Sheikh Ahmed: “The turbaned Sikh looks like a lion, the rest of us look like sheep”

African teacher, rightly opines: “The turbaned Sikh looks like a 
lion, the rest of us look like sheep, afraid to be identified.”   Sheikh Ahmed Deedat in The Toranto Star, July 11, 1994. 

 Till about a century ago, most of the people in India and the Middle East countries wore turban in different styles. One could, generally, make out the religious denomination and nationality of the wearer by the way his turban was tied. Even now some Rajputs, Jats and Brahmins of India, apart from the Sikhs and some Muslims, wear turbans.

Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Nanak, in one of his hymns (SGGS Page 1084), addressed to a Muslim priest, advises him about the physical appearance and spiritual conduct required of the religious person. The Persian term "Sabat Soorat Dastar Sira" is a part of this hymn.

‘Sabat’ means that which is whole, complete and unaltered, in its original form. ‘Soorat’ is face or appearance, ‘Dastar’ is turban and ‘Sira’ is head. Collectively, it means a person replete with full physical features, inclusive of hair as granted to him by God, with a turban to adorn his head. Hair and turban remian the crowning glory of a male and this had been the traditional bearing and dress of our prophets, rishis, gurus, saints and bhagats.

Every part of the human frame, including the hair, has a vital role in the efficient functioning of the body. If it were not so, God or nature would not have provided these. Since hair is a part and parcel of the human body, the Gurus had thought it redundant to lay any particular stress for their preservation. However, there are several references in the Holy Scriptures regarding nature of the Cosmic Man and sacred utility by human hair:-
The Cosmic Man:

(a) "Tere banke loain, dant raseela, sohne nuk jin lumbre vala’ (SGGS-500)
- Your attractive eyes, brilliant teeth beautiful nose and long hair.

(b) In another hymn (SGGS-1082), Guru Arjun Dev has called God by different names. Amongst these are - ‘Rikhikesh’, ‘Narain dara’ and ‘Kesava’ which point out of the Formless One having long hair and beard. The words ‘Kesav’ and ‘Kesva’ also appear in many other hymns.

Sacred Utility:

(a) "Kes Sang das pug jhahro, eha manorath mera" (SGGS - 500)
My life long desire is to dust the feet of your devotees with my hair.
(b) (i) "Kesa kar beejna, sant chaur dholavo"
(ii) "Kesa ka kar chawar dholavan charan dhur mukh lai"
(SGGS - 745 & 749)

Make whisk of hair, fan it over the saints and smear dust of their feet on my face.

(c) "Se darhian sachian, jo gur charni lagan" (SGGS - 12119)
Holy are the beards that fall over guru’s feet.

Bhai Gurdas is the scribe of the Adi Granth and a devotee of its author Guru Arjun Dev. In his two copious works "Varan" and "Swaiye" he portrays the Sikh way of life wherein he uses terms such as "Amritvela sir nawandhe" - Sikhs wash their hair early in the morning.

Although the Sikhs were enjoined to maintain their hair from Guru Nanak’s time, it was left to Guru Gobind Singh to give it a final seal. On the Baisakhi day in 1699, he ordained that keeping of unshorn hair is obligatory for a Sikh for a dual purpose. Firstly, it is to abide by the altruist Will of God and, secondly, to give the Sikhs a distinctive personality to distinguish them from others. The site from where this declaration was made was thereafter called "Keshgarh" - Citadel of Hair" situated at Anandpur Sahib. The Guru at this time also gave out code of conduct (Rahit Maryada) for the Sikhs to follow which he stated as more endearing to him than the person :-

(a) "Rehit piyari mujh ko, sikh piyara nahen"
(b) "Rehni rahe soi sikh mera......." (Dasam Granth)

He also warned that ostentatious wearing of symbols and dress without inner involvement is like gambling away of one’s precious life:

"Jioh maile, bahroh nirmal
Bahro nirmal, jioh ta maile,Jinh janam jooe hariya" (SGGS 719)

Bhai Nand Lal Goya, the devotee and poet of Guru Gobind Singh court has said in his ‘Rehat-Nama’ that a person without long hair cannot call himself a Sikh and his identity cannot be divorced from his personal appearance. Bhai Nand Lal’s composition has been blessed by the Guru and enjoys the status of gurbani.

In eulogizing Guru Gobind Singh’s personality, he has said that the value of one tress of his beloved hair is priceless compared to the splendour of both the worlds :-

"Har do alam qimat-e-yuk-tar mooe yaar ma".(Guzal 2)
Bhai Daya Singh, the first ‘Piara’ to be baptised, Bhai Chaupa Singh and poet Sainapati, all contemporaries of the Guru categorically state that unshorn hair symbolise Sikhism.

The numerous martyrs whose deeds are narrated in the daily Sikh ‘Ardas’ lived true to their tenets of faith of retaining unshorn hair till their last breath. Bhai Taru Singh’s plea to his executioner to remove his scalp- rather than his hair - bears testimony to this conviction. The foremost prayer of a Sikh is to live with his hair intact till his end — "Sikhi kesan swasan naal nibhai" and "Sikhi daan, kesh daan".

Prof. Puran Singh in his book ‘Spirit of the Sikh,’ Part-II, Page 56 writes

 - "The Guru’s commandment in asking the disciples to preserve their hair unshorn has in it an abiding depth of truth, giving men some deeper concerns of the soul, for thereby he has precluded men and women living only for the futile foppishness of sartorial arts or the barber-made civilization. The hair seems redundant to the modern man, but to Guru Gobind Singh, the hair was essential.... for bringing on of a greater moral and religious civilization". He further writes that "if the Sikhs are left free to cut or shave the hair, how foolish it would be to preach a religion and to demand whole herds on compromised principles.... Taking away the Sikh’s hair is to cut him off from his intensely reactive inspiration and source of strength".

In his book The Spirit Born People, page 38, Prof. Puran Singh further says that wearing of the ‘the Master’s knot of sacred tresses" is "a token of spiritual isolation from the herd. So did Guru Gobind Singh command. An obedience to him is life. There is no life outside that Great Love."
Sikhism is a path of discipleship. Hair are gift of God and grown by His Will. In abiding by His Will, our relationship with Him and the Guru is strengthened. Let us not try tobe wise ourselves but do what the Guru commands.

"Gursikh meet chalo har chali,
Jo gur kahe soi bhal, mano...." (SGGS 667)
"The turbaned Sikh looks like a lion, the rest of us look like sheep and goats, afraid to be identified".
Sheikh Ahmed Deedat
in The Toranto Star, July 11, 1994.

By:  Dignity in Identity

"Sabat Soorat Dastar Sira"

Brig. Hardit Singh (Retd.)* 


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.