The Story Behind the Sikh Turban Wrap

When most people think of India, they think of temples, spices, and a land rich in color and religion. One of the five main religions in India is Sikhism. Sikhism developed in the fifteenth century and is native to the Punjab region of northern India. The term ‘Sikh’ itself originated from Sanskrit words meaning disciple, student, and instruction; which are some of each members most prided devotions. The main beliefs of this religion are depicted by the following the ‘Five K’s’ which consists of ‘Kesh’ (unkempt long hair), ‘Kangha’ (a small wooden comb), Kara (a steel or iron bracelet), ‘Kacherra’ (undergarment), and a ‘Kirpan’ (short dagger). For the followers of the Sikh religion, all of the aforementioned things must be kept on or close to the person at all times.

I learned about one of the five K’s, the turban, from a local host while on our tour of northern India with Go Eat Give. The size of the turban, which can be seen in all different colors and fashions, is directly related to the age of its wearer. For example, if an elderly man is wearing a turban, it will be quite large. A Sikh man adds another yard of fabric to his turban for every year of his age. This is why when you see a small boy who follows this religion, his turban may look more like a hair wrap with a small knot on the top. The reason the turban is worn is to contain their hair, which is never cut.       Khalsa sikh

The Sikh person who was our host in Chandigarh explained that to twist the long pieces of fabric into a perfectly created turban, the hair is braided from the neck up above the head, and then carefully tucked under a separate hair net, which goes under the turban. This hair net ensures that the hair will not slip out of place while also adding sturdiness to the headpiece. After this, the long pieces of fabric are carefully wrapped around the head in a layered, circular fashion to ensure support and neatness. This is done every day in the morning at least, sometimes multiple times a day. The process takes on average about forty minutes each time.

sikh kids at khalsa orphanage in Amritsar

As for the meaning behind the colors of the turban, most people choose a designated color to match their clothing or to fit the current fashion. However, there is a special meaning behind the bright orange head wraps that seem to be most popular. Orange color is representative of the spice saffron, which is one of the country’s most common spices and has a long connection in the past to the Sikh religion and its following. It is also the official Sikh color to represent wisdom and clarity of the mind.

Taking into consideration how much time Sikh followers spend each day maintaining and wrapping their turbans and head wraps, it is very clear that they are a very devoted and dedicated people that pride themselves on daily commitment and hard work in order to demonstrate their faithfulness and love of their religious beliefs.

Sikh students

Golden Temple

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is one of the most spiritual places in India. The temple is a Sikh temple (aka gurduwara). It was constructed in 1604. Made entirely of gold, the temple is simply spectacular in its architecture and beauty teaching lesson of egalitarianism and humility.

Even though I grew up in north India, merely a four hours drive from Amritsar, I never had a chance to visit the Golden Temple before. Every time I planned a trip there, something or the other happened that prevented me from attaining this lifelong desire.

Fortunately, I made it last week. Amritsar is a small city in Punjab and very close to the India-Pakistan border. As a result of its location, the city can sometimes be unstable and unsafe, but lately no major cases of violence have taken place there.

After parking in the car garage, I walked through the busy streets of Amritsar where everything goes. If you don’t watch out, you can get run over in no time. There is a shoe deposit area before the temple where visitors need to drop off their footwear and walk barefoot for a few more yards on dirt roads before reaching the main entrance to the Golden Temple. Once there, worshippers must do ablution by washing their hands, feet and face.

The walk down the stairs gives a first glimpse of the gold of the temple which is a breathtaking sight. The temple itself stands in the middle of a lake and is surrounded by smaller temples made of white marble, a large courtyard and places for pilgrims to rest, eat and hydrate.

After soaking in the magnificent views of the temple, it was time to go inside and take blessing from the Sikh Gurus. First I bought some offering (Prasad) to offer to the priests. With hundreds of people visiting, there was almost two hours wait in the line before I could go inside. In the main temple, the priests chant away scriptures that are soothing to hear. Worshippers pay their respects by bowing down to the Guru’s, making their offerings and saying their prayers. Immaculate marble inscriptions adorn the walls and ceiling of the inside of the temple. The entire experience is very spiritual and refreshing to the soul.

I have been told the best time to visit is 4am when the temple opens and the crowds are thin. Also, that is the time when the Guru Grant Sahib (the holy book) is taken inside in a procession. When it’s dark, the temple lights up and make the gold glisten in the dark against the clear blue water. It’s definitely worth staying at one of the hotels overlooking the Gold Temple so that you can see it both in day and night.