North India’s Sikh leaders are fretting about turbans. Despite India’s line-up of turban-clad celebrities like the offspin bowler Harbhajan Singh and the Prime Minster, Manmohan Singh, there are fears that young Sikhs are spurning the traditional headgear in growing numbers.
Even in the Sikh heartland city of Amritsar, home of the magnificent Golden Temple, turbans are being abandoned.
Sikh elders there are so alarmed they have set up a free turban clinic.
Customers can learn to tie a good turban and get advice on what style and colours suit them best. Facial structure, complexion, height and even occupation are taken into account. Specially designed software called Smart Turban 1.0 is used to help with the task. Another program, called Turban Tutor 2.0, is available to those wanting to improve their tying techniques.
Jaswinder Singh, an Amritsar lawyer who helped establish the clinic, is deeply worried about the slump in turban tying, especially in Punjab, the Indian state with the greatest concentration of Sikhs.
“We need to encourage our young men to tie a good turban,” he said.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for Sikh fathers to convince their sons to adopt the turban, with many young men considering traditional styles favoured by older Sikhs to be “archaic and conservative”.
Jaswinder Singh believes education in contemporary turban techniques is essential to stem the decline. “It can be difficult to know which style of turban suits your face,” he said.
The main aim of the clinic is to encourage young men to refrain from cutting their hair – one of the key tenets of the Sikh religion. “This is one of the most serious problems confronting Sikhism today,” he said.
The clinic has the backing of a leading Sikh religious group called the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. But there are many turban clinics around Amritsar.
One of them is run by Inderapal Singh at his family’s turban store, close to the Golden Temple complex, one of Sikhism holiest shrines. With almost 40 turban styles for his clients to choose from, his vision is to “show the new generation how to be a true Sikh”.
Inderapal Singh, 21, said it can take anywhere between five minutes and two hours to put on a turban, depending on the style. Most turbans are made up of five to nine metres of fabric.
He sports a magnificent burnt orange turban, which he said takes 20 minutes to put on every morning.
“The turban is very important to my identity,” he said. “It shows the world you are a Sikh.”
His 14-year-old brother, Amandeep Singh, who helps in the turban store after school, wears the simple black head covering favoured by sportsmen like Harbhajan Singh. He is considering what style of turban he will adopt when he gets a little older.
Dalbir Singh, an information officer at the Golden Temple, says three colours of turban are favoured by the many Sikhs who visited the famous shrine: black signifying the struggle over sin, saffron signifying sacrifice, and blue signifying service.
However, the turban salesmen clustered around the busy streets near the temple have a huge array of colours on offer. Inderapal Singh said a top priority for most customers was to find turban colours that matched their suits, shirts or ties.
A negative reaction to religious head coverings following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the US has been blamed for accelerating the decline of turban-wearing.
Jaswinder Singh also points the finger at Bollywood films. “Those wearing turbans are often used to provide comic relief,” he said. “They are shown as provincial, uneducated and amusing. This has bruised the feelings of the community.”