Dastaar and Dastar are interchangeable. Dastar is a Persian word used by Sikhs while Dastaar is written in Sikh religious scriptures.
For millennia, the turban has been a cultural status symbol with various religious and ethnic affiliations. Ancient Egyptians wore turbans as a festive headpieces or symbols of royalty, and the Bible references the piousness associated with a linen turban. The turban even entered European fashion in the 1800s where women wore Regency turbans as a show of style. Even famous 20th-century designer Paul Poiret developed gorgeous draped turbans for his collections after studying antiquities. This resurgence continued into Hollywood during the 1940s when famous actresses and fashionable young women modeled turbans. Put quite simply, a turban is a piece of fabric that is wrapped around either a cap or the head. With its origins tracing back to multiple locations including the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and India, it is no surprise that turbans comprise many colors, fabrics and styles. The Dastaar is a turban style specific to the religion of Sikhism.
Mandatory for Sikh men and optional for women, the Dastaar or Sikh Turban is a symbol of strong religious faith. It symbolizes a commitment to the justice and equality of all men and women and further helps physically practice Kesh, where Sikhs leave their hair uncut as a show of determination and dedication to their religion. The Dastaar aids in keeping the uncut hair clean and manageable. Keeping the Dastaar on at all times is a critical part of Sikhism. As the Guru Granth Sahib says, “Sir jaave ta jaave, mera siki sidak na jaave.” Loosely translated, this speaks to how many Sikhs would rather die than to practice Sikhism without its strong symbols, including the Dastaar. For women, the Dastaar has a different meaning; it speaks to the themes of female empowerment in Sikhism. Progressive in its roots, the Sikh religion teaches that the souls of women are equal to men. Additionally, all women who have taken the ceremony of baptism called the Amrit Sanchar usually wear the turban as well.
Beginning at the genesis of Sikhism around 1500 CE, the Dastaar was donned without regard to social caste— allowing Sikhs irrespective of their economic standing to feel proud of their religion—and this is still practiced today. In seventeenth-century India, the Dastaar was deemed mandatory for all Sikh men. Despite the mandate, neither Sikh leaders such as Guru Nanak nor religious scriptures such as the Guru Granth Sahib have specified how a Dastaar should be tied; therefore, there are various styles from which to choose. This can make tying the turban quite a celebratory ordeal for followers of the faith. Today, many Sikh bloggers share the various ways they use their Dastaars when putting together outfits.
Appropriation and Influence
French Ban on Sikh Dastaar
For many Sikhs, the Dastaar has been a hurdle when integrating into western society. In 2004, France banned religious symbolism in schools and this included the Sikh turban. The country then expanded regulations, requiring people to remove religious headwear for passport and ID photos. This blatant anti-Sikh rhetoric usually goes unnoticed causing many to practice Sikhism without the essential element of the Dastaar. While some Sikhs chose to shelve their Dastaars and even cut their hair in an attempt to assimilate, in this case, many Sikhs refused to remove the Dastaar and to remain in solidarity with their religion. Consequentially, those who chose not to remove religious headwear were forced to live without official ID and the benefits that come with it. French courts dismissed the protests of Sikhs, and finally, the United Nations intervened in order to deem the turban as non-threatening.
Gucci FW 2018 “Indy Full Turban”
In yet another resurgence of popularity, turbans such as the Dastaar have become “fashionable” without any regard to the discrimination and racism Sikhs face. Gucci’s Fall 2018 runway show debuted a piece of headwear named “Indy Full Turban”. Retailing for $790, this turban, tied quite similarly to the classic Sikh Dastaar, is a blatant example of cultural appropriation. Many Sikhs were shocked and enraged by the capitalization of their religion with no regard to their struggles. Eventually, this led to many retailers such as Nordstrom to stop selling the “Indy Full Turban”.
Canada-based startup Trendy Singh was founded by Jenn Ngyen in 2017. She launched a trendy, chic, and patterned line of Dastar material to be used by Sikhs around the world. The collection is an homage to Sikhism. According to the designer’s statement, this collection evoked the ways in which Sikhism helped her through a close friend’s death. Additionally, profits from this startup are earmarked for Sikh Charities.
Sikh-American Portrait Gallery at Museum of Tolerance
The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA, has featured a special exhibition by the Sikh Coalition. “Sikh: Turban and Identity by Amit and Naroop” showcases Sikh Americans wearing turbans while engaging in day-to-day activities. Post 9/11, racial and cultural stereotypes have associated the Dastaar with terrorism, leading to further discrimination and hate crimes in the US and elsewhere. The Dastaar is also often viewed as a threat to security at airports and Sikhs can be asked to remove their essential piece of headwear. While Sikhs in America and elsewhere often face discrimination based on their use of turbans, this exhibition aims to celebrate Sikh identity and to dispel harmful stereotypes.
Turban Up! is an annual one-day festival in Toronto that celebrates Sikh culture and traditions. Activities include turban tying, music and free traditional Sikh foods. The essence of the celebration is not to commercialize the turban, but to teach and inform people about the Sikh community.
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Kaur, Harmeet. “Here’s why Sikhs were offended by this $790 Gucci turban.” CNN, May 18, 2019. Accessed September 7, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/gucci-turban-sikh-trnd/index.html.
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“Sikh: Turban and Identity by Amit and Naroop.” Museum of Tolerance. Accessed September 9, 2020. http://www.museumoftolerance.com/visit/exhibits/special-exhibitions/past-exhibitions/sikh-turban-and-identity-by.html.
Singh, Manpreet Kaur. “The turban (dastaar) and unshorn hair and beard (kesh) are a.” Newsbank. Newsbank (17693A03E300F3E8).
Times of India. “Sikhs rebut French claims on turban ban.” February 4, 2018. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sikhs-rebut-French-claims-on-turban-ban/articleshow/50842377.cms.