Introduction to Sikhism

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Who and What is a Khalsa?

"He who keeps alight the unquenchable torch of truth, and never swerves from the thought of One God; he who has full love and confidence in God and does not put his faith, even by mistake, in fasting or the graves of Muslim saints, Hindu crematoriums, or Jogis places of sepulchre; he who recognises the One God and no pilgrimages, alms-giving, non-destruction of life, penances, or austerities; and in whose heart the light of the Perfect One shines, - he is to be recognised as a pure member of the Khalsa" (Guru Gobind Singh, 33 Swaiyyas)

The word "Khalsa" means "pure", Khalsa's are Sikhs which have undergone the sacred Amrit Ceremony initiated by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The Khalsa order was initially created on Baisakhi Day March 30 1699, with Guru Gobind Singh baptizing 5 Sikhs and then in turn asking the five Khalsa's to baptize him. Following this the Guru personally baptized thousands of men and women into the Khalsa order. The Khalsa baptism ceremony is undertaken as part of ones own personal spiritual evolution when the initiate is ready to fully live up to the high expectations of Guru Gobind Singh. All Sikhs are expected to be Khalsa or be working towards that objective.

The Khalsa baptism ceremony involves drinking of Amrit (sugar water stirred with a dagger) in the presence of 5 Khalsa Sikhs as well as the Guru Granth Sahib. The initiate is instructed in the following; (a) You shall never remove any hair from any part of thy body, (b) You shall not use tobacco, alcohol or any other intoxicants, (c) You shall not eat the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way, (d) You shall not commit adultery. The initiate is required to wear the physical symbols of a Khalsa at all times as well as follow the Khalsa Code of Conduct.

Spiritual Evolution

Stage 1: Manmukh

A person who is self-centered and only thinks about himself and the material world around him and is totally oblivious to God.

Stage 2: Sikh

Anyone who sets out on the path of learning and meets the specific definition of a Sikh as appears in the Reht Maryada (Official Code of Conduct).

Stage 3: Khalsa

Total dedication to Sikhism. One who has has shed his ego and personality and truly honours the memory of Guru Gobind Singh through his actions and deeds.

Stage 4: Gurmukh

One who has achieved mukhti (salvation) and is totally God-centered.

The Physical Articles of Faith


Long unshorn hair. A symbol of spirituality. The Kesh reminds a Khalsa to behave like the Guru's. It is a mark of dedication and group consciousness, showing a Khalsa's acceptance of God's will. Long hair have long been a common element of many spiritual prophets of various religions such as Jesus, Moses and Buddha.


Turban. A symbol of royalty and dignity. Historically the turban has been held in high esteem in eastern and middle eastern cultures. Guru Gobind Singh transformed this cultural symbol into a religious requirement so that the Khalsa would always have high self-esteem. It differentiates Sikhs from other religious followers who keep long hair but wear caps or keep matted hair. The turban cannot be covered by any other head gear or replaced by a cap or hat. The turban is mandatory for Sikh men and optional for Sikh women.


Comb. A symbol of hygiene and discipline as opposed to the matted unkept hair of ascetics. A Khalsa is expected to regularly wash and comb their hair as a matter of self discipline.


Steel bracelet. A symbol to remind the wearer of restraint in their actions and remembrance of God at all times.


Drawers. A symbol signifying self control and chastity.


Ceremonial Sword. A symbol of dignity and the Sikh struggle against injustice. It is worn purely as a religious symbol and not as a weapon.

Understanding the Kirpan for non-Sikhs

The Kirpan (ceremonial sword) worn by followers of the Sikh religion sometimes raises questions or concerns among people who are unfamiliar with the religion or it's tenants. The Kirpan is an ingrained part of the Sikh religion and is in many ways it’s religious symbolism is similar to the Cross in Christianity. Just as a Cross is worn be devout Christians, baptized Sikhs are required to wear the Kirpan. The Kirpan is no more symbolic a weapons than the Christian Cross is symbolic of a torture instrument.

Sikhism is a 500 year old religion with over 20 million followers worldwide. It is ranked as a major world religion with even more followers than Judaism for example. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) who preached a message of One God for all of humanity founded it. He stressed loving devotion to God and universal principles of morality, truth and honest living and full equality of mankind irrespective of race, caste, creed or sex. Nine successive prophets succeeded Guru Nanak, the line ending with Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. Sikhism is not a new-age movement, cult or sect, but a well established and respected major world religion with it's own distinctive beliefs and practices.

The Kirpan has been an integral part of the Sikh religion since it's early inception and has a very sacred religious symbolism for Sikhs. To suggest that it is a `dagger', or a `weapon' or merely a cultural symbol is both misleading and offensive to Sikhs.

To Sikhs the Kirpan is religiously symbolic of their spirituality and the constant struggle of good and morality over the forces of evil and injustice, both on a individual as well as social level. The usage of the Kirpan in this religious context is clearly indicated in the Sikh holy scriptures (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) and wearing it is ment to inspire a Sikh in their daily life;

"To forsake pride, emotional attachment, and the sense of `mine and yours', is the path of the double-edged sword." (Guru Arjan Dev, Devgandhari, pg. 534)

"From the Guru, I have obtained the supremely powerful sword of spiritual wisdom. I have cut down the fortress of duality and doubt, attachment, greed and egotism. The Name of the Lord abides within my mind; I contemplate the Word of the Guru's hymns." (Guru Ram Das, Maru, pg. 1087)

Guru Gobind Singh introduced the metaphor of the Kirpan to refer to God and his qualities;

"O Sword, O Conqueror of continents, O Vanquisher of the hosts of evil, O Embellisher of the brave in the field of battle. Thy Arms are unbreakable, Thy Light refulgent, Thy Glory and Splendor dazzle like the sun. O Happiness of the holy, O Crusher of evil intent, O Subduer of sin, I seek Thy refuge." (Guru Gobind Singh, Vachitra Natak, Chapter I)

The practice of Sikhs carrying the Kirpan as a religious symbol can be traced back to the lifetime of the sixth Sikh prophet, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644). Guru Hargobind regularly carried two swords, symbolic of a Sikhs spiritual as well as temporal obligations. Guru Hargobind introduced Sikhs to the concept of being a Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier). A Sikh must be a Saint always meditating and remembering God. At the same time a Sikh is also expected to be a soldier, a person taking part in their social responsibilities to their family and community. Following the path of law, order and morality as laid out by the Sikh Gurus.

It was Guru Gobind Singh, the final living Sikh prophet who formally instituted the mandatory requirement for all baptized Sikhs to wear the Kirpan at all times. He instituted the current Sikh baptism ceremony in 1699 which is referred to as the `baptism of the sword' (khanda di pahul). During the ceremony sugar crystals and water are stirred in a steel bowl with a Kirpan before the initiate drinks the mixture. During the baptism ceremony the initiate is instructed in the duties and obligations of becoming a Khalsa (one belonging to the Divine). The Khalsa is expected to live by the high moral standards of the Sikh Gurus at all times which includes such things as abstaining from smoking, drinking and other intoxicants, performing daily prayers and always maintaining the distinctive physical symbols of Sikhism on their person. The most noticeable of these being uncut hair and carrying the Kirpan.

This injunction appears in the Reht Maryada (The Official Sikh Code of Conduct); "Have, on your person, all the time, the five K's: The Keshas (unshorn hair), the Kirpan (sheathed sword), the Kachhehra (drawers like garment), the Kanga (comb), the Karha (steel bracelet)." (Reht Maryada, Ceremony of Baptism or Initiation, Section 6, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, paragraph (p))

The Reht Maryada does not specify the length of the Kirpan or how it is to be worn by the devotee. Kirpans can be anywhere from 3 foot swords carried by Sikhs on religious festivals, marriages and parades, to a few inches in length. They can either be worn over ones clothing or under the clothing. The Kirpan is usually kept sheathed except when it is withdrawn from it's casing on such occasions as consecration of the ceremonial sweet pudding distributed during religious ceremonies.

To suggest that the Kirpan is a weapon is both incorrect and misleading. If it was instituted as a weapon, then would Sikhs not be expected to carry guns today? Guns were in common use during the time of Guru Gobind Singh. If the Kirpan was purely a soldiers weapon for Sikhs, than why do they not also carry a shield as well or other armour? Why do modern armies and soldiers carry swords on ceremonial occasions? Because it is symbolic of their military tradition and heritage. In the same way Sikhs carry the Kirpan at all times because it is symbolic of their religious tradition and heritage.

The Khalsa Code of Ethical Conduct: A Brief Overview
Reht Maryada category for greater details

The Sikh will worship only God. They will not set up any idols, gods, goddesses or statues for worship nor shall they worship any human being.

The Sikh will believe in no other religious book other than the Holy Guru Granth Sahib, although they can study other religious books for acquiring knowledge and for comparative study.

The Sikh will not believe in castes, untouchability, magic, omens, amulets, astrology, appeasement rituals, ceremonial hair cutting, fasts, frontal masks, sacred thread, graves and traditional death rites.

The Khalsa will remain distinct by wearing the Five K's but shall not injure the feelings of others professing different religions.

The Khalsa will pray to God before starting any work. This will be over and above his usual prayers.

Although a Sikh may learn as many languages as he likes, he must learn Punjabi and teach his children to learn to read it.

Every male should add "Singh" after his name and every female Khalsa should add "Kaur" after her name. They must never remove hair from any part of their bodies.

Drugs, Smoking and Alcohol are strictly forbidden for Sikhs

Khalsa men and women will not make holes in their ears or nose and shall have no connection whatsoever with those who kill their daughters. Sikh women will not wear a veil.

A Sikh must live on honest labour and give generously to the poor and the needy thinking all the time that whatever he gives is given to the Guru.

A Sikh must never steal or gamble.

Except for the kacha and the turban there is no restrictions on the dress of a Khalsa, but a Khalsa's dress should be simple and modest.

When a Khalsa meets another Khalsa he will greet him by saying, Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh (The Khalsa belong to God, Victory belongs to God).

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