so that it covers the forehead and the back hair as well spread on the back. A different version of kasaab called as 'Taranga' was worn by elderly Kashmiri pandit women who would embed it with long ear rings and hung up pendants on their foreheads. The 'Kasaab' is literally out of the scene in the local population for a long time now but is still seen with the famed photographers at the Mughal gardens where tourists and locals have a photo taken in a colorful 'Kasaab', to cherish it throughout life. Moreover its revival albeit futile is limited to Kashmiri gatherings at far away shores of Europe and Americas.
'Pueech' (Veil) is what was worn by our grannys and still continues in many old homes and villages. Mostly of white color and made of cotton, it is usually double folded and then tied at the back of head and keep the long end over the mid-back as a long tail. Some women would do without the tie at the back and usually just spread it over the shoulders. There was and still is a particular way it was worn by women dwelling from city, from villages or those living in houseboats.
One may well remember the traditional 'dupatta' that was or still is kept by our moms and aunts. A long 2 to 3 metres of chiffon or pure cotton that is dyed as per the color of the suit, is usually kept over the head in a unique way. It may be tied, kept untied or just swept across the neck. The simplest way is to bring one end over the shoulder roll it over the head and keep the other end over the other shoulder. Being light it would usually skid over the head and required frequent keeping back, unless one would keep it fixed by head pins and other ways. Sliding it behind the ears or keeping it loose over the ears would add grace and dignified demeanor to the women's style. Most of the times, the front hairs would stay uncovered and would be considered as a style of that particular era.
'Scarf' was another easy to wear head covering cloth. Usually a square sheet of less than a metre dimensions it was folded diagonally and then worn full end over the forehead and the tail end over the back of the head. A knot at the chin end and kept over front of the front of neck it could be adjusted up and down. Scarf material was usually silk and it had varied floral designs. These days school girls adorn the white scarf made of cotton material rather than traditional silk.
Nowadays 'Stoles' has taken over the dupattas to a large extent and one finds girls, women of all ages having stoles as the head-gear of choice. They are of different colors, patterns and sizes and different makes and materials. They are worn in a round of 1 or 2 whorls in different fashions which may be like the petals of a rose or a bird's nest or in a cauliflower pattern. Also these days the most common head-gear there is a combo of stoles over the head and a spread over dupatta as an add-on. With a pleasant summer and a harsh winter as two main seasons here in Kashmir, the women folk have to sift between cotton, silk, cashmilon, wool and other materials so that fashion keeps up with the needs of weather as well. The stoles are so much in vogue nowadays that exclusive shops have been set up in the valley which caters to their demand and with each passing day more and more such stores are thrown open.
With a good number of Kashmiris frequenting Middle-East as well as Far-East and the young travelling the internet world one does feel that the influence of Iran, Dubai, Middle-East, Malaysia has also reached the heads of our own Kashmiri women. It is not surprising to see Shayla, Esarp, Turban, Khimar being adorned by young girls and also see some modifications of these traditional headgears from Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Dubai and Saudi to their own likes.
As has the world so have the Kashmiri women braced the changing fashion around the world. What is in fashion circles of the world is quickly adopted albeit due changes by the beautiful women of Kashmir.
(Dr Muzafar Maqsood Wani is Consultant Nephrologist, SKIMS, Soura)