Head-wear is one of the most interesting elements of the Turkmen national costume in which the original Turkmen motives have been preserved. The hats' big diversity, their strict functions combined with old symbolic meaning and bright decorative nature, symbolic and magic meaning of the ornament attest to their ancient origin.
All peoples of Central Asia wore a scull-cap, a head-wear in the form of small cap. This fact is confirmed by rock writings dated the VIII century AD. On the territory of Turkmenistan scull-caps of many ethnic groups differed in size, style and, primarily, by design, yet, they look alike at first sight. Turkmen scull-caps are called "tahya".
Tahya takes a special place in the traditional Turkmen wear. On the one hand, it serves a utilitarian purpose protecting the head from the scorching sun and, on the other hand, it serves as head decoration. In addition, there is a third side of it. Once upon a time, these multicolored caps were of protecting, magic importance. In the ancient times, people believed that tahya protected its holder from different troubles, bad eye, diseases and evil. According to the ancient traditions, even an old scull cap should not be given to other person or thrown away.
Tahya may have different forms: round, oval, semi-spherical, low and high. As a rule, they are made of various fabrics - expensive ones such as velvet, broadcloth, silk, and simple ones as satin and printed cotton, etc. However, more often, they are sewn from beautiful and expensive cloth "keteni". Turkmen scull-caps have always been decorated with embroidery.
If in the past tahya was part of complex head-wear serving as its peculiar base and playing an auxiliary role (Turkmen elders wore it under the woolen hat), nowadays the present generation of Turkmens wear tahya as an independent head-wear.
Several days after the birth of baby, a boy or a girl was put on a soft linen tahya with rare padding. Skull-caps from white coarse calico were made for men with bald head. Most of ethnic groups of Turkmens embroidered tahya with silk threads, whereas others wore modest tahya with rare embroidery.
The Turkmen popular costume worn by girls and women has clear differences. Girls and brides put on soft tahya embroidered with colored silk threads with silver wear and small silver dome "gupba" on the scull-cap. Bird feathers that were believed to protect from bad eye were inserted in the pointed top of the dome. Tahya emphasized a girl's blooming beauty, and stylized flowers on the girl's cap symbolized beauty and chastity. The red color possessed magic properties and protected from evil forces. Tahya carried information about the girl's honor. These were the norms of national ethics - the absence of tahya was equal to violation of chastity. Girls wore tahya in such a way that others could see their combed hair parting in the middle and plaited into four braids. Two braids thrown over the shoulder covered the bosom as if protecting it from indiscreet looks of outsiders. A married woman could continue wearing her girlish clothes. However, some elements of the clothes, including the girl's head-wear, were prohibited forever. She could never put on colorful tahya and spread her braids.
The girl parted with tahya after the wedding party, during the "bashsalma" ceremony. At the groom's home, the girlish head-wear was put off from the bride, four braids were re-plaited in two and thrown over the shoulder on her back, and fastened together by a beautiful heart-shaped piece of silver "asyk".
Special importance is attached to the ritual of changing the head-ware on the marriage day. The ritual is solemn, passed in merriment, and accompanied by symbolic fighting of women and girls for the bride. The bride's girlfriends try to protect her for the last time but, as always, the women that the bride will from now on belong to, win in this funny brawl. Then, a bridle plaited from colored laces "alaja" is stuck to the young woman's wedding mantle. The groom pulls the bridle three times as if tearing down the girlish head-wear. After that, the bride's head is covered with a large white shawl presented by a respected woman and tahya is passed on to the groom's younger sister. The meaning of the ancient ritual is that according to ancient beliefs the grace of the bearer of tahya should proceed to the other girl, and she will also get happily married, give birth to many children, for the main mission of a woman is to be a wife, mother, and continuator of a family. Tahya was passed on with wishes: "Saňa-da to etmek nesip etsin!" ("May you also be married!").
At first sight, tahya seems simple in terms of the form and ornament and easy to make. It is not so. The process of making tahya is very labor consuming. To cut out and sew a small cap one needs great patience, diligence and time. For instance, two women plait a wide silk braid "jahek" framing tahya and all their fingers are engaged in this process. While sewing traceries and ornaments, women cover the surface of a scull-cap with such dense needle-work and do it so skillfully that inexperienced eye will not see the color of the basis.
Turkmens carefully treat their traditions. Traceries on tahya have remained as they were many centuries ago. It is not because new patterns are difficult to invent. It is because craftswomen have perfected the decoration over the long history and the ornament has become canonic. The location of the embroidery remained common, but the pattern and the sewing technique were diverse. Skillfully embroidered tahya can be ranked among the original works of art.
The men's tahya has always differed from the women's one by greater decorative simplicity and moderateness, which is quite understandable. However, it had special meaning coded in the ornament. Stripes made of small triangles lying close to each other are sewn all along the surface of the men's tahya. They symbolize unity of Turkmen horsemen - djigits, ready to stand up shoulder to shoulder to repulse the enemy.
Nowadays, the old tahya that nearly disappeared from the every day life in the second half of the twentieth century is reborn. Neither fashionable trends of the new time, nor new fabrics and decoration techniques could obliterate the traditional head-wear from the life of people. Tahya is in high demand. It can be seen on the heads of grown-ups and children in combination both with the national dress and modern costumes. Colorful tahya adds national coloring to the clothes and serves as the demonstration of fine art of needle-work. It is still the most symbolically important element in the attire of newly wedded couples.