BHAGAUTĪ or Bhavānī (Skt. Bhagavatī, consort of Viṣṇu, or the goddess Durgā) has had in Sikh usage a chequered semantic history. In early Sikhism, especially in the compositions comprising the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the word means a bhakta or devotee of God. "So bhagautī jo bhagvantai jāṇai; he alone is a true devotee who knoweth the Lord" (GG, 88). In Bhāī Gurdās, bhagautī has been used as an equivalent of sword. "Nāu bhagautī lohu ghaṛāiā - iron (a lowly metal) when properly wrought becomes a (powerful) sword" (Vārāṅ, XXV. 6). It is in the compositions of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh contained in the Dasam Granth that the term began to assume connotations of wider significance. Reference may here be made especially to three poems by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh - Chaṇḍī Chritra Ukti Bilās and Chaṇḍī Chritra both in Braj and Vār Srī Bhagautī Jī Kī, popularly called Chaṇḍī dī Vār in Punjabi- describing the exploits of the Hindu goddess (Bhagavatī) Chaṇḍī or Durgā. Each of these compositions is a free translation of "Sapt Sati" (lit. seven hundred), meaning the epic comprising 700 ślokas, chapter xiv, sub-sections 81-94, of the classical Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa which describes the battle between the goddess and demons whom she vanquished to reinstall Indra, the king of gods, on his throne. The heroic odes in fact are among many pieces of Paurāṇic (mythological) literature that Gurū Gobind Siṅgh translated or got translated for the avowed purpose of instilling martial spirit among his Sikhs.
The title of Vār Srī Bhagautī Jī Kī, which has also been appropriated into Sikh ardās or supplicatory prayer, along with the first stanza runs as follows:
Ik oṅkār srī vāhigurū jī kī fateh
God is one -To Him belongs the victory
Srī bhagautī jī sahāe
May Srī Bhagautī Jī be always on our side
Vār Srī Bhāgautī Jī Kī Pātshāhī 10
The ode of Srī Bhagautī as sung by the Tenth Master.
The opening line of the Ode reads :
Pritham bhagautī simari kai gur nānak laīṅ dhiāi:
First call up Bhagautī in your mind, then
meditate on Gurū Nānak.
Here, the primacy accorded Srī Bhagautī Jī is obvious. This leads to the question why.
Bhagautī is, it appears, a multifaceted archetypal symbol employed by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh to fulfil a multiplicity of functions simultaneously. He perhaps wanted to complement the exclusive masculinity of the Divine image. Until then, God had in Sikhism as in other major traditions by and large a masculine connotation. He had been called Purakh implying masculinity. Although, at times, He had been addressed as mātā (mother) as well as pitā (father), almost all the names employed for him in Sikh Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib-Rām, Govind, Hari, Shiv, Allah, etc. --were only masculine names. To widen the conception Gurū Gobind Siṅgh may have chosen Bhagautī, a name with a clear feminine implication. It is significant that in the entire Hindu pantheon the warrior Bhagavatī, or Durgā, is the only goddess without a male spouse, thus symbolizing female independence, strength and valour. This derives further support from Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's autobiographical Bachitra Nāṭak wherein he designated God by a composite name Mahākāl-Kālikā (Māhākāl which is masculine is juxtaposed to Kālikā which is feminine). More specifically, what is really meant by Bhagautī (or its synonym Bhavānī) is made clear in the following verse of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh :
Soi bhavānī nām kahāī
Jin sagrī eh srishṭi upāī
The One who created this universe entire,
Came to be known as Bhavānī
Notwithstanding the fact that names of the deities from many diverse sources occur in the Sikh text, here they mix naturally shedding, after acculturation in the new religious and theological environs, their original nuances and proclaiming one and one identity alone, i. e. God the Singular Being. All other meanings and shades are subsumed into One Indivisible entity. The names Hari (originally Viṣṇu), Keshav (also an epithet of Viṣṇu-one with long hair), Dāmodar (Kṛṣṇa who had a rope tied around his belly), Murlī Manohar (also Kṛṣṇa, master of the melodious flute), Raghupati (Rāma, the Lord of Raghu dynasty), etc. , all came to signify in the Sikh vortex the unitary Godhead. The same applied to Bhagautī.
Says Gurū Gobind Siṅgh in the second stanza of this poem, Vār Srī Bhagautī Jī Kī, the following about Bhagautī :
Taihī durgā sāji kai daitā dā nāsu karāiā:
It was you who created Durgā to destroy the demons.
The line establishes beyond ambiguity the contextual meaning of bhagautī. Durgā could not be presumed to have created Durgā. She like all other gods and goddesses was indeed created by God Almighty.
The nomenclature seems to have been employed to smoothen the gender distinctions when referring to God.
The second archetypal significance of Bhagautī is linked to its other lexical meaning 'sword' as exemplified by Bhāī Gurdās. Bhagautī where prefixed with the honorific srī (lit. fortunate, graceful) signifies the Divine 'Sword'-the Power that brings about the evolution and devolution of the Universe.
In this kaleidoscopic universe, its Creator is immanent not in any static way. He is in all times and at all places dynamically protecting the good and destroying the evil (sant ubāran, dushṭ upāran). "Everywhere through the great perplexed universe, we can see the flashing of 'His Sword' !. . . and that must mean His nature uttering itself in His Own form of forces (Phillip Brooks). That Srī Bhagautī, the Divine Sword, symbolizes Divine Power is further borne out in the Ode itself when about Bhagautī it is said :
Khaṇḍā prithmai sāji kāi jin sabh saisāru upāiā
Brahmā bisan mahes sāji kudrati dā khelu rachāi baṇāiā
Sindh parbat medanī binu thammā gagani rahāiā
Creating first the Power of Destruction, who brought forth the whole universe,
Who raised the trinity of the gods, and spread the game of nature,
The Ocean, the mountains, the earth and the firmament without support who shaped. . .
The invocation to the Almighty through His image as the 'Divine Sword' as employed by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh purported again to instill the heroic spirit among his Sikhs, for :
Jehā sevai teho hovai
You become like the one you adore.
Here a question arises : What is the special significance of remembering God with the name of a weapon? God is Pure Existence (sat), Absolute-Essence (nam). Existence - Essence (sat-nām) is His primordial, archetypal, designation (GG, 1083). Whatsoever else is said to designate Him can only be symbolic. Though God is infinite, these symbols can only be finite. While the infinite includes the finite, it also transcends it. That is why every such symbol is not only affirmed by the symbolized but also negated at the same time. In the Sikh mystic lore, the prime symbol employed for God is the Word (nām). However, the other, even more structured symbol that Gurū Gobind Siṅgh introduced is 'the Sword' (Bhagautī). One might here ask : can a fragment of the finite symbolize infinite? The answer can be given in the affirmative for God being Pure Existence is immanent in everything that exists. Hence symbolization of God through a finite symbol 'Sword' is not only possible, but also, in a sense, true because it serves to symbolize Divine Power. Every mystic symbol is bipolar. On the one end it is in contact with the Infinite, at the other in contact with the finite. That is how it succeeds in fulfilling the symbolic function. Bhagautī is one such symbol as it is in its symbolic meaning of Divine Power, in contact with the Infinite, and in its concrete form, as a weapon, in contact with the finite. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh has consecrated not only the sword, but in fact a whole spectrum of weaponry :
As kripān khaṇḍo khaṛag tupak tabar aru tīr
Saif sarohī saihthī, yahai hamārai pīr :
The sword, the sabre, the scimitar, the axe, the musket, the shaft.
The rapier, the dagger, the spear: these indeed are our saints.
Remembering God through such heroic symbols was the exclusive style of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. Already in gurbāṇī, the theistic symbol of the Nigam (Vedic) tradition had been monotheized. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh chose to monotheize even the theistic symbols of the Āgam (Brāhmaṇic) tradition. Thus his was a process of the integration of the two great mystical traditions of India.
Finally, the word bhagautī stands for God or His devotee on the one hand (signifying pīrī), for the sword on the other (signifying mīrī). This integration of pīrī and mīrī in Bhagautī encapsulates another major dimension of Sikh thought.
Jaswant Siṅgh Nekī
Giānī Balwant Siṅgh