Back to Sikhi – Bhai Manvir Singh, UK

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This is Bhai Manvir Singh UK ‘s story of keeping Kesh (unshorn hair) and coming back to sikhi. He used to be a mona (cut my hair), who became keshdhari (stopped cutting my hair) and kept Guru’s Rehat (Sikh discipline). The story dates from May/April – August 2000. He has recorded and added his experiences from prior this time as well and how he have struggled to keep Kesh. He believes that his story isn’t anything exceptional, however he thought it might help to inspire those who might be in similar situation as he was in before.

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Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, 
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!!

I have recently kept my Kesh. Thanks to my parents, I feel I have been brought up with Sikh values and beliefs. I am able to do Keertan and read Gurbaani and have an interest in Sikh philosophy and history. I am not saying that I am a saint or anything, but as I grew older I realised the value of my actions and the distinction between gurmat and manmat acts. So my ‘Manmat’ actions were becoming aware to me. 

However, I had always felt one thing missing in my life. Like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing. One of those pieces missing was my KESH! I had always wanted to have Kesh from when I was a child. As I grew up I learnt more and more things, and started realising more about Sikhi. I looked at other Keshdhari Sikhs and children and thought, ‘why am I not like them’, ‘why am I not a Sikh, but I call myself Sikh!’ I wished and wanted to look like them, with a ‘guttee’ (hair knot), ‘keshki’ and ‘dastaar’ (turban). 

I enjoyed going to the Gurdwara and sitting in Saadh Sangat and listening to what the person on the stage was saying. Sometimes when I was really young, my dad used to tie a pagh on me when going to the Gurdwara. I liked wearing the ‘dastaar’. When I was about twelve to fourteen years old I used to tie a pagh by myself with a little help from my dad. I would tie a pagh when going to the Gurdwara on Gurpurbs. My Taya Ji (uncle) used to like me wearing a pagh to the Gurdwara. He used to always tell rishtedaar (relatives) about how good I am, and how I wear a pagh to the Gurdwara. He was happy and all excited when he used to tell people. However sometimes I used to feel awkward and annoyed. I felt a fool, as if I was tricking myself. Wearing pagh on Gurpurbs and then cutting my hair. So it felt a little embarrassing when my Taya Ji or someone else would say how good I am, how I can I sing shabads, do Keertan, read Paat and wear a pagh and look smart. I used to think that people must think what a fool I am. Doing all of this and thinking I am a Sikh, when I cut my hair. However, now I realise why my Taya Ji and others were happy, and I remain grateful to them for their support and guidance they gave me, which I realised later. 

The town where I live is mostly full of gore and a strong minority of Pakistanis. There is only a small community of Sikhs, like 60 homes. However there are not any Keshdhari youngsters. In the whole town the only people I know who have Kesh are one or two old people and one or two very young children, but no teenagers or young adults have Kesh. I always dreamt and pictured myself in the future as being Keshdhari. I would say that one day I would have kesh. At night sometimes I would dream of being in full Sikhi Saroop. I never saw myself as a mona (cut haired), instead I used dream that as an adult I would have a pagh (turban) and an uncut beard, looking smart and proud. 

I never liked having a hair cut! I remember as a child sometimes my dad would cut my hair with a trimming machine. Looking back now it reminds me of pictures and scenes when a Hindu child gets his head shaved by an elder family member in the Hindu initiation ceremony for babies. I wanted to keep Kesh but couldn’t. Like a hungry child who wants roti but can’t make it. I felt guilty and ashamed that as a Sikh, I was cutting my hair when great Sikhs like shaheed Bhai Taru Singh Ji refused to have his Kesh cut and instead he said that he would rather have his scalp removed. That is how much pyaar (love) Bhai Taru Singh Ji had for the Kesh, the identity, the image that the Guru had bestowed upon him.

I couldn’t bring myself around to saying that I am a Singh and that I am proud to be Sikh (even though I was proud). Instead I felt I was a disgrace to my religion because I had my hair cut and still had the nerve to call myself a Sikh. Even though I had religious views I wasn’t practising what I believed; so I felt awkward. 

At school gore would ask me what my religion was. When I said I was ‘Sikh’ they would say, ‘yeah but why is your hair cut then, aren’t Sikhs supposed to have uncut hair and wear a turban’. WHAT ANSWER COULD I GIVE THEM! What that it is common for (BLIND FOOLISH) Sikhs to cut their hair? All I could say is that I am not religious, HOWEVER I was and was proud to be a Sikh! But again, I had put myself to shame. Shaheeds (martyrs) like the two young sahibzaade, sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, aged 5 and 7yrs old, were bricked alive for refusing to give up their Sikhi. When faced with the challenge of death or converting to another faith they chose death. They were confident and kept their faith, however difficult the times were, and they roared “BOLE SO NIHAL, SAT SIREE AKAAL” on being martyred. And there I was sitting in England, with an easy life, no one to asking me to convert or die; yet I was being forced to say that I am not Sikh when I really was.