Turban Through Time

What do you define the Turban as, identity? Religion? Culture? or just a fashion statement .

To many it is a fascination, something they have never been familiarised with before.

The Turban itself has been known to go beyond ancient India to the Byzantine Era and even the Prehistoric ages. However, the focus of this post is how it became involved in the sikh religion, and the fight for it.


1675, Guru Tegh Bahudar, the ninth Guru was beheaded, despite having the option to convert his faith, he sacrificed his life to protect our rights in being able to practice our faith, to have the freedom to be a sikh. This event led to individuals to adopt the turban as a sign of being firm and connected with their faith, as well as a sign of resistance to dictatorship that objected the freedom of ones' faith.

1699, the year in which Guru Gobind Singh Ji established the Khalsa Panth, those who were baptised wore a daastar. This wasn't a dress code to illustrate fashion, instead it held the definition of - honour, respectability, courage and nobility.

The Turban is not a piece of cloth, it is a crown given to us by our Gurus.


The 20th Century was a pivotal era for the Sikhs and the Turban; during World War I and World war II.

Modern warfare involved a uniform consisting of a steel helmet, which the Sikh soldiers refused to wear, as how could a tin hat possibly protect their hair as adequately as a turban. An offering of protection that would save themselves was nothing in comparison to keeping their pride and faith, even if meant putting their lives at risk.

The results from this decision can be seen in this letter:
Lt. General Sir Reginald Savory, K.G.T., C.B., D.S.O., M.C. states in a letter to Mrs. G. Scott, Scientific Section, House of Commons Library: 
"... I have known Sikhs to pick bullets out of their turbans during and after battle. In fact the turban absorbs the shock of a bullet possibly rather better than a tin helmet. If the turban is properly tied, it will also form an effective buffer too, for instance from a toss from a motor bicycle".
"During World War I, when the steel helmet was first introduced, we British Officers of Sikh Regiments tried to persuade our men to wear them, but they steadfastly refused, and have done so ever since."


1947, India gained independence and was partitioned into two, India and Pakistan. Punjab, being the common home of sikhs had split into two.

This led to a disperse of Sikhs around the world, in India and particularly Britain. Despite being different, they were honoured for their sacrifice during the war.

But, this did not last long.

With the Turban being more commonly seen in Britain, sikhs established their roots and culture within their new home. Standing out from others due to their appearance arose tensions, individuals became hostile to Sikhs, due to the difference in appearance, culture and behaviour. It was argued their coming to Britain meant they should have been prepared to change themselves, adhering to the way of the British people.

Easy to distinguish, the Turban was replaced from its symbol of Sacrifice to a target.

Today we are lucky, companies encourage and attempt to advocate diversity rather than discrimination. However, during the 90s a change of attitudes towards the turban, meant rejection from being able to even get a job, unless they were to conform and cut their hair, so they would fit into the British societal image.


1957, Manchester became a starter for a comeback, when Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar applied for the position of a Bus Conductor. He was told he would have to wear a conductor hat in replacement of his turban, which he refused to do so. This led to a seven-year campaign on allowing Sikh bus conductors to be able to wear their turban. Following this campaign, was The Motorcycle Crash Helmets Act of 1972, legally authorising sikhs to wear their turbans rather than crash helmets.

Despite both campaigns becoming a success, the turban was still not protected under law.

The Mandler case 1980s,  involved a school boy being refused entry to a school due to keeping his turban rather than cutting his hair. This was argued as discrimination, however it could have only been classified as racially discriminating, if the Sikhs were an ethnic or racial group rather than a religious sect.

Surprisingly, Sikhs lost this case during the first time, being unrecognised as a racial group.

Another fight for justice, led The House of Lords to decide that Sikhs were in fact an ethnic group and had been discriminated on racial grounds.

Lord Fraser of Tullybelton:
"For a group to constitute an ethnic group in the sense of the 1976 Act, it must, in my opinion, regard itself, and be regarded by others, as a distinct community by virtue of certain characteristics. Some of these characteristics are essential; others are not essential but one or more of them will commonly be found and will help to distinguish the group from the surrounding community"

The right to be able to wear the turban, was for the first time protected by the law.


However, this only happened in Britain. Even today many countries outside of Britain do not understand the meaning of the turban, it is still not accepted. I personally have seen this myself having family who wear the turban, to being told to take it off, to getting weird stares on holiday.

Many people don't recognise the turban, its background and religious connect, however I'm hoping this post educates more people on what the turban is and its evolvement through time.


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