Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
The salutation used in the days of Guru Nanak was Sat Kartar (Hail the Creator, the Eternal). This is how he, according to the Puratan Janam Sakhi, his oldest biography, greeted those he met. Some accounts of his life, such as that by Hariji, mention other similar forms of greeting, one among those being Raja Ram Sati (Hail the Holy Creator!) In the hukamnamas or letters sent to sangats by the Gurus prior to Guru Gobind Singh’s time, the opening greeting used to be: Guru Sati (Hail the Eternal Lord!) which is only an inverted form of Satiguru. Other forms of salutation such as Ram Sati (Hail God the Eternal!) and respectful salutations like Pairin-Pauna (I fall at thy feet) were also current among the generality of Sikhs. Namaskar (I bow to thee) was in use in greeting the holy, or offering worship to God. Such greetings are specifically mentioned or hinted at in the older writings.
With the development of the Sikh creed in the time of Guru Nanak’s successors and the propagation of a new tradition basing itself on a monotheism whose roots, however, were Indian, as against the prevalent polytheism, pantheism and, at the higher levels, henotheism, a new terminology came into existence which distinguished the Sikh faith from the numerous creeds prevalent at the time. Names like Ik Onkar, Oankar, Parh-brahm were favoured above others for the Godhead: Hari, Narayana and Rama acquired greater currency compared to other names drawn from mythology. But the particular names of God which constituted a kind of differentia of Sikh society were Nirankar (Formless), Kartar (Creator), Sachcha Patshah (True or Eternal King), Satguru and Vahiguru.
Guru is Lord, Master, and Vahiguru is expressive of wonder or ecstasy at Divine infinitude or glory, with the implied sense of name. Vahiguru has become the most characteristic name for God in the Sikh creed, like Allah in Islam. It occurs in the Guru Granth Sahib (Savaiyyas, Mahala IV by Bhatt Gayand, page 1402) repeated ecstatically as a mantra. In the compositions of Guru Arjan (GG, 376), it is used in the inverted form as Gur Vahu.
Waheguru or Vaheguru
Bhai Gurdas in his Varan has used it as being synonymous with the Absolute, the Creator in a number of places (I. 49, IV. 17, VI. 5, IX. 13, XI. 3 & 8, XII. 17, XIII. 2, XXIV. 1. XL. 22). This prolific use by one whose philosophical exposition of Sikh metaphysics and mysticism is the earliest on record, indicates that by the time of Guru Arjan (the Savaiyyas referred to above were also composed by poets (Bhatts) attending on him). Vahiguru as the Sikh name for God was well established and had acquired the overtones which have since been associated with it as expression of the Sikh monotheistic affirmation of faith.
Because of this close and inalienable association, Guru Gobind Singh at the time of introducing the new form of initiation to the faith, with adjuration to the initiates to maintain a stern moral discipline and to cultivate qualities of crusaders and martyrs for the faith, administered the new faith in terms of the name of God which was held in the highest reverence in the tradition handed down to him. The new form of salutation, which annulled all the previous ones till then prevalent in Sikh society, was enunciation as Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh — the Khalsa belongs to Vahiguru; Victory is gifted by Vahiguru.
This two-fold affirmation was, in the first place, expression of a special relationship between God and those who dedicated their entire life to His service. Second, it was the expression of that faith in the ultimate triumph of the forces of Goodness which despite all apparent setbacks, trials and travail, is the just and essential end of the fight between good and evil in the world. This faith has been asserted over and over again by Guru Nanak and his spiritual successors.
After being administered amrit (water stirred with a two-edged dagger; sanctified by recitation of the Guru’s word and thus transmuted into the elixir of immortality), each initiate was adjured to raise the affirmation, Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa Vahiguru ji ki Fateh! This was duly repeated, and the tradition continues till this day. Apart from being used as the affirmation of faith, this formula is also the orthodox, approved Sikh form of salutation.
Two terms in this formula need clarification:
- Khalsa is an Arabic word, meaning, literally, ‘pure’ and used in the administration terminology of the Muslim State system in India for the lands or fiefs directly held by the sovereign and not farmed out to landlords on certain conditions of military service and of making over to the State a share of the produce.
- In the term Khalsa, both these meanings are discerned. In one of Guru Hargobind’s Hukamnamas and in one of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s, Khalsa is used for the Guru’s devotees, with the implication particularly as ‘the Guru’s Own!’ As Guru Gobind Singh adopted the term and gave it centrality in the enunciation of the creed, the idea of purity perhaps came to acquire primacy. When Guru Gobind Singh sent a set of youths to Varanasi to study Sanskrit, they were given the appellation Nirmala which is the Sanskrit-based parallel to the Arabic khalsa.
- Nirmalas are now a Sikh sect, who have maintained traditions of high scholarship. Khalsa occurs also in the Guru Granth Sahib (GG, 654) where it is used in the sense of pure, emancipated. This term appealed to Guru Gobind Singh as being truly expressive of the vision of a noble, heroic race of men that he was creating.
- Fateh, fatah in Arabic, literally means opening or forcing the portal of a besieged fort, implying victory. It has been used in the Qura’n in the sense of victory, and one of the attributive names of God in the Muslim tradition is Fattah (literally Opener, i.e. Vanquisher over all evil forces).
- Fateh as fatih occurs once in the Guru Granth Sahib “phahe kate mite gavan fatih bhai mani jit—the noose of Yama hath been cleft, transmigration hath ceased and, with the conquest of the self, true victory hath been achieved” (GG, 258). The implied meaning here is of a moral victory.
- Jit, a word from Indian tradition for victory, like jaikara has also become established in Sikh tradition and in the chant Panth ki Jit (Victory of the Panth) as repeated in the Sikh collective prayer daily.
- Fateh nonetheless remains the prime Sikh term for victory, and has been repeated again and again in Sikh history, down from the Persian couplet put on Sikh coins (Deg-o-Tegh-o-Fateh-e-nusrat bedarang, yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh) to the common daily parlance of the Sikh people, wherein every success is designated as fateh.
- 1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, n. d.
- 2. Padam, Piara Singh, ed., Rahitname. Amritsar, 1989
- 3. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, Guru Khalsa de Nisan te Hukamname. Amritsar, 1967
- 4. Randhir Singh, ed., Prem Sumarag Granth. Jalandhar, 1965
Above adapted from article By G. S. Talib of Global Sikh Studies
While jai, jaikar have been used in the Sikh tradition for victory and are used thus even in the Dasam Granth, jai was dropped from the new Sikh tradition, though for shouts of victory the term jaikara has become firmly established. Fateh was adopted as the current popular term for triumph or victory and made part of the Sikh affirmation and salutation.