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Sikh Turban Day (April 13, 2011)

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by spnadmin, Apr 5, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

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    Sikh Turban Day will be here soon, in fact April 13 2011. Sikh Turban Day falls the day before Vaisakhi each year. Here is a thread where we can post inspiring articles, videos and comments about dastar.

    Our first article by I. J. Singh is about the ceremony of dastar bhandi and much more.

    I. J. Singh | New York, NY
    Dastaar Bandi - The Way and the Wayfore

    Just days ago, a Sikh of my acquaintance went through the rite of Dastaar Bandhi wherein a young lad dons a dastaar (Sikh turban) for the first time. We know, as do many of our neighbors, that a dastaar commonly defines a Sikh male.

    The event was held in the local gurdwara and in the sangat (congregation) were many non-Sikh friends and neighbors of the nearly 16-year-old Hartaig Singh. In the gurdwara, they were obviously on unfamiliar territory. It fell upon me to put the rite in some context by providing information that might be helpful.

    The name, Hartaig, caught my attention. Literally: the sword of God that cleaves ignorance from knowledge, justice from injustice, as in one line from many in gurbani, “Gur gyan kharag lae maaray” (Guru Granth, Page 983). One finds similar references to the sword of divine knowledge in both the Old and New Testaments.


    First there was the completion of a sequential reading of the entire Guru Granth, its 1430 pages, by the family. That is the core of most Sikh religious observances anywhere and anytime. Then we all enjoyed the singing of the liturgy by professionals – the last hymn by Hartaig’s sister, Sahiba Kaur, a remarkably accomplished vocalist who is absolutely at home with the intricacies of a parhtaal (changing tempo).

    My brief explanation came between Sahiba’s melodious rendering and the tying of the dastaar. Hartaig had identified his favorite uncle, Anoop Singh, and his style of dastaar. So Anoop Singh tied the dastaar on Hartaig’s head.

    It was very special day for Hartaig Singh, a young lad who was now joining the ranks of young men.

    All over the world, and throughout time and history, people – including the most primitive and tribal – from the Native Americans (and they are not primitive) to those who assuredly see themselves as uniquely suited to the times today -- recognize the significance when a child is no longer that but surely on his or her path to adult responsibility. So, such celebrations of coming of age are common to all communities and societies -- religious or non-religious.

    Now his friends and family were taking note and celebrating Hartaig’s transformation by tying a dastaar on his head. This head covering speaks of many a milestone in the journey of a Sikh and Hartaig’s connection to an old tradition in the Indian culture, but with a uniquely singular and profound meaning in Sikh practice that was bestowed to us a little over 300 years ago.

    Head coverings are not unique to Sikhs. Keep in mind that Judaism and Christianity, two rich and historically connected traditions, value head coverings, though they differ on its meaning. Present day Christianity asks that men, in order to show respect to God, remove their head coverings, while their women have historically worn some head coverings, including a veil – directed to similar reverence. Even today, the Bishop’s and Cardinal’s miter is a reminder of head coverings, as is the nun’s habit.

    On the Internet, one can view and explore turbans in their many styles in different cultures through history. I look at the conventional style of turbans worn by Sikhs worldwide. There are few, only minor variations on the theme — the style in East Africa is somewhat different but only minimally so.

    The Sikh turban – dastaar - is radically different from the turban that you see in Islamic culture, although during these days of heightened tension, the average American remains largely clueless about the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim follower of Osama bin Ladin. In fact, very few Muslims wear a turban and it is of a very different style from that worn by Sikhs. The Muslim turban, rare as it is, is mostly ceremonial and usually wrapped over a kulla, or skullcap. It would be good to remember that not even one of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 wore a turban. In that context, a turban is perhaps worn only by Osama bin Laden himself and his chief deputy – Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    But I refer here to the urbanized Sikh turban. In the villages, Sikhs wear a more informal, rounder dastaar. These days I see some urbanized young people also wearing it, more so in North America than in India.



    The style of the dastaar has perhaps changed some over time. This is obvious from a perusal of old paintings and photographs of Sikhs in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is also clear that in those times as now, Sikhs always wrapped their dastaars. They certainly did not prefer a preformed turban, and never a hat. (These two variations seem to be making significant inroads in our practice these days.)

    In the Indian and the Middle-Eastern cultures, history tells us that, for a man of substance, a turban was a necessary accoutrement to his clothes.

    Hindus, too, used to value a turban, but not anymore. The irony is that even now in the 21st century, at least when they are getting married, most high-caste Hindu males also don a turban, even if only for an hour, and then perhaps again at their death one is put on their heads. In their daily lives, one would hardly ever see a turban on a Hindu head. Most would not have one in their wardrobe. They gave up that privilege and right during the Islamic domination of India, and later when they came to ape the Western model of a male.

    Yet, the people of Punjab have always treasured a dastaar and the men have always flaunted the wild colors that mark Punjabi festivals.

    The dastaar became a fundamental historical marker in Sikh heritage when in 1699 Guru Gobind Singh declared the Kesh (long unshorn hair) an article of faith. History tells us of the many, many Sikhs who have fought and died for their right to wear one.

    Now a dastaar means the coming of age for a young Sikh. I look at it as the uniform of a Sikh.

    We know that uniforms carry a message. A uniformed soldier, we know, has taken an oath to risk his or her own life in our service.

    I am not naïve. I know that soldiers can turn bad and plunder instead of protecting us. They can break the law, erasing the line between the police and criminals.

    When convicted of behavior unbecoming the oath and uniform, society demands that he surrender his gun, badge and uniform. From them emerge his power and authority.

    The son and daughter of a police officer or soldier in the army are not automatically entitled to their own uniform, badge and gun just because their parent had one. The uniform is not inherited; it must be earned. There are requirements, qualifications and intensive training.

    A uniform makes a statement that is both strong and eloquent. We instinctively and intuitively draw conclusions. Our expectations of that person stem from such inferences. I can safely assume that someone with a stethoscope is a health professional, just as I presume that a person in a certain sort of uniform and wearing a badge is a police officer. Rarely would there be any need to question the credentials of someone in the uniform of his or her profession.

    Similarly, a man with a collar is a priest and a woman wearing a habit is a nun. This was the intention when Pope Gregory mandated a uniform for the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. He was creating an “Army of Christ” in service to the Church. No matter what the mission or occupation, a uniform proclaims the specialized training, discipline and dedication of a professional.

    For a Sikh, the dastaar is a similar marker of his faith and its discipline. But this Army of God (that is how I view the meaning of Khalsa) was not created to wage aggressive war, conquer territory or subjugate others. It has a single mission — to discipline the mind. The battlefield of the mind was its domain, and Guru Gobind Singh recommended that his Khalsa engage in this battle every day.

    Being or becoming a soldier, like signing up for a cause, is not a hereditary vocation or avocation. Each individual must take his or her own risks and earn his or her own stripes. It is not a business that a parent may leave to a child. The emphasis, then, rightly shifts from being a Sikh to becoming one.

    What is my expectation when I see a Sikh in uniform? Indeed, it should be no different from what I expect when I see I see another professional in uniform. Even though I am prepared for occasional disappointment, from a professional person in uniform, I expect training, discipline, dedication, honesty and integrity to his or her cause. Out of uniform, a professional is neither held to the same standards nor accorded the same consideration or deference.

    I hasten to add that a professional’s training doesn’t end with a person’s investiture. Continuing education is a lifelong process and a never-ending requirement. In this matter my views of a police officer, scholar, scientist, banker, baker or Sikh are the same.

    What does a Sikh’s uniform proclaim to the world? Is his word his bond? Is he the man who has taken an oath that attaches him to the Guru’s Word and who strives mightily to live by it?

    The word Sikh derivatively means a student. Hence, Sikhs by definition are lifelong students of the Sikh way of life.

    One way then is to look at the dastaar is as a crown on a Sikh’s head. History teaches us that Sikhs would rather lose a head than part with the dastaar and the Kesh under it. From that viewpoint, then, it is not just a cultural eccentricity but the cornerstone of a Sikh’s existence, essential to the definition of self.

    Donning a dastaar for the first time then is no longer an ordinary event but a rite of passage.

    The fact that a dastaar historically belongs on a Sikh head was not easily acknowledged worldwide. Many battles still remain.

    Many countries of the world — Britain, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan and many more — recognize the right of Sikhs to serve in the armed forces with their long hair intact and covered by a turban.

    The American armed services still remain a bastion of intransigence even though they allow long-haired Sikhs with dastaars to serve on an individual basis via special dispensation. After years of stonewalling, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came around in 1995. Recognizable Sikhs now serve in it. In California and Washington, D.C., the police have publicly announced their willingness to recruit Sikhs with dastaars. Perhaps a state-by-state campaign to admit Sikhs into the police, and a national campaign to admit Sikhs into the Army, lie ahead. Our battle in France to freely wear a dastaar in public space continues today.

    I believe the logic of the Sikh stance on dastaars is unassailable and progress inevitable.

    So now it is a rite of passage for a Sikh, a milestone in one’s journey through
    life.

    I look at history and I see that for Christians, the comparable rites of passage vary because of the many sects and denominations. The age at Confirmation, too, varies – anywhere from 8 or 9 years and upwards. In the Jews, it is Bar Mitzvah for boys and Bas (or Bat) Mitzvah for girls.

    Guys take note!

    The Jews understand that girls mature earlier, hence the Mitzvah comes a year earlier at age 12 for girls and at age 13 for boys. The novitiate who is the honoree on that day reads from the Torah – and that is a meaningful display of coming of age.


    Hartaig Singh shows off his dastaar.
    Image courtesy Simran Kaur Sehmi.
    This reminds me that not so many years ago, it was common for Sikh families to take note of a child’s maturity by a rite aptly named “Guru Charnee Lagna.” Literally: attaching the novitiate to the Guru’s feet, but I would translate it as connecting the child with the Guru’s message. And the novitiate would then demonstrate his/her willingness, ability and proficiency by reading a hymn or two from the Guru Granth.

    To me this becomes a most meaningful rite. It is equally open to both boys and girls. It clearly impresses the novitiate with the idea that Sikhi lies in connecting with the message, and finally demonstrates the meaningful commitment of both the novitiate and the family. Certainly, it takes more than a few hours and a wild bash to learn, communicate and read even a few lines of Gurbani. And the expression ‘charni lagna’ speaks clearly of the mindset and the approach necessary in a process that is totally free of any gender bias.

    This last point is important. I wish to take note of this one critically important detail. We now have Dastaar Bandhi – or donning a dastaar for boys but we have not evolved a similarly meaningful rite for a Sikh girl to mark her maturity. It is time we did. In fact we have written women out of our history and ignored their primary role in the preservation and transmission of our heritage.

    This is a matter that deserves serious note -- and now. I add that men, but more particularly women need to weigh in on this.

    In the past three decades or so, as equal partners in the experience of being Sikh, many young women in North America have also opted to wear a dastaar or keski — Cynthia Mahmood and Stacy Brady have documented this trend with remarkable sensitivity in a recent monograph. Notably, the women converts to Sikhism that I have seen over the past 50 years in this country, all seem to wear dastaars.

    Clearly, Hartaig, his parents Simran and Mankanwal, and his grandparents on both sides can be justifiably proud.

    To Hartaig Singh I say: Welcome to living history.

    http://www.sikhnn.com/views/dastaar-bandi-way-and-wayfore?page=4
     

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  6. Mai Harinder Kaur

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    I suppose every keshdhari Sikh has at least one really good turban story. Mine concerns my dear husband Mani. To begin with Mani was something of a dandy. He always - almost always - insisted on looking like he just stepped out of the Sikh version of Gentleman's Quarterly. I say almost always because, after all we did live on a farm and, while he would never be a farmer, once in a while he'd get a bit disheveled while checking out the tomatoes or the goats.

    His turban was especially important to him. Whether it was his usual white or blue that he wore to work or one of the fancy tie-dyed ones that I had made for him, he loved his turban and was especially particular about it Every day - every day - he took forever tying his turban. When I married him, he was 28 and had been tying a turban every day twice a day, usually, since he was 14. Surely a man who was a skilled surgeon could tie a turban in less than 20 minutes (up to 45 minutes on special occasions).

    One day, finally, I asked him about this. He flashed that big, beautiful smile at me and explained:

    "Of course, I could tie my turban in a minute or two and make it look good, too. But that's not the point. My turban is not a fashion statement; it's my crown. I enjoy putting my crown on. It's not a chore or a task. In fact, it's one of the great joys of my day. :redturban:

    "I take my time because I enjoy it. Why should I rush through something I enjoy?" Again that big grin. "I've never seen you rush through a hot fudge sundae. " icecreamkaur


    He had a point and I never bugged him about his turban-tying time again. (A great ending to the story, but not the truth. I just didn't bug him unless he took over a half hour and we were late going somewhere.) :angryyoungkaur:
     
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  7. spnadmin

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    Vaisakhi 2005 Issue


    My Turban, My Crown
    Dr Gurbakhsh Singh
    In the mid-eighties, an international seminar was held on the Sikh faith in Detroit, Michigan, USA. The speakers were invited by the president of the gurdwara to address the Sangat briefly on Sunday. After morning Kirtan, the author and other speakers gave lectures for seven to ten minutes as planned by the management. The Sangat was emotionally charged when one of the speakers (a European-American having adopted the Sikh faith) described his experience of adopting the faith. The key part of his lecture may be summarized as below:

    Sikhs receive their turbans as their inheritance and get them free without paying any price for them. Some Sikhs, therefore, do not know the value of the turban; they may just throw it away without a second thought. I was in search of a turban and I found one. I picked it up, cleaned it and tied it on my head with great honor. For me it is not a mere piece of cloth which I wrap on my head to cover my hair. I respect it as a crown granted to me by my ‘father’, Guru Gobind Singh.

    I was not born to Sikh parents. Therefore, I did not receive this turban free as my heritage. I had to pay the price for it. My friends left me when they saw me with a turban on my head. I had to sacrifice my relations. Even my mother and brother deserted me because they did not accept me with my turban. Now you can understand how much I value it.

    A king puts a crown on his head as the insignia of being the ruler of the country. Another person with a stronger force may take over his country, and also the crown, from him. However, nobody can take away my crown from me because it was gifted to me by my father, Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru paid more than the full price of this crown by sacrificing his whole family, his father, his mother and all his four children. In this way, he earned this crown for his Sikhs. Later, the Khalsa Panth had to give up their homes and live for three generations in the jungle in order to retain this gift of the Guru on their heads. Many Sikhs underwent unbearable tortures but did not barter their turban.

    Today, when I wrap my turban on my head, every hair on my body feels grateful to the Guru and utters, “Father, thank you. You paid the price of this holy crown by the blood of your whole family and your innumerable devotees. No king or tyrant can take it away from me. Only ignorant or ungrateful Sikhs may themselves throw it away. They forget that along with the turban they also lose their right to be respected and addressed as Sardar Ji, the son of Guru Gobind Singh.”

    It will not be out of place, if I restate here the feelings of another Englishman, Mr. Cliff R. Huthins, who had adopted the Sikh faith. When someone asked him why he had to wear long hair to practice the Sikh philosophy of life, he answered, “Is it not enough that people call me the son of Guru Gobind Singh just because I wear the five kakaars?”

    The author visited India in 1997 to participate in the Gurmat Chetna Lehr inaugurated by the Jathedar of the Akal Takht for educating the Sikh youth regarding their heritage. He narrated the message of the above lecture to the Sikh youth. In every group there were some Sikh youth without turbans. After listening to this, some of them would stand up and make a promise, “From now onwards I am going to keep my hair and tie my turban to enjoy the self-esteem of being the son of Guru Gobind Singh.”

    http://www.sikhspectrum.com/v2005/gurbaksh.htm
     

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