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Rational Behind 5 Kakars: My Understanding


Jun 11, 2004

Dear Khalsa Ji,

In ‘Knowledge Age’ each child and youth is entitled to formal education. This education is based on our current rational understanding about the world in which we live. These individuals by virtue of the formal education have a frame of mind that asks question – ‘Why’? ‘How’? ‘Who’? ‘When’? ‘Where’? There is no reason why the evolving minds should not pose such question.

Many traditional aspects and beliefs, with which people live their lives, have origin in scriptures of the ancient religions. These tools of learning- Why’? ‘How’? ‘Who’? ‘When’? ‘Where’ etc, the evolving minds apply to all that religion asks them to do. This way all aspects of religion and the way of living that stems from it have come up for scrutiny – the is the way of ‘Knowledge Age’.

‘Knowledge Age’ is characterized by enormous rise in human understanding about the nature and how it works. This understanding has demolished many myths that were part of ancient religions e.g. ‘earth is flat’; ‘earth is supported on the back of an animal’; ‘the smallest elemental particle is atom (parmanu); ‘woman was created from a part of the man’s body’; ‘women are inferior being in comparison with men’; ‘large scale human settlements with sacred language and supernatural powers existed on this planet thousands billions years ago’ etc. Finding that all what scripture has said is not true creates doubt in the minds of individuals about the rest of it – it is natural.

Based on their knowledgebase and their experience in life these youth want to form their own views about every aspect of life, including moral values and religion. When these youths are not able to rationalize their religious beliefs they loose faith in them; it is natural and it is bound to be so.

No one can dismiss each and every view of these educated youths as rubbish; in many cases they are right in the context of current knowledge of human race. Those who think they know more should share their knowledgebase with these youths and leave it to them to decide what is good for them. Dogmatic assertions or authoritative commands are not a substitute for a ‘Satsang’ with learned and wise elders; it is the birth right of each one of us. Not listening to the views of our next generation with care and love and answering them in the language and manner our youth understands, amounts to arrogance; it is un-Sikh like.

This is going to be a long post, which I do not want to split into parts. I advise patience to the readers.

Its rational can only be understood in the context of history of religious innovation in India and the world. I will be discussing these also in the course of sharing my understanding with you.

With this preface, now I share my understanding about ‘The Rational behind Institution of 5 Kakars by Guru Sahib’.

1. Young ‘Nanak’ from very early stage of his life was naturally inclined towards spiritual evolution. History tells us that he liked the company of spiritually evolved individual. From these people he learned what they considered proper way to reach the pinnacle of spirituality and link up with ‘The Ultimate’. Guru Sahib understood what these Sadhus explained to him and deliberated over it to arrive at his own conclusion. To achieve spiritual evolution, numbers of ways were being propagated in India, Guru Sahib had to sift them and learn the ultimate truth using his own mental faculties. He spent considerable part of his life doing so and with divine assistance (Gurparsadi) he ultimately experienced ‘The Ultimate’. This ‘Ultimate’ I call ‘The Sat’ in my posts.

2. Guru Sahibs were aware of all the religious streams that existed in India – some native to this land and few that came from abroad; this is evident from the text of Siri Guru Granth Sahib. The evolution of religious thought in India was greatly influenced by the ‘Varnashram Dharma’ – four castes (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Veshya and Sudra are the four castes in order of predominance) and four stages of life (Brahamacharya, Grahastha, Sanyasa and Vanprastha). The laws of Manu, as I understand, were basically designed (i) to maintain the predomination of Brahmins within the society and in all the spheres of life, and having done that, (ii) to maintain some social order within the society. Varnashram Dharma structured the society and prevented horizontal and vertical mobility in spiritual and material world. Pujaris (priests) became the spokesman and the agent of ‘The Sat’ through whom all the religious transactions with ‘The Sat’ were to take place. ‘Sanskrit’, a language that was taught only to the male children born to Brahmin mother and father, was said to be sacred and the only medium for communicating with ‘The Sat’. The other three castes - Kshatriya, Veshya, Sudra and all the women (including those born in Brahmin families) were excluded from this privilege; they were kept illiterate by the Guardian of the society – the male Brahmin priests. I am not dwelling on the compulsions of the early Aryan invaders who designed ‘Varnashram Dharma’ as it will make this post very long. They probably were right in the time and the context in which they lived.

It is normal; it is natural; it is the case with all ancient religions that has a priestly class that the priests have self interest in protecting and perpetuating the religion to which they belong. In this natural way, The Brahmin Pujaris, armed with the ‘Laws of Manu’ ensured compliance of their religion by the individuals and by different castes of this religion.

Having said so much about the Varnashram Dharma and predominance of Brahmins in it, I also want to pay tributes to early Brahmins – ‘the early Brahmins were really divine’, they deserved the role assigned to them. The rigidity of the ‘Laws of Manu’ and the strict nature of Brahmin Dharma had built in feature for their downfall form this exalted position; this I explain later in this post in point below.

3. All the Priests of any religion are not true to the ideals of their religion; they all have their limitations, their failings and self interest. For many service of the devotees through priesthood is not their natural urge coming from the depth and heart and soul, but is a profession; a livelyhood. The aim of such priests is not spirituality but material earning. Let us study what happened in ancient India. These priests of the ancient religion of the land were taught Sanskrit and all the four Vedas – the source of total knowledge at that time. They were the highest intellectuals of their time in the society. They had all the abilities to earn an excellent material living. Yet the religion has imposed a life of poverty on them. These priests were not allowed to do any work. They were to go around the village begging for food. They were to live on what the other house holds gave them as alms. Brahmin Dharma did not allow them to pluck fruits or flowers from the plant as that will terminate their life and so considered as a sin. They were to go around in the market and took for the grains that had been left behind by the traders and use them to cook their food. Those exalted Brahmins who had evolved to divinity had shed their body centeredness and ego and were in full harmony with Brahmin Dharma, but the young, the youths and many elders in the priestly class had all the urges and weakness that any human can have. To provide for their natural urges they incorporated enough provision in the “Laws of Manu” that served them and not the spirituality. To give you an example: ‘The Law of Manu” allows the Pujaris to have four wives at a time; why he needs four wives I do not have to explain. All this I am saying not to denigrate any system. Individuals in Khalsa Panth, as it is today, also have failings. Such self centeredness existed in some Sikhs during the time of Guru Sahibs too; Guru Sahib had disbanded the ‘Masands’ because they had shown such tendencies. All this I am sharing with you to explain you the point that when the reigns of religion pass from the divine to the Priestly class, the self interests and worldly urges of the individuals of this class create distortions and moves the religion away from its basics; this happens with all religious systems.

4. All over the world the priestly class of the established religion is always hostile to any new idea and it is so even today. This priestly class uses its influence on the rulers and many other instruments to create the environment to curb and destroy the new religion. It would have been un-natural if Khalsa Panth did not have to endure such ordeals. These ordeals are to be faced in the natural course of evolution – there is no birth without pain. These are the qualifying tests for graduation. It is in such fire that the gold gets purified and achieves it highest purity. All new ideas have to pass through such difficult period to blossom fully– no hard feelings should arise out of it for any one; all this is part of life.

5. Knowing fully well the operations of the priestly class, who keeps giving new tinges to the religion to suit their temporal environment and ultimately lead their flock away from the goal the divine Guru has set for his followers; Guru Sahib abolished the priesthood from Sikh religion. Guru Sahib went a step further and abolished even Guru-ship of any living person and vested it in Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

6. Guru Sahibs were great thinkers; they could visualize all that can happen as a result of abolition of priestly class who, in other religions, were the natural guardians of the religion. The Guru-ship which had protected the fledgling Sikh region during the lives of our ten Gurus was to cease with passing away of our tenth Guru; in this situation and the Sikh religious system could remain undefended if alternate arrangements were not made. Siri Guru Granth Sahib could guide the Panth, but cannot fight the way living humans can. This front if left unprotected can allow the hostile elements from other religious systems to destroy all what the successions of ten gurus had achieved. Guru Sahib was a system designer, he provided for all aspects of Sikh religious system, nothing was left wanting. In designing the Panth, Guru Sahib followed all the principles, values and beliefs that were enshrined in Sikhi by all the nine Gurus that preceded him. ‘Equality’ was one of them. Guru Sahib instituted a corporate Khalsa Panth in which all members are equal – men and women. Each one of the member of this Panth had the same responsibilities - each member had to be true to the religion and become a guardian of the Panth. Each Sikh has the task to live, propagate and defend the ideals of this religion. In this new corporate Panth, each member is duty bound to defend the ideals of this religion (i) at the ideological, philosophical level, the way Pujaris or the priests do for their religion; this demands each Sikh to be a ‘Saint’, and (ii) at physical level; the Panth also had to be defended against physical liquidation by the mighty hostile entities; this demanded that each Sikh should be a committed fighter also. From these considerations Guru Sahib demanded that each Sikh should be a ‘Soldier’ also.

This way the concept of Miri and Piri was instituted in the being of each and every Sikh. No one can be a Sikh without being a ‘Saint-Soldier’ contributing to the spiritual and temporal aspects of life within the Panth.

7. Each Sikh is a Saint and thus is a propagator of the religion too. We know the Priests in each of each religion have a way of dressing. The Buddhist monks, the Brahmin Pujaris, the Christian priests, the Jain Munis all have some sort of special attire that distinguish them from the others; in a way this is their uniform. Sikh religion is a religion of householders; it is life affirming, it tells how to achieve the ultimate in spirituality living the full life as a householder. Our guru Sahib lived such lives and set example for us. All Sikhs are supposed to evolve into saints and yet live the live as a householder. The householder needs a dress that suits her or his profession. For this reason, though each Sikh was deemed advocate of the religion, a Monk like dress could not be imposed on Sikhs. Some other way had to be found.

Since Sikh religion is a common man’s religion, and that to a corporate religion were all are equal, it can be asked why a Sikh should have a distinction that set her or him apart from others. This question can be answered only in the context in which humanity is living. We are all living in an antagonist world. The brotherhood of humankind is not yet established, it is only a distant possibility; big fishes are swallowing the small fishes; protection from external hostile agency is a basic requirement for survival. For immovable entities we put a fence to demarcate it and to protect it against intrusion. The entities that can move are marked with a number or by a dress e.g. all the members of a team wear the same dress for any competitive match. This uniform dress tells where the help is and who all have similar goal in the game. Sikhs too have a common mission in life, each Sikh should be able to identify other Sikhs, it has synergetic effect on the mission. The distinguishing features compensate, in some measure, for the lack of numbers. Guru Sahib selected the feature that distinguished the ancient sages of India ‘The Kesh’ to distinguish a Sikhs; after all, each Sikh was to be a Saint also. ‘Kesh’ is the 1st Kakar instituted for Sikhs by our tenth Guru.

8. I cannot say how the ancient sages of India maintained their Kesh; I have no information on it, but the Sadhus as they are today and must have been so at the time of our Gurus do not comb their Kesh. This way they expressed they are not part of normal life, mentally they have left Samsara (world). Guru Sahib never wanted Sikhs to get influenced by such environment. Guru Sahib wanted all Sikhs to live a civilized life with dignity. Having given us Kesh, Guru Gobind Singh Ji instituted the 2nd Kakar the ‘Kanga. This way Guru Sahib took us away from the life-negating Sadhus and asked us to respect the human form with which ‘The Sat’ has blessed us. This by implication asks to remain decently dressed.

9. It was a belief prevailing in Indian society that when ever there is decline in moral values and atrocities against the innocent individuals becomes unbearable for the masses, God descends from heavens in some form to destroy the tyrants and set the things right for the weak. The ancient religious literature of this land is full of such episodes. In Sikh religion this belief is fully negated in the first sentence of Siri Guru Granth Sahib. ‘The Sat’ is ‘Ajuni’ i.e. ‘The Absolute’ is never born. This way the Idea of avatar too stands negated. Guru Sahibs never allowed themselves to be referred to as Avatar, they were Gurus only.

It is my understanding that this idea of God descending on earth to eradicate miseries of the commoners must have been created by earlier leaders of religion based society, to control it without any protest in order to make their own life easy. The idea that God will come to destroy the tyrants coupled with the belief that what we are in this life, is because of our karmas of our past life, and the good deeds of this life will bear fruits only in the next life, made the society very docile and compliant for those who were exploiting it. The leaders of the society demanded compliance to their wishes because they claimed that this is their right because of their good deeds of the past births and any disobedience to their dictates will make the conditions of life of the subjects worse in this and also in future birth.

The idea of God taking a form and directly intervening in the affairs of society has no basis. The recorded history tells us that God did not descend from heavens to save his devotee from unjust acts of tyrants: Jesus was not saved he was crucified; Indian masses were not saved from the unjust treatment from the rulers during Mughal period; God did not intervene when Guru Arjan Dev Ji was tortured and so was the case when Guru Tegbahadur Ji was beheaded or when the innocent children of Guru Gobind were embedded live in walls; it did not happen when Jews were killed during second world war, it did not happen during the partition of India and more recently it did not happen when the Sikhs were killed during 1984. All this is evidence that god does not intervene in the affairs of humans. This fact was self evident to Guru Sahib. It was necessary to change the mind set of the people, which was created by the brain washing of the bygone millenniums. A shock treatment was needed; this was administered on the day of Baisakhi when he created Khalsa Panth. Guru Sahib gave us the 3rd Kakar in the form of ‘Kirpan.

Kirpan is a symbol of empowerment; through it Guru Sahib conveyed to us that Khalsa Panth has the power to defend itself. Guru Sahib has said that when all peaceful means of getting justice get exhausted and the tyrants threatens the very existence of the individual, use of weapon is justified. In India, some vest interests never get tired of criticizing Sikhs who hold this view. They say that this view was all right during the times of Guru Sahib; in democracy it is not justified. These people need to know what Jefferson has said during the formation of constitution of US – ‘If the individual who is following the law does not get the protection promised by law, then this individual has every right to take law into his own hand’. Even Indian law allows the use of weapon in self defense. Guru Sahib not only gave the weapon in the hand of Sikhs, he trained them in their use also. This way he gave effect to his concept of ‘Saint-Soldier.

10. Each Sikh of the Khalsa Panth is an empowered person. There is always a chance that the person may go astray and to minimize this chance Guru Sahib designed a code of conduct for Sikhs. The Sikhs are expected to consult this code before taking any action. Most of the actions are taken using the hand. To remind Sikhs the limits within which they must live and act Guru Sahib instituted the 4th Kakar in the form of ‘Kada’. This loose circular bangle like Kakar, worn in arm, reminds each Sikh of the limits within which she or he must live.

11. Covering the genitals in public is part of civilized living. The undergarment was specially designed so that (i) it does not make the person on the horse uncomfortable even when on long distance rides and (ii) no matter what the posture of the person is it does not expose the genitals. All Sikhs were asked to wear it. This garment called Kachha which is the 5th Kakar for all Sikhs’. I may remind you that at the time of Guru Sahib Men used to wear a long upper garment and Kachha which was covered by the upper Garment as on can see in the paintings of the commoners of that time.

With this I close this post. Why there is no reference to these 5 Kakars in Siri Guru Granth Sahib I will discuss in another post.

With love and respect for all.

Amarpal Singh

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