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A Sikh wearing a small kirpan (waist) and kara (wrist)
TypeBlade (knife, dagger, or sword)
Place of originPunjab region, Mughal Empire
LengthVariable (traditionally a full-sized talwar sword around 30 in (76 cm) in length, presently it is commonly a dagger or knife under 18 in (46 cm))

The kirpan (Punjabi: ਕਿਰਪਾਨ; pronunciation: [kɪɾpaːn]) is a curved, single-edged blade that Khalsa Sikhs are required to wear as part of their religious uniform, as prescribed by the Sikh Code of Conduct.[1] Traditionally, the kirpan was a full-sized talwar sword around 76 cm (30 inches) in length;[2] however, British colonial policies and laws introduced in the 19th century reduced the length of the blade,[3][4][5] and in the modern day, the kirpan is typically manifested as a dagger or knife. According to the Sikh Code of Conduct, "The length of the sword to be worn is not prescribed".[6] It is part of a religious commandment given by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, founding the Khalsa order and introducing the five articles of faith (the five Ks) which must be worn at all times.[7][8]


The Punjabi word ਕਿਰਪਾਨ, kirpān, has a folk etymology with two roots: kirpa, meaning "mercy", "grace", "compassion" or "kindness"; and aanaa, meaning "honor", "grace" or "dignity". It is derived from or related to Sanskrit कृपाण (kṛpāṇa, “sword, dagger, sacrificial knife”), ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European stem *kerp-, from *(s)ker, meaning "to cut".


Sikhs are expected to embody the qualities of a Sant Sipahi or "saint-soldier", showing no fear on the battlefield and treating defeated enemies humanely. The Bhagat further defines the qualities of a sant sipahi as one who is "truly brave...who fights for the deprived".[9]

Kirpans are curved and have a single cutting edge that can be sharp or blunt,[5] which is up to the religious convictions of the wearer.[10] They vary in size and a Sikh who has undergone the Amrit Sanskar ceremony of initiation may carry more than one; the Kirpans must be made of steel or iron.[11]


The Kirpan represents bhagauti, meaning “primal divine power”.[12]


Fresco of Bijla Singh from Gurdwara Baba Atal, Amritsar, depicting him holding a traditionally long-length talwar kirpan.

Sikhism was founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of Early-Modern India. At the time of its founding, this culturally rich region was governed by the Mughal Empire. During the time of the founder of the Sikh faith and its first guru, Guru Nanak, Sikhism flourished as a counter to both the prevalent Hindu and Muslim teachings. The Mughal emperor Akbar focused on religious tolerance. His relationship with the Sikh Gurus was cordial.[13]

The relationship between the Sikhs and Akbar's successor Jahangir was not friendly. Later Mughal rulers reinstated shari'a traditions of jizya, a poll tax on non-Muslims. The Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth guru, refused to remove references to Muslim and Hindu teachings in the Adi Granth and was summoned and executed.[14]

This incident is seen as a turning point in Sikh history,[15] leading to the first instance of militarization of Sikhs under Guru Arjan Dev's son Guru Hargobind. Guru Arjan Dev explained to the five Sikhs who accompanied him to Lahore, that Guru Hargobind has to build a defensive army to protect the people. Guru Hargobind trained in shashtar vidya, a form of martial arts that became prevalent among the Sikhs. He first conceptualized the idea of the kirpan through the notion of Sant Sipahi, or "saint soldiers".

The relationship between the Sikhs and the Mughals further deteriorated following the execution of the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur by Aurengzeb, who was highly intolerant of Sikhs, partially driven by his desire to impose Islamic law. Following the executions of their leaders and facing increasing persecution, the Sikhs officially adopted militarization for self-protection by creating later on the Khalsa; the executions also prompted formalization of various aspects of the Sikh faith. The tenth and final guru, Guru Gobind Singh formally included the kirpan as a mandatory article of faith for all baptised Sikhs,[16] making it a duty for Sikhs to be able to defend the needy, suppressed ones, to defend righteousness and the freedom of expression.


In modern times there has been debate about allowing Sikhs to carry a kirpan that falls under prohibitions on bladed weapons, with some countries allowing Sikhs a dispensation.

Other issues not strictly of legality arise, such as whether to allow carrying of kirpans on commercial aircraft or into areas where security is enforced.


In May 2021, the state of New South Wales imposed a ban on bringing any knives, including kirpans, onto school grounds after a 14-year-old boy allegedly stabbed a 16-year-old boy with his kirpan in a school in Sydney's north-west on 6 May.[17] After members of Sydney's Sikh community spoke out and defended their children's rights to bring religious items to school,[18] the state's Department of Education reversed this decision in August 2021 and implemented new guidelines around the bringing of kirpans with the following conditions:[19]

  • Kirpans must be smaller than 8.5 cm (3.3 in) in length and must have no sharp points or edges
  • Kirpans must only be worn under clothing
  • Kirpans must be removed during sports

In August 2023, the state of Queensland repealed a previous ban on bringing knives to schools and other public places after Australian Sikh Kamaljit Kaur Athwal took the Queensland state government to court in 2022. The Supreme Court of Queensland found that the ban, which was stated in section 55 of the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld), contravened the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).[20]


On 12 October 2009, the Antwerp court of appeal declared carrying a kirpan a religious symbol, overturning a 550 fine from a lower court for "carrying a freely accessible weapon without demonstrating a legitimate reason".[21]


In most public places in Canada a kirpan is allowed, although there have been some court cases regarding carrying on school premises. In the 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision of Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite‑Bourgeoys the court held that the banning of the kirpan in a school environment offended Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that the restriction could not be upheld under s. 1 of the Charter, as per R. v. Oakes. The issue started when a 12-year-old schoolboy dropped a 20 cm (8-inch) long kirpan in school. School staff and parents were very concerned, and the student was required to attend school under police supervision until the court decision[22] was reached. A student is allowed to have a kirpan on his person if it is sealed and secured.[23]

In September 2008, Montreal police announced that a 13-year-old student was to be charged after he allegedly threatened another student with his kirpan. The court found the student not guilty of assault with the kirpan, but guilty of threatening his schoolmates, and he was granted an absolute discharge on 15 April 2009.[24]

On 9 February 2011, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously voted to ban kirpans from the provincial parliament buildings.[25] However, despite opposition from the Bloc Québécois, it was voted that the kirpan be allowed in federal parliamentary buildings.[26]

As of 27 November 2017, Transport Canada has updated its Prohibited Items list to allow Sikhs to wear kirpans smaller than 6 cm (2.4 in) in length on all domestic and international flights (except to the United States).[27]

Today,[when?] many Khalsa Sikhs in Canada freely wear their kirpans in public. An example of this is Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, who wears his kirpan.[28]


On 24 October 2006, the Eastern High Court of Denmark upheld the earlier ruling of the Copenhagen City Court that the wearing of a kirpan by a Sikh was illegal, becoming the first country in the world to pass such a ruling. Ripudaman Singh, who now works as a scientist, was earlier convicted by the City Court of breaking the law by publicly carrying a knife. He was sentenced to a 3,000 kroner fine or six days' imprisonment. Though the High Court quashed this sentence, it held that the carrying of a kirpan by a Sikh broke the law. The judge stated that "after all the information about the accused, the reason for the accused to possess a knife and the other circumstances of the case, such exceptional extenuating circumstances are found, that the punishment should be dropped, cf. Penal Code § 83, 2nd period."

Danish law allows carrying of knives (longer than 6 centimeters and non-foldable) in public places if it is for any purpose recognized as valid, including work-related, recreation, etc. The High Court did not find religion to be a valid reason for carrying a knife. It stated that "for these reasons, as stated by the City Court, it is agreed that the circumstance of the accused carrying the knife as a Sikh, cannot be regarded as a similarly recognisable purpose, included in the decision for the exceptions in weapon law § 4, par. 1, 1st period, second part."[29]


Sign reading "No weapons are allowed inside the bank except for kripans by Sikhs." "Kirpans" is misspelled as "kripans".
Sign at a bank in Bangalore prohibiting all weapons except kirpans.

Sikhism originated in the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal era and a majority of the Sikh population lives in present-day India, where they form around 2% of its population.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution deems the carrying of a kirpan by Sikhs to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion and not illegal.[30] Sikhs are allowed to carry the kirpan on board domestic flights in India.[31]


In 2015 an amritdhari Sikh was fined in the Lombard town of Goito, in Mantua province for carrying a kirpan. In 2017 Italy's higher appeal court, the Corte di Cassazione upheld the fine.[32] Media reports have interpreted the sentence as instituting a generalized ban on the kirpan.[33] Amritsar Lok Sabha MP Gurjeet Singh Aulja met with Italian diplomats and was assured no generalized ban on kirpans is operative, and that the case had only specific relevance to a singular instance and carried no general applicability.[34]


Swedish law has a ban on "street weapons" in public places that includes knives unless used for recreation (for instance fishing) or profession (for instance a carpenter). Carrying some smaller knives, typically folding pocket knives, is allowed, so that smaller kirpans may be within the law.[35][36]

United Kingdom[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

As a bladed article, possession of a kirpan without valid reason in a public place would be illegal under section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.[37] However, there is a specific defence for a person charged to prove that he carries it for "religious reasons".[37] There is an identical defence to the similar offence (section 139A) which relates to carrying bladed articles on school grounds.[38] The official list of prohibited items at the London 2012 Summer Olympics venues prohibited all kinds of weapons, but explicitly allowed the kirpan.[39]


Similar provisions exist in Scots law with section 49 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 making it an offence to possess a bladed or pointed article in a public place. A defence exists under s.49(5)(b) of the act for pointed or bladed articles carried for religious reasons. Section 49A of the same act creates the offence of possessing a bladed or pointed article in a school, with s.49A(4)(c) again creating a defence when the article is carried for religious reasons.

United States[edit]

In 1994, the Ninth Circuit held that Sikh students in public school have a right to wear the kirpan.[40] State courts in New York and Ohio have ruled in favor of Sikhs who faced the rare situation of prosecution under anti-weapons statutes for wearing kirpans, "because of the kirpan's religious nature and Sikhs' benign intent in wearing them."[41] In New York City, a compromise was reached with the Board of Education whereby the wearing of the knives was allowed so long as they were secured within the sheaths with adhesives and made impossible to draw. The tightening of air travel security in the twenty-first century has caused problems for Sikhs carrying kirpans at airports and other checkpoints.[42] As of 2016, the TSA explicitly prohibits the carrying of "religious knives and swords" on one's person or in cabin baggage and requires that they be packed in checked baggage.[43]

In 2008, American Sikh leaders chose not to attend an interfaith meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., because the United States Secret Service would have required them to leave behind the kirpan.[44] The secretary general of the Sikh Council stated: "We have to respect the sanctity of the kirpan, especially in such interreligious gatherings. We cannot undermine the rights and freedoms of religion in the name of security."[44] A spokesman for the Secret Service stated: "We understand the kirpan is a sanctified religious object. But by definition, it's still a weapon. We apply our security policy consistently and fairly."[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sikh Rehat Maryada: Section Six, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, d.; Section Six, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, p.
  2. ^ "Nishan Sahib Khanda Sikh Symbols Sikh Museum History Heritage Sikhs". Sikh Museum (www.sikhmuseum.com). Retrieved 19 March 2023. In earlier times the sacred kirpan carried by Sikhs had traditionally been the full size tulwar sword. By the 20th century the kirpan carried by Sikhs had evolved from the typical 76 cm (30 inch) blade of a tulwar sword to a short blade less than 45 cm (18 inches). The change in blade length of the sacred kirpan from a sword to a knife was a difficult one for Sikhs and a direct result of onerous laws passed by the British in India. Under the Indian Arms Act (XI) of 1878, no person could carry arms except under special exemption or by virtue of a licence; the act was applied to the Sikh kirpan. At the advent of World War I, the British government fearing that the ban would affect Sikh recruitment into the British Army, thought it advisable to relax the enforcement of the provision.
  3. ^ Singh, Harbans (1995). The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism (2nd ed.). Patiala Punjabi University.
  4. ^ "BBC - Religions - Sikhism: The Five Ks". Archived from the original on 28 September 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  5. ^ a b Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Kirpan - kakar - Sikh sword". About.com. Archived from the original on 5 April 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  6. ^ Sikh Rehat Maryada: Section Six, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, d.; Section Six, Chapter XIII, Article XXIV, p.
  7. ^ Singha, H.S. (2000). The encyclopedia of Sikhism. New Delhi: Hemkunt Publishers. ISBN 81-7010-301-0.
  8. ^ "Mightier than the kirpan - I find it hard to justify knives being allowed in schools". The guardian. London. 9 February 2010. Archived from the original on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  9. ^ "The Sikh War Code, its Spiritual Inspiration and Impact on History". 2 August 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Sikhism and the Sikh Kirpan Fact Sheet" (PDF). Sihk Coalition. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  11. ^ "What is the kirpan?". World Sikh Organization of Canada. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  12. ^ Singh, Sikandar (2012). Sikh heritage : ethos & relics. Roopinder Singh, Paul Michael Taylor. New Delhi. p. 24. ISBN 978-81-291-1983-4. OCLC 828612294. A sword by a Sikhs side, kirpan, also called bhagauti, represents the primal Divine energy. It is the protector of the oppressed and an emblem of power, dignity and man's sovereignty. Moreover, combined in him is the saintliness of the rishis of old with the sternness and strength of a knight.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Search for terms "nanak akbar". 1919. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  14. ^ "Execution of Guru Arjun Dev Ji". Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  15. ^ "Biography of Guru Arjan". www.britannica.com.
  16. ^ "The 5 K's". Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  17. ^ Nguyen, Kevin; Collins, Antonette (18 May 2021). "Sikh community angry as religious knives banned from NSW schools after stabbing". ABC News. Archived from the original on 17 July 2023. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  18. ^ Baker, Jordan; Chung, Laura (17 May 2021). "Sikhs defend students' right to carry ceremonial daggers at school". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 30 August 2022. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  19. ^ Taouk, Maryanne (13 August 2021). "Religious knives known as kirpans to be allowed in NSW schools after ban reversed". ABC News. Archived from the original on 17 July 2023. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  20. ^ Roberts, George (2 August 2023). "Sikh Queenslanders allowed to carry ceremonial knives in schools after court ruling". ABC News. Archived from the original on 5 August 2023. Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  21. ^ "Sikhs mogen dolk dragen". Gazet van Antwerpen. 2009. Archived from the original on 15 October 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
  22. ^ "Bulletin of March 3, 2006 |3 March 2006" (in French). Supreme Court of Canada / Cour Suprême du Canada.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "Barring Kirpan Violates Freedom of Religion". The Canadian Human Rights Reporter Inc. (CHRR). Archived from the original on 29 September 2013. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  24. ^ "Sikh boy guilty of assault with hairpin". CBC News. 15 April 2009. Archived from the original on 16 February 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  25. ^ "Le port du kirpan rejeté à l'unanimité au parlement". Archived from the original on 11 February 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  26. ^ Taber, Jane (2 June 2011). "Kirpans allowed in House of Commons". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  27. ^ "World Sikh Organization welcomes Canadian decision to allow small kirpans on flights". CBC. 10 November 2017. Archived from the original on 1 July 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  28. ^ GQ: A Chat with Jagmeet Singh, the Incredibly Well-Dressed Rising Star in Canadian Politics | GQ
  29. ^ Conviction number U 2007.316 Ø in weekly justice.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 February 2009. Retrieved 24 November 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "Sikhs Can Carry Knives on Airplanes in India - Schneier on Security". schneier.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2018. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  32. ^ "La Cassazione: I migranti devono rispettare i nostri valori, resta la condanna al sikh di Goito". 15 May 2017.
  33. ^ "Italian court upholds ban on Sikhs carrying knives". BBC News. 15 May 2017.
  34. ^ "'Kirpan ban not for the community' | Chandigarh News - Times of India". The Times of India. 25 May 2017.
  35. ^ "Dagens Nyheter: Sikh får bära dolk i skolan". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
  36. ^ "Ombudsmannen mot etnisk diskriminering". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
  37. ^ a b "Criminal Justice Act 1988". statutelaw.gov.uk.
  38. ^ "Section 139A Criminal Justice Act 1988". statutelaw.gov.uk.
  39. ^ "Official Reports, Studies, Publications - Downloads - Olympic.org" (PDF). london2012.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 August 2012.
  40. ^ Rajinder Singh Cheema, et al., Plaintiffs-appellants, v. Harold H. Thompson, et al., Defendants-appellees Archived 20 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine, 36 F.3d 1102 (9th Cir. 1994)/
  41. ^ "Sikhism and the Sikh Kirpan Fact Sheet" (PDF). Sikh Coalition. 30 January 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  42. ^ "Kirpan Posters Come to Sikhs' Help in US". The Times of India. 22 November 2006. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2007.
  43. ^ "May I keep head coverings and other religious, cultural or ceremonial items on during screening?". 3 March 2015. Archived from the original on 19 January 2018. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  44. ^ a b c "Feds say Sikhs can't meet pope due to dagger: Secret service won't allow representatives wear ceremonial dagger". NBC News. Associated Press. 6 March 2008. Archived from the original on 28 September 2016. Retrieved 12 September 2016.

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