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The formation of the Sikh Khalsa

by An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To provide insight into the Sikh Khalsa and show that change is a natural and positive part of life.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need:

    – a plant or a flower with a seed or seeds

    – a stage sword

    – a curtain and two volunteers to hold it up.

The intention is for the curtain to serve as a screen or the entrance to Guru Gobind Singh’s tent, which he used when he formed the Khalsa in, it is thought, 1699.

  • You will also need five volunteers to come forward and be in the Khalsa.
  • Having the Five Ks available (from a resource box, for example) would be useful, but they are not essential.
  • If you are unfamiliar with this subject matter and you have Sikh children in your school, ask them for help and advice, especially with pronunciations.
  • Note: If the students have not had the opportunity to look at any Sikh beliefs, customs, festivals or ceremonies yet, adding a small introduction giving a few details as background, might be useful.


1. Have your two volunteers in place, holding the curtain up loosely, with you at the front to draw the attention of the students.

2. Holding up the plant or flower and using questions and answers if appropriate, demonstrate the changes it has gone through to become the plant or flower you see today – from seed to shoot to tender young plant to full-grown plant or flower.

Explain how these changes have had to happen in order for the plant to grow and that, like the plant, all of us go through changes. Change can also be of various sorts. Elicit responses from the students about:

– physical changes – of the body, from baby to adult

– spatial changes – in space and time, such as moving house or school

– emotional changes –such as from sad to happy

– psychological – from not knowing something to understanding it

– spiritual – from having a lack of faith in something to having faith in it.

3. Point out that the last sort of change is the hardest sort to understand, so we need some illustrations to help us.

Say that you will now tell them a story that comes from the north-western part of India about a change which happened over 300 years ago. It belongs to the Sikh religious tradition, one of the six main religious traditions in India and Britain. Then, tell the story with the help of your volunteers.

The formation of the Sikh Khalsa

One fine day, Guru Gobind Singh planned to instil in his followers a new spirit of strength and unity. He wanted to change their direction from, as he saw it, a weakness to a new strength.

During one of their large celebrations, the Baisakhi fair, the Guru was in his tent. Suddenly, he came out with a drawn sword in his hand and called out, 'Who will give his life for his Guru?' There was complete quiet, no one moved, some moved away, then one volunteer came forward.

Ask for the volunteer, lead him or her forward and behind the curtain so he or she cannot be seen.

He was taken into the tent by the Guru. There was a swish through the air of a sharp sword, a dull thud and blood flowed from beneath the door to the tent.

The Guru emerged from the tent with a blood-soaked sword and wiped it clean, saying again, very loudly, 'Who will give his life for the Guru?' Again, there was a hush, again some moving away, but again another person came forward.

Take another volunteer behind the curtain as before.

Again, the Guru went into the tent. Again, there was a swish, a thud and more blood from under the tent door. Again, the Guru emerged with a blood-soaked sword and wiped it clean.

Five times this happened.

Take volunteers three, four and five, in turn, behind the curtain, making good use of repetition as you tell and enact this part of the story with the volunteers.

wish, thud, flow of blood under the tent door.
Swish, thud, flow of blood under the tent door.
Swish, thud, flow of blood under the tent door.

Then, for a final time, Guru Gobind Singh came out from the tent, looked at the crowd and drew back the tent door. Standing there were the five volunteers, alive and well  . . .  and five dead goats on the floor.

‘These men’, said Guru Gobind Singh, ‘are to be the start of the new brotherhood of Sikhs, the Khalsa or the Pure ones, who will lead lives worthy of the Guru and carry arms and never cut their hair so that they can be recognised by all people as Sikhs and show their standing as great and good.’

4. The wearing of the Five Ks – the external symbols that Sikhs adopt to show they are Sikhs – developed this further and, contrary to what many Sikhs believe, only became an obligation on being initiated into the Khalsa after Guru Gobind Singh’s time. The Five Ks are:

show each of the Five Ks yourself or have one of the volunteers describe them, if using

– uncut hair – the hair is never cut and is kept inside a turban

– a comb to keep the hair tidy

– a small dagger, showing willingness to stand up for truth

– a steel bangle, to represent the oneness of God

– a pair of shorts, to allow freedom of movement in the fight for truth.

They are called the Five Ks because each element in Punjabi begins with the letter ‘k’.

5. Guru Gobind Singh said change must accompany initiation into the Khalsa – that is, a change from the person’s old life to the new one of purity of purpose. That is why Sikhs also take the name of Singh (meaning 'Lion'), for men, or Kaur (meaning 'Princess'), for women. This used to happen on initiation into the Khalsa, but now the names are given to babies in a birth and naming ceremony.

6. So, what can we learn from this story? How does it relate to the idea of change that we started with?

Well, Guru Gobind Singh knew full well that he needed a strong and faithful group of morally upright men and women to follow him with devotion and loyalty. What he did might seem a bit drastic to us now, putting his followers through such a test, but he needed to know that his closest disciples would be prepared to lay down their own lives in order to follow him.

Time for reflection

Around the world at various times, leaders of people have looked to their followers for the kind of devotion described in the story. Sometimes it has been for cruel ends and nothing but bad has come from it, but, in the right hands and with a cause that is good and proper, a cause that has only the good of people in mind, then incredible results can follow.

As you look ahead in your school life and life generally to all the things ahead of you, try to remember that the changes you will encounter will be just as natural as the seed changing into a plant or a caterpillar changing into a butterfly – and try to reflect on what good you can bring out of all these changes.


Dear Lord,
Allow us the opportunity to see, in the natural cycle of change and growth, that out of change we might bring good and out of good we might be enabled to see your love for all people.

Follow-up activity

1. Compare and contrast the ways that certain religious leaders and teachers – such as Guru Gobind Singh, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed – persuaded their followers to change and follow them.

2. Some changes in life are painful – moving house or school, losing a parent through divorce or death. How do we come to deal with them so that we can live happy and meaningful lives?

3. Compare the ways that characters in soap operas (EastEnders, Neighbours, Hollyoaks and so on) develop and change over the years. What advice would you give some of these characters about how to deal with change?

Publication date: June 2015   (Vol.17 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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