The turban of old signified authority, supreme evolved thought, balanced judicial judgment, chivalry, integrity, gallantry, graciousness, politeness, honesty, and deference to higher authority and thought.
In the same way that the system of female global leadership, supported by male life-partners, fell into disarray, so the prestige of the turban fell from grace… until the Sikh elite (the Khalsa) was formed and made to bear secular responsibility.
Following the last evolutionary realignment, seers and sants were unequivocally instructed to shed their aloof dispositions, and instead live their lives of advanced awareness while also fully participating in the secular world, lest their spiritual progress be permanently stopped. This strata of the secular sant is embodied in the Khalsa – the elite of advanced awakening.
The first five Khalsa were beheaded. They lay prone, until Guriji fused together heads and bodies (not in their original configurations, it should be noted) and administered amrit, produced and infused with female energy via Mataji. The beheaded came back to life. But they were not yet invested with the ethical responsibility required of them and that was to be part of their hyphenated secular-spiritual existence moving forward.
The investiture of secular roles and responsibilities for the Khalsa came in the form of the five articles of faith. The first of these, unshorn hair, signifies creation, which is protected and celebrated by the five-metre long male turban and the three-metre long female chunni. The male turban and the female chunni are therefore one and the same.
The turban signals to others that the wearer is ready to defend and protect the weak and oppressed; and women need only wear the turban if no men are available to carry out their responsibility, and only in a context of war and hand-to-hand combat.
For a woman to wear a turban outside of these conditions is an insult to men; it questions the latter’s capacity to fulfill their secular responsibility and it casts aspersions on their valour.
‘Educated’ Sikhs, however, have argued that the turban may be worn by women as well as men. Indeed, they positively demand this ‘freedom’, stating that Guruji instructs the very same. Their claim refers to a poem written by one of the Gurujis. Now, poems as we know are full of metaphor and allegory. They are artistic productions in which poets – like the particular Guruji noted here, who wrote fluently in five languages – take liberties with language to produce certain lyrical and rhythmic effects. And when rendering this in multiple languages… well, we all know the innate untranslatability of words across different languages… then the task becomes one of reaching for a sense and meaning that fits with that language.
So, those who call upon the particular poem in question here to support their claim and ‘right’ for females to wear the male turban, and who see in the poem an injunction to do so, in fact see nothing of the poem beyond their own imperfect interpretation – itself a dynamic product of their individual, social, cultural, political and ideological milieu. To fully know the poem, they really ought in fact to master poetry and the five languages in which Guruji wrote – leaving their own literal reading of the poem, which reflects nothing more than their own desires, at the door.
An important point here: the poem is attributed to a particular Guruji despite being penned in a language whose vocabulary and syntax made use of diacritical marks that post-date the Guruji. This along with several individual theses, pothis and books was eventually brought together into a single volume in 1890. This volume is the Dasam Granth. It contains Jaap Sahibji and Benti Chaupeeji – both of which are inaccurately attributed to Guru Gobind Singhji. These poems (for they are not banis) were subsequently integrated into morning and evening Sikh prayers – confusing and needlessly so.
The alleged poetry by Guru Gobind Singhji forms part of the Dasam Granth and sits side by side with poetry that embellishes eroticism, including BESTIALITY, along with five extremely erotic practices written in detailed pornographic terms alongside mantric and tantric material (which would include kundalini yoga). The entire volume appeals neatly to those within Hinduism who are on the cusp of leaving it in dissatisfaction, and who are mesmerised by the pure subjective Sikhism of Sri Guru Granth Sahibji. And in this volume, long hair or a full untrimmed beard is not a prerequisite; however, ‘keski’ the smaller under-turban, is sanctioned. Based on this misinterpretation contained in Dasam Granth indication is apparently given to wear a turban as one of the five Ks instead of hair – or so it is argued by the likes of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha amongst others. In that case, bestiality is also acceptable, is it?
It is a red herring to assume that the term ‘Dasam’ invokes Guru Gobind Singhji’s authorship of the material contained therein. Sikhs have been thrown, and erroneously shepherded, into this assumption because the word is associated with the number 10, and of course Guru Gobind Singhji was the tenth Guruji. Not wishing to dishonour the elaborate work of Dasam Granth, the Sikh hierarchy gave the publication respect, as they would any other scripture. This accommodation then became the platform for the dissatisfied exiting Hindus into Sikhism to argue in favour of the alleged poems of Guru Gobind Singhji to be formally included into the mainstream Sikh prayers.
One has to consider the period in which this took place. Sikhs had faced an almost total wipeout, with more than forty percent of its population killed during two encounters against an overwhelming army. Thus, any new recruits into Sikhism were positively welcomed, and they held sway. It was a pivotal moment, therefore, when compromises were made including acknowledging the alleged poem – that is the crux of the argument by those favouring female turban-wearing – by Guru Gobind Singhji as a formal bani. In the case of Jaap Sahibji and Benti Chaupeeji, once these attained bani status their integration into formal morning and evening prayers was a mere formality. Unfortunately, until Sikh authority does not officially rescind the Dasam Granth banis to their original status as poetry, their controversial use and attribution remains.
The second point: the saddest part is loyalty to a thought, and inability to give up a cherished ideal, such as that of the under-turban as the formal arbiter of Sikh identity.
Additionally, why, I ask (up to this moment in time), are Sikh women using a literal (mis)reading of a poem to configure their self-worth around the right to wear the turban in place of the chunni, or even – as is happening – underneath it? Why adopt a form of purdah whose removal Guru Nanakdevji was pivotal in championing along with other freedoms and respect for women?
Guru Nanakdevji successfully championed the thought that only a free and trusted woman was capable of giving birth to a child born into freedom of thought and freedom from a slave mentality. Indeed, only with a woman’s permission could a child, especially a boy, be born. He maintained that women, of all races, ought to be responsible for their own sexuality and sense of sexual integrity. He impressed upon Sikhs that men had possessions, and women belongings; and that no man possessed the women in his life, but that they belonged to these women.
Guru Nanakdevji impressed about Sikhs that man is answerable to woman, not the other way around. It may often look like women take a back seat in public and let men run the show; but in Sikhism, ultimate authority lies with women.
So, why, I ask as a Gursikh who takes pride in dressing as chicly as possible, do exquisitely beautiful Sikh women feel the need to emulate men, and forego their natural beauty as women?
The very purdah that Guru Nanakdevji fought to bring you out of, you are now throwing back in his face. You are hell-bent on assuming the Muslim woman’s head-to-toe covering – yet, the Sikh fought to free women in India from slavery and from the religious injunctions of successive empires. Now, living in a free land, you chuck the valour and deaths of your ancestors back into their faces.
In times to come, medical procedures will make surgically attached fully-functioning penises available – will you demand those too, in order to feel fully human? It is not Sikhism which maintains gender inequality – but you are using Sikhism as the battleground for fighting the hierarchies and inequalities of the world around you…. and unfairly so.
Look to Sikhism. Understand that therein women are regarded as life’s teachers; men as life’s students. A man, having reached the highest echelons of inner awareness possible for man, can only aspire to the next layer of progress if he is born into the female phenomena. That is, man has to be born as woman in order to evolve further. This is a highly simplified version of a deeply complex, sometimes contradictory and confusing system, so I am keeping it simple… but consider this: religion tends to focus on men rather than on women, on teaching men of the faith rather than women.
As I said: women are life’s teachers; men, life’s students.
And yet, here you are – so many of you Sikh women today – fighting for a right to be like your men, when you’re already so much more advanced than them. But, go on, please, trample over all the hard-won struggles of your forbears in the Sikh faith, seek out turbans today, penises tomorrow.