SIROPĀ, a term adopted from Persian sar-o-pā (head and foot) or sarāpā (head to foot) meaning an honorary dress, is used in Sikh vocabulary for a garment, scarf or a length of cloth bestowed on someone as a mark of honour. It is the equivalent of Khill'at or robe of honour with the difference that while a Khill'at is awarded by a political superior and comprises a whole set of garments with or without arms, a siropā is bestowed by a religious or social figure or institution and may comprise a whole dress or, as is usually the case, a single garment or a length of cloth as a mark of recognition of piety or as an acknowledgement of unswerving devotion to a moral or philanthropic purpose.
The use of the term may be traced to certain hymns of the Gurūs where the exact words used are kapṛā (garment or cloth), paṭolā (scarf) and sirpāu (saropā, dress of honour), and they signify the bestowal of honour as well as protection of honour. For example, Gurū Nānak sang, sachī sifat salāh kapṛā pāiā--- I received by His grace the garment signalling me to sing His praise (GG, 150). And Gurū Arjan said, prem paṭolā tai sahi ditā ḍhakan kū pati merī --- O Lord, thou hast invested me with the scarf of love to save my honour (GG, 520). In another hymn he sang, suṇī pukār samarth suāmī bandhan kāṭi savāre/ pahiri sirpāu sevak jan mele nānak pragaṭ pahāre--- Responding to my humble plaint the all powerful Lord has cut asunder all of our shackles. Upon his servants he has conferred robes of honour (GG, 31). Yet in another place : bhagat janā kā lūgarā oḍhi nagan nā hoī/sākat sirpāu resmī pahirat pati khoī--- devotees of God are not naked even in torn rag. One who is attached to māyā loses his honour clad even in his silk robes (GG, 811).
Siropā should be distinguished from the bestowal of a turban or gown by a saint upon a disciple as a mark of initiation or confirmation in an order or of succession to its headship. Siropā among the Sikhs is a symbol of honour or benediction. The practice can be traced back at least as far as Gurū Aṅgad who bestowed upon (Gurū) Amar Dās a scarf every year. The latter treated these scarfs as sacred gifts and carried them tied on his head one above the other.
The siropā is now a gift bestowed by saṅgat on behalf of the Gurū Granth Sāhib upon someone who deserves the honour by virtue of his or her dedication. It is almost invariably in the form of a length of cloth, two to two-and-a-half metres, usually dyed in saffron colour, accompanied by prasād, the consecrated food which could be in the form of kāṛah prasād, sugar crystal or bubbles, or dry fruit. Siropā is the highest award that a Sikh may receive in saṅgat. It is the most precious gift of the Gurū made through the saṅgat. The present practice of giving a siropā to anyone who makes an offering of or exceeding a certain value or who happens to be socially or politically important is, strictly speaking, an aberration. Siropā is earned through high merit and dedication.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)