photo credit Sandro Lacarbona
The perak is a status symbol for a Ladakhi woman, her wealth and position are shown by the number and quality of the stones decorating it. Turquoise is the perak's dominant element. In fact, the word "perak" is said to be derived from the word "per", an old Ladakhi term for turquoise.
The perak is worn by young girls starting at the age of five or six, but these are small and simple. The full perak is worn by a married woman as her most valued possession, if possible, untill old age. The value of the perak's turquoise stones acts as a form of old-age security. The perak also has a practical function: it protects against cold weather.
The perak traditionally is given to the eldest daughter when she marries. So, its many turquoises may represent pieces collected and passed down over several generations. When a woman has no daughter her perak can be inherited by a close female relative. Sometimes a woman gives it to a monastery.
photo credit Sandro Lacarbona
The typical perak has a base about 1 m long, made of brown or red dyed leather or thick felt, covered with a layer of thinner red felt all stitched together. When laid flat the perak resembles a snakeskin which actually it represents. Draped over the top of a woman's head it looks like a raised cobra poised to strike. Resemblance is made stronger by the two black wool ear flaps worn at each side of the head. In Hindu and Buddhist iconography the cobra with expanded hood represents protection of a deity image and the perak by this analogy offers protection to the wearer.
Most of the perak's visible surface is covered with turquoise stones pierced and sewn or glued to the base. So, between 100 to 400 stones may be arranged in as many as 7 rows, their total weighing as much as 3 kg. The single biggest and best stone is usually placed at the very front point followed by the next best where they are most easily seen.
photos from www.christies.com
Besides turquoise other stones may be included in the perak composition: carnelian, coral, mother-of-pearl, amber. The wealthiest women have a further side decoration of up to ten strings of coral beads hung from a silver bar down the back on the left side.
Metal ornaments are another element in perak embelishment. Most important is the gold or silver Tibetan ga'u box centrally placed among turquoise stones. Some peraks display a series of ga'us usually the best one on top but also at the back.
While doing research on perak I found out about another interesting headdress named kupa or kupasi. It is worn by the Kalash women of Pakistan. The kupa consists of a long, thick piece of wool, which the women would spin, weave and dye themselves. This is then covered in cowrie shells, beads, metal pendants, bells and buttons. It may also be stuck with feathers and pieces of lavender. The cowrie shells represent fertility, symbolize life force and protect the wearer from bad luck. They are traded from the coast, so these indicate wealth and influence.
photos found here
The kupa is given to girls by their uncle at around five years of age. This signifies that they are no longer sexless children, but little girls who will grow into women. From this point on, the girls are not allowed to cut their hair. It is braided into five long plaits worn by all Kalash women, with one at the front and an extra long one at the back that extends down to the lower back and is tied with a small bell.
For everyday wear,women wear a cowrie-decorated pillbox-type hat (shushut). The kupa is only worn on special occasions and, after receiving their first one, the girls and women are responsible for making their own, often during the cold winter months.
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