Turbans and Tales
My conversation with two students on Sikh spirituality
Edgar French, spiritual care coordinator at the University of Manitoba will explain some important holidays and celebrations from different faith traditions throughout the year.
Recently I had the privilege of attending a Sikh Gurdwara (temple) for an event hosted by U of M’s Sikh Student Association (UMSSA). Entitled Akhand Path Sahib, the gathering involved prayers offered in support of international students, recent immigrants and the betterment of humanity. Following the prayers, a communal meal, referred to as langar, was served. An integral part of Sikh tradition, I feasted on a variety of tasty Punjabi dishes whilst conversing with Amit Saini, president of the UMSSA. My plate was never empty as servers kept coming to fill it, to my delight! Intrigued by and appreciative of the warm hospitality I received, I wanted to learn more about this faith. It just so happens that the association is hosting an on-campus event with the goal of educating and engaging with students on the nature of Sikhism. Turban-Up will be an opportunity to increase awareness and understanding of a faith that has been part of the Canadian spiritual landscape for many years.
Curious about the goals of the event, I sat down with two members of the UMSSA, Amit and Damanjit Singh. I was entertained by many of the stories and lore that have established and preserved Sikh identity. Here’s just a taste of the conversation we shared:
Amit and Damanjit, can you tell me what inspired you to run “Turban-Up” on campus?
Amit: Part of what we wanted to do is address the innocent curiosity that many students might harbor when it comes to Sikhism and its customs. We sense that many non-Sikh students are genuinely curious but may feel a little awkward coming up to a student wearing a turban and asking, ‘So what’s up with the turban?’ I’ve caught students, at times, staring. Here’s an opportunity, rather, to talk!
For those of us unfamiliar with Sikh teaching and custom, what is the significance of wearing a turban?
Damanjit : The turban defines your identity as a Sikh. Not only does it communicate this to others but it reminds you personally that as Sikh you are always ready to help and assist others. This is central to Sikh teaching. The turban is also worn as a crown in the sense that it elevates people, promoting equality and dignity, something that we believe all human beings are gifted with.
Have you ever felt self-conscious or concerned about standing out in public by wearing the turban? If so, how have you dealt with this?
Damanjit: Never! It is a source of pride.
What’s one thing you love and one thing you find challenging about wearing the turban?
Damanjit: I love how it boosts my confidence. Managing to tie the turban can sometimes be a hassle. But I’ve grown proficient now as it only takes me about 7 minutes, as opposed to half an hour when I first started wearing one.
What would you like to say to students who are intrigued about you wearing a turban?
Damanjit: If you have questions, ask and don’t be afraid. Know that the external is just a fraction of what defines me, about 10%. The 90% is found internally and to discover this you need to know me as a person.
Wednesday, November 7, from 11 AM to 4 PM
UMSU University Centre Campo
The event will be an opportunity for students to talk with Sikh students, learn more about the faith, and even try tying and wearing a turban. To learn more contact Amit Saini, Sikh Student Association president, at singhsainiamit [at] gmail [dot] com or Edgar French, Spiritual Care Coordinator, at edgar [dot] french [at] umanitoba [dot] ca