05 September 2007

UPDATE - The Sikh Turban - Dastaar

I put this in sometimes - 2 earlier today. Maybe it doesn't really belong over here, but I wanted something in this blog that was possibly a little more uplifting than all the unpleasantness about Ms. Maya. I would invite all our readers to go to the blog mentioned and leave a comment. I'm sure the author would learn how important our turbans are to us, and that they have nothing to do with the British!

I read somewhere recently that 99% of the people wearing turbans in America are Sikhs. I'm not sure who the other 1% might be.

The last thing on earth I had intended to do today was write a post about turbans. However, a Google Alert - Sikh - sent me to a woman's blog talking about the turban pat downs at US airports. It was an interesting enough post, clearly written by a non Sikh who found the whole thing interesting and perhaps a bit novel.

I did a double take, however, when she asserted that the Sikh turban was an artifact of the British Raj, something instituted by the British, to be exact

...the turbans didn't even become standard Sikh-wear until the British were in
and decided that is what Sikhs in their army should

I started to leave a comment, but partway through, I realised I needed more than just a comment. Hence this post.

The turban has always been part of the Sikh bana, from Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who founded Sikhi, through all ten human gurus, culminating, I suppose with the requirement given by Guru Gobind Singh Ji with the founding of the Khalsa in 1699 . All initiated Sikhs are required to keep unshorn hair, that hair to be cared for and respected and kept covered.

For men, t his has always meant to tie a turban, although boys too young to properly respect and care for a turban, as well as sportsmen, often wear a kind of smaller covering called a patka. It is a big deal when a boy first wears a turban, a cause for celebration and partying. ( My own son 's adopting of the turban was rather strange and he really was a bit young.)

Women have usually worn a long scarf called a chunni, although this is changing. Most Western Sikh women generally do wear the full turban, as all Sikh women should; Sikhi makes no distinction between men and women in religious practice and obligations.

I ask you at this point to please visit this link to Sikiwiki, the Sikh on-line encyclopedia. It is a bit long, but well-researched and written and better than I can do here.

One of my favourite Sikh websites, All About Sikhs , has this article about the turban, which begins:

Turban is and has been an inseparable part of a Sikh's life. Since Guru
Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, all Sikhs have been wearing turbans.

This whole pat-down thing is obnoxious and unnecessary. I know my husband Mani would have thought nothing of flattening anyone who had the effrontery to touch his turban. My sister Suni and her husband Amritdeep are currently visiting here in Seattle. They have decided to drive to Vancouver, Canada, when it's time to fly home to Montreal rather than risk having security mess with their turbans.

To Sikhs, this is a very big deal.A Sikh's turban is never a fashion statement. The turban is both sacred and pleasurable to us. I know Mani would take forever - or so it seemed - to tie his. One time I asked him why he didn't hurry it up a bit. He said it was something he enjoyed and loved to linger over, as one would a fine meal. His turbans, at least two a day, were never thrown on the dirty clothes heap, but were always washed separately with great respect.

I grew up with Dad and five of my seven brothers wearing turbans. Even today, a man without a turban looks slightly undressed to me.

Something I have learned recently, on a practical level is that the turban has at least one very desirable physical effect. Since my stroke in April, 2006, I have been plagued with blinding headaches. When I told Suni about that, she tied a turban on me and the headache was gone immediately. Of course, as soon as it's removed, the pain is back. Check me out on this. The next time you get a headache, place your hand very lightly over where it hurts. That slight pressure does amazing things. A turban places that light pressure all over the head.

The first time I tied a turban - I might add, with Mani's help - was in Delhi, when we knew we would be attacked. I was to fight with the men and I needed to look like a boy. First, my chest had to be bound, then I dressed in a blue cholla. Last, we tied the saffron turban on my head. It gave me the kind of courage and confidence that I needed to face what was coming. I knew I could never disgrace the turban I was wearing, as that would be to betray everything I held sacred.

As I see it, there are two problems with wearing a turban. The first is that you'll stand out. For a Sikh that should be no problem. (See my signature at the bottom of this post.*) The second is that you might get taken for a terrorist. I have no cure for that except education. I hope this post has actually educated at least one reader.

I sincerely hope that nothing I have said offends anyone. And as always, if I have made any errors here, I apologise and I would appreciate being corrected. Thank you.

Drawing Courtesy of The Daughters Of The Khalsa



The lady whose post inspired the above wrote a comment in the sometimes - 2, blog. Here is what she had to say:

from the ashes has left a new comment on your post "The Sikh Turban (Dastaar)":

Mai- I'm actually glad you stumbled across my blog and my unusual (for me) post about security and turbans. It was nice to have a Sikh comment on the issue. I'm sorry to have offended you. Believe it or not, I know a little more about Sikhi that your average American (that doesn't take much). I have also in my life been quite respectful to various religions traditions and practices.

It is quite a commitment to wear a turban (or a head scarf, or garments, or whatever) all through one's life, and also difficult, especially when you are in the minority to do so. As you could see from my post, many of my opinions of religion are changing and up in the air right now. I just blurted out my first thoughts on the matter after reading the article. After reading your comments and post, as well as the comments of a couple of my regular readers, I can step back a little and see a different side.

Turbans, as such, are really a harmless side of religion, as opposed to some aspects of religion that can be harmful to some. As, for example, the misogyny and racism in my Mormon heritage. Asking Sikhs to remove their turbans in security checks likely causes more offense than any good would come of it--I find it extremely hard to believe that a Sikh would hide a composite gun in his turban, for example.

For me, my post was essentially about the deference we give religion just because it's religion, and Sikhs happen to be a starting point because the article made me think of it. Since you came by, it became a personal issue, and I thank you for that. Hearing about your BIL and SIL who have to cross into Canada to fly out--that struck me in a way that the newspaper article did not. The US shouldn't be making it harder and harder for Sikhs (and Muslims) to live here; we should be making it easier.

With regards to the history of the turban, I will defer to your knowledge. My comment about the British came from that book I linked. I went to grab my copy of the book so I could quote the part about Sikhs and the British army, but I don't have it with me. What I remember is that turbans were part of Sikh tradition, but that the British instituted it as required wear for Sikh soldiers, and this resulted in a _standardization_.

I could be remembering it totally wrong, of course. I'll remove that sentence from my post. Posted by from the ashes to sometimes - 2 at 9/07/2007 9:56 AM


And while you're at it, check out this story about a Sikh forced to remove his turban and untie his hair PUBLICLY.


  1. "I have no cure for that except education. I hope this post has actually educated at least one reader."

    I have no cure either. Recently, I sat through a presentation on Sikhism and was inspired to write a post (udothedishes.com) educating my readers. Though I am not a Sikh and do not wear a turban, after listening to the speaker and reading up on it, I have complete respect for it and what it means to the men and/or women who wear it. Godspeed.

  2. Dear YBR ji -

    Thanks for your comment and kind words.

    Knowledge is the cure for ignorance. Unfortunately, we deal not only with ignorance, but also with stupidity. Unlike ignorance, there is no cure for stupidity. Except possibly death.

    I like being Sikh.

    I checked out your blog and I look forward to reading more about our turbans. Please let me know when you post more.




Please feel free to speak your mind. Dissension is allowed and welcomed. I only delete illegal comments and spam. OK, maybe obscene, but not usually.

If you want to contact me personally, my address is theroadtokhalistan@gmail.com