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Have faith in fashion, for sake of religion

New Delhi, June 30: For once, religion has turned to beauty pageants to make a point.

Sikh community leaders, alarmed by young males increasingly rejecting the turban and facial hair, are planning turban-tying contests and fashion shows to convey the message the turbaned look is “cool’’.

The Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) of Amritsar and humanitarian organisation Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj organised a pageant, Mr Singh International, this April. It was a low-key affair but later versions, planned in Punjab and Delhi, could see the participation of Bollywood stars.

The SGPC has declared April 13, the day of harvest festival Baisakhi, as International Sikh Turban Day.

“We are dismayed that more and more youths are refusing to grow their beard or wear the turban, which are sacred symbols of the Sikh religion,” said H.S. Hanspal, Sikh representative in the National Commission for Minorities.

According to Hanspal, many young Sikhs say that tying a turban every day, which may take up to 10 minutes, is too cumbersome for today’s world (although readymade turbans are available).

Other boys apparently fear becoming the “odd man out’’ and getting taunted by their peers. Many Sikh parents say they have stopped insisting their sons wear the traditional headgear.

Various Gurdwara Prabandhak committees, therefore, are planning to send volunteers to schools to teach boys how to tie the turban and carry it well, and to counsel them on the importance of wearing one and on how to stand up to hecklers. The minority commission will facilitate the effort.

The volunteers will have to convince the likes of Delhi student Rocky Singh, 17, who discarded the turban last year.

The headgear is no longer cool and “faith is deeper than a turban’’, the schoolboy said, adding his brother too shaved off his beard last year and his cousins had decided to do the same.

For the likes of Rocky, the Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj has developed a software program, Smart Turban, that helps men pick a style that suits them. It has also opened two turban-tying schools in Amritsar with help from the SGPC.

Dalbeer Singh of the Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee has called for a new fashion magazine.

“We need a Sikh fashion magazine to promote uncut hair, the beard and the turban as cool and clean. We should use persons like Manmohan Singh as role models,’’ he told The Telegraph.

One of the first people such a magazine may think of featuring is Paramdeep Singh, 23, first runner-up at Mr Singh International 2009. “I want to send a message that a complete Sikh is more handsome than those who trim or cut their hair,” Paramdeep said.

For Sikhs, the turban became a “robe of honour” around 1699, during the time of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru, a scholar said.

Sikh turbans are different from other kinds but have their own variations. The commonest is the “peaked turban” Manmohan Singh wears. The length of the cloth varies from 6 to 8 metres, and the most popular colours are white, deep blue and saffron.

Sikh boys start wearing a keski (mini-turban) or patka at a very young age, often switching to the turban around the age of 12.

Religious leaders frown on the many Sikhs in showbiz who eschew the turban, such as singer Mika Singh and actors Kabir Bedi and Jimmy Shergill. There’s leniency, however, for boxers and wrestlers whose sport may be seen as incompatible with a turban or may stipulate the wearing of a helmet.

Still, the leaders say, Sikh sportsmen should wear at least a patka if possible, as former cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi used to do.

The kanga (comb), kara (bracelet), kirpan (sword) and kachehra (a special sort of shorts) are other requirements for a male Sikh, but the turban and Kesh (hair) are often seen as more integral to the tradition.

“Once a Sikh disobeys the tradition, he will become a patit (outcaste) Sikh,’’ Hanspal said.

He would be glad to hear about Anmol Saini, 24, who began “feeling bad” after shaving his beard last year. He is growing it back and has started sporting a turban again.

“Last year, I felt it was no longer fashionable, but now I don’t care. I’m happy the way I am now. Wearing a turban takes courage,’’ Saini said.

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