Author Archives: jencruse

Sikhs and Sikh Combs

An important comb type, little publicised and infrequently encountered, is a notable feature of the orthodox Sikh community whose peoples, now dispersed throughout the world, originated mainly from the Punjab State of north-west India, bordering on Pakistan. This is a territory through which the 5 tributaries of the river Indus flow – the word Punjab signifies “the land of the 5 rivers”. Amritsar is the state capital, their language is Punjabi.

The term Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit word Shiksh meaning “to learn”; in Punjabi, it is translated as Disciple.[1] A Sikh initiated into the Khalsa is regarded as an “orthodox” Sikh, belonging to the community of Amritdhari. Founded by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, he gave Khalsa Sikhs five distinguishing marks of identity, the five sacred K’s or Panj Kakke, and a code of conduct setting them apart from other groups and requiring them to live pure lives.[2]

Men are barred from cutting any body hair or beard – Kesh – and expected to wear a turban; to wear a Kachh, a pair of shorts (underpants), as part of the required clothing; a Kara, a bangle of steel or iron, to be worn on the right wrist and a Kirpan – a short dagger, a sword with curved blade, or a knife of similar shape – always to be carried on the body; a Khanga (Kanga) comb worn in the hair under the turban to hold the topknot of the Kesh in place, symbolising personal hygiene and cleanliness in body and spirit.

2016 - Sikh Khanga combs in wood [for BS] 2

Before putting on his turban, the Sikh plaits his hair into one long braid, winding it up and securing it on the top of the head. Into this the comb is inserted for safe keeping. Women are expected to observe a similar but modified code and may have a Khanga attached with a black cord tucked under a bun. The tradition is, however, tending to die out in recent generations.

2016 - Sikh Khanga combs in wood [for BS] 1

A Khanga comb is a small grooming tool having a distinctive shape with the ‘shoulders’ usually sloping sharply downwards from a rounded or squared top edge. The small teeth are fine cut or sawn, mostly by hand. In many cases, the guard teeth are angled outward at the lower tip. These combs were made in wood, ivory and rhino tusk or in buffalo horn but not cattle horn.

The combs measure between 1 ½ -2 ¾ ins (4-7 cm) in width and 1 ¼ -1 ¾ ins (3.5-4.3 cm) in depth. The illustrated combs are all dating to the later 20th C although the 3 small ivory examples are much earlier.

2016 - Sikh Khanga combs in ivory [for BS]

References:
1. Srinivasan, Radhika. Cultures of the World: India. Times Books International, Singapore. 1994 [p.72]

2. A Popular Dictionary of Sikhism: Sikh Religion and Philosophy (Popular Dictionaries of Religion) 1 New edition by Cole, W. Owen, Sambhi, Piara Singh (1997) Paperback Cole, W.Owen. and Sambhi, Piara Singh. Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey. 1990/1997 [p.90]

Jen Cruse is author of the authoritative reference The Comb: Its History and Development

Sri Lankan Hair Pins — Formerly Ceylonese and Singalese

The hairpins known as Kondakoora emanate from Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. Often erroneously described as Mughal or Turkish turban pins, they were traditional to the low-country regions of southern Sri Lanka, as opposed to the hills of the Kandy region, where they were worn by wealthy women to secure the chignon. Positioned horizontally through the…Continue Reading

Jen Cruse: Stratton Combs

In 1920, the English company of Jarrett, Rainsford & Laughton Ltd resulted from a merger of two smaller companies, each manufacturing items of inexpensive jewellery and haberdashery goods. However, Stratton Ltd was already owned by Laughtons at the time of the merger and the new company retained the Stratton name for their Fancy Metal Department.…Continue Reading

Jen Cruse: Mauchline Ware and Combs – Scottish Souvenirs of the 19th Century

Mauchline Ware is a distinctive form of Scottish decorative treen, said to have originated in the Ayrshire (now Strathclyde) town of Mauchline in the late 18th or early 19th century. The wooden articles, generally known as Mauchline Ware, were made of Scottish planewood or sycamore (sometimes black lacquered) and were wide ranging in both design…Continue Reading

Jen Cruse: The Swastika Motif

The comb in the photograph, a celluloid low back comb (simulating tortoiseshell), was bought in an Antique shop in Quebec City in 1995 for C$50 (£30). The decorative band along the heading, fixed to the comb by three rivets, comprises two clockwise pointing swastikas set with clear paste-stones, placed between three flower and leaf motifs…Continue Reading

Jen Cruse: The Butterfly Motif

The butterfly, the short-lived ethereal beauty of gardens and countryside, has been a favourite motif adorning hair jewellery for at least the past 250 years and particularly popular through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its delicate form is found on combs and hairpins from many countries around the world, and even featured on the…Continue Reading

Sumba Combs

The spectacular high combs worn by young women, brides and adolescent girls in East Sumba, Indonesia, form part of their rich traditional costume for festivals, ceremonies and weddings. These treasured objects, belonging to the Island’s aristocratic families, have passed down the generations since at least the early 19th century. The combs are known as hai…Continue Reading