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The Crowning of Harjaap Singh

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Nov 10, 2009.

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    Jun 1, 2004
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    The Crowning of Harjaap Singh
    by T. SHER SINGH

    Behold thee, turban-adorned!
    Beautiful and sweet spoken!

    [Namdev, Guru Granth:727]

    The human male, from time immemorial, has been subjected to a whole variety of rites of passage as he morphs from child to adult, boyhood to manhood.

    Some societies have required him to prove himself by surviving extreme feats of physical and mental endurance - such as the warrior communities. Others have subjected him to a period of extreme privation and deprivation, such as the life of a novice monk.

    Sikhism too has its rite of passage ... prescribed for all of its adherents, as each aspires to its ideal: that of the Saint-Soldier.

    But its principal rite differs from others in that it requires no external feats. What it requires is passage into maturity through an internal awareness of one's role in society as a Sikh, and a deep-seated, personal commitment to it.

    The ceremony itself is called "Dastaar Sajaani" ... The Crowning.

    The dastaar is known by many names ... puggri, saafa, and, of course, the turban.

    The Sikh turban too is different from all of those worn by other communities, currently or in the past.

    It is distinguished by its careful neatness. It is not a mere head-covering or hat, part of a dress, costume or uniform. It is not just a tradition or only an article of faith. It is all of these, and much, much more.

    It harks back to the crown worn by kings and queens.

    There were two main implications to the wearing of a crown.

    First, the wearer - King or Queen - was, upon being crowned, answerable to no man or woman, only to God.

    Secondly, the crowned head signified the wearer's life-long and primary duty to protect and serve his/her subjects.

    The Sikh turban imposes the very same two ramifications on its wearer: he or she is answerable, in spiritual matters, to no man or woman, only to God, the Lord of all; and that it is his or her duty to protect the weak, serve the poor, tend to the needy ... all, in preference to his/her own needs.

    That is, the Sikh is to always work for "sarbat da bhalla" - the good of all humanity!

    It is this role that the young Sikh accepts as he dons the turban for the first time, and thenceforth gradually takes on the duties and responsibilities of life within society.

    This, coupled, with a life of prayer - not removed from it - is the way of the Sikh.

    And all of it is captured symbolically in the simple act of donning a turban.
    There is more.

    Not unlike the American way, but in fact much more so, each Sikh revels in standing out in a crowd. Not to inflate the ego, but to stand tall and confident. You can spot a turban-wearing Sikh instantly even if he is one amidst a thousand others.

    As I have said, the Sikh standout-edness is not meant to be an egocentric exercise. He/she is required, by definition, to be nyaara - unique, special, excelling, standing-out, out-standing! And yet, steeped in humility throughout.

    So that he/she remembers - and is constantly reminded by others - of his civic role. So that he/she can never shirk or hide from it - even when it becomes unfashionable or dangerous to be identified as a Sikh.
    There is no room for cowardice for a Sikh.

    He is a Sardar, she a Sardarni ... a leader! These are the honorifics traditionally used for every Sikh male or female, instead of ‘Mr' or ‘Mrs'.

    He is a Singh, a lion; she a Kaur, a princess.

    Every Sikh is sava lakh ... that is, equivalent to the proverbial 125,000. An army of one!

    Every Sikh is to be gentle and sweet as a sparrow, but ever ready to take on hawks and overcome them.

    And so, on and on go the multiple gifts and blessings that come with the turban crown.

    It is the initiation into this phase of life, symbolized by the first adorning of the head with a turban - to be worn forever thereafter - that we celebrate by joining the young man and his family in the beautiful ceremony called "Dastaar Sajaani".

    The color of the turban has no special significance. No color is auspicious.

    No color is taboo. (My daughter quips: "Just make sure it matches with your tie ... and underwear!")

    The turban consists of a long piece of cloth - fine, light cotton - approximately 18 feet long. Once learnt how to tie it, it takes no more than a minute or two to do.


    In a couple of weeks, my nephew, Harjaap, will go through this regal rite of passage into manhood.

    The first adornment will be with the help of a parent or another respected Elder from the community.

    The ceremony will take place in the presence of the Sikh Scripture - known as the Guru Granth Sahib - which is treated like a living person, in the tradition of The Living Word. Hence, all the accoutrements of royalty around it: the throne, the attendant, the 'fly whisk', the canopy above. And the fact that we all sit on the carpet facing it, cross-legged or with our feet not pointing towards it, in respectful silence and deference. Earlier, we will have left our shoes outside, and entered with our heads covered.

    All of these being the decorum and protocol traditionally followed in a royal court. Why? Because we are in the court of our Guru ... our Spiritual Guide and Teacher.

    All Sikh ceremonies are basic, simple and straight-forward, with virtually the same service, regardless of the occasion: readings and singing from the scripture. Little else. This is true for congregations that gather in joy or in sorrow, to celebrate or to commemorate ... or to merely start or end a normal day.

    On Harjaap's big day, there will also be readings from the Guru Granth. Some singing of hymns. Some words spoken to explain to the young man his new role and responsibilities. Blessings from his parents and elders. A congregational prayer, to bless him on his path ahead.

    Followed by a sacrament called "karah parshad" - a simple pudding made of flour, butter and sugar. And langar - the communal meal in which all present, Sikh and non-Sikh, will partake: a community is at its best when it breaks bread together.

    It will indeed be a very special day in the life of Sardar Harjaap Singh.
    [The above piece has been composed to explain "Dastaar Sajaani" to Sikh and non-Sikh alike.]
    September 15, 2009
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