The turban is our Guru's gift to us. It is how we crown ourselves as the Singhs and Kaurs who sit on the throne of commitment to our own higher consciousness. For men and women alike, this projective identity conveys royalty, grace, and uniqueness. It is a signal to others that we live in the image of Infinity and are dedicated to serving all. The turban doesn't represent anything except complete commitment. When you choose to stand out by tying your turban, you stand fearlessly as one single person standing out from six billion people. It is a most outstanding act.
Bana: Appearance & Form
The "bana" or form, the personal appearance of a Sikh, is one of the foremost ways that a Sikh maintains his or her consciousness as the Guru intended. The Guru has given his Sikh specific instructions to keep his or her natural form as created by God. Thus, all hair is maintained, uncut, and untrimmed. The Guru has given his Sikh a standard of dress which distinguishes him or her as a human being dedicated to a life of truthful living. The Guru has instructed his Sikhs to maintain high moral character, symbolized by the wearing of the steel bracelet, ("kara") and to stand prepared to defend righteousness, wearing the "kirpan" or sword.
The long hair of a Sikh is tied up in a Rishi knot (Joora) over the solar center (top of the head), and is covered with a turban, usually five meters of cotton cloth. (The man’s solar center is nearer the front of the head. The woman's solar center is further back.) A female Sikh may also wear a chuni (chiffon scarf) draped over it. All Sikhs cover their head while in Gurdwara. With the growing awareness of the non-sexist nature of Sikh Dharma and the Sikh lifestyle, many Sikh women wear turbans on a consistent basis, as the men do. The turban of a Sikh is his or her primary identifying feature. It is a statement of belonging to the Guru, and it is a statement of the inner commitment of the one who wears it. The uncut hair and the turban are a declaration to live in accordance with, and if necessary die in support of, the Teachings of the Sikh Gurus and the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Regardless of the circumstances or the type of employment or activity, a Sikh keeps his or her form and identity as a Sikh. Clothes are modest, and exemplary of the identity and character of a soldier-saint.
What is the Sikh Identity?
When you wear bana, turban, white bana, kara, beard, you are declaring that you are committed and have dedicated the self to the Guru and shall serve ALL even those who want to cheat you, or hurt you.
People do a lot to be noticed. Sikhs do not have to do anything to be noticed. How many creative men are in the world? One question is, "Why are the Sikhs who have the prosperity losing their prospects?" I have the answer to that. Because they have forgotten the great practices that were given to them.
Turban is not a piece of cloth. It is the self crowning of the individual. Hair on the face is not a decoration. It is an acceptance of Akal Moorat, to live in image of the infinity. Guru Gobind Singh said "So long as you shall be 'Niara' specially exclusive, I will give you all the light of the Universe." To be a great teacher means to be the most perfect disciple, the most perfect student. This is the space age, the platinum age. Our society is a mess. Forget your neurosis that you do not know who you are. The slogan of the Platinum Age shall be "ENDURANCE UNTO INFINITY." The goodness of the heart shall win and men of God will prevail. Everything has a price, and infinity has an infinite price.
It is presupposed that you are the men of God. You have your beard and you have your turban and you look divine.... but you don't act divine... people get very disappointed. Therefore the situation demands that you live it.
Sikh is nothing but identity. Without identity there's no Sikh. Sikh is nothing but an identity of reality; without it, there is no Sikh religion. The Guru took us from the mud, the rituals, waste of time, and said "live 'niara', exclusively identified."
Turban - Gift of the Guru
The turban of a Sikh is a gift given on Baisakhi Day of 1699 by the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh. After giving Amrit to the Five Beloved Ones, he gave us bana, the distinctive dress that includes the turban. It is helpful to understand the historical context of his action.
During Guru Gobind Singh’s time, the turban, or “dastar,” as it is called in Persian, carried a totally different connotation from that of a hat in Europe. The turban represented respectability and was a sign of nobility. At that time, a Mughal aristocrat or a Hindu Rajput could be distinguished by his turban. The Hindu Rajputs were the only Hindus allowed to wear ornate turbans, carry weapons and have their mustache and beard. Also at this time, only the Rajputs could have Singh (“lion”) or Kaur (“princess”) as their second name. Even the Gurus did not have Singh as part of their name, until the Tenth Guru.
The downtrodden followers of the Sikh faith did not have the means to display aristocratic attire, nor were they allowed to, even if they had the means. (Doing so was usually equivalent to a death sentence.) It was in this context that Guru Gobind Singh decided to turn the tables on the ruling aristocracy by commanding every Sikh to carry a sword, take up the name Singh or Kaur, and have kesh (hair) and turban displayed boldly, without any fear. This effectively made his followers see themselves on a par with the Mughal rulers.
When we are in the presence of the Guru, Guru is giving us the gift of his energy. That energy is sacred and when we retain it, Guru's energy lives in us and that gives us the living experience of Guru. To help retain that energy we cover our heads with a turban.
Turban as Technology
Turbans go way back in history as part of a spiritual practice. The top of your head is the tenth gate or the crown chakra. It is normally covered by hair that acts as antennae to protect the top of the head from sun and exposure, as well as to channel sun and vitamin D energy. Yogis or Sikhs do not cut their hair, they coil or knot it on top of head on their solar center. In men the solar center is on top of the head at the front (anterior fontanel). Women have two solar centers: one is at the center of the crown chakra, the other is on top of the head towards the back (posterior fontanel). For all, coiling or knotting the hair at the solar centers channels one’s radiant energy and helps retain a spiritual focus.
This hair knot is traditionally called the “rishi” knot. In ancient times, a rishi was someone who had the capacity to control the flow of energy and prana in the body. A “maharishi” was someone who could regulate the flow of energy in the body, meditatively and at will. The rishi knot assists in the channeling of energy in meditation (Naam Simran). If one cuts off the hair, there can be no rishi knot. By giving us the rishi knot and the turban the Guru gave us the blessing to have the capacity of a rishi.
The 10th Sikh Master, Guru Gobind Singh, taught his Sikhs to take the next step: Put a turban on the head covering the coiled, uncut hair. The pressure of the multiple wraps keeps the 26 bones of the skull in place. There are pressure points on the forehead that keep you calm and relaxed. Turbans cover the temples, which protects you from mental or psychic negativity of other people. The pressure of the turban also changes the pattern of blood flow to the brain. (These are all reasons that women should also wear turbans.) When you tie up your hair and wrap the turban around it, all the parts of your skull are pulled together and supported. You feel clarity and readiness for the day and for what may come to you from the Unknown.
God is the Unknown. He is mastery as well as mystery. Living with an awareness of your God within you and the God outside of you (God in all) is an attitude. Covering your head is an action with the attitude that there is something greater than you know. Your willingness to stand under that greatness of God is expressed by taking the highest, most visible part of you and declaring it as a place that belongs to the Creator. Covering your head is also a declaration of humility, of your surrender to God.
For many, hair is also sexually attractive. By covering our hair we can keep from stimulating the lower nature of others who are not our spouses. It is up to each of us to maintain our purity and integrity.
Wrapping a turban everyday is our declaration that this head, this mind is dedicated to our Creator. The turban becomes a flag of our consciousness as well as our crown of spiritual royalty. Wearing a turban over uncut hair is a technology of consciousness that can give you the experience of God. This experience is for all Khalsa, men and women both.
Turban in the Rehit (Code)
Amritdhari Sikhs (those who have been baptized in the Amrit ceremony) are supposed to have their heads covered when in public.
The turban tells others that we are different. By having a distinct appearance, Sikhs become accountable for their actions. Our distinct Sikh appearance not only makes us think more often about our conduct and its reflection upon a wider society, it also makes us reflect upon our own ideals and how they reflect the teachings of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
The turban is there to remind us of our connection to God. It frames us as devotees of God and gives us a way to live in gratitude for this gift of recognition. This responsibility of being recognized is also a way of keeping ourselves from self-destructive habits, such as smoking, drinking, etc.
The thing is, in our religion our identity goes hand in hand with the turban. There is no other religion in the world that wears turban as a daily Badge of Identity. The turban of a Sikh is his or her primary identifying feature. It is a statement of belonging to the Guru, and it is a statement of the inner commitment of the one who wears it. The uncut hair and the turban are a declaration to live in accordance with, and if necessary die in support of, the Teachings of the Sikh Gurus and the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
At what age should boys shift from wearing patkas to wearing full turban (pagri)?
It is a personal decision. Many boys wear patka for sports and begin to wear full pagri for more formal occasions like Gurdwara, full assembly at school, etc.
Should females coil and wrap their hair the same as males?
Yes. The Sikh faith regards gender equality as an important part of its teachings. When Guru Gobind Singh gave us the Rehit Maryada to live by, he gave it to everyone, not just the men. A Sikh girl who does not wear a turban (or at least a chuni), is ”undercover;” she cannot really be identified as Sikh. This is not what Guru Gobind Singh intended. However, because a woman’s hair is coiled on a different part of her head than a man’s, her style of wrapping a turban may look different than a Sikh man’s.
Why do Sikh women wear the chuni over their turban?
Ideally, a woman also wears a chuni over her turban. It takes a lot of consciousness and dedication because it's definitely more trouble. The chuni worn under the chin and across the shoulder protects the grace of the woman. To put it simply, men have a beard to give a protective energy field around the face, women don't. The chuni provides that protection so you don't attract the wrong kind of energy. It means a woman is not sexually available. This is not just a cultural thing, it actually changes the way people – especially men – see and relate to her.
When should girls cover their heads?
Girls should cover their heads at all times. For young girls, a rishi knot cover is often enough, but the practice of tying a turban should be taught early. By the time they become adolescent, it is advised that they always tie a turban as tool to protect their grace and integrity.
Why do Western Sikh women wear turbans, when most Indian women do not?
Most Indian women do not wear turbans due to a longstanding cultural habit, which began by identifying Sikhi with male warriors and turbans with battle helmets. Though many Sikh women fought for survival of the faith, the habit of wearing turbans did not take root until the 1970s, when Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan encouraged (Western) female Khalsa to wear turbans.
Very slowly, the habit of wearing turbans is taking root among Sikh women of Asian ancestry in the West and in India. Some Indian women wear their hair coiled on their heads and covered with a patka and chuni, but they are a minority. Most Indian women are unaware of the technology of wearing the hair coiled on the head, and of wrapping a turban, so this is another reason why they don’t wear turbans. You will find, however, that devoted Sikh women of Indian ancestry often have their heads covered anyway, but not with a turban. Sometimes it’s just a scarf, more often it’s a chuni.
Why don't all Sikhs tie turbans?
In addition to the explanation about Sikh women and turbans (above), many people who are not wearing their turbans (or keeping uncut hair) are doing so because of outside pressures. Society and/or family are affecting them. They have forgotten, or perhaps never understood in the first place, their identity as Sikhs.
People who take their turban off in public when it is not convenient are not relating to the spiritual power of this form. They are mired in a cultural practice, and may have no understanding of the technology of tying a turban, or its place in the Sikh Rehit. A turban worn properly is a crown, and if a Sikh wears it with that consciousness, it is doubtful he/she will be made fun of.
Rather than getting angry, or creating negative energy by judging them, simply bless them and pray that by the Grace of God and Guru some day they will understand who they are.
Why should I wear my turban? Is there some process I can go through to help me understand?
You should wear a turban as part of your identity as a Sikh (see other answers elsewhere under this topic). If you are newly converted to Sikhi, perhaps you can start by practicing wearing your hair up on top of your head and covering your head with a cap, a hat, or a scarf. But still that will not give you the practical identity of a Sikh.
If I don't wear a turban, can I still be a Sikh?
Yes, but you will not have the identity of a Sikh, so how will people know you are Sikh?
Wearing a turban takes courage. If you do not want to wear a turban, be very clear in yourself what your reasons for this are: Societal or peer group pressures to conform? Comfort? Uncertain if you want to live as a Sikh? Are you afraid and if so, of what? Answering these questions in yourself is important to knowing your resistance to wearing a turban.
Nevertheless, your relationships to Sikhi and to the Guru are your own, and many people have found spiritual contentment practicing Sikhi without wearing a turban.
What is the purpose of different colored turbans?
Turbans come in every color and pattern but there are three colors most commonly worn: white, deep blue, and saffron orange. White turbans are worn to extend the aura and the person’s projection. Royal blue or navy blue turbans are common among Sikh ministers and gyanis, especially in India. The blue is the color of the warrior and of protection. Saffron orange is the third Sikh color and is commonly worn by Sikhs worldwide. Orange represents wisdom. Black turbans can represent surrender of the ego. Other colors of turbans don’t have a significance associated with them. Sometimes it’s just a case of fashion, of matching a turban to a business suit, for example.
How can we feel comfortable about wearing turbans in public and on the job?
Just do it! In the words of Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan, “It’s not the life you lead, it’s the courage you bring to it.” Being a Sikh means having a distinct identity, and maintaining that identity takes courage. If you are a fully committed Sikh, then you already have everything it takes to boldly wear a turban with a projection of confidence and contentment. Remind yourself that the turban is a spiritual crown that says you cannot be bought or corrupted at any price. Remind yourself that the crown represents royalty, and walk with the knowledge that you are a Lion or Princess of the Guru.
Many people are awed by the statement we make when we walk, wearing full bana, into a room full of non-Sikhs. People will respect you so long as you respect yourself and your faith and the commitment it represents.
Many non-Sikh employers hire members of our community because they are Sikh, because of all we represent. Employers trust or are fascinated by our identity and our projection, rather than put off by it. Let your Sikh identity work for you! By the way, it is against federal law, and many state laws, to discriminate against potential employees because of their religious garb.