A Visual History of the Sikh Turban

We see that the Sikh turban has persisted and manages to still have a strong presence — and that the historical styles s...

The Sikh faith is known for the external markers of the Khalsa identity, most prominently the uncut hair covered by a turban. It is a testament to the emphasis laid in the earliest Rehits (Khalsa code of conduct) on the turban as a mark of a warrior-king that the Sikh turban persists to this day — but one question that lingers is how the Sikh turban developed to this point through history. This article tries to give a brief treatment of the topic by looking at artwork and photography throughout Sikh history to show how although the symbolism and strength behind the Sikh turban has remained strong, the specific style in which it’s expressed has evolved quite a good bit.

PERIOD I — The Sikh Gurus (~1500-1700)

The first type of turban we see in Sikh history is the type that the Gurus tied, and assumedly other affluent Sikhs in the times of the first 9 Gurus (and perhaps some Khalsa Sikhs as well). Contra to the perception that the Gurus created an altogether new and unique style of turban, they tied what we can call a royal Indic turban that was popular among the royal classes in North India at the time...

turban history 1 ggs.png
Guru Gobind Singh on horse wearing the royal Indic turban

PERIOD II — The Khalsa Period (~1700–1820)

Following the royal Indic turban of the Gurus, we see the heavily militarized Khalsa Sikhs adopt a new turban style especially suited to their military lifestyle, and designed to accommodate a joorha of uncut hair — the Khalsa-style turban. This pagh style seems to have developed from the similar to the aforementioned royalty one, starting with the omission of the band keeping the turban tight. The Khalsa-style turban is very similar to generic turban styles sometimes seen in Punjab at the same time as well as turban styles popular among Hindu Pahari Rajputs, and may have been heavily influenced by these styles as well (or perhaps vice versa).

turban history 2 alam.png
Bhai Alam Singh, a prominent Sikh in Bihar in the late 1700s, wearing a royal Indic turban without the band

PERIOD II — The Khalsa Period (~1700–1820)

Following the royal Indic turban of the Gurus, we see the heavily militarized Khalsa Sikhs adopt a new turban style especially suited to their military lifestyle, and designed to accommodate a joorha of uncut hair — the Khalsa-style turban. This pagh style seems to have developed from the similar to the aforementioned royalty one, starting with the omission of the band keeping the turban tight. The Khalsa-style turban is very similar to generic turban styles sometimes seen in Punjab at the same time as well as turban styles popular among Hindu Pahari Rajputs, and may have been heavily influenced by these styles as well (or perhaps vice versa).

turban history 3 nihangs.png
A procession of Akali-Nihangs in British-controlled Amritsar in 1905

...All in all, even with the prominent forces of modernity and Westernization pushing many Sikh youth across the globe to cut their hair and forgo the Khalsa identity maintained by their forefathers, we see that the Sikh turban has persisted and manages to still have a strong presence — and that the historical styles such as the gol parna, dumalla, keski, and nok turban, continue to evolve and diversify further, embodying the eternal identity of the keshdhari Khalsa gifted to Sikhs by the tenth Guru.

 

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