Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bejeweled Turbans

The great Mughals of India decorated their bodies with jewellery from head to toe. The only missing piece was a crown, which was something the dynasty had in common with most other Muslim rulers [1]. The common form of headwear for men was the turban. It is usually flat but the shape changes according to each period. Turbans worn by princes and rulers had luxurious ornaments [2]. 

The original tradition of wearing feathers as a symbol of power goes back to the Mughal's ancestor Timur. The feather on the turban was usually slightly curved because of the weight of an attached stone or pearl [3]. By the time of the early Mughal rulers, there was a new addition to the long curved feathers. Decorative strands of pearls would be hung around the turban and they would be held in place by a fastening or form of turban ornament called a sarpech.

Images :[1]
The sarpech came in many shapes and forms. Ones that are made of precious stones, in a way acknowledged the legitimacy of a ruler; because precious stones were reserved to be worn only by rulers and noblemen. The painting below shows Jahangir handing a sarpech to Prince Khurram--as a sign of recognition.

Images: [2]
The jigha was a form of a turban ornament that was made of bejeweled gold. To evoke the traditional form of a curved feather worn by their ancestor Timur, the shape of the feather was maintained in the jigha [3].This form of turban ornament became very popular during Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s reign [2].

Images: [4]
This magnificent emerald set jigha, dated to the 2nd half of the 17th century AD, is part of The al-Sabah Collection. It was made using the ajour setting. What distinguishes the ajour setting is the way in which large precious stones are set without backings, creating an effect of transmitted light. The way it allows the light to flow through it creates a spectacular effect that recalls stained-glass windows [4]

Perhaps the absence of crowns led the Mughals to increase the imperial look of their turbans. Turban ornaments were taken to a new level of eye-catching display and it only kept growing over the following centuries [3].

The al-Sabah Collection is in possession of several jeweled turban ornaments. This particular piece has been singled out because of its appearance on several exhibition posters and publications. 

[1] Manuel Keene with Salam Kaoukji, "Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals," (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2001), 25. 
[2] Annemarie Schimmel, "History, Art and Culture," The Empire of the Great Mughals, (London: REAKTON BOOKS LTD, 2004), 171 and 176. 
[3] Susan Stronge, "Treasury of the World" in Jewels Without Crowns: Mughal Gems in Miniatures, By Lucien de Guise (Malaysia: IAMM Publication, 2010), 95. 
[4] Information provided by Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals, Exhibition Master Pack, December 2008. 

[1] (detail of painting) Farrukh Siyar. Circa 1712-1719. Reproduced by permission of the British Library. Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia Catalogue: Susan Stronge, "Treasury of the World" in Jewels Without Crowns: Mughal Gems in Miniatures, By Lucien de Guise (Malaysia: IAMM Publication, 2010).
[2] Painting of Jahangir Presenting Prince Khurram with a Turban Ornament, by Payag, circa 1640, The Royal Collection Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia Catalogue: Susan Stronge, "Treasury of the World" in Jewels Without Crowns: Mughal Gems in Miniatures, By Lucien de Guise (Malaysia: IAMM Publication, 2010).
[3] LNS 1767 J in The al-Sabah Collection. Gold turban ornament worked in kundan technique and set with emeralds and diamonds, the reverse with champleve and overpainted enamel. North Indian or Deccan, 2nd half of 11th century AH/ 2nd half of 17th century AD. 17.4 cm high; 5.25 cm wide. 


  1. Dear Haya,
    Thank you for all your efforts at giving a glimpse of what the al Sabah collection has.
    Would you know what is the difference between "the sharpeh and jirgah" and the "aigrette" of the ottoman style (beside the geographical and historical difference of course) ?

  2. @sarahHey Sarah

    Thank you for your comment!
    I apologize for the late reply.

    Now the "sarpech" is defined as a turban ornament and the "jigha" is a jeweled turban ornament. An "aigrette" is just another term but is used in Europe. It refers to a headdress or hair ornament which is in the form of jeweled feathers or a brooch attached to feathers.

    The aigrette is shaped differently from the common curved feather-like sarpech worn by the Mughals.

    Mughal rulers were actually aware of European aigrettes and admired them. As seen in this painting!

    I hope this answers your question.

  3. Thanks Haya,
    Yes it does answer my question!
    and thanks for the link to the document...

    I have to admit that since I have put my luggage down in Kuwait, I have learnt so much with the help of the DAI. Lecture after lecture, (some very interesting, others, sometimes, soporific) but I have accumulated such a wider exposure to culture and arts under the Islamic stamp.
    And I can't thank the DAI enough...
    Let it be known that some friends of DAI benefit deeply and profoundly from what is offered. The DAI might not have a way to measure the impact of lectures on the audience, but it is an incredible learning tool with an extraordinary quality of lecturers.

  4. @sarah

    Your comment put the biggest smile on my face. Even though I just joined the DAI team, it makes me so happy to know you feel that way about DAI.

    They really do try their best and what is important is DAI's main aim is to educate the public. And there's nothing more important than that. Even the people working at DAI, including myself, are constantly learning new things from the lectures.

    DAI has plans to keep growing so I hope you will continue to be a friend and supporter.

    Thank you Sarah for this wonderful comment.