KESĀDHĀRĪ, 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 a Sikh kes, unshorn hair, is an article of faith and an inviolable vow. The Sikh Rahit Maryādā published by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, statutory body for the control and management of Sikh shrines and by extension for laying down rules about Sikh belief and practice, 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, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh.


         All codes and manuals defining Sikh conduct are unanimous in saying that uncut hair is obligatory for every Sikh. One of them, Bhāī Chaupā Siṅgh's, records, "The Gurū'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."

        Bhāī Nānd Lāl quotes Gurū Gobind Siṅgh :

        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 Khālsā 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?


        Bhāī Desā Siṅgh, in his Rahitnāmā 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 steadfastly adheres to them. They who deny His Will how will they find God in this world?


         Trimming or shaving is forbidden 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 Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh, 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 Musalmān? Don't Musalmāns die? Why should I abandon my faith? May my faith endure until my last hair --- until my last breath," said Tārū Siṅgh.

         The Nawāb tried to tempt him with offers of lands and wealth. When he found Tārū Siṅgh inflexible, he decided to have his scalp scraped from his head. The barbers came with sharp lancets and slowly ripped Bhāī Tārū Siṅgh'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 selfpreservation. 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 Sahajdhārī. A sahajdhārī is not a full Sikh, but one on his way to becoming one. He is in the Gurū's path, but has not yet adopted the full regalia of the faith. He fully subscribes to the philosophy of the Gurūs; he does not own and believe in any other Gurū or deity. His worship is the Sikh worship; only he has not yet adopted the full style of a Siṅgh. 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 sahajdhārī Sikh, a gradualist who would gradually tread the path and eventually become a full-grown Khālsā. One venerable instance from among the contemporaries of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, who introduced the order of the Khālsā, was Bhāī Nand Lāl, who composed beautiful poetry in honour of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and who had the privilege even of laying down a code for the Sikhs.

         The more recent Gurdwārā 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.


  1. Jogendra Singh, Sikh Ceremonies. Chandigarh, 1968
  2. Sikh Rahit Maryādā. Amritsar, 1964
  3. Padam, Piārā Siṅgh, Rahitnāme. Amritsar, 1989

Piārā Siṅgh Sāmbhī