The Sikh fortress turban is a rare object of which only five exist in Britain. This particular one is wrapped around a wooden cone and was made for a ceremonial purpose rather than every day wear.
Height: 71 cm
Width: 26 cm
Circumference: 90 cm
This turban is known as a Dastar Boonga (ਦਸਤਾਰ ਬੂੰਗਾ) or turban fortress, which is a type distinct to the Sikh warrior tradition. Its tall conical structure is very much like a tower or fortress and made it effective in battle, protecting both the hair and head from sword blows.
It is tied by entwining the long hair with the turban cloth which can be up to 20 yards long. Ornaments such as steel quoits and small daggers were secured to it by winding long lengths of plaited steel around the turban to provide further protection.
The Dastaar Boonga was and continues to be worn by the Akali-Nihangs.
Religious persecution under the Mughal Empire (1526-1858) in India led to the development of a Sikh martial tradition. The Akalis (Immortals) were the original Sikh warriors raised by the sixth Sikh Guru (Guru Har Gobind). The Akali often, referred to as Akali-Nihang, is a dedicated believer in Akal, meaning the timeless one (God).
Akal-Nihangs wore dark blue clothes, iron bangles around their wrists and steel quoits in their tall conical blue turbans, together with swords, daggers and tiger claws. Today the Akali Nihangs mostly exist in areas of the Punjab and still observe the original Sikh martial traditions.
The ornaments on this turban include a modified Rattray Battalion badge, which suggests it may have associations with the British Army battalion raised in January 1856 by Captain Thomas Rattray.
It has been in the British Museum collection since the early twentieth century, and in 1900 was displayed at the Banqueting House, Westminster as part of a ‘Relics of Old Wars’ exhibition.
Turbans such as this were collected by generals of the British army in the late nineteenth century as examples of Indian art and culture and would have been specially made for the British market.
The object has been in the BM collection for many years, possibly from as early as the 19th century. It is believed that the original Turban was donated to the Banqueting House Museum in 1894 which later became the Royal United Services Institute. It was donated by Lieut-Colonel H. A. Sawyer, Indian Staff Corps. and there is a photograph of the Turban displayed there in March 1900 published in the English Illustrated Magazine (Mar 1900). It is believed that the Turban came to the British Museum shortly after that.
(Sources: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/s/sikh_fortress_turban.aspx, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1573299&partId=1)
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