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date: 19 August 2019

Five Ks

A Dictionary of Sikh Studies

Pashaura Singh

Five Ks 

The five external symbols, known from their Punjabi names: (1) kes, unshorn hair, symbolizing spirituality and saintliness; (2) kaṅghā, a wooden comb for the topknot, signifying order and discipline in life; (3) kirpān, a short sword, symbolizing divine grace, dignity, and courage; (4) kaṛā, an iron wristlet, signifying responsibility and allegiance to the Gurū; and (5) kachhahirā, an undergarment (breeches), symbolizing moral restraint. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh delivered the nucleus of the rahit (‘code of conduct’) at the inauguration of the Khālsā. To ensure that Khālsā members would never conceal their identity as Sikhs, he made these symbols mandatory, implying a direct correlation between bāṇī (‘divine utterance’) and bāṇā (‘Khālsā dress’). According to the rahit, in putting on these symbols (as well as the turban, or dastār, in the case of male Sikhs) while reciting the liturgical prayers, Khālsā Sikhs dress themselves in the word of Akāl Purakh each morning; thus their minds are purified and inspired, and their bodies are girded to do battle with the day’s temptations. Although the five items were present in eighteenth-century literature, their formulation as the ‘Five Ks’ in the late nineteenth century enhanced their value.