Dya Singh is a Sikh musician from Australia who is well-known for his powerful and uplifting style of devotional and world music. As a Sikh who had taken the initiation ceremony (the taking of Amrit), he never cut his hair. However, in an essay he wrote (which was recently reprinted on sikhchic), he describes his reaction to having had his leg shaved for surgery. He included the following quote from a piece by I.J. Singh:
India has produced many new religions like Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Amongst these, only Sikhism remains as a distinct identity; others have reverted into the uneasy but comforting fold of Hinduism … Sikhism too has lost some of its lustre and much of its pristine purity by its constant brushing with Hinduism.
If Sikhism has not been absorbed into the Hindu fold, it is not for want of trying by Hinduism, but due to two reasons. 1. Its distinct philosophy which is at odds with and bluntly scornful of many Hindu practices …, and 2. The distinct external symbols which set the Sikhs apart in appearance and behaviour.
That Sikhism – in form and philosophy – even exists today despite many external influences and pressures throughout history is in large part due to the physical form we take, and that includes our articles of faith. It has allowed a people who are a mere fraction of their communities to stand out and yet integrate to make major contributions.
When many people (including Sikhs) question the relevance of uncut hair, I believe they often overlook the fact that in many ways, it is because of our external identity that we can even call ourselves Sikhs today. This external form is a reminder of where we came from and guarantor of what we believe.