Kes Defined: Unshorn Hair

Kesadarhi Sikh

Kesadari Sikh
Kesadari Sikh. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

Definition of Kes:

Kes is a derivative of the Sanskrit word kesh meaning the hair of the head.

In Sikhism, the term kes refers to unshorn hair, or unaltered intact hair, and includes all hair on the head, face, and entire body.

Sikhs honor the intention of the creator by keeping their hair unshorn and unaltered in its natural state. Kes is not to be dishonored in any way. All methods of hair removal, or alteration, are against the tenets of the Sikh faith and considered to be taboo for the kes.

Hair is to be kept clean and combed, and kes ought never to be cut, colored, or curled. Shaving, plucking, tweezing, waxing, bleaching, using depilatories, or otherwise altering the hair by any means, dishonors the kes and the inherent intention of the creator.

Kes is essential to Sikhism. According to the Sikhism code of conduct, the kes of every Sikh is to be maintained and kept intact from birth throughout the entire life until death. Belief in the gurmat guidelines of the gurus teachings and initiation according to tenth Guru Gobind Singh is an integral part of what defines who is a Sikh.

A Sikh who honorably maintains kes by keeping each and every single hair unshorn and completely intact may be referred to as:

  • Kesadarhi - unaltered hair and beard.
  • Kesdhari - possessor of unaltered hair.

Any baptized Sikh who has accepted initiation to become a Khalsa Sikh, or Amritdhari, is further required to keep the kes intact, or face tankhah chastisement and penance.

Sikhs use a wooden comb called a kanga to keep the Kes free from tangles. The Kes is wound into a joora top knot kept up on top of the head, and covered with a length of turban to protect it. Many Sikhs wear a small turban called a keski for this purpose. The keski may be used in place of kes for those who are balding, or who do not have hair long enough to make a joora.

Spelling and Pronunciation of Kes:

Gurmukhi word spellings are phonetic. Romanized phonetic transliteration into English letters may have a variety of spellings. Some spellings are simplified while others attempt to portray a spelling code representative of Gurmukhi script.

Pronunciation: Kes sounds like case. The Gurmukhi lavaan vowel has a long sound and is phonetically spelled ae.

Also Known As: Kesh with the final consonant softened to sh.

Alternate Spellings:  Kaes, Kes, and Kesh are all acceptable phonetic spellings.

Examples of Kes in Gurbani Scripture:

The gurus' gave examples of how keeping hair intact has the capability of subduing the effects of ego.

Baba Siri Chand, the son of First Guru Nanak, asked Fourth Guru Raam Das why he kept his long beard intact. The guru replied, "To dust your feet." the guru emphasized the importance of each hair.

  • "Romae rom rom romae mai gurmukh raam dhiaa-ae raam ||
    With each hair and every hair, the enlightened being meditates on the divine Lord."  ||SGGS||443

Fourth guru's son, Fifth Guru Arjun Dev also wrote verses exalting kes:

  • "Gur kae charan kaes sang jhaarae ||1||
    The Guru's feet I dust with my hair." ||1|| SGGS||387
  • "Kaes sang daas pag jhaaro ehai manorath mor ||1||
    With my hair, I clean the feet of Your slave, this is my life objective." ||1||SGGS||500
  • "Kaesaa kaa kar beejanaa sant chour ddhulaavo ||
    Making of my hair a fan, over the Saint I wave it." SGGS||745