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Handout 6: The Turban and Five Ks of Sikhism

The Five Ks (in Punjabi "Panj Kakkar") are symbols of faith worn by baptized Sikh men and women. The name, Panj Kakkar or Five Ks, comes from all five items beginning with the letter "K." It is considered an honor to wear the Five Ks and (for men) turban which publicly identify the wearer as Sikh. Sikhs feel the public nature of their faith holds them to a high level of accountability, both personally and as representatives of their religion. The Five Ks are:


Kesh means unshorn hair. Sikhs affirm that they will keep their hair in its natural state, never cutting it. This is an expression of accepting the natural gifts of God and a commitment to live in harmony with situations and people as they are. Accepting and celebrating one's God-given body without changing it is the first step in accepting other laws, the foremost of which is becoming a universal being.


A kangha is a small comb. The kangha is used to brush a Sikh's long hair twice a day, after which men retie their turbans. Symbolically, the kangha reminds Sikhs to keep their lives in order and their thoughts clear and clean.


Kara means link or bond; the kara is a steel bracelet worn on the right wrist. It is a continuous band with no beginning and no end, just as God has no beginning and no end, and signifies a Sikh's link to the Sikh community and teachings. The kara serves as a reminder to do no harm.


The kachha is an undergarment similar to boxer shorts. The loose-fitting, white shorts have two meanings. One is the reminder to control bodily urges and stay clean in spirit. The other is to remain free to move swiftly when it is time to prevent harm or protect what is good.


A kirpan is a warrior's sword. Today's kirpan can be a real knife, but this can pose difficulties. Often, small symbolic kirpans are worn, instead, attached to the kangha (comb) or worn as a pendant. It is not a symbol of violence. The word kirpan comes from "kirpa," meaning an act of kindness. In any of its forms, the kirpan is a symbol of power, freedom of spirit, and courage to always defend the weak and the oppressed.


The Punjabi word for turban also begins with a K ("keski"), but it is separate from the Five Ks. Usually the turban is worn only by men. Sikh men wear their long hair in a turban to protect the hair and keep it neat, and also as a public expression of humility and faith.

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