A theatrical installation comprising turbans of different hues

The recently concluded Bharat Rang Mahotsav (BRM) in New Delhi had a very broad framework that included not just theatre, which was its primary focus, but crossed boundaries to forge linkages with several other disciplines too. Pagadi, a contemporary theatrical show on the tradition of turbans in India, was hosted as part of the 15th edition of BRM at the National School of Drama. It was an interestingly conceived theatrical installation performed by more than 20 artistes with state-of-the art sound and light effects. The project was assisted by the famous pagadi designer Awantilal and the Swayambhu Foundation, which is active in theatre making, developing new performances and organising events.

Dinesh, the brain behind the act, was born and brought up in the culturally rich State of Rajasthan, where turbans were, and still are, the trend. Sharing his inspiration and fascination for turbans, he said, “Turban represents culture, tradition, colour and rhythm on one hand, and hierarchy, patriarchy, religion and region on the other. The contradiction a single piece of unstitched cloth creates has changed the way we think and act in our society.” He revealed, “This year I plan to create a 360-degree standalone installation on the turban and a book. My work is basically about a contemporary sensibility of turbans in India.”

The turban started off as a means of protecting the wearer from the effects of the weather and injury, before it moved on to become an indicator of status. Evolving through the centuries with complex physical, cultural and historical factors, turbans became a symbol of chivalry, honour, respect and brotherhood. A man may remove his turban while seeking forgiveness for a wrong act or surrender his turban to another to indicate submission and remorse.

The installation comprised 17 bright and vibrant turbans exhibited in an appealing manner. The show began with a demonstration on the dowry system and how the turban plays its role in class, caste, religion and identity. One of the turbans had a small screen under it, which projected the faces of viewers passing by, with turbans tied on their heads. The work also dealt with the stereotype that the turban is a headdress for males only.