In Honour of the Turban
The word ‘Turban’ is derived from the ancient Persian word dulband through the Turkish tarbush. It is a common head-dress for men in Middle Eastern and South-Asian countries. As a form of head-dress it is of Semitic origin and was an essential part of the Israeli High Priest’s uniform in Moses’ day as stated in the Old Testament. In India, it is to be seen as worn by men depicted in the Ajanta caves and on the Sanchi Gateway.
Traditionally, wearing of turban was a sign of holiness and frequently, its size, material and style indicated the position and rank of the wearer. The Sanskrit word pak, from which the Punjabi word pagg is obviously derived stands for maturity and greyness of hair. Punjabi idiom and usage also testify to the importance of turban as a symbol of respectability. For example, pagg di laj rakkhna, pagg lahuna etc.
While other communities have gradually discarded the wearing of turban generally under the influence of western culture, for the Sikhs the turban has a religious significance. The Gurus wore turbans and their disciples naturally followed them. By the time of the sixth Guru Hargobind, turban wearing Sikhs began to think themselves equals of the beturbaned ruling class, the Mughals. When in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh manifested the Khalsa; he included the kes or unshorn hair as a mandatory symbol of faith to be maintained by all Sikhs. Turban, being essential to keep the hair neatly tied up, thus became an obligatory item of dress for the Sikh male. Over the last three centuries the turban has maintained its pre-eminent position in the life of a Sikh and in fact, along with the untrimmed hair, it has become a distinguishing feature of the Sikh male the world over.
This selection of articles highlights not only the symbolic and utilitarian importance of a turban for a Sikh but also discusses how the turban has become an indispensable part of the identity of a Sikh.