The Khalsa (Punjabi: ਖ਼ਾਲਸਾ; [xaːlsaː]) is the army of all initiated Sikhs represented by the five beloved-ones and can be called the Guru Panth, the embodiment of the Guru and the final temporal Guru/leader of the Sikhs. The word Khalsa translates to "Sovereign/Free". Another interpretation is that of being "Pure/Genuine". The Khalsa was inaugurated on 30 March 1699, by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. From then on the temporal leadership of the Sikhs was passed on to the Khalsa with the bestowed title of "Guru Panth" and spiritual leadership was passed on to the Guru Granth Sahib with the Khalsa being responsible for all executive, military and civil authority in the Sikh society. The Khalsa is also called the nation of the Sikhs.
- Code of conduct
- Five Ks
- Initial tensions with the non Khalsa disciples
- As a military force
- Modern status
The Sikhs of the Khalsa can be identified with the given Five Ks and titles of Singh and Kaur, granted after the disciple has been baptized into the order of the Khalsa. The tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh at an event that coincided with the Vaisakhi day (of the new lunar month Baisakh Samvat 1756) created the Khalsa in the year 1699 A.D at Kesgarh, in Anandpur Sahib ordained that every Sikh becomes Amritdhari "[Having taken Amrit]" and follow the Five Ks; which are not merely symbols but display commitment to the philosophy of Guru Nanak Dev like a uniform of an organization.
A Sikh male at being initiated into the Khalsa is titled Singh meaning "Lion" and a female is entitled Kaur meaning "Princess". From then on they are commonly referred to as Amritdhari (having taken Amrit).
The Khalsa is considered the pinnacle of Sikhism. The Khalsa is expected to perform no ritual and to believe in no superstition of any kind but only believe in one God who is the Master and the Protector of all, the only Creator and Destroyer.
The usual interpretation of the Ḳhālsā is made as "Pure" as in the following statement: ("pure/devoted") word ḳhāliṣa[h] is the recognition of every Sikh that follows the discipline and text from the Guru Granth Sahib.
There is also another word from Arabic "خالسا" which is pronounced as "Khalsa" and is adapted in Punjabi/English/Hindi and many other languages. So, there are two different words in Arabic: "خالسا" (Ḫālsā) and "خالصة" (Ḫālisa(h)). Furthermore, there is a word in Persian "خالص" meaning "pure" and pronounced as "Ḫalis". A reader of Urdu can testify the "Ḫalis" in the Persian script and language as described below.
"Khalsa" is also used for a property which belongs to the emperor directly. The official language in the Mughal era was Persian and Persian language contains a word "Khalis" which directly translates to "Pure" in English. This may give a new meaning to the word "Khalsa". On these grounds and as per writings of the Guru Gobind Singh, the father of the Khalsa, wherein the great Guru describes the Khalsa as army of the timeless-being, it is evident that Khalsa means timeless sovereign.
In Sikh tradition, the word Khalsa first appears in a hukmanama (order) by Guru Hargobind (the sixth Guru) which refers to a sangat as "Guru ka khalsa" ("Guru's Khalsa"). It also appears in a letter by Guru Tegh Bahadur (the ninth Guru), in the same sense.
Although the early Mughal emperors had peaceful relations with the Sikh Gurus, the Sikhs started facing religious persecution during the reign of Jahangir. Persecution against the Sikhs continued until the creation of the Sikh Kingdom in 1799. Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, was arrested and executed by Emperor Jahangir in 1606. The following Guru, Guru Hargobind formally militarized the Sikhs and emphasized the complementary nature of the temporal power and spiritual power.
In 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs was executed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for saving the religious rights of Hindus. In 1699, his son and the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh sent hukmanamas (letters of authority) to his followers throughout the Indian sub-continent, asking them to gather at Anandpur Sahib on 30 March 1699, the day of Vaisakhi (the annual harvest festival).
Guru Gobind Singh addressed the congregation from the entryway of a tent pitched on a hill (now called Kesgarh Sahib). He drew his sword and asked for a volunteer who was willing to sacrifice his head. No one answered his first call, nor the second call, but on the third invitation, a person called Daya Ram (later known as Bhai Daya Singh) came forward and offered his head to the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh took the volunteer inside the tent, and emerged shortly, with blood dripping from his sword. He then demanded another head. One more volunteer came forward, and entered the tent with him. The Guru again emerged with blood on his sword. This happened three more times. Then the five volunteers came out of the tent unharmed. These five, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their Guru, were called Panj Piare ("the five beloved ones"). These five volunteers were : Daya Ram (Bhai Daya Singh), Dharam Das (Bhai Dharam Singh), Himmat Rai (Bhai Himmat Singh), Mohkam Chand (Bhai Mohkam Singh), and Sahib Chand (Bhai Sahib Singh).
Guru Gobind Singh then took an iron bowl and poured some water in it. Sahib Devan (later Mata Sahib Kaur) added some sugar crystals to the water, and the Guru stirred this mixture with a double-edged sword whilst reciting the Five Banis. The resultant solution is called as "Khandey di Pahul" (ceremony of the double-edged sword) or commonly known as "amrit" (nectar of immortality)
These actions allude to the nature expected of the inductees to the Khalsa: that they must have the will and the strength to fight oppression (symbolized by the sword), but must always remember that their actions are born from protection and not hatred (symbolized by the sweetness of the sugar).
Each of the Panj Piares were given five handfuls of the Amrit to drink, and had amrit sprinkled in their eyes five times. Each time, they repeated the phrase "Waheguru Ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji ki Phateh" ("The Khalsa belongs to Waheguru (the wondrous teacher), the victory belongs to Waheguru (the wondrous teacher)").
Guru Gobind Singh gave them the title (analogous to "Knight" or "Sir" in English culture) of "Singh" (meaning "Lion"). Similarly, for female the title of "Kaur" (meaning "Princess"). It is noted that about twenty thousand men and woman took this baptism of steel on the first day. Majority of Sikhs nowadays carry this title without taking the oath of double-edged sword.
Guru Gobind Singh is the "Father" of the Khalsa and Mata Sahib Kaur is the "Mother". One important outcome of joining the Khalsa is the abolition of one's previous caste, nation, race, rituals, customs, religion, clan, Karma. The new member is the citizen of Anandpur Sahib and their birthplace is the Keshgarh Sahib.
The Khalsa is led by Panj Pyare or the five-beloved. At the Battle of Chamkaur, the Khalsa led by Panj Pyare passed on an order/command to the Guru Gobind Singh to escape from Chamkaur. The Guru had to obey it, because at that point of time, and as proclaimed by the Guru on 30 March 1699 about his absorption into the Khalsa and declaring the five-beloved being equal to him, the Guru was a Singh of the Khalsa.
Code of conduct
The Khalsa needs to abide by the four restrictions set by Guru Gobind Singh and if a Sikh breaks one of these four restrictions they are excommunicated from the Khalsa Panth and must go 'pesh' (get baptized again). Guru Gobind Singh also gave the Khalsa 52 hukams or 52 specific additional guidelines while living in Nanded in 1708.
The four prohibitions or mandatory restrictions of the Khalsa or life of khalsa at time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji are:
- Not to disturb the natural growth of the hairs.
- Not to eat meat of an animal slaughtered in the Muslim halal or Jewish kosher way.
- Cohabiting with a person other than one's spouse.
- Using tobacco or alcohol.
The uniform of a Singh/Kaur of the Khalsa comprises the Five Ks:
- Kesh – Uncut hair on the face, head, and all parts of the body.
- Kanga – A wooden comb.
- Kara – An iron bracelet.
- Kacchera – A pair of drawers (a specific type of cotton underwear).
- Kirpan – A dagger or sword.
These are for identification and representation of the ideals of Sikhism, such as honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on God, and never bowing to tyranny, and for helping/protecting the weak, and self-defense.
Initiation into the Khalsa is referred to as Amrit Sanchar (water of immortality life-cycle rite) or Khande di Pahul (Initiation with the double edged sword). Anyone from any previous religion, age, or knowledge group can take Amrit (Amrit Chhakh) when they are convinced that they are ready. This baptization is done by the Panj Pyare in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. The devotee must arrive to the place of baptization, usually a Gurdwara, in the morning after bathing completely including having washed their hair and must be wearing the 5 articles of the Khalsa uniform. After baptization the new Singh or Kaur must abide by the four restrictions or must get re-baptized if they break any of them. Jasjpit Singh in Lucinda Mosher book describes taking Amrit as a huge commitment, "You are making a commitment to God, to God's creation, to yourself – and you're giving up yourself. It is like giving up your own ego and accepting God into your life – and accepting yourself as one with the entire creation."
Initial tensions with the non-Khalsa disciples
With the creation of Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh had abolished all existing social divisions as was fundamental in the teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev. In their new order, the former lowest of the low would stand with the former highest; all would become one and drink from the same vessel. All previous beliefs relating to family, occupation, customs and ceremonies were declared useless by the Guru. This caused discomfort to the conservative followers of the Guru and they protested. Many departed from the ceremony, but the Guru declared that the low castes should be raised and would dwell next to him.
The newswriter of the Mughal government, Ghulam Mohyiuddin, reporting to the emperor wrote:
Sri Gur Sobha (18th century) by Sainapati (Saina Singh) contains two sections (adhyays) on the controversies that arose, when Guru Gobind Singh's disciples in Delhi heard the news of his new order. Much of the controversy stated in Sri Gur Sobha revolves around bhaddar, the ritual shaving of head after death of a close relative, which was discouraged by Guru Gobind Singh. According to Sainapti, while creating the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh said that bhaddar is bharam (illusion), and not dharam.
Tensions developed between the Punjabi Khatri disciples of the Guru in Delhi, and members of the newly formed Khalsa. A prominent Khatri disciple was expelled from the place of worship (dharmasala) for refusing to join the Khalsa. Another disciple was expelled for eating with him, starting a chain of further expulsions. The expelled disciples convened a community gathering, at which two wealthy Khatris demanded that the Khalsa produce a written order from the Guru that a new mandatory code of conduct had been promulgated. A Khatri family that refused to follow the bhaddar ritual was boycotted by the Khatri community. The Khatri council (panch) closed the bazaar to pressure the Khalsa. The Khalsa petitioned the state officials to intervene, who forced reopening of the shops. Later, peace was established between the two groups in a sangat (congregation). However, hostility between some Khatris and the Khalsa persisted in the later years.
As a military force
One of the duties of the Khalsa is to practice arms. This has been deemed necessary due to the rising persecution from the rulers. Before joining the Khalsa, most of the people were from professions like farming, pottery, masonry, carpenters, Labanas, etc.
Guru Gobind Singh in Oct, 1708 deputed his disciple Banda Singh Bahadur to lead the Khalsa in an uprising against the Mughals. Banda Singh Bahadur first established a Sikh kingdom and then brought in the Land reforms in the form of breaking up large estates and distributing the land to peasants. He and his comrades were eventually defeated and executed, but he became an icon among the Sikhs. After a long exile the Khalsa regrouped under Nawab Kapur Singh, who gathered local Khalsa leaders and created Dal Khalsa, a coalition army. The Dal Khalsa fought against the Mughals and the Afghans, eventually resulting in the establishment of a number of small republics called misls (autonomous confederacies) and later in the formation of the Sikh Empire.
After the fall of the Mughal empire and the later establishment of the Sikh Empire in the Punjab, the Khalsa was converted into a strong, multireligious and multinational fighting force,modernized according to European principles: the Sikh Khalsa Army which had a huge role in the expansion of the empire. Led by great generals like: Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself, Misr Diwan Chand and Hari Singh Nalwa. It successfully defeated all its adversaries, including the Afghan tribals and army, Hill Chiefs, Misldars, Chinese, Tibetan and Gurkhas. By the time of death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the whole army of Sikh Empire was assessed at 120,000 men, with 250 artillery pieces. The irregular levies were included.
The official name of the state (Sikh Empire) of Sikhs was "Sarkar-i-Khalsa": Government of the Khalsa. The boundaries of this state stretched from Tibet to Afghanistan and from Kashmir to Sutlej in the south and included regions of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir, Ladakh, etc. The "Sarkar-i-Khalsa" was dissolved during two wars fought against the British between 1846 and 1849.
Today, the Khalsa is respected by the entire gamut of Sikhs; however, not all Sikhs are Amritdharis The issue of Khalsa code of conduct has led to several controversies. In the early 1950s, a serious split occurred in the Canadian Sikh community, when the Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver, Canada elected a clean-shaven Sikh to serve on its management committee. Although most of the early Sikh immigrants to Canada were non-Khalsa, and a majority of the members of the society were clean-shaven non-Khalsa Sikhs, a faction objected to the election of a non-Khalsa to the management committee. The factions in Vancouver and Victoria broke away from the Khalsa Diwan Society, and established their own gurdwara society called Akali Singh.
In the United Kingdom there have been tensions between the Khalsa Sikhs and the non-Khalsa Sikhs. Many Sikhs in Britain have insisted on their right of not conforming to the Khalsa norms, while maintaining that they are truly Sikh. On the other hand, some of the Khalsa Sikhs think of the non-Khalsa Sikhs as having abandoned the Sikh faith altogether.
Each year the Khalsa display their military skills around the world at a festival called Hola Mohalla. During Hola Mohalla military exercises are performed alongside mock battles followed by kirtan and valour poetry competitions. The Khalsa also lead the Sikhs in the annual Vaisakhi parade.