Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
Fax: +44 020 8574 1912
Reg Charity No: 262404
Ensign of Dignity
gur kY sbdy dir nIswxY ]
gur kY sbdy dir nIswxY ]
Gur kaae sabadae d.arr neesaan.aae
Word of the Guru is your identity (password).
In the Sikh world, a banner is called Nishan Sahib. Nishan means a symbol, sign, seal or a stamp - a mark of identity, and Sahib is added for respect. It is sometimes referred to as Kesri Jhanda (Kesri - saffron colored, Jhanda - flag), Jhanda Sahib or simply Nishan.
Nishan Sahib is ensign of the Khalsa (Panth - the Sikh world). It is hoisted in religious gatherings and other congregations related to the Sikhs. It leads religious and other processions in which mostly Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Book) is there, and Parbhat Phaerees (Morning Hymn-singing parades). It is put up on all the Gurdwaras (The Sikh Prayer Houses), or is set up in the court or yard of the building.
Religious processions are preceded by the five Nishan Sahib carried by the barefoot, Amritdhari (properly inducted into the faith) devotees of high ethics (Singhs or Khalsas). The people standing enroute bow to the Nishans and some even touch the feet of their bearers, called ‘Panj Piarae’ (Five beloved of the Guru). Carrying the flag is considered a special favor and an honor.
At Gurdwara Paunta Sahib, a place of the Tenth Master Guru Gobind Singh, the Sangat (Congregation) ambulates around it singing Hymns with devotion, and bows to it. The Nishan had been leading the Sikh soldiers, parades and groups, since the time of the Gurus. The Sikhs tie these to their vehicles on their pilgrimages.
Nishan Sahib is pride of the Sikhs. Once hoisted, it is never done half-mast. Nishan Sahib, along with cover for its pole, is changed every year, or when needed, doing Shabad-Kirtan (Singing of Hymns), Ardas (Invocation), shouting Jaikaras (slogans), distribution of Parshad (sanctified sweet pudding), and rejoicing. At places (Gurdwara Hemkunt and others), the steel pole is lowered, washed with diluted milk, and cleaned before putting on the new cover cum flag. The change is generally made on the Baisakhi (13 April), birthday of the Khalsa. On this day (Baisakhi of 1699 AD), Guru Gobind Singh initiated the people into the Sikh faith by a special ceremony (giving Amrit - a holy drink), for the first time.
The old cover and banner of the flag are made into pieces and the people take these away as a gift from the Guru. They may stitch a Chola (Long shirt) for the newborn, or for a small child. They may put the cloth to some other good use, i.e. wrapping their prayer books in them, or as a scarf for the head. Out of respect, the old flags or worn out clothes made out of these, as such or their ashes after burning these, may be put into the flowing water, a lake, or are buried. It will be disrespect to throw them into trash, or to use them as cleaning rags.
Nishan Sahib stands for the Sikhs in their body, mind, and action. It is an assertion of their physical and mental independence, and of the unity under its protection. It announces the purity of their thought, and spiritual elevation through their belief in one God, faith in their Gurus as well as Guru Granth Sahib, and in the edicts of the Sikh faith including the discipline of Amrit (holy-drink given for inducting a person into the Khalsa - a properly initiated Sikh). It proclaims their faith, beliefs, high morale, honest conduct, hard work, truthfulness, justice, equality, liberty - live and let live attitude, forgive and forget policy, compassion and helpfulness to the needy etc.
Watching a gently fluttering flag lifts up the mind with joy, and one can derive concentration from it for his or her Naam-Jaap (meditation - recitation of the name of God). It beckons never to forget the Lord, and reminds to unite with Him. It affectionately wakes up those lost in the mundane, and benevolently shows them the path - "Here is the Holy Book - Word of the Guru, read it, realize the Truth and get emancipated." Its dignified waving prompts everyone to lead a life of high ethics.
Nishan Sahib is the ensign of harmony between the God factor and Shakti - Maya; the world-factor.
Pharera - A saffron colored triangular flag itself.
Phuman - Pompom of black color and of a suitable size, tied to the tip of Pharera through a black string.
Symbol - on the Pharera . Ik-Oankar, and Khanda-Symbol, color black.
Pole - Usually steel, wood, or bamboo. It has a cover of saffron color.
Khanda - Double edged sword atop the pole. Mostly iron, may be stainless steel. It may be gold or nickel plated.
Dastaar - A blue cloth strip tied at the top, under Khanda. Its both ends are left equal and free.
Nishan Sahib - Pharera (flag) is always saffron in color and triangular, with its vertical axis at 90 degrees to its horizontal base. Horizontal base is twice the length of the vertical side. The top and base meet to make an acute angle at the tip to which a Phuman - black pompom, is tied with a string to leave it hanging (to flutter).
The triangular shape may have its own mystery, and might have a mystical effect - pointing to immortality. But in general, in the Sikh faith, no mystery is attached to any shape, color etc., and all its teachings are open and clear. This shape may claim union of God, spirituality, and the mundane (three corners or sides of flag). The other flags might have influenced the shape and color of the Sikh banner.
Triangular shape makes two flags out of the one rectangular piece of material, and so is economical to manufacture, but this is not of any importance. Triangular cloth does not fold over easily to hide its ‘contents’ (symbol) and hangs from the pole tapering down gracefully. Rectangular material needs more wind to flutter and also, may get easily torn at its free flapping end.
The Hindu religious flags are "Bhagva" (Gaerva: brick-red), red or white. The color of the Muslims is green. Nishan Sahib is of the saffron color - pleasant, bright, and glowing reddish-yellow, representing purity (spirituality), courage and bravery.
Saffron color existed in the Rajput traditions, possibly like the epithet "Singh." In the Rajputs, the ritual of Jauhar (Satti - self-immolation of wife after the death of her husband) was performed in the yellow dress (Dr. Maan Singh Nirankari, Retired Principal, Government Medical College, Amritsar). But, the Sikhs don’t adopt such extremes, nor do they approve Jauher (Satti). Moreover, the Sikh color is Saffron, and this color signifies purity, no doubt sacrifice too. Very likely, the Rajputs expressed purity by using the yellow clothes. In celebrations like marriages and betrothals, saffron water is sprinkled on the clothes of the guests to honor them, and to signify sanctity of the occasion, its spiritual overtures, and to express happiness.
Saffron color for the banner was selection of Guru Hargobind (Indirect deduction. Gurmatt Martand, S.G.P.C., page 616) and was not blue to begin with. At the time of Guru Gobind Singh, the color of Nishan Sahib changed to blue, and Nihangs maintain the tradition. In the Maharaja Ranjit Singh period, Nishan Sahib was blue (Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgir, World Sikh News, June 30, 1995 AD). After the Maharaja, may be under the influence of Dogras (majority environmental effect) it became white. Baba Naaena Singh and Akali Phoola Singh left the color of the Akali-Dal flag yellow, but changed Dastaar (see Dastaar) to antimony. Some use antimony color for Pharera (flag) which is not a tradition. They seem to derive this color from the color of the turban of Guru Gobind Singh. It is not clear as to how and when the color returned to saffron (A discussion with Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal, Arlington TX, USA).
Dr. H.S. Dilgir referred to the editorial of a daily "Akali," of the 24th Dec: 1921 AD. He wrote that Pandit Moti Lal Nehru and other members of the Congress Party accepted the condition of the Sikh-color - saffron, and it was taken into the Indian National Flag in 1929 AD.
Taking saffron into the Indian Flag was acceptance of the Sikh ideology that a Nishan Sahib represented their politics, as well as faith. The Sikhs have the same flag for the both - politics, and faith.
Anyone symbol out of the two, will be sufficient to convey that it represents the Sikhs. Both these symbols are also put on the letterheads, buildings and vehicles. As an emblem, these are fixed to the turban and are worn as pins, buttons, or gold ornaments - mostly lockets around the necks.
Ik-Oankar is the Seed-Formula (Root formula). With this Ik-Oankar, starts "Mool Mantar" (the Sikh Basic Formula). “Ik” is equal to One “ 1 “ in the Roman characters, and “Oankar” means, “All Pervading, Omnipresent, God” - All pervading God is only He, and there is none other like Him. It is like "Om" of the Hindus and “La Il-lah Il-lil-lah” (Or, may be 786, in the Arabic characters) of the Islam.
Khanda Chakkar Kirpan >
Khanda - double-edged sword. Chakkar - quoit: a flat, steel ring with sharp outer edge. Kirpan - slightly curved dagger, or small sword. The people have started calling this simply a "Khanda." It becomes confusing because the name means only a double-edged sword. It will be reasonable to call it "Khanda-Symbol," or “Khanda-Kirpan.” This symbol is something like Sri Ganesh in the Hindus, or Chand-Tara in the Muslims. The history of Khanda-Symbol, may be a mystery, but it has attained great significance as a symbol of the Sikhs.
It is hard to say anything conclusive about the meanings of this Khanda-Chakkar-Kirpan symbol, because it all appears to be stretching the individual imagination. At the Sikh Takhts (Religio-political High Seats) especially, and at some other Gurdwaras, the weapons are often seen arranged like Khanda-Chakkar-Kirpan. This might have given the idea of the symbol, but it can be the other way round, too.
At Akal Takht, Amritsar, only the weapons used to be displayed on the Palki (Palanquin). It was some time back that Guru Granth - the Sikh Holy Book, was placed there (Dr. Man Singh Nirankari).
It stands for the "Amrit", which is prepared with it (Dr. Dilgir - referred to above, and Naunehal Singh Grewal, Sikh Review - June, 1995).
It symbolizes disintegration of the false pride, vanity and demolition of the barriers of cast and inequalities (Khanda, H.S. Singha, Mini Encyclopedia of Sikhism, page 65).
Double-edged Khanda means to cut evil both ways (Around the Golden Temple, Narinderjit Singh, page 20).
The original Khanda, with which the Tenth Master prepared Amrit on the Baisakhi of 1669 AD, is at display in the Gurdwara Kes-Garh, Anandpur Sahib, District Ropar, Punjab, India. It is a full length weapon.
It may be for the universality or eternity of the God Factor - the mystique of the Almighty and the humanity (Dr. Dilgir, referred to above).
Circle means continuation of life (Narinderjit Singh, referred to above).
The Khanda symbolizes justice, self-preservation, and continuity of the humanity and destruction of cruelty. Besides representing the eternal God, it stands for the continuity of His creation (universe), transmigration and the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation).
Two Kirpans show that the balance in every thingis most essential in the life. One of the two means that you need power to protect your faith. The other impresses on the need of authority to live with dignity and to face and curb all wrongs, as well as to help the needy - to use it for justice and Dharam (principles - protection of the faith). These two demonstrate the balance of life including that of the spiritual and mundane, and this make one a Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier).
In the symbol, two Kirpans might have been used for symmetry. Kirpan is an essential item of the Sikh-Reht (Bindings of the one inducted into the faith).
Is the pointed apex of the triangle (flag) a finger towards one God? May be, yes!
In the battle of Anandpur, 1703 AD, at the time of Guru Gobind Singh, Bhai Man Singh son of Bhai Jita Singh, who was a regular Nishanchi - Nishan-Sahib bearer, was leading the Sikh soldiers with a blue flag. He fell down wounded and the flag came down with him. Watching this, Guru Gobind Singh tore a piece from his blue Dastar (Short turban), left its one end free, tucked the other end into his regular (full) turban and declared that the standard of the Khalsa (Pharera) shall never fall again. Tying a Dastar to a Nishan Sahib started since then. Rarely, there are saffron Dastars (turbans) on some of the saffron Phareras (flags), but it is not the tradition. A Nihang leader displays a blue Pharera (length of cloth) tucked into his turban.
Now a days, it is not uncommon to see a metal frame around Khanda (Double edged sword) at the top, and an electric light fitted to it. On one pole, there was a weathercock fixed atop this frame. It is very common to put up loudspeakers on the pole. Even a light on the same pole should not be okay though it is very useful and may be accepted, but the other objects like loud speakers, appear sacrilegious. Such things are not in good taste, and distort the appearance of Nishan.
Nishan Sahib - The flagpole is mostly bamboo, except for the permanently fixed poles that are made of iron pipes. The present day metal poles are generally very tall to give direction from far away, to the faithful, and the needy. A pole may have a hinge at its lower end. The tall poles are held with the steel-rope stays. A pulley, bucket, and steel-rope is fixed to pole for changing the worn out flags. The flagpole is covered with the same-colored (saffron, or blue) cloth and it is stitched or tied to the flag and both of these make one unit.
The flags headed the armies, and also might have been put on the fighting vehicles like chariots as we see in the paintings of the episodes of Mahabharat or Ramayan (the great Hindu epics). Flags are there in the mythological and old historical paintings, too. It is hard to pinpoint the exact era of the start of the flags. There is no doubt these forms of flags kept evolving with time. Each faith has its own flag.
Nishan Sahib - the Sikh Flag. It is generally accepted that it came into being at the time of the 6th Guru Hargobind. In 1608 AD, he erected Akal Bunga (Also called Akal Takht - the Divine Throne), at Amritsar, and fixed a Jhanda (flag - Nishan Sahib) on it. Before this, the Gurus did not use flags. The flag was saffron and at top of the pole was sharp pointed spear-like Khanda. (Gurmatt Matand, SGPC, page 616. Jhanda Sahib, Mahakosh by Kahn Singh). Clearly, the Sixth Master hoisted one flag only and that too, at the top of the building. It was after him that two flags were fitted in the courtyard of Akal Takht. In 1862 AD, Udasi Sadhus Bawa Santokh Das and Pritam Das, set up two Nishan Sahibs close together, at Akal Takht. The one was for Akal Takht and the other for Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) - covering both politics and spirituality.
After the Guru came back to Amritsar, these Chaukis - flag carrying and singing processions, continued in the Parkarma (walkway) around the Golden temple. It was to express their humble thanks to the merciful Waheguru - the Lord, for the release of the Guru. This continues as a Sikh holy tradition. At that time, these marches added the political tinge to the religious flag. The Sixth Master introduced Nishan Sahib - a flag, as an identity, and assertion of the Sikhs. This was the active foundation for the liberty of the country from the grips of the foreigners - first landmark of an open struggle for independence.
The flag towards Akal Takht is one foot shorter than the other. It symbolizes that the temporal power should be under the control of the spiritual authority. Height of the two poles, has also been mentioned by Professor Darshan Singh, Ex. Singh-Sahib (Head) of Akal Takht, in one of his Kirtan (devotional singing) cassette. Dr. Madanjit Kaur, Ex. Head, Department of Guru Nanak Studies, and Dean of the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab, got the measurements taken with a sextant, and confirmed it. The photographs taken by Mr. Gurinder Singh Khokhar, supported this fact.
In the Gurbani (Hymns in Guru Granth Sahib - the Sikh Holy Book), the words like Dhuja, Jhanda, Neja, and Nisan, meaning a flag, have been used -
ijsu DIrju Duir Dvlu Dujw syiq bYkuMT bIxw ]
ijs DIrj Dur Dvl Dujw syiq bYkuMT bIxw ]
Jis dh:iraj dh:ur dh:awal dh:uja saet. baaekunth: been.a
(The Guru is such that) his banner of patience is visible right at the start of the bridge to God’s domain.
Svayae Mahlay T.eejae Kae-1393-16.
Puin DRMm Dujw PhrMiq sdw AG puMj qrMg invwrn kau ]
Pun Drm Dujw PhrMq sdw AG puMj qrMg invwrn kå ]
Phun dh:aram Dh:uja fahrant. sad.a agh aap punj t.arrang
And, his banner of righteousness flutters to ward off all the waves of sins.
Svayae Mahle Chauthae Kae-1404-6
kuil soFI gur rwmdws qnu Drm Djw Arjunu hir Bgqw ]We have to keep in the mind that the Hymns, also by the saints and others in the Sikh Holy Book, are in poetry and similes have freely been used by their authors. It is hard to conclude from these that the Gurus before Guru Hargobind had the flags, white or any other.
kuil soFI gur rwmdws qnu Drm Djw Arjunu hir Bgqw ]
Kul Sodhi Gur Ramd.as t.anu dh:aram dh:uja Arjun Har-e bhagt.a
In the clan of Guru Ramdas a Sodhi, is born Arjun who is the flag of devotion to God
Svayae Mahlae Panjvaen’ Kae-1407-16
In his article sent to the author, Mr. Gurbachan Singh, New Jersey, USA, wrote on the basis of Bhai Kahn Singh (Author, Maha-Kosh), that Guru Hargobind (!595 AD - 1644 AD) first hoisted saffron colored Nishan Sahib with the emblem of Khanda, at a village in the police station Phagwara, in the former Kapoorthala state. Detail of the reference was needed. Mr. Naunehal Singh Grewal, referred to the above, and wrote that it took 239 years for the Nishan Sahib to take its final shape by adding the Khanda symbol to it. It needed references.
Dr. Madanjit Kaur checked pictures of the coins and medals of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in an article on the symbols, medals, seals, and coins of the Maharaja, by Mr. Manmohan Singh, Secretary to the Government of India. He did not find a Khanda-symbol on anyone of them. Mr. Manmohan Singh, disclosed to Dr. M.S. Nirankari that two Sikh army flags in the British Museum at London, bore the symbol of Kartik - god of war (a peacock). It is clear that even in the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, this Khanda-symbol was most probably not in existence or in use.
In a personal talk, Dr. M.S. Nirankari referred to an English writer that the flags at the Golden Temple were red, and that on one was written Dhan Guru Ramdas and on the other, "Ik-Oankar Satgur-Parsad.”
Dr. Dilgir writes that Khanda-symbol came in the time of Nirmalas, the color of the flag was blue, the Khanda-symbol was yellow, and that the Khanda symbol was unanimously accepted by the Sikh Panth. References have not been given.
This Khanda-Chakkar-Kirpan symbol was perhaps designed for the Sikh army by the Britishers (Dr. .M.S. Nirankari and Dr. Madanjit Kaur). The photocopy of the two current Khanda-symbols used in the army, was sent to the author by Brig: Pal Singh, Sakchi, Jamshedpur, Bihar. One of it showed a Kirpan standing directly on top of a Chakkar. In the other, there was a lion inside a Chakkar.
The flag of Iran has a Khanda like emblem but it is calligraphic representation of the Kalma (Islamic religious formula).
Some people use the symbols of two crossed Nishan Sahibs or similarly placed two arrows, on their letter heads etc. The only popular symbol is Khanda-Chakkar-Kirpan. Another commonly used symbol is <> Ik-Oankar.
At the Gurdwara Sachkhand Hazoor Sahib, an arrow has a great significance. There, anything offered is sanctified (accepted by the Guru) by touching it with a steel arrow. The significance of an arrow-symbol might have arisen from there. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale carried a steel arrow, and some Nihangs also do so.
Making personal symbols looking like Khanda-Chakkar-Kirpan, may create confusion, and is not in a good taste. It is also, not reasonable to modify Ik-Onkar in any way. It should be fine to make any appropriate thing around these symbols.
Khanda symbol remains un-standardized. Khanda projects above the Chakkar, remains below it, or its tip stays covered by it. The grips of the Khanda and Kirpans also, have no set shape. The proportion of the sizes of the weapons differs, too. Some, like the Coat of Arms, add arrows or flags to the Khanda symbol.
A gently fluttering Nishan Sahib is a call to the needy, and to all those turned away and rejected by others, " Come on. You are most welcome. Here is food for you, a place to rest, and a devoted service without any discrimination of faith, caste, color, status, sex or country." (Saint Balwant Singh, Hassanpura Khurd, Batala). After staying there, in addition the guests will have the benefit of uplifting their minds with a bonus of listening to "Asa Dee Var." (Musical recitation of the Holy Hymns) - a morning routine in the Gurdwaras (Sant Balwant Singh).
Long time back, Sant Balwant Singh was traveling at night. Directed by the highest light of Nishan Sahib, he went to the Gurdwara. The Granthi (care-taker) offered him food, place to sleep, and massaged the feet of the saint. On questioning, he said, "You have come to the Guru Nanak`s house. See that Nishan Sahib! It calls and guarantees affectionate care, food and a place to rest" -
Jhooltae Nishan rahaena Panth Maharaj kaeNote - The author of "Jhoolte Nishan Rahaen..." is not known. It was a popular slogan at the time of Akali-Lehar (Akali movement).
May ever flutter banner of the Great Panth!
|Previous Chapter - Truth is Ever Constant||
Next Chapter - Hair