Concepts in sikhism

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QUDRAT (G. S. Talib) (spelled qudrati in gurbani), a term adopted by Guru Nanak from the Arabic and given a philosophical signification and connotation which, to some extent but with different shades of sense, had till then been conveyed by the millennia-old Indian words prakriti and maya. Qudrat, in Arabic, literally means power, might. In the Turkish language, the word came to mean power, strength, omnipotence of God, as also Creation. The same term, in Persian, denotes power, potency, authority of God, the Creation, Universe, Nature. In Arabic, the term qudrat connotes “that which is under the power and authority of” its Master, God, who, in the Quran, has been given the attributes of al-qadir, al-qadir (both standing for “mighty”) and al-khaliq, Creator. Guru Nanak has employed the term qudrat to include both these Quranic attributes of God, al-qadir and al-khaliq.

Guru Nanak employed the term qudrat to denote the idea of Divine might. There was presumably also the need to find a parallel for prakriti which in Indian thought was postulated as co-eternal with Purusa. Moreover, in Guru Nanak’s vocabulary, parallels from Perso-Arabic sources are freely used as these were current among the common mass of people. This was also in keeping with his spirit of tolerance. Many examples such as sahib, pir, mir and khasam can be cited. Guru Nanak’s religious system, based on the One absolute Purakh as the matrix of the world, did not accept the dualism of purusa and prakriti of Sankhya Karika which, broadly speaking, corresponds to the concepts of subject and object, or duality of mind and matter or life and nature. In his philosophical system, the world has a Creator, and Nature being what is created has no absolute basis independent of and apart from the Karta Purakh. Nature as such is merely an extension of or an emanation from Purakh. Neither the Vedic Purusa nor the Purusa of Sankhya is the Creator or Controller of the world. In Guru Nanak’s system, He is both the Creator and the Controller. Qudrat is the created object, the Creator’s might. Here qudrat stands for the material phenomena as well as for power, might, strength, wonder-working omnipotence, the authority of God. In Guru Nanak’s view, the potentiality and faculty of recreation as well as the varied forms and phenomena of the world are qudrat or maya. The term maya has been rendered as illusion, unreality, deception, material entanglements, etc. It is held to imply, so far as creation is concerned, the phantasmagoria or hallucination of appearances. In fact, in Indian philosophy, maya signifies the process by which unity becomes multiplicity and homogeneity heterogeneity, in the unfolding of the cosmos. It is the answer to the enigma of the multiplicity of forms, in which the world appears to us. God instantly creates uncountable forms through His power of qudrat—“anik rup khin mahi qudrati dharada”(GG, 519).

In the compositions of Guru Nanak, as also of his successors in the holy office of Guruship, qudrat stands for what is meant in general by this term in India, Divine might. It had in that context a philosophical signification, but because of the term becoming common current coin, its philosophical reference was not called to mind, as also in the parallel case of maya. In a few contexts, Guru Nanak also used it in the extended sense of creation, of whatever is manifested by the operation of Divine might. In Var Asa in the line—balihari qudrati vasia tera antu na jai lakhia (GG, 469)—qudrat obviously implies what the Divine might has created, in what it is pervasive. In Majh ki Var, line “ape qudrati saji kai ape kare bicharu” (GG, 143), again qudrat is creation, phenomena, the manifest world. Apart from a few such contexts, qudrat generally in gurbani stands for Divine might. That is also the sense in which the generality of people in India use it. That only indicates that the Guru had adopted a term from common everyday usage that was familiar, and used it, without necessarily any thought of preferring it over maya on any philosophical grounds. As a matter of fact, the world of reference, the context and background of the two terms are distinct. Maya has always a clear or implied ethico-philosophical meaning in gurbani. Wherever it stands for phenomena, qudrat is used as a neutral term, free from any pejorative suggestion. Hence the two terms cannot be studied as parallel beyond a certain point.

Guru Nanak says that for millions and trillions of aeons there was utter darkness and only the Infinite One, in its unmanifest form existed, (GG, 1035). However, then the unmanifest Real One, who is self-existent, created qudratapinai apu sajio apinai rachio nau, dui qudrati sajiai kari asanu ditho chau (GG, 463). However, qudrat is intrinsically one with its Creator because the latter is manifest in it, though the two cannot be termed identical or co-eternal.

Guru Nanak also holds that qudrat, as power and might, acts as the regulator of the working of all the entities and forces of Nature. Fear or bhay controls all forces of Nature such as winds, waters, fires, the earth, clouds, sun, moon, the firmament, as also the siddhas, the buddhas and yogis or heroes and brave warriors and ordinary people (GG, 461).

In the Guru Granth Sahib, creation has been accepted as real, true, mighty, sublime, wonderful and law-abiding, yet there is no tendency towards animation, personification or deification of the forces and manifestations of Nature, as has been the case with the Vedic deities or in Greek mythology. Nature worship, in any form, is non-existent in the Sikh faith. In that stanza of unsurpassed beauty and conception, in the Sodar, all forces of Nature such as water, wind, and fire, all gods such as Siva, Brahma and Visnu, such objects as the seas and mountains are shown as praising the Lord and working in unison, according to His will. However, it is not unoften that some instruction or inspiration has been drawn from certain relationships, existing or supposed to be existing, in nature and cosmos. But this tends towards poetic imagery and not towards philosophy or theology.

No proofs have been set out in the Guru Granth Sahib for the existence of God, which has been accepted self-evidently; but sometimes, cosmic reality and nature have been cited as proofs of the existence of the Supreme Consciousness working behind phenomena. The lila, play, pasara, expansion, rachana, creation of qudrat, have come out of the sunn (Sunya), the vacuum which is filled with Divine Reality (GG, 1037).


1. Pannu, Harpal Singh, Guru Nanak da Qudrat Sidhant. Patiala, 1987

2. Caveeshar, Sardul Singh, Sikh Dharam Darshan. Patiala, 1987

3. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970

4. Harbans Singh, ed., Perspectives on Guru Nanak. Patiala, 1975

5. Pandey, R. R., Man and the Universe. Delhi, 1978

6. Pritam Singh, Trinity of Sikhism. Jalandhar, 1973

7. Talib, Gurbachan Singh, Guru Nanak, His Personality and Vision. Delhi, 1969

8. Wazir Singh, Philosophy of Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1981

G. S. T.
RAHIT MARYADA (S. P. Kaur), traditions and rules which govern the distinctive Sikh way of life and determine Sikh belief and practice. Rahit, from the Punjabi verb rahina (to live to remain), means mode of living while maryada is a Sanskrit word composed of marya (limit, boundary, mark) and ada (to give to oneself, to accept, to undertake), meaning bounds or limits of morality and propriety, rule or custom. Guru Nanak, who founded the Sikh faith, and his nine successors who nurtured the community during the first two centuries of its existence, not only set for their followers a strict moral standard, but also a distinctive pattern of personal appearance and social behaviour. The tenets of Sikh faith and rules of conduct are not set in any formal treatise, but are scattered in their Scripture and other religious texts and in their historical records. Attempting systematic statements of rules several rahitnamas or codes of conduct appeared during the eighteenth century after the promulgation by Guru Gobind Singh of Khalsa rahit or discipline. Another similar and more detailed work of the same period is the anonymous Prem Sumarag. Some general rules regarding Sikh rahit are also contained in various hukamnamas (decrees or rules in the form of letters) of the Gurus. Important features of Sikh rahit maryada may be summed up under the titles: physical appearance; religious beliefs and observances; moral conduct; and social behaviour.

The first mark of religious investiture of a Sikh personality is kes, i.e. unshorn hair of the head covered with a turban, and an untrimmed beard. Kes is one of the five symbols which every regular, initiated Sikh must adopt, the other four being kangha (comb in the hair), kara (steel bangle), kachchh (shorts) and kirpan (sword), collectively known as the five K’s, each beginning with the letter “K”. These were the physical features of the rahit prescribed for Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh when he administered the rites of initiation to the first Five admitted to the Khalsa brotherhood on the Baisakhi day (March 30) of AD 1699. They were signs of the bond that linked the Sikh community together and gave it its distinctive identity. They were a declaration of privilege as also of the intent to be prepared steadfastly to uphold the ideals the Guru had demarcated.

Belief in One Infinite Timeless and Formless Creator God is fundamental to a Sikh's religious creed. His worship is addressed to Him to the exclusion of any incarnations of the divine, the gods and goddesses, idols and images. His devotional practice consists in rising early and reciting his morning prayers after bathing, joining the sangat or holy fellowship in gurdwara, listening to the Guru’s word, and meditating upon God’s Name. Guru for the Sikh is Guru Nanak and his nine spiritual successors and, then, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Book ordained Guru by Guru Gobind Singh, Nanak X. A Sikh believes in the oneness of the Ten Gurus—all of one light, all one in spirit though different in body. He bows in all circumstances to God’s Will (hukam) and has faith in His compassion (daya) and grace (nadar). He treats his birth as a hukam, being a gift from God and a rare opportunity for his moral and spiritual evolution. Active participation in life as a householder is, therefore, preferred to asceticism. Yet one must live in the world like the lotus which emerges from the mud pure and spotless. Rahitnamas as well as the religious texts adjure one specifically to be truthful, honest and humble and not to steal, gamble cheat or slander. Special emphasis is laid on virtuous sexual behaviour. A Sikh male is to treat all women other than his spouse as mothers, sisters and daughters. A Sikh female is similarly required to be chaste and morally blameless. Sikhs do not smoke and are not to consume drugs and intoxicants.

A Sikh regards all human beings as equal. The Gurus enjoined him to recognize all mankind as one. They rejected the caste system. “False,” said Guru Nanak, “is caste, and false the titled fame. One Supreme Lord sustaineth all” (GG, 83). The Sikh institutions of sangat (fellowship) and pangat (commensality) invalidate distinctions based on birth or social position. Women among the Sikhs enjoy equal status with men. The Gurus disapproved of the practice of sati (burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband’s body prevalent among the Hindus). The rahitnamas expressly lay down injunctions against those who practise female infanticide. A practical and positive step towards the realization of universal brotherhood is the Sikh emphasis on seva (disinterested service) which extends from labour of the hands in Guru ka Langar or community kitchen to hospitality and charity and to readiness to making any sacrifice to help the oppressed and relieve their distress. The essentials of Sikh message can be summed up from three perspectives: loving involvement with God’s revelation through nam, i.e. remembrance or repetition of His Name, straining for the achievement of basic needs, and holding as common possession the fruits of one’s labour—partaking of them only upon having dealt with the needs especially of the indigent. In Sikh system, these norms are represented by the three principles: nam japna, kirat karni and vand chhakna.

Sikh rahit as based on the teachings of the Gurus and rahitnamas became lax during the comparative ease and prosperity of Sikh rule in the Punjab. Leaders of the reformatory movements such as Nirankari, Namdhari and Singh Sabha during the latter half of the nineteenth century sought to restore the purity of belief and living a pattern in consonance with Sikh tenets. New codes and manuals appeared, especially under the auspices of the Singh Sabha. Fundamentalist in approach was Khalsa Rahit Prakash adopted at an open meeting by Panch Khalsa Diwan at Damdama Sahib on 13 April 1905, and later released by Babu Teja Singh. At the other extreme, making many a concession to Brahmanical practice, was Avtar Singh Vahiria's Khalsa Dharam Shastra: Sanskar Bhag issued in 1894, but later enlarged into Khalsa Religious National Law, and published in 1914. In between lay the Chief Khalsa Diwan's Gurmat Prakash: Bhag Sanskar, first issued in 1915. More widely accepted and authoritative codes were prepared under the aegis of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, originally established on 15 November 1920 to take over management of Sikh shrines and recognized as a statutory body representing the entire Sikh community under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925. On 15 March 1927, it appointed a 28-member Rahu-rit (i.e. rahit maryada) sub-committee “to prepare a draft rahu-rit in the light of rahitnamas and other Sikh texts and in consultation with leading Sikh scholars.” Later, the task was entrusted to Professor Teja Singh, of Khalsa College, Amritsar, who prepared a draft which was published in the April 1931 issue of the Gurdwara Gazette, the official organ of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, for eliciting public opinion. The Rahu-rit sub-committee considered the draft as well as the comments received from various quarters at its meetings held at Sri Akal Takht on 4-5 October 1931, 3 January 1932 and 31 January 1932. The final version, after being referred to Sarb Hind (i.e. All-India) Sikh Mission Board and further amended by Dharmik Salahkar (i.e. Religious Advisory) Committee received final approval by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 3 February 1945. It was then published under the title Sikh Rahit Maryada. The manual defines a Sikh as “a person who has faith in the One Timeless Being, the Ten Gurus (from Sri Guru Nanak Dev to Sri Guru Gobind Singh), Sri Guru Granth Sahib, their bani (i.e. sacred hymns) and teachings, and in the amrit of the Tenth Master, and who does not follow any other religion.” The Sikh rahit is divided into shakhsi (individual) and panthic (communal). The former is further dealt with under nam-bani da abhyas (religious practice), gurmat di rahini (living according to the Gurus’ instructions) and seva (service). Detailed instructions are given about the nitnem or daily prayers, the form of ardas or supplicatory prayer, and how to act in the sangat and in the gurdwara. Instructions regarding the time-bound and open-ended reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, karah prasad (sacred food or sacrament) and katha, i.e. discourse on the Scripture as well as rules of social and moral conduct and ceremonies such as those concerning birth, marriage and death are also given in this section. The section on panthic rahini includes sub-sections on Guru Panth (the Sikh community or the Khalsa); initiation ceremony of the Khalsa; procedure for gurmata or formal resolution adopted in the presence of the Guru; and, finally, authority of the Akal Takht to hear and decide on appeals against the decisions of local sangats.


1. Vahiria, Avtar Singh, Khalsa Dharam Shastra: Sanskar Bhag. Lahore, 1896

2. Chief Khalsa Diwan, Gurmat Prakash: Bhag Sankar. 1914

3. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, n.d.

4. Randhir Singh, Bhai, ed., Prem Sumarag Granth. Jalandhar, 1965

5. Padam, Piara Singh, Rahitname. Patiala, 1974

6. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

S. P. K.
RAHITNAME (Taran Singh), plural of rahitnama (rahit= conduct, stipulated conduct or way of life: name letters, writings, manuals) is a term used in Punjabi in reference to a genre of writings specifying approved way of life for a Sikh. These writings, enunciating conduct and behaviour in accordance with the principles of the Sikh religion contain instructions regarding personal and social behaviour, applicable especially to those who have been admitted to the Khalsa brotherhood through ceremonies by the double-edged sword. Sikhism laid as much stress on correct personal conduct as on the purity of mind. Guru Nanak for whom truth is synonymous with God recognizes the sovereignty of conduct (GG, 62). “His conduct will alone be pure who cherishes Him in his heart,” says Guru Nanak in another of his hymns (GG, 831). And “rahini, i.e. conduct moulded in accordance with sabda, is the truest conduct” (GG, 56). Rahit as right thinking and right action is also distinguished from rahit as outward formal appearance by Guru Arjan, Nanak V: “(The misguided one) acts differently from the rahit he proclaims; he pretends love (for God) without devotion in his heart; (but) the Omniscient Lord knows all and is not beguiled by external form” (GG, 169). Besides these general statements, more specific instructions for the moral guidance of a believer are found scattered throughout the Sikh scriptures.

The literature containing the rahit can broadly be divided into three categories— the textual source which includes Sikh scriptures, other approved Sikh canon, and hukamnamas; the traditional Sikh history including janam sakhis, gurbilases and Guru Gobind Singh’s own announcement not to have a personal successor and to pass on the guruship jointly and permanently to the granth (the Guru Granth Sahib) and the panth (Khalsa Brotherhood). The textual sources with such precepts as can be extrapolated from them are accepted as general constituents of the Sikh rahit. Among the sources of traditional Sikh history, the most important are the utterances traced directly to the Gurus, especially Guru Gobind Singh who laid down, at the time of the inauguration of the Khalsa in 1699, rules of conduct and introduced regulations to confer upon his followers a distinctive identity. However, these sources do not, strictly speaking, belong to the genre known as rahitnamas. Bhai Nand Lal and some other Sikhs contemporary or near-contemporary with Guru Gobind Singh compiled the first rahitnamas. The chief Khalsa Diwan’s Gurmat Prakash Bhag Sanskar (Amritsar, 1915), Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee’s Sikh Rahit Maryada (Amritsar, 1950) and the English translation Rahit Maryada: A Guide to the Sikh Way of Life (London, 1971) are the modern versions of rahitnamas.

The authorship and dates of composition of some of the latter-day rahitnamas are not above dispute: interpolations are not ruled out, either. Most of these works are ascribed to Sikhs closely connected with Guru Gobind Singh; they are in some instances described as dictated or authenticated by the Guru himself. However, these claims or that they belong to the 1 7th or early 18th century do not stand strict scrutiny.

Three of Bhai Nand Lal’s works fall in the category of rahitnamas. Rahitnama Bhai Nand Lal, in Sadhukari verse, is in the form of a dialogue between the poet and Guru Gobind Singh during which the latter expounds the rules of conduct laid down for a gursikh or true follower of the faith. The penultimate verse (22) of the Rahitnama indicates that this dialogue took place at Anandpur on 5 December 1695, i.e. before the creation of the Khalsa. That explains the absence from it of any reference to panj-kakari rahit, i.e. the five-symbol discipline of the Khalsa. In the text every Sikh is enjoined to rise early in the morning, take his bath and, having recited Japu and Jap, to go to see the Guru among the sangat and to listen attentively to the holy word being expounded. He should attend the evening service comprising Rahrasi, Kirtan (or Kirtan Sohila) and discourse. In answer to Nand Lal's request to elaborate the phrase “Guru’s darshan” i.e. a sight of the Guru, the latter explains that the Guru has three aspects, first nirguna (without attributes or transcendent), the second sarguna (with attributes or qualities) and gursabda, (the Guru in form of sabda). The first (Vahiguru) is beyond sensory perception, but Guru in the second form can be seen manifested in the entire creation or more concretely in (Guru) Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture. “Whoever wishes to see me,” said Guru Gobind Singh, “should see Granthji and should listen attentively to and reflect upon the Guru’s word contained in it.” His third form, explained the Guru, is his Sikh. “A Gursikh who having totally banished his ego dedicates himself whole-heartedly to service and observes these rules truly represents me.”

In format, language and style, Bhai Nand Lal’s Tankhahnama, his second work, follows the same model as his Rahitnama, but in content it deals directly with rules and injunctions, especially those breach of which attracts a religious penalty, tankhah in Sikh terminology. Punishment prescribed in this Tankhahnama is neither corporeal nor pecuniary, but consists in Guru’s displeasure or imprecation. Who becomes liable to tankhah? He who ignores nam, dan and isnana (glorification of God’s name, charity, holy bath); who joins not regularly the satsang or holy fellowship; who allows his mind to wander while sitting among the company of the holy; who expresses hatred for a poor member of the community; who does not bow to the sabda; who is selfish and greedy while distributing karah prasad or the holy communion; who puts on the rulers’ Turkish turban; who touches a sword with the toe; who distributes karah prasad or langar without being in full regalia; who dons red apparel; who uses tobacco-snuff; who looks lasciviously upon the womenfolk; who is easily enraged; who gives a daughter or sister in marriage for money; who wears not the sword; who deprives a helpless person of his money or belongings; who pays not the dasvandh or tithe; who bathes not in cold water; who eats supper without reciting the Rahrasi; who goes to sleep at night without reciting the Kirtan Sohila; who stands not by his word; who combs not his hair twice daily; who ties not his turban afresh every day; who brushes not the teeth regularly; who slanders others; who eats flesh of an animal slaughtered slowly in the Muslim way; who sings compositions other than those of the Gurus; who attends performances by dancing girls; who goes to his work without a prayer to the Guru; who breaks his fast without making an offering to the Guru; who commits adultery; who gives not alms to the deserving; who indulges in abuse; who gambles; who hears without protest calumny against the Guru; who earns his livelihood by cheating others; who eats without uttering the word Vahiguru; who visits a prostitute; who moves about with head uncovered; who heeds not the Guru’s word; and so on.

Although Tankhahnama refers to the Khalsa as an established order of devoutly religious warriors, it makes no reference to its five symbols or to the taboos. Besides religious and moral practices of a general nature, it alludes to rules of personal and social etiquette, even of personal hygiene. The last verse of Tankhahnama, which the Sikhs usually recite in unison after ardas, contains the well-familiar litany, Raj karega khalsa. .

Sakhi Rahit Ki, also ascribed to Bhai Nand Lal, is a summary in Punjabi prose of a dialogue between Bhai Nand Lal and Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru adjures his Khalsa to bow only before the Guru's word and shun Brahmanical beliefs, rites and rituals. Use of tobacco and trimming or shaving of hair are prohibited. So are adultery, thieving, backbiting and slander. Positive injunctions include early rising, daily ablutions, reciting nitnem, honest work, love of sabda and hospitality.

Rahitnama Bhai Prahilad Singh is a short poem comprising 38 couplets. It is anachronistically dated at Abchalnagar (Nanded) in 1695 when Guru Gobind Singh was still in Anandpur. Prahilad Singh, Prahilad Rai before his initiation as a Singh, was a scholarly Brahman who at the instance of Guru Gobind Singh rendered into bhakha vernacular 50 Upanisads which Prince Dara Shukoh had got translated into Persian. His Rahitnama forbids a Sikh to wear a cap or a janeu, the sacred thread of the caste Hindus. It forbids association with masands, with the heretic sect called Minas, with those who shave their heads or with those who practise female infanticide. Use of snuff is also forbidden. The Sikhs must shun idolatry and the worship of graves. They must have faith only in God, the Guru Granth Sahib, and the Guru-Khalsa.

Rahitnama Bhai Daya Singh presents in prose, to begin with, the rules of conduct as coming from the lips of Guru Gobind Singh himself; in this case the author is the first among the Panj Piare. The reference in it to Muktsar and Abchalnagar, injunction against the learning of Persian and Sanskrit and the mythical origin of the ceremony of amrit create doubts about its authorship. Besides the usual injunctions regarding the recitation of nitnem, the five symbols of the Khalsa, the K’s, nam simaran, etc., and those prohibiting idolatry and Brahmanical practices, the distinctive features of this Rahitnama are: the description of how amrit is prepared and administered; proclamation that Khalsa is the incarnation of God; the names of the five Muktas; prescription of fine and corporeal punishment for certain religious offences, and procedure for the redemption of offenders; recognition of Granth-Panth as Guru; inclusion of Dhirmallias and Ram Raias among the fallen sects to be boycotted socially; and minutiae with regard to some minor prescriptions and prohibitions.

Rahitnama Hazuri, also called Rahitnama Bhai Chaupa Singh, is the most elaborate statement of rules of conduct for the Sikhs. Its authorship is traditionally ascribed to Bhai Chaupa Singh Chhibbar, who had been in attendance upon Guru Gobind Singh since his (the Guru’s) childhood. Kesar Singh Chhibbar describes briefly in his Bansavalinama how Guru Gobind Singh decided to have the rules of Khalsa conduct codified and recorded, and how the Guru responded, shortly before the siege of Anandpur and its evacuation, to the requests from his Sikhs by commanding Chaupa Singh to write a rahitnama. When Chaupa Singh humbly professed insufficient competence for so weighty a responsibility, he was reassured by the promise that the Guru himself would inspire and direct his words. Dutifully, he recorded a rahitnama a copy of which written in the hand of Sital Singh Bahrupia was taken to the Guru for his imprimatur. A second copy was then prepared by a Sud Sikh and this too was certified by the Guru. The work was, according to internal evidence, authenticated by Guru Gobind Singh on 7 Jeth 1757 Bk/5 May 1700. The Guru ordered, it further states, that more copies of it should be got similarly attested and no additions to it were to be made. The concluding portion of this Rahitnama containing dates 1759 Bk and 1763 Bk (AD 1702 and 1706) is apparently an addition by Chaupa Singh or by interpolators later. The extant text of the Rahitnama seems to be a composite work drawn from at least three different sources. It begins as a formal rahitnama presenting a regular series of injunctions, but then switches over to a narrative sequence. It subsequently returns to its formal presentation of the rahit abandoning it again for another extended narrative sequence.

Of the 1800 injunctions contained in the Rahitnama the main ones are: A Sikh should regularly say his nitnem, and be always alert in attending to his duty and earn his living by the labour of his hands; he should have no dealing with minas, masands, ramraias, the shaven ones, and with those who practise female infanticide; he should not drink liquor; he should never be parted from the five, viz. kachchh (shorts), kes (hair), kirpan (sword), bani and sangat, he should not use nor deal in tobacco and should not give his daughter in marriage to one who smokes; he should regularly set aside dasvandh or tithe, and he should not trade in pothis or manuscript copies of gurbani. A special feature of Rahitnama Hazuri is a section devoted to Sikh women. Some of the stipulations: they should not bathe naked; should ensure personal hygiene and cleanliness while cooking or serving; should not abuse a male; should cover their heads while in sangat; should learn to read (Guru) Granth Sahib but must not read it in public; they should not be baptized; should shun unclean songs and jokes; should be religious, modest and chaste; and so on.

The Rahitnama contains a classic catalogue of Sikh characteristics and virtues. In a free English rendering: Sikh faith is his who honours his kes and preserves them to his very last breath; who recites the sabda; who finds his fulfilment in doing his duty; who reflects on the Guru's teaching; who is armed with the weapon of chastity; whose word is truth; who accepts the preordained law; who rejoices in feeding others; who believes in the sovereignty of the sword; who worships the Timeless One; who adores the weapons; who has a reputation for charity; who exudes fragrance of his Sikh faith; who earns repute by his readiness to serve others; who commands the sweetness of speech; who is true to his salt; who is modest in his appearance; whose grihastha is with his gentle wife of good breeding; who lives always in the Lord’s presence; who adores his family; who obeys the command of the Guru; who lives by the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib; who rejoices in the rites of the Khalsa; who remains awake singing the Lord’s praise; who dutifully washes his kes; who abjures wrong-doing; who is alert in his conduct; who is disciplined in his speech; whose rahit is truly in his heart rather than merely external; who holds his belief discerningly; who owns the Guru; who loves his fellow Sikhs; who serves his father and mother; who recites bani from memory; who has his mind in control; who attains authority though in service; who has love in his heart; who shares with others what he has; who annihilates his sins; whose dealings are marked by propriety; whose addiction is prasad, i.e. karah prasad (the Sikh sacrament); who is ready for a square fight; who acknowledges the power of the Word; who contributes to the advancement of dharma; who is desirous always of contemplating on His Name.

However, the extant texts of the Rahitnama are adulterated and contain injunctions which are in conflict with approved Sikh teaching. It grants, for example, a position of privilege to the Brahman and orders a contemptuous ostracizing of the Muslims. The presence of strong Puranic element and the influence of the Devi cult are some of the other possible corruptions in the extant texts.

Rahitnama Bhai Desa Singh is admittedly a late-18th-century work. It is in the form of a long poem of 146 couplets and short four-line stanzas. The poet states that he had lived in Bunga Maralivala at Amritsar where Sardar Jassa Singh (Ahluvalia) has also lived for a long time. From there, in old age, he visited Patna. During his travels after that, he once in a dream was ordered by Guru Gobind Singh to write down a code of conduct for the Sikhs. Bhai Desa Singh lays particular stress on the following points: a Sikh must receive the rites of the Khalsa by ceremony of the double-edged sword; should devote himself to bani and refrain from backbiting and slander; should use vahiguruji ki fateh as the form of salutation and greeting, should recite regularly ordered texts; should treat all women other than his wife as daughters or mothers; must maintain the five symbols of the Sikhs; must not flee the battlefield; should make pilgrimage to the Sikh holy places; should serve only the Khalsa or should engage in agriculture, trade or industry, but should not seek employment with the Turks nor indulge in theft or robbery; should be an intent listener at recitals of Guru Granth Sahib and at religious discourses; must not use tobacco and other intoxicants nor kuttha (flesh of animal slaughtered in the Muslim fashion); should eat jhatka (flesh of animal killed in the Sikh manner with a single blow), if at all; must learn reading and writing the Gurmukhi script; must beware of the five sins, viz. adultery, gambling, lying, stealing and liquor; should not criticize other religious faiths; should not live on offerings made at gurdwaras; even a Sikh minister should spend out of the offerings sparingly for his personal use and spend the major part for deg or Guru ka Langar and on maintenance of the gurdwara. According to Desa Singh, maintenance of unshorn hair (kes) is obligatory for a Sikh. A common form of living is important, but equally important is rahit or stipulated moral living. He says, “rahit su kesan ko ati bhukhan/rahit bina sir kes bhi dukhan” (rahit is ornament for the hair; without rahit the hair of the head too is a fake (verses 82-83). The poet then proceeds to set down instructions regarding the preparation and serving of langar or community meal (90-123).


1. Padam, Piara Singh, Rahitname. Patiala, 1974

2. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

3. McLeod, W. H., Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester, 1984

T. S.

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