Keski, Kesgi, chhoti dastaar (or mini turban) is the first important striking symbol which makes the members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha conspicuous - especially the women. And, naturally, it is the first object of criticism. One very distinguished scholar, S. Kapur Singh states: 'Bhai Randhir Singh and his admirers claim and assert that five K's obligatory for an Amritdhari Sikh, a Singh, include a Keski, i.e., a short turban for men and women, as a must and one of the other K's, Kangha (comb) is not one of the five Do's.'
According to him '...It is wholly arbitrary and schismatic...and thus an act of sabotage against the solidarity and monolithicism of the Khalsa.'20 Another critic asserts the rahit of Keski to be an 'absolutely mundane' teaching of the Jatha having 'no precedents' and thus being the 'teaching of an individual.'
Before taking up the question of whether 'Keski' is a symbol or not, it may be pointed out that in their eagerness to criticize Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh, even the well versed Sikh scholars, like S. Kapur Singh, have not cared to verifify the facts before offering their criticism. Keski is not at all considered to replace Kangha as a symbol as asserted by him. It does, however, replace Keshas as a symbol because Keshas is the first fundamental requirement for a Sikh. Shaving or trimming of hair is the first of the four Cardinal Sins -Kurahits (Big Don'ts) - the commitment of any one of which makes one an apostate and results in one's automatic excommunication from the fold of the Khalsa Brotherhood. Moreover Keshas form part of the human body and are not obtained and worn like other Kakaars.
Sikh history is full of instances where the devout Sikhs were hacked joint by joint, boiled and even sawed alive, had their scalps cut' their limbs broken on the wheel, and faced bravely many other unbearable and severest of tortures, and yet remained firm in their faith to their last hair and breath.
Right from Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Sikhs have been commanded to abstain from shaving or trimming of hair. According to Bhai Sahib Mani Singh's Gyan Ratnavali and other Janam Sakhies, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, while initiating Bhai Mardana into the newly founded Sikh faith, laid down the following three-fold Code of Conduct for him:
'Firstly, you are not to cut your hair. Secondly, you are to get up early in the morning and do practice of the Sat Naam; and, Thirdly, you are to serve hospitably the visiting devotees of God.'21
In another instance Sahib Sri Guru Hari Rai Ji, while blessing Bhai Nandlal, grandfather of Bhai Hakikat Rai with the Holy Naam, is reported to have codified as follows:
'Firstly, you are not to cut your hair; Secondly, you are not to consume tobacco; and Thirdly, you are not to wear a cap.'
It is thus crystal clear that the injunction regarding abstaining from cutting Keshas was initiated by Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji himself and continued to be adhered to by all his successor Gurus. Hence the importance of keeping Keshas intact is the basic and fundamental requirement for becoming a Sikh. In fact, the Keshas are considered so sacred that for their cleanliness, care, and protection, two additional Kakaars, i.e. Kangha and Keski, have been prescribed in the Sikh Code of Conduct.
It is well known that the outward appearance of the Sikhs is absolutely unique and different from those of other faiths. This applies to all Sikhs irrespective of sex. The wearing of the Sikh symbols has been obligatory for both the sexes. In addition, Sikh women are also conspicuous because of the absence of any piercing ornaments for nose and ears, such as those customarily worn by women of other religions. After their initiation into the Khalsa fold by partaking Khande-ki-Pahul (Amrit), the Sikh women have always tied their Keshas in the form of topknot and covered the same with Dastaar (i.e. Keski) just as men do; the only difference being that they wear chunnies or dupattas over their small turbans.
Right up to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikh women had been steadfast in following the edicts of the Satguru in respect to their spiritual inner life as well as dress, including Keski. That is what J. D. Cunningham himself saw and wrote in the middle of the Nineteenth Century when he wrote his book, History of the Slkhs.
Even after the Punjab came under the British rule, this symbol of Keski was conspicuously seen in case of Sikh women as well as men right up to the Gurdwara movement and the establishment of the Shromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee in 1926. Until then, no one - man as well as woman was allowed to be baptized (by taking Amrit) at Sri Akal Takht Sahib without Keski. It was only afterwards that laxity was introduced in this respect and the wearing of Keski was made optional. With the introduction of this laxity, the other anti-Sikh practice of wearing piercing ornaments in the nose and ears also became prevalent in Sikh women.
This is a brief summarized account of the historical background in this regard. In the following pages, an effort has been made to elaborate a bit on the above points by presenting certain facts:
i. Rahit Naama of Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji contains the following couplet regarding 'rahits':
Kachh, Kada, Kirpan, Kangha, Keski.
Eh Panj Kakaari Rahit Dhaarey Sikh Soyee.
To be a Sikh, one must observe five rahits of wearing five Sikh symbols beginning with 'K': Kachh, Kada, Kirpan, Kangha, and Keski. (Those Sikhs not believing in keski have wrongfully broken the word Keski in this couplet into two words, Kes and Ki, indicating it to mean 'the rahit of keshas.')
ii. The renowned scholar of the Panth, Bhai Sahib Kahan Singh Ji of Nabha, compiled the Encyclopedia of Sikh Literature and Terminology (Gur Shabad Ratnagar MAHAN KOSH) in 1926. The term 'Keski' has been explained therein on page 254, Col. 3 of its Second Edition published by the Punjab Government in 1960, as:
Keski: Noun - small turban worn to protect hair.
iii. Well known 19th Century English Historian, J. D. Cunningham (1812-1851) who was an eye witness to the First Anglo-Sikh War, in his History of the Sikhs - 1848 refers to Sikh women of that time as follows:
'The Sikh women are distinguished from Hindus of their sex by some variety of dress, chiefly by a higher topknot of hair.'22 Higher topknot of hair on Sikh women's heads automatically implies their coverage by some sort of turban, as Cunningham has connected it with 'some variety of dress.'
iv. According to the Sikh history, Sahib Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji, impressed and pleased by the untiring and devoted labor of love and selfless service of Baba (later Guru) Amardas Ji' bestowed upon him Siropas in the form of Dastaars a number of times. Even now this tradition of bestowing Dastaar as a Siropa continues at Sri Akal Takht Sahib and other Takhts and Gurdwaras.
v. Sahib Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji's hymn on page 1084 clearly states:
Naapaak Paak Kar Hadoor Hadeesa
Sabat Surat Dastaar Sira.
Make unpure (mind) pure. It is the true adherence to the Muslim Law (Hadees).
(One can obtain this objective) by keeping one's body unviolated and by always wearing a turban on head.
The above instruction to keep the body in its original complete form and to wear turban is meant for all, irrespective of sex.
vi. The tradition of 'double dastaar' prevalent amongst Khalsa men was also the result of the practice of keeping Keski under the big turban so that they may never remain bareheaded. Keeping this very tradition in view, the British rulers of India prescribed wearing of double dastaar, i.e., one small (also referred to as an under turban) and the other outer big one, as part of the official uniform for Sikh members of the armed forces. They were, and perhaps are even now, officially provided with two turbans, one big and one small, as part of their uniforms.
vii. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the present one, as a result of the Sikh renaissance movement, a number of Khalsa schools for girls were established in Punjab. Small dastaar (Keski) was prescribed as an obligatory head dress for students as well as teachers in such schools at Jaspalon, Ferozepur and Sidhwan in Punjab.
viii. . In a number of Rahitnaamas, the importance of keeping hair always covered with Dastaar has been emphasized very clearly. A few quotations are given below:
'Each candidate for Baptism be made to wear kachhehra, tie hair in a topknot and cover the same with dastaar; wear Sri Sahib (i.e. Kirpan) in Gaatra (shoulder belt). Then he/she should stand with folded hands.' (Rahitnama Bhai Daya Singh Ji)
'...Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa should keep his hair unshorn, have flowing beard and have simple dastaar which saves him from impiety. Then the Sikhs asked what would happen to those Amrltdharis who start cutting their hair or do not keep their hair covered. The Guru replied that they would be stupid and will lose their sensibility It is a blemish to remain bareheaded...Always keep two turbans. When the bigger turban is removed, the smaller be kept. The smaller turban should not be removed.'
(Bijai Mukat Dharam Shastra - Sakhi-8)
'(A Sikh) who eats food with turban removed from the head (i.e., bareheaded) is destined for 'Kumbhi' hell.'
(Rahit Rama Bhai Prahlad Singh Ji)
'One who combs hair twice a day, ties turban fold by fold and cleans teeth everyday will not come to grief.' (Tankhah Naama Bhai Nandlal Ji)
'Whosoever roams about bareheaded, takes food bareheaded and distributes the 'prasad' bareheaded is considered punishable.' (Uttar-prashan Bhai Nandlal Ji)
'Women should tie their hair in topknot and should not keep them loose.' (Rahitnama Bhai Daya Singh Ji)
'Keshas be washed. Turban or dastaar should not be placed on floor but should always be kept with due respect. Food should not be eaten bareheaded.' (Bijai Mukt Dharam Shastra, Sakhi 70)
It is thus, absolutely clear from the above quotations that remaining bareheaded at any time (except when washing, drying, and combing) and keeping hair loose and unknotted are basically against the Sikh Code of Conduct, which is applicable to all, men and women alike. For obvious reasons, therefore, the use of small dastaar or keski is indispensable. There is no other way to keep the head covered all the time. Sikhs - men as well as women - who wear only big turbans and dupattas, mostly remain bareheaded, at least in the privacy of their own homes, while taking food, etc., and thus are, perhaps unconsciously, infringing the Sikh Code of Conduct in this respect.
A FEW HISTORICAL AND OTHER FACTS IN THIS RESPECT:
1.Well-known Sikh historian Bhai Sahib Bhai Santokh Singh has given a somewhat detailed description concerning Mai Bhag Kaur (commonly known as Mai Bhago) of Forty Muktas fame in his well known historical work GUR PARTAP SURYA. He mentions that Mai Bhag Kaur had reached the highest stage of enlightenment and had almost lost her body consciousness...so much so that when her clothes became worn to shreds, she did not care to replace them. Sahib Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji called her in His Holy presence and instructed her to always stick to the Gursikh dress as prescribed in the Code of Conduct. In particular, she was ordered to wear Kachhehra and chhoti dastaar. In fact, according to some chroniclers, the dastaar was tied on her head by the Satguru himself. If this dastaar was not a Rahit, where was the need to include this item in the instructions given to a lady who had reached almost the Brahmgyan stage? It apparently shows that the Satguru gave as much importance to Dastaar as to other Rahits like Kachhehra.
2. In the Museum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's fort at Lahore and Victoria Museum at Calcutta, the pictures of Sikh women of old time can be seen even now, depicting them with small dastaars or keskis.
3. Bhai Sahib Vir Singh, in his well known poetical work, RANA SURAT SINGH, depicts Rani Raj Kaur as a Saint Soldier or Rajyogi of the highest order. Her very impressive picture given in the book depicts her with a well-tied Keski, on which is also affixed a khanda-chakkar, the emblem of Sikhism.
4. The Sikh women belonging to the Jatha of Bhai Sahib (Sant) Teja Singh Ji of Mastuana, have been seen doing Kirtan in congregations wearing dastaars. He was instrumental in establishing Akal Academy - a Higher Secondary School at Baru in Himachal Pradesh wherin all students - boys as well as girls - are required to wear turbans as a prescribed school uniform.
5. The Central Majha Diwan and Panch Khalsa Diwan, Bhasaur - the two organizations which played a remarkable role in the Sikh renaissance movement in the first decade of the twentieth century laid special stress on the wearing of Keski by women.
6. The author had the privilege of meeting the late Baba Gurbachan Singh Ji Khalsa of the Bhindranwala Jatha along with his whole family, including his wife, two sons and their wives. They were all wearing Keskis just as the members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha do.
7. It is a historical fact that there was a time when a price was put on the head of a male Sikh. Greedy and unprincipled people, both Hindus and Muslims, availed of this opportunity to make money. When they could no longer find male Sikhs in the villages and towns, they started beheading Khalsa women and presenting their heads as the heads of young unbearded teenager Sikh lads. As such, many Sikh women, out of fear of persecution, stopped wearing Keski and converted topknot of hair into fashionable styles like women of other faiths. This practice, which originated in a helpless state of affairs, became a fashion in due course of time. By the way, it was perhaps under these very abnormal circumstances that Sikh women also started wearing ear and nose ornaments to avoid the disclosure of their Sikh identity.
8. S. Shamsher Singh Ashok who has been an active member of the Singh Sabha movement and an erstwhile Research Scholar of the S.G.P.C., while discussing the prevalence of the use of 'keski', states: '...and, consequently in the Amrit-Parchaar at the Akal Takht Sahib, this was a precondition even for ladies before they could be baptized there. Any woman who was not prepared to wear Keski was not baptized. This practice continued even after the end of the Gurdwara movement. Relaxation was made only when Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir became the Jathedar of the Akal Takht.'23
9. A recent discovery from old literature puts a final seal on the Keski having been prescribed as a Rahit by the Tenth Guru himself. While going through the old Vahis of the Bhatts, lying with their successors in Karnal District in Haryana State, Prof. Piara Singh Padam of Punjabi University Patiala came across a paragraph explaining the first baptism of the double-edged sword bestowed by Sahib Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji on the First Five Beloved Ones on the Baisakhi of 1699 A.D. and the Code of Conduct imparted to them on that auspicious occasion. Based upon the language and style, this manuscript has been assessed to have been written in about the end of the eighteenth century. As this finding is of special significance in this respect, the English translation of the whole paragraph is reproduced below:
'Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Tenth Guru, son of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, in the year Seventeen Hundred Fifty Two, on Tuesday - the Vaisakhi day - gave Khande-Ki-Pahul to Five Sikhs and surnamed them as Singhs. First Daya Ram Sopti, Khatri resident of Lahore stood up. Then Mohkam Chand Calico Printer of Dawarka; Sahib Chand Barber of Zafrabad city; Dharam Chand Jawanda Jat of Hastnapur; Himmat Chand Water Carrier of Jagannath stood up one after the other. All were dressed in blue and he himself also dressed the same way. Huqqah, Halaal, Hajaamat, Haraam, Tikka, Janeyu, Dhoti, were prohibited. Socialization with the descendants of Prithi chand (Meenay), followers of Dhirmal and Ram Rai, clean shaven people and Masands was prohibited. All were given Kangha, Karad, KESGI, Kada and Kachhehra. All were made Keshadhari. Everyone's place of birth was told to be Patna, of residence as Anandpur. Rest, Guru's deeds are known only to the Satguru. Say Guru! Guru! Guru! Guru will help everywhere.'24
This discovery is a landmark in this respect: Kesgi or Keski has not only been clearly mentioned as one of the five K's, but also the specific and seperate mention of making all Sikhs Keshadharies, makes it clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that Keshas are not included in the Five Symbols (i.e., Five K's): in other words, keeping them intact is a separate and specific injunction for all Sikhs. (By the way, regarding eating meat, both Halaal and Haraam- the Muslim description of any meat other than Halaal - were also forbidden. It means that eating meat was totally prohibited.)
It is thus abundantly dear that Keski has been in vogue right from the birth of the Khalsa Nation and is not the innovation of Bhal Sahib Randhir Singh or anybody else.
A FEW POINTS OF RATIONALE WHY KESKI AND NOT KESHAS IS ONE OF THE FIVE SIKH SYMBOLS.
Now let us consider why Keski and not Keshas is one of the Sikh symbols. By considering Keski as a symbol, the importance of Keshas IS NOT UNDERMINED IN ANY WAY. In fact, the Keshas are the basic and fundamental edifice of Sikhism without which no one can become a Sikh. The following points are put forth for a rational and unbiased consideration in this respect:
1.Keshas are the natural blessing of the Creator. They grow from within the body and develop gradually with age as other parts of the body. As against it, all other symbols or kakaars are external and are put on the body from outside. Even a very devout Sikh may, at times, be forced to remain without any one of the four symbols under circumstances beyond his control. This cannot happen with Keshas, which do not fall in line with the other four symbols and are in a class by themselves.
2. Kangha, which is one of the symbols, is kept for the upkeep of the Keshas (which is also generally considered a symbol). No other symbol is meant for the protection of any other symbol, these being for the protection of the body or some part of it. Evidently, therefore, Keshas cannot be considered as an outer symbol but a part of the body for the protection of which Kangha and Keski are required to be kept as symbols.
3. The RAHITS, including the wearing of the external Five Symbols (Keski, Kachhehra, Kangha, Kada and Kirpan) fall in the category of DO's, while Kurahits (Cardinal Sins or Taboos), including cutting of the hair, are placed in the category of DON'TS. The vested interests try to intermingle them. In this way, they unconsciously belittle the value of Keshas. They should realize that the value of all outer symbols is alike.
4. Then there is an evident anomaly in the commonly accepted Code of Conduct with regard to Keshas. These are included in the category of four cardinal sins which are so basically important that commitment of any one of these by a Sikh makes him an apostate. These are, then, also included in the category of Rahits, the infringement of which makes a Sikh merely a Tankhaeeya or punishable. Evidently there is definite incongruity in it which defies logical or rational explanation. The only logical explanation, therefore, is that the Keshas are not included in Rahits but are one of the four major Kurahits (Taboos or Cardinal Sins): A Sikh must not cut hair.
5. The wearing of Keski enables Sikh women to show their distinctiveness of being Sikh or Khalsa like men. The importance of this Khalsa distinctiveness has been clearly emphasized by the Tenth Guru for the Khalsa as a community, both men and women, and not for men only.
6. At the time of the baptismal ceremony, the same Amrit (Khande-Ki-Pahul) is administered to all without any distinction, including that of sex. The title of Khalsa is bestowed on all of them. The same way of life and Code of Conduct is enjoined upon all of them. All of them are forbidden to roam about, take food, etc. bareheaded. How, then, have women become exempt from any of these injunctions? Keski is the only answer to this contradiction.
In view of all the aforesaid, it is clear that Keski or small turban has been traditionally worn by Sikhs, or Khalsa men and women, right from the birth of the Khalsa Nation. This Rahit has been enunciated and strongly emphasized by the Satguru himself. Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and a few other individuals and organizations are preserving this dignified Khalsa Rahit with Guru's grace. Having become aware of these facts, the Sikh intellegentia has also started showing a remarkable response in this regard. If the Khalsa is to live in accordance with the Rules of true Gurmat , both Khalsa men and women have to accept it. Keski is the crown bestowed by the Satguru for the head of the Khalsa, whether man or woman, who stands bestowed with the special form of the Satguru himself. By refraining from the use of Keski, a Sikh becomes a follower of his own ego instead of the Will of the Satguru. Wearing of Keski by Sikh women is decried mainly because modern day Sikhs want their women to fall in line with other women with respect to the so called modern way of life, including the modern fashions of dress. Sikhs - both men and women - will continue to be guilty of showing disrespect to the sacred hair by keeping them uncovered. In fact, it is the Keski's nonacceptance (and not its acceptance) that is very unconsciously eviscerating the Rahit Namas of their 'tremendous and literally unlimited potency that operates on the collective subconscious level' of the Sikhs in general. One fails to understand how the use of Keski '...destroys the purity of the Khalsa Rahit and sabotages the unity of the Khalsa', as alleged by some. In fact, the shoe is on the other foot. If Keski is accepted by all Khalsa men and women, it will help in maintaining the purity and ensuring the unity of the Khalsa, as even women of the Khalsa faith, like the Khalsa men, will be distinguishable.