The word Khalsa originated from the Arabic word Khalas or Khalsah and means pure, clean, undefiled, unadulterated. It is somewhat akin, but not exactly, to the Persian word Pak, or Shudh in Hindi. Khalsa also stands for land or revenue which is directly administered by the government or the king.
The Khalsa is associated with the spirit and not with the body. Guru Himself is the Supreme Khalsa and is called amongst the other numerous names, as Pak-Allah and Shudh Braham. This spirit of the Khalsa is, therefore, pristine and coexists with the Supreme purity. Khalsa is directly linked to God.
It was Guru Nanak’s (1469-1539) mission to produce an ideal group of people, which later came to be known as Khalsa, who besides being spiritually charged, were prepared to sacrifice themselves, if need be, at the altar of freedom, righteousness and just rule. It took him and his nine successors nearly 230 years to accomplish this task. The late Professor Puran Singh, the mystic poet writes, “The majesty and spiritual splendour of this ideal group Khalsa had been the dream of Guru Nanak, which Guru Gobind Singh planted in the garden of Anandpur Sahib, as the root of the kingdom of righteousness.” The guideline was provided by Guru Nanak in his dictum “Je tou prem khelan ka chao, sir dhar tali gali mori ao” — “Oh ye man, whosoever wants to seek love of God, come to me with your head on your palm.” The oft-repeated charge by some historians that the Khalsa was created impulsively by Guru Gobind Singh to avenge the assassination of his father or for some territorial ambition is totally unjustified. It was the culmination and product of the mission undertaken by Guru Nanak.
When Guru Gobind Singh chose five Sikhs as Panj Piaras on the Vaisakhi Day in 1699, out of the thousands assembled, at the point of his flashing sword and certain death, he called them the Khalsa. He initiated them by amrit, sweetened water stirred in an iron vessel by a double-edged sword while the five banis, the daily prayers of the Sikhs, were being recited. Thereafter, the Guru requested them to initiate him likewise as a member of the Khalsa brotherhood — a unique feature which has no parallel in the world history — whereby a prophet places himself as not only equal but also lower to his followers. Henceforth, the Panj Piaras were vested with the authority of the Guru and the Guru merged himself in the Khalsa and the Khalsa in the Guru. During the initiation ceremony, the Guru had asked the Panj Piaras to utter Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh — Khalsa belongs to the glorious God, All victories be to His Name. This slogan became the words of greeting of the Khalsa. It may be mentioned that four of the Panj Piaras belonged to lower castes and came from all the four corners of India, i.e., two from Punjab as it then was and one each from Jagannath-Puri, Bidar and Dwarka. The Khalsa fraternity is, therefore, cosmopolitan. These Panj Piaras formed the nucleus of the Khalsa brotherhood.
The purpose of flashing the sword was to instil into his followers the crusading spirit of sacrifice, truth and righteousness, which the Guru, including his four sons, amply demonstrated subsequently.
The name of the Panj Piaras coincidentally or more by design are indicative of the basic characteristics of the Khalsa. These are Compassion (Bhai Daya Singh); Righteousness (Bhai Dharam Singh); Courage (Bhai Himmat Singh); Determination (Bhai Mohkam Singh); and Knighthood (Bhai Sahib Singh).
Who Is A Khalsa ?
Guru Gobind Singh mentioned the word Khalsa umpteen times in his compositions. He was so fascinated and enthusiastic about it that he called them as his Guru, Benefactor, Sustainer, so much so that his very existence was dependent on them. He swore by God and Guru Nanak that even if all his hair were singing Khalsa’s attributes, yet these cannot be fully described. “Ya main rancha na mithya bhakhi, parbraham Guru Nanak sakhi; Rom rom je rasna paoon, tadapi khalsa jas tehn gaoon.” In Guru Granth Sahib, the word Khalsa is only mentioned once in Kabir’s bani, “Koh Kabir jan bhae Khalse, prem bhagat jeh jani” — “Khalsa is he who is absorbed in devotional love of Guru”. By this yardstick all the world prophets, gurus, rishis, pirs and bhagats who preached oneness of God and humanity are in fact the ideal Khalsas.
The word Khalsa had also been mentioned in the Hukamnamas of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) and Guru Tegh Bahadur (1622-1675) with reference to the sangats of Kabul and Patna. It was the Sikh sangats which were converted into the Khalsa brotherhood. “Guru sangat keeni Khalsa.”
Guru Gobind Singh has himself defined Khalsa in the following words :
“He in whose heart burns unflickering the lamp of His remembrance day and night, know him to be the Khalsa — the pure. He does not believe in any one else other than Him. He does not indulge in rituals like fasting, pilgrimages, veneration of tombs and idols. He shall for ever keep burning the lamp of Naam, the light of life, in the shrine of his heart.”
Doctrine Of The Khalsa
Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa brotherhood in his own image, untarnished, unsoiled and flawless. He asked them to live a householder’s life shunning asceticism, celibacy and otherworldliness. Since the Khalsa brotherhood is life-affirming, empirical and spiritual matters cannot be divorced from each other. His religion and politics are one. To protect righteousness, the Guru sought divine blessings, “Bless me with the power, O Lord that I may never be deterred from righteous action even at the cost of laying down my life.” De Shiva var moh ehe, subh - karman te kabhu no taron......” This became the beau-ideal and anthem of the Khalsa.
Khalsa’s spiritual guide is Sri Guru Granth Sahib — a unique scripture which contains, apart from the Gurus’ writings, work of 32 Bhagats of medieval India of all denominations, including Muslims and the so-called low castes. It is “...part of mankind’s common spiritual treasure and has something of special value to say to the rest of the world.” Its teachings fit in with the cosmopolitan character of the Khalsa brotherhood who do not recognise any distinction between the various world religions — Manas ki jat sabhae eko pechanbo.”
Other aspects of Khalsa doctrine are:
Naam – Remembering God with love and faith
Daan – Spontaneous charity in giving away one’s wealth, mind and body in service of His creation. Conscious charity is not considered as Daan.
Isnan – Bathing of body and mind by simran.
Kirat Karna – Dignity of labour to earn one’s living by honest means.
Vand Chhakna – Equal distribution of the fruits of labour.
Deg Chalani – Free feeding of the destitutes and handicapped.
Teg Wahni – Wielding of sword for the protection of the weak and oppressed.
Mission of the Khalsa
The mission assigned by the Almighty to Guru Gobind Singh and in turn to the Khalsa, is “To uphold righteousness, to protect the weak and virtuous and to overcome and destroy the evil-doers.” In this basic mission, no worldly power, acquisition or possession is implied, for the Khalsa is charged with the responsibility to seek justice, fair play and equal opportunity for the entire mankind without distinction of caste, colour, creed or religion. On the equality of man, Guru Gobind Singh spoke explicitly and emphatically :
“Recognise all mankind as one, made of the same five elements (earth, air, water, fire and ether), their features, eyes, nose, etc., are the same, the Lord is the creator and sustainer of all; recognise no distinction amongst them; the temple and the mosque are the same; so are the Hindu worship and Muslim prayer.”
The Khalsa’s glorious history, its noble deeds and its aspirations for the welfare of humanity are contained in the daily Sikh Ardas ending with the term sarbat da bhala.
The miracle wrought by Guru Gobind Singh in initiating the Khalsa was such that the people who had been serfs and slaves for centuries became the masters of their land and stemmed foreign incursions across the north-west border for ever. Weapons which were discarded as a result of the cult of ahimsa, became the symbols of divine worship to root out the evil and instil a spirit of valour and confidence.
Symbols Of The Khalsa
An outward visible form is needed for organised bodies, particularly the armed forces to enforce discipline, sense of duty, esprit-de-corps and cohesion amongst its members. The Khalsa fraternity is also the Immortal’s army, “Khalsa Akal Purakh ki Fauj”, charged with establishment of just rule, protection of saints and poor, and extirpation of tyrants — “Dharam chalavan, sant ubaran, dusht sabhan ko mool uparan.”
There are three references in the holy scripture pertaining to the sanctity of hair and turban. First and second are to the beauty of the Cosmos Man “Sohne nuk jin lamre vala” — who has beautiful nose and long hair and “Khub teri pagri, mithe tere bol” — beautiful your turban and pleasing your voice. The third is to the human body which He has created in his own image “Saabat soorat dastar sira” — body that is whole, uncut and pure with a turban on head.
The Khalsa symbols, popularly known as 5 Ks, are an indispensable part of the Khalsa discipline. The keshas (hair) is the most important and sacred of all the symbols. Shaving and trimming of hair is a grave aberration. All our prophets, gurus, saints and pirs strictly preserved their hair. Khalsa prays daily that “may he be granted power to maintain his keshas till his last breath — “Sikhi kesan suasan naal nibhai.” History is replete with numerous examples when the Sikhs preferred to sacrifice their heads rather than their hair be cut or trimmed.
When Guru Gobind Singh prescribed the discipline of the 5 Ks for his Khalsa militia, he also stressed their spiritual significance. He had maintained that since the role and aim of the Khalsa are different, their persuasion, direction and code of conduct are also different, and as such, their dress has to be different so that they stand out amongst a crowd. At the same time, he decried the ostentatious wearing of symbols without inner involvement. To demonstrate this futility, he attired a donkey with a tiger skin and let it out. People got scared seeing a tiger amidst them, till the donkey’s identity was disclosed by its braying.
Keshas (hair) : Hair is associated with manliness, sterness, and strength. It is the spiritual crown of humanity.
Kirpan (sword) : It is a combination of two words — kirpa (grace) and aan (power and dignity). Essentially, a defensive weapon to protect the weak and oppressed and readiness to fight for a righteous cause.
Kara (iron bangle) : Symbol of eternity and restrain from misdeeds.
Kachha (knicker) : A convenient and simple all-purpose underwear. Sign of alertness and chastity. A Khalsa considers : women other than his wife as mother, sister or daughter / men other than husband as father, brother or son.
Kangha (comb) : An item of utility for keeping hair clean and tidy. Also connotes combing of one’s mind of evil thoughts and passions.
The Khalsa is a superman — a hermit at heart, but externally a prince, drunk with the glory of God, guileless and innocent as a child and brother of all, yet striking no fear or dread of any kind. He is humanitarian, believes in the good of the whole humanity (sarbat da bhala) and overflowing with robust optimism (charhdi-kala). He is detached from the mundane affairs of the world, and desires neither crown here nor salvation hereafter, for his sole devotion is to God and humanity.