Dupatta Kahani

We all have a love/hate relationship with the dupatta, and cannot deny its versatility. On account of Pakistan Day, we share a little “Dupatta Kahani“. Come along, on the journey of the dupatta since the advent of Pakistan and how it’s continued to make social political statements throughout our history! The dupatta played a cameo role in the 1947 founding of Pakistan, but its first appearance, some claim, dates back 4,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization, evidenced by sculpture from the period showing high priests apparently wearing dupattas.
The Indus Valley artifact called the Priest King is shown as wearing a dupatta. Image from Oslonfarlow.com.
Dupatta has been a multi-faceted symbol in Pakistan's history. Dupatta’s role for women in politics and their liberation simply cannot be downplayed.
A newspaper cutting showing Fatima Sughra. She was 14 years old when she used her dupatta as a make shift flag for Muslim League.
This is an image showing Fatima Sughra taking of the Jack union and hoisting makeshift dupatta flag.
Courageous political activists like Mumtaz Shahnawaz and Fatima Sughra cemented dupatta’s the nationalist connotations by famously climbed on top of buildings and hoisted their dupattas as flags protesting the British colonial rule.
Women National Guard parade with dupatta part of the unifrom. The image is from Margaret Bourke-white
Interestingly, in the early years after Partition, the dupatta’s symbolism was more national than religious.The uniform of the Pakistan Women’s National Guard that was formed during the Kashmir War included a dupatta, it was just a sash across the torso…a starched V-shaped dupatta, more of a comment than a covering.
Women National Guard practicing. The image is from Margaret Bourke-white
The early 1960s, saw the dupatta become shorter and less important. In 1966, Pakistan International Airways’ new uniforms for flight attendants designed by Pierre Cardin “with an imaginatively molded dupatta that not only covered heads but also turned heads.”
The images highlight dupatta as covering covered heads but also turned heads in the early PIA uniform. The image is from History of PIA.
The dupatta was increasingly depicted as a symbol of Islamic modesty and piety. But it always continued to be one of protest. According to Dawn, “During a protest by WAF outside the Karachi Press Club in 1984, activists chose to burn a dupatta to condemn the increasing incidents of rape in the city.”
Dupatta being used as a symbol of protest. Image is from Sanam Maher.
Women protested against the Islamization of Zia regime by the iconic burning dupatta movement. Another surge in Dupatta's popularity came later during General Zia’s dictatorship where dupatta became policy matter.Politicians like late Benazir Bhutto who rarely worn one, also chose to wear a white muslin dupatta to her inauguration ceremony for dupatta’s served as symbol of ruler’s piety, looked patriotic when matched with a green shalwar kameez -- the colors of Pakistan’s flag.
Dupatta’s worn by Benazir served as symbol of ruler’s piety. The image is from SomethingHaute.
Popular culture and entertainment in particular also helped develop what Dupatta stood for.Films especially helped evolve its symbolism, Lahore film ‘Aaj ka insaan ’ had singer Mehnaz crooning “Aei shokh hawa anchal na urra” and then there were songs about carefree flalying like Runa Laila singing ‘Hawa aanchal urrati hai, urrane do’, from the Karachi film Jhuk Gaya Aasman. The most popular would be Malika-e-Taranum Noor Jehan’s classic Punjabi hit ‘Mundya, dupatta chad mera’ from movie Mukhra showcasing playful flirting between lovers. Some employed Dupatta as a device to narrate violence inflicted upon women like Syed Noor’s ‘Dupatta Jal Raha hai’ employing it. There were countless others too, but pop singer Hadiqa Kiyani’s chart topping hit “Dupatta Mera Mal Mal Ka” in 1999 that truly flipped it and reversed its depiction with a futuristing matrix spoof video and simple urdu lyrics. Every young girl sang it in front of the mirror using the hairdryer for the signature Wind in the hair effect from the popular video. And there you go, the dupatta and it’s deep rooted affiliation with us. What’s your dupatta story? Post written by: Amir Ali Shah

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