Why Sikhs tie their beards [History and reasons]

You may have seen Sikhs with a thin cloth over their beards or beards that have been tied up and tucked under the chin. Many Sikhs tie their beards simply because their religion dictates that they cannot cut their hair. Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion globally, and males in this religion grow a beard as a sign of freedom and respect to their God. Sikhs consider the beard an integral part of nobility and dignity and a respectful token towards manhood.

Sikhs tie their beards because they get very long since they are not able to cut them. Not all Sikhs tie their beard, but some western minded and modern Sikhs prefer tying their beards for fashion and appearance.

In the areas where being Sikh is most common, cutting hair is a sign of slavery. The Sikhs have always promoted equality and challenge rituals and injustices in society. That is what makes a Sikh beard particularly powerful – it is quite the statement.

Ways that Sikhs tie their beard

There are two ways that Sikhs can tie their beard. The first way is by twisting the beard until it forms a spiral and then knotting it up and tucking it in behind the chin area of the beard. The second way Sikhs tie their beard is by using a thin cloth called a Thatha or Thathi which means beard band in English.

Without a beard band

The simplest way for Sikhs to hide their long beard is by twisting the end of the beard and tucking it up underneath the chin area of their beard.

The process is as follows:

  • Collect hair and twist – collect the hair underneath your chin and twist until it starts to form a tight vortex of hair.
  • Tying the hair into a knot – continue twisting the hair until it naturally calls upon itself. Once it is tight against the skin, you can knot the hair using a simple overhanded knot.
  • Hold with an elastic band – this optional step requires that you put an elastic band close to the skin at the top of the twisted hair. This will ensure that it stays together and reduces the bulk of hair under the chin.
  • Tuck – tuck the knot into the small pouch you have created in the front of your beard. If you have done it correctly, the beard should sit in this position with no further force or holding implement.
  • To keep the knot in place throughout the day and provide added hold, use hairpins to lock the knot in place in your beard.
  • Use a beard fixer to reduce frizz – many bearded Sikhs decide to use a beard fixer to hold the majority of the hairs flush against each other. Spray on the side of your face and brush your beard into position.
  • Blow-dry your beard – blow drying your beard with a beard fixer applied to the outside will help keep all hairs in place and flush against each other. This step is how you get a solid hold throughout the day.

Sikhs can handle quite a long beard and keep it looking like a much shorter beard using these steps.

A video explaining this entire process is shown below.

With a beard band

The second way that Sikhs hold their beard against their face is by using a thin cloth material called a Thatha or Thathi.

The first step to using a beard band is to remove the turban. Under the turban, Sikhs generally wear a small handkerchief like cloth that covers the hair. This small piece of cloth is kept on as it helps hold the hair flat and inside the turban.

After the turban has been removed, the process is as follows:

  • brush your beard – the first step in tying a long beard is by brushing your beard using a natural hair bristle brush. The fewer the number of knots, the easier it will be to tie.
  • Collect hair under your chin – brush the beard forward and towards the chin so that you end up with a ponytail just under your chin.
  • Tie the ends of the beard together using a small elastic band or hair tie. You do not want it too close to the chin.
  • Tuck the twisted hair into the pocket created above the elastic band.
  • Using a piece of cloth, approximately 1 m long hammock for your beard, put it under the chin and tie it above your head.
  • Position the beard band so that it is in front of your ears and about away from your eyes—Tuck in all of the hair on the backside of the beard band.
  • Using a knitting needle, tuck all of the beard hairs into the front side of the beard band.
  • Tease out the hair under the chin to sit slightly on the outside of the beard band.
  • Blowdry your beard into place. A little bit of heat will help relax the hairs and sit in place more comfortably.
  • Put your turban back on, and the look has been completed.

The process of placing a beard into a beard band is shown in its entirety in the video below.

This full process can take a relatively long time, so some Sikhs do not opt for this process but rather use a knot without a beard band or do not tie up their beard.

Some Sikhs also choose to have a plat in the centre of their beard instead of tying it up into a knot or tucking it into a beard band.

Why do Sikhs not cut their hair?

Sikhism originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India. Male Sikhs generally have the surname Singh, which translates to lion as their middle or last name. Sikhs who have undergone the baptism –an initiation ceremony known as Amrit Haft to have on their body at all times five things.

  • They must have uncut hair (including uncut beards), which is covered by a turban or dastar
  • They must have an iron or steel bracelet
  • they must have a dagger-like sword tucked into a belt
  • they must have a cotton undergarment
  • and they must carry a small wooden comb.

The origins of not cutting hair

Not cutting hair originates in 1699 where a guru requested Sikhs to assemble at their annual spring harvest festival. According to the sick tradition, the guru asked for a volunteer. One came forward, who then he took inside a tent. The guru returned alone with a bloodied sword. He asked for another volunteer and repeated the same, returning from the tent without anyone and a bloodied sword. After the fifth volunteer went with him into the tent, the guru returned with all of the volunteers safe and sound.

The guru then mixed water and sugar in an iron bowl, calling it nectar which then he administered to the five volunteers. The guru also gave them the surname Singh. After some more ceremony, he initiated the 5K’s of the Sikh tradition, which we talked about above.

Since this time, Sikhs have decided to stick with the five practices outlined above. There are two types of Sikhs, those initiated and those who have not undertaken an initiation. These are two separate religious entities. This tradition has survived into modern times, with initiated Sikhs referred to as Khalsa Sikh, while those who do not get baptized are referred to as Sahajdhari Sikhs.

There are other beard rules, such as a Sikh not being allowed to colour his beard.

Can a Sikh colour his beard?

Although many modern Sikhs decide to colour their beard, there are rules which directly address this question. In CHAPTER XIII, Article XXII – Panthic Rehni (Facets of Corporate Sikh Life) it states that anyone who dies his beard shall be liable to chastisement involving automatic boycott.

Even though I am not familiar with the specifics of the seek religion, it appears that buying a beard is not allowed.

Therefore, I understand that the dying of a beard may contradict some of the important tenets of being a Sikh.

The tying of a beard is not limited only to Sikhs.

Reasons to tie a beard

Besides religious reasons, there are many reasons for others to tie up their beard. These include:

  • To stop a beard from forking – some people tie their beards at the front because their beard forks and separates in the middle. Beard splits happen at about 15 inches of hair growth, which is caused by some factors, including the difference in growth rates on your chin compared to the jaw. If you want to know more about why your beard splits in the middle check out my other article and YouTube video.
  • style reasons – some people with long beards simply like the look of their beard as it is tied together at the front. Having a long beard means that you have lots of options for styling it, and using different beads, ties, and other ornaments, you can make your beard stand out.
  • manageability reasons – long beards can get in the way very easily. I know of a few people who tie their beards to stop them from getting in the way during their daily life. Some tie them in a plat whilst others roll them up and tie them underneath their chin. Sometimes life gets in the way and having an easy way to sort out your beard is needed.
  • Working in a place that requires hair nets – if you work in hospitality or you work regularly with food it is common for people to tie their beards to stop hair from dangling into food or other equipment.
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Summary

In this article, we have gone through everything you need to know about why Sikhs tie their beards at the front. The main reason is that their hair gets very long since their religion forbids cutting the hair. Some Sikhs do not tie their beard at all and let it sit naturally and flow from their face. However, some Western orientated Sikhs do it to enhance fashion and improve their appearance.

There are two ways that a Sikh can choose to tie a beard – with and without a piece of cloth.

It comes down to personal preference as to which one each person prefers.

The Author


Andy Stapleton

Andy is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He is an avid beard grower and after many years of growing and trialing different beard styles, he started this blog to share the tips, tricks, and science that he has learned along the way!