Turban



The turban is a wrapped headdress made from a length of fabric that is twisted and wound around the head in various ways. The turban is of Muslim origin and has been widely worn in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent since at least the early Middle Ages (5th to 10th centuries).1 In Singapore, turbans are mainly worn by men of the Sikh community.

Description
The term turban is derived from the Persian word dulband, which later evolved into tulband and finally turban.2 In India, the turban is also known as the pag, pagri or safa. The Sikhs refer to the turban as the dastar (also spelt dastaar).3


Most turbans are made of cotton and are thus strong, easy to wash and affordable. Turbans for royalty, the wealthy and religious ceremonies are made of silk, may be dyed in brilliant hues and even embroidered with gold thread.4

Turbans can be tied in many ways. They can be preformed and worn like a fitted headdress. Alternatively, the turban can be formed by wrapping the fabric around the head each time it is to be worn.5

For the Sikhs, the process of wrapping a turban follows a systematic routine. The male Sikh first ties his hair into a knot towards the front of his head. Next, he wraps the turban fabric around the sides of his head several times until it covers all of his hair. The end of the fabric is then tucked away into one of the many layers formed during the wrapping process. The wrapping of the layers is done in such a way as to give the turban a peaked look.6

Historical background
Little is known about how the turban originated but there is evidence to suggest that the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia and India wore a turban-like headdress. Sculptures from central India dated to around 100 BCE depict turbans being worn by the Indians of the time. It is believed that turbans then were mainly worn by royalty and spiritual leaders, and were accordingly decorated with jewels and other valuable accessories.7


In ancient Indian, turban styles were used to reflect the existing social hierarchies. Evidence of this can be found on a carved gateway in the Great Stupa at Sanchi (a Buddhist structure located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh), which shows a procession of male figures ranging from nobles to merchants and artisans. Each figure is depicted wearing a different style of turban to denote his rank, caste and profession.8

The turban was later introduced into Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries and became a fashionable headgear for women of the time.9

The first Sikhs probably arrived in Singapore soon after the establishment of a British trading settlement on the island in 1819. Most came as sepoys, servants or convicts of the British East India Company.10 These early Sikh immigrants were likely to have brought along with them their traditional outfits, which included the turban.11

Today, the turban remains most closely associated with the Sikh communities in Singapore and other parts of the world. Sikhism mandates that men’s hair should remain uncut. To keep their long hair neat and tidy, Sikh boys start out by wearing a topknot covered with a piece of cloth known as the patka. Most Sikh boys go on to wear the full turban when they reach their late teens.12 Sikh women can also wear turbans although most prefer to cover their hair with a scarf.13

Cultural significance
The turban has been widely regarded as a symbol of Sikh identity since the time of the British Raj (1858–1947). This was because Sikh men recruited into the British Indian Army chose to wear their traditional turbans rather than steel helmets during combat.14


Generally, the turban symbolises a Sikh man’s self-respect and honour. As such, the turban is not to be placed on the floor, stepped over or removed from a Sikh’s head without his permission.15 In addition, one of the greatest honours that can be conferred upon a guest is the gift of a turban (dastar) and sword (kirpan). In this context, the turban symbolises honour and responsibility to the family and nation, while the sword represents dignity, power, fair play and justice.16

In the United States, Sikhs wearing turbans faced discrimination, harassment and violence after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many Americans had mistakenly associated the turbaned Sikhs with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his Taliban followers, who also wore turbans. This confusion resulted in a serious backlash against the American Sikh community.17



Author
Stephanie Ho



References
1. Yarwood, D. (1978). The encyclopedia of world costume. London: B.T. Batsford, pp. 417–418. (Call no.: R q391.00903 YAR-[CUS])
2. Yarwood, D. (1978). The encyclopedia of world costume. London: B.T. Batsford, pp. 417–418. (Call no.: R q391.00903 YAR-[CUS])
3.
Bhandari, V. (2005). The turban. In V. Steele (Ed.), Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Detroit: Thomson, p. 344. (Call no.: LR q391.003 ENC-[CUS])
4.
Bhandari, V. (2010). The turban: India and Pakistan. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 171. (Not available in NLB holdings)
5.
Bhandari, V. (2010). The turban: India and Pakistan. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 171. (Not available in NLB holdings)
6. Gohil,
N. S., & Sidhu, D. S. (2008, Spring). The Sikh turban: Post-911 challenges to this article of faith. Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, 9.2, pp.13–14. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=962779
7. Bhandari, V. (2005). The turban. In V. Steele (Ed.), Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Detroit: Thomson, p. 343. (Call no.: LR q391.003 ENC-[CUS])
8.
Bhandari, V. (2010). The turban: India and Pakistan. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 171. (Not available in NLB holdings)
9.
Bhandari, V. (2005). The turban. In V. Steele (Ed.), Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion. Detroit: Thomson, p. 344. (Call no.: LR q391.003 ENC-[CUS])
10.
Tan, T. Y. (2006). Singapore Khalsa Association (Second edition). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 305.8914205957 TAN)
11. Ang, M. W. (2000). Costumes of Singapore. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in ASEAN. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
12.
Scott, G. (2003). Headwraps: A global journey. New York: Public Affairs, p. 118. (Call no.: R 391.43 SCO-[CUS])
13. Gohil,
N. S., & Sidhu, D. S. (2008, Spring). The Sikh turban: Post-911 challenges to this article of faith. Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, 9.2, p. 14. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=962779
14. Bhandari, V. (2010). The turban: India and Pakistan. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 174. (Not available in NLB holdings)
15. Bhandari, V. (2010). The turban: India and Pakistan. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 176. (Not available in NLB holdings)
16.
Fernandez, W. (1990, November 3). Sikhs honour PM on birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Gohil, N. S. & Sidhu, D. S. 
(2008, Spring). The Sikh turban: Post-911 challenges to this article of faith. Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, 9.2, p. 19. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=962779



The information in this article is valid as at 19 September 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Sikhs
Ethnic Communities
Turbans
Sikhs-Singapore
Heritage and Culture