Sikh fortress turban

17 February – 17 April 2011

Exhibition closed

Room 3

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Objects in focus

Supported by

Unravel the stories of this warrior’s turban and discover how and why turbans symbolise Sikh faith
and identity.

Sikhism is one of the youngest world religions, founded in India over 500 years ago. Many Sikhs, including some women, wrap cloth around their uncut hair, making a turban, and this is an important symbol of their faith.

The magnificent turban on display in Room 3 is a rare example of a distinct type known as a dastaar boonga, literally meaning a ‘towering fortress’. This style of turban was worn by a group of Sikhs called Akali Nihangs. These skilled warriors used this type of turban to hold their weapons, including daggers, swords and deadly throwing discs. Some Akali Nihangs still wear this type of turban today as a symbolic representation of this tradition.

It is unclear how long this turban has been in the Museum’s collection, but it originally dates from the late 19th century and had come to London by the early 1900s. The turban displayed weapons, including two double-edged swords, six throwing discs, and one dagger, and a badge of the 45th Rattray’s Sikh Battalion, which eventually became the 3rd Battalion Sikh Regiment of the present-day Indian Army.

The cloth in the original turban is now so fragile that Museum experts have had to use new fabric to display the weapons and badge. Members of the Sikh community, working closely with the Museum’s experts, have reconstructed how it would have looked using traditional tying techniques and 37 metres of cloth.

Come to this display to encounter a unique symbol of faith, and hear members of the Sikh community explain why the turban remains important to
them today.

Sikh Akali-Nihang turban

Sikh Akali-Nihang turban (dastaar boonga), blue cloth (21st century) with steel blades and quoits, Punjab, India, 19th century.

More about the turban

Members of London’s Sikh community share their thoughts on the role and significance of the turban past and present.

Download mp3 (4 minutes, 4MB)

Read more about the Sikh fortress turban on the Google Cultural Institute 


Video: The Sikh fortress turban

Curator Paramdip Khera describes the significance of the Sikh fortress turban.

Video: Tying a traditional Sikh turban

Watch a video with a demonstration of how to tie a traditional Sikh turban.