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The Sikh Bangle (Kara)
The Sikh Bangle

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The Sikh Bangle

The Sikh Bangle

It was customary in India (and still is) for the sister to put a "Rakhi"* on the wrist of her brother signifying her affection and her dependence on her brother in times of danger.

*Rakhi, a multi-coloured and richly decorated woollen flower, which is tied round the wrist of a brother by the sister. Usually brothers reciprocate this gesture by pledging not only physical protection to their sisters in the times of danger but also monetary gifts. The festival falls in August every year.

The brother would prepared to sacrifice his own life and to save the honour of the country and that of his sister from invaders and tyrants. The ceremony usually took place at the time of the brother's departure for adventure or for a campaign. This implied that the females were weaker than the males and that they had to be protected by the males. When Guru Gobind Singh baptised his Sikhs (1699) he discontinued this practice among Sikhs (male or female) to wear a steel bangle (Kara) instead of a 'woollen Rakhi.' The idea was that all males and females are not only equal but also strong enough to defend themselves. All the Guru's followers, irrespective of sex, were trained to fight in self-defence and to help the oppressed. Thus this steel bangle, unlike the woollen Rakhi, became the symbol of freedom and equality of the sexes, and the Sikh women no only derived courage, but also shared the national struggle with their brothers. The Guru's idea of making his female followers brave, fearless and courageous was demonstrated by several Sikh women. Mai Bhago, Dharam Kaur and Sahib Kaur were some of those, who not only fought shoulder to shoulder with their brothers, but also commanded the Sikh platoons. The Kara thus led to a great awakening in Society and boosted the morale of Sikh men and especially women, who no longer remained weak (Abla) but became as brave as lions (Singh).

Leaving aside the historical background of the bangle, let us now consider the philosophical and psychological interpretation of this symbol. It is circular in shape. The circle is one of the most important and oldest of symbols. It is known as 'Mandala,' a word borrowed from Sanskrit. The psychologists consider the Mandala to be one of the most important Arch-types which shape our conscious and unconscious behaviour. Philosophically it is highly significant. It is a symbol of strength and integrity, a symbol of obedience, equality, oneness, universality and eternity.

Structural engineers know that the round shape is the best shape for strength, as it distributes a blow of strain. They increase the strength of the weak part by corrugating it. The roundness of the skull shows nature's ingenuity in protecting our brain, the most important organ of our body. A round object, if it is weak, cannot keep its roundness when subjected to strain. For example, the wheels of a car remain round to the degree to which they are strong and inflated. Any wheel weaker or short of air will lose its roundness. As long as it is round it continues to bear the strain and pressure. No wonder most of the Sikhs when subjected to torture and coercion maintained their integrity of character. Bhai Taru Singh happily preferred the removal of his skull to the removal of his Keshas (hair), Bhai Mani Singh happily bore the torture of being but to pieces joint by joint. Baba Banda Bahader's flesh was pulled off from his living body with hot pincers but he did not renounce his faith.

In mathematics the round symbol is called Zero (0) which is again significant. Divide a number by zero: (X/0=infinity) and it becomes infinity. That is, the Mandala can raise a small quantity to infinity. In the above example, the value of X, whether it is big or small, is immaterial as long as it is being raised by the 'Mandala'. Thus the wearer of the steel bangle should never worry whether he is great or small, what he should be careful of is that he should be supported by the attributes of the 'Mandala', his zeroness, and his humble nature. This attribute is further illustrated by the mathematical fact X^0=1. When the power of a number is regarded as zero (0) it becomes one. That is, when a Sikh combs his hair in the morning and in the evening, he raises his right arm above his head and the bangle goes about his head. His power is symbolically raised to zero (0), or in common words, he says, "O Almighty God, Wonderful Lord (Wahe Guru) you are omnipotent, I am nothing, I am puny, I am zero, and his value become one. Who is only one? Who has no rival? None but God!" So, he loses himself or his ego and thus enjoys the elixir of 'Name,' and becomes one with God- a way to unite him with God. Once again the tying of a turban round the head symbolise the same effect. The bangle is called 'Kara' and another associated word is 'Kari,' which means link, so it is a symbolic way of linking with God.

'Kara' also means strict and the associated word 'Kari' also means handcuff (Hath Kari). Looked at from this angle, the bangle on the right hand shows one's discipline. That is, one is not free to do anything one likes, but one has to remain under some wholesome restrictions. Like a true Christian one says, "Under wholesome restrictions I find perfect freedom." This sounds a bit paradoxical, but so is most wisdom paradoxical. It is steering between two dangers that is why the master sprinkled the elixir (Amrit) into the eyes of his followers, so that the Khalsa (True Followers) are enabled to receive the divine vision. A person is free to the degree to which he is responsible. An irresponsible person would find himself in trouble sooner or later. He cannot remain free and escape the law of a responsible society. For example, a careful and responsible driver who obeys the set rules driver, who does not obey rules or who does not know the rules, or who is a learner, is always under a strain and cannot drive freely. In Islam 'Musalman' means a person who submits himself to the will of God. Thus the bangle on the right wrist of a Sikh enables him to have the good qualities of a true Christian, a holy Muslim and a pure Sikh (Khalsa) merged into one. What a wonderful gift from our unfathomable Master, Guru Gobind Singh!

Some of the Sikhs give a wrong meaning to the Verse "SATGUR SIKH KE BANDHAN KATE" (The master frees his disciple from restrictions) and hold that we should not have any restrictions. The master does it, he makes his follower free from bondage but by making him responsible. They forget the Verse "BANDE SO JO PAWE VICH BANDI" (True Humans are those who accept discipline).

Thus to free us from bonds or temptations, we must accept responsibilities or wholesome restrictions. Thus, the bangle demands that the wearer should surrender unconditionally to the Almighty. Even in the highway code, the triangles warn, rectangles inform but circles command. Thus the master demands from us responsibilities.

Let us discuss another property of the circle. That is the constancy of it radius which is the distance of any point on the circumference from the centre. It reminds us of the equality of mankind and speaks against any kind of discrimination, of colour, creed, caste, class or religion etc. A true Sikh wearing a bangle will keep in his mind that all human beings are equal inn God's court, as they are all children of God. It enables him to transcend all the divisions which separate man from man and makes hatred, jealousy and prejudice, etc., or in other words, it blesses him with unbiased and scientific outlook. My dear wearer of the bangle! Remember all people are at an equal distance from God wherever the stand in the world. Our master would never bless a person who generates hatred on the basis of caste, colour creed, nationality or any other distinction. "The father is one and we are all children of one father." (EK PITA EKAS KE HAM BARAK.)

Furthermore, the circumference of a circle shows its continuity as it has no starting or ending point. The never-ending natural processes work in a cycle of carbondioxide and oxygen, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, etc. Thus it brings the wearer of the bangle into contact with Eternity and it reminds him of the infinity of his master. It gives him boundless self-confidence. The collar around a dog's neck reminds the public that he belongs to somebody who is responsible for him. They dare not maltreat him, particularly if the master is strong and is likely to remain strong in the future. What about the dog whose master is infinite, omnipotent and unfathomable? A person who wears Guru Gobind Singh's collar is really great because his master is great.

The `Mandala' (The Circle) appears on the Olympic flag as well, representing the unity of mankind and that of the five continents. Olympic Games themselves represent sportsmanship and struggle for its own sake. The Olympic Motto is `Participation is more important than winning.

The bangle reminds a Sikh that 'struggle' is the meaning of Life victory or defeat is in the hands of God.' It reminds a Sikh of whit Guru Nanak said, `He is the doer of everything, man is powerless (KARE KARAI APE AP, MANAS KE KICHH NAHI HATH.) The wearer of a bangle is constantly reminded of this philosophy. How happy is the person who leaves the fruit of his labor in God's hands! He would never grumble.

Let us consider everyday life in the machine age. If we eliminate the wheels from machines, the whole edifice of modern civilisation would tumble down like a house of cards. In other words. The progress of man depends upon this circle. No wonder that some people attribute the meaning of progress to the 'Mandala.' Even the Indian National flag displays the same symbol (Ashoka-chakra) on it, hoping that the prosperity of the nation will be perpetual.

How great is Guru Gobind Singh who has placed the symbol of prosperity into the hands of the Sikhs! No wonder the Sikhs are the most enterprising community in India and perhaps abroad. Forming only 1.2 percent of India's population their services in industry, contribution they make is larger than their numbers warrant. They have a marvellously inspiring history.

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