Monday, March 31, 2014

Hair Beliefs Part VII: Sikh Hair

In the aftermath of the shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple in 2012, The Huffington Post published a primer on the Sikh religion, an article that contains Sikh beliefs regarding hair. (The articles of faith listed below are based on an orthodox Sikh rite begun in 1699 called Khalsa, into which faithful Sikhs are initiated at puberty.)
5. The Five Ks: The Five Ks are the articles of faith that Sikhs wear as ordered by the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Most Sikhs wear one or more of the articles but only Sikhs who have taken amrit, a ritual analogous to baptism, wear all. They include:

Kesh, or unshorn long hair, which is protected by a dastaar, or turban. The dastaar is worn by men and some women to cover their long hair. But most women keep their hair long and uncovered, except for when entering a gurdwara.
Kangha is a small wooden comb meant to keep the hair combed twice a day.
Kara is an iron bangle to be worn on the hand used most.
Kachera is a specific undergarment for men and women.
Kirpan is a short dagger.

Let me add that at another website about the religion of the Sikh people, I learned the Khalsa also stipulates that male and female Sikhs "must never remove hair from any part of their bodies."

The statements of fact about unshorn hair naturally beg the question: But why? Looking for answers, I happened upon Armind Sharma's post regarding comparatives studies of religion. Sharma points out that the male Sikh's unshorn hair (wrapped in a turban to hold it in place) symbolizes bravery, solidarity with other Sikhs, self-defense, a determination to fight for justice, and religious devotion. The "self-defense" part of the equation is especially intriguing. Apparently, long ago when defending themselves against invaders, Sikh soldiers kept long hair so as not to feel so terrified by the long hair of their enemies, with the added benefit that the long hair protected their skulls from injury. So that's why they wear the turban? As a sort of helmet?

In my ignorance, I had always assumed the turban was like the Islamic veil, hiding the Sikh male's hair from the public eye for some mysterious reason. On the contrary, while the turban is mandatory for Sikh men, for women it is optional. For a first-person account by a Sikh man about the complexities of this religious practice, check out his "bad hair day" post at