The 5 K's

The 5 K's - Symbol of Khalsa - the brotherhood of Sikhs

Sikhs who have made a public commitment to the faith by going through a special baptism, known as the Amrit Ceremony, are called members of the Khalsa (the community of baptised Sikhs). They adopt five symbols. These symbols (the Five K’s) are not only a means of showing the Sikh identity, but they also have spiritual meanings and are powerful symbols of the faith. Most Sikhs, through custom and culture, follow the traditions of the Khalsa.

The Five Ks are the five items of dress and physical appearance (a sort of uniform) given to Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh when he gathered together the first members of the Khalsa on Baisakhi day in 1699. Gobind Singh was the tenth Sikh guru or spiritual teacher.

Kesh - uncut hair and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness; and a turban, the crown of spirituality.

Kangha - a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.

Katchera - specially made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.

Kara - a steel circle, worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

Kirpan - the sword, with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Khalsa also vows to refrain from any sexual relationships outside of marriage, and to refrain from taking meat, tobacco, alcohol, and all other intoxicants.


The Kara is a bangle, usually made from iron or steel and worn on the right wrist. The steel is a symbol of strength, and the circular shape is a symbol of unity and eternity - a circle has no beginning and no end. This reflects the Sikh view of God who is eternal and infinite. The circular shape also stands for unity between Sikhs and between Sikhs and God.


The kangha is a wooden comb which is used to keep the hair clean and tidy. Cleanliness was one of the things emphasised by Guru Gobind Singh when he formed the Khalsa. Sikhs wash their hair very early every morning, then comb it, and wind it into a topknot. The kangha is placed in the topknot which is then covered with a turban. The Kangha represents discipline in all aspects of life.


Kachera are short trousers which now are usually worn as undergarments. Guru Gobind Singh told Sikhs to wear short trousers as part of the Khalsa uniform. Some explanations say that this was to distinguish Sikhs from Hindus who traditionally wore dhoti (a long loin cloth). Other explanations offered include the idea that the short trousers made it easier for Sikhs to move in battle. This explanation may be offensive to Sikhs who do not wish to be seen as a violent or aggressive community. For most Sikhs the Kachera are a symbol of modesty.


The kirpan is a sword worn by initiated (Khalsa) Sikhs. The Sikh community does not like the kirpan to be referred to either as a dagger or as a knife as both of these terms suggest violence and an intent to cause injury. The kirpan (sword) is worn as a reminder of the courage of the first five Sikhs who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their religion. The kirpan is therefore a symbol of bravery and of faith in God. There was a time, however, when Sikhs were persecuted and had to be ready to defend not only themselves, but their faith. The kirpan is worn as a symbol of the Sikh being willing to defend his or her faith, or to defend the weak or oppressed. For many, the most important meaning is that the kirpan symbolises the commitment to fight ‘the enemy within’, that is weaknesses in one’s own character and behaviour.


Kesh is uncut hair. Traditionally, Sikhs do not cut their hair and male Sikhs should not cut their beards. This ‘natural state’ symbolises devotion to God. Some Sikhs believe that the beard should be allowed to grow freely, while others use a beard net to keep it out of the way. Guru Gobind Singh encouraged Sikhs not to cut their hair, which should be allowed to grow ‘as God intended’. In practise, some British Sikhs find this tradition fairly difficult to keep and so do not adopt this particular symbol. They may still wear the turban on religious occasions.

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