Kids Corner

Above: from photo by Charles Meacham.


Dastaar Bandhi

Melbourne, Australia


I don't think I cry easily ... not in a way that the tears flow unabated at least, and when two hands are too few to wipe the spontaneous outpouring.

But it happened unexpectedly last weekend, when my teenage nephew had his dastaar bandhi ceremony, a day he chose to partake in the long-respected Sikh tradition of tying a turban for the first time, of affirming his resolve to continue doing what his father and grandfather and many generations before them had done, as a symbol of their Sikh identity.

But what was it about the simple ceremony that had overwhelmed not just me, but many others present on the occasion? 

True, the paatth recitation had been meaningful and the kirtan was soul-stirring, but that was normal  -  that's how paatth and kirtan make you feel every single time.  But soon after the ardas that day, having asked for the Almighty's blessings and approval for the ceremony, family members brought out a maroon turban, and tied it around the young man, sitting gracefully in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. 

Layer after layer, the turban was wrapped, and eyeful after eyeful, the tears flowed. 

What was it about the puggri that made us all so emotional?  

Was it the fact that this young man, born and brought up in Australia, had publicly affirmed a tradition that began centuries ago in a different continent? 

Was it a coming-of-age for him, and an acceptance of the burden of adulthood?

Was it his public proclamation that from this day on, he chose to be a Sikh, over and above being born as a Sikh? 

Or was it that these five metres of plain voile cloth symbolized a proud history, and by reasserting its significance in the 21st century in far-off Australia, it reaffirmed our unique collective identity? 

Perhaps the answer is all of the above, and much more. 

For me, it was also a deeply personal reminder of the circle of life in synchronized motion  -  the infant who was only two months old when I became a part of my new family, was now old enough to hold the torch passed down to him and ready to lead the way! 

Generations ago, sons and daughters just adopted family traditions without pausing to question them.  Customs, traditions and concepts, preserved as family heirlooms, were transferred down many generations without much dilution or alteration. 

But the modern times are different.  Today's child needs to question everything  -  and needs a logical answer to everything, too.  You can't give emotional reasons when they ask "Why do we wear a patka?" or "Why does Dad wear a puggri?"

Decades ago, if a child dared to question anything, the doubt quickly evaporated when a family elder simply said: "Because that's how it is!" or "Because I said so!"

Today's children do not acquiesce that easily.  They want to know why this tradition is relevant in the modern context.  That's why, as a mother of two boys aged ten and six (also born and living in Australia) who proudly sport a patka at all times, I frequently ask myself and others around me the same question, looking for a logical answer to give my children if they ever asked me. 

Another way to look at it is that if a child begins to question the concept of patka or puggri persistently, it might already be too late to stem the tide of doubt. 

Perhaps the best way is to pre-emptively talk of logical reasons along with the emotional ones, so the child not just accepts but appreciates his unique identity.

Most of us usually begin by telling our little children that we keep unshorn hair and cover it with a patka or puggri "Because Guruji asked us to!"

When they grow older, I've heard a mother tell her son, "Because it makes you an instant star  -  everybody at school recognizes you and knows your name!" 

My son confirms that when he tells me: "Even the substitute teachers coming in for a day remember my name after reading it once, even though they forget other people's names in class".

Another mother told her son, "Because of your patka, I can spot you from a long distance -  I don't think you can ever get lost, because I'll know your patka instantly, even from a mile away". 

True, the boys are labelled "melon head" or "egg head" at school, but if wasn't that, it would be "shorty" or "blackie" or "fatty" or some other epithet, because kids will be kids, and will always find something to pick on. 

A major part of growing up is learning to stand up for yourself and perhaps wearing a patka could even speed up that process.  In fact, a youngster born and brought up in England once told me, "Since I wore a patka at school, I knew I was different and learnt that I didn't have to follow the others blindly in what they did.  So, during my adolescence, when a lot of my friends had peer pressure to do drugs, drink alcohol and that stuff, I just knew I didn't have to follow them  -  I could get away with it, since I was already different". 

Now living in Australia, and a father of two himself, this youngster gave me a wonderful logical reason to wear a patka/puggri in the modern context! 

Taking his logic further, wearing a patka is excellent training for little children to dare to be different, to revel in their uniqueness, to make others accept who they are and to celebrate their identity. 

Perhaps, apart from according a "uniform" to the Sikhs, the unshorn hair and the covering it with a patka/puggri has a deeper logic, too  -  it keeps the followers disciplined by mandating an outward appearance that is non-negotiable.  It extends the logic to personal life, as well, that certain principles and concepts enshrined in the faith are non-negotiable, too. It gives youngsters the moral courage to dare to be different (and proudly so) from an early age, and affords them an opportunity as young adults to publicly proclaim that they are willing to take the tradition forward, to accept its physical manifestation and its spiritual one.

So, perhaps when my nephew had his dastaar bandhi last weekend, I was deeply touched by all the symbolism it represented.  As I told him, it is perhaps the biggest gift a child can give his family  -  of putting his hand up to carry on the family tradition and trying to abide by all the spiritual significance it entails.

Now, I look forward to not just my own two sons giving me a chance to revel in my tears, but also the sons of many other parents around the world, doing their best to keep this age-old tradition alive.  I hope and pray for my nephew and others like him, that after being born as Sikhs, I hope they see the value in choosing to be Sikh and then, through their actions, prove to be the ultimate Sikhs. 

Till then, I hope to keep the floodgates on my tears  -  and save them for the moments of true, spontaneous joy!


April 3, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 04, 2008, 7:14 AM.

Absolutely, beautifully, captures the spirit, meaning and the emotion. Moving and meaningful.

2: Manjyot Kaur (New York City, U.S.A.), April 04, 2008, 9:53 AM.

Lovely article! To Manpreet's wish of seeing "the sons ... doing their best to keep this age-old tradition alive", I would certainly add the daughters, as well. May the fearless females who choose to don the dastaar also fully revel in their forging a deeply meaningful link with Sikh tradition and practice! And I fervently hope that they would be as supported and acknowledged as their brothers.

3: Meeta Kaur (Oakland, California, U.S.A.), April 04, 2008, 2:12 PM.

What a lovely article! Manpreet, I loved your reflection on why the ceremony was so emotional. I have not attended such a ceremony yet, but I hope to attend many in the future. I love the idea of bringing a historical symbol that reflects a proud history into the modern day world as to not forget the history and all we have learned from it, for how to carry ourselves today in the modern world as Sikhs. Love it!

4: Raj (U.S.A.), April 04, 2008, 8:10 PM.

My wife and I raised two boys who are practicing Sikhs in an ultra right-wing society. They wore patkas right up to high school, never had any major problem. Once in elementary, I did go to their assembly to explain why we wore the headgear called patka. The staff and students were so appreciative. They never faced any discrimination from whites, they did taste it from other Sikh students, though. My kids were called names by Punjabi rap-singing, khanda-wearing, skin-headed (!?) Sikhs. This is because they believed they had some edge over the others because of their "caste". I had never taught my kids about this silliness. They have always treated everyone with respect and fairness. The fault doesn't lie in the mainstream society, it lies within ourselves. The Gurus gave us such a majestic appearance and some of us are sadly opting for the most negative aspects of pop culture. [Editor: The Gurus are absolutely clear on this point - one has to be "moorakh" (and I'm using the actual word used for this purpose in the Guru Granth Sahib) to think that one's caste is in any relevant.]

5: Tajinder Pal Singh (India-Australia), April 04, 2008, 10:52 PM.

Very well written in simple words. The unfortunate trend which I see in places like New Delhi recently where I was part of a similar Ceremony. There was paatth in the morning but, unfortunately, the parents ended up throwing a cocktail party in the evening to celebrate the Dastar Bandhi. I had to be present there because, as a relative, I had felt compelled to attend, but I did point out to them that they "shouldn't blame our kids when they don't respect being a Sikh as a result, because they easily see the contradiction and the hypocrisy!" Manpreet's article is well timed and well worded, especially for those parents who have to bring up their kids in the diaspora. Chardi kalaa!

6: Brijinder Kaur Khurana (Delhi, India), April 05, 2008, 2:07 AM.

A very beautifully crafted article. I feel proud that my son is a true and honest Sikh, practising our traditions. When he was young, every Sunday during his hair wash, he used to ask me the same questions: why do we have unshorn hair; why do we wear patkas; why did I want him to be a Sikh, etc. My answer was that since the Almighty has chosen us to be a Sikh, we should follow His instructions. Initially, it was hard but now he proudly wears a turban and maintains his beard nicely. So, alongwith the rest of my family members, he too is immensely proud to be a Sikh. This article has taught me to encourage other youngsters to maintain their dignity by remaining a Sikh (if born as a sikh) and following the teachings and traditions of Sikhi.

7: Satinder Gill (Khanna, Punjab), April 05, 2008, 7:47 AM.

A soul stirring article, Manpreet. I'd just like to continue the thread picked up by Tajinder Pal Singh. Here in India, Sikhs, by and large fail to pass on the spirit of Sikhi to their children. Living here in Punjab, a majority of my friends are Sikh parents and we are all lost in keeping up with the Joneses and being "modern". Having lived in Canada for a long time - and I am sure the Australian experience is no different - I find that children growing up in these countries, at least a vast majority of them, feel and exhibit a sense of pride in being Sikhs. I have always wondered why people send their children back to India to study with the notion that they will be more in tune with their culture, etc., when that idea seems to be a total farce as we here are still struggling with issues of identity.

8: Satbir (U.S.A.), April 06, 2008, 3:23 PM.

I remember my dastaar bandhi when I was only four, by my grandpa in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and the sangat. Over the years, passing through all kinds of situations, such as going to different parts of India for education, living in different parts of the world, I have seen a lot. Everywhere, I was recognized from miles because of my dastaar, sometimes it brought me instant admiration and other times some unwanted comments. I never changed my reverence for our Guru's gift to us. But, I do feel that our women got it easy and my wife agrees with this. Beleive me, I'm in no way a male chauvinist. We, the Sikh men, wear our crown on our head. But, our mothers, sisters and daughters ...? Many even go to beauty salons and break the very basic rules of maryada. Now, where is the fairness?

9: Gurbir Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), April 07, 2008, 4:40 AM.

"Kiv sachiaara hoeiae kiv kooreh tuteh paal? Hukam rajai chalanaa Nanak Likheaa Naal." Really happy to see that another youngster has accepted to be a sachiaara Sikh and laid the foudation of treading the path of gurmat. Next, he now needs to seek and understand the message of Akal Purakh, to know how to live his life. Blessings.

10: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), April 07, 2008, 11:58 PM.

Raj: In my experience, caste obsessed moorakhs come wearing turbans and proclaiming their righteousness as much as they come in the form of non-turban wearing Sikhs. It cannot be denied that this cancer afflicts groups from all levels of observance.

11: B. Kaur (New Zealand), April 08, 2008, 5:38 AM.

Brilliantly worded. I believe it would be such an honour to have such ceremonies, it makes one feel accepted not just by Waheguru, but probably the entire world.

12: Prem Singh (London, England), April 08, 2008, 8:42 AM.

Whenever the issue of Sikh boys and men in the diaspora cutting their hair is discussed, it is discussed rather superficially. I sometimes feel that people are in denial about the reasons for it happening. It's easy to construct as a demon this thing called "the modern world", full of vice and sin and temptation, and then ascribe the decision not to wear a turban to the weakness of an individual, and retreat further into mental and physical ghettoes, suspicious and full of anxiety, trying to preserve a pristine and pure, uncontaminated state of being in which everybody wears their turbans and nobody questions you as parents and nobody questions the religion they were born into. But the fact is, quite apart from the social pressures that incline some Sikhs to cut their hair, living in the 21st Century in liberal secular democratic societies, most Sikhs who cut their hair do so because of conscience. They do so because they don't think they need to keep a beard and turban in order to be a good person, or because their individual conscience leads them there, a conscience born in an atmosphere of intellectual autonomy and in a culture in which religion since the enlightenment has always been criticized for its failings, illogicalities and contradictions. When this happens, and Sikhs dissent, in honest and profound individual conscience they cut their hair, to those angered by this, there is no way to compute or comprehend it in anything but the most formally outdated and narrow prism. To those who see the world of religion in black and white, as "non negotiable", with no tradition of dissent or individual conscience, such an act becomes inexplicable, and can only be contextualized in the same old tired framework of the dastardly modern world tempting the Sikh away from the "non negotiable" path. This inflexibility, this hardline intolerance of any other way of living or expression, is what alienates Sikhs and leads them to question the wearing of the turban. It leaves behind desperate, paranoid and anxious people, seeing conspiracy, betrayal, and "apostasy" everywhere, patrolling and condemning like the squads of the Spanish Inquisition. Also, the unquestioning Indian culture in which you don't question your elders, in which you do as you're told, in which you subsume your intellect and conscience to the belief system and social attitudes of the collective group. All of these things are unsustainable for large numbers of Sikhs in 21st Century secular liberal democratic society. And to put it quite bluntly, the generation we have been told are to be obeyed unquestioningly and asked not to question have often been very bad examples in many, many cases. We have seen with our own eyes individuals coerced into being married against their will, we have seen violence perpetrated on girls and boys and men and women for choosing their own partners, we have observed the caste racism and racism against non-Sikhs of our parents generation, we have seen grown men fighting inside Gurdwarey, we have seen the blatant hypocrisy and double standards on so many issues, and we have heard that the elder generation should never be questioned. And we reject that notion. Unquestioning obedience leads to stagnation and moral corruption. Finally, those who say that wearing a turban is an expression of individuality should have no objection to a Sikh cutting their hair. In the context of the Sikh community, not wearing a turban can also be an expression of individuality and identity.

13: Mahanjot Singh (Toronto, Canada), April 08, 2008, 1:52 PM.

An absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching article! It's kind of disturbing to see though that instead of being appreciative, some people have used their time and energy to denigrate the article by calling it superficial and in denial! Why does regard of a beautiful Sikh ceremony like the Dastaar Bandhi has to result in comments in overt defence (that go way overboard) of cutting hair, and that too on a Sikh-forum, is beyond my understanding. I can't help but pity people who would term a cowardly act as cutting of hair as a matter of inner conscience! How about for a change, such 'good people' can think of becoming 'good Sikhs' as well and the community won't be entangled in the kind of identity crisis that it's faced with right now!

14: Prem Singh (London, England), April 08, 2008, 4:18 PM.

Mahanjot Singhji, if you notice, I have not described the article as superficial or a manifestation of denial. I have said that many Sikhs are in denial about the reasons why Sikh males living in the West cut their hair, and that blaming it only on societal pressures represents only a superficial and one dimensional understanding of why it happens. I hope you can appreciate that, rather than misrepresent what I write. As to whether cutting hair is "cowardice", I refute that as well. If somebody's conscience makes them decide to cut their hair, doing so usually means facing up to the contempt, anger, emotional blackmail, pressure and possible ostracism and abuse not only from their immediate family, but from complete strangers too, who take it upon themselves to portray them as 'cowards' and 'traitors' and use other kinds of abuse towards them. I would say that whatever motivates them to take that step, cowardice is not a part of it.

15: Poonam Kaur (Columbus, U.S.A.), April 10, 2008, 9:57 PM.

Beautiful article. I am waiting for the day when my son graduates from a patka to tying a dastaar. Prem Singh ji, I wish you had not brought up the topic of cutting hair. This article was not about keeping or cutting hair. And let me also remind you that not all of us have the moral courage to look different. I remind my children everyday that there are too many variables; hair, color of skin, features, etc., etc. You cannot run away every challenge!

16: Panjab Singh (Sacramento, USA), September 11, 2008, 7:41 PM.

This is a moving post! Do you have any thoughts on Dastar Bandhi by Sikh women?

17: Jagdeep Singh (Mumbai, India), December 19, 2008, 6:06 AM.

A moving article. I was touched by the way narrative and by the implication of the Dastar Bandhi Ceremony. I was browsing through the web as I plan to carry out the ceremony for my sons tommorow and wanted some information on the correct rehat marayada to do so. Wonderful piece of writing!

18: Kirpal Singh (Jalandhar, ), December 27, 2008, 10:54 AM.

I would like to know the address of the turban clinic in Amritsar.

19: Nirmal Singh (Delhi, India), July 06, 2009, 5:58 AM.

I would like to know the address of the turban clinic in Delhi, please.

20: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), July 13, 2009, 3:46 PM.

Wonderful article, Prem Singh ji. I have never had a dastaar bandhi ceremony and I don't even know whether it was wrong for me to wear the puggh without having had the ceremony. But I took my decision when I gained adult awarness. I wear the turban for my Eternal Father Guru Gobind Singh, I wear my turban for his father, Guru Tegh Bahadar, I wear it for the Four Sahibzaadey, I wear it for the Forty Muktey, I wear it for the Panj Pyaare, I wear it for Bhai Mati Das and I wear it for the countless Sikhs martyred until now. They were martyred just because they wanted to keep the rehat. If we can stop being selfish about our personal ego/ identity, we would understand the beauty of Sikhi. The body we have is not even our own, we are just taking care of it and soon it will be taken from us. So if our Guru has asked us to wear this crown on our heads and keep it covered always, I don't think we it is difficult. The things some ignorant people have spread all over the world of not requiring the distinct identity any longer is false and baseless. "We don't need a distinct identity," they say, "and this was a thing of the older generation". It is true, I too struggle with the Five Evils - kaam, krodh, lobh, moh and ahankaar, but I am trying. I have taken admission in Guru's school by taking Amrit and am trying to pass the exam of Life.

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