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The Five K’s: Uniform of the Saint-Warrior

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I’m just going to come out and say it: Sikhs are bad-ass. Who else carries a blade or sword as an article of faith? Who else has a religion known for its peaceful disposition, yet has its own martial art (called Gatka)? Who else has an Army of God who’s sole mission is the defense of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed of ALL humanity?

The Sikhs…and not just any Sikh, but the Khalsa.

It’s never been easy, being a Sikh, especially during the time of the 10 gurus who shaped and developed the faith into the

Guru Gobind Singh

religion we see today. This was never so bitterly true as during the time of the tenth and last human guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh, like the Sikhs before him, faced great oppression and the threat of extinction at the hands of the Mughal emperors of India, who often persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and other religious groups and forced them to convert to Islam. In the battles for religious/social freedom, Guru Gobind Singh lost all four of his sons: two in battle, the other two by execution after refusing to convert to Islam.

Guru Gobind Singh understood that only a society ready to defend itself and the oppressed stood any chance of survival, so he called Sikhs from all over the land to a meeting at Anandpur on March 30th, 1699. There, he asked the crowd who amoung them was willing to die (give their heads) for their faith. After asking three times, one man stepped forward and entered the tent with the Guru. The Guru later came out with a bloody sword and asked for another volunteer. Four more went into the tent. In the end, the five came out in new clothing.

They were called the Panj Piare, the “five beloved ones,” those willing to die for God and Guru. Guru Gobind Singh then took an iron bowl, mixed a bowl of sweetened water with a blade, and had each of the men drink from the bowl. He recited scripture from the Adi Granth (the collection of scripture before he completed the Guru Granth Sahib) and declared,

“Waheguru ja ka Khalsa! Waheguru ji ki Fetah!”

“Khalsa belongs to God. Victory belongs to God.”

Those five in turn performed the same initiation for Guru Gobind Singh, symbolizing equality and unity, and the Khalsa (meaning “pure”) was born.

Guru Gobind Singh then introduced what the Khalsa is and what they stand for:

“From now on, you have become casteless. No ritual, either Hindu or Muslim, will you perform nor will you believe in superstition of any kind, but only in one God who is the master and protector of all, the only creator and destroyer. In your new order, the lowest will rank with the highest and each will be to the other a bhai (brother). No pilgrimages for you any more, nor austerities but the pure life of the household, which you should be ready to sacrifice at the call of Dharma. Women shall be equal of men in every way. No purdah (veil) for them anymore, nor the burning alive of a widow on the pyre of her spouse (sati). He who kills his daughter, the Khalsa shall not deal with him.

Five K’s you will observe as a pledge of your dedication to my ideal.

  • Kesh: a symbol of acceptance of your form as God intended it to be.
  • Kangha: a comb, a symbol of cleanliness to keep one’s body and soul clean.
  • Kara: a steel ring worn on the forearm, to inspire one to do good things by hand & desist from doing bad.
  • Kacchera: a piece of undergarment reminding one to live a virtuous life and desist from rape or other sexual exploitation of women.
  • Kirpan: a blade to protect oneself and other weak peoples from aggression.

Smoking being an unclean and injurious habit, you will forswear. You will love the weapons of war, be excellent horsemen, marksmen and wielders of the sword, the discus and the spear. Physical prowess will be as sacred to you as spiritual sensitivity. And, between the Hindus and Muslims, you will act as a bridge, and serve the poor without distinction of caste, colour, country or creed. My Khalsa shall always defend the poor, and ‘Deg’ – or community kitchen – will be as much an essential part of your order as Teg -the sword. And, from now onwards Sikh males will call themselves ‘Singh’ and women ‘Kaur’ and greet each other with ‘Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki fateh (The Khalsa belongs to God; victory belongs to God).

The die was cast. There was no longer a question of who the Sikhs were or what they stood for. Now easily distinguishable and set apart, they had matured and reached the heights of their spiritual/social mandate. Guru Gobind Singh’s pledge is the same Khalsa initiates (men and women) keep in mind today when they become “saint-soldiers,” which each Sikh takes very seriously.

Although I have not taken the Amrit baptism, I do honor my adopted Sikh brothers and sisters by wearing the “5 K’s” this month.

I am not just donning empty religious symbols. Each of the five K’s are heavily pregnant with meaning and utility. The turban (dastar) tames and keeps neat the Kesh (God-intended unshorn hair) and represents the pride/royalty of a Singh/Kaur or lion/princess. The Kirpan (blade) is a tool for the defense of myself and the oppressed around me. It also represents the sharp edge of the spiritually attuned, who can cut through ignorance. The Kara (steel bracelet), like a wedding band, represents commitment to God, the Guru, and humanity. I’ve also been told that, in defense, it can be used as a shield or even a brass knuckle in a pinch! The Kangha (comb) stands for the honor and cleanliness of a Sikh (Sikhs keep this in their wrapped hair). And finally, the Kacchera (under-shorts) stands for chastity and was also a battle implement for riding horseback in battle. You can’t see mine, nor will you ; )

Honestly, I feel different wearing these. I feel the tinge of pride, a kind of nobility. Sure, people stare at me now, but I feel like I’m representing something higher than myself and therefore my back is a little straighter, my head a little higher, and my awareness of why I wear these, a little stronger. My only hope is that I bear the Sikh title well and that others see the wonder of the Sikhi path through my brief example.



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abowen

posted May 4, 2012 at 10:35 am


Puneet,

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa
Waheguru ji ki Fateh!

Always a pleasure hearing from the Sikhs. I will make the correction. Peace.



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Puneet Kaur

posted May 3, 2012 at 10:47 am


Waheguru ji ka khalsa
waheguru ji ki fateh
sir
I feel You have done an incredible job by,sharing your experiences .It was nice to see someone who feels and experiments with what exactly it is ,to follow some faith ,it was amazing O:)
I would also like to correct your article ,please check the 2nd last paragraph of the article ‘THE 5 K’S :UNIFORM OF THE SAINT-WARRIOR’ where you have, by mistake referred a Kaur as a Lioness,sir,a Kaur is a Princess while a Singh is a Lion.Do edit it as there are many many…readers, who read such inspiring articles and it’s the duty of us All 2 make these as perfect!!
THANKS :)



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abowen

posted October 7, 2011 at 10:24 am


Justasikh,

Our stories are always meant to share, because we are all individual pages of the same book that is humanity. Thank you for including me in yours. Whatever I can do in return, let me know.

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa,
Waheguru ji ki Fateh!



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Justasikh

posted October 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm


Hi Andrew,

I posted in your very first post in the current series that you may have explained more about the Sikh experience to non-Sikhs than anyone has in 100 years, or more. I stand by that, and maybe some more.

You said it humbled you. But I was dead serious. I think I know now, why I was, and I hope you see that I’m not the only one who might feel this way.

Now that you have the seen the world as me, in my shoes, through my eyes, for me, forever, you’re a Singh, my fellow Singh. Singh’s are always from the inside, out, and I can’t thank you enough for so openly and nakedly sharing this journey you’ve embarked on this year.

I feel like you have seen things with the same eyes I have. Even though I am born into a Sikh family, I have been an outsider to my own spiritual lineage that I’ve had to struggle to learn myself, rather than someone’s interpretations. If being a sikh is supposed to help make you the best person you can be, you have put Sikh is supposed to do, learn to think for himself so he/she can act for the greatest good, for the greatest number of people. That feeling when you just connect with a part of yourself that feels completely right, and at peace is beyond words.

For me, the sikh experience is not one of just reciting or saying, it’s about a constant reminder of improving our actions towards ourselves and the world at large. We have a few ways ways to grow as human beings, (seva – selfless service, gyan – divine knowledge, bhakti – devotional love, prem – loving the world, and more. At the same time, Discipline in finance, education, our diet, our exercise reaps rewards, and so does a healthy spiritual discipline. It’s one path to becoming the best I can be, from the inside out. You did all of this, and I’ve been able to learn from you being an innocent beginner in so many traditions in just one year, in a way way beyond most people will in many lifetimes put together in this year alone.

After trying to read and learn about my own heritage for over 10 years online, I do find your story memorable, and remarkable, and shareable. Because you’ve have first acted, as an innocent beginner, and remained an innocent beginner, the finest mark of a sikh and human, where so many other keyboard warriors have simply talked, and talked.

I’d like your blessing, permission and oversight to help share your experience with another audience if you’d be interested, I’ve included my email address. I don’t think it will need much more than a yes and maybe some insight of your experience this year.

Your brother in humanity, whenever, wherever, forever.
Just a sikh



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abowen

posted September 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm


Isa,

I enjoyed it too, Isa. The Sikhs in this practice and context have a lot to teach us, just as any other faith does.



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Isa

posted September 9, 2011 at 5:43 am


This is a very beautifying post about the nobility human beings can sometimes reach. I really felt like I was “there”, as the story was being told.



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abowen

posted September 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm


Rav,

Yes we are!



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Rav Singh

posted September 7, 2011 at 1:42 am


Awesome !
I am amazed that you are working very hard to understand each religion. Within your blog lies the understanding that all religions lead to God and that we aren’t that different. We are all one !



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Laj

posted September 6, 2011 at 5:51 am


Dear Andrew,
What you are doing is very courageous. After reading your blog I must say that your preciseness of practicing each religion is commendable. While you are on this spiritual journey of your own and trying to find the right path, you are making others enlightened as well. I love the way you have explained Sikhism and other religions in such beautiful yet simple way. May God shower his abundant blessings on you and give you eternal happiness. Best of luck brother!!
–Laj Bhangu



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abowen

posted September 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm


Amy,

Thanks for reading along, silent or not! I do try my best and while I don’t always get everything right, the Congregation uses that opportunity to help clarify issues of the faith. Indeed, my wife is a tough woman!



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Amy Thomas

posted September 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm


Hello, Andrew….I have been a silent member of your congregation. Haven’t had time to read absolutely everything you’ve written, but you are doing for me what I have not done for myself. I’ve always been curious about other religions and you are explaining them in a very meaningful way, from the viewpoint of those who call each faith their own. Thank you! Bless your wife for supporting you through this. I can imagine it demands a lot of tolerance and makes extra challenges for her too.



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abowen

posted September 5, 2011 at 10:23 am


Arden,

Sikhs do not shy from the daily life of a householder and so yes, it is a faith of action. As you say, these impliments are tools for spiritual living, reminders of who they are and what they stand for. And yeah, it’s super cool that they brought out the equality of women (total equality) 100’s of years before it was a popular idea.



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abowen

posted September 5, 2011 at 10:15 am


Gurdeep,

Did I not say that, or did I say Kaur was Princess and/or Lioness? I’d seen it both ways. Sorry



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abowen

posted September 5, 2011 at 10:14 am


Sarb Loh,

Thank you for your insight and information!



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Arden

posted September 5, 2011 at 2:35 am


My jaw dropped when I read this. From this entry, the Sikh faith strikes me as emphasizing commitment to its tenants on the level of action. Each of those symbols that you described strike me as very potent.

It’s so incredibly awesome that the faith was concerned about the treatment of women (and codified it!) before it was fashionable. I’m just amazed that anyone in that time period was able to transcend their cultural norms to that degree.

Personally, I think there are a lot of gains to be made with rituals like these. It’s a way of making tenants practical and visceral. People respond to ritual badly these days, in some respect, and sure, at the end of the day, there are arguments that can be made against the rules– they’re arbitrary. (Well, I’m not exactly sure how a Sikh would answer that.) But you can’t underestimate the value of symbols and taboos for directing your attention to the right spiritual place.



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Sarb Loh!

posted September 4, 2011 at 11:09 pm


Quick correction! The Kara is meant to be pure iron (Sarb Loh!) Some translators have erroneously or deliberately (Sikhs have been facing Genocide from countless sides!) said steel, which is extremely incorrect.

The Kara which is blessed to The Khalsa is Sarb Loh (Iron!) It is said we live in the Iron Age. Iron symbolizes strength, bravery, much more. It seems that Iron runs through the blood of The Khalsa whom fought against great odds against enemies of humanity and truth. The Amrit of the Panj Pyareh is made in Iron With An Iron Double Edged Sword! Many Khalsa eat from only Iron Utensils!

Just a quick point.

Don’t be discouraged if you come across those whom look like Sikhs but act completely opposite in their lifestyles to the Principles Of The Khalsa. The Sikhs have faced constant attacks from many sides. The latest being from The Government Of India! A Sikh Genocide! There are very much less Khalsa alive at the moment! Those whom live their lives against the principles of The Khalsa (ie: Drink Alcohol – Promote Castes Etc!) They were spared and promoted! Those whom live according to Khalsa were tortured and martyred! Even the Head Institutions of The Sikhs are in control by Government Of India through their proxies! The two main ones being the SGPC and DSGMC.

But no worries! The Khalsa grows from the seeds of Truth! And Again The Khalsa Will Rise!

(Important Note: Post this at your own risk! The Government Of India is always looking for The Truth Fighters (Those fighting for Khalsa!) and attack them (and their families!) in many cruel ways! I do not want you to become a target! The Government Of India make enemies of those whom Shed good light on The Khalsa!)

Did you know that Sikhs are not even officially recognized by the constitution of The Government Of India! Whereas of all the religions of the world! It is the Sikh Dharma that is the most thought out! Most Original (The Scriptures are authored and authenticated by The Guroos Themselves!) Most Planned! Own Flag! Own Instruments! Own Principles! Own Identity! The Khalsa Dharma is the most thought out Religion of all the world religions! YET not recognized by the Government Of India! Their plan Genocide of The Khalsa is extremely unfortunate!

But as said! The Khalsa is Born From Truth! So No Worries! Truth Will Rise! Humanity is looking for solutions to countless problems! Every single solution for entire mankind is in Khalsa Dharma!

Keep Well! And,

Chardhi Kala!

WaheGuroo Jee Ka Khalsa! WaheGuroo Jee Kee Fateh!



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Gurdeep

posted September 4, 2011 at 11:04 pm


Singh is Lion but Kaur is Princess. Thanks



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abowen

posted September 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm


Wind,

Thanks for this info!



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abowen

posted September 4, 2011 at 7:24 pm


S.

Thanks!



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abowen

posted September 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm


K_Singh,

Thank you for your encouragement and kind words! I usually ask questions of the faithful on the Facebook page. If you have not joined already I encourage you (and other Sikhs you may know) to do so! Hope to see you there!



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K_Singh

posted September 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm


Andrew, Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

As myself, being a baptized Sikh I would like to say that it’s really cool that you are keeping the outer appearance of a Sikh, which at times is the hardest part about being a Sikh, and even many people from Sikh backgrounds are abandoning, as well as the spiritual side of reading the holy scriptures of the Guru Sahibs.

Also for the whole project of exploring different faiths, it seems like a great idea and I have read some other enteries on the site, and I have learnt a lot. Great work!!

If you have any questions or would like to just converse on spiritual teachings of the Sikh faith, or any faith, please contact me at my e-mail address which I provided.

I’m looking forward to your next post!

Regards,
Karamjeet Singh



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S.

posted September 4, 2011 at 9:13 am


You look great in a turban :)



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Wind.

posted September 4, 2011 at 1:35 am


Brother,

Here are some beauties for you to look into:

Keertan
Nishkhaam Seva
Simran
Sangat
Pangat
Langar
Rabab – Saranda – Saranghi – Taous – Dilruba – Jori (These are the true instruments of The Khalsa. The harmonium and tabla are not authentic instruments of The True Khalsa.)
Jaap Sahib Of The Tenth King!
Amrit Vela

Just a few to start. :)

Good luck Brother.

You look good as a Sikh.

Chardhi Kala!



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EmiG

posted September 3, 2011 at 9:18 pm


I just want to second what Shanu Kaur said. Members of my faith (CoJCoLDS) don’t have much in the way of outwardly visible religious clothing (unless you count CTR – “choose the right” – rings), but a main purpose of the temple garments is a reminder to oneself of promises made and standards to keep. And it’s nice to know of another faith with “special underwear”! :)



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abowen

posted September 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm


Chris,

You’re right! I try to use terms non-Sikhs (or whatever religion it is) might understand to describe different articles of faith. I knew this going in, but I’ll change the language anyway. Such a tough bridge I have to cross. At any rate, my kirpan (a gift from my Mentor) actually has a sharpened edge on both sides, although one side is only sharpened about a third of the way. Thanks!



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abowen

posted September 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm


Marco,

The others are right. These articles are the uniform of the Khalsa in the same way other organizations use uniforms for distinction and purpose.



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abowen

posted September 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm


Austin,

No, haha, as this is a skill learned over many years. Would be cool though!



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_JSH_

posted September 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm


Well Marco, you just made me smile.

“I wonder why is it important to have outer appearance and waste time …”
EXACTLY! You are so right! In fact, you have the answer to your question in that line itself :-)

Hair (or Kesh) is what humans get naturally. You cut them and they grow back, then you cut them again, and every morning you see them coming back. Why waste time in fashion and hair styling instead of developing our inner values/relationships/virtues/chastity. Let them alone and accept the form that has been naturally engineered. Why fight with it, why fight with yourself?



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Chris

posted September 3, 2011 at 5:38 pm


Thank you for the informative post on the Sikh articles of faith! But it’s inaccurate to describe the kirpan as a daggar. A daggar has a double edge blade, while the kirpan doesn’t.

Additionally, according to the Sikh Coalition (sikhcoalition.org), “to call it a daggar or knife is rather insulting to this article of faith, which functions quite differently from the other two… The etymology of kirpan: ‘Kirpa’ means an act of kindness, a favor; and ‘aan’ means honor, respect, self-respect… Sikhs carried kirpans as an assertion of their identity in defiance to the state ordinance imposed by authorities who once ruled South Asia and opposed the Sikh articles of faith. Since they were sentenced to death if caught, only those who had strong convictions dared to become Sikhs.”

From the Sikh Coalition powerpoint on the Kirpan at http://www.sikhcoalition.org/Kirpan.ppt



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Austin Faux

posted September 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm


Cool are you going to try and practice the Martial Art this month?

Austin-



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Liz

posted September 3, 2011 at 11:46 am


Marco,

My two cents, as a person who isn’t Sikh, is the 5Ks also serve to identify Sikhs to non-Sikhs. If I were ever in trouble and saw a Sikh nearby, I would trust that I could run to them for help, knowing it is part of who they are and what they do to help. I agree that there probably are some Sikhs who don’t fully understand all of the symbolism, but I would guess maybe they aren’t Khalsa? If you take the baptism I hope you know what’s up! :)



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Shanu Kaur

posted September 3, 2011 at 11:12 am


Marco,

Im going to attempt to give my two cents here :)

People are rather fickle. We have short memories and it can be difficult to remember to be good when you’re up against so much.

In sikhi (can’t speak for everyone) these items serve as reminders. To stay on the path. Keep at it.

We’re walking lighthouses. Wearing these items means people look to us as examples. It’s our righteous duty (dharm) to live upto what Guru Gobind Singh Ji and so many others stood for.

Wearing these items in no way automatically makes you a better person. But reminds you to ‘become’ or ‘be’ a better person.

‘the path of sikhi is finer than a hair and sharper than a sword’

Hope that helped.



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Marco

posted September 3, 2011 at 10:46 am


Hello Andrew,
i’ve been always thinking about the religious symbols and the outer appearance, and wonder why G-d the almighty wants wearing this or that, and sometimes become like any furniture being known or defined well?

i wonder why is it important to have outer appearance and waste time to that rather than investing our full time in developing our inner values/relationship/virtues/chastity … etc.

from your own experience, don’t you think that you can be a real pure Sikh without wearing all those items?
i bet there are many Sikhs who wear the K’s but they have no real deep understanding to there faith’s essense…

(of course not only Sikh, my same example could apply to all religions which obligate some sort of “wearing style”)



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