The turban (from Persian دلبند or دولبند, dulband via the Turkish tülbent) is a headdress consisting of a long scarf-like single piece of cloth wound around either the head itself or an inner hat. The word "turban" is a common umbrella term, loosely used in English to refer to several sorts of head wrap.

In Western countries, men wearing turbans in public are likely to be Sikhs, whose faith requires them to cover their long uncut hair.


In Hindi, a turban is called a pagṛī (पगड़ी) or sāfā (साफ़ा). Sikhs often call it dastar (pronounced dastār (ਦਸਤਾਰ)), a distinctive and more respectful Punjabi word for a Sikh 'turban'. The word dastar (pronounced destār in Turkish) is also used in the Mevlevi order of Whirling Dervishes to refer to the turban that the leader of the Whirling Dervish ceremony wears. In Tuareg and Berber the word Tagelmust refers to the head scarf associated with the turban.

Contemporary turbans

Overview of styles

Contemporary turbans come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

  • Middle Eastern, Central Asian, South Asian, and Sikh turban wearers usually wind their turban anew for each wearing, using long strips of cloth. The cloth is usually five meters or less. However, some elaborate South Asian turbans may be permanently formed and sewn to a foundation. Turbans can be very large or quite modest dependent upon region, culture, and religion.
  • Turbans are worn as women's hats in Western countries. They are usually sewn to a foundation, so that they can be donned or removed easily. Now that fewer Western women wear hats they are less common. However, turbans are still worn by female cancer patients who have lost their hair to chemotherapy and wish to cover their heads. Some women use wigs; others prefer scarves and turbans.
  • Women in many parts of Africa and the West Indies often cover their heads with intricately tied scarves which may be called scarves, head wraps, or turbans. In contrast, men of the Tuareg, Berber, Songhai, Wodaabe, Fulani and Hausa peoples of North and West Africa wear turbans, often veiling the face to deter dust.

Sikh turbans

The turban is closely associated with the Sikh faith and the vast majority of people who wear turbans in Western countries are Sikhs. Those who undergo initiation, Khande di Pahul (a type of baptism) to join the Khalsa, are forbidden to cut their hair as well as non-baptised Sikhs. Such men are required to wear a turban to manage their long hair. Most baptised women also wear turbans; however, non-baptised Sikh women usually do not wear turbans. Un-initiated Sikhs are still required to leave their hair unshorn.

Rajasthani turbans

Jats and Rajputs from the Indian state of Rajasthan wear distinctive turbans. Rajputs traditionally wear coloured turbans whereas Jats wear white turbans. The Marwaris wear light coloured turbans. Many styles of turbans are found in Rajasthan; it is said that the style of the turban changes with every 15 km you travel. In some areas, especially in Rajasthan the turban's size may indicate the position of the person in society. 'Royalty' in different parts of India have distinctly different styles of turbans, as do the 'peasants', who often just wear a small piece of cloth wound around the head.

Mysori turbans

The people of the Indian districts of Mysore and Kodagu wear turbans called Mysore peta. Distinguished people are honoured by the award of a Mysore peta in a formal ceremony. In Kodagu district people wear it with traditional dress on special occasions such as marriages.

Turbans as hats in Western countries

Turbans have been worn by men and women since the 17th century, without ever becoming very common. Now that hats are infrequently worn, turbans too are relatively uncommon. They are worn primarily by women of West Indian descent and by female cancer patients. Some women wear them to make a statement of individuality, such as the British social entrepreneur Camila Batmanghelidjh, who usually wears a colourful matching turban and robe..

Although the turban has been mentioned in the bible, Christians in general do not see wearing turbans as part of their religious practice.

Some African-American men wear scarves on their heads, and sometimes these scarves are elaborated to the point that they might be called turbans.

Headdress in Muslim majority countries

The men of many Islamic cultures have worn or wear a headdress of some sort that may be considered a turban. Islam however does not require any sort of head wrap or headdress except for a woman's headscarf. Head wraps that men wear are called several names and worn in different ways dependent on region and culture. Examples include Umamah (Arabic: عمامة) in Arabic, and dastār (دستار) in Persian.

  • Many types of head wrap are worn by Islamic scholars in many Muslim countries. Islamic scholars meaning specifically Muslim scholars who study the religion of Islam, most likely being Sheikhs or Imams.
  • In Shi'a Islam, wearing a black head wrap, around a small white cap is a claim to status as a descendant of Muhammad.
  • In Sudan, large white headdress are worn; they generally are meant connote high social status.

In modern Persian Gulf countries, the head wrap has been replaced by the plain or checkered scarf (called keffiyeh, ghutrah or shumagh), though the Arabic Umamah tradition is still strong in Oman (see Sultan Qaboos of Oman).

History of turbans

Humans have been wearing cloth on their heads since the invention of cloth. Texts and art that survive from many past cultures mention turbans.

  • The Vedas contain references to turbans being worn in Vedic India.
  • The ancient Persians wore a conical cap sometimes encircled by bands of cloth.
  • It is believed that the Arabs of the time of Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, wore Umamah (Arabic: عمامة). They were very useful for fending off the desert sand and protecting the head and face from very high temperatures and strong sunlight. When the great Islamic empires were established, under the first four caliphs, the Umayyads, and the Abbasids, the new rulers wore Umamah. Head wraps then diffused to populations under Islamic rule, even in countries where they were not previously worn.
  • Probably the largest-ever Turbans were worn by high-ranking Turks of the Ottoman period, including soldiers. These were enormous round turbans, wrapped around a hollow cone or framework, that often projected at the top. Hence they were called "Sarık", meaning "wrapped". From the 19th century the Turks mostly gave up the turban for the fez at the same time as they abandoned their kaftan tunics for more Western dress. Broad-rimmed Western hats did not meet the Islamic requirement that the forehead touch the ground during prayer and the Sultan issued a decree enforcing the wearing of the fez, applicable to all religious groups. Suleiman the Magnificent was renowned for the size of his turban.
  • Many contemporary images show European men of the Middle Ages and Renaissance wearing headgear that looks like turbans. These hats are actually chaperons, which could look very similar. Men in Europe were expected to take off their headgear in church, and in the presence of a person of much higher rank, like a king. This is not easy with a turban. Turbans also appear in European religious art, especially in scenes picturing the Holy Land, then inhabited by turban-wearers. Turbans did not become a regular part of European headgear until the late 17th century. Men then shaved their heads and wore heavy wigs; when relaxing at home, they removed the wigs and covered their heads with caps or sometimes turbans.
  • European women wore a wide variety of headdresses, some of which appear to be wrapped scarves or occasionally turbans. In the late 18th century and early 19th, turbans became fashionable headgear for women. The first recorded use of the English word "turban" for a Western female headdress is in 1776 (OED). As with all styles, they have waxed and waned in popularity. Later Victorians wore wrapped toques; turbans were fashionable in the early 20th century. , The French couturier Poiret was known for his Orientalist designs featuring turbans. Turbans were fashionable in the 1940s and 1950s , ; one name given them was cache-misère (French, "hide misery"), a chic solution to a bad-hair day. After a precipitous decline in hat-wearing during the 1960s, turbans are now rather rarely seen on women in the Western World.

Harassment of turban-wearers

In the USA a number of turban-wearers have been attacked or abused by persons acting on the false assumption that all turban-wearers are affiliated with terrorism. Amongst others, Sikh men wearing turbans have been harassed, attacked or even killed because of their religious headwear. These attacks have been further fueled by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. One widely publicized incident was the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi. The term Towelhead is a pejorative reference to Middle Eastern and Arab headdresses including turbans. It is mainly used to refer to both Arabs and Middle Eastern terrorists.


See also

External links

Turbans - general

Turbans for cancer patients

Sikh turbans

European turbans

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