What is the Gurmat perspective on tying one’s beard and using gel?
Tying the beard is not a Sikh tradition. The fact that a lot of Sikhs tie beard or that a lot of Sikhs in the past have been tying their beard does not make tying beard a Gurmat Asool (principle). Just because the majority does it does not mean that it is acceptable to Guru Sahib.
It is advisable that those who use gel on their beards for grooming purposes should try avoid using gel or at least try to limit the use of gel as some strong gels can break off your beard and have many other long term negative effects on the beard (for example colour changes, getting bald and so on). So, even if you choose to use gel, then go for the least strong on and use it with water.
From the time of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji to throughout Sikh history, Sikhs have not tied their beards. Maharaja Sher Singh, the younger son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was the first person who attempted to tie his beard and he was met with fierce criticism from Sikhs. The more wider custom of tying beards began during the British Raaj by Sikhs employed in positions by the British. Even till this day, a person who ties his beard can never do sewa in the Panj Pyaaray while his beard is tied. This proves that such person is not tyaar-bar-tyaar.
There is a Rehat-Nama which states Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Hukam that the beard of a Sikh should be kept untied and flowing:
ਸਾਬਤ ਸੂਰਤ ਸਿਧਾ ਦਾੜ੍ਹਾ ॥
ਕਾਠ ਦਾ ਕੰਘਾ ਕੇਸੀਂ ਚਾੜ੍ਹਾ ॥
“The complete form of man is with a beard, which is left untied (flowing down). With a wooden Kangha (comb) the Kesh should be combed.”
We have to ask ourselves, is the image of the Khalsa that Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj had in mind a man with a gelled and tied up beard or a Singh with a flowing beard radiating the full glory, saintliness and royalty of the Khalsa?
Tying beard gives you the look that you would get if you had trimmed your beard. In other words, the Sikh who ties beard is making a mute statement that the look of a trimmed beard is better than that of the flowing beard. When Guru Sahib told us not to cut hair and wear a dastaar on your head, he must have had an image of a tyaar bar tyaar Khalsa in his head. To break this image by tying beard seems to be a ‘dhill’ (lapse).
People tie beards for different reasons. Some tie it for their job and others tie it since they can’t face the society. The worse ones are those ones who tie their beard to make their wives happy or for other ‘kaam’ (lustful) reasons. It is perfectly understandable and acceptable if someone has to tie up their beards under the circumstances of working with machinery or in a food factory. In these circumstances tying the beard would save the individual from risk of injury and also possible damage to their Kesh (hair). There are many other things we do in compulsion (majboori) but let’s not make our compulsions a part of Rehat (code of discipline).
Famous Sikh mystical writer Bhai Raghbir Singh ‘Bir’ has written that the difference between the tied beard and the open natural beard is realized by the person who ties beard, only after this person lets his beard be natural i.e. open.
Bir Ji used to tie his beard inspite of letters from disappointed Gursikhs who used to read his articles on Naam and were upset when they found out that he tied his beard. Eventually, Bir Ji let his beard be in natural state and he writes that he was astounded by the respect and affection he received from people (he lived in Calcutta). He writes that he used to get called from behind the queues and given special attention just because of his Gurmukhi look. He felt more confidence after that.
May Guru Sahib bless us all with the ability to contribute towards promoting the pure Khalsa image and Sikhi Saroop (Sikh identity). May all our fellow Sikh brothers keep their beards open and relish the joy of Sikhi saroop, the grace of a lion, and the God given divine form which Dasmesh Pita has blessed us with.