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Images: above and below - Guransh Singh. Thumnail and HomePage images - Veeraj Singh.


Becoming a Man




Guransh Singh knelt at the altar of Guru Granth Sahib as the granthi (elder) and uncles unfurled yards of a salmon-colored fabric. His family and friends, beaming with pride, sang in the gurdwara as the men crowded around the 14-year-old, tucking and tying, until they had wrapped his head with a turban for the first time.

With that, Guransh became a man.

Like a bar mitzvah or confirmation, he went through a rite of passage in the Sikh faith Saturday, marking the time when he was firm enough in his beliefs to make a lifetime commitment.

The turban-tying ceremony, called Dastaar Bandi or Dastaar Saajni, included hymns and prayers accompanied by musical instruments rooted in the religion's heritage. Sikhism, one of the world's largest religions, is not related to Islam.

According to their beliefs, Sikh men and women cannot cut their hair and are required to keep their their heads covered.

"For a Sikh, it is a beautiful ceremony," said Sartaj Singh, a member of the gurdwara at the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in Rockville; he works with the temple's youth. "He is going to be walking forward in society with a turban on, and this is a way to say that we are with him."

And, as many Sikhs say, carrying out their faith in American society does come with difficulties in the post-Sept. 11 world. The image of Sikhism - men with turbans and untrimmed beards - has led to misconceptions. Mistaken for Arabs and/or Muslims, some Sikhs have been subjected to slurs and discrimination.

There have been cases in which a Sikh's hair has been cut, and some of the perpetrators have been prosecuted for hate crimes. It even shows up on television: the dunderheaded manager in the NBC sitcom "The Office" fears that the Sikh IT worker is a terrorist.

Sarabjeet Singh, a 26-year-old lawyer from Falls Church, said he has been called Osama bin Laden and been given dirty looks while riding the Metro train.

The situation has created an "identity crisis" for Sikhs, Sartaj Singh said. Many young Sikhs cut their hair or trim their beards to blend in.

But Guransh's father, Rajwant Singh, said his son has become "conscious of his faith" and is mature and knowledgeable enough to live it in his everyday life.

During the hours-long service at the gurdwara Saturday, Guransh stood next to the Guru Granth Sahib - the Sikh Scripture - which was on a throne-like altar because it is treated like royalty (The Living Word!). He sang a hymn and performed on the harmonium, an air-based piano, and the tabla, a percussion instrument. The singing - know as kirtan - is central to a Sikh religious service.

Guransh has prepared for the event since last summer.

The leader of the congregation, Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, said that the youth, usually in their early teens, must understand that what they are having tied on their head isn't simply a turban. In Punjabi, "dastaar" means a crown, a central article of the Sikh faith.

"It is not to tell others who we are," he added. "It is a reminder to myself who I am."


[This is an edited version of an article which first appeared in The Washington Post]

June 21, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 21, 2010, 11:46 AM.

Very nice. True, it is less to tell others and more to remind ourselves who we are. Without the latter, the former doesn't hold. A lovely rite of passage - a milestone in the journey of a Sikh. Congratulations, Sardar Guransh Singh

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 21, 2010, 8:01 PM.

This 'Taj Poshi' was akin to a coronation and a moving experience, especially when surrounded by a Gurmukh parvaar in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. We had our share that came rather unplanned. Our grandson from Auckland was here on holiday. At 16, he stood 6feet 2inches - a tad taller than his dad and still growing. One day, I roped him after several abortive attempt until I led him unto a blind alley. "No, that's it. It has to be today". His Naani, Upkar, lovingly prepared parshad. I performed the ardaas and were granted a befitting Vaak. I supplied him with a variety of colourful turbans to suit his eventual sartorial considerations. I did the first tying and then took some photographs to record this colourful event. He looked no less than a turbaned Prince of Wales. A couple of hours later, he approached me with some trepidations. "Nanaji, could I now go back my patka?" "Yes, indeed you could, but you must practice daily." His first attempt was a pugger in Rajasthani style - unintentionally, of course!. "Don't worry, your style will improve by the time you get married!" Then I have another story about a grand nephew of ours from Madras (Chennai) who came to Kuala Lumpur for a holiday.If you like, "the spider said to the fly, come into my parlour" ... He too was in a patka well into his adultery. Oops, I meant adulthood. That story for another time. Congratulations, Gurnash Singh ji, on your coronation. I am sure your secret sweetheart would be mighty pleased to see you in full glory with a Sardari crown. Lots of love and blessings from a somewhat maudlin Naana, if I may be at least temporarily adopted.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 21, 2010, 9:39 PM.

Too bad that rites of passage like the Dastaar Bandi and "Charni LagNa" - where one is initiated to read the Guru Granth Sahib - are now uncommon. Bole So Nihal.

4: Liebe Schulman (Jerusalem, Israel), June 23, 2010, 1:23 PM.

What about girls? Do they also have a "rite of passage", the same as boys?

5: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 23, 2010, 8:17 PM.

Liebe ji, there is no formal rite of passage parallel to a dastaar bandhi for girls, though some are now opting for one and undergoing it nevertheless. However, "Charni Lagna" - the formal initiation into reading of the Guru Granth - is equally applicable to girls.

6: Amritpal Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), June 30, 2010, 12:20 PM.

I know Guransh Singh ... I enjoyed meeting him.

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