Roots of Love: Exploring Hair in the Sikh Community

Conversations about hair are often emotional for Sikhs – and therefore they are conversations which we tend to avoid. For many Sikhs, it is a constant struggle to explain the historical significance of keeping our hair and/or wearing a turban while other Sikhs will argue that simply keeping your hair or wearing a turban by no means makes you a good Sikh. While that may be true, being able to have conversations about hair is an incredibly important and necessary dialogue for us to participate in. Many Sikhs in the diaspora have struggled to maintain their identity, while Sikhs in Panjab are struggling to be western. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition and anybody who has visited Panjab recentlywill see the dwindling number of Sikh boys choosing to wear turbans. In an effort to explore this issue, a fascinating documentary film -Roots of Loveby award winning filmmaker Harjant Gill is being released this Spring.

Told through the stories of six different men ranging in age from fourteen to eighty-six, Roots of Love documents the changing significance of hair and the turban among Sikhs in India. We see younger Sikh men abandoning their hair and turban to follow the current fashion trends, while the older generation struggles to retain the visible symbols of their religious identity. The choice of cutting ones hair is one that not only concerns the individual and his family, but an entire community. [link]

I was given the opportunity to watch the entire documentary – I highly recommend the film and was drawn to itsexcellent cinematography. You can watch the trailer below and after the jump, read my interview with Director, Harjant Gill. Then, think about how hair plays a significant role in your life, if at all?

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What was your inspiration behind making Roots of Love? Was the film inspired by a personal experience?

It was actually this NY times article that first got me interested in the topic. Even though the film is not entirely inspired by my own experiences, I can relate to it because I grew up in a traditional Sikh family with unshorn hair, and then one day, before moving to the US, my dad had my hair cut… which at the time I was very young and I didn’t care much about… I enjoyed the transition, however, sometimes I do wonder what it would’ve been like had I not migrated, or not cut my hair.

In the trailer, we see the tying of a pagh intertwined with hair getting cut – what is your message?

Films (my films at-least) rarely have one specific clear cut message… I juxtaposed the turban tying with the hair-cutting because I felt that – that was often the typical experiences that I came across in my research when looking at masculinity among Sikh men in Punjab. In someways, Dastar Bandhi is the official or religious rite of passage, where the boy is transformed into a man or manhood in front of his family and his parents, and then there is the unofficial rites of passage among young men in Punjab… many of whom are trying to fit into the contemporary definitions of masculinity, and be part of global india – and often abandon the turban and cut their hair in the process – for various reasons.

The issue of hair and wearing a turban/not wearing a turban is often an emotional issue for many Sikhs. How did you handle the sensitivity of this?

I approached this issues with the same sensitivity as I approach all of my work as an anthropologist and academic and filmmaker… with respect and an open-mind.

I was concerned about the hair cutting sequence, I didn’t want any turbaned Sikh man to cut his hair just for the purpose of this documentary… but I also wanted to show and feature that experience, so we decided to stage that sequence – Rupinder had already cut his hair before we decided to include him in the documentary. So the hair being cut in that sequence are in-fact not real. We also included a disclaimer at the end of the documentary: “No Sikhs were de-turbaned in the making of this film”

Yes, the issue of hair, or cutting hair is an emotional one for Sikhs… but we should not just ignore it or reframe from talking about it. I am simply trying to engage people in a conversation.

There is a scene in the film (an important one) showing a sardar getting his hair cut – many viewers may view this scene with uncomfort. How do you hope it will be perceived?

[As mentioned] above… Some times making viewers feel uncomfortable is important, it makes them realize that things are not as clear cut, not as black and white. It makes them question their own position and lives.

Was the Sikh community involved in helping to direct the shape of the film? Perhaps your own personal connection to the Sikh community helped advise you as you made this film?

Yes, I consulted with numerous individuals from various Sikh organizations before making this film. I am really grateful to folks at the Institute of Sikh Studies in Chandigarh, and Akaal Purakh Ki Fauj in Amritsar.

What does the title, Roots of Love, refer to?

There is an amazing amount of “love” and “care” that is invested in the uncut hair of Sikh men growing up, especially by Sikh mothers who are assigned the task of caring for the uncut hair.. washing, cleaning, oiling, and tying their son’s hair… I wanted to capture and celebrate in the title of the film.

What do you hope the audience gains from this film?

I want audiences to develop their own understanding, and conclusions… that’s why the film is left so open-ended. I guess in the end, the only thing we can be certain about is ‘change’… this films chronicles that process of cultural change in Punjab as captured by this iconic symbols of the turban and unshorn hair that has defined Sikh masculinity and identity.

Will you be showing the film at any upcoming film festivals? When will Roots of Love be released and how can viewers watch it?

The film recently premiered in India on Doordarshan (the Indian National TV Channel). It is making its way through various international film festivals and educational conferences right now. The DVD is now available and can be purchased at this site.

We are also trying to raise funds to create Punjabi version or a version dubbed in “Punjabi”.. If your audiences are interested in contributing, please email me directly at: TilotamaProductions[at]gmail[dot]com.

For more information: Press Kit | Buy DVD | Website

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35 Responses to “Roots of Love: Exploring Hair in the Sikh Community”

  1. MsKaur says:

    This film looks good. In my circle of friends, I’m one of the only girls who does not prefer a clean shaven guy. I think that’s pretty sad and Sikh women who prefer sardars need to be more vocal about it. Let’s change the stereotype.

  2. Sundari says:

    Thank you both for your comments. The female voice is often left out of conversations about the turban/pagh. I will say, however, that the director has done a good job at including this voice by discussing the importance of mothers in keeping their child's hair.

  3. Justsomesikh says:

    I’m probably gonna regret saying this but even I do wonder…isn’t wearing a turban what makes a Sikh different than any other individual? All religions ask followers to be good human beings… but externally we are different than Hindus, Christians and so on. We wear turbans for a reason. I need to be convinced by the statement that “as long as you’re a good person, it doesn’t matter if you cut your hair” – yeh it doesn’t matter so long as your ok with not being a Sikh as intended by the guru

  4. brooklynwala says:

    thanks for sharing this sundari. emotional indeed…i couldn't help but tear up just watching the 2 minute trailer. it's so intense how emotional hair is for us…. there is this legacy of our ancestors at various points in history experiencing brutal repression which sometimes took the form of hair being forcibly cut as an intentional attack on the sikh identity.

    though you said the film includes mothers perspectives, it would be great to see a project that encompassing girls' and women's experiences around kesh as well, including the complex decisions around shaving legs, etc. it's a shame how this aspect of sikh identity always gets associated more with men because we tend to wear turbans more than women, and thus our decisions around kesh become somehow more valued/important than women's.

    would love to see the whole film!

  5. Navjot says:

    I agree with brooklynwala that I too teared up at that point – our hair holds so much for us. I also agree that mother's perspectives are so important. It is not easy to keep the hair long. My son gets very irritated some days because he sometimes associates the combing of his hair with the knots and so I am constantly trying to ensure that he can connect his hair and dastaar to positive and inspiring images. I look forward to his dastaar bandhi celebration one day and can only hope and pray he is blessed to continue to be strong in who he is.

  6. Rajinder Singh says:

    Unshorn hair and turban are not essential to be a good sikh.Only people with insecurities are always worried about their appearences/identity.As far as being having a mother's perspective thats just being lame or being a wus.BTW in village BILGA,distt.jalandhar there is a cap/topi attributed to ur 5th guru,many sikhs go and worship this piece of identity/clothing every day,I have not seen any turban attrributed to this guru.What would u guys say to that.

  7. Doris Jakobsh says:

    For anyone interested, as a part of Wilfrid Laurier University's 'Assessing the Complexities of South Asian Migration' conference and in conjunction with the University of Waterloo's Department of Religious Studies, the Canadian premier of Roots of Love will be shown on May 18, Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome's University College, at the University of Waterloo. Harjant Gill, the talented director of the film will be there and we will have a panel discussion following the film. For more information and for the exact time of this showing, contact Dr. Doris Jakobsh, [email protected].

  8. 10tar says:

    This is really powerful stuff! Like others said, its difficult to watch this trailer without looking away or getting teary eyed. One day I hope to see a dastar bandhi ceremony for women who choose to wear one. I totally agree with what MsKaur said about the need for women to be more vocal about their preference for turbaned sardars. Likewise I think it's incredibly important for us men to also be vocal about and support women that wear dastars and encourage keeping of hair overall. Thanks for posting this Sundari

  9. guest says:

    Well this is a very interesting video. One thing I can't understand is, if the sikh youth in India can't keep turbans anymore, and are opting for haircuts to look "better", how can we expect the children growing up in the USA, Canada, UK, etc. I mean I live in Sacramento, CA, and even though most of the sikh guys my age have haircuts, there are some sardars here and there.

    Also, I have many friends who have been sardars all their life, but have ended up cutting their hair in their late teens or early 20's due to frustration with the way they are treated. It's a fact that most sikh guys and most of our sikh friends have haircuts, they look good and fit in with society, most of us don't have enough strength to stand out and look different (especially when it's not considered attractive to society's standards). It's pretty much a fact that sikh guys with haircuts get all the attention from punjabi/sikh girls. Most punjabi girls don't have any interest in a sardar. I guess the community is to blame for that, because although they due stress turbans towards the boys, there is no connection between a turban and a sikh girl. Sikh guys growing up in the west experience the discipline that it takes to keep hair and tie a turban everyday, whereas, sikh girls get a free pass and get to choose a hair cut sikh as their life partner, because that's what is seen as attractive, and why would they want a sardar, they have never had any connection to the turban.

    There's an interesting quote I read once which relates to how sikh girls perceives sardars and what we go through, "No one cares about issues that don't affect them." So why would sikh girls care about turbans or sardars. Every girl wants the best looking, educated, well mannered guy that she can find. So why would a sikh girl be a scapegoat and get with a sardar. There won't be any sardars in the future or turbans, because since most sikh girls are marrying hair cut sikhs, why would they keep hair own their own children? Why would a sikh girl that marries a guy with a haircut keep a turban on her son?

    Honestly, there's so many issues in our community, and the way things are enforced. There is so much hypocrisy in our community, and when sardars cut their hair, people actually act surprised. Honestly, I don't think turbans will ever come back to the extent that they were in the past in Punjab. In the future, everyone will have a haircut, the only sardars will be the babas and granthis at the gurdwara. Peace out, don't let the truth hurt. It will but don't let it hurt.

  10. Harinder says:

    Old story repeated in each generations.
    Sikhism will vanish one day due to hair keeping .
    It is an exaggerated fear amongst the Earthians
    Sikhs still thirves and grows all over the globe inspite of 600 years having passed .
    It is "THE KHALSA" without whom Sikhs would have wound up in history books
    As long as Khalsa lives the Sikhs shall be around.

  11. There are more Sikhs keeping unshorn hair and donning turbans in the UK today than at any time since our arrival on these shores. The resurgance toward looking like your Guru is nothing short of phenomenal here. In my experience of lecturing and visiting over a dozen universities this year, many of these young people are choosing to do so when they get to university which is quite surprising.

    In our internet-heavy World, with the likes of Jus Reign, Mandeep Sethi, Humble the Poet, Hoodini, Gunjeev Baagi, Saint Soldier, GNE, Young Fateh, and of course the ever-young Tigerstyle showing that you can 'be cool' and be keshadhari, expect this trend to continue!

  12. guest says:

    what are you fools talking about. this current time is when the least amount of sikhs are keeping hair and turbans. most sikhs I meet usually have a haircut, both men and women. Very few actually keep all of the hair on their body intact anymore. This is how it is in California, I can't speak for other places.

  13. Sara says:

    I feel bad whenever I hear someone cutting their hair during their high school or college years because it seems like the American culture is triumphing over sikhism. Cutting your hair doesn't make you attractive but instead your confidence and pride. If a turbaned sikh is proud of him/her self, respect and openness will come on its own. Whenever I see a proud turbaned guy in school, I always shake hands with him even if I don't know him because it gives me great pride to inteeract with someone that has the courage to follow their faith.
    Lots of love from California

  14. harry says:

    i don,t know why there is so much buzz that sikh men get haircut for the sake of girls and fashion. as a sikh you face some problems in your life because of hair. only sikh guy who have kept hair understand it. as do i. i have taken haircut not for girls. i had my problems. and yes i lacked courage to stand different. the reason is i was always bullied and lost lot of confidence in my life. you don't want to get recognized just for your religion. everyday tieing turban take time and cause headaches. also some other hair problems. the world is changing and so is the beliefs. we need to accept it

  15. […] Roots of love: exploring hair in the Sikh community. […]

  16. chocotACO says:

    What is the song name at the end credits when he's standing on the bridge?! It's amazing and I must find it!!!!

  17. Hardeep Sanghera says:

    Well, I don't believe that any guy should be forced by the community or parents to keep their hair and turban in this day and age, especially living outside of India. I was in a similar situation. I was born and raised in the United States and grew up keeping my hair and turban. I kept my turban and beard for 19 years and cut it when i was 19.So, I know what it is like to be with a turban and beard and without. When I went to college and would meet other sikh guys, they usually always had haircuts. Sikh girls that I often met had Sikh boyfriends with haircuts and honestly showed very little interest in me. On top of that, many non-sikhs that I encountered at school or work saw me as some type of weirdo or Arab looking guy. The stress of it got to a point where I couldn't take it anymore. Well, after I did cut it, I did feel sort of bad, and my parents were sad, but what was done was done. But I'm not going to lie. After cutting my hair many things did improve for me. I gained more self-confidence about myself, I became a better speaker and began to interact with people better, more people openly talked to me than before at school and work, approaching me a lot more as well, my grades are really high right now, the best they have ever been, and also I have a really cute punjabi girlfriend. I'm now 22. It's sad to say but honestly my outlook became much more positive as well. So, I seriously don't think that guys should be forced into turbans (since most are by parents), everyone should have their own choice, especially in this society. Keeping a turban and beard when you yourself don't even like it and are only doing it to keep the parents/community happy is pointless. If you don't like it, then why do it, you should want to do it from your heart.

  18. Is there kantay says:

    Sikhs should hold on to their valuable culture because western culture is coming to the point of recognizing the values we hold. For example David Brooks wrote on recent essay on the value of living with a code in his most recent essay. I cut my hair from childhood and and learned most everything there is to know about mainstream culture and think of myself as mainstream. I am ready to wear dastaar and that’s with eyes open. One brief thing re being attractive to women….many women will be attracted to someone who can maintain a commitment and stands for their principles. start looking for women who appreciate that if they are punjabi or non Punjabi

  19. Is there kantay says:

    But I do agree if someone does not want to keep kes they should not be asked to or pressured to, and as someone who has cut his hair I don’t think there should be any community privilege to having kes. Kes should be an option joyfully and freely taken with full freedom of conscience. Otherwise it is not the celebretory and liberative act I think it was intended to be.

  20. Is there kantay says:

    And the culture I’m referring to does not mean a culture that promotes inequality if caste or gender, though I believe some who are progressive do assert our culture is so, and go so far as questioning the foundations of the culture without doing so in a collaborative way and without an investment in the culture itself. Even taking into account there is no such thing to a post modern or critical theory academic or most progressives as THE culture.

  21. pp20 says:

    i don't think any human beings is different from any other human being physically. we all have same bodies but what we do to our body makes us different. keeping hair may make look us different but what makes us different really is our thoughts. atleast i believe that. so one should be allowed to choose how he wants to be different. by keeping hairs or by having different thoughts. you won't take hair with you when u die. it will be only your thoughts that will matter. focus more on your thoughts than hair. anyway if you can manage both then its well and good

  22. Truth Singh says:

    It all has to do with societal acceptance and the advent of entitlement in Sikh women in both the western world and places where Sikhism is more prominent (India). The system that is currently in place doesn't put any pressure on women to act in any manner congruent with Sikhism because they have the option of not being identified as Sikh if they so choose. On the other hand male Sikhs have the burden of wearing a turban and growing a beard, both of which tie that mans image to sikhism without recourse or even choice in most cases. This dichotomy leads female Sikhs, in general, to a sense of entitlement as they are not held to such strict standards and can freely chameleon their way into relationships outside of the community without the onus of being "called out." Male Sikhs who wear the turban and have a beard, such as myself, do not have such a recourse and cannot freely date outside of the religion as very few people are accepting of the way we show our identity. Male Sikhs are not prone to the entitlement complex of "fitting in" as are female Sikhs. This is the description of the phenomenon which has lead female members of our community to dislike men who have bothered to keep their culture in terms of wearing a turban and beard.

    I have basically answered the question of the forum but would like to bring about another one which fits neatly into the discussion above: What are male Sikhs such as myself supposed to do about this problem? If we cannot find decent partners among those who are supposed to be accepting of their own, and cannot find companionship outside of the community either what recourse do we have?

    It has made me upset and rather despondent that the preservation of our culture means the destruction of our interpersonal relationships. I appreciate your responses.

  23. UjwalKaur says:

    I often wonder in a faith started by our first Guru, who often mocked the Janeu, and the practice of not sleeping with your feet towards Mecca, how could we ever end up here? Why are we regarded to the same stronghold of religious dichotomy, especially as TruthSingh pointed out more biased agaisnt the Male sikhs?
    On the eve of Baisakhi when my mother wanted to go get a lip-wax, I often questioned why that was acceptable, while my brother's inclination towards a shave wasnt?

    It's an important question, do we need to show off the hair to prove that we belong to the Sikh faith? It was alright, when it was an open challenge to any of Aurangzeb's soldiers to come and try to convert us, like an open declaration of war, but in this day and age, people who equate having a hair and turban to being better sikhs are simply not following what Guru Nanak Dev Ji started.

  24. Brett says:

    I often wonder in a faith started by our first Guru, who often mocked the Janeu, and the practice of not sleeping with your feet towards Mecca, how could we ever end up here? Why are we regarded to the same stronghold of religious dichotomy, especially as TruthSingh pointed out more biased agaisnt the Male sikhs?

  25. Nancy says:

    I want audiences to develop their own understanding, and conclusions… that’s why the film is left so open-ended. I guess in the end, the only thing we can be certain about is ‘change’… this films chronicles that process of cultural change in Punjab as captured by this iconic symbols of the turban and unshorn hair that has defined Sikh masculinity and identity.Great,thank you so much for sharing this post

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