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   Tepang - the Pride of Kinnaur 

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Kinnauri Tepang | Photo by Anuradha Miyan

Nestled amid beautiful gigantic mountain ranges, Kinnaur is one of the most picturesque districts of Himachal Pradesh. Owing to its geographical proximity to Spiti and having been historically part of Rampur Bushahr, Kinnaur inhibits the unique cultural amalgamation of Buddhists and Hindus. One of the defining features of people living in Kinnaur is their vibrant traditional dress and the unmistakable headwear Kinnauri Topi which forms an integral part of the whole attire. The headwear is colloquially called “Tepang” or “Khunnu Tiwi” and is different from the Himachali Topis of Shimla, Kangra, Kullu, and Chamba. The design variations and the aesthetics of this headwear represent different parts of Himachal where it is worn. The Bushehri (Rampur region) cap is plain maroon in color with the same design as the Kinnauri topi, the Kulluvi (Kullu-Manali) topis have vibrant multicolored stripes, and the Kinnauri Topi has unique green velvet color and the ones worn in Kangra is a deep saffron color. 

Made up of local wool yarn with velvet green stripe, it is adorned with beautiful wildflowers among which the bright white colored flower seed called “Chamakha” ( oroxyllum Indicum) is preferred among locals. The flower is not indigenous to the region and is mostly found in the lower Himachal region like Mandi, Palampur, Bilaspur, Nalagarh, etc. The usage of Chamakha flower seeds became popular in Kinnaur because of the flower’s resilient qualities - once plucked from its pod, the flower seeds don’t get spoiled and can last for years without getting dried.

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Kinnauri Tepang

The Chamakha seeds are split open from their’s pod and a bundle of seeds called “Dalang” is strung together on a green, and red thread and is fixed on the Tepang. Apart from that, the cap is also accessorized with peacock feathers, marigold flowers, or the dried petals of the rare Himalayan Brahma Kamal (Lotus). However, the use of Chamakha flower seeds as well as the Brahma Kamal is decreasing as these flowers are endangered. 

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Kinnauri Tepang forms an integral part of their identity |  Photo by Tanzin Palkit

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In the olden days, the Tepangs were domestically made at home by all households but the weaving tradition has become less popular nowadays and it is woven only in a few cluster villages like Leo, other parts of Hangrang valley, Pooh and Reckong Peo. Unlike Kinnauri Shawl and other traditional dresses, the handweaving tradition of Tephang disappeared among general people and is now kept alive among a handful of skilled artisans and weavers. In recent years, machine-made Topis are also getting more popular in Looms and handicraft centers in Lower Himachal. However, the difference between handwoven and machine-made topis is so stark.

Photo by Anuradha Miyan

There’s a huge difference in terms of material, quality, technique, appeal,  garment feel, and usability. The handwoven Topis, although takes a long time to make and is more labor intensive, the overall usage and desirability isare higher due to warmth and durability. A topi once woven can last for years till its natural wear and tear, while the usage of machine-made topis is more popular among non-locals and tourists for it is also treated as a souvenir. The native Kinnauri people always prefer the handwoven ones for it has far more value than their materiality. 

The use of Tepang is ubiquitous across all villages of Kinnaur and locals people take great pride in wearing it. The local communities lovingly refer to it as their crown, symbolizing communal pride and prestige, and they believe it upholds their indigenous cultural values. It is worn both by men and women on a daily basis and during festivals, ceremonies and occasions, people heap it with all kinds of floral adornments. There’s also a tradition of gifting Tepangs to one’s special guest and during weddings as ceremonial gifts. The use of Tepang has percolated so deeply in the collective consciousness of Kinnauris that it not only holds significant cultural value but is also seen as a defining part of their identity. 

"One of the defining features of people living in Kinnaur is their vibrant traditional dress and the unmistakable headwear Kinnauri Topi which forms an integral part of the whole attire."

About the Storyteller 

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Tanzin Palkit Negi

Tanzin Palkit Negi is from Nako village and has now settled in Chango iIn Kinnaur. She finished her studies with a Bachelor of commerce from St.Bede’s College Shimla. She is currently preparing for various government civil services exams and is keen on socio-political and civic issues in her state. Apart from reading and scholarly interest in current affairs, she nurtures a deep passion for local Kinnauri culture. 

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