Symbols of Faith
Sikh symbols are seen as gateways that point to Reality.
A most important symbol for Sikhs is the Nishan Sahib – the flag that is flown at every gurdwara. This is made up of a blue or black Khanda on a yellow or orange background.
The Khanda is made up of three weapons – a chakra (quoit – as used by Xena, warrior princess! – which stands for God’s Infinity, without beginning and without end); a Khanda (double-edged sword – which stands for God’s power of justice and mercy, or creation and destruction, the double edge of God’s Names); and two kirpans (swords of mercy – which stand for meeri-peeri (worldly and spiritual power).
The Panj Kakke is the 5Ks. Panj means ‘five’ and kakke means words starting with the Punjabi letter for ‘k’ – hence, they are called the 5ks. All members of the Khalsa – female as well as male – must wear them.
The five Ks have both spiritual meanings and form a uniform for the Khalsa. The taking of the five Ks is intended to create a saint as well as a soldier, a sant-sipahi (saint-soldier). This reflects the Sikh belief in meeri-peeri (worldly as well as spiritual power). The transformation of the five Ks is both individual (for the person who has joined the Khalsa) and collective (as it forms a uniform):
1. Kesh means ‘uncut hair’ and reflects detachment or freedom from worldly fashions. Uncut hair is common to many different spiritual traditions – Native Americans, Rastafarians, Nazarenes, Taoists, Hindu rishis.
2. Kangha means ‘comb’ and reflects the idea that detachment should be balanced with social responsibilities such as cleanliness. Life should be physically, mentally and spiritually pure. Some of those with uncut hair did not clean it since they had left society to focus on God.
3. Kara means ‘bracelet’ and reflects the infinity of God – without beginning or end – that works through human beings, on their right wrist.
4. Kachera are ‘breeches’ or long shorts. They cover the private parts, therefore, showing the importance of social order. They also allow people to be active unlike many of the previous types of clothing.
5. Kirpan means ‘sword of mercy’. It is a weapon showing that the Khalsa is a soldier as well as a saint. It is a weapon worn by a knight – hence the surnames Singh for men meaning ‘Lion’ and Kaur for women meaning ‘princess’ – who must use it ‘with mercy’ to ensure freedom and justice.