ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੀ ਭੰਡ ਊਪਜੈ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਝੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥

bha(n)ddahu hee bha(n)dd oopajai bha(n)ddai baajh n koe ||

From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.


The Faith

Sikhism is the 5th largest world religion, having originated in the North Indian state of Punjab in 1409. The faith’s main tenets are equality of all, selfless service, purity of character, and remembering God. Many of these teachings came from the 10 Sikh teachers, or Gurus, who organized the faith and were the original messengers of the faith. Now, these teachings are contained in the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib.

A Sikh’s goal in life is to reconnect with the Creator by remembering the Creator’s qualities and attempting to embody them. This also involves remaining separate from worldly attachments like greed, ego, lust, and anger. Through the Sikh spiritual teachings and daily practices—outlined in the Sikh Rehat Maryada, or code of conduct—a Sikh hopes to spend their life in this world aspiring for a pure character, mind, and spirit.

In order to solidify the commitment to the faith and these beliefs, the 10th Sikh Guru created the Sikh identity and initiation ceremony. The initiation ceremony, or amrit sanchar, is meant to occur whenever a Sikh feels ready to commit to all aspects of the faith. This generally includes daily prayers, the identity, and aspiring towards reconnecting with God. Once a Sikh participates in the amrit sanchar, they are considered amritdhari, or someone who has taken amrit (become pure through the initiation ceremony).

An amritdhari Sikh is required to wear the Sikh articles of faith at all times, and this is the essence of the Sikh identity. There are five articles of faith, or kakkars, and they are meant to serve as a constant and physical reminder of a Sikh’s beliefs and values.


The Articles of Faith

Kes: Uncut hair. Sikhs believe that hair, our body, nature, and everything natural is a gift from God. As a sign of accepting and respecting this gift, hair is left uncut and unchanged.

Kanga: Wooden comb. It is meant to be kept on a Sikh at all times in order to maintain the kes and keep it healthy.

Kara: Iron bracelet. A Sikh will wear at least one of these on either arm (although it tends to be their dominant-hand side) as a reminder to do good deeds and of the one-ness of the Creator.

Kachera: Undershorts. These are worn under the pants as underwear and are meant to remind a Sikh of the concepts of modesty, self-respect, and dignity.

Kirpan: Small sword. Representing social justice, equity, and defending the defenseless, the kirpan is a reminder to Sikhs of their difficult history and the need to stand up for what is right. The word kirpan breaks down to two words, kirpa- and -an, meaning mercy and bestow respectively. Thus, the kirpan is meant to be used only when necessary, and only to defend, not attack. The kirpan is worn either beneath or on top of one’s clothing, held by a strap called a gaathraa. The gaathraa goes across the body and the kirpan rests on a Sikh’s left hip.


The Project

In looking at how Sikh Americans are presented and represented, we found that the Sikh identity, primarily the 5 kakkars, were often portrayed and seen as primarily male. Although there are many women who wear the 5 kakkars, including the dastaar, it has often been presented as a figure of masculinity and male identity. As indicated with the inclusion of the line from Sikh scripture above, gender equality is significant in the faith, so the notion of an identity just for males is one that comes from cultural and political biases. In order to challenge these social constructions, we decided to put our skills together and create a representation of the female experience with kakkars and with Sikhi as a whole.

Harleen decided to use poetry to reflect upon her own experiences wearing the dastaar and the 5 kakkars, creating one poem for each article of faith. These poems are not necessarily a description of the physicality of each article of faith, but, rather, the notions and ideas one represents and believes in carrying them.

Rasna, then, chose to document the visual embodiments of these ideas through the kakkars, taking (5) photographs of the (5) kakkars. These photographs not only show the physicality of the kakkars, but also show them in a daily environment, allowing them to become part of the contemporary understanding of the Sikh female experience.

The combination of these photographs and poems is meant to depict the Sikh female identity, but also create a place for reflection, education, and understanding.


Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy our piece!


Harleen & Rasna


kes - uncut hair

Kes(ki): resilience

Long, black waves

Flow down and down and down.

Waves part with the teeth of a comb,

but come together again

Like the diasporic sensation of my own



I watch the black and brown

Fall to the ground

Like leaves fall from their

Branches, from their

Roots, calling it quits before the

Winter and the world freeze over


Feeling the strength within each hair

The collective strength of my hair

My kes

Rolling it together, folding it inwards

Making it stronger and more resistant

To the questions we will face

The challenges we will overcome

My roots


My hair wrapped up


In layers of fabric

Each a representative for the sacrifices made

For me

For you

For Sikhs


The mirror shows a friend

and a stranger

Someone unknown to you

Perhaps one you should fear

The dastaar I see as fabric of my identity

You have been taught to fear as a turban of resistance

A symbol of terror

A sign of pain


My keski has made you fear me

Knock me down and keep me down

Denying my Lineage

And yet, I still rise



Kanga - comb

Kanga: clarity

The comb:

Dark, rigid, strong

against the cool,


Of my table.


Each bristle

Representing a time

When I stood

When I fought

When I remained

Unbending to your




Orders of what it means to be



How you wanted me to clean my head of

All things outside your tradition

Outside of your past

Outside of what is



Each strand parts

Like each flowing of a river

Parting at a fork

Choosing the path of destiny

Each and every time


Brush. Clean. Repeat.


The bristles move through the darkness

Cleaning the dirt

And the dead away

Leaving the light

And life


My skin:

Dark, rigid, strong

Against the cool,


Of yours.



kirpan - sword


"Lift the pen before the sword"


But how many words will it take

For you to understand,

My body is not meant for your destruction


For the hate-filled stares

That strike like

punches to the gut


For the shouts of



"Osama's Daughter"

That fly like bullets

Whizzing through the air

Piercing the skin with precision and power


For the blood on the streets of



Elk Grove

Oak Creek



Interrupted sleep

Filled with screams


Midnight disappearances

Bullet holes in walls

Eyes gone blank

Dastaars unraveled


Prayers go up in smoke

As you kneel in front of the door

Tears dampening the ground

Waiting for him to come home


So tell me

How many more stares must I endure

How many more shouts must I hear

How many more murders must I watch

How many more words must I write

Before I can lift the sword



kara - pure iron bracelet

kara: sacrifice

A single, solitary fist

Stood up against the sky


"I need five heads, who will give their life?"


Sarbloh: pure iron, unyielding and true

Representing the purity I try to create

Within me

Reflecting You



Akaal moorat






Circularly representing the sacrifice

I must make of my own mind

Impart your wisdom onto mine

Let me become pure


I reach my fingers towards the sky

Hoping to find some glimpse

Of what might be waiting for me

Of what there is of you


But iron, cold against my wrist

Reminding me to look inside

Forge my work out of fire

It is all Divine


My core identity pulled in separate directions

My Kaur identity always asking me questions

Wanting to please those around me

Wanting to please You inside of me

I reach forward, I'm pulled back

Tell me, how do I give myself to You?


Fingers reach upwards

Golden brown against a pure blue sky

Pure iron glinting with sunlight

Still searching

For You



kachera - undershorts

Kachera: poise

(One leg in)



Breathe in, breathe out

The hairs stand up on my leg

Like little soldiers

Ready to protect me

Against my own war

Waged against self-esteem

The rustles of fabric like

Whispering sheets

Covering secrets of

Self-denial and regret

Wrinkles of past and present

History made and history begun

Lullabies of martyrdom

Ready to strike, at midnight

Defending our freedom


(Two legs in)



Determine the center

Of my being

Modesty of my existence

Thighs like tree trunks,


Waxing and waning

Like the groans of trees

Against the wind

Holding stronger to

Roots in the ground

Seeds planted by forgotten names and faces

Outer strength of women, of queens

Inner weakness of trampled souls

And muffled screams

For my own humanity


The fabric caresses my skin

Cool against its warmth

The heat of my veins

Flowing with the

Blood of my




Harleen Kaur is a first generation Sikh American, passionate about using her words—written and spoken—to reflect upon her identity, investigate her past, and create positive change for the future.

Rasna Neelam is studying both art and science, and am interested in interdisciplinary studies and intersections. She loves storytelling - whether it be photography, writing, filmmaking, and more.