In 1699 Guru Gobind Rai the tenth Sikh Guru, called his Sikhs together in Anandpur Sahib in the north of Panjab. He stood before the meeting, holding a sword, and asked for people to come forward who were willing to give their head.
The first five who did so are called the Panj Piaré, the five beloved ones. They were the first members of the Khalsa, the order of initiated Sikhs, those who are totally committed to the Sikh way of life, to doing God’s work. They then in their turn initiated Guru Gobind Rai into the Khalsa, and many others followed. From then on all Khalsa men were known as Singh (=Lion) and Khalsa women as Kaur (=Prince). Thus Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh.
This took place under the rule of one of the more intolerant Mughal Emperors, who then ruled most of the north of India. Being a Khalsa (Knight) involved physical fighting against the oppressors, to achieve freedom of worship for all.
Guru did stipulate that the sword was only to be used as a last resort, after all other means had failed. Guru wanted his Khalsa to be Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier), who would not fight for material gain or out of anger, but who would defend the defenceless and fight against injustice.
As visible signs of their commitment the members of the Khalsa were to wear five outward signs, the so called Five Ks, and this practice is followed to this day.
Do realise that initiated Sikhs or Khalsas are only a relatively small group within the wider Sikh community or Panth. Many people of Sikh background wear a Kara, and more committed ones also keep uncut hair and wear a turban. It is unlikely that Sikhs who are not initiated wear a Kachhera, while only initiated Sikhs will wear the Kirpan.
The 5 Ks
The 5 Ks are :
Kesh (uncut hair, no cutting, trimming or shaving)
Kara (a steel bracelet)
Kangha (a wooden comb)
Kacchera (cotton boxer short)
Kirpan (small steel sword)
The kirpan stands for this fight against injustice referred to above.
The Five Ks symbolise dedication to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru. For an initiated Sikh or Khalsa the fact that the Guru has asked the Sikhs to wear the Five Ks is sufficient reason and no more needs be said.
The Khalsa cannot be anonymous. Her/His religion is known to all. She/He stands out among people, and any unseemly behaviour on her/his part would be noted as unbecoming of a follower of the Gurus.
Anybody seeing somebody wearing the Khalsa uniform (the Five Ks) should know that they can go to her/him for help. Regardless whether they wear western or Panjabi style clothes, they are visible Sikhs. Unfortunately many Sikh ladies, even initiated ones, choose not to wear a turban, and are therefore not easily recognisable as Sikhs.