About a month ago, I received a new Kirpan from Jot Singh Khalsa (KhalsaKirpans.com) and this particular one has made me think about the purpose of the Kirpan as more than a symbol but also as a practical tool. Every morning as I sit down to meditate (with the Kirpan in front of me on my altar) I feel compelled to pick it up, hold it, unsheath it, and feel the power that it holds as a very real weapon. I have had many kirpans over the years, but most were very dull and not something most people would be able to effectively use as a weapon. But this kirpan is a very finely crafted weapon. Yes, it’s beautifully crafted and it is attractive to look at, but it is also clearly designed and made by a weapon master.
On Sunday in Gurdwara I was listening to Kirtan and thinking about the Kirpan and realized that now I have a REAL weapon (my kirpan) that is very sharp, very strong and potentially deadly. It occurred to me that I don’t really know how to fight with a knife. I was never trained. Like many of you I have practiced Gatka (swords), but each weapon is unique and requires its own training and practice. Like having a Gun, it’s not safe to have one unless you really know how to use it, and practice handling it, cleaning it, shooting it and using it consciously and safely. If you are not properly trained then you are much more likely to get in trouble with a weapon.
So this got me thinking that I really should learn self defense techniques using a knife (short kirpan…not a sword). This made me wonder why this isn’t always part of the education that we get as Sikhs. So much of what we do as Sikhs has become symbolic in nature when they are real tools for practical purpose. I think given the change in times and lack of education/experience we end up with just the "memory" of what it was for & symbology.
If there was ever a time when I needed to use the Kirpan for self defense to assist someone, I’m not sure how much use it would be to me at my current experience level. It would be a useful tool if I was in survival mode, but as as a self defense tool or to help protect someone I’m not sure how I would fare.
During the very same Sunday Gurdwara that I was thinking about all this, I was sitting eating langar and started to talk to a young man who who was visiting the Gurdwara. We talked a bit and then he asked me about the kirpan and it’s purpose (which I explained) and he asked if I knew how to use it. I kind of fumbled making some excuses that I know a bit how to use a sword, but I realized that I don’t really know how to use a knife as a weapon.
The Kirpan is a gift to me from my Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and although it symbolizes a state of consciousness, it is also a very real shastr (weapon.) Physically it is an instrument of "Ahimsa" or non-violence. The principle of ahimsa is to actively prevent violence, not to simply stand by idly whilst violence is being done. To that end, the kirpan is a tool to be used to prevent violence from being done to a defenseless person when all other means to do so have failed. Symbolically, the kirpan represents the power of truth to cut through untruth. It is the cutting edge of the enlightened mind.
The word "Kirpan" has two roots – the first root is: Kirpa which means "Mercy, grace, compassion, kindness" and the second root is Aan which means "Honor, grace, dignity". So together the word stands for "the dignity and honor of compassion, kindness and mercy"
Guru Ji called it that so that the one who wears it uses it only to restore grace or defend grace in any situation that requires it. So unless it must be used to defend oneself or another, then it should not be touched. It is sacred and we never, ever abuse that which we worship. It is not coincidence that the kirpan is part of the Khanda / Adi Shakti symbol of our faith, because it represents the primal power and protection of the Akal Purkh.
I know for most Sikhs the kirpan is not considered a weapon and only symbolic. I just wanted to share my personal experience and thoughts which changed the way that I relate to the Kirpan and gave it much more meaning for me. I think it is important that we all experience these gifts that the Guru has given us in our own personal way. This way we fully understand and can experience for ourselves the value of this lifestyle from an experiential place (rather than intellectual). As Sikhs we are on this path of learning, hopefully always exploring and open to new experiences and growing.
I would love to hear your experiences related to the Kirpan and how you relate to it! (Particularly those of you who actually wear a Kirpan on a regular basis)