TIE-DYED LAHARIA TURBAN CLOTH
Indian (Rajasthan), ca. 1860s
Rajasthan, India’s westernmost state, is frequently described as a place of contradiction. The desert region is marked by periods of drought and famine—and yet Rajasthan is renowned as one of the most lively, colorful places in India, not for luxuriance in the landscape but for the Rajasthanis’ vibrant attire. Privileged men and women of Rajput society have long worn garments of sheer cotton with exuberant designs; prized above all was the multihued and astonishingly complex laharia type of tie-dyed cotton, as this exceptional pagri—a man’s turban cloth—so impressively demonstrates.
When the Mughal fashion for portraiture took hold in the seventeenth century, Rajput nobility had their likenesses painted wearing flamboyantly-patterned laharia turbans. By the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the art of laharia dyeing reached its pinnacle. From the Sanskrit for wave, laharia wrap-resist is a many-stepped process and requires sophisticated handling of both dye and cloth. Folding the pagri into four or more accordion pleats width-wise, rolling it diagonally and wrapping it tightly with thread at precise intervals before dyeing produces a dazzling array of symmetrical zigzag (gandadar) formations. Untied portions accept dye whereas bound sections resist it; because the dyes must permeate the compressed layers, only the finest cotton mull is used. Successive steepings in natural dye baths are responsible for a spectrum of brilliant colors—kasumal, from safflower petals, yields rich reds and pinks; haldi, turmeric mixed with buttermilk, results in yellow; and indigo, called nila or gali, produces shades of blue that can combine with yellow for green hues. When untied, re-rolled from the opposite diagonal and bound again, an additional effect—mothara, from the Hindi word for lentil—appears, characterized by small checks. As proof that a laharia turban was genuine and not a printed replica, pagri were sold with their ties still in place; an end was unraveled to display the pattern to a client.