Khalsa (Punjabi: "the pure") refers to both a special group of initiated Sikh warriors, as well as a community that considers Sikhism as its faith.The Khalsa tradition was initiated in 1699 by the last living Guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh. Its formation was a key event in the history of Sikhism. The founding of Khalsa is celebrated by Sikhs during the festival of Vaisakhi.
Guru Gobind Singh started the Khalsa tradition after his father had been beheaded for resisting the religious persecution of non-Muslims (mainly Kashmiri Hindus) during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Guru Gobind Singh created and initiated the Khalsa as a warrior with a duty to protect the innocent from any form of religious persecution. The Khalsa redefined the Sikh tradition from the start. It formulated an initiation ceremony (amrit pahul, nectar ceremony) and rules of conduct for the Khalsa warriors. It created a new institution for the temporal leadership of the Sikhs, replacing the masands system maintained by the earlier Gurus of Sikhism. Additionally, the Khalsa provided a political and religious vision for the Sikh community.:127
Upon initiation, a Khalsa Sikh was given the titles of Singh (male) and Kaur (female). The rules of life, included behavioral code (Rahit, such as no tobacco, no alcohol, no meat), and a dress code (Five Ks).:121–126 In contrast to the Khalsa Sikh, a Sahajdhari Sikh is one who reveres the teachings of Sikh gurus, but has not undergone the initiation. Sahajdhari Sikhs do not accept some or all elements of the dress and behavioral codes of the Khalsa Sikhs. The Khalsa has been predominantly a male institution in Sikh history, with Khalsa authority with the male leaders. In the contemporary era, it has become open to women but its authority remains with Sikh men.
"Khalsa", according to McLeod, is derived from the Arabic or Persian word "Khalisa" which means "pure".
Sikhism emerged in the northwestern part of Indian subcontinent (now parts of Pakistan and India). During the Mughal Empire rule, according to Eleanor Nesbitt, khalsa originally meant the land that was possessed directly by the emperor, which was different from jagir land granted to lords in exchange for a promise of loyalty and annual tribute to the emperor. Prior to Guru Gobind Singh, the religious organization was organized through the masands or agents. The masands would collect revenue from rural regions for the Sikh cause, much like jagirs would for the Islamic emperor. The khalsa, in Sikhism, came to mean pure loyalty to the Guru, and not to the intermediary masands who were increasingly becoming corrupt, states Nesbitt.