AKĀL, lit. timeless, immortal, non-temporal, is a term integral to Sikh tradition and philosophy. It is extensively used in the Dasam Granth hymns by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, where in one of his poetic compositions is know asAkāl Ustati, i. e. In Praise (ustati) of the Timeless One (akāl). However, the concept of Akāl is not peculiar to the Dasam Granth. It goes back to the very origins of the Sikh faith. Gurū Nānak used the term in the Mūl Mantra, the fundamental creedal statement in the Japu, the first composition in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The term also occurs in Gurū Rām Dās, Nānak IV, who uses it in conjunction with mūrat in Sirī Rāga chhants (GG, 78) and in conjunction with purakh in Gauṛī Pūrabī Karhale (GG, 235). The term occurs more frequently in Gurū Arjan's bāṇī (e. g. GG, 99, 609, 916, 1079 and 1082). We encounter the use of the term akālin Kabīr as well.
It may be noted that the term akāl has been used in Gurbāṇī in two forms : (a) as a qualifier or adjective, and (b) as a substantive. In the expression akāl mūrati, the first part is often treated as a qualifier, even though some interpreters take the two words as independent units, viz. akāl and mūrati. In the Mārū Rāga Kāl and Akāl have been clearly used as substantives by Gurū Arjan and Kabīr. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh more often than not treats the expression as a noun. Akāl Ustati is the praise of Akāl and "Hail, O Akāl, Hail, O Kirpāl!" of Jāpu also takes the related expressions as substantives. The meaning of Akāl in this context is 'timeless', 'non-temporal', deathless', 'not governed by temporal process', or 'not subject to birth, decay and death'. This appears to be negative coining in each case. But the intent is affirmative. Akāl as deathless or non-temporal implies everlasting reality, eternal being, or Transcendent Spirit; it further implies Eternity, Being, or Essence. The linguistic form may be negative, but the semantic implication is unmistakably affirmative.
Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, in his Jāpu in the Dasam Granth, has designated the Supreme Reality Akāl. It is the same Reality that was given the epithet of sati in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. 'Sati' is the primordial name of the Eternal Being (GG, 1083). All the names that we utter in respect of God are functional or attributive names. The basic reality is nameless, in Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's terminology anāma. But even the Nameless can serve as a name. When we say Brahman is featureless, 'featurelessness' becomes its feature. Niraṅkār (Formless) is a name, and so are other epithets so coined. To signify what they regard as the Eternal Spirit, beyond the pale of time, temporality or cosmic processes, the Gurūs have chosen the terms sati and akāl. Vāhigurū is a positive saguṇa substitute for the negative nirguṇa term Akāl.
Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's bāṇī is a repository of concepts and terms, especially of the epithets relating to 'time'. Besides Kāl and Akāl, he uses Mahā Kāl (macro-time) and Sarb-Kāl (all-time) to indicate a Being above and beyond the eventful times of the universe. For him, Kāl itself is a dimension of Akāl, the only difference being the process that characterizes temporal events, and the eternality of Akāl. Every occurrence or event has a beginning and an end, each event is a link in the on-going process of Time. The cosmic drama or the wondrous show of the world is all a creation of Time. The power of Time controls worldly events; the only entity independent of time is Time itself, and that is Akāl, the Timeless One. That is how God is both Time and Timeless in Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's bāṇī. The temporal aspect of Time is the immanent aspect, the presence of Spiritual Essence in each worldly occurrence. It is the personality of the Supreme, the chit or consciousness of sat-chit-anand. The other, transcendent aspect, is the Eternal, the Beyond, the Inexpressible, the Fathomless, Nirguṇa Brahman, assigned the name Akāl, the Timeless One or the One-beyond-Time.
Akāl is not a fixed, unmoving substance, but the dynamic spiritual principle of the entire cosmic existence. The phenomenal world emanates from Spirit, and the Spirit permeates the world. Akāl in Sikh weltanschauung is not mere consciousness, blank and void, but is the Creative Spirit, as the expression Kartā Purakh implies. In other words, creativity is the core of Akāl. And it is creativity that is manifest in the dimension of Kāl. Acting through Time, the Timeless One creates worlds and beings of the worlds. It is through creativity that the Timeless One transforms itself from nirguṇ to sarguṇ, from the aphur state into saphur state, from the pre-creation sunn, or dormant essence, into cosmic existence.
The creativity of Akāl is not confined to the timeless and temporal aspects of the Supreme. Through its sarguṇ facet the nirguṇ assumes the character of the Divine, of the gracious God, the loving Lord or Prabhu of the devotees. From 'It' the Ultimate becomes 'He', the person with whom communication is sought and established. From 'Akāl', He becomes 'Srī-Akāl'. The Sikh slogan and popular form of greeting Sati Srī Akāl sums up the concept that the timeless Being is the singular Eternal Reality. The phrase combines the concepts of Sati and Akāl, implying that the Eternal and the Timeless are one; Sati itself is the Everlasting Lord beyond-Time. Thus, the creative essence turns the metaphysical Being into active principle of the world, into conscious Power involved in the cosmic process, into Hero or Master of the world, cherishing His creation with benign joy. Being the beneficent Lord, He lends some of His creativity to the created beings. Humanity draws its creativity and creative energy from the Divine reservoir of creativity.
Valour and heroism are pronounced characteristics of the Sikh tradition. The Akāl of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh is All Steel (Sarb-Loh), symbolically applauding valour. Gurū Nānak had applied the epithet of Jodhā-Māhābalī-Sūrmā to the valiant in Japu, 27 (GG, 6). Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, Nānak X, expresses His creativities with terms such as Sarb-Kāl (Jāpu, 19, 20, ), Sarb-Dayāl (Jāpu, 19, 23, 28), Sarb-Pāl (Jāpu, 28, 45). He calls Him Glorious and great, Super-form, Yogī of yogīs, Moon of moons, Melody of melodies, Rhythm of the dance, Liquidity of waters, Movement of the winds. He is Akāl as well as Kripāl, the Compassionate Lord. In fact, the whole composition of Jāpu, with its wide range of attributive names for the Timeless Being focusses on the Akāl-Kripāl unipolarity. The Impersonal appears through all persons, the Timeless encompasses all temporal beings emanating from His Essence. He transcends the human world, yet He is full of compassion for all. His timeless essence permeates the temporal existence.
The concept of Akāl, central to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's Jāpu has percolated to the social, political and cultural aspects of Sikh life. Inspired by its theme, they call the Gurūs' bāṇī, Akālī Bāṇī. The political wing of the community is known as Akālī Dal. The slogan Sati Srī Akāl has become a form of greeting for the Punjabis in general. The process had been initiated much earlier, half a century before the advent of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh on the scene. The Sixth Gurū, Gurū Hargobind, had already identified the throne built at Amritsar as Akāl Takht--the Throne of the Timeless One.