On the 30th of March, 1699, the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh called together a special assembly at the Keshgarh Fort at Anandpur.
Following the morning devotions, the Guru asked for a volunteer, saying, "The entire sangat is very dear to me; but is there a devoted Sikh who will give his head to me here and now? A need has arisen at this moment which calls for a head." One man arose and followed the Guru out of the room.
When the Guru returned to the assembly with a bloodied sword, he asked for another volunteer. Another man followed. This was repeated three more times, until at last the Guru emerged with a clean sword and all five men alive and well.
Those five volunteers would become the first disciples of the Khalsa, the martial community within the Sikh religion, and would come to be known as the Panj Piare, or the Cherished Five.
Despite the centrality of this group to modern Sikhism, scholarship on the Panj Piare has remained sparse. Louis Fenech's new book examines the Khalsa and the role that the the Panj Piare have had in the development of the Sikh faith over the past three centuries.