Recent articles by the respected I.J. Singh on sikhchic.com discussed dastaar bandhi (“turban tying”) – the ceremony Sikh boys go through when they wear their first full turban. As he describes, in many ways dastaar bandhi is a “coming of age” ceremony.
I.J. Singh’s first essay recounts a ceremony that he witnessed and discusses the significance of the Sikh turban:
One way then is to look at the turban is as a crown on a Sikh’s head. History teaches us that Sikhs would rather lose a head than part with the turban and the unshorn hair (kesh) under it.
From that viewpoint, then, it is not a mere cultural eccentricity but the cornerstone of a Sikh’s existence, essential to the very definition of self.
As a turban-wearing Sikh myself, I can relate to this sentiment. For a Sikh, tying one’s turban every day is a spiritual experience. With every wrap around my head, I feel more and more whole, and when the turban is complete, I feel complete.
The essay takes me to one of my earliest (and somewhat foggy) memories. Not blessed with the greatest of memories, I do recall the occasion of my dastaar bandhi when I was very young – probably less than five years old. The first time I wore a full turban was during one of our visits to Punjab, India.
I remember sitting in a bedroom and having the turban tied on my head. I recall that it was women who tied my first turban on me (my mother and aunts, I believe). When it was done, I was sent out to the main living room where my father, uncles and relatives were sitting in chairs in a large circle. As I presented myself, I was welcomed to great applause and I immediately walked to my father and asked him how it looked. I remember him smiling and telling me that it looked nice.
This was one of those memories that lacked context for me until recently, because I didn’t know where this occurred other than the fact that it was somewhere in India. On another recent trip to India, I found myself in a bedroom of a house and realizing that this was the room in which my first full turban was tied. I retraced my steps through the house and a lot of the cloudiness around that memory was lifted.
I didn’t start wearing the full turban regularly until I was about 16. I was entering high school and it was decided that this would be the appropriate time to transition from the patka (a kid’s head covering) to the pagri (another word for the full turban). I started wearing the pagri every day (with varying success – my earliest turbans were certainly not works of art). Despite this, I remember the surprise on the faces of some classmates at the transition, and interestingly, despite being the only turban-wearing Sikh in my school, I think there was a sense of respect. It took a year or so before I really got the hang of tying the turban, and some twenty-plus years later, it is still one of my daily rituals.
I.J. Singh’s second piece on this topic considers whether dastaar bandhi should be conferred on to Sikh boys regardless of whether they have kept uncut hair (one of the requirements of Sikhs). The Sikh turban and uncut hair go hand-in-hand, and for boys that do not keep their hair, it is all but certain that they wouldn’t be wearing a turban regularly. So, I.J. Singh wonders whether this ceremony would be appropriate (he also brings up the lack of a similar ceremony for girls, and I agree on his stance, but that discussion is for another time).
I’m not sure I have an answer to this. My initial response is that dastaar bandhi should only be performed if the boy also keeps his hair, otherwise the ceremony and the significance of the turban (conferred by hundreds of years of Sikh history, and thousands of years of Indian history) loses its value. However, I.J. Singh also brings up using dastaar bandhi as a stepping stone for the interested Sikh boy towards following the spiritual practices of his ancestors. Who are we to completely close that door?
I’m starting to come to the belief that dastaar bandhi has to be considered more than a ceremony for the Sikh boy, but also for his parents. If a father himself doesn’t keep his own hair or turban, then it doesn’t make sense that this ceremony be performed for his son. The boy’s first turban should not only be a milestone towards becoming a man, but it should also symbolize his parents’ commitment to raise him with Sikh values. With that in mind, I believe dastaar bandhi takes on a more meaningful perspective and brings some clarity about for whom this rite of passage should take place.