Sikhism . An introduction . Not just 'symbols of faith'

Simplified and a brief (by no means complete) overview of Sikhism
Compiled by Buvdeep Singh, Excerpts from Gurpreet Kaur, Harjinder Singh and Sundeep Singh


The word and the will of God was declared through the Gurus.  Over 500 years ago, people were given clear instructions to disapprove of asceticism and self mortification as path to enlightenment.   People were asked to embrace simplicity is their virtue.  Sikhism rejected all rites, rituals, and fasts.  It rejected the claims of mortification of body, self torture, penance or renunciation. 

The entire existence was created in the image of the creator and a Sikh is a keeper of this image.  This is why Sikh men remain uncircumcised and piercing ears or mutilating the body in any other form (tattoos) in name of vanity is strictly discouraged.   The symbols of the faith are a constant reminder of our daily duties to the self, the community and God.  The commonly known 5 symbols of the Sikh faith are of historical, practical as well as spiritual significance.  These define the integrity of every Sikh man and woman.  In keeping these symbols, we are keeping the God given form intact.   Guru Gobind Singh introduced a unique form of baptism 'Amrit' for the Sikhs and asked to wear certain outfits as a matter of Sikh discipline or uniform.   This uniform consists of five 'articles of faith' known as The Five K's. 

  1. Kes/Kesh/Keski: uncut hair and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness
    And a turban, the crown of spirituality
  2. Kanga:  a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.
  3. Kara:  An Iron bracelet.   (Not Gold, nor Steel) worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to truth and freedom from material and aesthetic entanglement.
  4. Kachara/Kaccha: Modest and specially designed cotton undergarment
  5. Kirpan: the sword with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.
  6. Articles of Interest

1. Kesh (unshorn hair)

Guru Nanak started the tradition of keeping hair intact and covering the head with a turban. The rest of the Nine Gurus encouraged their Sikhs to do the same. The following quote from the Guru Granth Sahib (Adi Granth, the Sikh Holy Book) clearly shows that long before Guru Gobind Singh made it obligatory, the keeping of long hair and the wearing of a turban was actively preached by all the Gurus. 

"Let living in God's presence, With mind rid of impurities, Be your discipline. 
Keep the God-given form intact, With a turban donned on your head."
GGS Page 1084, Line 12

Hair, just as any other part of our body, is a God-given form.  Keeping long hair confirms a Sikh's belief in the acceptance of God's Will, and teaches humility and acceptance.  Acceptance of the God-given form, acceptance of ones appearance and hence avoidance of excessive vanity.  The Gurus advised us to accept Gods will.  The guru asked to keep the god-given form intact and to don a turban.  Should one cut/shave/forcefully extract/wax/pluck/color ones hair, one should ask:

So you ask:

Q:  Which Guru started this tradition of keeping hair?

A:  Guru Nanak

Q:  Does this apply to men as well as women? 

A:  Yes.  Sikhism does not make gender based spiritual or socio-economic distinctions.

Q:  Did any of the Guru's say that women were also to preserve this form?

A:  The Gurus, the word of God (Guru Granth Sahib) all indicate that God does not have a gender distinction nor preference.  Guru Gobind Singh ji said that the Khalsa does not have a gender.  It's not an issue of men or applies to all of humanity.  

Q: Why do you cut your nails?

A:  Sikhism believes in having a truthful, honest living.   One must earn their living with hard work.  If one does not cut her nails, when working and accomplishing everyday chores (such as typing this paragraph!), they will eventually break off (and rather painfully so). 

Q:  Are Sikh men circumcised?

A:  No.  Not unless medically indicated.

Q:  Can men and women pierce their ears? or any other part of their body?

A:  One should decorate and immerse the mind, body and the soul in the name and love of God.  Does decorating oneself with other items bring peace to the mind?  Does it bring one closer to God or farther away?  The decision is always individual, but Gurbani clearing advises us to not engage in such mutilating practices. 

A:  Should I color my hair?

Q:  If you wish to preserve the God given form intact, then No.  To relate to some common day idioms, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", "Beauty is only skin deep".

Q:  What is the significance of hair and turban in other faiths? 

A:  Jesus, Mohamed and mosses are a perfect examples of prophets who kept their hair. 

Q:  Do other faiths ask of their disciples to cover their head or have long hair?

A:  Sikhs believe that the head of every person is God.  Man and a woman share an equal place in the spiritual as well as the material world.  Keeping that in mind, read the following quote from the Bible, in reference to the subject in review: Hair and covering ones head as a token of respect to superiors. 

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head. 

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.

Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering.

Corinthians xi. Read more here.

Q:  Is it unhygienic to keep long hair?

A:  Not if you bathe everyday.  Just as your face, hands, feet, nose and all the other parts of the body need cleaning, hair (long or short) is no exception.

2. Kanga (comb)

Is the symbol of cleanliness.   "Apart from its practical utility, a comb is clearly a symbol of cleanliness. Just as a comb helps to remove the tangles and cleans the hair, similarly a Sikh is reminded to get rid of any impurities of thought by repeating 'NAAM' (God's name)."  What is Naam and what are it's properties?

3. Kara (Iron bracelet)

It is round and seamless:  sign of eternity.  God is one, has no end.  Universal origin of humanity and the entire creation.

Made of Iron: symbol of humility. e.g. it is not gold or silver or studded with rubies and diamonds.

If the bride wears the garland of the Lord's Name, Har, Har, around her neck, and if she uses the toothbrush of the Lord; and if she fashions and wears the bracelet of the Creator Lord around her wrist, then she shall hold her consciousness steady. ||2||  Page 359 Line 10

You don't have the bracelets of gold, nor the good crystal jewelry; you haven't dealt with the true jeweler.  Page 558, Line 1

I am so tired of wearing all these necklaces, hair-ties and bracelets, and decorating myself.  Page 937 Line 12

God's handcuff: to prevent a Sikh from wrong doing. A reminder of God's constant presence and watchful eye.   A symbol of restraint.

God's love:  Just as a wedding ring is a symbol of love between two people, the Kara is a symbol of love for God and God's love for us.

Common misconception:  Does the Kara protect from evil? NO. Sikhs believe only God and God's name can protect us. 

4. Kachara/Kaccha (breeches)

From a distance it looks like a pair long boxers.  This is special, slightly longer type of underwear and is symbolic of continence and a high moral character.   Thus it is quite useful in hot weather, swimming and sports activities.  It is modest enough to cover all the "necessary" parts.  Practical that it can be worn on its own without causing embarrassment.  It was originally designed to be worn in preparedness for adversity especially when awoken from sleep.  More on this topic coming shortly.

5. Kirpan (sword)

A sword to be used in the defense of the weak and defend the truth.  More on this topic here.

6. Articles of Interest


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