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PANJ KAKAAR - Five Emblems of the Sikh faith
Every religion has some symbols to represent its doctrine or identity. To quote some examples :-
(a) The turban, beard and the Panj Kakaar of the Sikh. (b) The Sacred thread (Janeoo) of the Hindu. (c) The saffron robe and the shaved head of the Buddhist monk. (d) The wearing of the Cross and the collar of a Christian. These external symbols and forms identify one’s religious belief.
The reason Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikh faith, refused to wear the Janeoo - the Hindu religious symbol - was because it represented the caste ideology. It differentiated the high and the low. Yet in the eyes of God, the Guru said, there is only One Creator, who is the Father of all, everyone is born equal. He condemned the caste system very strongly and equated the status of women with that of men.
On 29 March 1699, Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Brotherhood. On this day he gave a new title of Singh for men and Kaur for women and bestowed the Panj Kakaar (the 5 K’s) on them. The 5 K’s or articles of the Sikh faith are:
(i) Kesh - uncut hair, a gift of God as everyone is born with it. The hair of a Sikh is a symbol of his vow to live for the love of God, to seek immortality through contemplation and action, a vow to dedicate mind, body, and soul at the alter of truth, justice and freedom for which the Gurus lived and sacrificed their lives. The keeping of long hair and the wearing of turbans was actively preached and adopted by all the Sikh Gurus as a mark of obedience.
(ii) Kangha - a small semicircular wooden comb for keeping the hair clean and tidy, symbolising discipline and spirituality.
(iii) Kara - a steel bangle worn on the right arm as a sign of sterness and constraint, signifying the unbreakable bond with their Guru and the Brotherhood of Khalsa. It serves as a constant reminder to the Sikh of their ideal behaviour in the event of weakness.
(iv) Kachhehra - underpants of a unique design ensuring ease of movement. It reminds the wearer of modesty, restraint and chastity.
(v) Kirpan - a sword, an emblem of dignity, power and self respect. The Guru made it a symbol of the Khalsa as it was needed for self defence and for the protection of the weak and oppressed. The word Kirpan is a combination of two words - ‘Kirpa’ - an act of kindness, a favour; ‘Aan’ - means honour and respect.
These 5 K’s give religious identity to the Khalsa. This identity personified the universalism of the Sikh religion as preached by Guru Nanak - brotherhood of man; equality of man and woman; justice for down trodden and welfare of all mankind. The 5 K’s remind the wearer at all times of the high ideals adopted by him. They represent a bond and commitment to the Guru. The Guru prescribed the 5 K’s for both men and women alike, highlighting once again the equality of gender.
The wearing of the Hindu sacred thread that enhanced the class pride, according to Guru Nanak, was a symbol of exclusiveness. It was different Janeoo for the rich and high caste and the lower caste had to go without and also without the privileges that go with it. Such forms were only searing the spirit of religion and alienating the people from God. Guru Nanak urged the people not to follow meaningless rituals which made them forget God and which sets up barriers between man and man.
But the Sikh forms, the 5 K’s, were not conceived in a spirit of exclusiveness. They were appointed to serve as aids to the preservation of corporate life of the community and any person who has the zeal to serve humanity through the Khalsa Panth can wear them. It is possible for a man to love God and cultivate his individual soul without adopting these Panj Kakaar. But if he seeks to work in a systematic manner, not only for his own advancement but, for the good of others as well, then he must adopt the disciplinary form of that organisation. A Sikh is not only to look at his individual character but is also to shoulder his responsibility as part of the corporate body of that community.
Sikhs who are the ‘Sant-Sipahi’ - saint soldiers - of Guru Gobind Singh and whose religion is surcharged with his personality find the uniform and the Panj Kakaar worn and ordained by him a real help in playing their part as units of Khalsa Panth - Khalsa Brotherhood.
The Panj Kakaar are a category apart, neither symbols nor rituals. They are articles of the Sikh faith and a distinct feature to Sikhism alone.
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