For centuries one of Sikhism‘s most distinguishing symbols, the turban is in danger of falling out of favour.
Young Sikhs are abandoning the traditional headwear, wearying of the elaborate ceremony of maintaining long hair and knotting it under six yards of starched cotton.
“Across Punjab a large number of Sikh youth have cut their hair and, sadly, the turban-tying ceremony for teenage boys has also become rare, even in villages” lamented Avtar Singh Makkar, a senior clergyman.
The majority of the world’s 20 million Sikhs are concentrated in rural Punjab, where barbers – who historically had to supplement their incomes due to a lack of customers – are now doing brisk business.
Cutting the hair renders a Sikh apostate, or “pati”, but many boys are now copying the hairstyles of Bollywood stars.
Alarmed by the trend, Sikhism’s leading religious group, the SGPC, has declared the April 13 harvest festival of Baisakhi as International Sikh Turban Day.
In addition, two turban-tying schools have been founded in Sikhism’s holiest city of Amritsar, and a competition to select “Mr Singh International”, is expected to attract widespread participation.
Every region in Punjab has its own distinct style of tying a turban, with each claiming theirs to be the best, and Mr Singh contestants are to be judged on how stylishly their headgear is tied.
The present reigning champion, Navjot Singh Sidhu, an MP and former Test cricketer, recently held a procession in Amritsar to instill a sense of pride among Sikh youth.
Meanwhile, concern over acts of violence in the West against Sikhs, mistaken for members of the Taliban, who also sport turbans, has also prompted overseas campaigns to “dignify” the headgear.
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