500 years ago, in the Punjab, there rose a man called Guru Nanak, who in his intensity of feeling and sincerity of thought led the Indians to a new and dynamic path of attaining inner happiness and trust of the fellow man. He is known as the prophet of love and understanding and his religion is the religion of service and sacrifice. To him religion meant rationalisation. He said –
O man, thou art a radiant being, divine in essence, Discover thyself and the source you have come from,. Human form offers the best opportunity to meet the Lord; Seek the company of the Holy, Adore the divine spirit And thus fulfil life’s purpose.
Surely life’s purpose is harmony and peace, love and labour, service and humility, goodwill and tolerance. There is only one ultimate reality call it Truth or call it God. To acknowledge God is to acknowledge your fellow men. To meet and listen to fellowmen is a necessary step towards self-discovery and God- realisation. God will not ask man, said Guru Nanak, What religion or race you belong to? Actions alone will be judged in His court.
The end-product of Guru Nanak’s endeavours is The Sikh Religion which is to be lived and practised rather than only preached and professed. The Sikhs are to act as a unifying force amidst the inconsistent ideaologies and the emergence of a world Society based on a single universal religion, that of love and tolerance. A religion which is a synthesis of materialism and spiritualism and offers hope to all irrespective of colour, caste, creed or country.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and the last of the Sikh Gurus, gave his Sikhs the five symbols all starting with ‘K’. These five Ks are a personal gift to a Sikh (Singh) from the great Guru. These symbols are clearly important because it is through them that the Sikhs are recognised and identified as such.
The symbol of uncut hair (Kesh) is the most significant of them all. It is with this symbol that a Sikh has his take-off and enters the Khalsa Brotherhood with strength of his unique form and unflinching faith in God’s supreme Will. The uncut hair (Kesh) hold the highest sanctity in Sikhism.
The hair has in all ages been an endless topic for the declamation of the moralist and the favourite object of fashion. But the fundamental truth remains that the human hair is not without a purpose. The hair is a part and parcel of our bodies. God and Nature, says Aristotle, Do nothing without a purpose, Nature always strives to realise perfection. There is nothing accidental but everything has its purpose. It is, indeed, this very prominence of design in Nature which constitutes the beauty of her creation and the charm with which even the least of them repay investigation. Nature like a judicious manager gives to each the instrument it can use, (Zeller’s Aristotle and earlier peripateties volume 1 page 471).
Thus we see that our creator planted the human head with hair, reflecting that instead of flesh a light covering was needed to guard the brain and give it shade and protection from the extremes of heat and cold without hindering its acuteness of sensation. The Guru’s Sikhs observe God’s will and keep their hair (Kesh) intact. Their turban (an unsewn piece of fine cotton cloth) gives the brain (control tower of the human body) extra protection and safety which it deserves so vehemently.
It was on account of all these considerations that in one of the codes of discipline for the Sikhs called ‘Rahitnama’ (Rules of the Sikh Conduct) Bhai Desa Singh, a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh’s times writes –
God first created the universe, then he fashioned the human body. He gave man hair on the head, beard and moustache on the face. He who submits to His Will, is firm in keeping them intact. They who shave and cut their hair, discard His Will how will they find God?
In Sikh religion the hair (Kesh) are vital and they hold the highest sanctity. Relaxation in any other code of conduct may be condoned but a Sikh (a baptised Singh) who suffers his hair, becomes an apostate.
The Sikh form must therefore be seen and understood in the background of Sikh history, religious philosophy and practice of the codes of conduct, which were given by the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) and elucidated by his contemporary Sikhs in the ‘Rahitnamas’.