Variam's 90 years of hair / by Dimitra Taslim

Variam and his beautifully decorated turban at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

"Not the sun, the moon, the planets, the seven continents, the oceans, food, or the wind – nothing is permanent. You alone, Lord, you alone"

Guru Granth Sahib

From WWII and the partition of India to Indira Gandhi's Operation Blue Star, Variam has seen it all - the glory of the 300,000 Sikhs who fought alongside the Allies and the trials and tribulations of the Punjab independence movement.

In 1966, India divided Punjab into three parts, leaving the Sikhs as a majority in a reduced Punjab state. But this wasn't enough to stop the anger at what the Sikhs saw as sustained oppression. They continued to demand concessions from India.

For years, Bhindranwale, the leader of the Sikh insurgency, had been telling Sikhs that they were slaves to the Hindu majority in India. His younger supporters mounted reigns of terror in Punjab, attacking police and murdering villagers. Indira Gandhi had initially seen Bhindranwale as a useful ally because of his popularity. She took no action, even after he turned against her and occupied the Golden Temple. When she finally realised that the Hindu majority were losing faith in her ability to act, she mobilised the army. Thus began Operation Blue Star.

The assault on the Golden Temple was the climax of a brutal battle between Bhindranwale's well-trained insurgents and the Indian army. Sikhs around the world were outraged by what they saw as the befoulment of their holiest site. That anger remains.


Indira Gandhi was eventually assassinated in her own garden by her two Sikh bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. They fired more than 30 bullets.