A turbaned identity
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Pandit Brij Lal Dhaula, 72, is busy transplanting paddy in his fields, undeterred by the harsh sun. A friend calls and this well-known kaveeshar (Punjabi folk poet) greets back, "Jai jai Ram." He is not a Brahmin wearing a tilak or a sacred thread. A number of Brahmins in the Malwa region of Punjab keep beards and wear turbans, much like Sikhs. Some Brahmins, such as those of Bhaike Pishore village in Sangrur district, also use Singh with their names. Dhaula village has some 400 Brahmin families and most of them wear turbans and keep long, flowing beards.
"This saroop (appearance) has nothing to do with Sikhism. Our ancestors used to live like this, and we are just following a tradition," says Dhaula, who gets his last name from his village. He says all farmers here have been wearing turbans and keeping beards and so do they. In fact, these have become a mark of the state's agrarian culture. Most of the farmers are Sikhs and, therefore, even non-Sikh farming communities such as Brahmins, many Dalit communities and even a number of migrant labourers from other states wear turbans and grow beards to blend in.
"This phenomenon is cultural. When I was studying Sanskrit at Barnala, I used to wear a dhoti and a bodi (a shock of hair on the head) but when I returned to the village and took over the seat of my father, I donned this look which was a common thing then. My son too follows the same," says Pandit Sadhu Ram, the village priest. When he and his son, Mangal Ram, say their names, they get curious looks from many. These villagers are Saraswat Brahmins, with a few Gaur Brahmin families too. The youth of the community, however, prefer to be clean shaven, obviously under modern influences.