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Significance of Kirpan - Gurcharanjit Singh Lamba

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The Kirpan of a Sikh

Gurcharanjit Singh Lamba (Editor Sant Sipahi)

Kirpan in the hands of a Sikh is neither a weapon nor a sword and nor a dagger. It is an article of faith and self confidence. Being a celestial benevolent gift from his Guru It is inseparable from his body and is an integral part of his faith, the Sikhism. It is an object to serve, protect and respect the human dignity and self respect.

Sikhism, the fifth largest religion in the world with 25 million adherents, is the youngest of all the major religions of the world. Though very small in numbers Sikh men are distinctly identifiable by their uncut hair, colourful turbans and untrimmed beards. Sikh women are also conspicuous by their dress, uncut hair and covered heads, at times with turbans also.

Guru Nanak Dev ji, the eternal Guru was the founder of the Sikhs faith and he passed on his divine Guruship into the soul of Guru Angad Dev ji. This process continued and Guruship thus had a chain of ten Gurus. This process culminated in the present and eternal Guru of the Sikhs in the holy tome Guru Granth Sahib, the living Guru.

Though strictly monotheistic in practice and principle, Sikhism is neither Semitic nor non-Semitic. It does not believe in the incarnation of God in human or animal form. It also does not believe that a prophet or a messenger can act as a mediator. For a Sikh the Guru is a medium and not a mediator. 

All human beings are orbiting around the nucleus, God. Only the deeds or misdeeds of a person towards his fellow human beings can bring him near or distance him further from God. ਕਰਮੀ ਆਪੋ ਆਪਣੀ ਕੇ ਨੇੜੈ ਕੇ ਦੂਰਿ ॥ It neither gets awed by the illusory flames of hell and nor is swayed by fantasies of heaven. There is no god but only God. No particular name can be attributed to Him. God in the concept of Sikhism is the sole Creator and whatever else is heard, seen, felt or imagined is merely His creation. History has thrown up characters and personalities and human imagination has created mythological figures. God is above all the historical as well as mythological figures. He is God for the past, present and future. He is God even beyond time. He is beyond gender and has no caste, creed, race, religion or a particular abode. He is omnipresent. He is not only God of all the believers irrespective of their faith, sect or religion but is God of the non-believers and atheists too. In Sikhism unrivalled God can create anything and everything but another God. If there were some other rival as great as You, then I would speak of him. You alone are as great as You are.. ਤੁਧੁ ਜੇਵਡੁ ਹੋਰੁ ਸਰੀਕੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਤਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਤੁਧੁ ਜੇਵਡੁ ਤੂਹੈ ਹੋਈ ॥(549) Guru Nanak Dev ji, emphasising this point said, His Virtue is His being alone and the only One; there is no other like Him. There never has been, and there never will be. ਗੁਣੁ ਏਹੋ ਹੋਰੁ ਨਾਹੀ ਕੋਇ ॥  ਨਾ ਕੋ ਹੋਆ ਨਾ ਕੋ ਹੋਇ ॥3॥ (9) 

GOD, or for that matter, Generator, Operator and Destroyer has created all and hence all His creation is beautiful, blessed and His replica only. Of all the species on this earth, it is the human being which is blessed with wisdom, power, pre-eminence and farsightedness, and is considered to be the most handsome and destined to lead the entire creation. All animals have their heads hanging down. It is only man whose head is erect and high. It is the symbol of pride and dignity. Keeping one’s head high is the obligation of every human being. It can be done only if one is blessed with and recognizes supremacy of the divine authority. One is to blend himself in Him and then he becomes He.

Sikhism accepts that all the Semitic prophets and non-Semitic incarnations were sent by the Timeless Creator to this world, only to guide mankind towards Him. It is God in history in action. However, the ten Sikh Gurus, spiritual teachers Guru Nanak Dev ji to Guru Gobind Singh ji came to this world and ordained unambiguously, The purpose of life will be attained when one's light blends with the Ultimate Light.ਜੋਤੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਰਲੀ ਸੰਪੂਰਨੁ ਥੀਆ ਰਾਮ ॥ (846). The perpetual wisdom and spirit of all the ten Gurus is enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs.

According to the basic postulates of Sikhism, as given in the root mystic hymn, mool mantra, in the opening lines of Guru Granth Sahib, the eternal Guru, God is defined as, One Universal Creator. Thy Name Is Truth. He is the Creator. He is fearless and enemy to none. He is image of The Undying. Beyond Birth, Self-Existent. By His Grace.

Sikhism reveals that the purpose of life of a human being, as such, is to imbibe these traits and characteristics in the day to day life. One cannot reach Him without embracing these traits. And one cannot get these traits without His grace. Life of a true religious person cannot be compartmentalized. It has to act in unison with personal, social and familial aspects and also while dealing with friends and foes. One can embrace God and attain Godhood by becoming like Him. 

Unless a person is fearless and nurtures no enmity even towards enemies he cannot be a religious person in true sense. Imbibing these two traits, fearlessness and simultaneously having enmity towards none is really a tightrope walking exercise. But here lies the success or failure of life.

A person may try to develop an environment of being enemy to none but becoming really fearless is a Godly trait and comes with His grace. Fearlessness comes only with power. Only a fearless person can have the luxury of having a no enemy zone.

Love for God also initially emanates out of fear. But later on this latent fear transforms into a real longing and love for Him. We may be scared of snakes and bulls but the fear of God is not beastly. It is much more pious and pure than the mutual love and fear of father and child, husband and wife. So the basic thing is to acquire the power of God in one self. This will make him fearless and enemyless. 

The power of God has been symbolised by the Great Gurus as kirpan, loosely translated as sword. So much reverence has been accorded by the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh to the kirpan that he puts it on the highest pedestal by giving it a new name to kirpan, that is, Sri Sahib, Your Lordship, and a synonym of God.

The Sword when blessed by the Guru becomes kirpan, kirpa (blessing)+ aan (dignity).
The metaphysical explanation of the kirpan has been given by Guru Gobind Singh himself: 

The destroyer of the cobwebs of Nescience,
Decimator of the hosts of Evil,
Hero of the Final Battle,
The Mighty one !
Of invincible might,
The Nova of blinding Light,
Invested with solar Effulgence,
The Refuge of the good and the godly,
The Dispeller of Misknowing,
Expiator of Sin,
Of that pure steel Sword I seek protection.
Hail, hail to Thee, the ultimate Cause of Creation !
Hail, hail to Thee, the Sustainer and Protector of the Universes,
Hail to thee, my helper and support
Glory is to the Sword !
Praise to the sharp-edged Emblem of
Justice, Authority and Power.
ਖੱਗ ਖੰਡ ਬਿਹੰਡੰ ਖਲ ਦਲ ਖੰਡੰ ਅਤਿ ਰਣ ਮੰਡੰ ਬਰਬੰਡੰ॥
ਭੁਜ ਦੰਡ ਅਖੰਡੰ ਤੇਜ ਪ੍ਰਚੰਡੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਅਮੰਡੰ ਭਾਨ ਪ੍ਰਭੰ॥
ਸੁਖ ਸੰਤਾਂ ਕਰਣੰ ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਦਰਣੰ ਕਿਲਬਿਖ ਹਰਣੰ ਅਸ ਸਰਣੰ॥
ਜੈ ਜੈ ਜਗ ਕਾਰਣ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟ ਉਬਾਰਣ ਮਮ ਪ੍ਰਤਿਪਾਰਣ ਜੈ ਤੇਗੰ॥

Even the daily prayer of the Sikhs starts with invoking the name of the sword ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮ ਭਗੌਤੀ ਸਿਮਰ ਕੇ , First remember the name of the sword.

Blessings of the Almighty are invoked in the words of May the food vessels ever remain replenished. May the Sword be ever victorious ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ ਫ਼ਤਹਿ॥

The Sikh Gurus declared the kirpan to be the primary Attribute of God the Light, the Destroyer of Darkness, of which the symbol is the clean-cutting double-edged sword “which was created in the beginning before the world of appearances was created”. ਖੰਡਾ ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮੇ ਸਾਜ ਕੇ ਜਿਨ ਸਭ ਸੈਂਸਾਰ ਬਣਾਇਆ.

There are two traits, crime and sin. Killing, hurting, abusing someone is crime and can be contained or controlled by the society or state. These offensives when being perpetuated or committed vicariously are sin. No crime can be committed unless the sin is first perpetuated. To make the society crimeless one has to endeavor to make it sinless. No state can control sin. The only power that can check it is morality or religion. 

The usage of kirpan is thus well-guarded and regulated by the holy scriptures as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh himself. He dictates, Only when all other methods fail (to achieve righteousness), it is proper to hold the sword in hand. (zafarnamah. 22) ਚੂੰ ਕਾਰ ਅਜ਼ ਹਮਾ ਹੀਲ ਤੇ ਦਰਗੁਜ਼ਸ਼ਤ॥  ਹਲਾਲ ਅਸਤ ਬੁਰਦਨ ਬ-ਸ਼ਮਸ਼ੀਰ ਦਸਤ॥ 

Though the Kirpan can be used as a weapon but it is sacredness is not compromised in any way and its nature is not changed. Even though Buddhism is the ardent exponent of non-violence, but still in one of its manifests in the form of Manjushree, Buddha adorns a double edged sword Khanda, which is sacred to the Sikhs too.
A brief account of the Sikh people and their unflinching faith in the basics of their guiding force is well recorded by Sir Lapel Griffin (1850) in Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Sikhs by Sir Lapel Griffin. (Tribune, January 29, 1990)

But the Sikh is always the same, same in peace, in war, in barracks or in the field, ever genial, good tempered and uncomplaining, a fair horseman, a stubborn infantry soldier, as steady under fire as he is eager for a charge. However, when his self-respect or the honour of his women-folk is at stake, he becomes desperate and will stop at nothing short of murder. He does not pocket an insult, bides his opportunity for revenge becomes quite unmindful of consequences. When aroused, he has the fury of 10 elephants,. It is difficult to check him. He becomes excited, loses his mental equilibrium and does not care for the consequences of his action. You may break him but you cannot bend him. When he is in desperate mood, he responds only to tactful handling, sympathetic treatment and persuasion. Any coercive measure taken against him hardenes his mood of desperation. Handling in tactful measure, he easily forgives and forgets and ready to side with his erstwhile enemies.

The Sikhs' inalienable right to possess and wear Kirpan has been well recognised and accepted by the civilised and developed states. To wit a few, in the USA in the cases of State of New York, v. Partap Singh and State of Ohio v. Harjinder the Hon'ble courts upheld the right of the Sikhs to wear the Kirpan. 

Apart from this some Sikhs were charged for wearing Kirpan but the judicious prudence came to the rescue of the Sikhs and charges were dropped in the cases of State of Michigan v. Bhagwant Singh, Oregon v. Gurpal Singh, State of California v. Kamaldeep Singh and New York v. Kashmir Singh. This phenomenon is not confined to USA only but has been recognised even in UK, Sweden and Canada. The Apex Court in Canada upheld the right of Gurbaj Singh a Sikh student to wear Kirpan in school. 

The short Sikh history is replete with such injunctions being religiously followed. Guru Arjan Sahib, the fifth Guru, thus defined a true religion: Of all religions, the best religion is to chant the Name of the Lord and perform pious deeds. ਸਰਬ ਧਰਮ ਮਹਿ ਸ੍ਰੇਸਟ ਧਰਮੁ ॥  ਹਰਿ ਕੋ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਿ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਕਰਮੁ ॥266 

The longing for sacrifice was so strong in Guru Arjan Sahib that he even prayed to God: For the pious deeds I would rather cut my body and soul into pieces and burn myself in fire. ਤਨੁ ਮਨੁ ਕਾਟਿ ਕਾਟਿ ਸਭੁ ਅਰਪੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਅਗਨੀ ਆਪੁ ਜਲਾਈ ॥4॥(757)

And it was not merely a figment of poetic imagination. It is true that for his courage of conviction Guru Arjan Sahib was done to death by putting him on a hot plate and immersing him in boiling water. 

Treading the footsteps of his grandfather, fifth Guru Arjan Sahib, the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur also sacrificed his life for the rights of Hindus to wear their holy thread and apply a religious mark on their forehead, notwithstanding the fact that the Guru did not belief in these symbols. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru characterized this as one of the unprecedented greatest episodes for the protection of others’ religious beliefs. He writes in his biography, ਤਿਲਕ ਜੰਞੂ ਰਾਖਾ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਤਾਂਕਾ॥

But the story does not end here. History has even witnessed Sikhs armed with the kirpan offering themselves for sacrifice for the sake of their nation, justice, equity and protection of religious beliefs. 

Eighteenth century was the period of the Sikh history when they were not only ruthlessly hunted, hounded, persecuted, tortured and killed but indiscriminate royal proclamations were issued from the Government to slay any Sikh irrespective of his/her age. So much so that a hefty sum of Rupees eighty was paid from the royal exchequer for any head of a Sikh. They were not allowed to live in habitations or engage in any profession or cultivation. Even this also could not deviate the fully armed Sikhs from their conviction and commitment to nobility and character as they had the divine blessings and stern injunctions of their Guru, Guru Gobind Singh on their head. A comment in this regard from Dr. Hari Ram Gupta, noted non-Sikh historian is worth pondering over.

“In all the contemporary records mostly in Persian written generally by Muslims as well as by Maratha agents posted at a number of places in Northern India there is not a single instance either in Delhi or elsewhere in which the Sikhs raised a finger against women in circumstances where there was no external check on them. The Sikhs did not carry their women with them in their raids.…………… Even then the Sikhs exhibited marvelous self-control and respect to womanhood. In this respect no other soldiers in the world stand any comparison with the Sikhs of those days. Such were the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh, one of the greatest leaders of mankind.” [History of the Sikhs, Vol. III. P. 369. Hari Ram Gupta]

Sir Jadunath Sarkar, another historian attributes this to: “This astonishing superiority man for man, over all other fighting forces of India, was due to the Sikh character, training and organization.”

Qazi Nur Muhammad, a historian, accompanied the Afghan King Ahmed Shah Durrani during his seventh invasion of India in the summer of 1764. He rendered his eye witness account in his famous Jang Namah. He was a true historian and though spitting venom against Sikhs by slapping epithets dogs, infidels, pigeaters, unclean idolaters etc. But despite all this his account of the Sikhs depicts their true character. 

Qazi Nur Muhammad writes:

“Do not call the dogs (the Sikhs) ‘dogs’, because they are lions and are courageous like lions in the battle field…………When they take the Indian sword in their hands, they overrun the country from Hindustan to Sind…………..

Leaving aside their mode of fighting hear you another point in which they excel all other fighting people. In no case would they slay a coward, nor would they put an obstacle in the way of a fugitive. They do not plunder the wealth and ornaments of a woman, be she a well-to-do lady or a maid-servant. There is no adultery amongst these dogs, nor are these mischievous people given to thieving. Whether a woman is young or old, they call her a Buddhiya, and ask her to get out of the way. The word Buddhiya in the Indian language means ‘an old lady.’ There is no thief at all amongst these dogs, nor is there any house-breaker born amongst these miscreants. They do not make friends with adulterers and house-breakers, though their behaviour on the whole is not commendable. 
If you are not conversant with their religion, I tell you that the Sikhs are the disciples of the Guru and that, that august Guru lived at Chak (Amritsar). The ways and manners of these people received their impetus from Nanak who showed these Sikhs a separate path (from other religions) He was succeeded by Gobind Singh. From him they received the title of Singh. They are not from amongst the Hindus. These miscreants have a separate religion of their own.”

Outbursts of this Afghan historian can be comprehended because the Sikhs waylaid the Afghan King and rescued from him thousands of Maratha girls from his clutches which were being taken as booty. All these girls were restored to their parents and families hundreds of miles away in Maharashtra in central India. This they could do because they had with them Guru’s Kirpan and not a tyrant’s sword. 

In the last century during India’s struggle for freedom the Sikhs were embroiled in the Gurdwara reform movement. The Sikhs though carrying their Kirpans had taken a vow to remain peaceful and non-violent and to the astonishment of impartial observers even from England, the Sikhs though were being beaten mercilessly by lathies, kicked by army boots and trampled by the mounted police but no Sikh raised a finger and were just chanting the name of the Lord. And it adds to their pride that just being two percent of the population of India their contribution was more than 80 percent for the struggle of freedom. 

A true warrior has thus been defined in Sikhism: He alone is a warrior who fights for the protection of the oppressed and poor and may be cut into pieces but never deserts the battle field. ਸੂਰਾ ਸੋ ਪਹਿਚਾਨੀਐ ਜੁ ਲਰੈ ਦੀਨ ਕੇ ਹੇਤ ॥  ਪੁਰਜਾ ਪੁਰਜਾ ਕਟਿ ਮਰੈ ਕਬਹੂ ਨ ਛਾਡੈ ਖੇਤੁ ॥  (1105)

The kirpan is not to be used indiscriminately. Guru Gobind Singh even prays to God:

O Almighty, give me this boon
Never shall I shirk from doing good deeds
Never shall I fear when I go to fight the enemy
And with surety I shall attain victory
ਦੇਹ ਸਿਵਾ ਬਰ ਇਹੈ ਮੋਹੇ
ਸ਼ੁਭ ਕਰਮਨ ਤੇ ਕਬਹੂੰ ਨ ਟਰੋਂ
ਨ ਡਰੋਂ ਅਰਿ ਸੋ ਜਬ ਜਾਇ ਲਰੋਂ
ਨਿਸਚੈ ਕਰ ਅਪਨੀ ਜੀਤ ਕਰੋਂ

The Kirpan is one of the five ‘Ks’ ordained for every devout Sikh to wear, the other four being kesh (unshorn hair), kangha (wooden comb), kachhahra (drawers or shorts) and kara (steel bracelet). But the kirpan is not merely a sword or a weapon. Other four Ks except the kirpan can be worn any time by every devout Sikh and at times even by non-Sikhs but the kirpan is not and cannot be worn except after Amrit initiation). It is only after Amrit initiation that a Sikh gets the right to wear and possess the kirpan. The Sikh Code of Conduct however specifically mentions that the kirpan has to be sheathed. The Kirpan, thus being essential part of the Sikh faith, is worn only by initiated Sikhs and not by every Sikh.

Of four ceremonies in the life of a Sikh, Amrit initiation is an important one. In this the do’s and dont’s are clearly inculcated in the mind of the seeker and only after being assured that the seeker is physically and mentally capable of fulfilling the religious obligation is given the amrit (initiation). The ambrosial nectar (amrit) is prepared by stirring a double-edged sword in a steel bowl filled water and sugar puffs. Amrit Initiation demands a pious life and abstinence from all sorts of intoxicants, smoking, promiscuity etc. 

Hair when sported as grace and blessing of the Lord becomes kesh. Similarly a sword when blessed with Amrit Initiation becomes a kirpan. Thus a Sikh does not wear a sword, a weapon, but wears a blessed kirpan which couples spiritual, religious and moral sanctions, and rights and responsibilities. For this reason Prof. Puran Singh, one of the great Sikh mystical theologians writes, “Every Sikh has to wear the kirpan of Guru Gobind Singh”. If it is the kirpan of Guru Gobind Singh how can one even imagine any improper use of it?

Kirpan is thus an essential insignia of Sikhism. In isolation it cannot be even compared with a spear, dagger, arrow or even firearms. A Sikh has no option but to wear it if he has to remain a Sikh, for Guru Gobind Singh’s injunction to a Sikh is amply clear: Do not try to meet me without your sword or hair. ਬਿਨਾ ਸ਼ਸਤ੍ਰ ਕੇਸੰ ਨ ਦਿਵੋ ਦੀਦਾਰੇ.

This article of faith finds its place in the Sikhs’ standard. The Sikh flag signifying God, depicts a quoit, a double-edged sword, surrounded by a pair of swords. 

The Constitution of India, as per Article 25, guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Normally in legal codifications provisions are not explained and are left to the judiciary for interpretation. But Explanation 1 to this Article explains it,--The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.

Hence in India, where the subjects are not allowed to carry unlicensed spears, daggers, swords etc., it is a Sikh who is constitutionally privileged to possess and carry a kirpan, because in the possession of a Sikh a kirpan ceases to be a weapon and becomes an article of faith. The rigours of the Arms Act in India are not applicable to Sikhs carrying or possessing a kirpan. 

The implicit faith of the State in the Sikhs’ responsible behaviour is reflected by the fact that the kirpan is even allowed to be carried by Sikh passengers aboard domestic flights in India.
The Pope carries a scepter but an initiated Sikh carries his kirpan. It is a scene to be witnessed when the Sikh religious musicians carry full length kirpans meditating and singing devotional hymns.

Thus a pure steel sword, the kirpan, is a symbol of divine benevolence and blessing of the Creator for the protection of the oppressed and propagation of righteousness. Being so it cannot be abrogated or compromised by mortals. We take refuge under Thee, the pure steel. ਸਰਬ ਲੋਹ ਦੀ ਰਛਿਆ ਹਮ ਨੈ।

*This article was written to assist United Sikhs and other Sikh organisations involved in fighting various cases involving Sikhs' right to carry Kirpan in various countries around the world.
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