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Kesh - Uncut hair is one of the five requisites of faith for the Sikhs

The Sikhs were commanded by Guru Gobind Singh at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanchar in 1699 to wear long uncut hair called Kesh at all times. This was one of the 'five requisites of faith', collectively called Kakars that form the external visible identifiers to clearly affirm a Sikh's commitment and dedication to the order (Hukam) of the tenth master and made one a member of the Khalsa. The Khalsa is the "Saint-Soldier" of Guru Gobind Singh who stated the following:

"He does not recognize anyone else except One Lord, not even the bestowal of charities, performance of merciful acts, austerities and restraint on pilgrim-stations; the perfect light of the Lord illuminates his heart, then consider him as the immaculate Khalsa." (Guru Gobind Singh in the Dasam Granth page 1350)

The Kesh or unshorn long hair is an indispensible part of the human body as created by Vaheguru that is the mainstay of the 'Jivan Jaach' and the Rehni that was prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib by which a Sikh is clearly and quickly identified, Kesh. The kanga, another requisite of faith is usually tucked behind the "Rishi Knot" and tied under the turban. The uncut long head hair and the beard in the case of men forms the main kakar for the Sikhs.

KESADHARI, a term defining a Sikh as one who carries on his head the full growth of his kes (hair) which he never trims or cuts for any reason. Anyone, Sikh or non-Sikh, may keep the hair unshorn, but for the Sikh kes, unshorn hair, is an requisite of faith and an inviolable vow. The Sikh Rahit Maryada published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, statutory body for the control and management of Sikh shrines and by extension for laying down rules about Sikh beliefs and practices, issued in 1945, after long and minute deliberations among Sikh scholars and theologians, defines a Sikh thus:

Every Sikh who has been admitted to the rites of Amrit, i.e. who has been initiated as a Sikh, must allow his hair to grow to its full length. This also applies to those born of Sikh families but [who] have not yet received the rites of Amrit of the tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh.

Water painting of a Sikh Women with her long hair tucked under her Dastar (Turban)

All codes and manuals defining Sikh conduct are unanimous in saying that uncut hair is obligatory for every Sikh. One of them, Bhai Chaupa Singh's, records, "The Guru's Sikh must protect the hair, comb it morning and evening and wash it with the curd. And he must not touch it with unclean hands."

Bhai Nand Lal quotes Guru Gobind Singh:

My Sikh shall not use the razor. For him the use of razor or shaving the chin shall be as sinful as incest. . . For the Khalsa such a symbol is prescribed so that a Sikh cannot remain undistinguishable from among a hundred thousand Hindus or Muslims; because how can he hide himself with hair and turban on his head and with a flowing beard?

Bhai Desa Singh, in his Rahitnama imparts a theological edge to his statement:

God created the whole universe and then he fashioned the human body. He gave men beard, moustaches and hair on the head. He who submits to His Will stead- fastly adheres to them. They who deny His Will how will they find God in this world?

Trimming or shaving is forbidden for the Sikhs and constitutes for them the direst apostasy. The truest wish of a true Sikh is to be able "to preserve the hair on his head to his last breath." This was the earnest prayer arising out of Sikh hearts in the days of cruel persecution in the eighteenth century when to be a Sikh meant to be under the penalty of death. The example is cited from those dark days of Bhai Taru Singh, the martyr, who disdainfully spurned all tempting offers of the Mughal persecutor if only he would convert to Islam: "How do I fear for my life? Why must I become a Musalman? Don't Musalmans die? Why should I abandon my faith? May my faith endure until my last hair until my last breath," said Taru Singh.

The Nawab tried to tempt him with offers of lands and wealth. When he found Taru Singh inflexible, he decided to have his scalp scraped from his head. The barbers came with sharp lancets and slowly ripped Bhai Taru Singh's skull. He rejoiced that the hair of his head was still intact.

The importance of kes (Sikhs' unshorn hair) has been repeatedly demonstrated to them during their history. The hair has been their guarantee for self-preservation. Even more importantly, the prescription has a meaning for them far transcending the mundane frame of history.

A term which has had parallel usage in the Sikh system is Sahajdhari. A sahajdhari is not a full Sikh, but one on his way to becoming one. He is in the Guru's path, but has not yet adopted the full regalia of the faith. He fully subscribes to the philosophy of the Gurus; he does not own and believe in any other Guru or deity. His worship is the Sikh worship; only he has not yet adopted the full style of a Singh. Since he subscribed to no other form of worship or belief than the one prescribed for Sikhs, a concession was extended to him to call himself a Sikh - a sahajdhari Sikh or a gradualist who would gradually tread the path and eventually become a full-grown Khalsa. One venerable instance from among the contemporaries of Guru Gobind Singh, who introduced the order of the Khalsa, was Bhai Nand Lal, who composed beautiful poetry in honour of Guru Gobind Singh and who had the privilege even of laying down a code for the Sikhs.

The more recent Gurdwara enactment, passed by Indian Parliament in 1977, at the instance of Sikhs providing for the control and management of the Sikh places of worship in the territory of Delhi, apart from the Punjab, further tightened the definition of a Sikh and made it more explicit laying down "untrimmed hair" as an essential condition for him to be treated as a Sikh under the Act.

Above article on KESADHARI by Piara Singh Sambhi in Concepts in Sikhism

Human Hair: Scientific Status

(- A Biological Necessity By Dr. Birendra Kaur )

Hair is a characteristic feature of mammals, commonly known as "Hairy quadrupeds" - a group of animals that mark the climax of evolution. Mammals are also the dominant animals in the world today, due partly to their ability to regulate body temperature in the face of variations in environmental temperature. This requires regulation of heat production and heat loss by the body. Hair plays an important role in regulating heat loss from the body. Impulses from the brain (hypothalamus) causes the hair to stand on ends, thereby enclosing an insulating layer of air just outside the skin. This layer reduces the loss of heat by radiation.

Man marks the climax of evolution even among mammals, and has the most complex and highly developed brain, and the longest hair on his head. This feature cannot be without a reason. It cannot be a matter of mere chance or a mistake by nature, because if the tails has been lost the hair too could have been lost. On the contrary, human head-hair has increased manifold as compared to other mammals.

This dense and long growth of hair on the head shows that the body is trying to increase the surface area for some particular function. Such a trend to increase the surface area is seen in every system of the body, e.g. the highly coiled intestines with finger-like villi on their inner surfaces for absorption of digested food; alveoli in the lungs for exchange of O2 and CO2; glomerular capillaries in the form of bunch and coiled tubules in the kidneys where urine formation takes place. The circulatory and nervous systems show extensive branching to reach every nook and corner of the body. Even the surface of the human brain has maximum fissures (folds) corresponding to its increased abilities. The results that will be produced by decreasing the surface area of these points is easy for all to imagine!


Hair performs a variety of functions. Some are listed below:

Form an insulating coat on the body. Trap a layer of still air just outside the skin, and thereby reduce loss of heat by radiation. Absorb harmful radiations from the sun. Keep out coarse dust particles, as in eyelashes, hair in the nasal chambers and ear canals. Eyebrows prevent water or perspiration from falling into eyes, due to their particular direction. Axillary and pubic hair lessen friction between limbs and body, and between limbs during locomotion. Axillary hair provide large surface area for evaporation of sweat. Beautify the body (otherwise why people do not shave off their hair from the head completely; bald men are desperate and would pay any price to get back hair on their heads). Beard and moustaches are for differentiation of sex. Mostly males are decorated in nature, e.g. lion, peacock and other birds, deer, etc. Protect from sun and rain. Prevent water from entering into skin. Impart colour to body. Vibrissae are sensory hair, tactile in nature and useful in dark burrows. Defend the body in danger, by standing on their ends, thereby making the body look bigger. Help to disguise by blending with the colour of the surroundings, to escape the watchful eyes of natural enemies.


Hair is erroneously considered lifeless because of lack of any visible connection with the brain. But, the drain is not controlling/communicating with our body through nerves alone. Hormones, which are chemical mediators also regulate various body functions. The immune system of the body fights infection with the help of coordinated action of cells, which have no visible connection with each other, or with the brain. So, presence or absence of nerves alone cannot determine the connection of a particular part of the body with the brain. If the hair was really dead to the brain, how then does it come to know that it has been cut, and respond by growing it again to the specific length? Once the specific length has been attained, further lengthening ceases. Thus, undoubtedly the brain is well aware of the condition of the hair, cut or uncut, even upto its tip! This is a sure sign of life. Also, the hair, like any other living organ of the body, responds to ageing, in their length, thickness of growth and greying. The condition of the health of a person is also reflected in the hair, its luster, shine, etc.

Lack of sensation in hair, is no indication of its being dead, for, even the brain shows no such sensation. There is also a phylum (Porifera), the animals of which do not possess a nervous system at all. A blow to any part of their body produces no response whatsoever. Do we call these animals dead? Most plants do not show any sensation either.

Further, a part of that we call "dead" may be without sensation but definitely not without function. Rather, its function is as important as any living part of the body, if not more. For example:

What would be the fate of an egg without the shell? What would be the condition of the body's living cells without the covering of the dead cells, i.e. upper layers of skin? How can teeth perform their function without enamel? What life would a bird lead without feathers? How would many freshwater animals overcome unfavourable conditions and not become extinct without cysts? How would plants disperse and reproduce without formation of seeds? Actually, different parts of the body or different cells cannot be categorised as useful/not useful. Each is only specially modified to perform different function for the benefit of the same individual. What the cells of a kidney can do, the cells of pancreas cannot. That does not mean that the former are more important than the latter, or vice versa.


It is often argued that hair and nails are similar, and a question frequently asked: "If we should not cut our hair, then why do we cut our nails?" But even a superficial study of the two shows them to be extremely different from each other. Whereas the hair grows from a tubular pit, the hair follicle, formed by sinking in of the most actively dividing layer of the skin, i.e., stratum germinativum, into the lower dermis, the nails are only modifications of the upper dead layers of the skin, i.e. stratum corneum. Further, the base of every follicle bulges out forming an inverted cup, which receives blood capillaries for nourishment and nerve fibres that make the hair sensitive to contact. An oil gland, known as sebaceous gland, opens into every hair follicle, the secretion of which lubricates the hair. A muscle is also attach ed to the base of every hair for bringing about movement. Pigments are added to the shaft of the hair as it grows. None of these features is associated with nails.

Structurally also hair is extremely strong, and resists breaking due to its elasticity and flexibility. Hair is as strong as steel, if we compare the two of the same diameter. Nails, on the other hand, are very brittle and rigid, breaking off easily. Hair number in thousands, thereby increasing the surface area, as if to meet a specific requirement. Nails number only twenty.

The difference between the two do not end with the structural features. Even the body's response towards the two is totally different. Our body, throughout life, tries to maintain a particular length of hair, and if cut anywhere along the length, responds by growing them again to the specific length. It clearly indicates the link of the body with the hair all along its length.

The body shows no such response to the nails, which grow from birth to death at the same rate, irrespective of whether cut or not. As has been mentioned earlier, even the shafts of hair, like any other living organ of the body, respond to ageing (in their length, density of growth, greying, etc.) and condition of health is reflected in the person?s hair (in their luster, shine, etc.), whereas from the dead part of the nail, one can infer no such thing.

Practically also, hair do not interfere in any daily activity, whereas it is impossible to function at all with long nails. And even if not cut, nails generally fall off of their own easily; rather it takes great effort to maintain them, even upto a short length. In contrast to the long list of the functions of hair, only one function can be attributed to nails - that is, protection of the tips of digits.


To sum up, if there is anything on the head that can be compared with nails, it is dandruff!

It is also argued that hair have been lost from the body in man, because the body is kept covered. If that be the case, then the axillary and the pubic hair should have been the first to go. Also, the hair on the face, neck and hands should have remained.

Nature knows best what to discard or retain. Whatever is retained is not without purpose. If we are unable to explain something, it does not mean it has no significance. We must look for an explanation, rather than deny the role or existence of something we do not see.

There are sound frequencies we do not hear; light waves, that make everything visible, we do not see; odours that we do not smell; there are animals that do not see as many colours as we do; some things we can neither see nor deny, such as emotions, the bond between mother and child, force of gravity, etc. So, if there are things we do not see, or hear, or smell, it does not imply their absence. Just as an ant cannot apprehend the size and shape of an elephant, life and its processes are beyond human apprehension in the present state of knowledge. Our vast Solar system, which is beyond reach even today, is just a speck in the universe! Even our smallness is beyond our apprehension!

Hair is a gift from God, not a burden. Guru Gobind Singh, in his infinite wisdom, commanded us to respect it and to refrain from tampering with it. This is the visible token of his affection for us, as well as our faith in him. If we have faith in our Guru who was in communion with God, how can we do anything but follow his advice?

As Prof. Puran Singh says: "Let us sing in gratitude 'The Song of the Sikh'":

"Ah! Well, let my hair grow long; .... I cannot forget the knot He tied on my head; It is sacred, it is his mark of remembrance. The Master has bathed me in the light of suns not yet seen; There is eternity bound in this tender fragile knot. I touch the sky when I touch my hair, and a thousand stars twinkle through the night."


When speaking of keski in context of sikhism it is meant the practice of keeping and protecting the sacred hair.Keski is a kakar to protect and keep our head covered. ( -Gurujot Singh)

Kesh from Santokh Singh's Suraj Prakash

Keeping Kesh - Gurpratap Suraj Prakash The passage below is a portion from Gurpratap Suraj Prakash Granth, written by Kavi Santhok Singh written in 1843. He describes a story where a Khatri by the name of Nau Nidh Bhandaari approached Guru Gobind Singh Ji discussed the importance of Kesh [unshorn hair]. This is only an excerpt from the passage, there is a portion which has not been included where Guru Gobind Singh Ji outlines how the tradition of keeping kesh has eroded in both Semitic and Eastern religions.

ਸ੝ਰੀ ਪ੝ਰਭ੝ ਜੀ ! ਤ੝ਮ ਪੰਥ ਚਲਾਯੋ ॥ ਬਾਣਾ ਰਚਯੋ ਕੇਸ਼ ਰਖਵਾਯੋ ॥ [Nau Nidh speaking] "Oh Lord, you have created a new [religious] Path, you have created a new dress and have kept your Kesh [unshorn hair].

ਗ੝ਰੂ ਗਰੀਬ ਨਿਵਾਜ ਬਤਾਵਹ੝ ! ॥ ਕਿਸ ਕਾਰਨ ਕਰਿ ਇਨਹ੝ਂ ਰਖਾਵਹ੝ ?॥3॥ Guru Ji, helper of the poor, why have you kept Kesh as a part of your dress [code] ?

ਸ੝ਨਿ ਸ਼੝ਰੀ ਮ੝ਖ ਫ੝ਰਮਾਵਨਿ ਕਰਯੋ ॥ ਤ੝ਮ ਕੋ ਸ਼ਾਸਤ੝ਰ ਬਹ੝ਤ ਬਿਚਰ੝ਯੋ ॥ Hearing the words [of Nau Nidh], Guru Ji said, "You have studied many Shaastras"

ਪੜ੝ਹਨ ਸ਼੝ਰਵਨ ਮਹਿਂ ਬੈਸ ਬਿਤਾਈ ॥ ਇਹ ਗਤਿ ਲਖੀ ਕਿ ਨਹਿਂ ਤ੝ਮ ਪਾਈ ॥4॥ "You have spent your life listening and reciting the Shaastras, yet you have not come to realize the answer"

ਧਰਮ ਰਖਨਿ ਕੇਸ਼ਾਦਿਕ ਭਲੇ ॥ ਸਨਕਾਦਿਕ ਤੇ ਆਵਤਿ ਚਲੇ ॥ Adorning Kesh is beneficial to keeping one's Dharam, since the start of time this has been the tradition.

ਭਾਰਥ ਖੰਡ ਬਿਖੈ ਸ਼੝ਭ ਦੇਸ਼ ॥ ਕੇਸ਼ ਰਾਖਣੋ ਧਰਮ ਬਿਸ਼ੇਸ਼' ॥5॥ In the great land of Bharat [India], keeping Kesh is an exalted part of Dharam.

ਸ੝ਨਿ ਕੈ ਨਉਨਿਧ ਬਹ੝ਰ ਬਖਾਨਾ ॥ ਆਪ ਕਹਹ੝ ਸਭਿ ਸਾਚ ਪ੝ਰਮਾਨਾ ॥ Listening to the answer, Nau Nidh replied, "what you have said is true.

ਪ੝ਰਥਮ ਕੇਸ਼ ਧਾਰੀ ਸਭਿ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਅਬਿ ਤੌ ਸਮਾ ਰਹ੝ਯੋ ਨਹਿਂ ਸੋਈ' ॥6॥ Everyone used to keep their Kesh, however times have changed."

ਸ਼੝ਰੀ ਗ੝ਰ ਭਨ੝ਯੋ 'ਸਮਾ ਕ੝ਯਾ ਕਹੈ ॥ ਸੋ ਰਵਿ ਸੋ ਸਸਿ, ਸੋ ਜਲ ਅਹੈ ॥ ਬਾਯੂ, ਬੰਨੀ, ਬਸ੝ਧਾ ੳਈ ॥ ਦੋਸ਼ ਸਮੈ ਕੋ ਕ੝ਯਾ ਕਹਿ ਕੋਈ ॥7॥ Guru Ji replied, "How have times changed? The same sun remains, the same moon, water, wind, fire and Earth remain. How can you blame time?

ਆਪਨ ਆਪ ਕੋ ਦੋਸ਼ ਲਖੀਜੈ । ਰਾਖੇ ਜਾਇਂ ਨ, ਸਾਚ ਕਹੀਜੈ ॥ Blame yourself for not being able to keep Kesh, speak the truth Nau Nidh.

ਕੇਸ਼ ਰਖਨਿ ਕੀ ਸਮਰਥ ਹੀਨੇ ॥ ਦੋਸ਼ ਸਮੇਂ ਪਰ ਕਲਪਨ ਕੀਨੇ ॥8॥ You do not have the strength to keep Kesh so you dismissively blame the times for changing.


ਰਚ੝ਯੋ ਸ੝ ਈਸ਼੝ਰ ਮਾਨ੝ਖ ਦੇਹ ॥ ਕਰ੝ਯੋ ਸ੝ਭਾਇਮਾਨ ਛਬਿ ਗ੝ਰੇਹ ॥ The body is created by Eshvar [The Lord], He has created humans beautiful and respectful.

ਉੱਤਮਾਂਗ ਪਰ ਸ੝ੰਦਰ ਕਰੇ ॥ ਅਧਿਕ ਰੂਪ ਕੇਸ਼ਨ ਤੇ ਧਰੇ ॥40॥ Out of all parts of the body, the head is the highest, and adorning Kesh [unshorn hair] on top of one's head, the body becomes beautiful. [1]

See also


These articles deal with Sikh's Five ks

Kesh (uncut hair) -|- Kara (bangle) -|- Kanga (small comb) -|- Kachera (under garment) -|- Kirpan (sword)

  1. ^ [1]