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Jot Singh Makes a Kirpan a Beautiful Thing





I was in my teens when I, along with my sister Davinder Kaur, took Amrit. I found the ceremony life-transforming, with so many factors adding to its magic: the fact that we were in Gobind Ghat high up in the upper Himalayas, almost in the shade of Hemkunt Parbat, was one particularly notable blessing.

Another was that the Punj Pyarey who administered Amrit to us were respected stalwarts of the community: Sardar Sant Singh, then head of the Chief Khalsa Diwan (at a time when it was very much a venerable institution); Sardar Joginder Singh Mann, a highly regarded community leader; Bhai Mohan Singh Raagi from Bombay (my favourite kirtaniya then); Sardar Shamsher Singh who headed the Hemkunt Foundation; and my father, Sardar Ishar Singh.

Both Davinder and I were old and mature enough to be in sympathetic resonance with the spiritual ambience of both the ceremony and our surroundings, and were certainly ready to take on the full discipline of the faith … including the wearing of the kirpan.

Taking on this article of faith was a special moment, loaded with a sense of heavy responsibility. It is difficult to explain the feeling of donning a kirpan upon taking Amrit: it seemed to inject and infuse a glow of self-confidence and a sense of commitment, all in an instant. It is not the kind of experience that can be reduced to words or conveyed to another. It is experiential and of a spiritual and personal nature, something that has to be tasted first-hand. But a caveat: it can’t be done by simply donning a kirpan; the pre-requisite of taking on the life-style and discipline is an essential and mandatory first step before the act of taking on the kirpan.

It has nothing to do with the kirpan, as one of the Five Kakkaars, being a weapon, because it is not. It is neither a defensive weapon nor one for aggression. It is an article of faith, no more, no less … encapsuling the central principles of Sikhi.

Right from the start, this began to weigh on me, the fact it is so important an icon of our beliefs, intrinsically tied to our duties and obligations, both spiritual and temporal. If it to be worn on the person as a constant reminder of who we are and what we stand for, surely it should be easy and convenient to wear, and pleasant to touch and hold, even to look at.

What haunted me in particular was what I had been taught as part of my Sikh upbringing: that all things representing and standing for truth must, by definition, be beautiful, and that all things beautiful are by definition imbued with truth.

Why then, I was troubled from the very outset, was my kirpan not a thing of beauty? It was crudely made and certainly did not give pleasure when holding it in my hand. And by no stretch of the imagination was it a delight to look at. It was sadly, like most things made in India, roughly the right shape, had the general design and configuration, but little more.

I must confess I wore the kirpan uncomfortably, but only because I was unhappy that I was carrying around something that was not aesthetically up to the role it had been assigned. If it was going to be part of my spiritual journey, I expected it to inspire me and uplift me.            
I searched far and wide for one that I liked. I was directed to the Kashmiri wood-carved hilt and sheath. It was okay, certainly better than the one I already had, but still not befitting an icon. I continued searching.

The search for my holy grail has spanned decades and stretched across continents.

In 2004, there was an encouraging whiff of fresh air when Victorinox, the makers of the renowned Swiss Army Knife, launched a kirpan which was a marked improvement on everything available then from the mothership in India. For some unknown reason, it didn’t catch on. Probably the price. Wish they had stuck to the project: sales would have increased gradually and the price would have invariably plummeted.

Still no relief in sight.

And then … Sardar Jot Singh Khalsa appears on my horizon.

I hold in my hand a kirpan crafted by Jot Singh and his ‘Khalsa Kirpans’ and I can say to you with the glee and excitement of an Indiana Jones that I have found my grail.

To put it succinctly, it - is - a - thing - of -beauty! 

It is not very big … just the size I need. A bit more than 6 inches long, both the kirpan and its accompanying leather sheath. Together, an inch thick. An inch and a half wide.

It’s simple in design, but exquisite to look at, a joy to hold in the hand and feel the gentle weight of the metal, the warm texture of the leather. It balances beautifully, indicating that a lot of thought has gone into its production and design.

I wear it on my belt. It sits on the side of my waist effortlessly, and never interferes with my movements whether I’m sitting or standing. It is snug enough to feel part of me. The kirpan and the sheath have been blended together masterfully.

A reminder: I have merely opted for the simplest one and love it immensely, even though I covet each of the others in Jot Singh’s extensive catalogue of masterpieces.

And then, if you venture into the full-length sword-size kirpans, the kind that is, for example, part of Anand Karaj, the Sikh wedding ceremony, Jot Singh’s treasure-chest runneth over. 

Jot (pronounced ‘joat’ or ‘jote’, with a soft ‘t’, literally meaning ‘light’) is no ordinary entrepreneur. Nor has he ventured into the world of kirpans by accident or by lure of profit. It is a labour of love, if I’ve ever seen one.  

Jot Singh and his Sardarni, Harbhajan Kaur, run their manufacturing facility, ‘Khalsa Kirpans’ in Millis, Massachusetts, USA, about a 50-minute drive SW of Boston, where they have lived for the last four decades. Jot Singh also grew up in the Boston area.

He describes his journey as a master sword-maker:

“For 6 years, beginning in 1972, I trained intensively in art, jewelry making and metalsmithing at the State University of New York at New Paltz where I learned to create silver and gold jewlery and artful objects. Shortly thereafter in New York City, I attended the 1st New York Knife Show, was impressed by what I saw and handled and said to myself 'I can do this!'. My shop and home office are where I design and my team and I fabricate handmade knives, swords and Kirpans.”

He goes on to explain his art thus:

“My style is original, often a combination of classic and contemporary. I create designs with both a visual and a practical aesthetic in mind. My knives, swords and Kirpans fit in the hand comfortably and have good balance. My years of training in gold and silversmithing and metalsmithing in general provide me versatility in incorporating numerous possible elements into my designs.

“I often combine precious metals and natural gemstone materials, accented with precious or semi-precious gems. Over decades I've acquired and developed quite specialized and unique skills to utilize these materials.

“For about 16 years, I forged my own Damascus steel. Because the pattern-welded Damascus steel-making process I employed produced noxious fumes, since around 1999, I've chosen to purchase my Damascus steel from several reputable professionals who make it for a living. A varierty of sohpisticated patterns in stainless steel damascus, and high carbon steel and nickel damascus are available. Of course even though I'm purchasing these Damascus steel bars and plates from others, we still fit, shape, grind and do all the final finishing and etching of the blades. We do some of our own hardening and tempering and rely on professional heat treaters for our longer bladed items.”

What I like about Jot’s venture is that he matches passion, skill and art with the very nature of the object he has set out to forge: something which captures the very essence of this extraordinary article of love and faith.

Jot Singh's work has understandbly garnered him a string of prestigious awards, including: Best Knifemaker / Engraver Collaboration, small dagger w/ matching scabbard, at the California Custom Knife Show - October, 1988; First "Ki" Award (Knives Illustrated Magazine) for Best Art Knife (Dagger) at the Knifemaker's Guild Show, Orlando, Florida, July 1989; Best Damascus Knife (Dagger) at the 13th New York Custom Knife Show, presented by Damascus USA, November, 1990; Best Art Knife, at the Blade Show, Atlanta, Georgia, May 1995; and many, many more ... 

I am of the firm belief that we should honour and embrace our icons and articles of faith in the most beautiful manifestations that our respective means allow: the palki, chaur, degh, chandova and chhabba, rumalas, gutka, karra, kanga, even the body of our Guru Granth Sahib … to name but a few. They don’t have to be expensive or ornate, but if we can afford to make them as works of art, we should create the finest examples we possibly can. Not to idolize them or turn them into objects of worship, but to show our reverence for things that symbolize our values and precepts.

Jot’s creation has given me endless joy. I hope every Sikh household - not just each amritdhari Sardar and Sardarni - will have the opportunity to have this important icon of Sikhi in their homes, just as diligently as each is expected to have Guru Granth Sahib grace each home.

And each time in doing so, they will make the effort of seeking out a thing of beauty to fulfill that role.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Even things created cheaply and inexpensively can be exquisitely beautiful. But it’ll only happen if we demand that they be beautiful, of ourselves or from those who create them.

Just like Jot Singh’s exquisitely crafted kirpan.

After all, “ 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” [John Keats]   

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[For more info on Jot Singh Khalsa’s things of beauty, please CLICK here.]

April 9, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Karan Kaur (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 10, 2018, 4:40 AM.

I saw S. Jot Singh ji's kirpans when he visited Toronto a few years ago. They are indeed specimens of beauty and craftsmanship. I agree: every Sikh household should be graced with at least one of them.

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