British Museum Sikh Fortress Turban

In Autumn 2010, the SEC began to work with staff from the British Museum to display a century old Sikh turban. The exhibition entitled ‘Sikh Fortress Turban’ ran from 17 February – 17 April 2011 in the renowned Room 3 where focus is drawn on a single object; the solitary display is supported by new and different ways of looking at the object in question, in this case portraying the importance of a turban to a Sikh today and the similarities that this significance shares with the turban on display.

For a number of years, the existence of the turban known as a ‘dastar boonga’ was widely known of in Sikh circles. It dates from the late 19th century and was brought to the country early in the 1900s. The turban was complete with a number of weapons and would have been worn by an ‘Akali’ (immortal) warrior. The cloth of the original turban is now incredibly fragile and although it will be on display, a replica has been reconstructed to house the weapons as they would have originally appeared.

In recent years, the turban has been mistakenly viewed as a symbol of oppression and extremism around the World. In some cases, Sikhs have suffered exclusion from schools, workplaces, air travel and even public buildings on account of adorning the crown that has been their identity since the inception of the Sikh way of life. The Sikh turban has historically been a symbol of the right to freedom for every person, no matter who they are or what they believe and this right has been defended by hundreds of thousands of Sikhs all proudly adorning their turbans.

The British Museum showed immense sensitivity in curating this exhibition and worked closely with the SEC, as well as the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail and UK Punjab Heritage Association. We appreciate the efforts of the latter two Sikh organisations who alongside ourselves have helped the British Museum to bring the Sikh turban into the public forum, and we hope educate people as to it’s value and meaning.