The 5 k's
Image courtesy: http://www.ramgarhiagurdwara.org/5ks.htm
The five K’s or ‘Kakaars’ (in Punjabi) are the Articles of Faith which a Sikh must wear as part of their religious observance. These are commonly called 5K’s because they all start from the letter K in Punjabi language. These are Kesh (Uncut Hair), Kanga (Wooden comb), Kara (Iron bangle), Kachheraa (boxer shorts) and Kirpan (small sword).
In 1699, the Tenth Guru (Divine Teacher) Guru Gobind Singh established the ‘Khalsa’ (Initiated/Baptized Sikh Community) and made it mandatory for all baptized Sikhs to wear these five Kakaars. For Sikhs, initiation into the Khalsa is entirely voluntary, they can receive baptism when they feel ready having spent considerable time in discernment and preparation. Some Sikhs will receive initiation in their youth or teenage years while some will in later life, this is considered a deeply personal decision, some Sikhs may also choose not to seek initiation. Once you are baptized there is a strict code of conduct to be followed. There are prescribed daily prayers for the morning, evening and night and meditation is part of the daily routine. A Khalsa Sikh must earn their living by just and righteous means, dedicate time to selfless service, refrain from using intoxicants such as alcohol or illicit drugs and live faithfully to their spouse.
The Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is enshrined by law as a Human Right. To prohibit, restrict or impinge on a Sikh’s right to wear the 5 K's is to encroach on their Human Rights as enshrined by the law.
Kesh: is a Punjabi word for hair. Sikh men and women are ordered by the Gurus to never cut their hair. The keeping of uncut hair is a prerequisite to initiation into the Khalsa. Keeping Kesh uncut reminds us to accept our natural features and appreciate our body. It reminds us not to be overly obsessed with our outward appearance and inspires us to focus on our inner-self, our character, uplifting ourselves to a higher state of consciousness and ethical living. It is through the embracing our God-given natural appearance we accept that all existence is manifest from this singular source and therefore we should live in harmony with all nature.
A Sikh lives a life of both a saint and a soldier. They have the qualities of compassion, humility, patience and honesty like a saint and the courage, discipline and indomitable spirit of a soldier. Within the Indian subcontinent many great sages and saints maintained uncut hair; this was a representation of their saintly qualities and personality.
Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, the first Sikh Guru, advised his companion Mardana not to cut his hairs, meditate on the word ‘Satnam’ and to serve anyone that comes to his house with utmost respect.
Kesh are also a symbol of our commitment to the Sikh principles. Guru Gobind Singh ji declared that he would give Sikhs a distinct identity that they would be recognizable within a crowd, thereby declaring their commitment to Sikh principles wherever they were. In 1699 during the Khalsa initiation, the Guru made it mandatory for Sikhs to keep uncut hair alongside wearing the five K’s. Uncut hair is usually covered by a Turban (which is considered as a crown to Sikhs), it gives a distinct appearance and reminds a Sikh of their inherent sovereignty.
A historical account in 1745 of a devout Sikh- Bhai Taru Singh illustrates the gravity of a Sikh’s commitment to keep their hair uncut. He was given the punishment by the then ruler Zakariya Khan to have his hair cut for the crime of helping rebel Sikhs. The account goes that when they tried to cut his hairs they were unable to do so, accepting that they were unable to cut his hair they proceeded to remove his scalp. He was willing to accept death instead of having his hair cut and dishonoring the command of the Guru.
Kanga: means a wooden comb. A Sikh carries a wooden comb to keep their hairs neat and tidy; combing their hair twice a day as a minimum. It’s a reminder of cleanliness, keeping things organized and looking after one’s mental health and wellbeing. It is also a reminder to a Sikh that we should cultivate good and positive thoughts as a foundation to ethical and holistic living.
Kara: is the iron bangle that Sikhs wear in their dominant hand. It’s derived from the wrist guard that Sikhs used to wear during battles. It is one of the kakaars that all Sikhs wear whether baptized or not. It is round and has no start or end which reminds us that God is timeless, without beginning or end, that God’s love is endless and within existence all things are connected through the divine. As it’s worn in the dominant hand it serves as reminder of our Guru’s teachings, of earning our livelihood by just means and living righteously. It must be made of pure iron representing purity and strength.
Kachheraa: is an undergarment similar to boxer shorts. It is a symbol of dignity, chastity and fidelity. A Sikh should always have a high moral character and beyond their one partner in life they should see all others as their extended family.
Kirpan is a small sword worn by baptized Sikhs. The word kirpan is made of two words ‘Kirpa’ meaning mercy or compassion and ‘aan’ meaning dignity or respect. It is meant for keeping the dignity of the weak and is used in compassion for humanity. It is worn in a secure strap called a ‘Gatra’.
The sixth guru, Guru Hargobind ji wore two swords, “Miri” symbolizing political sovereignty and “Piri” spiritual sovereignty. The message was clear that Sikhs not only have a personal spiritual responsibility but also a social and political responsibility. Once a Hindu saint asked Guru Hargobind Rai ji why as a saint he wore two swords; the Guru replied it is for defending the weak, fighting tyranny and protecting the rights and freedoms of all.
The Sikh concept of the Saint Soldier is represented in the Kirpan emphasizing a holistic social and spiritual life. The Kirpan represents the soldier aspects of life; being disciplined, fearless and determined to fulfil their duty to stand against injustice. It is a constant reminder that unfortunately at times the use of force in defense becomes a necessity; in these times a Sikh must stand by his Guru’s teachings- to challenge tyranny, protect the weak and vulnerable members of society against injustice and to build a peaceful world in which all people can prosper. Countless examples in history show the steadfast bravery of Sikhs in defending these principles even in the face of overwhelming odds. The Kirpan is one of the 5 Ks mandated to be worn by all baptized Sikhs.
Nowadays, the Kirpan is mostly used for religious purposes at the completion of prayers for the consecration of the Kara-prashad (a sweet pudding meant for distribution in the congregation) or blessing food to be distributed in the Langar (Free communal Kitchen).
Sikhs do not view the Kirpan as an offensive weapon and therefore do not use it as such; this is supported by statistics. The right for a Sikh to wear a Kirpan as part of their religious practice is recognized by law under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Offensive Weapons Act 1996.