Op/Ed – Contemporary Kakaars, Modern Sikh

Writer’s Statement: I prefer that paintings should be beautiful, but paintings also have the power to show ugly truths we may choose to overlook. The colors, brush strokes, and mediums the artist uses are carefully chosen and employed with a higher purpose in mind. The painter paints what he imagines and sees; the interpretation of his work is up to the viewer. Dear reader, my words are meant to illustrate the potential crumbling down of the belief system we have treasured for ages. This piece is not meant to hurt hearts, but to open eyes and inspire action on an individual level. I see many of these faults within myself and the world surrounding me—I’m a writer trying to put all our shortcomings as a community into a painting of words. I have faith that, you, my brothers and sisters, will forgive my mistakes and continue providing your love and support as I develop as a Sikh and as a writer.

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I’m a modern Sikh. My kesh tumble freely across my back or remain hidden under a baseball cap. If I wear a turban, it’s nice and small so I can blend in at school and work. If I’m a woman with undesired hair, I keep the bleach handy, sometimes small scissors and waxing or shaving supplies may be needed as well. Our elders stay young by using henna and hair colors. Some of my brothers have turbans without beards—it’s apparently the hottest look of the year. I don’t bother with a kangha, because hair brushes are pretty neat. Plus with gel, straightening irons, curling irons, mousse, and hair sprays, my hair stays tame throughout the day. Hair dressers exist for a reason!

If you’re gifting me a karha, it better be at least twenty-two karat gold. I usually wear a large steel one with added bling just because it’s “in.”

We have a three-foot kirpan hanging off our living room wall. It’s mostly decoration. If I have to wear one, I prefer a small pendant on a chain. If it has to be bigger, I’m fine with one that’s no more than three inches long. But just on special days at the gurdwara or Nagar Kirtans, I’ll wear my seven-inch kirpan and if I’m feeling a bit gangster, I’ll wear the eleven-inch one. Girls know what I’m talking about when I say gaatras are inconvenient. You can’t wear any shirt without the gaatra bulge, or even worse, having the gaatra peeking out from a cute shirt’s neckline.

Kachheras are easy, I buy them off the rack at Target or Walmart—blue, red, pink, green, Hawaiian print, Spongebob Squarepants, you name it, I got it. I’ll let you in on a secret, “boxers” and “athletic shorts” are synonymous with “Kachheras” nowadays.

The truth is, I’m a modern Sikh. I make adjustments to the maryada as I see fit. In a world where life changes in a matter of seconds, I’m simply tweaking and updating things that I don’t see as being relevant. I’m educated—and even if I’m not—I know what I need and want. I know what’s right and wrong because I have Sikhi in my heart.


Or do I?

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Navdeep Kaur is a Sikh American writer currently obtaining her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from San Jose State University.  More of her work can be viewed at http://aarsi-reflections.blogspot.com/.


  1. I suspect that some of the commenters don’t “get” this fantastic article. I don’t think that bodes well for Sikh youth… or maybe they just don’t teach satire in school anymore?

    well done bhenjee, well done.

    • Exactly what I have been thinking while reading all the comments above. They definitely don’t teach satire in school these days and us Sikhs have gotten so sensible that even if we understand satire we would not try to understand but get offended.

      Thumbs up to the writer.

    • Or maybe us youth are more familiar with better satire regarding the significance of religious garb and adorned symbols:

      “Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist. This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.”

      If Nanak held those wearing the janeu in no higher esteem than those who didn’t or couldn’t, why should I have more respect for those who are fastidious about the five Ks than I have for the “modern” Sikhs?

      Indeed, Sikhs that impress me do so with actions demonstrating moral and ethical commitment, i.e., showing “the Sikhi in their heart.”

      • Dalip Singh:
        I strongly agree with you as Amritdharies give more importance to 5K than rest of environments surrounding us. At some point Amritdharies must change their attitude toward honest, hardworking and dedicated real sikhs. Congregation funds must be invested at future Sikh Generation not for their personal survival and livlihood.

  2. Bhenji,

    This was exceptionally beautiful. I’m in awe of your ability to craft prevalent matters into such subtle, but moving words.

    May you always feel the presence of the Divine.
    ramandeep kaur.

  3. The objective of this comment is to share knowledge and promote thinking.

    “I can blend in at school and work” – Blending in? People are trying to stand out in schools & work places. With Guru’s grace, we already stand out by appearance. Why not put qualities behind that and stand out completely? I think it would be better than trying to lose yourself in a crowd.

    If the person wearing a turban identifies as a Sikh, then turban without a beard screams confused. And it depends on who you ask, turban without beard is disgusting and not the “hottest look”

    A gold Karha – materialism?

    Whatever the size, a kirpan better be functional. Don’t wear a gaatra or use a finer material. Why not have one made out of silk and embroidered on the side facing outwards. Think design not elimination.

    Kachheras – I’d have mine custom made rather than buy off the shelf – isn’t that considered the cool thing in the Western world? Tailored suits as opposed to off the shelf.

    I’m educated: Educated in what? If I studied law, I wouldn’t go to a hospital to perform surgery just because I am educated. We are all in the school of Sikhi because we are not educated in that. Until we are, we cannot apply our university degree to Sikhi and try to modify it. That would be like a lawyer performing a medical procedure.

    The truth is that expressions such as I’m… I make… I see… I don’t see… I’m educated… I know…. I need… I know what’s right… take us away from the very purpose we study Sikhi.

    ਜਬ ਹਮ ਹੋਤੇ ਤਬ ਤੂ ਨਾਹੀ, ਅਬ ਤੂਹੀ ਮੈ ਨਾਹੀ ॥ – page 657 SGGS.
    When I remained dominant then You weren’t there, now You are there I am subservient.

    • Jagdeep Singh Ji,
      You have said it so beautifully that it doesn’t need any other explanation! The positive things I see from the article is that she is honest, she has Sikhi in her heart and she knows the kakaars, rehat maryada.

      Navdeep Kaur Ji,
      It is one thing to know Sikhi and it is totally another to follow it. There have been great Sikh and non-Sikh writers and publishers of Sikh history and books that are treated as experts by many but to many Sikhs they are nothing since haven’t really experienced anything Sikhi.

  4. If we talk about initiation into the Sikh then there really is no distinction between ‘Singh’ and ‘Sikh.’

    The first 9 Guru’s kept the maryada of charan-pahul amrit for would be Sikhs.
    This was changed by Guru Gobind Singh Jee who created the maryada of khande di pahul amrit for all to follow.
    To demonstrate the necessity and importance of amrit, Guru Sahib themselves were blessed with amrit.
    Those who were slowly building their jeevans to be blessed with amrit were labelled as ‘sehajdhari’ sikhs.

    When it comes to Sikhi and Gurmat, then we can’t pick and choose to suit our own convenience.

    • Jagwant Singh:
      All Sikhs were not Amritdhari during the Guru Gobind Singh Ji tenure and were not forced to be mandatory, but only those were fighting in Jungles and called Singh (SHER). There were many factors taken into consideration to design Singh’s Uniform just like other armed forces as per their fighting fields. If all fighting forces members dress up in uniform all the time then how civilized communities will look like?

      Please read the Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teaching and try to understand normal life living directions with truthful meaning not to impose Amrit by bullying or by demeaning the humans. The battle field rules and ordders can not be applied to peaceful society. If hair have so high importance to Human body then it will not fall away from human body and will not be rolling into dirty drains. If we want to be so adament regarding the rehat then we should not change rest of the living, working, eating and social environments.

  5. I’m sorry to state that it is description of Singh’s Dress not a Sikh. Guru Gobind Singh created GURU DI FAUJ to fight and design the dress for identification. Please do not create further division in Sikh community.

    Our Sikh Guru from no. 1 to no. 9 were not Sikh as they did not have above shown dress?

  6. Navdeep Kaur ji, nice article. and I’m completely okay with the modifications our people are doing. Except the pagh with no beard. I’ll admit it’s sexy but I don’t see the point of having a pagh without a dardi. But I guess it’s still semi representing. I’m happy to hear that mini kirpans are available and that you’re stil making the effort. Guru Fateh


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