Sikh: Attire and Symbolism
The traditional attire of a Sikh dates back many centuries and symbolizes their deep, spiritual beliefs. This attire which includes the turban, beard for men and the five articles of faith is known an Bana. Some devout Sikhs will wear the traditional garb all the time and all Sikhs will wear it for religious ceremonies.
The Amrit Sanchar ceremony is the baptism into the Sikh religion which is conducted to initiate a person into the Sikh way of life. Following this ceremony, a Sikh man will generally change his name to Singh and a woman to Kaur.
The adoption of these names historically, was to symbolize the equality of all humanity. Under the Hindu caste system a person’s status or standing is determined by his surname. Singh, which means lion, traditionally indicated the warrior caste and so all Sikhs adopted this name to show the equality of all men. Kaur, for women translates as princess, Sikh women do not have to take their husband’s name this gave women huge self-esteem and equality.
People who are not born into Sikh families but believe in the Sikh philosophy are permitted to go to Gurdwaras, (Sikh places of worship) to practice Sikhism and perform rituals according to the Sikh way. They have not yet undergone the Amrit ceremony initiation bindings. Such followers who have chosen Sikhism are known as Sahajdhari Sikhs which translates as ‘slow adopter.’
Amritdhari Sikhs, that is Sikhs who have ceremoniously taken the holy drink that initiates someone into the Sikh faith. are required to wear, about their person five symbols known as the Five K’s. These five articles are symbols of faith and are to be kept on the person at all times.
These symbols are not only a means of showing identity with the Sikh philosophy and faith, but also carry a strong spiritual significance. The name of each of these items in Punjabi begins with the letter ‘K’.
The Five K’s
- Kesh: Uncut hair
- Kirpan:A strapped curved sword
- Kara: A metal bracelet.
- Kangha: A wooden comb.
- Kacchera: A specific style of cotton undergarments
Kesh is unshorn, or uncut long hair which is covered with a turban called a Dastaar. The wearing of a turban is viewed by many as a symbol of sovereignty (crown), self-respect, dedication, courage and devotion but also as a sign of love and devotion to the founders of Sikhism. Once worn, it is viewed as an actual part of the head.
The turban carries with it a sense of responsibility as Sikhs who wear the turban represent all Sikhs and also the Gurus, so their actions and behaviours reflect on both.
Kesh signifies holiness and is kept uncut to symbolize the perfection of God’s creation. Dastaar serves to protect the Kesh which is the Tenth Gate (sometimes known as the crown chakra) or the spiritual opening at the top of the head.
The Sikh’s Kirpan has often being misrepresented by people who do not understand, or indeed know anything much about the Sikh religion. It is not a weapon, it is an article of faith. It represents the eternal struggle of goodness and justice over evil and injustice.
A Sikh must maintain his spiritual practices partaking in daily meditation and remembering God. but at the same time he is also expected to be a soldier. The double-edged sword represents this Saint/Soldier duality. Soldier, in this context, does not refer to war or fighting, but to battling with social responsibilities such as family and community and following a path of law and morality as laid out by the Sikh Gurus.
The Kirpan also represents the Sikh’s obligation to defend the rights of those less fortunate or anybody experiencing injustice.
To forsake pride, emotional attachment, and the sense of `mine and yours’,
is the path of the double-edged sword.
Guru Arjan Dev, Devgandhari
The Kara is a steel bracelet it is not jewellery or worn for ornamental purposes and this is the reason that it is made of iron and not gold or silver. It is a symbol of both strength and protection as it serves to both strengthen and protect the arm that carries the Kirpan.
It is a symbol of restraint, humility and gentility.
Because the Kara can always be physically felt on the arm it is a constant reminder to be aware of actions that would not be approved of by Sikh philosophy, the Guru or God. It signifies the deep connection that a Sikh has to the Guru.
On a spiritual level, the circle also traditionally symbolizes God, eternity and ongoing karma as it has no beginning and no end.
The khanga is a small, wooden comb that is carried behind the knot of the turban. Because the first article of faith Kesh, is to have the hair long and uncut, the khanga is necessary to comb the hair and keep it knot-free. Combing of the hair is usually done twice a day.
The hair should be clean and tidy at all times. The khanga symbolizes a clean body, which in turn is a metaphor for a clean mind. Although the ultimate aim of a Sikh is to move beyond bodily needs and concerns there is no conflict of ideas here. The comb represents the importance of looking after the physical body which is the vehicle both of the soul and to enlightenment.
Kachera are cotton undergarments that are worn by both men and women. They have a drawstring waist, should not come below the knee and look a little like boxer shorts.
Kachera symbolize self control, modesty and chastity. Kachera are a gift from the Guru and a reminder of the 5 evils, particularly lust.
Kachera were very practical in more turbulent historical times for Sikh warriors on horseback they have also come to symbolize that Sikhs are willing to be ready at the shortest notice for any battle to protect the weak and the poor.