In my study of Sikh History, there are certain events I’m marveled by. More than any other, I’ve been fascinated with how the Guru’s challenged the caste ideology. Whether it was young Nanak at the age of 7 refusing to wear the Janeoo (scared thread) or the establishment of Langar, where people of all castes and creeds sat together and shared a common meal – these ideas challenged the status quo and re-molded society. Perhaps these were the precursor to Guru Gobind Singh forming the Khalsa, a caste-less brother/sisterhood, where regardless of what background you came from, by receiving the Guru’s amrit, you were elevated to the family of the Guru.
Anyone who understands how the caste system influenced all aspects of society for thousands of years, can appreciate how significant a milestone the establishment of the Khalsa was. And how fitting, on that day in 1699, Sikhs were given their uniform, and were given the name Singh and Kaur as they began their lives on the Guru’s path.
I believe our tenth Master gifted us the surname of “Singh’ and “Kaur” to erase any last trace of what was once a caste-based society. I often wonder…if Guru Sahib gave us this Hukam of using Singh and Kaur at the same time and on the same day as he did our Kakaars, then why do we value this Hukam any less? Guru Sahib, through his bold stances – in words and in actions, released us from the shackles of slavery, yet today, we choose to stay as slaves willingly. We struggle so hard to find our identity and cling on to our caste, family, clan, or tribal heritage. But isn’t this why the Khalsa was formed? To break down those barriers, to lose “ourselves” and become part of the whole? Personally, I take great pride in being a “Singh” and losing my “self” within the Khalsa Panth. I feel proud knowing that any of my accomplishments are shared with all “Singhs” and exercise caution knowing that any negative actions may adversely affect other “Singhs.”
When getting married, my wife and I consciously chose to keep our names separate as Singh and Kaur. Many complain that the process to get a last name changed is very difficult, but I know there are many out there who have taken this step, and perhaps some can comment on their experience. It’s especially easy for women when they get married, as name changes are quite common. Some complain that a married couple having different last names is inconvenient – not at all. Besides…this is America, I’m sure women taking their husband’s name will be a “thing of the past” sooner than you think.
I take great pride in my wife and daughter being “Kaurs” and can’t wait to explain to my little Kaur why she and I have different last names and this great gift the Guru has given us. Aside from occasionally being called “Mr. Kaur” at some of my daughter’s functions (which we all get a little giggle out of), there has been no inconvenience at all. Personally, I get tired of having conversations with non-Sikhs, having to explain what Sikhi is about, and then explain what Sikhs “really do.” There are many issues like this, but to me, keeping the name of Singh and Kaur seems like “low hanging fruit.”