Asia, History, Religion

What is Dastar and how did it become a Sikh icon?


For many western people, a turban is a sign of being a Muslim, an Arab, or something related to the middle east and sometimes a sign of terrorism. That’s why Sikhs were constantly attacked by some people after September 11th in the united states. But why do Sikhs wear Dastars? Before reaching this question, we should speak about few other things.

What is a Dastar?

Dastar in origin is a Persian word from roots dast + ar or in some views (mostly spiritual views of Sufism and Sikhism) dast-e-yar which in the Persian language it means the hand of the beloved, and it shows the spiritual significance of turban in that society. However, Persians also use the word Delband (or dolband) which is the root of the English word turban.

Wearing a dastar has a long history in Persian culture and they used it for any type of different reasons from a signature for a cast of people to wear it for war or as a holy and spiritual icon.

Giving away dastar in Persian culture was (and in some parts of Persian countries still is) a sign of disrespect and disgrace and there are lots of resources that show us this culture.

But why does a Persian cultural material like dastar become a significant icon in Sikhism far more important than what it was in Persian culture?

Also, we can see turbans all over the Indian subcontinent which is called Pagri. We can see the wearing of pagri in Sanskrit literature by khshetria cast and also see the oldest forms of it in antiquity by both rocks carving styles of Mathura and Ghandhara. Also in Indian culture pagri has a role in the dignity and pride of its user.

Dastar in Sikhism

The turban is a very important part of the Sikh culture and was first worn by the ‘Five Beloved Ones’, chosen by the Tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, after giving them Amrit (Holy Sherbet in Sikh initiation ceremony). The Guru gave them a distinctive outfit, known as a Bana, which included wearing the turban. To this day, Sikh men and women wear a turban to cover their hair, as daily wear or for religious occasions.

As we can see in old pictures and paintings about Sikh gurus, we can see them with different tied dastars. But probably those dastars were a social norm under influence of Persian and Indian culture according to the geography of Panjab which it’s on the borders of Persian and Indian culture. But Sikh’s dastar with this rate of importance came from Guru Gobind Singh’s period in the 17th century Which he ordered Sikhs to wear a dastar for protecting kesh or their uncut hair and as a symbol of divinity and purity.

 By considering the 5 Ks and wearing the dastar, Guru Gobind Singh established the base of Khalsa as an important part of the Sikh religion till now. Khalsa was a Sikh warrior community that was an answer to the power of the Moghul empire Aurangzeb. Khalsa (driven from Arabic word خالص) means pure and become a word for all Sikh believers alternately. Despite all debates about many things like being baptized or not or gender.

Dastar Bandhi

In many families, when a boy reaches a certain age (usually eleven to sixteen), he is taken to a Gurudwara and there, in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book and the last guru of Sikhism, and following Ardas,

Some Sikhs tie a turban for the first time on the head of a child in presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib at the age of about five years, the ceremony of Dastar Sajauni (tying of turban) is performed for male children Either an Akhand Path or Khulla Path is performed to celebrate “Dastar Sajauni” ceremony in presence of the Sangat. This ceremony is not performed by all the Sikhs.

his first turban is ceremonially tied on by the Granthi or by a Sikh elder. This ceremony designates the respect with which the turban is regarded. It is usually attended by many family members and friends.

The Turban is such a crucial article of faith. Turbans may be of any color and are tied in many different ways and styles. And some Sikhs consider it more important than Ks, even non-baptized Sikhs who don’t consider Ks, wear a turban in important ceremonies and in gurudwaras.

Normally older people tend to wear white turbans thus reflecting their acquired wisdom. Saffron (Kesari) and deep blue are the colors of battle. In modern society, the color of the turban is irrelevant.

Some gurudwara has established turban banks, where Sikh men, who cannot afford a turban, can go and get one for themselves for free. People can register with the bank and they will be given turbans for free. Many Sikh families have donated turbans to the bank, which has also added to the stock through its own resources. The Gurudwara has members spread all over the world and is deeply committed to making this project successful.

“The thought behind setting up the bank was to motivate Sikh men to wear turbans instead of wearing their hair in a bun (like young Sikh boys do), which, seemingly, is more in vogue, because of the steep prices of turbans,” said Harvinder Singh Lord of Guru Singh Sabha.

“Not everyone can afford them. This is why this bank has been opened to provide turbans for free. We started this project on the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji,” he said.

Apart from making the turbans available to those unable to afford them, the larger idea was to motivate Sikh men and youngsters to take pride in turbans.

“It (the turban) signifies honor, piety, courage, self-respect, spirituality, and it is integral to our faith,” Singh said, urging the needy to contact the Gurudwara on 8317065446 and get a brand new turban for free.

Sikh women wearing dastar

As the religion spread across the world and grew, women from the faith decided to adopt the turban as well. The religion reached people who were converting to Sikhism and went back to the fundamentals of the religion. Especially Amritdhari women who chose to follow traditional ideologies that state that all Sikhs must leave their hair untouched. When the rule of uncut hair was put down, it included bodily hair, but because of society’s pressures, women were expected to ‘clean’ the rest of the body except their long luscious hair. 

However, this wave of women donning the turban came as a move to become equal within the religion. The need for women to be equal to the men in the community, to wear turbans like the warriors did, paved this feminist movement. 

Doris Jakobs, a professor of religious studies at Waterloo University, Canada, told BBC that she carried out research into the area of this subject and found that this tradition is adopted mostly by women living outside their traditional homeland of Punjab who wishes to be recognized for their religion. 

“This is something that the younger generation in the diaspora is 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 (equality amongst all) principle of Sikhism.” Doris Jacobs said.

Another researcher, Jasjit Singh at Leeds University, who has spent years interviewing women who have begun to wear the turban told BBC that there are many reasons behind this religious sentiment. “Some say it helps with meditation and others say it’s part of a Sikh’s uniform,” he said. Women have picked this attire because they believe it brings them closer to God, keeps them equal to men, and is what Guru Gobind Singh meant when he asked ‘all’ Sikhs to wear a turban.

“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.”  Jasjit Singh

Essentially, the movement is all about breaking gender barriers, standing shoulder to shoulder with the men who represent the community, and taking back from the gender norms set for women. Turbans aren’t ‘masculine,’ women with body hair aren’t ‘manly’ and it’s time we spread this powerful message. 





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