Tatt Khalsa

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Tat Khalsa was originated on 2nd October 1879.


This section should be read in parallel with the Sanatan Sikh entry, because each Sabha represents a different world-view, both of which are mutually defined in contradistinctive terms. However a brief description is given here of each. The Sanatan world-view is basically oral, personal, popular, diverse, reliant on past traditions and ahistorical, in nature. The Tat Khalsa world-view is textual, impersonal, elite, homogenous, historical, progressive and modern. In the former there is an acceptance of the Indian tradition and its value over Western tradition and colonialism. In the latter there is a conflation and interaction between Western colonialism and Indian inherited traditions. The basic belief of Tat Khalsa is exclusivity. The Orthodox (Tat Khalsa) view believes that God cannot take any form in particular, for He is both Formless and within all forms. This allows them to justify their doctrine of the Guru Granth as opposed to the continuation of human Gurus indefinitely, (which the Sanatan world-view upholds).

Though even orthodox Sikhism accepts many of the pan-Indian and Hindu religious views - like the belief that one reaps what one sows, and one's present life is usually seen as the living out of the consequences of the previous life's deeds (known as karma), the belief that the soul reincarnates many thousands of times (transmigration), the belief in a Guru of some kind and the guru-chela (disciple) relationship - its uniqueness lies in its reinterpretation of these core Indian ideas. This is best exemplified by the fact that the Tat Khalsa hold the Adi Granth as the Guru Granth over and above the Dasam Granth, for the reason that the latter is replete with Hindu mythic lore. Whether this reinterpretation, together with its own insights, constitutes a separate religion is a point of contention between the Sanatan and Tat Khalsa Sikhs.

Tat Khalsa excludes most non-orthodox Singhs; it believes that the only true Sikh is a Singh. It is helpful to show the various degrees in this: An Amritdhari Sikh is the most orthodox having taken Guru Gobind Singh's Khalsa initiation, and one who follows the full rahit maryada (Sikh code of conduct and way of life); then there is the Keshdhari Sikh who keeps his hair uncut but does not take amrit or initiation into the Khalsa, and so does not follow the full rahit; following these is the Sahajdhari Sikh, who cuts his hair and is considered as a slow adopter of the 'Khalsa way of life'. Then there comes those Sikhs that are born into a Sikh family and carry the name Singh as a matter of birthright and not Khalsa initiation, which is open to them as it is to any and all people; finally we have the Patit Sikh or fallen Sikh who once had taken initiation/amrit and since has fallen into laxity. The Tat Khalsa only believes that the Amritdhari Sikh/Singh is a true Sikh. The orthodox Tat Khalsa, statement of Sikhism today, their identity beliefs, and practices is embodied in the The Sikh Rahit Maryada (the Sikh Code of Conduct). It defines a Sikh as, "any person who believes in God (Akal Purakh); in the ten Gurus (Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh); in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, other writings of the ten Gurus, and their teachings; in the Khalsa initiation ceremony instituted by the tenth Guru; and who does not believe in any other system of religious doctrine."

A Sikh should, "rise early (3 a.m. to 6 a.m.) and having bathed should observe nam japan [repetition of the name] by meditating on God. Each day a Sikh should read or recite the order known as the 'Daily Rule' (nit-nem). The Daily Rule comprises of the following portions of scripture: Early morning (3 a.m. to 6 a.m.): Japji, Jap, and the Ten Savayyas... In the evening at sunset: Sodar Rahiras... At night before retiring: Sohila. At the conclusion of the selections set down for early morning and evening (Sodar Rahiras) the prayer known as Ardas must be recited".

A Sikh should partake of communal meditation and devotional singing; "The influence of the Gurus' words is best experienced in a religious assembly (sangat). Each Sikh should therefore join in sangat worship, visiting gurdwaras and drawing inspiration from the sacred scripture in the sangat's presence."

Though individual meditation is recommended, "A practice to be commended is for each Sikh regularly to read right through the entire contents of the Guru Granth Sahib, planning his daily instalments in such a way that he completes the task in four to eight weeks (or whatever period may be convenient for him)." Part of the basic creed or doctrine which each Sikh should live and work by are the principles of Gurmat (teaching of the Gurus), some of which are given below:

(a) To worship only the one supreme God (Akal Purakh) spurning all other gods and goddesses.

(b) To accept as the means of deliverance only the ten Gurus, the Guru Granth Sahib, and the works of the ten Gurus.

(c) To believe that the same spirit was successively incarnated in the ten individual Gurus.

(d) To reject caste distinctions and untouchability; magical amulets, mantras, and spells; auspicious omens, days, times, planets and astrological signs; the ritual feeding of Brahmans to sanctify or propitiate the dead; oblation for the dead; the superstitious waving of lights; [traditional] obsequies; fire sacrifices; ritual feasting or libations; sacred tufts of hair or ritual shaving; fasting for particular phases of the moon; frontal marks, sacred threads and sanctified rosaries; worshipping at tombs, temples or cenotaphs; idol worship and all other superstitions...

(g) A knowledge of Gurmukhi [the sacred language of the Adi Granth] is essential for Sikhs... [These translations are taken from W.H. McLeod's Textual Sources for the Study of SIKHISM, Manchester University Press, 1984., pp.79-81.]

Sikhs should also follow the rites for birth and naming, marriage, Khalsa initiation and cremation as stated in the Sikh Rahit Maryada.


As the Singh Sabha movement expanded the next main centre of its activity was founded six years after the first Singh Sabha founded in Amritsar in 1873. This was the centre in Lahore (founded in 1879). This Singh Sabha basically consisted of much more radical and progressive thinkers, whom eventually formed the Tat Khalsa view, which was destined to become the main orthodox view of Sikhism today. There arose two trends: the Sanatanist view of the Amritsar Singh Sabha and the Tat Khalsa view of the Lahore Singh Sabha. The resolution of the two was attempted with the foundation of the Chief Khalsa Divan, but this proved only temporary. The Tat Khalsa Singh Sabha gradually gained dominance, creating new, distinctively Sikh rituals for birth, naming, marriage and death, and formed a particular view of Sikh history and religion that reflected the uniqueness of the Sikh faith. This led to the systematic exclusion of all non-Singhs due to the fixing of 'Sikh' as only a signifier of Khalsa a Singh. Their main argument was to prove that Sikhs were not Hindus or Muslims and that they had their own revealed religion. Thus the very idea of Sikhism came about through an interaction of the Indian traditions with the new technologies and ideas of British Rule. Hinduism and Sikhism are therefore relatively recent creations of the colonial period, which induced a sense of nationalism, communalism and individualism. The people of the Panjab and elsewhere were learning to see and understand their own history in a distinctively Western way. Thus the following, overtly political developments, were all institutions of the Tat Khalsa Singh Sabha, such as the Central Sikh League (founded in 1919), the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.P.G.C. founded in 1920), and the Akali Dal (also founded later in 1920). The S.G.P.C. deleted, edited and modernised all the available early rahit-namas (behavioural injunctions) into one systematic statement. Various attempts were made (in 1915 and 1931), but none achieved widespread following. However in 1950 the Sikh Rahit Maryada finally secured the Panth's (Sikh people's) general acceptance. It has now become the orthodox standard. (See above).


The inauguration of the Khalsa was a symbolic event: to transform sparrows into hawks, deer into lions, saints into soldiers. This is further evidenced by the assumption of a new name, a new code of conduct and a new dress or uniform. The latter consisted of the "five K's", or "Panj Kakke": Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (comb), Kara (iron or steel bangle), Kirpan (sword, dagger), Kach (shorts). The uniform evidently kept the persecuted Sikhs united, and distinct. This is the traditional account, however. Not all the five K's are mentioned in the relevant literature only three: Kesh, Kirpan and Kach, and when five are mentioned it adds Bani (i.e. the Word of the Gurus written as scripture) and Sadhsangat (the company of saints). It is only in the 19th century that the five traditional K's are mentioned. Either way this highly visible identity had a symbolic gesture: to show all, especially the Mughals, that this is who Sikhs were, Warrior Singhs, and that they were immanently prepared to die fighting for their faith. The uncut hair signified traditional ascetic renunciation but it was tamed by the comb which did not allow it to become matted thus symbolising continued participation in the world; the sword symbolises political and religious justice. Yet it too is balanced by the iron bangle or bani, which symbolises the unity of humankind with Akal Purakh. The shorts were pragmatic for a warrior who needs ease of movement, but also symbolised chastity, another aspect reminiscent of ascetic celibacy. However, again, this is balanced with the Sikh ideal of a family life (grihasti). Altogether they symbolise the Sant-Sipahi ideal of a human being who is neither too worldly nor too other-worldly, but a moderate wo/man. The Khalsa's warrior clothing was always of a blue colour.


There are no official numbers of the Khalsa Singhs at that time. Even today, though there are a large number, it is impossible to give a reliable estimation due to confused census definitions. However in the 1891 census 78,952 Hindus and 859,138 Sikhs returned themselves as 'Guru Gobind Singhi'; and 129 Hindus and 3,621 Sikhs returned as 'Khalsa'. (Census of India, 1891, Vol.XX, and vol.XXI. The Punjab and its Feudatories, by E.D. Maclagan, Part II and III, Calcutta, 1892, pp.826-9 and pp.572-3.) (See also the note at the end of the Explanatory Introduction).

Headquarters/Main Centre

Akal Takht (The Immortal Throne) and Harimandir Sahib (The Golden Temple), Amritsar. Though they have Gurdwaras cared for by the S.G.P.C. all over the Panjab.

TATT KHALSA, lit. the Real or Pure Khalsa, as against the followers of Banda SINGH Bahadur who came to be called Bandai Khalsa, was one of the factions in the schism which arose among the SIKHS after the passing away of GURU Gobind Singh. Guru Go bind Singh, while sending Banda Singh to the Punjab in 1708 to lead the Sikhs, had abolished the line of living Gurus bequeathing spiritual guruship to Guru GRANTH Sahib. Banda Singh in the flush of initial victories made some innovations which appeared heretical to the orthodox Khalsa. Instead of the SIKH salutation of "Vahiguru JI ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh" he introduced "Fateh Darshan"; discarding the traditional blue dress of the Khalsa warriors he adopted garments of red colour; and, what hurt the Sikhs most, he allowed his followers to treat him as Guru. Many Sikhs led by the veteran Binod Singh and his son, Kahn Singh, parted company with Banda Singh during his last defensive battle against the imperial army. They called themselves Tatt Khalsa, "ready" Khalsa. Banda Singh was put to death at Delhi in June 1716, but the schism persisted. With the assassination of Emperor FarrukhSiyar in 1719, persecution of the Sikhs slackened somewhat and they began to gather occasionally at AMRITSAR. The differences between the two groups increased with the Bandai Khalsa claiming 50 per cent of the | income from offerings at the shrines and the I Tatt Khalsa refuting the claim as entirely ` baseless. When this state of affairs was brought to the notice of Mata Sundari at Delhi, she despatched Bhai Mani Singh with six other Sikhs for the management of the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, and enjoined that the entire income should be spent on Guru ka Langar. Matters came to a head on the occasion of Baisakhi in 1721 when the Bandais made fortifications around their camp and prepared for a confrontation. However, on Bhai Mani Singh`s mediation both parties agreed to seek guidance from the Guru. Two slips of paper, one with the words "Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh," written on it and the other with the words "FatehDarshan", were dropped into the sacred pool. Whichever slip came up on the surface first was to indicate the Guru`s verdict. It so happened that the slip Bearing "Vahiguru ji ki Fateh" surfaced first. Many Bandais bowed their heads and came over to the camp of the Tatt Khalsa, but some questioned the propriety of the procedure adopted. It was then decided to settle the issue through a wrestling bout. The bout was held in front of the AKAL TAKHT between Miri Singh, son of Baba Kahn Singh, leader of the Tatt Khalsa, and SANGAT Singh, son ofLahaura Singh Bandai. Miri Singh won and the Tatt Khalsa was again declared the winner. The bulk of the Bandai Sikhs joined the Tatt Khalsa and a few who remained adamant were driven away. Although the name of the sect, Tatt Khalsa, became redundant thereafter, the words continued to be used especially in the Singh Sabha days, to denote Sikhs fully committed and ever prepared for action in behalf of the community. This was in contrast to dhillar (Sikhs) connoting indolent, passive or ineffectual.

1. Ganda Singh, Life ofBanda Singh Ba.ha.dur. Amritsar, 1935

2. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi. 1983

3. Gian Singh, Giani, Pantft Prakash. Delhi, 1880

4. Bhangu, Ratan Singh, Prachin PANTH Prakash. Amritsar, 1912

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