The use of turbans once stretched across India, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, protecting wearers from sun, rain or cold. In some regions, only believers had the privilege of wearing one, while other cultures ordered non-believers to assume turbans of different colors so they could be identified. (In eighth-century Egypt and Syria, for example, Christians wore blue turbans, Jews yellow and Samaritans red, while Muslims generally sported white ones).
In India, only the royal entourage and high officials were permitted to wear turbans before the founding of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. The garment was a symbol of status, often decorated with peacock plumes and ornaments. Hinduism, with its strict caste system, forbade individuals of lower castes from donning turbans.
Islamic rule brought about changes. Stylized around their Persian and Arabic heritage, the Mughals’ turbans were conical and broad, unlike the smaller ones previously worn by Indians. And when Aurangzeb, one of the Mughals’ most controversial emperors, came into power in 1658, the garment was used as a tool to segregate the population.