The essential five external Sikh-Symbols (5 Ks) are a unique gift to a Sikh from the Great Guru Gobind
Singh Sahib and a baptised Amrit-Dhari Sikh should, under no circumstances, willingly part company with
any of them. Among four prohibitions (Kureht) removal of Kesh (hair) is the most significant. To keep hair
intact is the first and the foremost duty of a Sikh. The Guru gave paramount importance to Kesh as is
apparent from the fact that in the sweet memory of First Sikh Amrit (Baptism) Ceremony of Five Beloved
Ones, the relevant place at Anandpur Sahib was named Kesh-Garh.
The Sikh Panth are proud of one of their great sons, Bhai Sahib Bhai Randhir Singh Jee, who lived a life of
a true Gursikh and suffered every hardship in the true sense of a determined and completely dedicated
Sikh of modern times in treading the path shown by the Gurus. He sang Akhand Kirtan and loved Gurbani
from the inner depths of his heart. His viewpoint on the basic and fundamental question of Kesh (uncut
hair) is best described in the dialogue between him (Bhai Sahib) and the prison Superintendent at Nagpur
Prison, where he spent 7 ½ years out of his life-imprisonment because he had taken active part in the
National Freedom Movement during the first quarter of the 20th century. The dialogue makes an
interesting reading strictly from religious point of view. It reveals the deep faith Bhai Sahib held and
sustained in the supreme Will of the Karta Purkh (God, the Creator) and the acceptance of God’s gift of
Kesh, without meddling with it in any form.
What I have done in this respect, is an attempt to translate in English Bhai Sahib\'s writing on the subject
from his book entitled \"Letters from Prison\", I have every hope that our younger Sikhs will, by reading
through this, further strengthen their faith in one of the most prominent symbols of Sikh Dharma. This
brochure is being printed with the concurrence of the Central Office of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha.
Kirpal Singh M.A.
7th September 1979
Is it necessary to keep a full-length hair intact?
(A Dialogue between Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh Ji and the Prison-Superintendent Mr. Gupta at Nagpur
One day, it so happened that the Prison Officer bought a poor quality and a cheap brand of hair-oil for our
use while in prison. I refused to accept it, and asked him to get a better quality hair-oil in replacement. I
had already washed my hair with a strong soap, which had made my hair very rough and dry. I was to
comb my hair only after it had been softened with hair-oil in order to avoid damage to it. Without combing
hair, I was not going to take my meals. The Prison Officer, jailer and other staff with the exception of the
new Prison-Superintendent, knew well about my problem.
I had washed my hair early morning, mid-day came and passed and it was now late afternoon; nobody
bothered to supply me requisite hair-oil. As a result of their negligence, I had to go without lunch and
supper as well. Next morning it was Sunday and the Prison-Officer did not turn up on duty and the Prison-
Superintendent usually stayed away on Sundays. On the third day, the Superintendent kept himself busy
inspecting another section of the jail and nobody bothered to enquire about me. Everybody, perhaps, took
it as a trifling matter and nobody brought me good quality hair-oil. The Prison-Superintendent knew
nothing about it at all.
On the fourth day, when the Superintendent was on a round to our ward, the Prison-Officer and others
joined hands to complain against me telling him that, under protest, I had been on hunger strike for the
last four days. The helpless yet kind Superintendent came to see me and the succeeding dialogue
commenced between us.
Prison Superintendent: Well, Randhir Singh! Ever since I have taken over here in this prison, this is the
first time that someone has bothered and harassed me with a protest in the form of a hunger-strike. Why
haven’t you taken anything for so many days and why have you made me carry the burden of it all?
Myself: Good Sir, I haven’t done anything to make you feel the burden of my not eating anything for the
last four days, nor have I harassed you in any manner. It just happened that I had washed my hair four
days ago and I could not obtain proper hair-oil for my use. Had I known that I was not likely to get proper
hair-oil, I would not have washed my hair with caustic soap on that day. After washing hair with caustic
soap, hair becomes rough, dry and entangled, and unless hair-oil is applied, combing of hair becomes
rather impossible. Hair-oil softens the hair and they do not suffer from dropping off or breaking off during
combing process. We, the Sikhs, have a strict religious order to comb our hair twice a day and we are
forbidden to eat with our hair uncombed. So I could not eat anything out of respect for my religious
commandments. It is not correct to say that I resorted to this as protest to your authority.
On hearing this, the kind-hearted Superintendent got very much displeased with his prison-staff and
Asked them why he was not informed of this problem earlier. He immediately ordered for a good quality
hair-oil. Within half an hour good quality oil was brought and the Superintendent himself came and while
handing it over to me he said very humbly, \"Please forgive me, you had to suffer this trouble undeservedly
because of my unawareness and absence. I should have respected your religious sentiments. I am sorry
for what has happened this time. I promise it won\'t happen again.\"
Myself: Thank you very much. The fact is that both in the prison department and in other government
departments, sense of responsibi1ity and integrity have vanished and the employees in general have
become selfish and dishonest. The prison store-men buy the cheapest items for prisoners and charge the
highest price from the government. Nobody bothers to investigate, especially in a prison. The poor
prisoners cannot dare make complaint, and even if they do, no one listens to them. I have had bitter
experience during my prison sentence. There is a lot of mean-ness going on. There are only eight political and criminal Sikh prisoners in this prison. They would need hardly one large bottle of coconut oil for their
use throughout the month, but these people depict such mean-ness that they bring the poorest quality oil
and in this way, they cheat the government and exploit the poor prisoners.
The prison Superintendent listened to this all and accepted the criticism of the misdeeds of prison
management. He assured me that he’d be taking steps to remedy these shortcomings. Then, all of a
sudden, he raised a question and asked me, \'IS IT NECESSARY TO KEEP LONG HAIR?’
Myself: Is it necessary to keep the head on the human body?
Supdt: The body cannot survive without the head.
Myself: If, however, it could survive, would you be willing to get rid of it? (If the body could survive without
the head, would you remove the head?)
Supdt: The head is more important and is an integral part of the body. With the head the body becomes
complete and without the head, body cannot survive at all.
Myself: Have you placed the head on your body yourself?
Supdt: No, God has placed it there.
Myself: Undoubtedly God has placed the head on your body. If, however, it were placed by you, perhaps,
you could afford to remove it as an unwanted burden.
Supdt: Of course. But how can we remove or afford to get rid of something given to us by God?
Myself: Well, suppose, if someone removes that God-given head from the body, what would you call that
Supdt: Undoubtedly, he would be called a tyrant, oppressor, murderer and an assassin.
Myself: If someone asks you questions as to why you have kept a head on your body, what will you think
Supdt: It would be a sheer stupidity on the part of the questioner.
Myself: Just the way, our heads are placed on our bodies by the Creator Himself, the same way, the hair
on my head and yours as well, have been grown by the same God - the Creator. Therefore, your question
regarding keeping of long hair is irrelevant in itself, because it is not I who has grown it there, but the hair
is God\'s gift. Just as the head on the body is God\'s special gift, so is the hair given by Him. It is our first
and foremost duty to look after the hair (God\'s gift) as we would like to look after and protect our head.
Those who do not maintain God-given gift on the head, (cut off or completely shave off their hair), are, in
my well-considered view, ungrateful and disloyal to the supreme will of God. I consider them murderers.
Supdt: No, they cannot be called so, you can give them some other name, because in cutting hair no blood
Myself: You mean if blood is spilt, then alone it can be called a murder or assassination. What if someone is
strangled to death? Would you still not declare it a murder, because in strangling a person, no blood is
spilt, though death does occur? It is no use indulging in verbal arguments. You know very well that in
certain methods of murder, not even a drop of blood is allowed to spill. Would you not call perpetrators of
these crimes as murderers? If not, what else will you call them?
Supdt: Excuse me, the head when once chopped off renders the body dead and the head does not grow
again. But on the other hand the hair completely shorn off or hair cut short start growing again. There is a
world of difference between the two instances.
Myself: Do you believe in re-incarnation or transmigration of the soul?
Supdt: Yes, I do.
Myself: Nobody dies even after death, because the soul migrates. Those who kill others cannot kill their
souls. The soul cannot die and it continues to take new births. The attempt to kill a soul goes in vain. There
can be no success in doing this. In the same way, the effort of those who cut or shave their hair time and
again, goes futile because the shaven or cut hair continue to grow again and again, the same way as the
soul of a killed or dead person takes birth again and again. The difference, however, is only this that the
soul moves on from one life to another and the killer or the murderer does not realise it, but the hair
continue to grow until death of the person.
Persistent growth of hair acts as a rebuff to the efforts of the shaver. The way in which the life-spark of a
soul exists in the total life-spark of God, the same way, the life-spark in the hair continues to exist in the
life-spark of the human body until its (body\'s) complete destruction. It is very important that each hair on
human head and on the entire body should be kept intact, because these are created there by God - our
Creator. The hair on our head and body grow to such length as is needed by the physiology and biology of
each individual body according to God\'s plan. The hair grows to certain length and then stops growing
further naturally. Any attempt to undo the Creator\'s work by either trying to artificially make hair grow
thicker and longer or get rid of it is our folly and also against the Law of God. Women do not have hair on
the face. Any human attempt to grow it there would not succeed. Similarly, to cut hair from the head is
also sheer folly. God - the Creator, has given beards to men but they shave them every day and try to look
like women. But Nature does not let them do so. They shave but Nature administers a snub to them every
morning by letting it grow again. The shavers receive double blow, one from the shaving blade and the
other from Nature when every morning new beard comes out in defiance of their intentions. But they do
not wake up to the ultimate Reality. Women as well suffer humility when they try to cut their hair and look
like men by imitating them in this mad pursuit. Both male and female have gained absolutely nothing from
The question should have been \"Why Nature\'s gift (Hair) should not be left intact on the head and elsewhere
and why should it be cropped?\" But, surprisingly, questions are asked the other way. The stark
reality is that there is an overwhelming majority of people who defy the Divine because of this habit
inherited from others through centuries and have mistaken the shaven face and shorn hair as a natural
form. The reason is that, in the world, there are so few and so rare people who stick to and are consistent
with the Eternal Law of Nature. When any person from big nations of the world chances to have a glance at
a Sikh in natural form, he wonders at the latter\'s completely natural face and asks the question: \"Is it
necessary to keep hair intact?\" In his ignorance he forgets that hair like other limbs of the body is part and
parcel of the human body. A Sikh would never allow a single hair to be removed from his body because he
bows to God\'s Law, he understands that hair growth has a purpose behind it and believes it a sin to do
otherwise; just as a doctor would not advise to close a pore on the body.
This is a very complex question you have raised. Volumes can be written on this topic. We do not have
enough time at our disposal to do full justice to the discussion on the sanctity of our hair. Those who raise
such objections are usually Arya Samajists. Are you not prejudiced like them?
Supdt: (Smiling) No, I am not that much of an Arya Samajist, though, to some extent I am inclined
towards Arya Samaj beliefs and practices. But I have asked this question to you just spontaneously. Even
though you have used some very blunt epithets but I have, all the same, liked the line of your argument. A
lot of my misconceptions and suspicions have vanished now.
When you leave jail, I wish you would write a detailed book on the philosophy of hair and propagate it
throughout the world in all languages. Your argument that in cropping hair or shaving beards people just
follow suit, like the movement of an individual sheep in a flock, has impressed me. All of our rishies, sages
and prophets in the ancient times, were kesbadharis (with natural hair), which means they kept their hair
intact. There is evidence that up to Maha Bharat times all Khatries, Brahmins and religious leaders used to
have long hair intact. In old Hindu books and scriptures it is written down how ignoble it was to cut hair
and it was, in fact one of the seven punishments under the then state law. Lord Krishna, our Avtar,
substituted cutting off hair of Rukmani\'s brother Rukman for death sentence in pursuance of her appeal to
save his life. Rukman was so angry with this. He was so much grieved that he called his sister his enemy,
because it was she who had recommended the cutting off his hair. Rukman himself thought that this
punishment was worse than the death sentence.
I value your viewpoint, you are really a Singh with high ideals, Sardar Randhir Singh! No other Singh has
ever convinced me like this. A grain of cogent argument is more than sufficient for a seeker after truth.
Well, time has passed so quickly. Let us leave it there. Namaste. We will see to the rest later on.
Myself: Sat Sri Akal. \'Later on\', surely does not so easily.
To be honest, occasion to continue that dialogue \'later on’ never arrived again, but that prison
Superintendent struck me as a very kind and a thoughtful person.