Kirpan - The Sword of Mercy
I am not Muslim, I am not Hindu and I must definitely am not sick. Every time I step out of my house with an Indian dress or someone spots my iron bracelet on my arm, people question my background. First I am asked if I am a Muslim or a Hindu and when I reply I am a Sikh, they think I am telling them I am sick. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion, yet people still confuse a Sikh to be sick. And if they are aware of Sikhism, they are confused about why Sikhs wear a dagger on their sides. As a child I was confused myself, as to the purpose of the dagger or Kirpan as Sikhs know it. Having grown up in America, I learned about Gandhi and his non-violent teachings, like many of my American friends. That just added to my confusion, as to how can we can have the non-violent and something like carrying a Kirpan come from the same place. So as a Sikh (which literally means student) it is my duty to learn about the purpose of the Kirpan and to teach others about it as well.
The tenth Guru or teacher, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, of the Sikhs gave the Sikhs a Kirpan when he baptized into Sikhism. In the many languages used in India there are many words for sword or dagger but Guru Ji used the word “Kirpan” for a very specific reason. The word Kirpan can be broken down into two parts; ‘Kirpa’ which means “Mercy, grace, compassion, kindness” and the second part “aan” means “Honor, grace, dignity’. Together the words stand for “the dignity and honor of compassion, kindness and mercy”. Guru Gobind Singh Ji never taught to use the Kirpan as a first resort but as the last resort after all other means of righting a wrong have failed. Guru Gobind Singh Ji asked that all his followers be “Sant-Sapie” (Saint-Soldier) but they are more commonly known as Khalsa (the pure ones). The kirpan crystallizes the fact that when a Khalsa joins this army, he or she has left behind the docile environment of subservience and subordination and has joined the proactive and caring world of the fearless, brave and courageous defense force of Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh instructs the Sikhs to only draw the sword as a last resort and in response to an attack by the aggressor. The Sikhs were the first in India to use the non-violent treatment against oppressing forces but when those did not yield a result; the Sikhs began to fight the oppressors using more violent methods. Sikhs played a huge part in the freedom of India but many people outside of India are only aware of the non-violent movement of Mohan Das Karmchand Gandhi.
The original non-violence was started by the 9th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Teg Bahudar Ji, when the Islamic rulers of the time were converting all Sikhs and Hindus into Muslims. At one point the Hindu’s living in Kashmir, Hindus came to Guru Teg Bahudar Ji and asked them to protect them from the forceful conversion. Guru Teg Bahudar Ji sent word to the Islamic ruler that if they can convert him, all Hindus and Sikhs will follow his lead. Guru Teg Bahudar Ji was tortured, bribed and blackmailed to convert but Guru Ji did not convert or fight back, instead he gave his life. Giving his life, he taught all Sikhs that religion and fighting for the right thing means more than life. His son, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, knew that when his father’s sacrifice was not enough for the rulers to keep their word that they would stop converting people if they couldn’t convert Guru Teg Bahudar, that no amount of sacrifice would be good enough. He gave the Sikhs the Kirpan to help them fight for their rights and the rights of others using all means possible. A Sikh always starts his fight with the non-violent movement but is not afraid to raise a sword when the time calls for it.
Even after the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, left this earth the Sikhs continued to use the Kirpan as a tool to help them through the hard times. Things got really bad when the British rule over Indian began and the Sikhs didn’t have a Guru to help them through it. This was the real test of the Kirpan. Contrary to popular belief the non-violent movement to protest the British was not started by Gandhi; it was started by the Sikhs. In fact by the time Gandhi started the non-violent movement, the Sikhs were ready to raise arms against the British after trying the non-violent method. In 1863, 56 years before Gandhi would try the same technique, Baba Ram Singh had already started the boycott movement by boycotting all British goods. Then a few years later eighty-two Sikhs were tied to canons and blown apart by the British for their protests against the British. By early as 1897 the Sikhs became the first and only Indian community to be internationally acclaimed for their heroism and courage. The news of Sikhs even reached Queen Victory in England and she requested more information on the Sikhs. In one of the reports she was told of Sikh legend which said “the day the pipal (a type of tree in India) surpass the Jand (another tree in India) the Khalsa will rule the world.” Upon reading the report she sent some of her troops to find the trees and confirm the story. The trees were found and when it was reported back to the queen that it would take at least another hundred years before the pipal tree before it passes the Jand tree, she breathed a sigh of relief and thought her rule will last at least another 100 years. Little did she know it would not last that long.
In 1919, Gandhi started his non-violent movement and the Sikhs their violent movement. Hidden in some small paragraph on many books covering the British rule of India is the story of what brought the Sikhs to action. On April 13, 1919, the British conducted the Jallainwala Bagh massacre that killed at least 1300 unarmed Indians (mostly Sikhs) that had gathered to peacefully protest the British. The brutality of what the British did shooting down defenseless people while they were trapped with no place to run was more than the Sikhs could take. Sikhs began engaging the British in battle and fighting back. One Sikh, Udam Singh, even traveled to Britain to punish the person that ordered the massacre. Another, Bhagat Singh, threw smoke bombs with posters protesting the passing of a new tax in a British Assembly held in India at that time. The bombs didn’t hurt anyone because they were never meant to but he was still hung for his actions. During his stay in prison before his execution he led his fellow prisoners on hungry strike to raise the standards of food and treatment in prison. By the time it was time for his execution, he had such a big following that he had to executed a day early in secrecy to prevent backlash from the public. So while Gandhi was trying the methods that Sikhs had already been using the past 50 years against the British, the Sikhs stepped up the battle.
Now the British were being hit by both the non-violent and violent moments to end their rule over India. Seeing their grip over India weakening, they put their efforts into raising Gandhi into a great figure. They knew he would be easier to control and work with for them to keep a presence in India. The second benefit of naming Gandhi the main force of end of the British Rule was that it would discourage others from the fighting back. To this the Gandhi family plays a huge part in Indian politics, which was what Gandhi a lawyer by profession was all about. If you take time to study the linage of the current Gandhi family, they are not really Gandhi’s but his friend Jawaharlal Nehru family that adopted his name. Can it get more political than that?
The Sikhs carry their Kirpans with honor because it reminds them of their duty to rise above the politics and serve mankind. With the teachings of their Gurus in their hearts, their swords at their sides the Sikhs, the Khalsa have set out to protect their rights and the rights of others. A Kirpan is the best example of how education can take a weapon and change it into something that is used to show mercy. As long as there is this mankind, there is Khalsa, the Kirpan will remain always ready to fight with words or actions for what is right.