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A kara (Punjabi: ਕੜਾ (Gurmukhi), کڑا (Shahmukhi) कड़ा (Devanagari)), is a steel or iron (sarb loh) bracelet, worn by all initiated Sikhs. It is one of the five kakars or 5Ks — external articles of faith — that identify a Sikh as dedicated to their religious order. The kara was instituted by the tenth Sikh guru Gobind Singh at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanskar in 1699. Guru Gobind Singh Ji explained:
He does not recognize anyone else except me, not even the bestowal of charities, performance of merciful acts, austerities and restraint on pilgrim-stations; the perfect light of the Lord illuminates his heart, then consider him as the immaculate Khalsa.—
The kara is to constantly remind the Sikh disciple to do God's work, a constant reminder of the Sikh's mission on this earth and that he or she must carry out righteous and true deeds and actions, keeping with the advice given by the Guru. The Kara is a symbol of unbreakable attachment and commitment to God. It is in the shape of a circle which has no beginning and no end, like the eternal nature of God. It is also a symbol of the Sikh brotherhood. As the Sikhs' holy text the Guru Granth Sahib says "In the tenth month, you were made into a human being, O my merchant friend, and you were given your allotted time to perform good deeds." Similarly, Bhagat Kabir reminds the Sikh to always keep one's consciousness with God: "With your hands and feet, do all your work, but let your consciousness remain with the Immaculate Lord." The kara is also worn by many ethnic Punjabis who may be Hindu, Muslim, or Christian; moreover, the use of the kara by non-Sikhs is encouraged as it represents the "totality of God."
The basic kara is a simple unadorned steel bracelet, but other forms exist. The kara originated as a protective ring to guard the sword arm of the Khalsa warrior during battle when fighting with swords.
It was also historically used like a knuckle-duster for hand-to-hand combat. Battlefield variations include kara with spikes or sharp edges. Sikh soldiers of the British Indian army would settle disputes by competing in a form of boxing known as loh-musti (lit. iron fist) with a kara on one hand.
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- Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji in the Dasam Granth, page 1350
- Guru Granth Sahib, page 76
- ||213|| - Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, page 1376
- Dhooleka Sarhadi Raj (25 August 2003). Where are you from?: middle-class migrants in the modern world. University of California Press. Retrieved 17 December 2011. "Individual Sikhs and Hindus share symbols and practices of body inscription (such as wearing a kara and women keeping their hair long)."
- "FAQ". Sikh Karas. Retrieved 17 December 2011. "Is it okay for Non-Sikhs to wear a Sikh Kara? Yes, definitely it is. The Kara is a universal symbol of the totality of God; free for everybody to use. Any Sikh who will see the Sikh Kara on you will be happy and proud that you choose to wear it."