Articles of Faith
Sikhs wear an external uniform to unify and bind them to the beliefs of the religion and to remind them of their commitment to the Sikh faith at all times. Unlike other faiths where only the clergy are in uniform, all Sikhs are enjoined to wear the uniform of their beliefs. These five articles of faith, along with a turban, distinguish a Sikh and have deep spiritual significance for Sikhs. The five articles of faith start with the “k” alphabet in Punjabi, and are thereby referred to as the 5 K’s. They are:
1. Kes (uncut hair)
2. Kangha (comb)
3. Kara (steel bracelet)
4. Kirpan (sword)
5. Kaccha (soldier’s shorts)
Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, started the practice of keeping hair unshorn. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, gave the Sikh nation articles of faith (including uncut hair), which as a whole comprise the daily uniform of a Sikh. Many Sikh scholars and theologians have interpreted meanings for each of the articles of faith; as many Sikhs have also reflected on the teachings of the Gurus and inferred their own reasons.
The turban is part of the uniform because it has immense spiritual and temporal significance. Wearing a turban declares sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety. All practicing Sikhs wear the turban out of love and as a mark of commitment to the faith.
Sikhs keep their hair unshorn and tie them in a bun on top of their head. Sikhs tie turbans to cover this top knot.
Just like Sikh men, Sikh women are not supposed to cut their hair. They are also required to cover their heads. Many Sikh women do so with a scarf. Others tie a turban. For Sikh women who tie a turban, the turban is just as much a part of their body and identity as it is for Sikh men! Culturally, many Sikh women do not cover their heads, but this is like in every religion—cultures and trends influence how closely people follow religion.
Sikhism is the only religion in the world which requires its followers to tie a turban. The Sikh turban is thus an article of faith. People of many other cultures and religions wear turbans, but none are required to do so by their religion. Arabs wear turbans, people in the Indian dessert state of Rajasthan wear turbans, Africans wear turbans—but none of these people are ‘required’ to wear their turbans.
Sikh turbans may be of different colors, styles and types but are not hats. Sikhs tie their turbans anew each day. Asking a Sikh to take off his turban in say a fancy club or church is like asking a person to remove his pants. Sikh turbans become a part of a Sikh’s body and are usually removed only in the privacy of the house.
Sikhs are not supposed to cut hair from any part of their body. All Sikhs are thus supposed to have unshorn hair, and Sikh women are to maintain a separate identity and not shave. But, living in the present-day, many succumb to the societal pressure and do shave.
All Sikhs are supposed to have uncut/untrimmed hair. But like in every religion, there are people who closely follow the religion and others who stray due to different pressures.
Some people may cut their hair, but that does not exclude them from the Sikh community. However, the Sikh religion very clearly dictates that we are not supposed to cut or shave our hair.
The Kirpan is a religious sword that encapsulates an initiated Sikh’s solemn obligation of courage and self-defense. It denotes dignity and self-reliance, the capacity and readiness to always defend the weak and the oppressed. It helps sustain one’s martial spirit and the determination to sacrifice oneself in order to defend truth, oppression and Sikh moral values. All Initiated Sikhs are mandated to wear a Kirpan on their body at all times.
The bracelet is a “Kara,” and is generally made out of steel. The Kara is one of the mandatory Sikh articles of faith, meant to be worn by a Sikh at all times.
Sikhs carry a small comb, called the Kanga. It can be worn easily in the hair at all times and is a symbol of cleanliness. Just as a comb helps to remove the tangles and cleans the hair, the Kanga is a spiritual reminder to shed impurities of thought.
A special, slightly longer type of shorts, the Kachha is linked to a high moral character and must be worn at all times. It reminds the Sikh of the need for self-restrain over passions and desires.
The tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, created the unique identity of the Sikhs and also gave all Sikh men one last name – Singh – and all Sikh women another – Kaur. The reason for doing so is strongly rooted in the culture of South Asia. In that time period’s caste-ridden society and even today, someone’s last/family name signifies their social status and caste. Guru Gobind Singh wanted to remove these barriers between people, and create an egalitarian society. The word “Singh” means “Lion” and the word “Kaur” denotes “Princess.” Over time, many Sikh families have reverted to using their family name, but have maintained Singh and Kaur as middle names.