The symbol of the sword is found in several religious traditions, including Islam and medieval Christianity, but it enjoys a significant position within the Sikh belief system. When the tenth and final living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708), declared the Sikh community to be the Khalsa (“the pure”), he established a normative code of personal and collective behavior. In the process, he prescribed every Sikh to have a visible identity, which meant carrying five items whose names start with the Punjabi letter kaka (k). These items include: unshorn hair (kes), comb (kangha, to keep the hair clean), a large steel bracelet (karha), sword (kirpan), and a pair of long shorts (kachha). Both men and women were expected to display this identity at all times and ...

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