Uncut hair, a steel bracelet, a wooden comb, cotton underwear and a steel sword. These are the five physical symbols that devout Sikhs, followers of the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, must wear. Referred to as kesh, the uncut hair must be secured firmly by a turban, a brightly-colored cloth that makes Sikhs so recognizable throughout the world. But in the religion’s birthplace, the northwest Indian state of Punjab, the practice of wearing a turban is declining. Prabhjot Singh Lotey blames modernization, Westernization, but also discrimination and even hate crimes at home and abroad. Two years ago, the young Sikh photographer from Ludhiana embarked on a journey to document those who have chosen to keep the tradition alive. Along the way, he says, his faith grew stronger. He joined R&K from his home in Punjab.
Roads & Kingdoms: What is the significance of the turban in Sikhism?
Prabhjot Singh Lotey: The turban’s importance can be found in many cultures and religions from ancient times, but its importance to Sikhism is very unique. To a Sikh, it’s not just a piece of cloth, it becomes one and the same with the Sikh’s head. To understand the significance of the turban, it’s also important to know about hair in Sikhism. Sikhs are not supposed to cut, shave or trim hair from any part of the body. Hair is considered very sacred and it has a spiritual and scientific meaning. Turbans are worn to cover the hair, and Sikhs are not supposed to remove them in public. To forcefully or intentionally remove a turban from a Sikh’s head is extremely disrespectful.