To The Last Hair, To The Last Breath

combing_kesh_10_03_2007.jpgA few weeks ago, while at the park with my family, an elderly woman dressed in a sari came over to say hello. After a brief introduction, she said to us “wait here for a second” and called out “Alex…come here!” A little boy with light skin and brown hair ran over to us. The lady in the sari bent down and said to Alex, “See…this is what your grandfather looked like. He wore a turban and had a long beard just like him.” Alex wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but he forced a quick smile and ran back to the swings.

As a dastaar-wearing Sikh, I come across these interactions quite often – some pleasant, some not-so-pleasant, and some downright awkward. But because they happen so often, I tend to brush it off and forget all about them quickly. For some reason, this incident stuck with me.

It made me think about the days in Gurmat camp decades ago when the Uncles would scare us in to keeping ourkesh or else keshdari Sikhs would become a “thing of the past” and “only be seen in museum exhibits.” I never bought that theory, but the incident in the park did shake me a bit.

Although Sikhi is such a large part of my life, truth is…I really dont think aboutkesh much. As a matter of fact, when I lead presentations about Sikhi to Sikhs or non-Sikhs, I make a point to downplay thekesh aspect. Not that it is any less important than any of the other kakaars, but with non-Sikhs, the “mystery” behind the kesh seems to overtake discussions, and we miss some of the most important and central tenets of the faith…equality, self-less service, self-realization, and universality of the message. And even with Sikhs,kesh is made such a focus that many in our community feel that as long as we retain the external image of a Sikh, the rest of maryada and discipline does not apply. It is essentially a free-pass and gives us the right to criticize those who do not keep their kesh.


Being the only Sikh boy in my school in the early 80s was difficult and I always questioned why I needed to keep mykesh in the first place. I was given all kinds of answers – some said it was Guru Sahib’s way of giving us a unique identify we “couldnt run away from” after the circumstances of Guru Tegh Bahdur’s shaheedi. Some said that hair has traditionally been a sign of saintliness, as many other saints from other religions kept long hair. Others said we should not cut something that grows naturally from our bodies (yes, the finger nail debate would quickly follow), while others gave more “alternative” reasons – that hair served as “antennae” to gather and channel energy from the sun. At a recent seminar I attended, one of the more “scholarly” elders referred tokesh as a “custom” and well, customs after time…do change. I’ve heard just about everything. Strange how I was so consumed with this question throughout most of my childhood and adolescence, but as I’ve gotten older and learned more about Gurmat, I’ve started to wonder less and less about it. Instead, I’m consumed with what I find difficult now – waking up at amritvela, focusing on my paath, being compassionate and forgiving, letting go of my ego, attachment, and anger, seeing Waheguru in everyone…it’s as though keeping my hair is the easiest thing my Guru has asked of me…I mean, I dont even have to try! And for everything my Guru has given me, isnt this the least I can do as an expression of my love?

In the end, we all have to come up with our own reason. Personally, I keep mykesh because my Guru has asked this of me…and I accept it as his gift – that’s it. It is neither a symbol nor a custom…it is a part of me…a part of my history. It is what Bhai Taru Singh gave his life for rather than a strand be cut. It is what Sikhs all around the world reflect upon daily in our Ardas, remembering those who gave their lives, “Kesan Suasan Naal Nibaahi” (with their hair intact, to the last breath). Just like a soldier wears his/her uniform proudly because it reflects the principles and tenets for which the country stands…my kakaars servemuch the same…it represents the principles and tenets of my faith…equality, justice, service, compassion. And every time I stand before a mirror I am reminded of those principles and the code by which I live. Everyone around me is aware of it too…I cannot run away from it. And if my appearance means I am excluded from joining my co-workers at the bar after work or Im randomly selected at airports from time to time…so be it. It is an honor and a privilege to bear the image of the Khalsa. And with my Ardaas and His grace, I shall live up to the ideals for which it stands.

Just about everybody I talk to or every article I read about the state of the panth tells me much the same…youth cutting their hair, trimming their beards, moving away from Sikhi etc. etc. Although I dont ignore the realities of our situation, I dont dwell in it either…I choose hope instead. I’m convinced through further reflection of our history, our traditions, and inspiration through Gurbani, we (individually and collectively) will reflect the Guru’s love and message. I look forward to a day at the park where a mother will bring their child over to us, lean down and say “This is a Sikh family…if you are ever in need…you can always count on them to help!”


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16 Responses to “To The Last Hair, To The Last Breath”

  1. Infact it is not very easy to keep Kesh if we are living in a minority society. My son is the only sikh guy in a chinese school and sometime he says that he doesn't like to keep his hair. Just a six year old boy, but the questions he ask are not easy to answer.

    Being a turbaned sikh, I wish to keep his long hair. I am so excited to see him getting young , wearing a nice turban matching with his dress..

    Waheguru Mehar kare…It will be very difficult for me to see if he goes away from turban…

  2. Infact it is not very easy to keep Kesh if we are living in a minority society. My son is the only sikh guy in a chinese school and sometime he says that he doesn’t like to keep his hair. Just a six year old boy, but the questions he ask are not easy to answer.

    Being a turbaned sikh, I wish to keep his long hair. I am so excited to see him getting young , wearing a nice turban matching with his dress..

    Waheguru Mehar kare…It will be very difficult for me to see if he goes away from turban…

  3. Harinder says:

    Beautiful thoughts.

    Thanks

  4. Harinder says:

    Beautiful thoughts.
    Thanks

  5. Kaviraj Singh says:

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa,

    Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

    Rubinpaul Singh,

    Wonderful article, you really have captured a lot of what the panth is thinking. I also am approached a lot about Sikhi and do try to "downplay" the kesh and "upplay" (for lack of a better word) the other aspects of Sikhi such as equality for all, men and women, young and old, any race alike, concept of Seva, and what ever else comes to mind. As you said, not to say that Kesh is not just as important, or any other Kakkar for that matter,but yes, the person with whom you are having the conversation does tend to focus on the kesh mainly. So, I try to bring that out later and discuss my outer appearance after discussing other aspects of Sikhi.

    Amarpreet,

    I do understand where you are coming from…like Rubin, I have been a part of youth gurmat camps for the last many many years, and have wonderful experiences to share, but also very disheartening ones as well. One thing that I personally feel is very very important, is to send your child to gurmat camps, gurdwara Sunday School workshops, and just have him/her develop a sangat where he will see that there are other Sikhs, his age just like him who like him with long kesh.

    At our camps we work hard with the kids to develop a bond between the counselors/older Khalsas and the younger ones. Through this we show the kids that it is possible to be a Sikh with Kesh and still achieve sucess in this country. They also see that the older Khalsas have been through the same struggles that they are going through now. This helps build esteem for the kids as they can see that others have been through the same headaches, and many did not cut their kesh, but used it as an opportunity to become better Sikhs and connect with the Guru.

    I also suggest reading the article We Are Not Symbols, this article although long will definitely provide insight on how to resolve some of these questions your child may have. It is not something that you can read to your son as it is of high level, however you can easily abstract many of the concepts and explain it to him.

    The article is available here: http://www.sikh-history.com/sikhhist/archivedf/fe

    Please feel fre to email me at [email protected] if you want to discuss this further.

    Thanks,

  6. Kaviraj Singh says:

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa,
    Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

    Rubinpaul Singh,

    Wonderful article, you really have captured a lot of what the panth is thinking. I also am approached a lot about Sikhi and do try to “downplay” the kesh and “upplay” (for lack of a better word) the other aspects of Sikhi such as equality for all, men and women, young and old, any race alike, concept of Seva, and what ever else comes to mind. As you said, not to say that Kesh is not just as important, or any other Kakkar for that matter,but yes, the person with whom you are having the conversation does tend to focus on the kesh mainly. So, I try to bring that out later and discuss my outer appearance after discussing other aspects of Sikhi.

    Amarpreet,

    I do understand where you are coming from…like Rubin, I have been a part of youth gurmat camps for the last many many years, and have wonderful experiences to share, but also very disheartening ones as well. One thing that I personally feel is very very important, is to send your child to gurmat camps, gurdwara Sunday School workshops, and just have him/her develop a sangat where he will see that there are other Sikhs, his age just like him who like him with long kesh.

    At our camps we work hard with the kids to develop a bond between the counselors/older Khalsas and the younger ones. Through this we show the kids that it is possible to be a Sikh with Kesh and still achieve sucess in this country. They also see that the older Khalsas have been through the same struggles that they are going through now. This helps build esteem for the kids as they can see that others have been through the same headaches, and many did not cut their kesh, but used it as an opportunity to become better Sikhs and connect with the Guru.

    I also suggest reading the article We Are Not Symbols, this article although long will definitely provide insight on how to resolve some of these questions your child may have. It is not something that you can read to your son as it is of high level, however you can easily abstract many of the concepts and explain it to him.

    The article is available here: http://www.sikh-history.com/sikhhist/archivedf/feature-feb2001.html

    Please feel fre to email me at [email protected] if you want to discuss this further.

    Thanks,

  7. Harpreet Singh says:

    There are five shabads in SGGS where the spiritual significance of hair is mentioned. The fifth line of this Shabad:

    "guramukh rom rom har dhhiaavai ||"

    is a mention of "Rom" in the spiritual state of "Dhyana".

    Hope this helps in the understanding of hair from a spiritual perspective.

    This Shabad is by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Raag Raamkalee on Pannaa 941

    gurmuiK swcy kw Bau pwvY ]

    guramukh saachae kaa bho paavai ||

    The Gurmukh lives in the Fear of God, the True Lord.

    gurmuiK bwxI AGVu GVwvY ]

    guramukh baanee agharr gharraavai ||

    Through the Word of the Guru's Bani, the Gurmukh refines the unrefined.

    gurmuiK inrml hir gux gwvY ]

    guramukh niramal har gun gaavai ||

    The Gurmukh sings the immaculate, Glorious Praises of the Lord.

    gurmuiK pivqRü prm pdu pwvY ]

    guramukh pavithra param padh paavai ||

    The Gurmukh attains the supreme, sanctified status.

    gurmuiK roim roim hir iDAwvY ]

    guramukh rom rom har dhhiaavai ||

    The Gurmukh meditates on the Lord with every hair of his body.

    nwnk gurmuiK swic smwvY ]27]

    naanak guramukh saach samaavai ||27||

    O Nanak, the Gurmukh merges in Truth. ||27||

    gurmuiK prcY byd bIcwrI ]

    guramukh parachai baedh beechaaree ||

    The Gurmukh is pleasing to the True Guru; this is contemplation on the Vedas.

    gurmuiK prcY qrIAY qwrI ]

    guramukh parachai thareeai thaaree ||

    Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh is carried across.

    gurmuiK prcY su sbid igAwnI ]

    guramukh parachai s sabadh giaanee ||

    Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh receives the spiritual wisdom of the Shabad.

    gurmuiK prcY AMqr ibiD jwnI ]

    guramukh parachai a(n)thar bidhh jaanee ||

    Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh comes to know the path within.

    gurmuiK pweIAY AlK Apwru ]

    guramukh paaeeai alakh apaar ||

    The Gurmukh attains the unseen and infinite Lord.

    nwnk gurmuiK mukiq duAwru ]28]

    naanak guramukh mukath dhuaar ||28||

    O Nanak, the Gurmukh finds the door of liberation. ||28||

  8. Harpreet Singh says:

    There are five shabads in SGGS where the spiritual significance of hair is mentioned. The fifth line of this Shabad:

    “guramukh rom rom har dhhiaavai ||”
    is a mention of “Rom” in the spiritual state of “Dhyana”.

    Hope this helps in the understanding of hair from a spiritual perspective.

    This Shabad is by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Raag Raamkalee on Pannaa 941

    gurmuiK swcy kw Bau pwvY ]
    guramukh saachae kaa bho paavai ||
    The Gurmukh lives in the Fear of God, the True Lord.

    gurmuiK bwxI AGVu GVwvY ]
    guramukh baanee agharr gharraavai ||
    Through the Word of the Guru’s Bani, the Gurmukh refines the unrefined.

    gurmuiK inrml hir gux gwvY ]
    guramukh niramal har gun gaavai ||
    The Gurmukh sings the immaculate, Glorious Praises of the Lord.

    gurmuiK pivqR prm pdu pwvY ]
    guramukh pavithra param padh paavai ||
    The Gurmukh attains the supreme, sanctified status.

    gurmuiK roim roim hir iDAwvY ]
    guramukh rom rom har dhhiaavai ||
    The Gurmukh meditates on the Lord with every hair of his body.

    nwnk gurmuiK swic smwvY ]27]
    naanak guramukh saach samaavai ||27||
    O Nanak, the Gurmukh merges in Truth. ||27||

    gurmuiK prcY byd bIcwrI ]
    guramukh parachai baedh beechaaree ||
    The Gurmukh is pleasing to the True Guru; this is contemplation on the Vedas.

    gurmuiK prcY qrIAY qwrI ]
    guramukh parachai thareeai thaaree ||
    Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh is carried across.

    gurmuiK prcY su sbid igAwnI ]
    guramukh parachai s sabadh giaanee ||
    Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh receives the spiritual wisdom of the Shabad.

    gurmuiK prcY AMqr ibiD jwnI ]
    guramukh parachai a(n)thar bidhh jaanee ||
    Pleasing the True Guru, the Gurmukh comes to know the path within.

    gurmuiK pweIAY AlK Apwru ]
    guramukh paaeeai alakh apaar ||
    The Gurmukh attains the unseen and infinite Lord.

    nwnk gurmuiK mukiq duAwru ]28]
    naanak guramukh mukath dhuaar ||28||
    O Nanak, the Gurmukh finds the door of liberation. ||28||

  9. rocco says:

    long hair is beautiful.

  10. rocco says:

    long hair is beautiful.

  11. justasikh says:

    Great post RP Singh.

    I think one thing that gets often lost in people arguing over their interpretations of religion as per what others should do is the common experience we all share:

    We are in one way or another, a minority, of a minority.

    In the case of Turbaned Sikhs, the turbaned are a minority (5%) among the majority of Sikhs now.

    Before looking at how the majority of the world sees this minority-of-a-minority, there is definite work to be done with the majority of sikhs in at least seeing things better. We have to break through the barriers of blindly following (for or against) any interpretations of sikhi of any kind.

    The gurus have instructed us to use and develop our skills to learn and know truth enough to recognize it and be it in every breath. A uniform without mindfulness does not help — it is your analysis of your awareness in many situations RP that gives you the wonderful contrast from which to extract the savoury meaningfulness.

    At the end of the day as soon as we "try" to change things, we are saying we know, and do better than the Gurus, or the param-atma.

    It is our duty to be present, give our presence to the things we learn to recognize require us to do so. I can't save any kids cutting their hair. If everyone took care of their family, all families would be taken care of. So, Nanak's command to live the life of a householder is paramount first.

  12. justasikh says:

    Great post RP Singh.

    I think one thing that gets often lost in people arguing over their interpretations of religion as per what others should do is the common experience we all share:

    We are in one way or another, a minority, of a minority.

    In the case of Turbaned Sikhs, the turbaned are a minority (5%) among the majority of Sikhs now.

    Before looking at how the majority of the world sees this minority-of-a-minority, there is definite work to be done with the majority of sikhs in at least seeing things better. We have to break through the barriers of blindly following (for or against) any interpretations of sikhi of any kind.

    The gurus have instructed us to use and develop our skills to learn and know truth enough to recognize it and be it in every breath. A uniform without mindfulness does not help — it is your analysis of your awareness in many situations RP that gives you the wonderful contrast from which to extract the savoury meaningfulness.

    At the end of the day as soon as we “try” to change things, we are saying we know, and do better than the Gurus, or the param-atma.

    It is our duty to be present, give our presence to the things we learn to recognize require us to do so. I can’t save any kids cutting their hair. If everyone took care of their family, all families would be taken care of. So, Nanak’s command to live the life of a householder is paramount first.

  13. Navjot Singh says:

    first off, i would like to say wonderful article. You have captured the positives and negatives of the current sangat. We can not stop those who have swerved off the track, but we can always prevent others from doing so and make an effort to bring some back.

  14. Navjot Singh says:

    first off, i would like to say wonderful article. You have captured the positives and negatives of the current sangat. We can not stop those who have swerved off the track, but we can always prevent others from doing so and make an effort to bring some back.

  15. holmesstephaniie says:

    Nice share and I've enjoyed reading the last hair and to the last breath. Actually I love my real hair and synthetic lace front wigs a lot. Without wigs I don't think about hair style.

  16. Culture matters a lot. In this pivotal article the norms of the Sikhs are mentioned they always have long hair. He had justified his hair with the power of his pen. He had handled the criticism and not answer it with harsh attitude. He answered it with logic.