Hats off

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 12 April 2018

Want to know more about various Indian headgear? Visit an exhibition at Gyaan Adab today

Heart for Art Public Charitable Trust, Pune is organising a festival — Fedora, The Hat Project, to celebrate India’s headgear. The event will give Punekars a range of handcrafted headgear to don besides picnic baskets, hand fans, mats and colourful dresses for the summer vacation. The exhibition that starts today will be on till April 15 at Gyaan Adab Centre, Kalyani Nagar. 

When asked about the idea behind the project, Padmaja Jalihal, founder, Heart for Art, says, “We have been promoting Indian traditional arts and crafts and working with artisans from various states. We thought summer is a good time to promote hats and caps and so the idea emerged.” 

Speaking about how headgear is associated with Indian culture and sentiments, Jalihal says that visiting dignitaries from other states and countries are always felicitated with headgear in India. “Headgear signifies the social, religious and economic status of the user in our society. Indian headgear is as varied and colourful as India’s geography, customs and traditions. Mewari pagdi, Puneri pheta and pagdi, Kolhapuri pheta, Mysore pheta, dastar worn by Sikhs, Benarasi pheta, Rajasthani pheta, Jiretop used by Shivaji Maharaj, Peshwai Pagdi, the Gandhi topi used during the freedom struggle and the Tilak pagdi — all these reflect the traditions prevalent in those times,” she quips.  

Girish Murudkar, an artist who makes Puneri pagdis and phetas and is a part of Fedora, The Hat Project, says that phetas and pagdis have an important place in Indian/Maharashtrian culture. “There are various types of headgear. In olden times, every man used to wear a headgear according to his position in society. For example, learned and cultured people would wear Chakri pagdi, and Puneri pagdi while farmers and most of the common people wore pheta. Maratha warriors (Mawale) used to wear Mawali Pagdi,” he explains. 

Often, non-Maharashtrians get confused between pagdis and phetas. Talking about the difference between the two and the different styles of wearing them, Murudkar says, “Originally phetas are made up of very long cloth (about 50 metres) and once tied, it can be worn for a month. However, nowadays, pagdis are made on a paper mould and are used to felicitate honourable people, dignitaries on various occasions. Pagdis too are made up of a long cloth (the length is approx 5-9 meters). Even today, we can see many people wearing a pheta in villages every day.

Murudkar further says that in Maharashtra, for marriages or special functions, we (Murudkar Zendewale and Phetewale) have designed a special ready-to-wear designer Shahi pheta. “On the occasion of Gudhi Padwa, Shiv Jayanti, Ganeshotsav, Diwali, people proudly wear phetas and pagdis in Maharashtra. For Sachin Tendulkar, Prince Charles (England), Ranveer Singh (for the film Bajirao Mastani), and many more, we have designed various types of pagdis and phetas,” he adds. 

Kaincha or the golden grass hats are made using dried grass (Vetiver Zizanoids) which becomes yellow and golden in colour. “Locally known as kaincha, this is a wild grass found in many parts of Odisha. It is sturdy and can be moulded to any shape to make items of household use like baskets, boxes, mats, coasters, pen holders, wall-hangings and so on. This grass grows to a height of about 5-6 feet and the inflorescent stick, which appears after monsoon, is used for weaving,” elaborates artist Binoy Kumar Ghosh. 

Ghosh, who is from Jhargram district of West Bengal makes these golden grass hats and participates in different trade shows for promoting his products. Traditionally, various forms of golden grass products, especially baskets were used by locals in Odisha.  

When asked if there is a demand for these hats in the urban spaces, he says, “Nowadays, the golden grass is making waves and more and more city dwellers are discovering the beauty of golden grass products as they are ecofriendly and biodegradable. This craft has got great aesthetic appeal and conforms to 100 per cent natural living. It is because of this reason that there is optimism that this craft will survive the test of time. But as of now, it is a rare craft. It is still trying to establish its market in urban spaces.” 

Kehaan J Saraiya, a Kauna grass artist, says that Kauna (reed) is quite popular and the products that are in demand include Kauna hat, Kauna-Phak (mat), cushions, baskets, slippers, bags and so on. Says Saraiya, “The hat is a result of the incorporation of latest trends and fashion, as well as an initiative taken for craft revival. The hat has become a popular fashion item — people have started believing in sustainable living through environmentally-conscious lifestyle products and crafts heritage.” 

Saraiya, who is from Bengaluru, has introduced new designs to the hats to make them more modern and cool. “Kauna is the local name for a reed or rush belonging to the family of Cyperaceae. It has a cylindrical, soft and spongy stem which is woven into mats, square and rectangular cushions and mattresses by the women of the Meitei community of Manipur. The raw material for the craft is obtained by simple processing wherein the reed is cut near the base of the plant and dried in the sun. It is also smoked if it is to be preserved and stored for a longer time,” quips Saraiya adding that Kauna grass is grown only in the wetlands of the Imphal valley in Manipur.

Such grass and the typical Manipur weaving pattern give the hats a unique appearance. The product has a niche market. “The mats are woven by interlacing the stalks with jute threads using basic and simple tools. To give the product proper shape, size and firmness, wooden blocks of required size and shape are used. Sets of Kauna reed are placed on the surface of the wooden block perpendicular to each other and are interlaced tightly by hand wrapping the reeds on the wooden block using their typical skills,” he says.

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