“The turban is one Guru’s gift to us. It is how we crown ourselves as Singhs and Kaurs who sit on the throne of commitment to our own higher consciousness. For men and women alike, this protective identity conveys royalty, grace, and uniqueness. It is a signal to others that we live in the image of infinity and are dedicated to serving all. The turban does not represent anything except complete commitment. When you choose to stand out by tying your turban, you stand fearlessly as one single person standing out from six billion people. It is the most outstanding act.”
A turban has multifarious symbolisms – courage, piety, dedication, and sovereignty. However, the main reason why Sikhs wear a turban is to show their love and reverence for the founder of the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singhji. Although the turban has been around for thousands of years, being worn in different ways by people of varied religions, it is still an inseparable part of Sikhism. Guru Nanak Dev wore a turban and Guru Gobind Singhji stressed adorning a turban saying,
“Kanga dono vakt kar, pag chune kar bandhai”.Comb your hair twice a day and tie your turban carefully fold by fold.
A turban provides a unique identity to a Sikh. Like Guru Gobind Singh said, “Khalsa mero roop hai khaas, Khalse me hau karo niwas“, meaning Sikh is a true picture of mine. I live in a Sikh. It is understood that in order to meet one’s Guru, he/she must look like the Guru (wear a turban).
‘Dastar’, as a turban is often referred to in Punjabi, is an article of faith representing many virtues; honor – as it has been awarded to those who serve the community as a symbol of honor, spirituality, and self-respect, responsibility, piety, and moral values – the Khalsa or warrior has been always seen as the protector of the weak, moving from village to village during battles, knocking at doors to be hidden in houses from the enemy. It was a common saying in Punjabi, “Aye Nihang, booha khol de nishang”. (The Nihangs are at the door, dear woman, open the door without any fear). It is an unmistakable symbol of courage, a dastar not only covers a Sikh’s long hair and keeps it in place but it also denotes courage, sacrifice, and martyrdom. There are references in Sikh history that Guru Gobind tied ‘dumalas’ (dastars) on the heads of his sons, Ajit Singh and Jujhal Singh, before they left for the battle of Chamkaur where both died as martyrs.
‘Pagris’ also symbolize friendship and bind people for generations in bonds of love and trust.
‘Pag Vatauni’ (exchange of turbans) shows that two people/families take a solemn pledge to share their joys and sorrows for eternity.
Guru Nanak Devji intended to propagate Sikhism as a religion where everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Thus, he felt that every Sikh should wear a turban so that he could be recognized by his attire and not his caste. The Guru himself wore a turban and so did every other Guru after him. When Guru Gobind formed the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1699, he pronounced ‘Kesh’ (hair) as one of the pillars of Sikhism, to be maintained in a symbolic turban. Apart from religious significance, a turban is also worn to cover the head which is the most critical part of our body. Covering it with layered clothing not only indicates a reverence for this body part but also triggers pressure points which improve blood circulation in the skull. Sikhs believe that wrapping the head with a turban helps the mind to stay grounded and focused. Most importantly, a pact of brotherhood was made by this community that in times of crisis, they would provide unwavering support and assistance to each other, so the turban is also a symbol of recognition to keep this sentiment alive.
When a Sikh man or woman wears a turban, it ceases to be just a piece of cloth, it becomes one with their head. This headdress is indeed a Sikh’s iconic feature but the reason a practicing Sikh wears it is only one – out of pure love and unquestionable obedience to their Guru. Nonetheless, it comes with great responsibility. Since Sikhs who wear a ‘dastar’ represent their Guru, their actions also reflect on their Guru and community. Hence, it leads a Sikh to lead a virtuous and disciplined life as it increases the connection between Guru and Disciple.
Bhai Gurudas wrote,
“Tthande khuhu naike pag visar aya sir nangai,A man, after taking a bath at a well during winter, forgot to wear his dastar and came home bareheaded.
Ghar vichh rannan kamlia dhussi liti dekh kudhange”.
When the women saw him without a dastar, they thought someone had died and started to cry
A Dastar or turban is a shining beacon of the Sikh faith. It is worn irrespective of caste, creed, social status, or gender. However, there are different styles of wearing the same;
Nok Pagg – This is a wider dastar that is worn most in Punjab but has fewer wraps around the head. Chand Tora Dumalla – This style is mostly worn by Nihang Sikhs. It was meant to be worn while going for battle as it had ‘chand tora’, a metal symbol of a crescent, and a double-edged sword placed in the front of the turban to protect the head from slashing weapons.
Amritsari Dumalla – It is the most common Dumalla Dastar, blue and white in color, worn by Amritdharis.
Gurmukh Dastar – This style by Amritdhari Sikhs only like current Akal Takht Jathedar and ‘Gurmukhs’.
Patiala Shahi Pagg – It is a fashion statement to wear this style of Dastar as it was first tied by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, it is named after him.
There have been instances over the years, across countries, where Sikhs have faced stigma related to their turbans. Be it in schools or battlefields or government offices, many a times Sikhs have been targeted and ordered to take off their turbans but they have staunchly stood their ground and refused to change their identity with the result that dastar is now universally accepted as part of Sikh identity.
In modern times, the turban has not only retained its spiritual and cultural significance but has also become synonymous with individuality. Sikhs proudly flaunt their turbans to challenge stereotypes, break down barriers and embrace their unique identity. This headdress continues spreading its timeless appeal creating awareness and understanding of Sikhism and its rich heritage.
Every year since 2004, 13th April is observed as International Turban Day to celebrate Sikh identity and raise awareness about the distinct appearance of Sikhs who feel obligated to keep their hair unshorn and covered with a turban as a mark of respect towards their Guru.
“For Sikhs, the turban is not only a piece of cloth. It’s a matter of honor and pride. With unshorn hair, it’s a part of Sikh identity. It represents a Sikhs good character and high moral values.”Arvinderpal Singh
“For me, the turban is my Guru’s Blessing and the Crown my Guru gifted us. My turban also brings responsibility I carry in public, to always be at my best behavior. As the Guru’s words, The Guru’s Sikh will be distinguished in a crowd of thousands.”
“Turban is Faith, Freedom and Fortune for me.”Dr. Satpal Singh