– A Symbol of Human Dignity –
(ਪੱਗ = pug; gZrVQh = pagrhi; ਦਸਤਾਰ = dastaar)
Turban had been and still is an important article of dress in various societies since a very long time. All through it has connoted power and prestige and is a dress on the head of the wearer. It has been worn in various types, shapes, colours, sizes and its make may be of cotton, silk, wool or any other textile. The turban, its length longer than its width, is set on the head by winding its length around the hairy portion of human head. Though it bears varied nomenclatures in different regions it is always looked upon and referred to as a mark of respect, honour and dignity. Turban is not a structured fixture to be put on as head gear; it is head dress tied around the head craftly, accordance with the practice prevalent among various societal segments. To keep long hair had been a tradition among sages and nobility. In caste ridden India, lower castes were not permitted to grow long head hair, nor could they put on turbans on their heads which was the prerogative of higher castes. Displaying their power and splendor, various segments of Indians used to wear and still wear turbans in different styles and shapes.
Among wide spectrum of Indian population, turban is worn as celebratory sign and insignia of honour and power. Grooms and their close relatives wear turbans on their heads while they set off for brides’ homes. On the death of the head of a family, his heir is bestowed with a turban to acclaim him as recipient of honour and power of the family. In wrestling competition and many other sports arenas, the winner is endowed with a turban. The Chief sportsman reigning in his field is termed as the holder of (gZrVQh) turban. A new disciple acquiring tutorship from a coach or learned teacher offers turban to his coach or teacher as a mark of respect. The marvelous significance turban enjoys is evident in the bonding relationship its exchange establishes between two persons. To acclaim and bind their friendship closely two persons exchange their head turbans with each other. The relationship so developed is deemed more abiding and intimate than real brotherhood. Significant consideration turban bears is kept in mind even among adversaries. It is deemed a norm not to dishonour opponent’s turban even though he may be vanquished in battle. When Nadir Shah invaded, looted and plundered DELHI in 1739 he could not lay hand on the diamond Kohi-i-Noor. The vanquished Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah had kept Kohi-i-Noor in his turban assuming that Nadir Shah would not touch his turban as per the prevalent common and nobility conduct. Nadir Shah had acquired information of the ingenuity of Mohammad Shah. Via his superior cunning and cleverness, Nadir Shah outwitted Mohammad Shah. On May 12, 1739 Mohammad Shah and Nadir Shah met at a durbar in the Red Fort, DELHI to settle terms of Nadir Shah’s return to Persia. The victor acclaimed the binding of his relation brotherly with exchange of turbans with each other. Thus Mohammad Shah’s turban carrying Kohi-i-Noor landed on the head of Nadir Shah who took it to Persia.
The honour, power and romance that sits enthroned on turban in Punjab history, culture, religious narrative and lore beggars all description. Idioms, memes, trolls, slogans relating to turban abound in Punjabi discourse. All these pivot to the honour and power that turban articulates.
1. ਪੱਗ ਦੀ ਪੈਜ ਰੱਖਣੀ ^ to maintain honour of turban.
2. ਪੱਗ ਵਟਾਉਣਾ ^ to exchange turban; bind brotherly relationship.
3. ਪੱਗ ਸੰਭਾਲਣੀ ^ to be mindful of honour.
4. ਪੱਗ ਸਿਰ *ਤੇ ਰੱਖਣੀ ^ to endow honour.
5. ਪੱਗ ਰੁਲਣੀ ^ to be dishonoured.
6. ਪੱਗ ਪੈਰੀਂ ਰੱਖਣੀ ^ to surrender completely.
7. ਪੱਗ ਲਾਹੁਣੀ ^ to humiliate someone.
8. ਪੱਗ ਲੱਥ ਜਾਣੀ ^ to suffer utter disrespect.
9. ਸਿਰ ਜਾਵੇ ਤਾਂ ਜਾਵੇ ਪਰ ਪੱਗ ਨੂੰ ਆਂਚ ਨਾ ਆਵ / ^ Even head be cut but there should be no blemish to the turban.
10. ਗੱਲ ਸੋਚਕੇ; ਕਦਮ ਠੋਕਕੇ; ਪੱਗ ਬੋਚਕੇ ^ Think before you speak; be sure footed; hold your turban.
11. ਬੰਦੇ ਦੀ ਪਹਿਚਾਣ ਬੱਲ, ਚਾਲ ਤੇ ਦਸਤਾਰ ^ Talk, gait and turban provide recognition of a man.
Pristine eminence ਪੱਗ (turban) emits is indicated in the ‘bani’ (utterance, Shri Guru Granth Sahib, page 1379) of Sheikh Farid (1173-1265)
ਫਰੀਦਾ ਮੈ ਭੋਲਾਵਾ ਪਗ ਦਾ ਮਤੁ ਮੈਲੀ ਹੋਇ ਜਾਇ॥
ਗਹਿਲਾ ਰੂਹੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਈ ਸਿਰੁ ਭੀ ਮਿਟੀ ਖਾਇ॥
Under the illusion that my honour will last forever I do not even mischance let a particle of dirt stain my ‘turban’ but I am unmindful of the imminence that the head that bears the turban shall be buried under earth.
Very mention of qissa Heer - Ranjha (story of Heer - Ranjha) arouses mystifyingly luxurious aroma on Punjabi minds. For centuries story of Heer - Ranjha has been fondly narrated by hundreds of poets and writers in Punjabi, Urdu, Persian English et - alia. Damodar Gulati, a versifier at the advent of 17th century, is reckoned to be the first poet who wrote qissa Heer-Ranjha in Punjabi poetry. Prevalence, honour and prestige turban bears among the populace is apparent in the description of a piquant scene qua the relationship of Chuchak - a prominent zamindar (landowner), father of Heer, and Ranjha, lover of Heer. To maintain his liaison with Heer, Ranjha adopts the role of herdsman to look after Chuchak’s herd of cattle. After sometime folks get to know of Heer - Ranjha connection which kindles taunts on Chuchak. To get rid of unpleasant insinuations, Chuchak discharges Ranjha from herdsmanship of his cattle. But Chuchak does not find a good substitute of Ranjha. His flock of cattle go berserk. Chuchak mellows down, changes his mind and asks Ranjha to resume his charge. Feeling piqued, Ranjha declines to take up his charge. When all his beseechings with Ranjha for resumption of his charge are in vain, Chuchak is impelled to invoke and put his honour and prestige on stake to have his way ਆਖੇ ਦਮੋਦਰ: ਜੇ ਪੈ ਹੁੱਟਾ, ਗਲ ਪਗੜੀ ਤੇ ਚਾਕ ਮਨਾਏ Damodar narates: Higher in age and stature Chuchak begs his employee Ranjha to accede to his request for the sake of his turban (honour).
Epic prestige that turban connotes is grandly displayed in the poem titled ‘Himalaya’ written by the distinguished Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal on the turn of nineteenth century.
ਬਰਫ ਨੇ ਬਾਂਧੀ ਹੈ ਦਸਤਾਰਿ ਫਜ਼ੀਲਤ ਤੇਰੇ ਸਰ
‘burf ney bandhi hai dastaare phzilat terey sar’
Himalaya: To celebrate your supreme greatness you are endowed with spotless white turban of snow.
Here I may add a quote of the celebrated Persian poet Sheikh Sa’di which is in synch with the Punjabi proverb mentioned above.
ਮਰਦੁਮ ਰਾ ਸ਼ਨਾਸਦ ਅਜ਼, ਰਫਤਾਰੋ ਗੁਫਤਾਰੋ ਦਸਤਾਰ
One gets to know about a person from his gait, talk and turban.
The Britishers ruling over Punjab, legislated some measures in the beginning of twentieth century which were deemed harmful by the farmers. Momentous agitation rose against the Government seeking annulment of the contended legislation. Ajit Singh uncle of Bhagat Singh was among the agitators spearheading the campaign to undo the laws that would harm the landowners. A poet- journalist Banka Dyal wrote his well known poem entitled gZrVQh ;zGkb iZNk mind your turban (honour); o farmer. The poem became so popular and powerful in that movement and it infused terrific inspiration on its signing and listening. Recited in high pitched timbre, it captured the sentiments that the farmers had been trying to express. The meme continues to be distinctly inscribed on the Punjabi minds. Its echo resonated at the Haryana - Delhi borders during the Sanyukt Kesan Morcha of 2021. Professor Ronki Ram of the Punjab University, Chandigarh while delineating the struggles, hardships and resoluteness of the plowmen of Punjab for over a century from the beginning of the twentieth century to the advent of the third millennium entitled his book. “Pagrhi Sambhal Lehar to Sanyukt Kisan Morcha - A century of Punjab Kisan Struggle 1907-2021”.
Story of turban in Sikh narrative is as old as the Sikh religion. Nanak son of Mehta Kalu was from well off house hold and wore turban on his head even as a child. The distinguished historian-poet Santok Singh Chuharmani in ‘Shri Nanak Prakash’ mentions as under:
ਮਰਦੁਮ ਰਾ ਸ਼ਨਾਸਦ ਅਜ਼, ਰਫਤਾਰੋ ਗੁਫਤਾਰੋ ਦਸਤਾਰਜਲ ਲੋਚਨ ਕੰਜ ਬਿਸਾਲ ਭਲੇ ਸਿਰ ਪੈ ਉਸ਼ਨੀਕਹਿ ਨੀਕ ਬਨ੍ਹਾਈ
When Nanak was taken to the ‘pandha’ (pundit) for schooling he wore a handsome turban on his head. In Shri Guru Granth Sahib celebratory mention of turban is made by Guru Arjun Dev (SGGS page 1084)
ਨਾਪਾਕ ਪਾਕੁ ਕਰਿ ਹਦੂਰਿ ਹਦੀਸਾ
ਸਾਬਤਿ ਸੂਰਤਿ ਦਸਤਾਰ ਸਿਰਾ
To purify impure mind is divine instruction which pivots to attainment of turban of eloquent dignity.
After the tortorous martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev by Emperor Jahangir in 1606, at Lahore, his only son fourteen year Hargobind was installed as the sixth Sikh pontiff. The adolescent Guru had to demonstrate that he was effective successor capable of handling competently every task challenging the Sikhs. To radiate his authority, Guru Hargobind wore ‘Kalghi’ over his turban and two Kirpans (swords) one depicting power to protect Sikh faith, the Second signifying fortitude capable of encountering worldly assailants. The bard Abadullah in the court of Guru Hargobind celebrates the splendent style of the Guru’s turban in the following terms:
ਦੋ ਤਲਵਾਰੀਂ ਬੱਧੀਆਂ, ਇਕ ਮੀਰੀ ਦੀ ਇਕ ਪੀਰੀ ਦੀ
ਇਕ ਅਜ਼ਮਤ ਦੀ ਇਕ ਰਾਜ ਦੀ, ਇਕ ਰਾਖੀ ਕਰੇ ਵਜ਼ੀਰੀ ਦੀ
‘The Guru wore two swords: one of delineating spiritual power and the second of temporal power.’
While baptizing the Sikhs as Khalsa on the Baisakhi of Samat 1756 (1699 CE) at Anandpur Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh master, made turban integral part of Sikh dress and this edict as is evident in various codes of conduct spelt out by eminent Sikh personages.
ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਸਿੱਖ ਪੱਗ ਲੱਥੇ ਦੀ ਸੰਗਤ ਨਾ ਕਰੇ (ਭਾਈ ਦਿਆ ਸਿੰਘ)
Guru’s Sikh should not be company of one without turban (honour)
- Bhai Dia Singh.
ਜੋ ਸਿੱਖ, ਸਿੱਖ ਦੀ ਪੱਗ ਨੂੰ ਹੱਥ ਪਾਏ, ਸੋ ਭੀ ਤਨਖਾਹੀਆ॥
Even if a Sikh dishonours another Sikh’s turban, he is accountable
- Bhai Chaupa Singh.
ਜੋ ਪੱਗ ਨੂੰ ਬਾਸੀ ਰੱਖੇ ਸੋ ਤਨਖਾਹੀਆ
Turban should be worn fresh; it should not be put on as stale structure otherwise it would entail accountability.
– Bhai Chaupa Singh.
Baba Kharak Singh was celebrated as the most prominent Sikh personage at the beginning of twentieth century before Master Tara Singh. One important road in DELHI is named after him. He was a gritty freedom fighter and spent many years in jail in India’s struggle for freedom. While he was imprisoned, the Sikh prisoners were called upon to put on caps on their heads as per jail manual. The Sikh prisoners refused to cast off their turbans to make place for ‘topis’ (caps) on their heads and resorted to naked (except underwear) way of residing in the jail until the then British authorities acquiesced to allow them to have turbans on their heads. In the Second World War 1939-45, Sikh soldiers were ordained by the British commanders to put on helmets to protect their heads from hurt. The Sikh soldiers expressed their disinclination to comply with this requirement. The Commanders told the Sikh soldiers that if they did not wear helmets and received head injuries they would not be given any relief or pension in wake of their hurt to their heads. The Sikh soldiers assured their Commanders that they would not seek any relief on account of injury to their heads for not fixing helmets on their heads but would not forsake their turbans to put on helmet caps.
Sikhs dress themselves in exquisitely bound turbans on their heads. For them it is not an element of style or fashion, it is prominent and essential insignia of their religion. A Sikh turban is usually five meter long fine muslin and one meter in width. It could be of any colour. It is tied (worn) afresh and is not structured in mere turban - shaped head - gear, cap or hat.
There are multiple instances of Sikhs standpoints in various countries to get them enjoy the wearing of turbans as an essential ingredient of their faith. The very mention of a Sardar (Sikh) correlates to turban as instinctively as breathing. The turban is enormous symbolic significance of this correlation. Affection and regard Sikhs have for their turban is testament to its being an essential part of their faith and personality. We do see some people professing Sikhism with shorn hair and without turbans on their heads. That is deviation and serious violation in complying with Sikh doctrine and such people cannot claim that they are practicing Sikhs and no one can find fault with the Sikhs observing their prescribed code of conduct.
Since the Sikhs are celebrating the solemn sacrifice of chote Sahibzadas in defence of their faith during the last fortnight of December in 2022 like every year, the Sikh youth who have discarded the Sikh symbols of their hair and turbans must introspect and become aware of their religious heritage and revert to their original way of life to be called Sardars as they are popularly addressed by their co-religionists. Keeping unshorn keshas and wearing a turban is a much a matter discipline as of faith. The Sikh youth must preserve their distinct Sikh identity for which both these kakaars are indispensable.