Some illuminating thoughts on the Kirpan


---We are grateful to Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha in Birmingham, U.K., for sharing his views on the Kirpan and gatraa (Kirpan strap), along with their significance in promoting shared values, and allowing their inclusion here. 

The Kirpan isn't a weapon in the normal sense of the word, and has no equivalent in the English language. Its concept, wearing and use within the Sikh religion as an article of faith is unique and original.

Weapons have been used throughout human history as implements to cause offense, harm, destruction and oftentimes death to an enemy. According to Sikh Dharma, one’s mind is one's worst enemy if not trained to be one's best friend. Outwardly, nobody is considered one's enemy; each and every person is considered one's friend or even one's 'self.'


Na ko bairee naahi bigana – No one is an enemy, nor a stranger to me
- Guru Arjan Dev, 5th Master of the Sikhs


Thus, the conventional sense and use of weapons is considered incorrect and futile. The actual use of weapons is only admissible for a Sikh in situations of self-defense and the protection of others.


It is only after all peaceful methods of persuasion fail, that a Sikh may unsheathe the Kirpan.
– Guru Gobind Singh, 10th Master of the Sikhs


It is the shared value of practitioners of the Sikh path that violence is incompatible with the authentic spirit of any religion. But, in the face of dire cruelty, harm, death, destruction, tyranny and oppression, weapons - conceived in their unique and exalted role in the Sikh 'Saint-Soldier' concept and tradition - have in them the power of ensuring and exercising compassion, protection of life, defense, freedom, victory, and noble authority. In the Sikh tradition, the role of weapons has been uplifted from consideration as 'the tool of enemies, foes and tyrants,' to that of 'constant protector, trustworthy ally, and victorious champion.' [The actual subject here is not 'weapons', but the 'role' of the Kirpan.]

It is this idealistic, spiritual concept that has brought about the exaltation and veneration of weapons within the Sikh faith and scriptures. In his poetic compositions,Guru Gobind Singh refers to small arms and weapons as analogous to human Pirs(Prophets), capable of shielding and protecting people, guiding destinies, facilitating connection with God and final emancipation. Like Prophets, the Kirpan is seen to bestow blessings, upholding the honor and dignity of friend and foe alike. Using weapons only in self-defense symbolizes, for Sikhs, the need for internal combat against manifestations of ego such as lust, anger, greed, attachment, and arrogance – in order to liberate the human spirit.

The gaatra (Kirpan shoulder strap) has a spiritual significance as explained by Guru Nanak Dev Ji to humans in 'Asa di Vaar' (SGGS, p471). The cloth of the gaatra (orjanaeoo) should be metaphorically spun from the cotton of Daya (mercy); woven with a loom of Santokh (contentment and unselfishness); knotted with Jat (chasteness, loyalty, allegiance, virtuousness, purity, morality and abstinence); and entwined with Sat(sincerity devoid of hypocrisy, and truthfulness.) For a Sikh, the wearing of the gaatrain which the Kirpan rests forges an inextricable physical and spiritual union. Therefore, the use of Kirpan, of necessity, is regulated by Daya, Santokh, Jat and Sat, the qualities embodied in the gaatra.

The root words of Kirpan include: 'kirpa' - blessings and benevolence, and 'aan' meaning honour and dignity. The late Siri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan, my teacher of over 3 decades, used to term the Kirpan a 'hand of mercy.' The Kirpan can also be referred to as a Siri Sahib 'of noble and venerable authority' - and may vary in length from a miniature of 3 inches to a 3 foot long sword. The Khalsa normally wear the Kirpan in a 'gaatra' (sash or strap) slung across one shoulder, with the Kirpan resting on the opposite hip.

For the Sikh, wearing of a Kirpan is both a cultural and spiritual tradition for which they seek a just degree of support to exercise their personal and religious freedoms. Pluralism and cultural diversity is a reality of today's society, a source of possible enrichment for all. Moreover, through the 500 year history of Sikh tradition, the Kirpanstands as a perpetual reminder of the courage and compassion of the Sikh Gurus, and their love for all humanity. In it are encapsulated the values of equality, liberty and fraternity, the foundations of European society as we know it today. In a world seeking to build bridges through shared values, may we honour the Kirpan as a preserver of such values, promoting human dignity, mutual respect and a spirit of selflessness for the common good.