The Pagadi Unravelled

The famous Puneri Pagadi of Maharashtra lives an ironic existence — copyrighted as a symbol of Pune but disconnected from everyday popularity

On September 4, 2009, Geographical Indication Status — which certifies that a product belongs to a certain region — was accorded to a traditional Maharashtrian headgear, the Puneri Pagadi, making it the official cultural symbol of the city. A 10-member group called Shree Puneri Pagadi Sangh had spearheaded this drive to honour the headgear, patronised by the Peshwas and later given patriotic colours by Lokmanya Tilak, with an official stamp of recognition. "We wanted to make it as recognisable as the Maharashtrian Paithani sari; so that everyone is sure of its origin in Pune," says Sandeep Khandare, one of the few manufacturers and wholesale-sellers of Puneri Pagadi in the city. Out of a small flat in Balaji Nagar, Khandare and some hired workers have been manufacturing the 11-layered pagadi and its many variants for the past decade. Sales teeter around 30-40 pieces a month, mostly for "VIP customers", and cost around Rs 500 for a basic piece.

But the headgear, long past its everyday utility or importance, is now reserved for traditional ceremonies and weddings. Feelings towards the pagadi are mixed. The few traders who sell it, want to preserve its authentic form and make, but most young residents hardly look up to it as being a symbol of the current reality of the city. In 1973, the Puneri Pagadi became popular with the memorable play, Ghashiram Kotwal. But director Jabbar Patel wouldn't still call it a representative of the times. "I don't think it holds much significance today," says Patel.

The irony of the situation is that the pagadi's modern connotations are in doubt, but its traditional significance remains unrivalled. At the International Pune Festival last year, every judge on the panel got a lesson in balancing it. On traditional days celebrated in schools, colleges or corporates, this one tops the attire. At weddings, this is what many guests cap their finery with, as do the youngsters performing the ritual gondhal art form. They make for classy gifts and souvenirs, open to customisation with zari work and pearls. But this is where the attraction stops. "I don't think anyone my age even gives it any deep thought. It is like the many traditions we follow, we understand or question very little of it," says 20-year-old musician, Saket Kanetkar.

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