Every clan in Scotland has its own tartan pattern: memorialized on a clan-specific kilt. The Macdonalds. The MacFarlanes. The Macduffs. And the Singhs...
Since the late 19th century, “clan tartans” – the formation of traditional kilts and other textiles in accordance with family identity – have been a vital part of Scottish life and identity. However, history shows today’s tartan is very much a Victorian invention, inspired by the romantic stories of writer Sir Walter Scott.
In 1999, local greengrocer Gary Singh decided that Scotland’s Sikhs – a 10,000-strong community dating back to waves of emigration in the 1920s – should have something to reflect their own Scottish status, too. Thus was born the Sikh Tartan, weaving together green, blue, orange, and yellow threads (reflecting the Indian national flag and traditional Sikh colors).
Inspired by the fabrics worn by Sikhs serving in the British Army, the tartan is a reflection of today’s multicultural Edinburgh, in which Scottish identity extends far beyond the traditional historic wearers of the kilt.
The Singh family’s experiment was a success, and what started as a quiet family tradition became a traditional garment for a much wider Scots Sikh community.
David Singh (pictured) is a second generation Scot – his parents are from the north of India – who owns several souvenir shops in Edinburgh. As well as the Singh tartan, he sells tartan in all its forms: bath towels, bikinis, mugs and caps, basically anything you can make in tartan or put tartan on.
Like many Scots, his own tartan comes out only for weddings and other special occasions. “I’m definitely Scottish,” he says in a musical Edinburgh lilt. “You’re Scottish if you can understand the heritage.”
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