Rainbow turbans and beard buns: Australian Sikhs on the ‘uncut’ approach to life – RN
Sikh men do not cut their hair or their beards. Some wear their beards out, others tie them up. (ABC RN: Jessica Singh)
Tejpartap Singh, or “Tej” as he’s known to friends, has been obsessed with turbans since childhood.
“The turban represents peace, love, harmony,” he grins, through his long, curled moustache.
“It’s basically a symbol of respect and it gives me courage to stand for justice.”
Tejpartap is a member of the Indian religion known as Sikhism and, like most Sikhs, he comes from the country’s Punjab region.
Who, what, hair:
- Sikhs practise ‘kesh’, not cutting their hair
- Turbans protect uncut hair, but they also help Sikhs recognise one another
- The faith promotes equality, generosity and hard work
“Before migrating to Australia, I was running a [turban-tying] camp back in India,” he recalls.
“I was in love with turbans, so I used to arrange different seminars and classes, and I started the same concept here in 2010.”
Today, Tejpartap’s brainchild — Turban Academy Australia — is a thriving community organisation based in north-west Sydney. It uses the turban, an identifier of Sikhism, as a means to teach kids about their faith.
As the founder of the Turban Academy Australia, Tejpartap helps run turban-tying fairs, classes and competitions (ABC Arts: Teresa Tan)
But the Academy has its sights set on connecting with non-Sikhs, too. Just last weekend, the community held their biennial Sikh Heritage Day to raise awareness about the history of Sikhs in Australia, which dates back to the 1890s.
“We are very friendly people,” says Tejpartap.
“If you see a Sikh turban guy on the streets in Australia … if you have any questions, any doubts, just go and ask them and they’ll go out of their way to help you out.”
Equality and empowerment
But it’s not just Sikh men who sport turbans. Women are also encouraged to wear the headdress, particularly after they are baptised, as it’s believed to promote gender equality and protect uncut hair.
For 20-year-old university student, Harnoor Kaur, the turban is more than a religious requirement; it’s a symbol of strength.
“I gain a lot of courage from my turban to go through daily life,” she says.
“This turban is called a keski or dumalla … it’s a warrior type of style that Sikhs used to wear earlier on.”
Harnoor hopes to be the first turban-wearing Sikh woman to work for the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Prabhjot Singh and Jasjaap Singh (L-R) like to match their turbans to their outfits. (ABC Arts: Teresa Tan)
‘A gift from God’
The ‘patka’ is a head covering commonly worn by Sikh children before they start donning the turban. (ABC RN: Jessica Singh)
Turbans come in various shapes and all colours of the rainbow. There aren’t specific rules on which style or hue is most suitable — it’s simply a matter of choice.
Eleven-year-old Jasjaap Singh prefers to wear the patka — an ‘L Plate’ to the full-blown turban.
It requires less fabric, is faster to wrap, and can be recognised by the protruding shape of a bun at the top of the wearer’s head. Adult Sikhs will often wear a patka underneath their turban.
“I find it easier, but as I get older I may change,” says Jasjaap, a student of Turban Academy Australia.
“It means something special to me … It’s a gift from God.”
Prabhjot Singh, one-year Jasjaap’s senior, has moved on to the dastaar-type turban.
This style has been worn by Sikhs since the faith was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century.
“Depending on the style you wear the size of the turban can vary half a metre to 10 metres,” Prabhjot explains.
“My turban is 4.5 metres.”
Most Sikhs wear a smaller, lighter version of the turban when they’re at home. (ABC RN: Jessica Singh)
Sikh life, uncut
Like everything, practice makes perfect. As an elder in the community, Darshan Singh Sidhu has his turban-tying technique down pat.
“It generally takes about two minutes to 15 minutes to tie,” he says.
“It depends on the person, what experience he or she has, and the style he or she is wearing.”
But it’s not just turbans that require attention.
Many Sikh men grow their beard and moustache out — just like the hair on their heads. It’s viewed as a sign of strength and holiness to keep the body in its natural state.
Some men wear their beards long, while others tie it in a bun underneath their chins or tuck the strands into their turban.
The style of Sikh turbans or beards are always secondary to their meaning: human life is a gift and it deserves to be cherished.
Darshan Singh Sidhu says Sikhs channel their identity and creativity through their turban choices. (ABC Arts: Teresa Tan)
Illustrations by Jessica Singh, a Perth-based artist and Sikh.