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Updated: 14 April 2015
A Sikh Warrior Turban (Dastaar Boonga) made up of blue fabric and several metal ornaments including six quoits and an a arrow-headed quoit, a tier of crescents, a single-edged dagger, two double edged swords, a crescent and a Rattray Battalion badge.
Body of Turban-.a
Quoits in ascending order-.b-.g
Original 19th century turban body-.o
Original warpping cord-.p
- Made in: Punjab
- (Asia,South Asia,India,Punjab)
- Height: 72.5 centimetres
- Width: 30 centimetres
- Width: 35 centimetres (with fabric resting at side)
- Depth: 31 centimetres
- Depth: 65 centimetres (fabric stretched out behind - maximum)
- Circumference: 90 centimetres (maximum)
- Diameter: 285 millimetres (quoit b, outer diameter)
- Diameter: 262 millimetres (quoit c, outer diameter)
- Diameter: 246 millimetres (quoit d, outer diameter)
- Diameter: 236 millimetres (quoit e, outer diameter)
- Diameter: 189 millimetres (quoit f, outer diameter)
- Diameter: 147 millimetres (quoit g, outer diameter)
- Weight: 171.8 grammes (gajgah h)
- Weight: 62.8 grammes (Rattray badge i)
- Weight: 42.4 grammes (crescent k)
- Weight: 42.6 grammes (double-edged sword l)
- Weight: 44.6 grammes (double-edged sword m)
- Weight: 24.5 grammes (single-edged dagger n)
- Weight: 1612.4 grammes (Total weight of all metal)
The metal objects from the original Turban have been used with new fabric to create this replica Turban as the original fabric has deteriorated and is beyond repair.
In this re-assembled version, 37 meters of blue cotton was wrapped around a cone (for display purposes) and then the metal ornaments were arranged on top and secured with a metal cord. This task was carried out by Akali Turban experts Parmjit Singh and Nidar Singh.
The turban has always been integral to the Sikh tradition, representing dedication to the faith and providing protection for the uncut hair. The ‘Dastar Boonga’ (turban fortress) as it is known, is a turban distinct to the Sikh warrior tradition.
The Akalis (Immortals) were the original Sikh warriors raised by the sixth Sikh Guru (Guru Har Gobind). The Akali often referred to as Akali-Nihang is a dedicated believer in Akal, meaning the timeless one (God). The primary function of the Akali army was to defend Sikhism against its enemies.
The Dastaar Boonga (turban fortress) was and continues to be worn by the Akali-Nihangs. It was an effective form of defence in battle, protecting both the hair and head from sword blows. Ornaments such as steel quoits and small daggers were secured by winding long lengths of plaited steel around the turban providing further protection. This type of turban is referred to as a Turban Fortress as the tall conical structure was very much like a tower or fortress serving a defensive purpose.
This type of turban is tied by entwining the long hair with the turban cloth, coiling it on top of the head. The cloth can be up to twenty yards long, often two cloths are used, one as an under turban and the other on top.
The trail of fabric left loose on top of the turban (farla) signifies the Akali rank of the warrior, akin to that of a general. The Akali method of tying the turban varies in that the coiled hair and turban cloth are knotted through the loop they form, with the end of the cloth coming out of the turban as a loose flap. These practices continue today mostly among the Nihang Sikhs in the Punjab.
The steel objects on the Turban would have been used as weapons in war and also had a spiritual significance for Sikhs.
Multiple crescent ornament (gajgah)
The crescents placed in the centre of the turban represent superior strength, intellect and daring. The double-edged sword on the top of this structure symbolises the balance of masculine and feminine power.
Half moon (ardh chand)
This crescent-shaped steel ornament offers the wearer symbolic as well as physical protection. The waxing and waning of the moon symbolises the time cycle through which creation evolves. The wearing of the crescent indicates control over the mind.
These steel discs have a sharp outer edge and would have been thrown by twirling the smooth inside edge around the forefinger. They are the only actual weapons in the display – the others are all purely symbolic. As well as providing protection, the chakkars also represent the cyclical nature of life.
Wrapping cord (tora)
The cord is used to tie all the ornaments in place.
Double-edged sword (kunda) and small dagger (kirpan)
The right edge of the sword stands for freedom against oppression, and the left edge stands for moral and spiritual values. The dagger symbolises a Sikh’s duty to stand firm against tyranny and oppression in all its forms.
A unique feature of this turban is the presence amongst the other metal items, of a modified badge of the Rattray Battalion. The Rattray Battalion was raised in January 1856, by Captain Thomas Rattray. Though not initially composed exclusively of Sikhs, the 45th Rattray later formed one of the most colourful units of the Sikh regiment. Most of the men had originally served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. The Rattray battalion badge suggests a possible dating for the original turban and its ornaments to the second half of the 19th century. It also sheds light on the history of the Akali Nihangs and their significance in Anglo Sikh history.
2011, Feb - Apr, BM, Room 3, 'Objects in Focus: Sikh Fortress Turban'
2013 Jan – Apr, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
2013 May – Jul, The Tower Museum, Derry
2013 Aug – Nov, The Herbert, Coventry
2014 Feb – May, Cartwright Hall, Bradford
2014 May – Aug, New Walk Museum, Leicester
2014 Aug – Nov, Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens
2014-2015 Nov - Feb, Museum of Lancashire, Preston
- Associated with: Punjab
- (Asia,South Asia,India,Punjab)
The object has been in the BM collection for many years, possibly from as early as the 19th century. It is believed that the original Turban was donated to the Banqueting House Museum in 1894 which later became the Royal United Services Institute. It was donated by Lieut-Colonel H. A. Sawyer, Indian Staff Corps. and there is a photograph of the Turban displayed there in March 1900 published in the English Illustrated Magazine (Mar 1900). It is believed that the Turban came to the British Museum shortly after that.
Original metal components after conservation mounted on new turban support. The original turban was now felt to be too degraded for use. The tying of new turban, and the positioning of the metal was carried out with help from Sikh community
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Object reference number: RRI35100
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