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Essays on Sikh Values
Essays on Sikh Values

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Essays on Sikh Values:



Mother combing her young sons hair

Kaes, Kaesha - the hair

The visible Symbol of the Sikh Faith

The legacy of Sikhs in the perspective of the Sikh faith


Taking up physical properties, chemical constitution and physiological qualities of the human hair in any details will be out of place. Just a passing reference may come up somewhere. The author will restrict himself to the place of hair in the Sikh faith (Sikhi).

The author is  particular not to use any �ism,� and so avoids labeling �Sikhi� as �Sikhism.� Sikhi is something which is experienced through the soul in life, and is not merely a theoretical philosophy to be watched from a distance. It has to be lived.

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To get properly endoctrined into the Sikh faith, one takes Amrit (Holy Drink - vow to practice the faith). Such a person does not cut or remove hair by any means from any part of his or her body.
Amrit means something that bestows immortality. It is prepared according to the Sikh traditions. This ceremony is Just like baptism in Christianity (not baptism). More than to stay the way one is born, hair is their identity that Guru Gobind Singh: their Tenth Master, conferred on them. This is their individuality. In 1985, on the tour of Europe, a co-traveler remarked, �You are a distinguished person.� The author thanked, �Yes, that I am.� It was due to the hair he adorned. Even in death, uncut and untrimmed hair of the dead body may, though grossly, point to the community to which it belongs.

The human nails are also a gift of the nature, but these don�t mark an identity. Untrimmed nails can harbor dirt and bugs under them.  We have also to keep them under control lest they become a physical handicap. The author once met a saint with 3-4 inches long, erratically curved nails, and one of them passed through his palm. Like nails, the hair don't grow to become a handicap. Of course, the Tenth Master dictated to maintain the hair properly. The hair is washed to keep it  clean, and in general it is the male-identity that may get perturbed by cutting them. A good lot of women keep them, may be long or short. Long hair made into a bun on the head and sufficient length of turban tied on it, should to some extent prevent the head injury like a helmet.

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Preserve the Hair

Besides the Sikhs, many in the other communities keep their hair long, although mostly they trim and train them to their liking. It is only the Sikh discipline where the body hair has to be preserved. With the hair goes Kangha - a short sized comb, as a must to be handy, to keep them tidy. A Sikh must have his head covered so that the long hair do not fall here and there, to prevent dust and dirt from settling on them, and to avoid these being caught in anything. Men tie a turban, or a Dastar (Kaeski - a short cloth) around their heads. The women, mostly cover them with a cloth of medium length. A few women tie a light turban.
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Emblem of Honor

A turban and long hair with members of different communities in India was an emblem of honor and respect. With the Sikhs, it attained a status of the religious virtue - a must. Various prophets and Avatars (incarnations of gods. Many Hindus take them as God in the human form) supported long hair. In the Islam too, hair is respected (Quoran Sharif - Sapara II). Jesus had long hair. The Hindu gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv (Shiva), as well as Avatars like Sri Ram Chandar (Rama.  �Sri� is for respect like �Sir�), Sri Krishan (Krishna), and some others are painted without their mustaches and beards. May be it was an imagination of the artists who, in an effort to enhance their handsomeness, painted them with clean (hairless) faces. It could be that the mythological figures had a specific form of their own, and the related philosophy developed accordingly. The Sikhs do not believe that God takes birth (the avatar philosophy).  In the days gone by, Rishis (detached saints), saints,  faquirs, scholars, and intelligentsia etc. did not cut their hair. Most of them covered their heads with turbans or caps. A Sikh is not allowed to wear a cap of any form or shape. He or she uses cloth to cover the hair. This is a dictate for the Sikhs. Cloth can be easily kept clean. With long hair, any other headgear may develop unwanted odors.
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The Vedas (Athar Ved, Yajur Ved), and Samrities like Mannu Samrity and other ancient books of the Hindu Philosophy, mentioned cutting of hair a sin, and a form of the very severe punishment (Gurmatt Martand, S.G.P.C., Part I, page 309). To carry out such a punishment, the head was shaved, beard cut and mustache was done away with. Sri Ramchandar ordered to cut off the hair of Paras Ram as a punishment, but he valued them more than his life (He was set free. Mera Dharam Mera Itihas, S.G.P.C., page 41). When Balbhadar, brother of Sri Krishan, inquired if he had killed Rukman brother of his (Krishan�s) wife Rukmani, he replied that more severe than capital punishment was to shear off the hair (Previous reference, page 41). Manusimrati also, advocates this punishment (Previous reference, page 42). Even in the present days, cutting off hair is practiced to insult others, and is prevalent as a part of  various forms of the human torture. The hair was considered the source of strength, too. To tame and punish Samson, a character in the Holy Bible, was deprived of his long hair while he was sleeping. This depleted him of his enormous strength.
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The Gurus and Hair

All the Sikh Gurus kept their hair as they were born with. When Guru Angad Dev visited saint Srichand son of Guru Nanak Dev, the latter asked as to for what was his long beard. As a mark of his humility the Guru said, it was to brush away dust from his feet. Old paintings and the Sikh literature, history, folk lore, depict such humility. The Gurbani (Hymns) make a mention of it -
kysw sMig dws pg Jwrau iehY mnorQ mor ]
kysw sMig dws pg Jwrå Eih mnorQ mor ]
Kesaa sang-e daas pagg jharou ehaae manorath more.
It is my earnest desire to dust Thy feet with my hair.
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Guru Tegh Bahadur

Guru Tegh BahadurGuru Tegh Bahadur was martyred by the order of the King of the time Aurangzeb. The Guru refused to bow before the pressure to adopt Islam, or demonstrate miracles to prove that he was a true Guru. The Sikh Gurus did not approve the miracles, and did not knowingly perform them in preaching the faith, or otherwise. Moreover, the philosophy of the Ninth Guru was -
BY kwhU kau dyq nih nih BY mwnq Awn ]
BY kwhU ko dyq nih nih BY mwnq Awn ]
Bhaae Kahu ko daet neh neh bhaae manat. aan
I fear none and frighten none.
For him, no one had any right to pressurize others to denounce their faiths. Above all, he had told Brahmins (Pandits - Hindu scholars) who went to him from Kashmir and prayed to save the Hindu-Dharm, to tell the King at Delhi, that all Hindus will accept Islam if he would convert him (the Guru).

No Sikh in Delhi dared to pick up the body of the martyred Guru against the orders of the King. Bhai Jaaeta (Bhai - a brother, used to express respect), Ranghreta by caste, slipped away with the head of the Guru. On the request of Bhai Gurditta and Bhai Ouda, Bhai Lakhi Shah a contractor, directed his 500 empty supply-carts returning from the Red Fort, through Chandni Chowk, Delhi. In the confusion of the sandstorm raging at that time, Bhai Ouda made away with the Gurus` beheaded body, on the cart. Bhai Lakhi Shah turned his house into a pyre to cremate the body, unsuspected. Gurdwara Rakab Ganj stands at that place, now. This incidence led the Sikhs not to cut their hair.

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Gobind Rai

Guru Gobind SinghRanghreta (Bhai Jaaeta) took the head of the Guru to Guru Gobind Rai (later, Gobind Singh) at Anandpur Sahib in the Punjab, and narrated cowardice of the Sikhs at Delhi. The Guru declared that the Kaes (Kaesha - hair) was his seal, and no Sikh would shear them off.  Here is the gist of the description by Bhai Santokh Singh -
Guru Gobind Singh thundered, he would give such a form to the Sikh that even in the Lakhs he would not be able to hide himself.


The Guru wanted to give an identity to a Sikh, and one of its main purpose was that a Sikh would not leave the battlefield, and would do or die there. This lifted courage of the cowards, and eliminated from them the fear of death. The head of the Ninth Guru was cremated at Anandpur Sahib, and Gurdwara Kaes Garh Sahib was erected there.

Baisakhi 1699

On the Baisakhi day of 1699, Guru Gobind Rai prepared Amrit and first of all gave it to the Panj Piarae (The five loved ones of the Guru) and then he himself took it from them. After that, it was given to the thousands out of those gathered there. The word �Singh� was added to the names of the males, and �Kaur� to the names of women. All Amritdharis (who took Amrit) adopted the Reht (discipline) according to the Maryada (Code of ethics) of Amrit.

Reht of Amrit included five Kakkaars (Things named with a Gurmukhi-script letter Kaka. These are commonly known as 5 Ks).  These were Kirpan, Kaes, Kangha, Karra and Kachh - a short version of sword (curved dagger), hair, comb, bangle (Thick one of iron, as a blunt weapon) and an underwear.

Reht-Maryada is the code of conduct of a Sikh, and 5Ks is an important section of it for Amritdharis. The precedence of �Five� was set according to the essential needs - the hair for identity; Kangha - a small comb, for the hair-care; Karra - an ever ready weapon; Kirpan - a handy weapon; Kachh - a smart under-wear i.e. pants.
Amrit Chakna
The Amritdhari Sikhs were designated the Khalsa and the word meant �directly under the flag of the Guru - Guru�s own, his subjects.� A Sikh is usually addressed as �Singh,� �Khalsa,� or �Khalsa ji.� Besides bestowing the Sikhs with the spirituality through his Amrit and its Reht (Including the care of the hair), the Guru elevated their spirit and equipped them with the strength of mind and body -

icVIauN sy mYN bwj quVwaUN [ igdVoN sy mYN Syr bxwaUN [
svw lwK sy eyk lVwaUN [ qbY goibMd isMG nwm khwaUN ]
icVIXoN sy mYN bwj quVwå [ igdVoN sy mYN Syr bnwå [
svw lwK sy eyk lVwå [ qbY goibMd isMG nwm khwå ]
Chirion se maen baj turraoon, Gidron se maen sher bnaoon,
Sawa lakh se aek  Larraoon, Tabaae Gobind Singh nam kahaoon.
I will get the hawks torn by the sparrows, Turn jackals into tigers, make one to fight with one hundred and twenty-five thousands, and then only I am Gobind Singh.
Reference adopted from Virsae Di Chhoh,
page 5, by Principal Nahar Singh.
In their Ardas (invocation, supplication, appeal to God), the Sikhs  remember all their important folk and call on the Lord -
ijnHW is`KI isdk kysw svwsW nwl inBwieAw ]
ijñhW is#KI isdk kysw svwsW nwl inBweXÂw ]
Jinhan sikhi sidaq kesan swasan naal nibhaya
(Be glory to them) who lived Sikhi preferring death to sacrificing their hair.
is`KW nUM is`KI dwn [ nwm dwn [ kys dwn
is#KW nUM is#KI dwn [ nwm dwn [ kys dwn
Sikhan noo Sikhi d.aan, nam d.aan, kaes d.aan
Bestow on the Sikhs the Sikhi (the Sikh discipline),  boon of
Thy Name and the gift of hair.
In a way, it is asking for the wisdom and courage to live the Reht (discipline) of  the Sikhi.

Due to limited space, a very little can be quoted on the hair,  from the vast Sikh religious literature -

Rehtnamah of Bhai Nand Lal says -

The symbol of Sikhi is 5 Ks,
And you have to stay bound by them.
Bangle, sword, underwear and comb,
Are worthless without your hair.
(Translation by the author)
5 Ks (Kaes) have been described above. Here, the poet says that Kaes are equally important as the other four.

In his Rehtnamah, Bhai Desa Singh writes -

rihxI rhY soeI is`K myrw [
auh swihb mYN aus kw cyrw ]
rhxI rhY soeí is#K myrw [
Aoh swihb mYN as kw cyrw ]
Rehni rahe soee Sikh meraa,
Oh sahib maaen us kaa chaeraa.
(The Tenth Master says) a Sikh should be bound by the dictates of Sikhi and to such a Sikh, I am his disciple.
In the discipline of Amrit, keeping hair is the foremost. Sarab-Loh Granth scribes the sentiments of the Tenth Guru in the following line -
Kwlsw myro rUp hY Kws ]
Kwlsw myro {p hY Kws ]
Khalsaa mero roop haae khaas
Khalsa is what I am
Guru Gobind Singh said, �The Khalsa is my own appearance.� No doubt, with hair, (including other Rehts) the Khalsa represents the Tenth Guru. Hukamnamah - ordinance, of Baba Banda Singh lays stress on the Reht of the Guru -
hukmu hY jo Kwlsy dI rhq rhy gw iqsdI gurU bhuVI kry gw ...
Hukm haae jo Khalse di Reht rahae gaa tisdi Guru karae gaa.
The Guru will take care of (protect) one who will observe the Reht - edict of the Khalsa.
(12-12-1710 AD. Hukamnamae, Ganda Singh, page 195. Punjabi University)
The mention of Kaes (hair) is there in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and one quote says -
kbIr mnu mUMifAw nhI kys muMfwey kwie ]
kbIr mn mUMifAw nhI kys muMfwE kwie ]
Kabir mann moondia nahi akes moondai kaae
Kabir, you have not controlled your mind, what is the fun in controlling (cutting) your hair! (Faking to be a saint by cutting hair, without controlling the mind, achieves nothing).
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Taru Singh

Bhai Taru Singh being scalpedThe Sikh history is full of those who held their hair dearer than their lives. Bhai Taru Singh (1720-1745) of the village Puhla, twenty-five  years old, refused to convert to Islam. Zakria Khan, Governor at Lahore,  awarded him the punishment of death for his helping the Sikhs hiding in the forests. When executioner tried to cut his hair, he refused, and preferred descalping rather than getting his hair insulted (The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1998, Vol IV, Page 325). The Guru�s dictate is -
rihq ipAwrI muJ kau is`K ipAwrw nwih ]
rihq ipAwrI muJ ko is#K ipAwrw nwih ]
Reht pyari mujh ko Sikh pyara nahe.
More than a Sikh, dear to me is to follow the rules of the Sikh conduct.
(Rehtnamah Bhai Desa Singh, in �Gurmatt Jiwan� by Mohinder Singh Pal, page 226 and Reference in �A Spur To The Sikh Youth,� The Sikh Missionary Society - U.K., page 14).
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Looking at it in its right perspective, the human hair has absolutely different import for a Sikh, and he or she needs to have complete understanding of the Sikh philosophy, a firm belief in his faith, full knowledge of the Sikh history, total self confidence, great courage to stand any peer pressures, a real trust (without any complexes) in his different looks, a superior moral support, and a very congenial environment etc. All these personal requirements are easily acquired by drinking Amrit and adhering to its code. The attitude towards the hair is something absolutely personal, but a Sikh cannot escape his responsibilities towards the Panth (the Sikh World), the Guru and to the coming generations. Maintaining uncut hair shows a total surrender to the Guru, belief in his or her faith, and a very high self esteem - fear of none and freedom from complexes.
Previous Chapter - Ensign of Dignity
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