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With the help of his father Kulvir Lehal, Jujhar age four take part in the Eighth annual turban competition in Surrey, B.C. April 5, 2010. The annual event is the largest in North America and showcased the many styles of turbans from different parts of the world.

JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail

At a banquet hall in Surrey, a group of boys lined up before rows of full-length mirrors, some of them gripping the tail end of a long strip of cloth in their teeth as they wrestled the metres of material into a tight, symmetrical mound on top of their heads.

As they worked, a group of older men walked back and forth beside them, casting critical eyes on whether the turbans were loose or lopsided and checking their watches to see who could perform the task in the allotted 10 minutes. After his turn on the stage, 13-year-old Dilkamalpreet Singh Phull was wearing a bright orange turban and looking relieved.

"I'm here to see whether I can do it in the time we have," he said, adding that it was his first time in the competition.

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He was competing in a turban-tying festival, one of numerous such events that take place each year in North America and abroad.

Turban-tying events educate and inspire Sikh youth, some of whom may run into quizzical looks or teasing at school, said Balpreet Singh Boparai, legal counsel for the Toronto-based World Sikh Organization of Canada.

This one, sponsored for the eighth straight year by B.C. radio station Sher-E-Punjab, began as a way to combat racism and discrimination and has since become a popular community event, drawing several hundred people.

After a high-profile debate in Canada in the 1980s, practising Sikhs have been allowed to wear turbans in the RCMP and municipal police forces. But there is still a need for education about the headwear, Mr. Boparai said.

"People think of it as a hat, but it's much more than that - it's not something you can just put on and off," said Mr. Boparai, who attended Monday's event.

At the back of the hall, Kulvir Singh Lehal was putting the finishing touches on a turban worn by his four-year-old son, also named Kulvir, who was tugging at the unfamiliar tightness around his ears but keen to take his turn on stage.

Mr. Lehal said he brought his children because he thought it was an important way to reinforce what the turban means in Sikh culture. He was helping other children with their turbans as well.

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"I've done this every day for years," he said, "and after a while you don't have to think too much about it."

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