The Importance of Hair in Sikh Philosophy and practice
In Sikh philosophy and practice, the keeping of unshaven hair (Kesh) means that the Sikh lives in and resigns himself to the Will of God (Hukam). Again it is by the Will of God that man has been created the highest being in God’s creation. This wonderful universe with its innumerable suns and planets came into being according to His command (Hukam). The whole of His creation and the laws that govern it and operate the highly complicated system of the universe, are in accordance with His Will. God’s Will is supreme. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, writes about this supreme Will of the Creator in Japji: By the Will of God all forms come into being. The working of that Will cannot be described. It is by His Will that the forms develop life in them and grow exalted; Some become good and others evil, And receive pain and pleasure accordingly. By that Will some are brought under grace; And the others are doomed forever. All the subject to the supreme Will, none is outside its pale, Nanak, if this be rightly understood, no one would assert himself.
It was thus quite apt that the form and appearance of the Guru’s Sikh should essentially be that which God almighty has given him according to His Will (Hukam). A woman’s beauty lies in her smooth skin and rounded face while a man’s beard signifies his masculinity, strength and virility. In a debate at Mecca, Guru Nanak explained his viewpoint regarding the Kesh (unshaven hair) to Pir Bahauddin in the following words reported in the Janam Sakhi (Traditional Story) : Pir Bahauddin: Why have, you, 0 Baba Nanak, overlooked both the Hindu and Muslim traditions in their entirety? Baba Nanak: Listen Bahauddin, I tell you that both the Hindus and the Muslims have degraded themselves by shaving their hair. Pir Bahauddin: Without the Muslim law, no one can become pure. Without circumcision, a man cannot receive honour in God’s court. Baba Nanak: The real circumcision is to live in God’s Will. One should die with the hair intact; the hair with which one is born. He who keeps the hair as God’s trust, is really a great man. The first circumcision is the hair and keeping it on the head is to live in His Will. He who keeps the hair intact, lives by honest labour, and shuns other’s right, is honoured by God. Some undergo circumcision, others cut holes in their ears; it is only the dishonest who try to tamper with God’s gift of completeness of human form.
Finally Guru Nanak declared that with a turban on, the human form becomes complete in all respects and the unshaven hair is the symbol of the one universal religion, which we all inherit at birth.
The sanctity of keeping uncut hair (Kesh) with Keski (Turban) on has been observed by all Sikh Gurus (From Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh) and it was Guru Arjan who wrote in Raag Maru (page 1084 of the Sikh Holy Book.) Sabat Surat Dastar Sira which means ‘Keep the God-given form intact with a turban donned on your head’.
The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the founder of the Khalsa, gave the command that these symbols (5 K’s) are a must. These are a mode of discipline signifying the wearer’s belongingness to the Khalsa. The five K’s are a test of a Sikh’s firmness and strength of his faith. They foster Brotherhood and a sense of unity. They make a Sikh look like the Guru himself and inspire him to follow the Guru’s command. Guru Gobind Singh wrote the following about his Khalsa: The Khalsa is my own special form I always manifest in the Sikhs (Khalsa). The Khalsa is my body and soul.