Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
Sat Nam Readers!
Today on Facebook, my status update read:
“Officiating a wedding in August. Met with the bride-to-be today. She is not asking me to wear a white turban. I know some of you will understand this — YAY! HAPPY DANCE!!”
Almost immediately, one of my lovelier friends asked to explain what I mean. I’m so glad she asked the question instead of just wondering.
There are three parts to this story and I’ll start with the easy, happy, wedding part. My friend A is getting married this August in a small ceremony. One of the best things I get to do is officiate weddings. I can’t tell you how great it is to be part of such a happy time in a person’s life.
The bride-to-be is a sweetheart. When I met with her this morning, I asked her about colours. Brides in Canada often choose a very specific colour scheme like green, blue, pink, white, gold or some combination. I don’t mind making sure I match (or at least that I don’t clash) if it will make the bride’s day happy, but there are issues that I’m not sure how to navigate around two colours for my turban – black and white. I made it clear to the bride that I would wear a white turban and white clothing if she wanted or any other colour that suited her.
That brings us to the second part of the story. The East and the West have very different traditional uses for the colours black and white. For those of you who may not be aware, in the West (and by West I meant Euro-centric countries like England, Germany, France, Canada, the U.S. and the like) white is often a colour chosen for weddings while black is a colour chosen for funerals. In the East (and by East I mean most of Asia), the colour white is most often used for funerals while red or colours on the spectrum with red are often used for weddings. Because I am culturally Asian, white reminds me of funerals rather than the happiness of weddings.
I turns out that the bride-to-be has chosen to have a white dress with black accents. She is planning an informal wedding and would rather have everyone, including the officiant, in any clothing that makes them comfortable. I suppose she would have limits if I showed up in torn jeans and a hoodie but other than that, she’s all good. This made me happy to hear because I have additional reasons for being uncomfortable with the colour white, especially when it comes to my turban.
And that brings us to part three – the stranger, more complicated part. I am, as anyone who reads this blog must know by now, a Sikh. I believe very strongly in my faith and in the teachings of my Gurus. My Gurus don’t tell me what colour turban I should wear, only that I should wear one to cover and protect my uncut hair. There are traditional colours of black, dark blue, royal blue, orange and the like and there are more modern colours and even patterns that are worn by good Sikhs all over the world. But two colours in particular – the white and the black – have other things associated.
Black is a colour of turban often worn by Khalistanees. The concept and history of Khalistan is complicated but I’ll try to get to the point. A Khalistanee believes and advocates and sometimes dies for the belief that Sikhs should have a state of their own, apart from Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab (the areas where Sikhi originated). This is in large part due to the experiences that Sikhs as a minority have had in those two states, in part due to the splitting of the Punjab in two (part to India, part to Pakistan) by the withdrawal of Britain from India in 1947, in part due to the atrocities committed at Partition, and in part due to a lengthy list of other complicated reasons why any people would want self-rule.
Black is a colour that evokes the passion of the Khalistanee movement and one that offends many who are against the Khalistanee movement. Not everyone in a black turban is a Khalistanee and there is nothing wrong in my mind, with advocating for self-rule in a separate state. I wear black when I want to wear black and without going into which side of the Khalistanee debate my empathies lie, I am conscious when my turban is black that it brings certain senstivities to the forefront. My black turbans make me particularly aware of the complicated history of the people who share my faith and so I try to be particularly respectful.
White is a whole other thing. White is a colour that is often worn by a particular group of Americans who refer to themselves as Sikh. They are the followers of Yogi Bhajan (I’ll get to him in a later post) and call themselves 3HO for happy, healthy and holy. They are primarily centered in New Mexico and California. They all wear white practically from head to foot, almost like a uniform. There is little individuality in their dress from what I have read and seen. They practice khundalini yoga, tantric yoga, astrology and numerology. Their gurdwaras, from what I have read and seen, include statues (idols) of Sri Chand inside them. They have a hierarchy that is akin to a priesthood.
I don’t want to be mistaken for or associated in any way with the 3HO or any other group that originated from Yogi Bhajan and his followers. The practices of Yogi Bhajan and his followers are not a part of my faith and, with much respect, some practices are not permitted in Sikhi. For example, astrology and numerology are superstitious practices which are not permitted. Idols of any kinds are not permitted in a gurdwara. Most importantly, each of us is an equal to the other so there is no hierarchy. My priests and teachers are my Gurus of which the only current Guru is Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
So there you are dear friend and other readers, while I was willing to wear a white turban for a special occasion while I officiated a wedding, you will not see me in one any other time. An entire spectrum of other colours … no wait… those of you who know me will know my fashion choices… so let’s be honest. You will see me in black, dark blue, dark green, maybe khaki when I want to wear something bright 😉 but not white…
There it is.
Sat Nam Readers until next time!