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The Sikh Drawer: Kachh

Dr. Trilochan Singh

After wearing the drawer: kachh as symbol of continence and tolerance, The Khalsa held aloft in his hand, the sword. (Bhal Gurdas II)

The fifth symbol is short linen trouser, reaching the knees, but not covering them. And this is the emblem of Modesty and Temperance. (Dharam Anant Singh, Plato and the True Enlightener of Soul)

The Sikh Drawer (Kachera)
In the east holy men have generally been very indifferent to their body and clothes. They have taken extreme view about restraint of passions, and they have displayed their ascetic temper either by going absolutely naked, or by just covering their genitals by a piece of cloth three inches wide and half a yard long called langoti. This, in the opinion of Guru Gobind Singh, was cynical to the extreme and even unsocial, if not anti-social. The hip dress worn by holy men and the Brahmins was dhoti. Though more elegant than langoti, it was utterly useless for a man who is to wear the sword and take part in active life. It is all right for a Brahmin whose work is to preach and live on aims and charity. Even in dhoti wearing areas of India very few doctors or engineers or sportsmen can afford to wear dhoti and do their normal duties. It has been patronized for clerical jobs and a large section of politicians.

The kachh covers the genitals and the thighs from the hips to the knees. It very much resembles in principle the Khaki shorts (half pants) popular during war. A Sikh with his underwear (kachh) can actively go to the service in the temple. The dhoti of the Brahmins is associated with innumerable Hindu rites and ceremonies. Strict injunctions to wear the kachh and reject dhoti or langoti, is a complete repudiation of Brahmanical rites and ascetic practices:

pari pustak sahdhia badang. sil pujasi bagul samadhang.

After reciting the scriptures,

And saying the evening prayers,

The Brahmin wrangles in polemics.

Like the crane he sits before a stone god In sham meditation and worship.

False is his speech,

Which can make iron of lies to appear to be the gold of truth.

Thrice he repeats the sacred verses of gayatri;

Around his neck he wears a rosary,

And puts a frontal mark on his forehead.

He keeps two dhoties (loin cloths)

And a piece of cloth to cover his head.

(Adi Guru Granth, Guru Nanak, Asa di Var, 14:2, 470)

Although dhoti is now popular dress in Bengal, and has been made respectable because rich people wear it at home and even in offices, it is still the most essential dress for Brahmanical rites and ceremonies.

The underwear (drawer: kachh) of the Sikhs itself suggests that a Sikh must play the role of a saint and soldier in social and political life. He is a religious man, ready to perform all secular duties. Holiness for him is to be expressed in action and restraint, more in smart and sober dress than in garments depicting cynical other-worldliness. The turban and the drawer represent together what Albert Schweizer would call a life-affirming view in contrast to the life-denying outlook of a clean-shaven head and langoti or dhoti of ascetics and Hindu priests. The drawer is, therefore, a dress for the lower part of the body, which is symbol of smartness, preparedness for action and life-affirming restraint.

To sum up, Guru Gobind Singh’s perennial message to the ordained Khalsa is: “Whenever there are five Sikhs assembled who abide by the Guru’s teachings, know that I am in their midst. Let him who wishes to see me go to an assembly of the Sikhs and approach them with faith and reverence, he will surely see me amongst them.1 Henceforth the Guru shall be the Khalsa and the Khalsa shall be the Guru. I have infused my Spirit, heart and body into the Adi Guru Granth Sahib and the Khalsa. O Khalsa, remember the true Name I have attached you to the skirt of the Immortal God and entrusted you to Him—ever remain under His protection and trust none besides Him. O Khalsa, my Beloved, let him who desires to see me look into the Guru Granth, obey the Guru Granth, it is the Guru’s visible body; let him who longs to meet me search diligently in its hymn Read the Guru Granth, or listen to it, so shall your heart receive consolation in the Guru’s Heaven.”2

Khalsa Stands For the Moral and Spiritual Unity of Mankind

Even though Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa in the Indian setting of Hinduism and Islam, what the Sikhs call a third unique cultural nationality, Teesra Nyara Khalsa Pahth3, his main aim was to create a morally and spiritually ideal man and society which would bridge the wide gaps between faiths like Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In the Akal Ustat'i Guru Gobind Singh gives his conception of God and humanity in which the whole of mankind is seen aspiring to reach the blessed presence of God:

fara ke farahgi manai

Qandhari kuresi janai.

The Arabs of Arabia,

The French of France,

The Kureshis of Qandhar,

Meditate on Thee.

(Dasam Granth, Guru Gobind Singh, Akal Ustat'i, 254, 36)

Naming all people from Manchuria to Rome and England, Guru Gobind Singh points out that human beings all over the world worship the same God, and the differences in their forms of worship are mainly due to different cultural environments. Guru Gobind Singh aimed at uniting all mankind in enlightened ethical and spiritual righteousness. He says:

dehura masit soi puja au niwaj oi manas sabai ek pai anek ko bharmau hai.

The Hindus and the Muslims are all one,

Have each the habits of different environments,

All men have the same eyes, the same body;

The same form, compounded Of the same four elements:

Earth, air, fire and water.

The Abekh (Formless) of the Hindus And the Allah of Muslims are the same.

The Kor’an and the Puranas praise the same Lord.

They are all one in Spirit.

The One Lord made them all.

(Dasam Granth, Guru Gobind Singh, Akal Ustat'i, 86, p. 19)

Whether the conflict is between Hindus and Muslims, as between India and Pakistan, or between Muslims and Jews in the Middle-East, or between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, or between black and white in South Africa, the problem is the same. The problem cannot be solved in the economic ideological setting by the Communist or Capitalist powers. It can be solved only by enlightened religious and cultural forces which can be a bridge between the warring groups. Neither the Communists nor the Capitalists command any respect in the saner section of world community in the east and west. If the human world and the present civilization is not to be ruined materially and spiritually, we have to seriously consider the problems of equality, social justice and genuine political freedom, not only for our own community, country and nation, but for all suffering humanity. No section of mankind should become a threat to any other through superior economic or physical power.

Guru Gobind Singh believed that moral and spiritual values must transform man from within before the satanic forces of power politics changes him from outside. Social and political forces have meaning and significance if they respect human freedom and allow intellectual and spiritual freedoms to flower uncensored and unhindered. A number of communities have lived in India for centuries. They have passively tolerated one another without properly understanding one another. They have never opened healthy dialogue between one another for which Sikhism has always strived. They have never tried to own or assimilate the best that is in others.

The worst feature of the present day situation is that extremely selfish and corrupt politicians are accepted and honoured as champions of religion and social culture. These champions of darkness and dissension first destroyed the cultural and spiritual bonds between the Hindus and Muslims resulting in the partition of India in 1947, and now they are ruthlessly destroying the spiritual and cultural bonds between the Hindus and Sikhs.

The social philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh impels us to study all religions in their true spirit and show reverence for them, even if we have some basic doctrinal differences with them. The search of Truth and the service of humanity through different paths and different means should bring mankind and religions closer to one another and weld them into one-world-family, devoted to truth and higher spiritual values. Guru Gobind Singh’s life and message, his ideals and social philosophy, disciplined in the mind and soul of the Khalsa, repeatedly reminds us that man is of one human race and the search for the Light and love of God is universal quest in which all paths lead towards one and the same goal, and all people march as brothers at heart and in spirit and not as enemies or rivals.”4

References and Notes

(1) Prerm Sumarag.

(2) Duncan Greenlees, The Gospel of the Guru Granth Sahib, 213.

(3) (i) eh tisar mazhab Khalsa upjio pardhana.

(ii) ion tisar Pahth rachaian vad sur gahela.

Bhai Gurdas II, Var. 41, Pauri. 16.

(4) Trilochan Singh, Social Philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh: Paper read at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, and published by the Institute in Sikhism and Indian Society 1967, p. 204.

Source – The Turban and the Sword of the Sikhs by Dr. Trilochan Singh