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30th December '2012
The Karakul Cap

The other day it was quite amusing to see the Chief Minister addressing the passing out parade of the police wearing a Karakul Cap. The wearing of these caps of different hues, shapes, and sizes seems quite a fad among the Kashmiri politicians especially those belonging to the mainstream parties. Sometimes even the Indian leaders visiting Kashmir wear similar caps.


According to Wikipedia, “aKarakul (or Qaraqul) hat(also known as a Jinnah Cap in Pakistan for its frequent use by the country's founder (Mohammad Ali Jinnah) is a hat made from the fur of the Qaraqul breed of the sheep, often from the fur of aborted lamb fetuses. The triangular hat is part of the costume of the native people of Kabul which has been worn by generations dating back in Afghanistan. The fur from which it is made is referred to as Astrakhan, broadtail, qaraqulcha, or Persian lamb. Qaraqul means Black fur in Turkic; similar types of hats are common among Turkic peoples.

The hat is peaked, and folds flat when taken off of the wearer's head.Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was often seen wearing this cap — it subsequently came to be known as Jinnah cap. Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan is often seen wearing a Karakul hat. The qaraqul hat is typically worn by men in Central and South Asia. The folding Qaraqul was worn by the former king of Afghanistan, Amman Ullah Khan in 1919. Thereafter, every Afghan king or president has worn this hat. It is a traditional Kabuli costume”.

However, Karakul Cap is not a traditional Kashmiri headgear. Its advent in Kashmir seems quite recent. It probably entered the valley after 1947? The traditional headgear of the higher gentry has been the turban as seen in many old photographs. The peasantry still wears the typical skull cap resembling the Jewish skull caps. Certain theories attribute the origin to Jewish migrations to Kashmir! Turban still continues to be a symbol of honour among most of the people here.


In fact, there is a Kashmiri saying about removing somebody’s turban which means disgracing someone. In all the religious shrines of Kashmir, the priests wear turbans. In most of the political rallies all over the valley, the dignitary invited to speak is first adorned with a turban. Sometime back when there was a spate of political rallies one witnessed a virtual fashion parade of turbans through different TV channels. Almost every politician including the Chief Minister had been adorned with a turban by the people whom he was addressing in different parts of the state. The people “assembled” for these rallies honoured him with the tying of a turban before he made his speech. In some cases special types of turbans were placed on his head as an important honour bestowing ceremony.


By now the Chief Minister must have a collection of over a dozen turbans of all hues and shades. Some of the turbans have been of ordinary dyed muslin cloth mostly of saffron colour with a dashing of green sometimes, while as some have been very exquisite and fashionable headgear seemingly straight out of Versace or Christian Dior. Quite a few looked good on the Chief Minister. Similarly, other political leaders including those from the opposition have been honoured by tying of turbans. One of the ruling party leaders was also adorned with a turban usually meant for bride-grooms!

Most of the politicians have given up the turban which used to be the symbol of dignity and honour, except for ceremonial use. May be due to their failure to protect the honour and dignity of the people? The Karakul caps are the present rage among most of the mainstream politicians. Some of the politicians must have a good collection of these caps as one observes a change of the same quite often especially while facing the public gatherings in different places. The turban is likely to continue to be a symbol of honour and dignity for the common people and it will continue to be used in congregations both social and political. However, the Karakul cap will be the new status symbol of the politicians especially of the mainstream genre in the Kashmir valley for quite some time!

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