666. What is the significance and meaning of the Sikh Symbols ?
Symbols are a mode of discipline signifying the wearer's belongingness to the Khalsa (The Brotherhood of the pure). They are a test of the Disciple's firmness and strength of faith and indicate the type of life he is aspiring to live. They remind the wearer of the great Guru Gobind Singh and thus inspire him to follow his noble ideals. They foster brotherhood and a sense of unity. They have a psychological significance as well:
1. Kachha (Knicker): It ensure briskness and agility and is a mark of perpetual readiness. It also stands for chastity.
2. Kara (Steel Bangle): It indicates restraint and the wearer's indebtedness to the Guru. It reminds the Sikh of his ideal behaviour in the event of his weakness leading to the misdeeds.
3. Kirpan (Sword): It is an emblem of power and the freedom of the spirit. The Sikhs use it primarily as an instrument of defence.
4. Kesh (Hair): The Keshas remind a Sikh to behave like the saints and Rishis of the past and are a mark of dedication and group-consciousness. They show the Sikh's acceptance of God's will. (For more detailed information please read our booklet "The Sikh Symbols").
5. Kangha (Comb): It is necessary to keep the hair clean and is thus a sign of cleanliness.
All the five symbols enjoin upon the Sikhs not only to look like Guru Gobind Singh but also to behave as he did. Guru Gobind Singh said, "The Khalsa is my special form. I manifest myself in the Khalsa. The Khalsa is a part and parcel of my body. The Khalsa is my soul."
667. Is it necessary for a Sikh to keep unshorn long hair and a turban on his head ?
Yes. It is disgraceful for a Singh to shear off his hair because by doing so he is disobeying the Guru's command. Not to obey the commander and yet to claim to be under his command is a contradiction in terms. Similarly to show lip-devotion to the Guru's instructions and continue to behave according to the dictates of one's own mind is manmat (egoism). It must be understood clearly that the most important symbol of the Sikh faith is the hair, Miss Jeane Cutler explains this as follows :
"Eliminate symbols my Sikhlings and watch the Khalsa crumble. Take off the turban, cut the hair or throw aside the "Kara," I can tell you truthfully the result would be embarrassing as well as disastrous. These five symbols have held the Sikhs in united brotherhood.
They serve to make a Sikh feel and act as a Sikh. They endow him with courage to accomplish feats which otherwise would be impossible for an average man. To make a long story short, the five symbols have psychological bearing on the man who wears them.
They are a manifestation of the Guru eternal." Thus hair is necessary for a Sikh and a turban is an essential and complementary adjunct to unshorn hair. Let it not be forgotten that Guru Gobind Singh had aimed to change his followers into saint-soldiers modelled on himself and his predecessors. The ideal was expressed in the Holy scripture as follows:- "Saabat Surat Dastar Sira" "Keep your form complete and wear a turban."
To remove hair and turban indicate the weakness of faith and disobedience of the Guru's commands. It is far easier to slip then to hold the balance. The visible propensity towards shaving the hair especially in the Western World is due to many factors.
1. Some cut off their hair in order to look fashionable and submit to the worldly ways.
2. Some find it difficult to get a job after having emigrated and in frustration adopt western ways to achieve easier interaction.
3. A majority of the so-called shaven Sikhs unfortunately never have had he opportunity to be able to know the history, philosophy and the tenets of Sikhism fully before deciding to cut their hair. The hair signifies the inner dignity and the freedom of spirit of those who wear it, side by side with the integrity and firmness of faith.
668. Why did Guru Gobind Singh change the form of Sikhism and make the Five "K's" obligatory ?
Guru Gobind Singh made no fundamental changes in Sikhism. The Sikhs stood against oppression and tyranny right from the days of Guru Nanak, who himself spoke against tyranny and injustice courting arrest and imprisonment. The people had to be made ready to rise up against injustice and high-handedness. All the Gurus did whatever they could do to make the people manfully face and destroy the unjust, tyrannical and bigoted rulers lock, stock and barrel. In this process Guru Arjan accepted death on a red hot iron plate.
Guru Tegh Bahadur accepted to be publicly beheaded and many faithful Sikhs accepted to be sawn alive, boiled in water or broken on the wheel. This was necessary to arouse the dormant and long discredited national-spirit of the people and to create the requisite grit and determination to be able to uproot evil. Guru Gobind Singh's action seen against this background is only the fulfilment of the programme outlined by Guru Nanak. Not to stand against oppression and injustice was a slur on the fair name of Guru Nanak who had said:
"To fight and accept death for a righteous cause is the privilege of the brave and the truly religious." No one will contend that the cause of Guru Gobind Singh was righteous and just and that his action was in line with the prevalent tradition and precept of Sikhism. War is part of the history of man. To be on the defensive is everybodys' fundamental right. The history of the Sikhs bears ample witness to the fact that they have never been aggressors.
By formally baptising his Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh only laid more stress on external signs and insignia demanded by a disciplined organization which he wanted to create. He made his Sikhs universal and fully representative of the ideal man. As for the five symbols all the Gurus had them except the sword and the steel bangle.
Even the sword was used by the sixth Guru and he fought many battles. Nations who could not defend themselves have vanished from the face of the earth and surely Guru Gobind Singh wanted his followers to live as his agents and torch bearers.