Sikhs And Their Turban



Accordingly to the Biblical Terms, "Turban" means a head covering worn by men, made of cloth wrapped around the head. This fact can also be seen in respect of old paintings exhibited in the Museums and the past literature pertaining to the earlier history. During the fifteenth century when Guru Nanak Sahib (CE 1469–1539) founded the Sikh religion, India was then being ruled by the Muslim Rulers whereas Hindus were their slaves. In those days most of the Muslims and Hindus used to keep "Turbans" though some of them had also been wearing 'caps (topi) or kulah'. From the very beginning of his childhood, Guru Nanak also continued the tradition of keeping long hair intact and covering the head by tying a Turban. This continued to be followed by his nine successors (1539–1708). In this respect reference could be sighted in the "Guru Granth Sahib", the Sacred Scripture of the Sikhs:

"Let living in His presence, with mind rid of impurities be your discipline. Keep the God-given body intact and with a Turban donned on your head". (GGS-Page 1084)

Historical Episode

Although the Sikh Faith continued to be flourished gradually, when Guru Granth Sahib containing the "Gurbaani" the Divine Word was compiled in CE 1604, both the Muslim ruling class and the Hindu priestly class were alarmed because most of their people abandoned the respective religions and started following the Sikh religion because it was more appealing to them. Despite the martyrdoms of the Fifth and Ninth Gurus of the Sikhs on 30th May 1606 and 11th November 1675 respectively, most of the Hindus and Muslims did not deter from joining the newly established Sikh Faith. With a view to consolidate this renaissance, special gathering of its adherence was called at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab State. Thus by selecting Five Dear Ones, the tenth Master Guru Gobind Singh Sahib established the "Khalsa Panth" by way of Baptism: Amrit Initiation Ceremony on 30th March 1699. The Guru commanded the Sikhs: (1) To keep up their "Kes" - uncut long hair as provided by the Almighty Creator, including untrimmed beards, moustaches and eyebrows as well as to cover the head by tying a Turban for males and scarf for females; (2) to keep "Kangha" - a small wooden comb which must be placed tucked in the hair-tress and used for cleaning the hair; (3) to wear "Kara" - a loose steel ring on right hand wrest; (4) to wear "Kaschehra" - specially designed breeches and (5) to carry "Kirpaan" - a small sheathed sword in baldric. These articles of Faith were made compulsory for the Sikhs so that their appearance remains distinctive from that of Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Muslims and other communities.

Identity struggle

The tying of a Turban and keeping unshorn long hair gave the Sikhs a unique and an easily recognizable identity all over the world. This distinctive identity of the Sikhs led them into various religious, cultural and political struggles throughout their history and that the sacrifices, which the Sikhs made during those struggles resulted in strengthening their resolve. The worst period of persecution of the Sikhs and the most malicious discrimination against them was during the first half of the eighteenth century when not only was their identity at stake, but also, their very survival. The Mughal Emperors of India-Bahadur Shah (1707–1712), Farrukh Siyar (1712–1719), Mohammad Shah (1719–1748) and Ahmad Shah (1748–1754) had ordered an indiscriminate massacre of the Sikhs with a view to stop them from practicing the beliefs of their Faith and from obeying the commandments of their Gurus. The Sikhs preferred to lay down their lives rather than allow their hair to be shaved or Turban to be removed. Aided and abetted by the Hindu slaves, Mir Manu, the provincial Muslim Governor of the Punjab, during the regime of Mohammad Shah, was the most cruel of all the corrupt administrators of the dissolute Mughal monarchs. He was determined to exterminate the entire population of the Sikhs who lived mainly in the Punjab at that time. So hard were the ordeals through which the Sikhs (also known as Khalsa or Singhs after Amrit Initiation) had to pass through but they survived with honour and established the Sikh Rule between 1764–1849.

Sikhs under British Rule (1849–1947)

Having witnessing their bravery, British Raj preferred the recruitment of the Sikhs in their armed forces. The Sikh soldiers faced the showers of bullets and shells of heavy guns and the fiercest enemy bombardments, wearing "Turbans" instead of steel helmets. Sikh Valour while defending "Saragarhi" in Afghanistan on 12th September 1897 is well known to the British Parliament when unprecedented bravery of all the (22) heroes was narrated. It is a matter of great pride for the Sikhs that this battle of epic dimensions is taught to children in France, and it is one of the eight stories of collective bravery published by UNESCO.

During the First World War while fighting in the battle of Gallipoli (Turkey) on 3rd and 4th June 1915, 14th Sikh Regiment lost 371 brave officers and soldiers. Not an inch of ground was given up and not a single straggler came back. The ends of the enemy's trenches were found blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the enemy who died fighting at close quarters. This was the high spirit of the Turbaned Khalsa soldiers. During the First and Second World Wars, 83,055 Turban wearing Sikh soldiers laid down their lives and 109,045 were wounded when fighting under the command of Allied Forces. For reference one may read "British Empire, 1914/1920 War", page 237 and "Casualties in the Second World War 1939-45", published in 1951. Sikh soldiers also died while defending the British ruled territories-Burma, Singapore and Papua New Guinea where Rabaul Cemetery can be visited so close to Australia.

Turbaned Sikhs in India

In India the Sikh Turban is accepted and well respected. All Sikh personnel who are serving in the Indian Armed Forces are authorized to wear Turbans and their Uniform includes: 1. Turban - (as the main headgear to cover their uncut long hair). 2. Sikh Underwear. 3. Sikh Comb. 4. Kirpan. 5. Kara. (Source: Constitution of India - Defence Services Regulations of 1962, Para 1385, Clause d). However, for the last two decades, Sikhs are being harassed and oppressed by the Indian Hindu Governments through its secret agencies and aided Hindu organizations. Like other nations, Sikhs continue to aspire to have their own independent State of Punjab by way of peaceful means.

Diaspora Turbaned Sikhs

In spite of the historical evidence, in recent years, the Sikhs have been subjected to various unpleasant laws relating to the 'Turban' in other countries outside India where the laws clashed with their religious requirement. One such law is to wear a steel helmet while riding on motorcycles or when working in the construction or mining sectors, etc. In most of the countries Sikhs have been forced to spend a lot of their time and money in establishing that their Turban is an integral part of their dress and that a Turban is their only headgear and one of their significant identities. However, it is satisfying to realize that some enlightened governments do respect the religious and cultural difference and that they have responded positively to the demands of the Sikhs.

The Government of Malaysia allowed the Sikhs to wear a Turban instead of a crash helmet in the year 1973: "Since the Constitution respects religions of other races, we cannot force Sikhs with turbans to wear crash helmets. Sikhs who wear Turbans need not wear crash helmets when they ride Motor Cycles or Scooters". Likewise, the Governments of Singapore and that of Australia showed fairness and exempted the Sikhs from wearing crash helmets. They have been allowed to wear Turban as their only headgear. In accordance with the Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act passed by the British Parliament in 1976, Section 2A exempts "any follower of the Sikh religion while he is wearing a turban" from having to wear a crash helmet. Similarly, the highest Court of the United Kingdom, the House of Lords, has ruled that Sikh drivers and conductors of public vehicles are not to be compelled to wear caps. Also in Canada in 1986 Sikhs in Metro Toronto Police were permitted to wear Turbans while on duty, and since 1990 Turbaned Sikhs may join The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Hate Crimes against Sikhs since 11th September 2001

After the forced crash of four ill-fated passenger aeroplanes in USA on 11th September 2001, Turbaned Sikhs are being targeted as if they are associated with the Afghanistan's Taliban or Osama Bin Laden because most of them also wear turbans. Although there was not a single Turbaned Sikh on board, it is not clear why citizens of USA in particular and others in general are so ignorant about the unique identity of the Sikhs when there are at least half a million Sikhs living in America? [Globally, Sikhs are "23.538" millions]. Umpteen times it has been established that Sikhs neither fall within the category of the Hindus or Muslims, nor they are associated with the Afghani Taliban/Osama Bin Laden.

By virtue of the Australian Constitution, Federal and State laws, there is hardly any discrimination based on any person's religion, appearance, colour, disability, language or race. Accordingly, all the citizens of Australia deserve and enjoy equal opportunity and rights. Unfortunately, due to ignorance of some troublemakers, Sikhs do experience unpleasant situations when they are humiliated. We are living in the civilized 21st Century and there are laws to deal with criminals and other offenders. Irrespective of any ones appearance or religion if any person commits any offence, local Police has every right to investigate and then initiate court proceedings. Then it is up to the Courts to pronounce judgements by according suitable punishment when any one is found guilty. Hence no hooligan should harass any person. All the citizens/residents should be treated with courtesy and respect. If someone still has any doubt, let him read the Book: "The Man in the Red Turban" by David Martin - 1978, published by Hutchinson Group of Australia. Then you will better understand Sardar Ganda Singh's character based on teachings of the Sikh religion.

Significance of Turban

It may again be stated that for a Sikh, Turban - (also known as Dastaar, Pagg, Paggri) is an integral part and parcel of his religion. It is representative of the religious identity and national cohesion for the Sikh Nation spread all over the world. A Sikh with a Turban - (Dastaar) is conspicuous among the crowds of thousands. It is made of fine cotton muslin unstitched cloth having length about five metres and one metre wide. When tying Turban daily both ends of the length of the Turban must be tucked in properly, i. e. the beginning and finishing ends should not be flowing loosely as can be seen with many non-Sikh persons. There is no significance of any particular colour because it could be of any colour. The Sikhs' Turban is more hygienic than a cap, hat or helmet, which are difficult to wash whereas Turban is kept clean with the usual washing. It is also ideal headgear for both winter and summer. Even in icy winds, it keeps the head and ears warm. For a Sikh, his Turban is more than a Crown because it is considered as a gift blessed by the Sikh Gurus. As Sikhs are easily recognizable by their Turban and bearded faces, these also serve them as helpful deterrents against undesirable acts and behaviour and keep them on the right path. Sikhism shuns drinking, smoking, intoxicants, etc.

Sikh Brethren Awake!

These days some Sikhs are replacing Turban by a small piece of cloth or cap on their heads. Do they want to lose their Sikh identity out of fashion or ignorance or to imitate other persons/communities? O Brothers! You are being eclipsed. You are being deviated by the cleverer people and being victimized. You are being deprived of your character. Your manly look is being effeminated. Nay, you are being disfigured. You are being made a victim of the vices. You are being duped by flimsy honours. Your Turban is being taken off. It has brought you all the honours in past. It has made you a "Sardaar", why loose it? Remember, our great Heritage is our Pride. Why to lose it? Recollect the Greatness of our Guru Sahib and sacrifices of Four Sahibzadeys and thousands brave Sikhs to whom we daily remember in our Prayer. Let us adapt ourselves in the image of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. Maintain your relations with your Guru and preserve your position of a Singh of the Guru. That is the only secret behind our Name and Fame in the World. "Keep your head high with a Turban intact and Take care of it". We should always remember Guru Gobind Singh's Divine Word: "So long as the Khalsa maintains his Identity, He shall remain imbued with my vitality". A word of caution: Those Sikhs who have cut off or trimmed their hair and beards and do not tying Turbans, fall in the category of 'apostates' until they regain entry by undergoing Amrit Initiation Ceremony.

Let us respect all the human beings as brothers and sisters and live peacefully.

Waheguru jee ka Khalsa Waheguru jee kee Fateh


Compiled for free distribution by: SIKH KHALSA MISSION INC. (AUSTRALIA) For more information please contact: (61-2-9837 2787)