PAHUL or Amrit Sanskar, is the name given in the Sikh tradition to the Baptism ceremony which is also known as the initiation ceremony into the Khalsa "brotherhood". The word Pahul or Puhul is a derivative from a substantive, "pahu" — meaning an agent which brightens, accelerates or sharpens the potentialities of a given object.
In the history of the Sikh faith, the initiation ceremony has passed through two distinct phases. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder up to 1699, charan amrit or "pagpahul" was the custom. Charanamrit and pagpahul meant initiation by water touched by the Master’s toe — the charan and pag both being equivalents of the word ‘foot’. In early Sikhism, the neophytes sipped water poured over the Guru’s toe to be initiated into the fold. Where the Guru was not present, masands or local sangat leaders officiated. A reference to initiation by "charan amrit" occurs in Bhai Gurdas, Varan, I.23, born 12 years after the passing away of Guru Nanak.
The practice continued until 1699 when, at the time of the inauguration of the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh introduced "khande di pahul", i.e. pahul by khanda, the double-edged steel sword. This was done at Anandpur at the time of Baisakhi festival on 30 March 1699, in a soul-stirring drama. At the morning assembly of the Sikhs drawn from all four corners of India, Guru Gobind Singh, sword in hand, proclaimed, “My sword wants today a head. Let any one of my Sikhs come forward. Isn’t there a Sikh of mine who would be prepared to sacrifice his life for his Guru?” To five similar calls successively made, five Sikhs offered their heads one after the other. They were Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Mukham Singh, Bhai Sahib Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh and Bhai Himmat Singh. Guru Gobind Singh proceeded to hold the ceremony of initiation to mark their rebirth as new men.
Filling an iron bowl with clean water, he kept stirring it with a two-edged sword (called a Khanda) while reciting over it five of the sacred texts or banis — Japji, Jaap, Savaiyye, Benti Chaupai and Anand Sahib. Mata Sahib Devan also called Mata Sahib Kaur poured Patasas into the vessel, mingling their sweetness with the strength of the iron. The five Sikhs waited reverently as the holy water was being stired to the recitation of the sacred verses.
With the recitation of the five banis completed, khande di pahul or amrit, the Nectar of Immortality, was ready for administration. Guru Gobind Singh gave the five Sikhs five palmful each of it to drink. The disciple sat "bir-asan" i.e. in the posture of a warrior with his left knee raised and the right knee touching the ground. Every time the Guru poured the nectar into his palms to drink, he called out aloud, “Bol Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa Vahiguru ji ki Fateh (Utter, Hail the Khalsa who belongs to the Lord; the Lord to whom belongs victory).” The Sikh repeated the blessed utterance.
After the five life-giving draughts had been thus administered, the Guru sprinkled the holy liquid into his face gazing intently into his eyes. He then anointed his hair with the nectar. In the same manner, Guru Gobind Singh initiated the other four one by one. At the end, all five of them were given the steel bowl to quaff from it turn by turn the remaining elixir in token of their new fraternal comradeship.
Then, following the Guru, they repeated Vahiguru five times as gurmantra and five times recited the Mool Mantra They were given the common surname of Singh, (meaning lion) and enjoined to regard themselves as the khalsa, i.e. the Guru’s own. They were told that their rebirth into this brotherhood meant the annihilation of their family ties (kul nas), of the occupations which had formerly determined their place in society (krit nas), of their earlier beliefs and creeds and of the ritual they observed.
Their worship was to be addressed to none but Akal, the Timeless One. They were ever to keep the five emblems of the Khalsa — kesh or long hair and beard; kangha, a comb tucked into the kesh to keep it tidy in contrast to the recluses who kept it matted in token of their having renounced the world; kara, a steel bracelet to be worn round the wrist of the right hand; kachchha, short breeches; and kirpan, a sword.
In the rehit or code of conduct promulgated for the Sikhs on that day were the four prohibitions, i.e.
- 1. Cutting, trimming or any form of desecration of hair,
- 2. Adultery i.e. any sexual relationship outside of marriage
- 3. Consumption of meat, fish, or eggs
- 4. Use of tobacco, and any other non-medicinal intoxicants/drugs.
The five were designated by Guru Gobind Singh as Panj Piare, the five beloved of the Guru. He now besought them to initiate him into their brotherhood, and asked them to prepare khande di pahul. The Panj Piare churned the holy water following the Guru’s example and administered to him the vows they had received from him. Even his name changed to (Guru) Gobind Singh. Many Sikhs then volunteered to undergo initiation.
Many joined the Khalsa
The five who took the next turn were Bhai Ram Singh, Bhai Deva Singh, Bhai Tahal Singh, Bhai Ishar Singh and Bhai Fateh Singh. They were called by the Guru Panj Mukte, the Five Liberated Ones. According to the Guru kian Sakhian, in the next row stood Mani Ram, Bachittar Das, Ude Rai, Anik Das, Ajab Das, Ajaib Chand, Chaupat Rai, Diwan Dharam Chand, Alam Chand Nachna and Sahib Ram Koer, followed by Rai Chand Multani, Gurbakhsh Rai, Gurbakhshish Rai, Pandit Kirpa Ram Datt of Mattan, Subeg Chand, Gurmukh Das, Sanmukh Das, Amrik Chand, Purohit Daya Ram, Barna, Ghani Das, Lal Chand Peshauria, Rup Chand, Sodhi Dip Chand, Nand Chand, Nanu Ram of Dilvali, and Hazari, Bhandari and Darbari of Sirhind.
Khand di pahul thus supplanted charanamrit. Since then initiation has been by amrit or holy water prepared in the manner laid down by Guru Gobind Singh. For the novitiates the same ceremony will be repeated. Panj Piare chosen at any place for their piety and reputation will officiate, in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib attended by a Granthi. Among the Panj Piare could be women too, as there could be among the novitiates. No particular age is prescribed for initiation.
It could take place any time the novitiate is able to appreciate the significance of the ceremony and is prepared to abide by the discipline it imposed. A patit, an apostate or lapsed Sikh guilty of committing a kurahit, i.e. violation of any of the prohibitions laid down by Guru Gobind Singh, will have to go through the same ceremony to have himself reinitiated and readmitted into the Khalsa fold. Khalsa rahit or discipline flowing from khande di pahul has been sought to be codified in Rahitnamas, manuals of conduct. Some of these are attributed to Guru Gobind Singh’s contemporaries such as Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Chaupa Singh and Bhai Nand Lal.
The modern code
Directions with regard to the conduct of the amrit ceremony as issued by the Shiromani. Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in its publication Sikh Rahit Maryada are as follows:
- (a) The initiation ceremony may be conducted in any quiet and convenient place. In addition to the Guru Granth Sahib, presence of six Sikhs is necessary: one granthi to read from the Guru Granth Sahib and five to administer the rites.
- (b) Both receiving initiation and those administering it should bathe and wash their hair prior to the ceremony.
- (c) Any Sikh who is mentally and physically “whole” (man or woman) may administer the rites of initiation provided that he himself had received the rites and continues to wear the five K’s, i.e. Sikh symbols each beginning with the Gurmukhi letter “k”.
- (d) Any man or woman of whatever nationality, race or social standing, who is prepared to accept the rules governing the Khalsa community, is eligible to receive initiation.
- (e) No minimum or maximum age limit is stipulated for those receiving initiation.
- (f) Those undergoing initiation should have the five K’s (unshorn hair, comb, shorts, sword, steel bangle). No jewellery or distinctive marks associated with other faiths may be worn. The head must be covered.
- (g) Anyone seeking readmission after having resiled from his previous pledges may be awarded a penalty by the five administering initiation before being readmitted.
- (h) During the ceremony, one of the five Piare (“five loved ones”—representing the first five Sikhs), stands and explains the main rules and obligations of the Khalsa Panth. These are to love and pray to one God, to read, study and live according to the Sikh teachings, and to help and serve humanity at large.
The modern method
Those receiving initiation are then asked if they are willing to abide by these rules. If they indicate their assent, one of the five says a prayer for the commencement of the preparation of the Amrit (Nectar) and a lesson or passage from the Guru Granth Sahib randomly opened is read.
Clean water and sugar or other soluble sweet is placed in the bowl which must be of steel. The five now position themselves around the bowl in the bir asan position (kneeling on the right knee with the weight of the body on the right foot, and the left knee raised). Having so positioned themselves they commence to recite the following:
The Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Ten Savaiye (Saravag sudh vale), Benti Chaupai (from Hamri karo hath dai rachchha to dusht dokh te leho bachai) and the first five verses and the last verse of Anand Sahib.
Anyone who is reciting these prayers should place his left hand on the edge of the bowl and stir the nectar with a short sword held in the right hand. The others participating in the ceremony should place both hands on the edge of the bowl and concentrate and meditate on the nectar.
After the completion of these prayers, one of the five says the ardas, after which the nectar is served. Only those who have sat through the whole ceremony may be served.
The Nectar is received by those being initiated whilst sitting in the bir asan position (previously described) with the hands cupped, right on left to receive the nectar.
This is received five times in the cupped hands; each time after receiving the nectar, the person being initiated says “Vahiguru ji ka khalsa, Sri Vahiguru ji ki Fateh.” This salutation is repeated each time the nectar is sprinkled on the eyes (5 times) and hair (5 times). The remainder of the nectar is then shared by those receiving initiation, al1 drinking from the same bowl.
After this, all those taking part in the ceremony recite the Mul Mantra in unison:
|There is one God; His name is truth,
The all-pervading Creator, Without fear, without hatred; Immortal, unborn, self-existent. One of the five then details the rules and obligations applying to the initiates.
“From now on your existence as ordinary individuals has ceased, and you are members of the Khalsa brotherhood. Your religious father is Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth and last Guru, founder of the Khalsa brotherhood) and Mata Sahib Kaur your mother. Your spiritual birthplace is Keshgarh Sahib (birthplace of the Khalsa) and your home Anandpur Sahib (the place where Guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa).
Your common spiritual parentage makes you all brothers and you should all forsake your previous name (surname) and previous local and religious loyalties. You are to pray to God and God alone, through the scriptures and teachings of the ten Gurus. You should learn the Gurmukhi script if you do not know it already and read daily the Japji, Jaap, Das Savaiye, Sodhar Rahras and Kirtan Sohila, and should hear or read the Guru Granth Sahib. You must keep the five Ks and are forbidden any of the following 4 taboos:
The four taboos
- (i) Removal of hair
- (ii) Eating of any meat, fish, or eggs.
- (iii) Adultery
- (iv) Usage of tobacco or any other non-medicinal drugs
Anyone who contravenes any of these rules has broken his amrit vows. He must go through the ceremony afresh after a suitable penance if the contravention has been deliberate.
Work for the Common Good
- (j) The newly initiated Sikhs (called Khalsa) are told not to associate with:
- (i) the followers of Prithi Chand, Dhir Mall, Ram Rai or other breakaway groups
- (ii) those who actively oppose Sikhism
- (iii) those who practise infanticide
- (iv) those who take alcohol, tobacco or drugs
- (v) those who wed their children for monetary considerations
- (vi) those who perform any rite or ceremony opposed by Sikhism
- (vii) any Sikhs who do not adhere to the message of Guru Granth Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh
- (k) Ardas is then said and followed by the reading of the hukam. Finally, any of those present with a name that was not chosen using the Guru Granth Sahib, are asked to choose a new name in the customary manner.
The ceremony is then concluded with distribution of karah prasad, which, to emphasize the new brotherhood, is eaten by those newly initiated from a common plate.
- 1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, 1975
- 2. Kuir Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, ed. Shamsher Singh Ashok. Patiala, 1968
- 3. Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna. Amritsar 1989
- 4. Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978
- 5. Sher Singh, ed., Thoughts on Symbols in Sikhism. Lahore, 1927
Above adapted from article By Taran Singh