Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Sikh Rehat Maryada on women wearing a Dastaar...


(ਣ) ਸਿੱਖ ਲਈ ਕਛਹਿਰੇ ਤੇ ਦਸਤਾਰ ਤੋਂ ਛੁਟ ਪੁਸ਼ਾਕ ਸੰਬੰਧੀ ਬਾਕੀ ਕੋਈ ਪਾਬੰਦੀ ਨਹੀਂ | ਸਿੱਖ ਇਸਤਰੀ ਦਸਤਾਰ ਸਜਾਏ ਜਾਂ ਨਾ ਸਜਾਏ, ਦੋਵੇਂ ਠੀਕ ਹਨ |
"t. For a Sikh, apart from wearing a Dastaar (turban) and Kachhera (special shorts) there are no restrictions to dress.18 A Sikh woman may or may not tie a Dastaar." 
(Sikh Rehat Maryada document, Gurmat Rehni section)

Within the Panth there are those that for whatever reason believe it is optional for Sikh women to wear a Dastaar (turban), and those who believe it is equally mandatory for both men and women to wear a Dastaar. The Panth at the time acknowledged both are within the Panth. Therefore, if an individual, group, or organization holds that wearing a Dastaar is a necessity for both genders and insists it is compulsory for women recieving Amrit to wear a Dastaar, it is not an infringement of the Sikh Rehat Maryada document.

Picture of Rani Raj Kaur (18th century) taken from Bhai Vir Singh's book 'Rana Surat Singh'.
Earliest European depiction of Sri Darbaar Sahib complex by August Schoefft in December 1836. Sikh women are shown with top-knots and Dastaars.

Historically both Sikh men and women wore at least the short Dastaar (Keski). Although history notoriously excludes facts about women, there are historical references to not only to Mata Bhag Kaur, but also many other Sikh women wearing Dastaars. Mata Sahib Kaur (‘mother of the Khalsa’ and wife of Guru Gobind Singh ji) wore a Dastaar. Many Gurmukhs who have had darshan of Mata Sahib Kaur, including Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, confirm this. Being the mother of the Khalsa, Mata Ji would certainly have followed the Khalsa Rehat and therefore would have followed Rehatnamas instructing the wearing of a Dastaar. Rani Raj Kaur (18th century) is also pictured with wearing a Dastaar. Up until 1930, when Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir was appointed Jathedar of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib (12th March 1930 – 5th March 1931), it was compulsory for all women to wear at least a Keski (short-turban) for qualifying to receiving Amrit.
"Up to the early 1930s Sikh women wore the turban for the Amrit (baptism) ceremony. It was Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir, the Jathedar (chief priest) of the Akal Takhat in Amritsar (one of the five seats of religious authority for the Sikhs), who began to baptize women without the turban. People protested strongly, but gradually fashion took over, and it has become customary."
(Tara Singh Bains, Hugh J. M. Johnston (1995): The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life-journey of an Emigrant Sikh, p. 230-31)

When the S.G.P.C. formulated and codified the Sikh Rehat Maryada in 1936 and wrote that it was optional for Sikh women to tie a Dastaar, it had become notably less common. However, this does not invalidate the original requirement or the prevalence of the practice dating back 300 years. Additionally, even the S.G.P.C. refers to the Dastaar as a requirement for all Sikhs without exception when it is politically expedient to do so. "Every practising Sikh is enjoined upon to have unshorn hair and have it covered by the turban. It is mandatory for every Sikh and no one has an exemption or option to this basic Sikh tenet and tradition." — Gurcharan Singh Torah writing as President of the S.G.P.C. to the President of France.

Right up to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikh women had been steadfast in following the edicts of the Guru which included wearing the Dastaar. This was also witnessed by English observers in the Punjab during this time. Well known 19th Century English Historian, J. D. Cunningham (1812-1851) who was an eye witness to the First Anglo-Sikh War, in his History of the Sikhs – 1848 refers to Sikh women of that time as follows: "The Sikh women are distinguished from Hindus of their sex by some variety of dress, chiefly by a higher topknot of hair."

Higher topknot of hair on Sikh women’s heads automatically implies their coverage by some sort of Dastaar, as Cunningham has connected it with "some variety of dress."
Even after the Punjab came under the British rule, Sikh women were evidently seen wearing the Dastaar, along with Sikh men, up to the Gurdwara Reform Movement and the establishment of the S.G.P.C. in 1920. Until then, no man or woman was allowed to take Amrit (i.e. become initiated into Sikhi) at Sri Akal Takhat Sahib without a Dastaar. It was only afterwards that laxity was introduced in this respect and the wearing of Dastaar was made optional for women. With the introduction of this laxity, the other anti-Sikh practice of wearing piercing ornaments in the nose and ears also became prevalent in Sikh women.

The Rehat prescribed for Amrit candidates by Bhai Dya Singh Ji, the first of the Panj Piaare, clearly states that all candidates for Amrit should tie their hair up on top and wear a Dastaar:
ਪਹਿਲੇ ਕਛ ਪਹਰੲਨਚਿ, ਕੇਸ ਇਕ੍ਨਠੇ ਕਰ ਜੂੜਾ,
ਦਸਤਾਰ ਸਜਵਾਨੀ, ਗਾਤ੍ਰੇ ਸ੍ਰੀ ਸਾਹਬਿ ਹਾਥ ਜੋੜਿ ਖੜਾ ਰਹੈ ||
"Each candidate for Amrit is to be made to wear Kachhera, tie their hair in a topknot and don a Dastaar; wear Sri Sahib (Kirpan) in Gatra (shoulder belt). Then he/she should stand with folded hands."
(Rehatnama: Bhai Dya Singh Ji - p. 68)
 

It is important for Amritdhari women to wear a Dastaar as:
  1. The Guru’s Hukam (order) is equally given to both men and women, for example both men and women are equally told to recite Nitnem, wear the Panj Kakkaar, or do Simran, so they should equally wear a Dastaar.
  2. Brings about physical equality: Singhs have a cohesive physical identity, so Kaurs should too.
  3. Psychologically it connects a Khalsa woman to the Panth.
  4. Keeps a Khalsa woman committed to her Sikh values.
  5. Allows both Sikhs and non-Sikhs to recognise a woman as a Khalsa.
  6. Illustrates a Khalsa woman’s commitment to Sikhi and others can ideally look to her as a beacon of truthful living.
  7. Creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie with her Panth and her Guru.
  8. Encourages a sense of pride in Sikh life and values.
  9. Facilitates leadership: The lack of a female physical identity excuses our females from taking leadership roles.
  10. It is the most practical way of keeping the head covered for doing Simran (meditation of Vahiguru) throughout the day, with each breath. 
There is a multitude of evidence to support the requirement of the Dastaar for all Sikhs, both men and women. The authority on Sikhi is in Gurbani and what has come direct from the mouth of the Guru, not human interpretation and commentary. Invalidating the long and rich history of Dastaar wearing women with the belief that only in recent history women have donned the Dastaar is misguided.

The Sikh loss of Sikh identity amongst Sikh women without the Dastaar has emerged as a consequence of societal pressure to conform to look like the  majority and lack of understanding of Sikh traditions and history. There is something deeply at work on the psychology and status of women and it plays out as an ongoing battle over the image of women in society.

ਨਾਪਾਕ ਪਾਕੁ ਕਰਿ ਹਦੂਰਿ ਹਦੀਸਾ ਸਾਬਤ ਸੂਰਤਿ ਦਸਤਾਰ ਸਿਰਾ ॥੧੨॥
"Purify what is impure (within), and let the Lord's Presence be your religious tradition. Remain in complete form (with uncut hair) and a turban on your head. ||12||
(Maaroo M:5, 1084)

Sikhi’s principle tenets asks all Sikhs to realise one’s divinity by wearing a Dastaar and keeping our Kes (hair) and at the same time recognise that it is our choice to avail ourselves of that opportunity. With more access to Gurbani and knowledge of Sikh history, more and more young Sikh women are choosing to wear the Dastaar and recognising that it is an essential part of their Sikh identity and faith.

ਮੈ ਗੁਰ ਮਿਲਿ ਉਚ ਦੁਮਾਲੜਾ ॥
"Meeting the Guru, I wear a tall double-turban."
(Siree Raag M:5. 74)

1 comment:

tejika kaur said...

Gurfateh veer ji
Amazing read learned,sit. Can you provide some sources,about the,queens who wore dastar and Mata sahib kaur. I believe,women and men should wear it.