Sikh Turbans

Charnjit Singh Bal

In the Sikh vocabulary Hair is called Kais, connoting unshorn hair, and is one of the five Ks that manifest unique Sikh religious identity. And the Turban, also called Kaiski, meaning cover for Kais i.e. hair (see Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha's Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature, 1993 edition, page 346), has always been an integral part of an un-written dress code of the socio-religious Sikh Society, nay, the multicultural Indian Societies from the primeval times.

The last incarnate Guru Nanak, Gobind Singh Sahib deeming the turban, that served the triple practical purposes of a tidy cover for the unshorn hair, protective head gear against harsh climatic elements and in the medieval warfare, an essential article of uniform of the defenders of the Sikh faith and universal religious freedom, dressed the five Sikhs in the dress complete with the Turbans before administering the first contemporary Sikh baptismal ceremony on 30th March 1699. The Guru Sahib urged every Sikh to keep unshorn hair and wear turban as a mark of distinction and unique identity. With time the Turban has come to be ingrained in the Sikh psyche not only as a traditional but an integral part of dress code for a Sikh.

The turban has been recognized and accepted as an essential article of regalia of a Sikh's civil dress or uniform ever since. The Sikhs have always worn turbans in the civil, police, paramilitary and military services in India and abroad. Considered one of the martial races on earth the Sikh warriors wearing turbans triumphed over invading Muslim hordes and mighty Mogul imperial army during medieval times. They fought and distinguished themselves in the Anglo-Sikh Wars, first and second World Wars wearing turbans. And more recently wearing turbans they fought in the numerous Wars against Pakistan and China. Being in the vanguard of the Indian defense services, they now stand as sentinels on the borders of India wearing turbans, not helmets.

Perhaps with the exception of Christian ecclesiastics, I am not aware of any written explicit religious dress code for the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or any other religious denominations, yet they all revere their religious attire as sacred. Just because turban is not explicitly written in the Sikh religious dress code, it is not any less sacred to the Sikhs. The Turban is not only a distinguished article of Sikh Identity, but is a symbol of personal honor, distinction and dignity for a Sikh. The removal or knocking the turban off a Sikh's head is considered grave humiliation and insult.

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