In contemporary hipsterdom and among Hollywood’s leading men, the beard is a fashion statement. But in the Sikh religion, a resplendent beard is a symbol of spiritual deference and discipline.
London-based photographer duo Amit and Naroop, who were raised on a mixture of Western and traditional Sikh values, were intrigued by how trendy beards had become among the hip secular set. It inspired them to do a photography project documenting contemporary Sikh men; they would focus on the symbolism of those men's beards and turbans. "We wanted men who wore their turban in their own style and with beards that had character," Naroop tells Co.Design.
Currently being funded on Kickstarter, The Singh Project series documents 35 British Sikh men—a diverse and colorful bunch, including temple volunteers, fashion stylists, boxers, doctors, magicians, architects, watchmakers, and students. "We selected young British Sikh men whose style was a fusion of East and West, as well as older Sikh men who kept their look more traditional," Naroop says.
Speaking to their subjects, the photographers were struck by the pride they took in their beards and turbans. Specifically, Sikhs’ beards symbolize the belief that God made humans in perfection, and that they shouldn’t alter his choice in facial hair. Then there are the turbans, many in bright colors and prints, worn to protect the uncut hair and to guard the spiritual opening Sikhs believe resides at the top of the head. Some of their subjects pose with a Kirpan, a dagger that symbolizes a Sikh's duty to come to the defense of those in peril. Baptized (and practicing) Sikhs wear these daggers on their body at all times.
"Some of the younger Sikh men told us how their younger years were spent drinking, smoking, and getting into trouble," Naroop says. "But when they embraced Sikhism, grew their hair, and wore a turban, they no longer needed their previous false physical pleasures as Sikhism gave them everything they needed on a deeper spiritual level." A few of the older Sikh men told stories of having to cut their hair when they first came to England—just to be accepted by a xenophobic culture and to get jobs to feed their families.
The photographer duo found Sikhism's compatibility with modern science attractive. As they were growing up, "religion was never forced on us," Naroop says. "We find following its teachings in the modern world feels natural and not prohibitive," he says, and emphasizes, "Singh is a project close to our heart. It represents our identity as British born photographers and our Punjabi, Sikh roots."
Back the project here.