Colourful symbol of India: Keeping the turban tradition alive

  • A Sarwar Borah, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 07, 2015 13:05 IST
With modernisation, people forgot the daily custom of tying pagdis. (Shutterstock)

“I will tie the pagdi once and it will stay as it is the entire night,” says Amar Swaroop, who claims to have started the trend of designer pagdis in Delhi weddings. There is no way of verifying his claim, but leading wedding planners do swear by his name when it comes to tying the pagdis of their baraatis.

Known as Balaji Pagdiwala, today Swaroop’s son, Ravi Shankar runs the business. They are among the select few who have kept the dwindling tradition of tying turbans in weddings alive. Another pagdiwala, Raju Bhatt says, “With modernisation, people forgot the daily custom of tying pagdis, and today it has become a profession for us.”

Even though readymade options are cheaper, their business is thriving. Shankar of Balaji Pagdiwala says, “We have bookings till March, and we are doing three weddings a day. We can tie two pagdis in a minute, and on an average, 30 in every wedding.”

The charges vary from one pagdiwala to another, but on an average they charge Rs 3,100 for tying 15-20 pagdis. They even accompany the wedding party on destination weddings. Bhatt says, “For destination weddings, I charge around Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000.”

Raju says word of mouth really helps bring in business. (HTPHOTO)

Raju is a regular in Indian weddings that take place in Thailand. He says, “Word of mouth really helps bring in business. I’ve also been to France and Dubai.” Shankar, too, has also travelled all over the world, and recently attended weddings in Dubai and Singapore.

Driver-turned-pagdiwala Bhim Singh. (HTPHOTO)

And pagdis aren’t all the same. Says driver-turned-pagdiwala Bhim Singh, “It is mostly the Rajwara style for the groom. The Rajputana and Jodhpuri styles are also prevalent. The fabric varies from zari-based to kota doria.”

Of course, the pagdiwalas have also brought in some modernity in their pagdis, such as using a material as light as possible. For example, the one used in khuli pagdi, sourced by Balaji Pagdiwala. “It weighs just 65gm, so it’s very light and keeps the pagdi airy. People wear pagdis only during weddings now, so we thought of making them light for our customers’ comfort.”

Ravi Shankar says that he can tie two pagdis in a minute, and on an average, 30 in every wedding. (HTPHOTO)

Most of the pagdiwalas hail from Rajasthan, and originally used to be puppeteers. Bhatt still lives in Kathputli Colony, an old colony of street performers, near Shadipur Depot.

Wedding markets may be chock full of readymade pagdis, but no one can deny the charm of having a traditionally-tied pagdi on their special day. We trace some of Delhi’s pagdiwalas who are keeping alive the tradition of tying pagdis in weddings.

A pagdi has three parts — turaa (the mast), bal (the body) and the tail. (HTPHOTO)

The tradition, and the technique

Originally, the cloth and style of the pagdi indicated the region and the wearer’s community. Now, it is just a wedding essential. Ravi Shankar of Balaji Pagdiwala explains, “A pagdi has three parts — turaa (the mast), bal (the body) and the tail. The length of the cloth determines the number of bal that the pagdi will have. A nine meter piece of cloth will have nine bal. Generally, the length of the cloth for a pagdi is nine metres.”

Traditionally, shagun was paid for tying the pagdi. Even today, they generally don’t charge a round figure, they always add one rupee or Rs 100 to the sum. For example, charging Rs 3,100 for tying 10-15 pagdis.

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