Sikhs and their Turban

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First three definitions for Turban on the net:

  1. A traditional Muslim headdress consisting of a long scarf wrapped around the head
  2. A dastar (ਦਸਤਾਰ, dastĝr) or pagri (ਪਗੜੀ, pagṛī) in Punjabi and Hindi is a mandatory headgear for Sikhs. Dastar is closely associated with Sikhism and is an important part of the Sikh culture. ...
  3. Man’s headdress made by winding a length of cloth round the head; Woman’s close-fitting hat with little or no brim

The Prophets of the Torah and the Bible are often depicted wearing Turbans. The Old Masters of Europe whose paintings were usually based on stories from the Bible, are full of men in turbans. Across the Middle East to the Islands of the Pacific turbans are seen everywhere, but the Turban of a Sikhs sets Sikhs apart.

While the Turbans of Micronesia may have been spread by Arab traders, it is likely that turbans have been part of India culture for thousands of years. The Kshatria (Khatri) of India were wearing turbansbefore the Muslim invasion. Even Some of the men who came to India with Da Gama were...

Above Section being revised

During the fifteenth century when Guru Nanak Dev founded the Sikh religion, India had long been under Muslim rule. Many Hindus, to retain their status lent their talents to the Muslim rulers and quickly mastered Persian. Hindus were often treated as slaves. During numerous raids, whole cities had been sacked and all their tenants slaughtered.

In those days most of the Muslims and many Hindus 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 see the following reference 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 flourish gradually, when the Guru Granth Sahib containing the "Gurbaani" the Divine Word was compiled in 1604, both the Muslim ruling class and the Hindu priestly class were alarmed because many Hindus and Muslims had 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) "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) "Kangha" – a small wooden comb which must be placed tucked in the hair-tress and used for cleaning the hair
  • (3) "Kara" - a loose steel ring on right hand wrest
  • (4) "Kaschehra" - specially designed breeches
  • (5) "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. The teachings of their Holy Book the Guru Granth Sahib has led to Sikhs being involved in various religious, cultural and political struggles throughout their history. These sacrifices made during those struggles have 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 their identity as well as their lives were threatened.

Head money

The last of 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, hoping to wipe Sikhi from the earth, but the Sikhs preferred to lay down their lives rather than allow their hair to be shaved or Turban to be removed.

Mir Manu, a Hindu, was the provincial Muslim Governor of the Punjab, during the regime of Mohammad Shah. He 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. Head money (a bounty) was even offered on Sikhs. Also known as Khalsa or Singhs after the Amrit Initiation. Sikhs had to pass through many dangers but they survived with honour. In 1764 Sikh rule was established in the Punjab, as the citizens of Lahore had grown tired of their Afghani rulers and invited Maharaja Ranjit Singh to rule Lahore. Before his death the Maharaja had expanded Sikh rule to Jammu and Kashmir and right up to the Kyber Pass.

Sikhs & British Rule (1849-1947)

Having witnessed their bravery, the new power in Punjab, the British Raj listed the Sikhs among the Martial races and began a campaign of heavy recruitment among the Sikhs, as they expanded their armed forces. Sikh soldiers faced showers of bullets and shells of heavy guns and the fiercest enemy bombardments, wearing "Turbans" instead of helmets. Sikh valour while defending "The Battle of Saragarhi" in Afghanistan on 12th September 1897 became well known in the British Parliament when the unprecedented bravery of all the 22 men who had given up their lives, was narrated. It is a matter of great pride for Sikhs that the story of the Sikkh, in this battle of epic dimensions is part of the curriculum that is taught to children in the schools of France. The Battle of Saragarhi is also 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, wearing turbans instead of the steel helmets of WW I. Not an inch of ground was given up and not a single Sikh straggled 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. Such was the high spirit of the Turbaned Khalsa soldiers, when during the First and Second World Wars, 83,055 Turban wearing Sikh soldiers laid down their lives and 109,045 were wounded when fighting as part of the Allied Forces.

For further reading see the "British Empire, 1914/1920 War". (the above page 237) and "Casualties in the Second World War 1939-45", published in 1951.

Sikh soldiers also died while defending India and Australia from the Japanese, in Burma, Singapore and Papua New Guinea where Rabaul Cemetery can be visited so close to Australia.

See: Gurdwara Shaheed Dr. Diwan Singh on the Japanese occupation of the Andaman Islands]]

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).

Sikhs continue to rise to the highest ranks in the Indian military forces. However, many Sikhs continue to aspire to have their own independent State of Punjab by 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).

9/11 and Attacks on Singhs

The destruction of the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center in which more than 3,000 innocent men women and children of many religions and countries in 2001 led to the deaths, assaults and other violence against innocent Sikh men. T

Hindu!, Terrorist!, Go back to your county! are among the less virulent printable remarks that have been yelled in anger at Sikh men.

Denise Leifker a Sutter County Probation Officer, near Yuba City, CA., (writing in Quarterly) says that Sikhs have become a second set of victims of 9/11. Acts of discrimination against Sikhs have been reported around the world. As of 2006, 800 hate crimes were reported against Sikhs in the United States. Although the numbers have decreased since 2001, there are still acts of hatred occurring locally and nationwide. These acts of hate include murder, assault, death threats, and hate speeches against individuals, as well as vandalism, arson, and threats against homes, schools, business and places of worship.

Sikhs have been required to remove their religious head coverings (Turban) for no apparent reason. Two days following 9/11, outside of Sunrise mall in Citrus Heights, California, a Sikh man and his eleven year old son were taunted by a passersby saying, “Terrorists, go back to Afghanistan”. A day or two after that, a man was arrested in West Sacramento for blocking the entrance to a Sikh temple and draining a pool of sacred water. For months following 9/11,in Carmichael and Vacaville, California postal carriers of Sikh dissent were reported to authorities by local residents as “looking suspicious”. According to Michael Morris, in Yuba City an eighteen year old man was pushed off of his bicycle s as he was peddling home from the Gurdwara one summer day. Michael stated that in the past it was not unusual for him to be called “Osama” or to be “given the finger”. He feels these actions have subsided since 9/11 but are certainly not unheard of.

According to a 2003 article by Raj Jayadev, there were three shootings of cab drivers in two months in the San Francisco Bay area. Davinder Singh, 21, was shot to death by two passengers September 13, 2003 in Redwood City. Gurpreet Singh, 23, was killed July 2, 2003 in Richmond, and another cab driver, Inderjit Singh, 29, was shot in the jaw July 5, 2003 when he responded to a call from his dispatcher. Police in Richmond and Redwood City determined robbery to be the primary cause of the shootings, but many Sikh cab drivers say the crimes were about racial hatred. “They just see the turban and the beard and they hate us.” says Baljit Singh, an older Sikh man who has driven a cab in the Bay Area for four years.

In March of 2006, an Elderly Sikh man sustained a fractured hip after he was knocked off his bicycle by unknown assailants in Yuba City. The Sikh man was riding his bike near Garden Highway, when four or five occupants of a sport utility vehicle began throwing rocks at him. None of the rocks hit him, so he ignored the men - described as either Hispanic or white males between 25 and 30 years old - and continued riding. The men drove ahead of the Sikh man and stopped the vehicle, where one man got out and allegedly pushed the Sikh man, causing him to fall off his bicycle.

Wanted to kill a Taliban

As recently as July of 2006, Iqbal Singh, was standing with his 2-year-old granddaughter in his family's carport, waiting to depart for a religious service at the San Jose Gurdwara, when he was stabbed once in the neck with a steak knife. Everett Thompson, the 25-year-old assailant, was a neighbor who said in police interviews that he stabbed Singh because he wanted to kill a Taliban.

  • On September 15, 2001, in Mesa, Arizona, a Sikh gas station owner was shot and killed by a man yelling “I stand for the flag”. A man approached the gas station and fired shots from his truck into the store before moving on to fire shots at other Arabic gas station owners in the area.
  • May of 2003, in the Phoenix, Arizona area, a truck driver was shot and seriously wounded in the abdomen and thigh because he was a Sikh who wore a turban. The driver, Avtar Singh, had parked his 18-wheeler in Phoenix and was waiting for his son to pick him up when at least two young white men pulled up and yelled, Go back to where you belong! and began firing shots.
  • March of 2003, a Sikh American sued the New York City Police Department for firing him. He was allegedly fired for refusing to remove his turban and trim his beard.
  • Amric Singh Rathour applied for the position of level II traffic enforcement agent in late 2000. In 2001, he was hired and sworn in as an officer at a ceremony. During this NYPD ceremony, he wore his turban and maintained his uncut beard. When Rathour arrived for his first day of training, he was told that he was required to wear a hat and would have to forego his turban. Rathour submitted a religious accommodation request and was denied.
  • 2002, a Sikh member was denied entry into the front lines of the U.S. Army because he refused to cut his beard.
  • In September of 2003, a member of the Sikh population sued Delta and Atlantic Coast airlines and a flight attendant for mistreating him on a flight for wearing a traditional beard and turban. He claims that he retrieved a magazine from an overhead bin and sat down when he was berated by the flight attendant who referred to him and a Muslim from the Middle East. When he attempted to explain that he was Sikh not Muslim, the flight attendant told him “shut up...don't cause any problems or she would ask the Captain to take the plane back to the gate“.

Many Sikhs feel that the best way to reduce discrimination is to educate people and to be proud of their religion and customs.

One of the ways that Sikhs try to promote their love of the United States and send people a clear message is by showing their patriotism. According to Sara Sanders, older Sikh men that dress traditionally, often put flags on their bikes, vehicles, and in the yards of their homes. These acts are done more for protection than for any other reason. When people see the flag, some of their fears and hatred disappear.

On the positive side, two interviewees proclaimed that Yuba City and Marysville, home to over 800 Sikhs, is a very understanding and accepting area. Sikhs have been in the Yuba City and Marysville areas for over one hundred years and people recognize that they are neither Muslims nor terrorists. They stand for something different, something special, but the fact that across America Sikhs and their religion are largely unknown by the America public. Other than the few news stories of the deaths, there is practically no information being disseminated on the Sikhs who keep to themselves and stay out of trouble.

Sikhs largely unknown

There was minor news coverage, more than a quarter century ago, on Operation Blue Star with most of the reports speaking of the 'Sikh Militants' who had turned the Sikhs holiest place of worship into a fortified encampement. The stories even included reports of the 'militants' killing pilgrims caught in the temple when they tried to escape. By far the biggest news coverage concerning Sikhs was the 1985 crash of an Air India jet which killed 329. That and the second attempt to blow up another Air India flight, in which the explosives intended to kill everyone aboard another Air India flight from Tokyo went off prematurely at Tokyo's Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers. That too was the work of 'Sikhs', when Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat caused the word terrorism to be used in the same sentence as the word Sikh.

The fact that Sikhs are still largely unknown in America has allowed the use of a Sikh (at least a photo of a Sikh) to be the basis of a joke in the current (2008) American presidential race. It is a sad comentary that many Americans still do not get (comprehend) the joke as only those who have come to know a Sikh or bothered to learn who they are appreciate the 'inside' joke on Saturday Nite Live, a TV comedy show that has been lampooning Sarah Palin the Republican candidate for vice-president. I don't think the joke though is likely to be appreciated by many in the Sikh community as it involves a Sikh taxi driver (or many) being mistaken as Osama Bin Laden by Palin.

Indians attacked in Australian

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 have 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 seeking to be fashionable 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.

A letter originally written by By Gurmit Singh, Australia

Waheguru jee ka Khalsa Waheguru jee kee Fateh

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