The most important and noticeable thing about Sikhs is their distinctiveness in appearance, especially because of a turban and well kept long hair and beard.
Guru Nanak himself started this tradition of keeping hair intact and covering the head with a turban. The rest of the Nine Gurus encouraged their Sikhs to do the same. The following quotation from the Adi Granth (Sikh Holy Book) clearly shows that long before Guru Gobind Singh made it obligatory, the keeping of long hair and the wearing of a turban was actively preached by all the Gurus.
"Let living in his presence,
With mind rid of impurities,
Be your discipline.
Keep the God-given form intact,
With a turban donned on your head."
Adi Granth, P. 1084- Line 12
However, it was Guru Gobind Singh who introduced a unique form of baptism 'Amrit' for the Sikhs and asked to wear certain outfits as a matter of Sikh discipline or uniform. This uniform consists of five 'articles of faith' known as The Five K's. Naturally, for Sikhs these essentially religious symbols which have deep spiritual significance; and some practical as well. The Five K's are called 'KAKKAAR'. Because each of them begins with the letter 'K', hence 5K''s. They are:
- Kesh Kesh means hair. A Sikh should treat his hair as a gift from God himself. It is His trust. To keep this God-given form intact is the first and foremost duty of a Sikh. The hair is a symbol of faith, and keeping long hair confirms a Sikh's belief in the acceptance of God's Will, and teaches him Humility and Acceptance.
- Khanga Khanga means comb. Sikhs use a small wodden comb because it can be worn easily in the hair all the time. Apart from its practical utility, a comb is clearly a symbol of cleanliness. Just as a comb helps to remove the tangles and cleans the hair, similarly a Sikh is reminded to get rid of any impurities of thought by repeating 'NAAM' (God's name) in his mind.
- Karra Karra literally means a link or bondage. It is a special steel bracelet which is worn on the right hand wrist like a wedding ring which signifies a bond between the two people. The Karra is the Guru's own symbolic ring to all his Sikhs signifying their unbreakable link or bond with the Guru as well as among themselves, belonging to the brotherhood of Khalsa. Also the circle is a symbol of restraint and in practice a constant reminder to the Sikh of ideal behavior in the event of weakness.
- Kachha Kaccha is a pair of shorts. This is special, slightly longer type of underwear and is symbolic of continence and a high moral character. Like breeches, Kaccha can be worn on their own without causing embarrassment. Thus it is quite useful in hot weather, swimming and sports activities.
- Kirpan It is a sword. However, the Sikhs call it the Kirpan. Kirpan comes from the word 'KIRPA' and 'AAN'. Kirpa means an act of kindness, a favour; and 'aan' means honour, respect, self-respect. It is an instrument which adds to self-respect and self-defence. Thus for Sikhs, Kirpan is the symbol of power and freedom of spirit. All baptised Sikhs should wear a short form of Kirpan (approx. 6" to 9" long) on their body. To call it a dagger or knife is rather insulting to this article of faith, which functions quite differently from the other two.