The creation of the Khalsa is a unique birth amongst the world faiths. India is riddled with faiths - founded by various Sadhus, offering teachings which have in some cases become corrupt as generations of Sadhus pass the teachings from one to another. It is argued that this might have been the fate of Sikhi had the Guru not given the Sikhs a clear identity.
The creation of the Khalsa is one of the most important events in the history of the Sikhs. The tenth Guru of the Sikhs - Guru Gobind Singh Ji made some very important God sent changes to the faith of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The Guru caused for the compilation of the scriptures which later became the ever living Guru - the Guru Granth Sahib. This encompassed the teachings of the Gurus into a set of scriptures, the authenticity of which even today is beyond doubt.
Up to the period of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, a clear misconception had already been raised concerning the faith, the identity and the beliefs of a Sikh. For the Gurus' teachings were practiced not only by the so called Nanak Panthis ('followers of Nanak'), but also the Muslims and the Hindus. The Guru had encouraged Muslims to read the Qu'ran and for the Hindus to study the Veds and there were those amongst his following who claimed allegiance to neither of the two religions. The Hindus had referred to Guru Nanak Dev Ji as Nanak Tapa and the Muslims as Nanak Shah - both names confirming their utmost faith in his God given message. But clearly, the faith that Guru Nanak Dev Ji had formed was completely independent and separate from those two faiths - I am neither Hindu nor Muslim uttered Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
On countless occasions, the Guru was seen to vouch for both the Hindus and the Muslims, whilst at the same time seeming to discourage some of their rituals. But he was also seen to protect the interests of both the faiths, he believed that every religion should be allowed to practise their beliefs freely and there hasn't been an instance in Sikh history yet which has defeated this belief. The sixth Guru's army consisted of many Muslim Pathans who were encouraged to read the Qu'ran.
The ninth Guru - Guru Teg Bahadar Ji had given his life for the protection of the Hindus. The Emperor Aurangzeb in his quest for mass conversion had given the Hindus the ultimatum of converting to the Muslim faith - or facing mass annihilation. The Guru offered himself as a sacrifice to save the Hindus, he was thus beheaded, to protect their right to wear their caste marks and sacred threads; Did he, in the dark age, perform the supreme sacrifice said his son - Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Perhaps these instances only confused the Mugals, perhaps the identity of a Sikh ought to be made clear and beyond doubt - thought the Guru. Even today, the Sikh identity seems to going through certain confusion - obviously the Guru had foreseen this and had the events of 1699 not taken place, perhaps the form of Sikhi as we know it today, might not have been visible.
What was a Sikh and how might a Sikh of the Guru be easily recognised ? The Guru felt that such a problem would arise countless times in the future and that various groups and sects might form, all claiming allegiance to the Guru, yet preaching their own word, each diverse in it's essential teachings. Even now, there was no clear distinction between a Hindu and a Sikh or a Muslim and a Sikh. The Guru's word was universal, the holy scriptures - now known as the Guru Granth Sahib contain the shabads of Muslim Saints - such as Sheikh Farid of Pak Patan and also the shabads of Hindu Sadhus - such as Bhagat Jai Dev and Bhagat Namdev. Although that message was universal, it had to take a central form from which to deliver that message.
The first four Guru's had seen relatively peaceful times. There had been times when the contemporary Emperors felt confusion regarding the Guru's teachings and had felt that they were a threat to the expansion of Islam. During the period of Guru Amar Das Ji the third Guru, the emperor Akbar commanded the Guru to appear before him to answer charges relating the Gurbani. The emperor's governors and companions had filled his ears, they argued that it was offensive to the Islamic faith and that this constituted blasphemy. The Guru - who had already denounced the authority of emperor's and kings on various occasions - sent Bhai Ram Das Ji who was soon to become the fourth Guru, to the court of Akbar to 'answer these charges'.
The emperor was very impressed and saw that the message of the Guru was indeed God sent, he acknowledged the appeal of the scriptures and paid the Guru a visit some time later. By the period of the tenth master, there had arrived more turbulent times. Guru Gobind Singh Ji had been involved in a number of militant encounters with the Mugal regime, when all methods of restoring peace and upholding the rights of the innocent have failed, it is just to draw the sword, rightful is the flash of steel Said he. His popularity amongst the populace had caused for the local hill chiefs and Rajas to become jealous. Although the Guru did not offer worldly prizes, whereas the Rajas did, the Guru's followers were very content with the guarantee of spiritual salvation, this in itself was enough to draw away the folks from the courts of the Rajas and into the court of the Guru.
The year 1698 did not see any major expeditions, towards the end of that peaceful year, the Guru had announced that the Vaisakhi of 1699 would be an important one. Every Sikh who claimed allegiance to the Guru's teachings should make their way to the city of Anandpur. This request was sent to the farthest corners of that subcontinent. Nothing was revealed as to the planned proceedings of that day and the Sikhs did not require a breakdown of plans, for the Hukam of the Guru was enough. Vaisakhi is the beginning of the Indian year and it was traditionally a very happy period. A tent had been erected some days before on top of a hill and the Guru had spent his last few days in this.
On the morning of the Vaisakhi, the Guru asked that the Asa Di Var and kirtan be performed until he appeared from the tent. The Kirtanis carried out the Guru's command. During that period - from early in the morning before the sunrise - up to his appearance, many thousands had appeared. They had arrived from many hundreds of miles away, as the importance of the event had become well known. They were old and young alike, people of all castes and backgrounds and of all faiths, for in the Guru's company, no distinction was made as to race and creed.
When the Guru appeared, his face was as bold as had ever been seen. In one hand he held his Kirpan and he gestured for the Kirtanis to stop singing. The prophet walked across the platform magnificently and looked at the mass of devotees that had arrived with faith unknowing what to expect. He stood for a moment in silence and looked out at the thousands that sat before him. As far as the eyes could see there were the heads of the devotees.
"Is there one Sikh amongst you whose love for the faith of Guru Nanak Dev Ji is so great that the Sikh might even offer his life for it, that the Sikh might sacrifice himself for it ?" He asked. His majestic aura and bold look confirmed that he was not jesting. There was murmuring amongst some of the devotees. What was this, what had become of the Guru that loved the people of the world, who ever appeased their pains and sorrows - who forever endeavoured to bring them peace - why was he asking for the life of a Sikh ?
There were then a few such moments of murmur and disquiet, the crowd then remembered the Guru's overriding presence. The masses became quiet and the Guru repeated his request. "Surely there is ONE amongst you that will gladly offer his head to me in respect of their love and faith in myself ?"
Suddenly, there was a huge mumble when a Sikh stood up and made his way towards the platform.
"My Lord, forgive me for having made you ask twice. For I live under your command and would gladly offer my soul and body in your service." He cried.
"What is your name faithful one ?"
"I am known as Daya Ram of the Khatri caste."
"Where are you from ?" asked the holy one.
"My Lord, I am from Lahore" Bhai Daya Ram was guided into the tent.
There was a tense silence before the swish of the Guru's Kirpan was heard. The crowds sat with withheld breath. The feeling was further dampened when the Guru emerged from the tent, his Kirpan covered in blood and his face as radiant as ever. The crowd was truly shocked, there were mouths open in awe and nobody dared utter a breath.
"Only one Sikh ?" Questioned the Guru. "Of those many thousands that claim a bondage to me only one stands up when I call for a Sikh ? Truly this is an embarrassing predicament !" Again there was a deadly hush. Many stood hoping that the Guru would not even look at them, who would it be next that would gladly walk into the palm of death ? Another Sikh made his way to the front of the crowd. Many heads turned as they tried to see the face of this brave Sikh. This Sikh was Bhai Dharam Das, he was directed by the Guru into the tent and again a swish brought a thud from the tent. Another three such requests were made and the Sikhs that stood up were called Bhai Mohkam Chand, Bhai Sahib and Bhai Himat.
It should be mentioned at this point that some historians have been quick in suggesting that the Guru did not in fact behead the five Sikhs, that perhaps he dipped the kirpan in a bowl of blood before emerging from the tent so as to make it seem that he had beheaded the five Sikhs. This type of rationalisation is offensive to orthodox Sikhs, for the Guru was not one to practice deceit, least of all having preached against it on countless occasions. Furthermore, Sikhs believe in the word of the Guru to be the most reliable form of evidence -Satiguru Mera Mar Jivale The true Guru destroyeth and then bringeth back to life. After the fifth Sikh was thus sacrificed there were a few moments of anxious silence. All eyes looked towards the tent of the Guru and few dared even wink.
Suddenly, the front sheets of the tent were raised and the Guru walked out, he was followed by the five Sikhs who had previously entered the tent as unknowns. They were clad in orange robes, each holding a Kirpan close to their chest. The look on their faces was divine and their very person was magnificent. How great they looked, the five who out of those many thousands had stood to the Guru's command and given their lives to receive new lives !
They were the Panj Pyare - the five beloved ones. There were a few gasps of Vahiguru and a few shed a tear of joy, for truly they were beholding the prophet of God. The Guru requested for a bowl of water to be brought, Karah Parshad - an offering made of flour, butter and sugar was then prepared for the thousands. The Guru uttered the five Banis whilst he poured some Patashas (sweets) into the bowl, he stirred the water continuously with a double edged sword - a Khanda,. This continued for an hour or so, with the sangat watching with intent.
The Guru then called for Bhai Daya Ram - the first of these great Sikhs to kneel before him, when Daya Ram did so, the Guru cupped some water into the Sikhs mouth and uttered Vahiguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vahiguru Ji Ki Fateh - The Khalsa is of Vahiguru, Victory is to Vahiguru. The water was then splashed into Bhai Daya Ram's hair and eyes. The four remaining Sikhs were made the subject of a similar procession before the Guru asked that they give him the Amrit in the same manner. It was after this that the Guru finally spoke to the gathering.
"This water is Amrit - nectar and my Sikhs shall drink from it in order to be known as my Sikhs. For with it is brought a discipline that my Sikhs shall bear unto themselves. They shall take the Amrit as have I and the five beloved one's - the five Pyare. And my Sikhs shall take Amrit from the same bowl and be offered and accept Karah Parshad from the same bowl and in effect shall not practice the customs of caste and pride."
"Where a Sikh meets a fellow Sikh he shall utter Vahiguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vahiguru Ji Ki Fateh and the fellow Sikh shall reply likewise. The male Sikhs shall be known as Singh - Lions and the females as Kaur - Princesses for they shall not respect the caste traditions in any case and these shall become their surnames. In every case, my Sikhs shall pay respect to the four abstinences - that he must never cut his hair, nor commit adultery, that he must never drink alcohol or smoke tobaccos or other narcotic substances and that he shall never eat meat of any kind. If a Sikh should break these abstinences then he shall become a patit - an outcast and I shall not recognise him as one of my Sikhs here or in the hereafter."
"This applies to the sisters also, for they shall have an equal status in this faith and they shall read and practice the word of Vahiguru with their brothers. And the abstinences shall apply equally to them. You shall earn your living from the sweat of your brow and shall in all cases live your lives according to the word of the Gurus. The bani says that you shall awaken in the morning, bathe and utter the name of Vahiguru and you shall do that . The bani says that you shall not speculate differences between your brothers and you shall not do that. And whensoever you shall be confused as to right and wrong, then you shall consult the bani and it shall tell you what is right and what is wrong. The bani says that you shall not observe superstitious customs so you shall not observe these. The Bani is your source of teaching, it shall answer your every question."
"You shall wear the Kara on your wrist to remind you of your vow of leading a pure life, for whenever you commit a sin, your wrist shall bear witness to your acceptance of the teachings. The Kachha about your waist shall remind you not to commit adultery. You shall wear the Kanga in your hair because you are pure and you always shall be for you are the Khalsa - the pure one, let it remind you of that. Let your Kes remind you of your commitment towards Sikhi, that you are the Lord's truest form - do not deny the form that the Lord has given you. Your Kirpan shall remind you that you are constantly in battle - against sin and if the need arises in your daily life, then you shall protect the innocent."
The Guru asked that those of the sangat that wished to distinguish themselves as being the Sikhs of the Guru - be initiated thus. Many thousands did so. That importance of that first Amrit ceremony should never be undermined. Never in the history of faith has the prophet bowed down to be initiated by his disciples. Never has the Guru become the disciple and the disciple the Guru - this had already taken place nine times, when each Guru was initiated. On that day, Hindus and Muslims alike partook in the Amrit ceremony. Many thousands of women also became members of the Khalsa.
Today, the Amrit ceremony is performed along similar lines to that first one. Five members of the Sikh community are selected by members of the community. These five are respectable individuals, who are seen to be upholding the Sikh principles as prescribed by the Gurus, they represent the Panj Pyare. These Panj Pyare head the Amrit ceremony. It is normal for anybody wishing to take Amrit to make it known to the Panj Pyare. The Sikh will be expected to already have observed the vows of Sikhi for a period prior to taking Amrit.
The Amrit ceremony is performed in the morning, normally after the Asa Di Var. It is performed inside the Main hall of the Gurudwara - the Darbar, nobody else is allowed to enter the Darbar following the commencement of the ceremony. Whilst the Amrit is being prepared, the sangat utter 'Vahiguru' aloud. The Panj Pyare then announce the Sikh discipline - as the Guru did on that day in 1699. Each member of the sangat is then called to the front individually and given the Amrit.
A Sikh that has been baptised is referred to as an Amritdhari Sikh (Baptised Sikh), one who is yet to take Amrit, but who is on the path to taking Amrit is known as a Sahijdhari Sikh.
The sacrifice of those five faithful Sikhs was very symbolic, for they took the mental and physical step of sacrificing themselves to the Guru, of offering their everything to the Guru, having thus done that, they were reborn and given new - pure identities. When Sikhs take Amrit today, the symbolism is exact. A Sikh will only take Amrit having mentally and physically prepared him or herself for that step. The Sikh will already have taken the necessary steps of not cutting their hair and abstaining from the use of narcotic substances, the Sikh will already be in the routine of awakening early in the morning and bathing.
Bhai Gurdas Ji - a famous Sikh scholar has written that if a Sikh takes one step towards the Guru, the Guru shall take thousands towards the Sikh. Hence when the Sikh has taken the necessary steps of taking Amrit, the Guru rewards the Sikh with a new life and new identity - symbolised on that day in 1699 with the Sikhs receiving new surnames. When an individual takes Amrit in the truest of faith, all their previous sins and crimes are forgiven by the Lord God.
It is often queried as to whether it is essential for a Sikh to take Amrit - why can a Sikh not practice Sikhi as did those before that Amrit ceremony ? It is important that a Sikh places him or her self into the Guru's recommended discipline. The tenth master himself bowed before the Panj Pyare and took Amrit - if the Guru considered it important for himself to do so - he the Prophet of God, are other Sikhs 'greater' that they need not do so ? It is said that once a Sikh by the name of Bhai Dalla Ji impressed the Guru such that the master said :
"My friend, you have pleased me greatly - such that you may ask of me what you will !"
"My Lord, I ask not of worldly gifts, or of small or great riches, but only that when I should leave my worldly life I sit beside you in the hereafter. I ask only the space of a seat." Replied the Sikh.
"Unfortunately my friend, I can not give you that until you take the step of taking Amrit ! If you should thus do so, then that seat shall be guaranteed to you." Commented the Guru.
In any occupation, in any role and situation, discipline is considered of utmost importance, without discipline a situation will fall into disarray. In all religions, there is a certain discipline which is expected to be observed. The first nine Sikh Gurus had in their respective periods built that discipline and scribed it into the Guru Granth Sahib, the tenth Guru on that Vaisakhi day officiated that discipline beyond doubt. From thereon, there should be no doubt as to the Sikhs discipline. Whenever there is, it has been suggested that the Guru Granth Sahib is the ultimate source of integrity.
The Sikhs discipline begins from the moment he or she wakes up. The Sikh is expected to awaken before the sunrise. Sikhs tend not to adjust that time - according to sunrise hours, but allot a fixed time every day. Firstly, the Sikh will have a bath this not only promotes cleanliness of living, but also purity of the mind. The Sikh will then proceed to utter the 'five Banis ' - they being the Japji Sahib, the Jap Sahib, the Chaupayi Sahib, the Savaye and the Anand Sahib. Throughout the day (and night), the Sikh will bear the Lord's name in mind . In the evening, at sunset, the Sikh will utter the 'Sodar Rahiras' and before the Sikh goes to sleep, he will utter the 'Kirtan Sohila'.
In addition to that, a Sikh will be expected to observe the tenets of the Gurbani. For instance a Sikh is not to lose themselves in greed or lust, a Sikh is to earn his living from the sweat of his own brow and not to live from the earnings of others. Living from immoral earnings is of course prohibited. Sikhs have been encouraged to enjoin in the company of 'good' people, rather than 'bad' people. The reasoning behind this is quite obvious. The Gurus taught that one of the strongest influences that an individual can receive is through the company that one keeps, they promoted the company of Sadhus and other holy folks.
On that auspicious Vaisakhi day, the Guru asked that his Sikhs wear the 5 'K's - Kanga, Kachha, Kara, Kirpan and Kes.
The Kanga is a wooden comb which is kept in a Sikh's hair. The Kanga seeks to reflect a Sikh's purity, the Sikh's orderliness.
The Kachha is the pair of 'shorts' that a Sikh is to wear. The Kachha seeks to remind the Sikh of his/her vow of not committing adultery, further to remind the Sikh of their obligations towards one - that being the husband or wife. It also reminds the Sikh of his freedom, that he is not bound by any worldly government.
The Kara is a metal bangle worn on a Sikh's wrist. This seeks to deter the Sikh from committing any type of sin. For most sins and crimes are committed through the hands, hence the Kara would always be seen by the Sikh.
The Kirpan is the dagger that a Sikh wears. The Kirpan seeks to remind the Sikh of his or her constant battle against sin. Sikhs have historically been looked upon as defenders of the innocent. This was typified during the days of Baba Banda Singh Bahadar and during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Even today, a Sikh is expected to defend the innocent within the bounds of his or her capabilities.
The Kes refers to a Sikh's hair. A Sikh is not allowed to cut nor trim his or her hair - referring also to the beard. The Guru's accepted and emphasised the understanding that man was created in the true image of the Lord Vahiguru. They taught that the Lord Vahiguru is perfect in more ways than we can understand, therefore the human was created in an image that the Lord saw fit and it was clear that the hair on one's body was destined to grow. Hence to cut that hair is regarded as an act against the Lord's will.
On that day, the Guru also asked the Sikhs to be wary of the four abstinence's : Drinking Alcohol, Smoking tobacco and other narcotic substances, eating meat, cutting hair on any part of the body and committing adultery, a Sikh was to fully abstain from all four.
The Drinking of Alcohol and Usage of narcotic Substances. The Gurus forbade the drinking of alchohol, Guru Gobind Singh Ji made the avoidance official on that first Vaisakhi saying that no Sikh of the Guru's should drink alcohol or alcoholic substances. The effects of alcohol are well known and many a family have been ruined due to the adverse effects of alcohol .
Smoking tobacco in those days was certainly considered unsocial. The trend today is also for people to becoming non-smokers - not only because it is considered unsocial, but it has been proven beyond doubt that it is unhealthy. The Guru's encouraged healthy activity and frequently emphasised the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This clause also discouraged the use of drugs and narcotic substances. Sikhs were allowed to take medicine in cases of illness and in these conditions it was accepted that the medicines may be narcotic.
Eating Meat. Sikhs were from the first days discouraged from eating meat - that including fish and eggs. There has always been confusion amongst scholars with regard to this, some feel that Sikhs are allowed to eat meat as long as it isn't Halal - due to the cruel methods used to kill the animal. Obviously - any method used to kill an animal is cruel. Others argue that Sikhs are allowed to eat meat - as long as the animal was killed by the Sikh him or herself. The fact according to the Gurbani is that a Sikh shall not eat meat - under any circumstances.
When Guru Gobind Singh Ji and his faithful Sikhs were locked in bitter battle from within the Fort Anandgarh, they went through many days without the taste of food nor water, at that time, some Sikhs suggested killing a horse and feeding themselves. But the Guru condemned this and suggested that it was better that a Sikh die of hunger in these conditions than to act against the Guru's word. Recently there has been increasing emphasis on the cruelty to animals inflicted throughout the world. The numbers of Vegetarians is increasing, clearly the animal feels pain as would we, when it is killed. All breathing life forms have an instinct to stay alive - for they were made so, they feel a natural threat when their life is in danger and this is clearly against the Lord's will. If the eating of meat had been acceptable in those days, meat dishes would still be served in the Gurudwaras today - this is obviously not the case, for meat is strictly forbidden.
Commiting Adultery. The fourth abstinence was that of committing adultery. The Guru's forbade any kind of intimate relationship with one other than he or she to whom one was betrothed. A Sikh wedding is invariably performed in the physical presence of the Guru Granth Sahib - the holy scriptures that contain the word of the Gurus and which represent the Guru's spiritually and physically. During that wedding ceremony, the Sikh bride and groom undertake a promise to remain ever faithful to each other and the Guru. By committing adultery, one is not only breaking the contract between ones self and one's wife/husband, but also with the Guru.
Cutting Hair. Having unshorn hair had been made the norm from the period of the Gurus. They taught that the Lord Vahiguru created man in his own image - a belief accepted by other faiths as well. The Guru's also taught that the Lord Vahiguru was perfect in every sense and that had the Lord not wanted the human to have hair, he would not have been given them hair in the first place. Hence to cut one's hair is seen to be a denial of the Lord's will. Some Sikhs today have formed the opinion that it is acceptable to trim the beard as long as it is not completely removed, this again is not in accordance with the principles of Sikhi, for Sikhi is not a faith of compromise and the Sikh discipline was made very clear on that great day in Vaisakhi. Never in history - up to the modern age have there been well known cases where Sikhs trimmed their beards. Furthermore, it is only in the last thirty or so years - since Sikhs began emigrating into the Western world that these instances have become very existent.
The four abstinences not only forced a clean sense of mind upon a Sikh, but they also instil a sense of decency within today's society. These four abstinences do not lay the entire code of Sikhi, for that can only be found in the Guru Granth Sahib. The four abstinences are the absolute basic rules for the Sikh populace. Books have been written on the topic What Is A Sikh ? This text has only discussed this question in small detail. But in the discussion of this topic it is very important to base the arguments in consistency with the word of the Gurus - as documented in the Guru Granth Sahib, it is very easy in this situation to instil a personal view into the topic and it is easy to rationalise the events of the first Vaisakhi - as has been done on many occasions.