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Sikhi Why Are Some Sikh Women Now Wearing The Turban?

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Feb 15, 2016.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    The turban is worn by millions of Sikhs - traditionally, mostly male ones. Now many Sikh women are donning it, too. Why? "Doing this has helped me stay grounded and focused on what my responsibilities are as a human being."

    sikh-woman1.jpg

    Devinder is in her early 40s. She's a slender, tall British-Indian Sikh woman. She works as a teaching assistant at her local school in Ilford, north-east London. You can't help but notice that she wears a turban, or what's commonly known within Sikhism as a dastar.

    The turban is the one thing that identifies a Sikh more than any other symbol of their faith.

    An edict handed down in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, requires Sikhs to not cut their hair. The turban, part of the Bana or military uniform at that time, was used to help keep the long hair and protect a Sikh's head.

    However, in line with its military tradition, it's something that has always been a masculine symbol and almost exclusively worn by men, not women. That is until now, it seems.

    "I wasn't always like this," says Devinder holding up a photo album of her younger years. "I used to have cut black curls, wear makeup - go out and do what people do on nights out… but it never sat comfortably with me even then."

    Seven years ago Devinder decided to become fully baptised into the Sikh faith. She stopped cutting her hair, and began wearing a tall white wrapped turban.

    "People told me I shouldn't do it and that it will hold me back. The elders felt it's something that Sikh women didn't do. But wearing my turban, I feel free and it pushes me forwards to be the best I can be every day."

    As well as wearing the turban, Devinder lets her facial and bodily hair grow naturally as well. It's something she speaks confidently about.

    "Asian women are naturally hairy so it was difficult to let go at first and let go of the expectations society places upon what a woman should look like," she says.

    "But letting it go was so empowering. It's a way of saying this is who I am, this is how God made me and putting that above what society expects of me."

    It impossible to know exactly how many Sikh women are now wearing the turban, but at a time when some Sikh men are deciding to cut their hair, Devinder is among a growing number of Sikh women deciding to wear one.

    Doris Jakobs, professor in religious studies at Waterloo University in Canada, has done some of the most in-depth research in this area. She says that women tying turbans are mostly Sikhs living outside of their traditional homeland of the Punjab in India.

    "This is something that the younger generation in the diaspora are doing. It's a sign of religiosity in which some Sikh women are no longer content with just wearing a chuni (headscarf). Wearing a turban is so clearly identifiable with being Sikh and so women now also want that clear visual sign that they are also Sikh as well. It's a play on the egalitarian principle of Sikhism."

    Post-9/11, many Sikhs faced discrimination and have even been attacked after being mistaken for Muslims. Some in the community say have turned to the turban as they feel it helps give them an individual identity.

    Jasjit Singh, a research fellow at Leeds University, has spent the last few years interviewing women who have begun to wear the turban. He says there are many reasons why they are doing it.

    "Some say it helps with meditation and others say its part of a Sikh's uniform," he says.

    "I found that many young girls see this as a way of reclaiming equality within the religion. The Punjabi community is still very patriarchal but these girls tell me that Guru gave a uniform to all Sikhs - and so why shouldn't they wear the turban as well."

    The idea is an interesting one. Some might find it curious that, in order to seek equality, a woman might dress like a traditional Sikh man. But others argue a woman wearing a turban is a sign of empowerment.

    Sarabjoth Kaur, 25, from Manchester, is one of them. She began wearing a turban two years ago. She appears draped in royal blue robes with a matching tightly wrapped turban. It has a metal shaster, a type of ancient Vedic weapon wedged into the front.

    sikh-woman2.jpg

    Sarabjoth, a former bhangra dancer, says her faith became stronger after she witnessed devout white Sikhs wearing the turban whilst worshipping in India. She strongly defends the right for women to wear the turban.

    "People in my family weren't comfortable with it. They thought it would be difficult to get a job or how would I find a good husband," she says. "Before we had to change to fit in with British society.

    "Sikh women are meant to be strong. They're still khalsa (saint soldiers of the Guru) and the Kkhalsa isn't differentiated on gender. When I tie my turban every morning I want to see my Guru. I feel a great sense of pride when I see my reflection as I think this is what my Guru looked like, this is what the khalsa looks like."

    http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35563415
     
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    #1 Admin Singh, Feb 15, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  3. Inderjeet Kaur

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    Speaking strictly for myself...
    We like to brag that Sikhi is egalitarian, affording women the same rights and responsibilities as men. I see no reason this should not include tying turban. I guess I disagree with the gyanis who wrote the Sikh Reyat Maryada...

    I think most Sikhs would agree that our kesh - unshorn hair - is something sacred and holy and not to be flaunted, hence the practice of keeping it - them - covered, usually a turban for the Singhs and a chunni for the Kaurs. Aside from this dimorphism being at odds with the basic philosophy of Sikhi, it's also something of a pain. A turban, once firmly tied can be safely ignored while doing various normal daily tasks. A scarf or chunni cannot be. It has to be constantly adjusted and messed with and still has a tendency to fall off. When cooking or washing it wants to drag in the food and the water and still wants to fall off, at least with me. There is also the danger of it catching on fire when leaning over a hot stove. OK, I'll fess up. I take mine off when cooking. And I can't imagine fighting with a chunni while fighting a physical battle.

    Tying a turban, of course, presents the problem of doing it so it doesn't look like a mess. Most of us can manage this with a little - or a lot - of practice. It's a bit harder for me than for most since I have only one useful hand. Fortunately, there's an inspiring (overworked word, but this one really is) video of a Singh completely lacking one hand doing it and doing it well. I love it.


    I do have a caregiver willing to help me, too, most days, but I really feel I should learn to do it myself. Patience, world, I'll get there.

    So why a turban at all? Well...I want to be readily identifiable as a Sikh. Muslims are fine people, but I get tired of being taken for one, even by other Sikhs, until I waved my kara under their noses. This thing on my head is NOT A HIJAB. The Sikh appearance is beautiful and dignified and honors our Gurus and our beliefs. The turban is distinctively Sikh, although ignorant people might not know this.

    A Sikh woman is a Kaur, a Princess. She deserves a crown and her turban is her crown.
     
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  4. swarn bains

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    The Sikh women wear turban for the same reason as the Muslim women wear burka in the court. that is prove their existence
     
  5. Harkiran Kaur

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    I tie turban for several reasons..... I believe in the equality taught in Sikhi. If Sikh Rehet Maryada states turban is mandatory, then I don't think I should have relaxed rules because I am female. Equal is equal... some Sighs use this as a reason to look on Singhnis as inferior. Because if it's an integral part of the Khalsa uniform, then how can amritdhari women be in khalsa roop without it? So they use it as a reason to state male superiority, but then in the same breath, some of those Singhs also look down on those of us for tying one because we no longer fit their ideal of feminine. (So it seems they just want us to be weak, feminine, inferior LOL.) Anyway, I tie it to stand side by side with them. They can't say I do not know what its like to be in public with a turban because I do. I want to stand out as being a follower of Sikhi. Also I have horribly thick and naturally curly hair.... since I can't cut it, it's a huge pain to try to deal with so I find it easier to 'contain' it inside a turban LOL.
     
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  6. Ishna

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    Is this sarcasm? Because the burka and the turban are worlds apart. Universes, in fact!

    If it's not sarcasm, can you go into more detail? I don't think I've ever read such a ridiculous comparison.
     
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  7. swarn bains

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    In general the sikh women do not tie turban but exceptions are always there. I did not think for a while. but I see these days more and more women wear turban which was not there in the past. Turban is not a burka. i used burka because some muslim women do not even remove their niqab for swearing in ceremony. that means they want to prove their point. it is not so among sikh women. they are dedicated to their principle. sorry for a wrong comment plus i am {censored word, do not repeat.} as well in the mind
     
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  8. Harry Haller

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    You should try reading the Daily Mail....
     
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  9. Inderjeet Kaur

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    I was about to give you a piece of my mind about this, but I see now that is unnecessary. I know now that you are aware that even the reason a Sikh woman covers her kesh with a chunni is different from the Muslim woman's reason for hijab or burka or niqab. The Muslim woman is being modest and hiding her beauty from the gaze of lustful men. The Sikh woman, like the Sikh man, covers her kesh, whether by chunni/scarf or turban, to protect it because her keshas are sacred to her, not something to be flaunting.

    An interesting fact to me is that the Muslim woman covers her hair because it is a mark of her femininity and sexual allure and thus covering it is also a symbol of her submission. A Sikh woman's turban, on the other hand, is her crown and a symbol of her equality.

    So, apology accepted and let's move on.
     
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  10. Inderjeet Kaur

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    Oh, I do! I do! You know, there's even an Irish rebel song about The Daily Mail.
     
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  11. Ambarsaria

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    I am little dated, but what I have observed is that tying a turban for women was most prominently visible as a result of the 3HO movement and then later on picked up by kirtani jathas and other segments in Sikh mosaic.

    Equality and other arguments are in one's mind and I have no issue with it. Respect of your Kesh/Hair does not mandate wearing of a turban. Pag/Turban was a cultural head dress for men and is perhaps a left over from Mughal and Hindu hermits/yogis roots and an evolution thereof. Covering and tending to your head hair and showin grespect to this part of your body was found to be very conveniently achievable with a turban.

    For me a turban worn by a woman does not increase or decrease the expression or display of their dedication to Sikh principles as compared to one who just wears a chunni (culturally traditional head covering in Punjab for Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims from pre-partition days).

    There is no religious requirement from what I know that forces or requires women to wear chunni or one which describes how to tie a turban.

    Sat Sri Akal.
     
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  12. Harkiran Kaur

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    Ambarsaria Ji, it's more that turban is the most prominent visible thing about a Sikh. Sikh women who only wear a chunni (or nothing) get mixed up with Muslim women or Hindu women.... we want to stand out too. And regarding equality... if SRM says men must wear a turban once they take Amrit, there should be no relaxation of rules for us. Because its those same Singhs saying that it's not a woman thing or feminine thing, those same Singhs then say that only turban wearing Amritdhari should be able to do kirtan at Darbar Sahib etc. So they are the first ones to find a built in reason to place more restrictions on us.
     
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  13. Inderjeet Kaur

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    I'd like this twice if I could.It's the total unvarnished truth.
     
  14. Harry Haller

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    who cares if your feminine or not, your our sisters, mothers and daughters.

    One of our courier drivers is a woman with a skinhead cut, the thought of telling her she should not as she does not look feminine to me is almost laughable, who are these Singhs that say this, and what is their agenda?
     
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  15. Ambarsaria

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    Harkiran Kaur ji many concepts like Kirtan sewa, have been repeatedly addressed. Either one follows something or one doesn't. Sikh Rehat Maryada is interesting and I am sure it is very hard to follow let alone be living the spirit of it, which is even harder.

    First of all there is no "THEY" and there are no "US". We are all them and us! Bitterness or such really has no place in Sikh spirituality, the inside of a Sikh. When the inside shines; the style of a turban, a Sikh wearing a patka going to bed, or a Sikh woman wearing a chunni are only matters of small mind and not the grandeur of Sikhi that our Guru ji established. Sikhi must grow from inside out otherwise it is fake show. Sikhs are known for their actions, deeds and not words or conformity to style. If one wants to pick a cause for equality, wearing a turban or not wearing a turban by a female Sikh is not really a cause. Some causes that may be more worthwhile to pick may include that I am quoting from the Sikh Rehat Maryada English translation from SGPC;

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    • Regarding the ten Gurus, the Guru Granth and the ten Gurus word alone as saviors and holy objects of veneration. (for me these are not objects)
    • A Sikh should not kill his daughter, nor should he maintain any relationship with a killer of daughter. (killing son(s) !)
    • A Sikh’s daughter must be married to a Sikh. (son!)
    • When a girl becomes marriageable, physically, emotionally and by virtue of maturity of character, a suitable Sikh match should be found and she be married to him by anand marriage rites. (how about the son being immature)
    • Generally, no Sikh should marry a second wife if the first wife is alive. (but what!)
    • A baptized Sikh ought to get his wife baptized. (should a female spouse get the male baptized)
    • The person to be baptized should not be of very young age; he or she should have attained a plausible degree of discretion. (seen any lately at a Gurdwara)

    • The body of a dying or dead person, if it is on a cot, must not be taken off the cot and put on the floor. (I put my father on the floor as that was the only way to put blocks of ice on his body as it got too dark to carry out cremation)
    The following individuals shall be liable to chastisement involving automatic boycott:

    - One who eats/drinks leftovers of the unbaptised or the fallen Sikhs (suddenly you created separation and identity police to verify before you eat)
    - One who dyes his beard (head hair is OK!)

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Should I look the other way and not comment. Yes I could if I knew the background and context of the creation of SRM.

    The reasons I have excerpted the above sentences out of SRM is not to find fault but so that we may understand. Put yourself in the 1930s. Think of the society of the times. Think the issues of the times. Think practices of the times. If one wants to see Sikhism to be evergreen the guidance is and must be SGGSJ. rest is time sensitive and if not time changing will become redundant or un-cherished. So if one grows from the inside with SGGSJ, there will be tremendous benefit. The outside will morph, but the inside will sustain.

    Sat Sri Akal.
     
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    #14 Ambarsaria, Feb 20, 2016
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  16. Harkiran Kaur

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    I agree with all the above... though too I also know the context with which they were written.

    I don't think you understand my main points though...

    I want to be recognized as a Sikh (a chunni would make me recognized as a Muslim most likely especially since I am Gori)

    And I want to stand against those Singhs who tell us that turbans are not for women, but then in same breath say that only TURBAN WEARING Kalsa can do certain seva like kirtan at Darbar Sahib. Sure, I know there is more issue to it than the turbans, regarding restrictions placed on women, but I want to give them one less reason to use why we should not be allowed...

    And Guru Ji said he will be present as long as Khalsa maintains its unique identity.... in HIS ROOP. How can a woman wearing a chunni be in his roop? Will they see Guru Gobind Singh JI when they look in the mirror?? The turban is the biggest part of that image!
     
  17. Harry Haller

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    Harkiranji

    I am writing this merely to comment, rather than to debate or argue any point.

    My own opinion is that one is recognised as a Sikh by ones actions, what one looks like is irrelevant. I personally think it is easier for Sikhs to wear bana than it is to act on bani. There are too many Sikhs who wear bana for family or other reasons, not because they are proud to be Sikh. And then of those that are proud to be Sikh, which Sikh are they proud to be? Guru Nanak's Sikh, or the Vedicised Abrahamic Sikhi that passes for Sikhi nowadays. For the record, as far as I am concerned you talk the talk and walk the walk, I have no ruck with you or your Sikhi.

    You really do not need to give anyone anything, who cares what others think? All you can do is keep shining a torch on the truth until there is no doubt what is truth and what is not.

    If you are Khalsa, then you must look like Khalsa, I am not, so I don't
     
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  18. Ambarsaria

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    harry haller ji I totally agree with your post and want to add couple of comments and invite Harkiran Kaur ji to comment on one specific part that I will pose later in this reply.

    From my understanding, the only place that kind of defines what Khalsa looks like on exterior is Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM). For matters related to SRM, the only authority of any significance ultimately is Akal Takhat Sahibs. When Sikhs have issues of such significance as to invoke Akal Takhat Sahib, the SRM states what to do in approaching Akal Takhat Sahib. Sikhs recognize people of Sikh heritage or baptized Sikhs on a balance of probabilities all around the word. It may relate to your speaking in Punjabi, your respect for SGGSJ, you wearing a Kara or ultimately you wearing a turban and then a fully baptized Sikh per SRM. A baptized Sikh woman wearing a chunni is as easily recognized by other Sikhs as a baptized Sikh woman or man wearing a turban. So Harkiran Kaur ji's assertion that to be recognized a Sikh among Sikhs a woman needs to wear a turban is false. For hundreds of years Sikh women have been recognized as Sikhs while wearing a chunni. This is all that the SRM recognized.

    In terms of the countries and Sikhs in predominantly non-Sikh aware societies like North America, Africa and say Middle East, yes there can be confusion. I believe an aspect that gets easily misunderstood is when someone may say "Are you a Muslim?". Many a times most of these people know better but this is discrimination and a put down, it does not imply by default that they don't know who or what a Sikh is. It is many times an insult camouflaged in an innocently phrased remark or question. Would wearing a turban resolve it, absolutely not. It for sure will have some impact as Sikhs get better differentiated or recognized in popular media and news. By the way, Sikhism historically portrays Sikhs as gentle warriors. Who don't flaunt but provoked, and if justified are more responsive than those who may flaunt. So Sikhs really should not really "sweat the small stuff". Every Sikh needs to learn to live with it, ignore it, address it if needed that as Sikhs "you will be discriminated against". Should this make you stronger and provide further strength, this depends if you take this premise to be better than others in your actions, in your behavior, in your benevolence and so on; the core qualities of Sikhs that are worth cherishing would strengthen within you and you will be so recognized over time.

    Now I pose Harkiran Kaur ji a question and I have some of my own understanding about it which I will contribute later in this thread as appropriate;

    Harkiran Kaur ji given that you have stated that you understand the context of SRM elements, please describe what was the context of the following which kind of is the topic of this thread,

    Rehat Maryada: Section Four
    Chapter X - Beliefs, Observances, Duties, Taboos and Ceremonies
    Article XVI - Living in Consonance with Guru’s Tenets


    s. It is not proper for a Sikh woman to wear a veil or keep her face hidden by veil or cover.
    t. For a Sikh, there is no restriction or requirement as to dress except for he must wear Kachhehra [A drawer type garment fastened by a fitted string round the waist, very often worn as underwear] and turban. A Sikh woman may or may not tie turban.

    Thank you,

    Sat Sri Akal
     
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  19. Harkiran Kaur

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    I am sorry but, I tie a turban.... sorry if you think that I should not (which it seems like you are kind of against women tying them for some reason). Khalsa are required to have hair covered, and if you don't tie a turban, that means chunni or some other headscarf. Have you ever tried a chunni on your head even for a few mins, let alone all day long? Try doing anything active with it! Most women in Gurdwara spend the entire time fussing with their chunnis... and that's sitting still! Forget ever doing anything active! And for me when I look in mirror with just a chunni, I don't see 'Khalsa'.

    You still did not address what I was saying about how most of the Singhs naying women tying turbans, are the FIRST ones to make statements that anyone performing kirtan, being granthi etc at darbar sahib (or even other Gurdwaras) should be TURBAN wearing... meaning on the one hand they don't want women tying them and on the other hand they say that because they don't tie one, they can't do certain seva etc. That means they are using it as a means to keep the genders away from equality and keep restrictions on women. and everyone who says if I am interested in equality I should look other places... well if I did that every time I found an inequality I'd be wearing a blindfold! If nobody says anything about something that needs to change, then it never will! So those who say I should look elsewhere to direct my urge to fix inequality, those same people are actually showing their desire to maintain the inequality!

    As for context, the prohibition on the veil was in reference to the face covering (niqab) used by Muslim women. (Actually it was Arabic in practice and adopted by Muslims - there is nothing in Quran actually saying they have to cover their faces) Guru Amar Das Ji would not see them with their faces covered because it demeaned women and he was emphasizing equality.

    I realize there is a clause saying it's our choice. What I am saying is that if one takes Amrit, the rules should be the same regardless. But the reason I was explained is that prior to early 1900's everyone taking Amrit at Darbar Sahib had to have a keski. But less and less women were taking Amrit (possibly due to British / western influence and wanting to wear their hair in styles etc) and that the clause to relax the need for them to tie a turban was an attempt to get more women to take Amrit.
     
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  20. Ambarsaria

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    Harkiran Kaur ji thanks for your response. You are somehow claiming that the flexibility given in SRM regarding tying of a turban is somehow discriminatory? I am sure many men would like to be discriminated that way.
    Your logic is that lesser restriction on what you can do is actually really discriminatory! I thought logic dictates otherwise.

    You may want to start discrimination in Kirtan stuff in another thread because it will simply cloud this thread.

    I am absolutely neither telling you what to do nor other females or male Sikhs. It is not my place. All I am saying or contesting is that somehow while you wear a turban and my mother wore a chunni for 96 years; somehow this act alone of you wearing a turban makes you somehow superior or more proper as compared to my mother as a Sikh. This is not what is in SRM.

    Sat Sri Akal.
     
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    #19 Ambarsaria, Feb 21, 2016
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  21. Ishna

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    I don't know if Harkiran Ji ever said or implied that it makes her somehow superior for wearing a turban.

    My best Sikh friend is amritdhari, and although she was just like you in terms of the turban, bhainji, now with a little baby and everything else in life, she prefers bandanas and tichels for keeping her head covered.

    Personally I don't think there's anything wrong either way if a woman does or doesn't wear a turban. It is ultimately between her and Guru Ji. I am grateful to have the flexibility in the SRM.
     
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