The recent sighting of a turban-clad Pakeha marching in full military uniform during the passing out parade for the new-inductees has caught everyone's attention, besides captivating imaginations of the followers of Sikhism and the broader Kiwi-Indian community.
On Saturday, July 4, a seemingly unassuming image depicting the newly inducted marching recruits of the NZ military first appeared in local media outlets, before hitting the social media.
Expectedly, the sighting of a young Pakeha (European-New Zealander descent) in a Sikh turban attracted the attention of many including the followers of the Sikhism faith, and those who are genuinely invested in the growing multiculturalism of the New Zealand society.
Such stories are indeed ambassadors of the true brand of multiculturalism that facilitates not only a safe environment for collaboration between various ethnic and religious-cultural groups but also allows the flourishing of an eclectic environment where people can immerse themselves and adopt the new religion or culture without any prejudice and bias.
Louis Singh (earlier known as Louis Talbot) had his first interaction with the Sikh faith through his common friends in Christchurch a few years ago, which eventually inspired him to the extent that he soon immersed himself in the Sikh religion.
In his pursuit of the path of internal spiritual serenity, he travelled to Punjab in India multiple times, before partaking amrit at Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib - a Sikh ceremony of initiation which resembles the baptism of Christianity.
For the uninitiated, Sikhism is the world's fifth-largest religion with more than 30 million active practitioners and followers worldwide and has been present in New Zealand for at least more than a hundred years.
The Sikh religion was founded in the Fifteenth century India (North Western Region of Punjab, which is now divided into India and Pakistan) and rejected all forms of social distinctions that produce inequities, including gender, race, religion and caste - the predominant structure for social hierarchy in South Asia.
Given the universal appeal of equality for all, most impressively and famously depicted in its Langar system, where everyone regardless of their social, economic or political status is fed in a community-kitchen, the faith has since then flourished globally.
Serving the world is a natural expression of the Sikh prayer and worship. Sikhs call this prayerful service "seva," and it is a core part of their practice.
What is the importance of turban in Sikhism
Notably, every year various Sikh organisations in New Zealand celebrate Turban Day in various parts of the country with the single-minded goal of educating people about the importance of turban in Sikh faith and in the process removing any ill-conceived prejudices against this important article of faith in Sikh religion.
However, there is nothing more appealing and assuring than people originally from different faiths and cultures embracing this important article of faith, and giving an opportunity to learn more about the turban in Sikh faith.
Turbans are an important part of the Sikh identity. Both women and men may wear turbans. Like the articles of faith, Sikhs regard their turbans as gifts given by their beloved gurus, and their meaning is deeply personal.
Historically, in South Asian culture, wearing a turban typically indicates one's social status – kings and rulers once wore turbans; therefore, it seems that the Sikh gurus adopted the turban, in part, to remind Sikhs that all humans are sovereign, royal and ultimately equal.
Sikhism in New Zealand
Sikhs, like other Indians, have been living in New Zealand since at least 1810, although some records mention for the first time the name of two Sikh brothers living in the mid-nineteenth century, often living closely with the Maoris on the North Island.
Since then Sikhs have been arriving in NZ in different small waves between 1890 and 1910, mostly immigrants from Punjab and largely settled in Waikato, Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch regions.
Over the years, the size of the Sikh community in New Zealand increased and many places of worship started emerging, with the first Sikh temple built in Hamilton in 1977 and another in 1986 in Otahuhu.
Since then, the Sikh community has not only been growing but became deeply integrated within the broader New Zealand community and society.
According to the latest data from Statistics New Zealand, Sikhism is the fifth most adhered to religion in New Zealand, with 0.88 per cent of New Zealanders identifying themselves as Sikhs.