Monday, March 10, 2014

Baba in the Afghan coat

Meher Baba in an Afghan coat, Quetta 1923
I have seen this picture of Baba all my life.

I did not know until recently that the astonishing coat he is wearing is an authentic "Afghan coat." I never even knew what an Afghan coat was, though I had heard of them. These were originally of Afghan origin made of a sheepskin or goatskin. But imitations of the style by that name, appear to have had their moment as a fashion among stylish wealthy women.

It was also part of the standard 'hippy' garb in the 1960s and 70s. This article, Rise and Decline of the Afghan Coat, discusses its appearance and disappearance during that time. And here is another with even more pictures of same.

And now the Afghan coat appears to be boho-chic. For its boho use and description, see this site.

The always chic Meher Baba was just ahead of his time I suppose.

Here are some images of such coats from the past.

British Lieut. General Sir Frederick Sleigh Roberts
in Afghanistan expedition, 19th century
Here are some authentic Afghani men in coats, one could call 'Afghan' in the truest sense of the word.

The coats made their fashion debut in London in 1966, when the fashionable city began to turn its attention towards anything eastern and asian. The coats were originally targeted towards the wealthy and chic, with a new branding known as "hip".

Post note 3.10.14

I understand from an Iranian friend that the correct Farsi word for this kind of coat is posteen, which means a coat made from a sheep skin.

Sure enough, a search by this word yields better images, that are much more like Baba's coat.

Two old Karakalpaks wearing postıns. Photographed by members of the Khorezm Expedition in the early 1970s. From "Ethnography of the Karakalpak", 1980.

I did a little research on the climate of Quetta, Pakistan, where Baba was wearing this posteen in 1923. Average low temperature there in winter is 26 °F. The record low was in 1970 at 7 degrees below zero. So a coat like this might be a good idea. Quetta is hot in summer, reaching about 95 °F in the day.

The men above in similar coats to Baba's are said to be Karakalpaks. From what I can glean, this is a reference to a region of Western Central Asia known as Khwarezm, a large oasis surrounded by arid deserts and seas that overlaps five or six countries. Below is a map of the region, showing that the caption of the photo is not very specific.

To get an idea of where Quetta is, where Baba was staying when the photograph of him in the coat was taken, the map below helps. One can immediately see how close Quetta is was to Afghanistan.

Quetta in modern Pakistan, bordering modern Afghanistan

Ghazni province of Afghanistan, from
which the Afghan coat is said to originate
Wikipedia says that the so-called "Afghan coat" that became popular in England in the 1960s originated in Ghazni province. The map on the right showing the location of Ghazni province in Afghanistan gives an idea just how close Baba was to this region when this photo was taken.

Thus why Baba was lent such a coat there in 1923 starts to make total sense. The region where this style of coat was traditional crosses into Iran, explaining why there is even a Farsi word for the style, and why an Iranian friend described the coat style as "kind of native for Baba." Baba's roots stemmed from Iran. The area from which Baba's parents came to India likely includes the bedouin types that wore this traditional coat.

Update 3.11.14

I seem to have made a mistake about the home of the Karakalpak people, shown above in coats very similar to Baba's. However good luck figuring out explaining where it is.


  1. The Wikipedia entry is also worth noting:

    An Afghan Coat is a sheepskin or goatskin coat[1] made with the fleece on the inside and the soft suede-like leather on the outside. Afghan coats originate from Ghazni province, situated between Kabul and Kandahar. The coats were made from sheepskins that were fully cured and tanned, colourful and finely embroidered with silk thread. They were first imported to the UK in 1966 by Craig Sams, who sold them through hippy boutiques including Granny Takes a Trip on London's Kings Road. The Beatles visited the shop and emerged wearing the coats. Photographs of them in Afghan coats appeared in print media. They also wore them, inside out, for the cover picture of the Magical Mystery Tour LP. Demand took off and the artisanal makers of Ghazni could not keep up. Crude imitations from Iran and Turkey flooded the market. These coarsely embroidered and poorly cured imitations gave the 'Afghan Coat' its undeserved reputation for smelliness. John Lennon's coat is now in the Julian Lennon Collection [1]

    Imitations of the original design continued to be very popular in the 1970s and 1980s particularly associated with the hippy subculture.