COVENTRY, UK—Sikh Fortress Turban at the Herbert in Coventry is a touring British Museum exhibition with a central focus of an enormous, tall turban with various items in it. The exhibition aims to unravel stories of the Sikh turban and discover how and why turbans symbolise the Sikh religion and identity.
The turban shown is a Dastaar Boonga, or fortress turban worn by Sikh warriors called the Akali Nihangs to protect the head in battle and hold weapons, from the late 19th century in the Punjab. It looks beautifully blue and splendid, but then there is also a picture of the original item, the material now so decayed that this is actually a replica which is a bit disappointing but understandable.
There are various items stuck into the folds of the turban which include weapons and symbolic pieces.
The multiple crescent, or gajgah, represents superior strength and balance, freedom and spiritual values. The half moon ardh chand is designed to offer symbolic as well as physical protection. The quoits chakhars have cutting edges and are scary-looking steel discs designed to be thrown at the enemy. There is also a khanda on show, a double edged sword and a small daggar, a kirpan.
A Rattray Battalion badge, from the Sikh battalion of the British army, raised in 1856 by Captain Thomas Rattray, is also on show and this particular badge was made specially for this turban. It’s an interesting exhibition which shows how items which can be made with skill to look attractive and be involved with faith can also be used as weapons for protection.