Concepts in sikhism

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DASAMDVAR (L. M. Joshi) (Skt. Dasamadvara), lit, meaning ‘tenth gate’, is a concept in Sikhism which signifies the door to enlightenment and spiritual vision. Dasamdvar in the Hathayogic system is also known as brahmrandhra, moksadvara, mahapatha and madhya marga, the terms frequently used in the esoteric literature of medieval India. It is a term of religious physiology and its significance lies in its being a concept in the framework of soteriological ideology. Nine apertures (navdvaras) opening towards outside the body serve the physical mechanism of human personality but when their energy, normally being wasted, is consciously channelized towards the self, the tenth gate or the dasamdvar opens inside the body and renders a hyper-physical service by taking the seeker beyond the bondage of embodied existence.

The human body is endowed with nine doors also called holes or streams. These nine are: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, mouth, anus, and urethra. All these are vital organs of living organism called human being. The Pali Suttanipata (verse 199. In Khuddak nikaya, vol. 1, p. 297) is perhaps one of the very first Indian texts which mentions the idea of nine ‘holes’ in the body. It is from a philosophically ascetic or Sramanic standpoint that the human body is described in this text as a mass of bones, sinews, flesh, etc. and as a bag for belly, intestines, liver, heart, bladder, lungs, kidneys, blood, bile, etc. “Ever from its nine streams (navahi sotehi) the unclean flows.” The Svetasvatara Upanisad (III. 18) and the Bhagavadgita (V. 13) refer to human body as “a city with nine gates” (nava dvara pure dehi) in which the Self dwells, neither acting nor causing to act. The Katha Upanisad (2.51), however, describes human abode of the Unborn One as “a city with eleven gates” (puram-ekadasa-dvaram). Mystical and soteriological significance of dasamdvar is found in the writings of the siddhas and the sants. As a matter of fact the history of the idea of dasamdvar begins with the Buddhist Siddhas and we owe its popularity to Natha yogis. The term as well as the concept first appears in the works of Siddhas who flourished during the period between eighth and eleventh centuries. The Siddhas transmitted the theory of dasamdvar as a mystical spiritual gateway to Vaisnava Sants and thence it came to the Sikh Gurus. The process of transmission was direct and natural since the Sants (or Bhagats) and Gurus lived and taught in a society thoroughly acquainted with and influenced by the terms, concepts and precepts of the Siddhas. Although the concept of dasamdvar remained the same, its functional value in theistic theology and socio-devotional methodology of the Sikh Gurus became decidedly different from its original one in the non-theistic ideology and esoteric-ascetic methodology of Buddhist Siddhas and Natha yogis.

In the Buddhist caryapadas or hymns of spiritual practice, the dasamadvara is also called vairocana-dvara, the brilliant gate or the supreme gate. In the texts of the Natha school such as the Siddhasiddhanda paddhati (II. 6), the mouth of sankhini is called the tenth gate (sankhini-bibaram-dasam dvaram). Sankhini is the name of a curved duct (banka nala) through which nectar (soma rasa, maharasa or amrit) passes downwards. This curved duct lies between the moon (candra) below the sahasrara-cakra or thousand-petalled lotus plexus in the cebrum region and the hollow in the palatal region. The Goraksavijaya describes sankhini as a double-mouthed (dvi-mukhia) serpent (sarpini), one mouth above, the other below. The life elixir called amrit or nectar pours down through the mouth of sankhini. This mouth called dasamdvar has to be shut up and the quintessence of life, amrit or maharasa has to be conserved by the yogi. The amrit which pours down from the dasamdvar falls down in the fire of the sun (surya) where it is dried up by time (kalagni). The yogi by closing the dasamdvar and preserving the amrit deceives Time (death) and by drinking it himself through cumbersome khecari-mudra he attains immortality. Some other hathayogic texts name susumna nari instead of sankhini. However, all the texts agree that the brahmrandhra or the dasamdvar is the cavity on the roof of the palate and khecari mudra has to be performed for tasting the elixir of the amrit pouring down from it.

The notion of dasamdvar, written as dasamduar, occurs several times in the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhism is a strictly monotheistic system belief and it must be stated at the outset that according to Sikh view of the dasamdvar, the tenth door opens into the abode of God, the Creator—dasam duara agam apara param purakh ki ghati (GG, 974), and again—nau ghar thape thapanharai dasvai vasa alakh aparai (GG, 1036). This fact distinguishes Sikhism from the non-theistic non-dualistic philosophy of the Siddhas. Second outstanding difference is that Sikhism is predominantly a devotional pathway, relying chiefly on the discipline of bhakti, i.e. loving devotion for the divine; the Siddhas and Nathas, on the other hand, practised Tantra or Hathayoga in which the disciplines of psychology and physiology were fused together. With these differences the notion of dasamduar in Sikhism employs the same terms and symbols as used by Siddhas and Nathas.

The nine doors (nau daryaje) and the tenth door are often mentioned together to show their differences. The unstruck sound is heard at the tenth door when it is freed from the shackles of nine doors in the body—nau darvaje dasvai mukta anahad sabadu vajavania (GG, 110). It is believed that the tenth door is closed by a hard diamond-like door (bajar kapat) which is haumai (self-centredness). This hard and strong door is opened and the darkness of haumai is dispelled by the instruction of the Teacher (Guru). In other words, the tenth door is the door of enlightenment and it opens only when the door consisting of haumai is broken. It is taken for granted in Sikhism that the tenth door is the supreme state of the mind. It is certainly not a physical door; it is that state of purified consciousness in which God is visible and all contacts with physical existence are cut off. It is called a being’s own house (nij-ghar), that is to say, a being’s real nature which is like light (joti sarup). One hears day and night the anahad sabda there when one dwells in one’s own house through the tenth door—nau dar thake dhavatu rahae, dasvai nijghari vasa pae (GG, 124).

At few places in the Gurbani, the term dasamduar has been used to denote ten organs—five sensory organs and five organs of action, i.e. jnanendriyas and karmendriyas. Says Guru Nanak: “Hukami sanjogi gari das duar, panch vasahi mili joti apar”—in the fortress of the body created in his hukam are ten doors. In this fort five subtle elements of sabda (sound), sparsa (touch), rupa (sight), rasa (taste) and grandha (smell) abide having the infinite light of the Lord in them (GG, 152). The amrit which flows at the tenth door is the essence of Divine name (nam ras) according to the Guru; it is not the physical elixir of immortality conceived by the Siddhas, nor is this amrit to be found by awakening kundalini or by practising khecari mudra; it is to be found through the Teacher’s instruction. When the Satguru is encountered then one stops from running (after the nine doors) and obtains the tenth door. Here at this door the immortalizing food (amrit bhojan), the innate sound (sahaj dhuni) is produced—dhavatu thammia satiguri miliai dasva duaru paia; tithai amrit bhojanu sahaj dhuni upajai jitu sabadi jagatu thammi rahaia (GG, 441).

This wholesome spot is not outside the physical frame. The second Guru also refers to the fort (kotu) with nine doors; the tenth door is hidden (gupatu); it is closed by a hard door which can be opened by the key of the Guru’s word (GG, 954). According to Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, he alone is released who conquers his mind and who keeps it free from defilement; arriving at the tenth door, and staying there he understands all the three spheres (GG, 490).

The importance of dasamdvar is of considerable theological interest. Here at the tenth door the anahad sabda (unstruck sound) is heard; here the divine drink of immortality trickles down; and here the devotee meets with the invisible and inaccessible transcendental Brahman who is described by the sages as unutterable (GG, 1002).

The devotional theology of Sikhism requires that the gateway of ultimate release can open only by God’s will. The tenth door is closed with the adamantine hard door (bajar kapat) which can be opened duly with the Guru’s word. Inside the front (i.e. the body) is the tenth door, the house in the cavity (gupha ghar); in this fort nine doors have been fixed according to Divine ordinance (hukam); in the tenth door the Invisible, Unwritten, Unlimited Person shows Himself—bhitari kot gupha ghar jai nau ghar thape hukami rajai; dasvai purakhu alekhu apari ape alakhu lakhaida (GG, 1033). This is the view expressed by the founder of Sikhism and he repeats it at another place also. He says that the Establisher has established nine houses (nau ghar) or nine doors in the city of this body; the Invisible and Infinite dwells at the tenth house or tenth door (GG, 1036). The nectar-like essence (amrit ras) is dripped by the Satguru; it comes out appearing at the tenth door. The sounding of the unstruck sound announces, as it were, the manifestation of God at this door—Amrit rasu satiguru chuaia; dasavai duari pragatu hoi aia; taha anahad sabad vajahi dhuni bani sahaje sahaji samai he (GG, 1069) The Siddhas, unlike the Sikh Gurus, find the amrit by their own effort.

Occasionally the term das duar is used in gurbani in the sense of sensory and motor organs of body which should be kept under control. For the most part, however, the Sikh Scripture stresses the need for realization of the dasam duar, apart from God’s ordinance (hukam) and Teacher’s compassion (kirpa, prasad) and the necessity of transcending the realm of three-strand nature (triguna maya). Kabir, for instance, says that the tenth door opens only when the trinity (trikuti) of sattva, rajas and tamas is left behind—trikuti chhutai dasva daru khulhai ta manu khiva bhai (GG, 1123).


  1. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

  2. Dasgupta, Sasibhusan, Obscure Religious Cults. Calcutta, 1962

  3. Hathyoga-Pradipika. Adyar, 1972

  4. Briggs, George Weston, Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis, Delhi, 1973

  5. Jodh Singh, Religious Philosophy of Guru Nanak. Varanasi, 1983.

L. M. J.
DASVANDH (Wazir Singh) or Dasaundh, lit, a tenth part, refers to the practice among Sikhs of contributing in the name of the Guru one-tenth of their earnings towards the common resources of the community. This is their religious obligation—a form of seva or humble service so highly valued in the Sikh system. The concept of dasvandh was implicit in Guru Nanak’s own line: “ghali khai kichhu hathhu dei, Nanak rahu pachhanahi sei—He alone, O Nanak, knoweth the way who eats out of what he earneth by his honest labour and yet shareth part of it with others” (GG, 1245). The idea of sharing and giving was nourished by the institutions of sangat (holy assembly) and langar (community kitchen) the Guru had established. In the time of Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, a formal structure for channelizing Sikh religious giving was evolved. He set up 22 manjis or districts in different parts of the country, each placed under the charge of a pious Sikh who, besides preaching Guru Nanak’s word, looked after the sangats within his/her jurisdiction and transmitted the disciple’s offerings to the Guru. As the digging of the sacred pool, amrit-sar, and the erection in the middle of it of the shrine, Harimander, began under Guru Ram Das entailing large amounts of expenditure, Sikhs were enjoined to set apart a minimum of ten per cent (dasvandh) of their income for the common pool, Guru Ki Golak (q.v.). Masands, i.e. ministers and the tithe-collectors, were appointed to collect kar bhet (offerings) and dasvandh from Sikhs in the area they were assigned to, and pass these on to the Guru.

Dasvandh has since become part of the Sikh way of life. The custom bears parallels to Christian tithes requiring members of the church to pay a tenth part of the annual produce of their land or its equivalent in money to support it and the clergy, and to Muslim zakat requiring assignment of 2.5 per cent of one’s annual wealth for the welfare of the destitute and the needy. Classical Indian society had no set procedure for regulating donations or charities, though references are traceable such as those in Parasar Rishi’s writings urging the householder to reserve 1/21 part of his income for Brahmans and 1/31 part for the gods. The Upanisads and the Bhagavadgita commend “true alms” given with a sense of duty in a fit place and at a fit time to a deserving person from whom one expects nothing in return. Dasvandh is, however, to be distinguished from dan or charity. It essentially attends to the needs of the community and contributions are made specifically for the maintenance of its religious institutions such as gurdwaras and guru ka langar and projects of social welfare and uplift.

The custom of dasvandh was codified in documents called rahitnamas, manuals of Sikh conduct, written during the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh or soon after. For example, Bhai Nand Lal’s Tankhahnama records: “Hear ye, Nand Lal, says Gobind Singh, one who does not give dasvandh and, telling lies, misappropriates it, is not at all to be trusted.” The tradition has been kept alive by chosen Sikhs who to this day scrupulously fulfil the injunction. The institution itself serves as a means for the individual to practice personal piety as well as to participate in the ongoing history of the community, the Guru Panth.


  1. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

  2. Gopal Singh, A History of the Sikh People. Delhi, 1979

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

  4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, l990

  5. Cole, W. Owen and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978

W. S
DAYA (J. S. Neki) (usually spelt daia in Punjabi), from Skt. Day meaning to sympathize with, to have pity on, stands for compassion, sympathy. It means ‘suffering in the suffering of all beings.’ It is deeper and more positive in sentiment than sympathy. Daya, cognitively, observes alien pain; affectively, it gets touched by it and moves with affectional responses for the sufferer; and conatively it moves one to act mercifully, pityingly, with kindness and forgiveness. Daya is antithetical to hinsa (violence). One imbued with daya “chooses to die himself rather than cause others to die,” says Guru Nanak (GG, 356).

Daya is a divine quality and a moral virtue highly prized in all religious traditions. In the Sikh Scripture, mahadaial (super compassionate), daiapati (lord of compassion), daial dev (merciful god), karima, rahima (the merciful one), etc., have been used as attributive names of God (GG, 249, 991, 1027, 727). In Sikh ethics, too, daya is inter alia, a basic moral requirement, a moral vow. “Keep your heart content and cherish compassion for all beings; this way alone can your holy vow be fulfilled” (GG 299).

At the human level, one can comprehend feeling of another’s anguish, but as a theological doctrine it is to risk allowing suffering in God’s life. This has often caused much controversy in theological circles. God does not suffer in the sense of pain from evil as evil, but may suffer compassion (daya) as bearing the pain of others to relieve them (of pain as also of evil). That is why at the time of Babar’s invasion of India, Guru Nanak, when he witnessed the suffering of people, complained to God:

Eti mar pai kurlane tain ki dardu na aia

So much agony were they put through

So much anguish did they suffer—

Were you not, O God, moved to compassion? (GG, 360)

The Guru, in the image of God, is also daial purakh (compassionate being) and bakhasand (forgiver)—GG, 681.

Daya is a virtue of the mind. In Indian thought, virtues are classified into (i) those of the body: dana (charity), paritrana (succouring those in distress), paricharana (social service); (ii) those of speech: satya (veracity), hitovachana (beneficial speech), priyavachana (sweet speech), svadhyaya (reciting of Scriptures) and (iii) those of the mind which, besides daya, also include aparigraha (unworldliness) and sraddha (reverence and piety).

In Sikh thought daya is considered the highest virtue:

Athsathi tirath sagal punn jia daia parvanu

The merit of pilgrimages of holy places sixty-eight, and that of other virtues

besides, equal not compassion to living beings. (GG, 136)

Daya, in fact, is considered to be Truth in action:

sachu ta paru janiai ja sikh sachi lei;

daia janai jia ki kichhu punnu danu karei

Truth dawns when truthful counsel is accepted,

Seeking familiarity with compassion one gives away virtuous charity. (GG, 468).

Daya is, in reality, true action or action par excellence (karni sar) as are truth and contentment, the other two high virtues (GG, 51).


  1. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

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

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

J. S. N.
DEATH (J. S. Neki), The primordial mystery and one of the cardinal conditions of existence. Scientifically, death is defined as “the permanent cessation of the vital function in the bodies of animals and plants” or, simply, as the end of life caused by senescence or by stoppage of the means of sustenance to body cells. In Sikhism the universal fact of mortality is juxtaposed to immortality (amarapad) as the ultimate objective (paramartha) of life. As a biological reality death is the inevitable destiny of everyone. Even the divines and prophets have no immunity from it. Mortality reigns over the realms of the gods as well.

Death will inevitably strike

Even in the land of Lord Indra*

Nor is Brahma’s* domain free from it.

Likewise is Lord Siva’s* world decreed to come to naught.

*three gods of the Hindu pantheon

(GG. 237

We all entered this world “with death as our written fate” (GG, 876), says Guru Nanak.

Death cannot be apprehended apart from life. Contemplating both together, one truly comprehends the phenomenon of life and death (maran jivan ki sojhi pae).

A significant term used for death is kal which has a dual meaning. It connotes death as well as time. Both connotations intertwine theologically. Kal is often denoted as jam kal (jama=yamma, the Vedic God of Death). Day in and day out it gnaws at the fabric of life. But man remains ignorant and perceives it not.

That kal is constantly nibbling at life brings home to one the ephemerality of existence and therefore the necessity of making the most of it. If life has been lived in accord with acceptable laws it will win approval.

Death is the privilege of men

Who live life positively.

(GG, 579)

Death is legitimated by the ends it serves—surmounting the throes of transmigration or sacrifice for an ideal or laying down of one’s life in a righteous cause. Such a death carries one beyond the realm of Time into the realm of Eternity (akal). Eternity does not signify extended Time, but the state beyond Time, and therefore beyond mortality. Participation in Eternity does not lie hereafter. It is the state of immortality (amarapad) here in life which is liberation (mukti) from the throes of Time. That signifies the death of Death itself (kal kale).

To attain this state of immortality one need not necessarily pass through the portals of biological death. This state can be attained while one is still alive. To achieve this, however, one has to die to oneself.

This state is attainable by contemplating the Self by the grace of the Divine:

As by the Lord’s favour one contemplates the self,

So one learns to die while still living.

(GG. 935)

Dying to oneself has several kindred nuances in Sikh theology. Spoken, not only in terms of decimation of man and even of egoity (haumai), this is also the connotation of dying in sabda (the Holy Word):

He who ceases in sabda

His death is blessed.

(GG, 1067)

Another type of “blessed” dying is through sacrifice. When he initiated the order of the Khalsa in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh invited Sikhs to offer him their own heads. Five volunteered in response to the call. The baptismal initiation ceremony fashioned after that event even now encapsulates its symbolic sacrifice. The initiate is required to die to his past samskaras and be born into the Guru’s family.

The kindred spirits who

Served their Lord while they lived

Kept Him in mind while departing,

(GG, 1000)

yearn for their departure to their ‘real home’ (nij ghar) where they have a tryst with their Divine Spouse. At that time they invoke the blessings of one and all:

Predestined is the hour of my nuptials*

Come ye, my friends, and anoint the doorsteps.

* mystical term for death

Men are thus advised to meditate on Him who sends the call:

May the day of union for each arrive

(GG, 12)

Death, then marks the day of union with the Divine. It is not an occasion for grief. Lamentation over death is forbidden the Sikhs. In his Ramkali Sadd, the Call, the poet in the Guru Granth Sahib records;

By his wish the holy Guru (Guru Amar Das) his entire family to himself

called, and said:

No one after me should cry,

Such that cry shall no way please me.

The Sikh bereavement ceremony consists of having the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib, recited from end to end, praying for the departed soul and distributing the sacramental (karahprasad).



  1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, 1975

  2. Padam, Piara Singh, ed., Guru Granth Vichar-Kosh. Patiala, 1969

  3. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Lahore, 1945

  4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

  5. Jogendra Singh, Sir, Sikh Ceremonies. Bombay, 1941

  6. Cole, W. Owen and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978

J. S. N.

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