Dress Code: The General and the Turban
One fine day last year, a gentleman from Holland mailed me over a dozen black and white photographs he had taken nearly forty years ago. One of the photographs was that of our Cariappa Ajja (in picture above). That is how people in Kodagu affectionately call the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa.
These excellent photographs were taken by John van der Woude from Holland, during his visit to Madikeri (Mercara) in 1973. It was his first trip outside Europe at the age of 23. John had apparently witnessed the Madikeri ‘Puttari Kol’ which was attended by General (he became Field Marshal later) Cariappa on December 16, 1973
It was a rare photograph indeed because General Cariappa was dressed in the traditional Kodava (Coorg) attire of kupya (short-sleeved wrap-around coat), chele (a red gold-embroidered silk sash) and mande tuni (cream and gold turban) with the ornamental peeche kathi (Kodava dagger) tucked into the sash.
In the later years of his life, General Cariappa used to wear a red gold-embroidered turban, instead of the traditional Kodava turban. Many felt that he should not have switched over to the ‘North Indian’ turban by discarding the time-honoured Kodava turban which looks regal and majestic.
In the recent years, some Kodava men have started wearing fancy turbans, giving them a comical look.
Writing in his Gazetteer of Coorg, the well-known chronicler Rev. G. Richter wrote on the Kodava men’s dress in 1870 as follows: “Their mode of life and pride of race impart to their whole bearing an air of manly independence and dignified self-assertion, well sustained by their peculiar and picturesque costume.”
In the circumstances, it is not prudent to discard the traditional formal dress of the Kodavas which is a hallmark of the clan.
By P.T. Bopanna