BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ICONIC TURBAN AND ITS ASSOCIATION WITH SIKHISM

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The turban is often seen as the Identity of Sikhism and is closely associated with the dynamic and straight forward character of its practitioners. But how did the turban come into existence. Was it always worn only by the members of Sikhism? The answer to this is No.

The earliest reference to the existence of a turban can be seen in the garment of a royal statue from the Mesopotamian civilization. The sculpture is estimated to be more than 4000 years old which is way before the Abrahamic religions came into existence. After that at some point in time the turban could be seen adorning members of almost of all major religions namely Christianity, Islam and Jewism. While we do not know the reason or timeline of when this practice was stopped by the followers of Abrahamic religions, we do know how the turban took its current form with the Sikhs.

To understand that one needs to look into the rich history of the Indian sub-continent where the religion has its origin. In India, before the Mughal invasion, only the royal entourage and high ranked officials were permitted to wear turbans. Even during that time, the turban was worn by both Sikhs and Hindus alike. However, things changed after the Mughal invasion. TheMughals with their Persian styled turbans wanted to make the turban unique only to Muslims. In fact, Aurangzeb, one of India’s most controversial rulers, pushed it to the extreme by using the turban to create segregation among people. Not Only did he permit only Muslims to wear the turban but also punished any one else who defied that rule. The Sikhs were quite unhappy with that and the turban soon became their symbol of agitation and defiance after Aurangzeb had murdered their religious leader. Thus, even during the controversial rule of the Mughals the Sikhs proudly wore their turbans. But, was the shape of the turban always this way? Not really!

It is during the British rule that the turban took its current form. The British admired the Sikhs’ bravery during their initial conquest of India and welcomed the Sikhs to serve for the British in their army ranks. The British soldiers, at one point in time, in order to bring in equality among their army ranks mandated turbans amongst all soldiers. Thus Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims once again wore the turbans together serving the British army. However, they did not like the then shape and irregular sizes of the turbans. So the British introduced the now common almost symmetrically shaped turbans deemed fit for an army personnel.

After the British left the subcontinent granting independence, the Sikhs went through major change in their lives. Lot of them were pushed to the Indian side of the continent as the Muslims would move to the west and form the current day Pakistan. This created a lot of unrest initially between the Muslims and Sikhs. While the Muslims stopped wearing the turbans, the Sikhs continued wearing their tradition with pride and the Hindus stopped wearing them so as to avoid being mistaken for a Sikh during the period of Unrest. Thus, with the independence of India, Sikhs remained the only people to sport the Iconic Turban!

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