Turbans are cool. Picture yourself in one!

On Friday March 16th, the University of Waterloo and the cities of Kitchener-Waterloo were transformed into a sea of col...

On Friday March 16th, the University of Waterloo and the cities of Kitchener-Waterloo were transformed into a sea of colourful turbans in support of Sikh Awareness Day. A collaborative effort between the University of Waterloo Sikh Students Association, the Sikh Activist Network, www.Gursevak.com, and the Waterloo-Laurier Punjabi Association, the event aimed to educate the local community about Sikhism.

The idea stemmed from a long-standing wish on behalf of the local Sikh university students to spread awareness about their religion in a creative way. Their sole aim was to showcase the spirit of openness and equality that is so fundamentally rooted in Sikhism. And so the idea of Sikh Awareness Day paired with turban tying was born.

Volunteers worked tirelessly from the inception of the idea up until the end of the event to make it a success. Poster boards were created to impart education about the many aspects of Sikhism, some of which included Women in Sikhi, The Ten Gurus, Gurbani Kirtan, Famous Sikhs, and Martyrs in Sikh History. Colourful, educational, and concise, the boards served as a source of knowledge for those interested in learning more about Sikhism. Also created by volunteer Kanwaljit Singh was a Sikhism fact sheet providing some basic facts, along with the added bonus of a barcode that could be scanned with a smart-phone to be led to websites containing more in-depth information on Sikhism.

In the weeks leading up to the event, posters were placed around the local university campuses, the Kitchener Gurudwara (Sikh Temple), and on social media sites to promote the event titled Sikh Awareness Day Presents: Turbans are cool- Picture yourself in one. On Friday March 16th, from 10am to 4pm, individuals could come to the Great Hall of the Student Life Centre (SLC) at the University of Waterloo to have a turban tied that they could keep. They could also have a picture taken by a professional photographer from Envious Productions which they could either have printed or emailed. They would have the opportunity to learn more about Sikhism via the informational poster boards while enjoying snacks such as samosas and sweets. Everyone was also welcome try their hand at the traditional instruments—the tabla (a pair of drums) and the harmonium—used in kirtan (the singing of Sikh scriptures).

Through the hard work of the volunteers, 2400 students were invited via mini rav cards and 400 faculty were given invites in person. Announcements were made in classrooms, and a large banner was put up in the SLC. A total of $1000 was spent on the event, with $600 going towards the marketing campaign and the posters. The turbans were generously provided by Dixie and Malton Gurudwara. Though the volunteers had targeted such a large audience, they remained somewhat worried about the turnout. But come Friday morning, their worries were replaced with feelings of profound joy.

Volunteers arrived early to begin setup. The poster boards were arranged around Great Hall, the traditional instruments were set up, food was delivered, and the colourful turbans were neatly laid out for all to see. As 10am grew nearer, the volunteers simply hoped to generate curiosity in those passing by. Minutes into the event, volunteers realized they didn’t need worry: people were flocking towards them. The word had spread far and wide, beyond the university campus to those at work and at home in the cities of Kitchener-Waterloo: turbans were being tied at UW and everyone wanted one.

The first person arrived at 9:45am. His words were simple: “I am dying to see myself in a turban”. That first turban, tied by Inayat Singh, set the stage for a very busy day. From 10am to 4pm, individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life came to have their turban tied. More than 20 colours of turbans were tied on more than 400 non Sikh students, faculty, and community members. Approximately 1650m of turban was tied in 6 hours. At 4pm, there were still people coming for the turbans, but there were none left. When told that they could keep their turban, the question that was asked all throughout the day was – for how much? Where do I make a donation? and when told that it was all for free, that it was all in the spirit of awareness and seva—selfless service without the expectation of any reward—they were overjoyed and motivated to learn more about Sikhism. Professor Nathan Funk from the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at UW expressed that all those who had a turban tied deserved one credit in his course for participating. The volunteers were key in imparting knowledge about Sikhism and answering questions about the history and significance of turbans, the long unshorn hair, about the fundamentals of Sikhism, and anything else the curious mind wished to know. Others demonstrated the use of the instruments and taught the basics to those who wished to learn. 

That day, the university campuses and the cities of Kitchener-Waterloo were imbued in the colours of equality. Male or female, young or old, student or faculty, all donned their turbans with great pride. They carried the message of Sikhism with them to their classrooms, to their offices and to dinner with their friends. Some wanted to share our unique experience of never failing to stand out, while others wanted to show their support and awareness of Sikhism.

Everyone was overjoyed that we had decided to share our turbans with them, and we in turn were overjoyed that they had opened their hearts and minds to us. There was an inexplicable feeling of unity that day between every person present that left us overflowing with optimism.

To all those who came, we sincerely thank you from the bottom of our hearts for allowing us the opportunity to share a piece of ourselves with you. You embodied the potential of the human spirit to love and accept others. You provided us with an incredible experience. We will not forget your curiosity, your smiles, and your open hearts.

Photos appear below and the videos of the event are posted here!

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

~ Harjot Kaur Dosanjh




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