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The tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, gave Sikhs a special sword called the Kirpan when they joined Sikhism. In India, there are many words for swords, but Guru Ji chose "Kirpan" for a specific reason. The word ‘Kirpan is made up of two parts: 'Kirpa,' meaning "Mercy, grace, compassion, kindness," and 'aan,' meaning "Honor, grace, dignity." Together, Kirpan stands for "the dignity and honour of compassion, kindness, and mercy."

Important lesson by Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Guru Gobind Singh Ji taught the Sikhs to use the Kirpan only as a last resort, after trying other ways to right a wrong. He wanted his followers to be "Sant-Sipahi" (Saint-Soldier),commonly the Khalsa (the pure one). The Kirpan symbolizes that when a Khalsa joins this group, they leave behind a submissive environment and enter a proactive and caring world—a fearless and courageous defence force dedicated to Guru Gobind Singh's values.

Guru Gobind Singh advised the Sikhs to draw the sword only in response to an attack and as a last resort. Sikhs were pioneers in India for using non-violent methods against oppressors, but when that didn't work, they turned to more forceful means. Although Sikhs played a significant role in India's freedom, many people outside India are more familiar with the non-violent movement led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Historical anecdotes 

The idea of non-violence in Sikhism began with Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, the ninth Guru. This happened when the Islamic rulers were forcibly converting Sikhs and Hindus to Muslims. In Kashmir, Hindu residents sought Guru Teg Bahadur Ji's help to protect them from conversion. The Guru proposed that if the ruler could convert him, others would follow. Despite facing torture and pressure to convert, Guru Teg Bahadur Ji chose not to, giving up his life for his beliefs.

Guru Teg Bahadur Ji's sacrifice taught Sikhs that standing up for one's beliefs is more important than life itself. His son, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, recognized that even after his father's sacrifice, the rulers continued their forced conversions. Guru Gobind Singh Ji equipped Sikhs with the Kirpan, a symbolic sword, encouraging them to fight for their rights and the rights of others. While non-violence is the initial approach, Sikhs are ready to wield the sword when necessary.

Kirpan: The source of courage 

After the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, passed away, Sikhs kept using the Kirpan, a ceremonial sword, to face tough times. When the British ruled over India and the Sikhs had no Guru to guide them, the Kirpan became crucial. Contrary to common belief, the non-violent resistance against the British didn't start with Gandhi; it began with the Sikhs. Even before Gandhi's movement, in 1863, Baba Ram Singh initiated a boycott of British goods, and later, 82 Sikhs were brutally punished by the British for protesting.

By 1897, the Sikhs gained international recognition for their bravery, making them the only Indian community acclaimed for heroism. News of their courage reached Queen Victoria in England, and she became curious about the Sikhs. Hearing a Sikh legend that predicted their rule when a certain tree surpassed another, Queen Victoria sent troops to verify. In a particular account, she learned of a Sikh legend that prophesied, "the day the pipal tree surpasses the Jand tree, the Khalsa will rule the world." Intrigued by this legend, she dispatched some of her troops to locate the trees and validate the narrative. Upon confirmation that it would be at least another hundred years before the pipal tree passed the Jand tree, she sighed with relief, believing her rule would endure for at least another century.  Little did she know it wouldn't last that long.

Sikh defending people 

In 1919, Gandhi and the Sikhs took different paths in responding to British rule in India. Gandhi adopted a non-violent approach, while the Sikhs resorted to violence after a tragic event. In numerous narratives detailing the British rule of India lies the account of what spurred the Sikhs into action. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919, marked a turning point. The British ruthlessly killed over 1300 unarmed Indians, mainly Sikhs, who had gathered peacefully to protest. Unable to tolerate such brutality, the Sikhs began actively fighting back against the British.

A Sikh named Udham Singh went as far as travelling to Britain to punish those responsible for the massacre. Bhagat Singh, another Sikh, protested a new tax in a British Assembly in India using smoke bombs with posters. Although the bombs were non-lethal, Bhagat Singh was sentenced to death. In prison, he led a hunger strike to improve the living conditions for fellow prisoners. His popularity grew, leading to a secret early execution to avoid public backlash. While Gandhi pursued non-violent methods, the Sikhs intensified their resistance against the British.

In the face of British oppression, Sikhs like Udam Singh and Bhagat Singh took bold actions seeking justice and protesting unjust policies, contrasting with Gandhi's non-violent approach. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre catalyzed for the Sikhs to actively engage in the struggle against British rule, demonstrating their determination to fight for their rights and justice.

In the past, the British faced challenges in India from both peaceful and violent efforts to end their rule. As they sensed their control slipping, they focused on promoting Gandhi as a prominent figure. They believed that by elevating Gandhi, they could maintain influence and presence in India more easily. Another advantage was that if Gandhi was seen as the leader in the fight against British rule, it might discourage others from resisting. Interestingly, the Gandhi family, who now plays a significant role in Indian politics, is not biologically related to Gandhi himself but adopted his name, adding a political twist to the story.

The kirpan pride continues 

Sikhs proudly carry Kirpans, a symbol of their commitment to rise above politics and serve humanity. With the teachings of their Gurus guiding them and swords by their side, the Sikhs, known as the Khalsa, strive to protect their rights and the rights of others. The Kirpan serves as a powerful example of transforming a weapon through education, using it as a tool to demonstrate mercy. As long as humanity exists, the Khalsa will stand ready with the Kirpan, advocating for what is right through words and actions.

*Based on an article by Harminder Kaur, published in wahegurusimran.org on 23rd June 2010 

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