BOLE SO NIHĀL, SATI SRĪ AKĀL is the Sikh slogan or jaikārā (lit. shout of victory, triumph or exultation). It is divided in two parts or phrases. The first, bole so nihāl or jo bole so nihāl, is a statement meaning "whoever utters (the phrase following) shall be happy, shall be fulfilled, " and the second part sati srī akāl (Eternal is the Holy/Great Timeless Lord). This jaikārā, first popularized by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, Nānak X, has become, besides being a popular mode of expressing ebullient religious fervour or a mood of joy and celebration, an integral part of Sikh liturgy and is shouted at the end of ardās or prayer, said in saṅgat or holy congregation. One of the Sikhs in the saṅgat, particularly the one leading ardās, shouts the first phrase, jo bole so nihāl, in response to which the entire congregation, including in most cases the leading Sikh himself utter in unison sati srī akāl in a long-drawn full-throated shout. The jaikārā or slogan aptly expresses the Sikh belief that all victory (jaya or jai) belongs to God, Vāhigurū, a belief that is also expressed in the Sikh salutation Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā, Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh (Khālsā is of God and to God belongs the victory, or Hail the Gurū's Khālsā! Hail the Gurū's victory!!) In their hour of triumph, therefore, the Sikhs remember sati srī akālinstead of exulting in their own valour.
Traditionally, the slogan or war-cry expressing communal fervour and assent to or enthusiasm for a cause, sat srī akāl has been so used through the three hundred year old history of the Sikh people, since the creation of the Khālsā. In a normal situation when two Sikhs meet, they exchange greetings pronouncing Sat Srī Akāl thus pointing out the glory of God to each other. Although as a salutation it is by now the established form of Sikh greeting, it does not have the sanction of history or orthodoxy. Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā Vahīgurū jī kī Fateh, the other form of salutation, is generally used only by people punctilious in the observance of proper form. Those addressing a Sikh religious congregation will, as a rule, greet the audience with the salutation, Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh. Sat Srī Akāl shouted in unison responding to the call jo bole so nihāl (whoever so pronounces shall prosper) is a call to action, or expression of ecstatic joy or an invocation for Divine aid or succour. While sat or sati (Sanskrit satya) means 'true', 'good', 'abiding', 'real' and 'eternal', srī is an honorific denoting beauty, glory, grace or majesty. Sati has the sanction of Gurū Nānak's Mūl Mantra in the Japu where after Ik Oṅkār, it appears as a constituent of Satināmu (Reality Eternal). Akāl also occurs in Mūl Mantra in the phrase Akāl Mūrati (Form Eternal), descriptive of the Absolute.
Akāl as the Divine name appealed particularly to Gurū Gobind Singh as his philosophical vision of the cosmos and the human life centred around this concept. Akāl means 'Timeless' or 'Transcending Time. ' Time being the consuming element, making for birth, decay and death, in Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's vision the most essential attribute lying at the core of human conception of the Divine is Its timeless quality. Kāl is Sanskrit for time and in common parlance stands for death - more precisely, the inevitable hour of death. Fear being fear of death basically, in Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's metaphysical thinking and moral philosophy, to make the Timeless the centre of one's faith is the way to banish fear and to make heroes of ordinary mortals. Consequently, the inevitability of death and the futility of fear are among the principal themes of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's teaching. In his compositions there are several verbal formations from kāl (time) which express his vision. God is Sarab Kāl (Lord of All-Time), Akāl-Purakh (the Eternal Pervasive Reality) and has all the attributes arising from His quality of Timelessness. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's principal composition of adoration is entitled Akāl Ustati (Laudation of the Timeless). In places, the Gurū has identified God with Time or All-Time, that is eternity. The opening line of one of his hymns reads : keval kāl ī kartār (the All-Time, i. e. the Eternal alone is the Creator). This by implication repudiates the claim of Brahmā, one aspect of the Hindu trinity or of other deities, to be the true creator.
Akāl occurs at four places in the Vārāṅ of Bhāī Gurdās. In each context it conveys the sense of God the Eternal, Timeless. By the time of Bhāī Gurdās, whose active life spanned the periods of Gurū Arjan and Gurū Hargobind, this term was familiar and well-established in the Sikh tradition, and consequently when Gurū Gobind Siṅgh picked it out to make it the vehicle for expressing his deepest inspiration, he was only enriching a concept already a constituent of the philosophical milieu of the Sikh people.
As reported by the royal news writer, when in 1699 the new initiation by amrit was introduced by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, for days afterwards the whole atmosphere around Anandpur, the venue of the baptismal ceremonies, was resounding with cries of Akāl, Akāl. This referred to the shouts of Sat Srī Akāl incessantly raised by the converts to the Khālsā faith filled with new fervour. In subsequent times, after the Sikhs acquired political power in the Punjab, the seal of the Sikh chiefs would bear the inscription, Akāl Sahāi (Akāl be our Succourer). The most militant section of the Sikh crusaders, the Nihaṅgs were called Akālīs (followers of Akāl). During the early 1920's, when the Sikh people were fired with a new reformist and patriotic zeal, the party spearheading these programmes took to itself the name Akālī, which is politically still a viable term.
The Sikh form of greeting or salutation has its individual significance and character. It is different from the Islamic salutation in which blessings of peace are sought for each other (salām 'alaikum, wa'alaikum salām). It is distinct also from Indian greetings (namaste or namaskār) which aim at paying homage or respects to the person addressed. The Sikh greeting exchanged with folded hands on either side in mutual courtesy and respect is essentially an utterance of laudation to the Timeless and an expression of faith in human unity and dignity.
Over the years, the boundaries between the Sikh slogan and Sikh greeting have become interlocked. Sat srī akāl which is part of the Sikh slogan is now the general form of Sikh greeting. This has usurped the place of the more formal and proper salutation which also carries the sanction of Sikh theological postulates, i. e. Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh. The Sikh mode of salutation has gone through a long drawn process of evolution. The earliest form of Sikh salutation was Pairīṅ Pauṇā. In one of the life accounts of Gurū Nānak known as Ādi Sākhīāṅ, the injunction is said to have come down from the Almighty Himself. One day, it is recorded, the Formless (Niraṅkār) called Bābā Nānak into His presence and said :
Nānak, I am greatly pleased with you. . . Listen Nānak. I do, hereby, ordain a separate Order of yours. In the Kaliyug I shall be known as the True Lord and you as the Preceptor Lord. . . And, I bless you with a unique Order. The greeting of your order shall be Pairī Pauṇā (I bow at your feet), whereas the greeting of the Vaiṣṇavas shall be Rām Kishan, of the Sannyāsīs, Om Namo Nārāyaṇaya, of the Yogīs, Ādeśa, and of the Muhammdans, Salām 'Alaikum.
But O Nānak, all those who come into your fold, shall greet one another with pairī pauṇā, the reply in each case being Satgurū Ko pairī Pauṇā.
This quotation is from a seventeenth century compilation. We have still an earlier testimony vouchsafing that in the early days of Sikhism, the Sikhs had, as their greeting, Pairī Pauṇā and the practice of touching each other's feet. Bhāī Gurdās, a contemporary of the Fifth and Sixth Gurūs, mentions the practice of pairī pauṇā, i. e. touching the feet, in very clear terms. He writes :
(In the Court of Gurū Nānak)
The Ruler and the pauper were equal. He brought into vogue the practice of bowing at each other's feet.
What a wonderful feat the Beloved wrought !
Lo, the head bows at the feet.
Do not give up the practice of bowing at others' feet. For in the Kaliyug this is the path.
A Sikh should adopt the practice of bowing at another's feet; He should listen to the advice of the (other)
Gursikh, and ponder over what he says.
These examples can be multiplied and even supplemented with sākhīs (stories) from the Purātan Janam Sākhī and even from the Janam Sākhī of Gurū Nānak by Miharbān. Both these life accounts contain numerous stories to show the prevalence of this form of greeting at an early stage of the evolution of the Sikh Panth.
In the Bālā Janam Sākhī occurs a different form of greeting. Instead of Pairī Pauṇā of the Purātan cycle and of the Miharbān tradition, we have here, Kartār Kartār (Creator! Creator!) meaning let us bow to the Lord, and Sat Kartār (Creator is True). This, we are told, was anterior to the former. Even Miharbān himself writes :
At that time whosoever of the Sikhs came, he did not greet others with the word, Pairī Pae Jī nor would the addressee say, Satgurū Ko Pairī Pauṇā. On the contrary, whosoever came, he would greet others saying, "Kartār, Kartār, O' Sikhs of the Gurū, Kartār, Kartār. " All the Sikhs who came to Gurū Nānak, too greeted him saying, "Kartār, Kartār. " The congregation was known as the Kartārīs.
Supporting evidence may be found in Gurū Nānak naming the town he raised on the bank of the River Rāvī, Kartārpur. Besides, we have the testimony of Zulfikār Ardistānī author of the famous Persian work Dabistān-i-Mazāhib. He lived during the time of the Sixth Gurū. He has left us a graphic account of Nānak-panthīs or Sikhs of his time. He records in his book that the followers of Gurū Nānak were known as Kartārīs. This obviously refers to their practice of repeating Kartār Kartār on meeting each other.
So Kartār Kartār is the first form of greeting which became prevalent in Sikhism. It was, however, soon replaced with Pairī Pauṇā. It is recorded in Ādi Sākhīāṅ that when Bhāī Lahiṇā came from Gurū Nānak back to Mate dī Sarāi, Takht Mall, a close associate of Bhāī Lahiṇā, came to see him. Bhāī Lahiṇā, who had by now become Gurū Aṅgad, wanted to receive him with an embrace. But Takht Mall avoided this saying, "You are back from a place of great reverence. I stand to gain by bowing at your feet (and not hugging). " This probably was the beginning of the new form of greeting. And, the practice spread. It touched its zenith at Amritsar, the town founded by Gurū Rām Dās. The Gurū had encouraged people from all castes, high and low, and from all classes, to come and settle in the new town. All of them greeted each other with Pairī Pauṇā and touched one another's feet. This practice continued for a long time; and even today it is not unlikely that one would be greeted by an old citizen with the words Pairī Pauṇā Jī, rāzī ho" (I bow at your feet, Sir, how do you do ?).
The next vital change occurred when the Tenth Gurū created the Khālsā. Since Gurū Gobind Siṅgh wanted a complete transformation of Sikh society, he ordered the overhauling of two fundamental institutions of the Sikhs. The first was the substitution of Khaṇḍe dī Pāhul for Charan Pāhul and the second was the substitution of Vāhigurū Jī Kā Khālsā Vāhigurū Jī Kī Fateh for Pairī Pauṇā. Sarūp Dās Bhallā, Mahimā Prakāsh, describes the end of the custom of the Charan Pāhul graphically in the following verse :
The Gurū collected the washings of his feet in a jar,
Sealed its mouth with wax,
And consigned it to the River Sutlej
In its place he now ordained Khaṇḍe dī Pāhul
Thus, the practice of administering Charan Pāhul was discarded and along with it was discarded the former mode of greeting, Pairī Pauṇā. In its place the Panth was now given a new salutation, a new form of greeting, Vāhiguru Jī Kā Khālsā Vāhigurū Jī Ki Fateh (Khālsā belongs to God, and to Him alone belongs the Victory).
The proper salutation for the Khālsā - Vāhigurū Jī Kā Khālsā Vāhigurū Jī Ki Fateh - was made current among the Sikhs by command of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh at the time of manifestation of the Khālsā in 1699. Vāhigurū (also spelt Vāhgurū) is expressive of wonder or ecstasy at Divine infinitude or glory. Vāhigurū has become the most characteristic name for God in the Sikh creed, like Allah in Islam. It occurs in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (Savaiyyās by Bhaṭṭ Gayand p. 1402) repeated ecstatically as a mantra. In the compositions of Gurū Arjan (GG, 376), it is used in the inverted form as Gur Vāhu. Bhāī Gurdās in his Vārāṅ has used it as being synonymous with the absolute, the Creator in a number of places (I. 49, IV. 17, VI. 5, IX. 13, XI. 3 and 8, XII. 17, XIII. 2, XXIV. 1, XL. 22). This prolific use by one whose philosophical exposition of Sikh metaphysics and mysticism is the earliest on record indicates that by the time of Gurū Arjan (the Savaiyyās referred to above were also composed by poets, Bhaṭṭs, attending on him) Vāhigurū as the Sikh name for God was well established and had acquired the overtones which have since been associated with it as expression of the Sikh monotheistic affirmation of faith.
Because of this close and inalienable association, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, at the time of introducing the new form of initiation with adjuration to the initiates to maintain a stern moral discipline and to cultivate qualities of crusaders and martyrs for the faith, administered the new faith in terms of the name of God which was held in the highest reverence in the tradition handed down to him. The new form of salutation, which annulled all the previous ones till then prevalent in Sikh society, was enunciation as Vāhigurū Jī Kā Khālsā Vāhigurū Jī Ki Fateh-the Khālsā is the Lord's own : to the Lord is the Victory. This two-fold affirmation was, in the first place, expression of a special relationship between God and those who dedicated their entire life to His service. Second, it was the expression of that faith in the ultimate triumph of the forces of goodness which, despite all apparent setbacks, trials and travail, is the just and essential end of the fight between good and evil in the world. This faith has been asserted over and over again by Gurū Nānak and his spiritual successors. After being administered amrit (water stirred with a two-edged dagger, sanctified by recitation of the Gurū's word and thus transmuted into the elixir of immortality), each initiate was adjured to raise the affirmation, Vāhigurū Jī Kā Khālsā Vāhigurū Jī Kī Fateh ! This was duly repeated, and the tradition continues till this day. Apart from being used as the affirmation of faith, this formula is also the orthodox approved Sikh form of salutation.
Two terms in this formula need elucidation. Khālsā is an Arabic word, meaning, literally, 'pure' and used in the administration terminology of the Muslim State system in India for lands or fiefs directly held by the sovereign and not farmed out to landlords on conditions of military service and of making over to the State a share of the produce. In the term Khālsā, both these meanings are discerned. In one of Gurū Hargobind's Hukamnāmās and in one of Gurū Tegh Bahādur's, Khālsā is used for the Gurū's devotees, with the implication particularly as 'the Gurū's Own !' As Gurū Gobind Siṅgh adopted the term and gave it centrality in the enunciation of the creed, the idea of purity perhaps came to acquire primacy. Khālsā occurs also in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (GG, 654), where it is used in the sense of 'pure', 'emancipated. ' This term appealed to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh as being truly expressive of the vision of a noble, heroic race of men that he was creating.
Fateh, fatḥ in Arabic, literally means opening or forcing the portal of a besieged fort, implying victory. It has been used in the Qur'ān in the sense of victory, and one of the attributive names of God in the Muslim tradition is Fātih (lit. Opener, i. e. Vanquisher over all evil forces). While jai, jaikār have been used in the Sikh tradition for victory and are used thus even in the Dasam Granth, jai was dropped from the new Sikh tradition, though for shouts of victory the term jaikārā has become firmly established. Fateh was adopted as the current popular term for triumph or victory and made part of the Sikh affirmation and salutation. Fateh as fatih occurs once in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (GG, 258). "Phāhe kāṭe miṭe gavan fatih bhaī mani jīt - the noose of Yama hath been cleft, transmigration hath ceased and, with the conquest of the self, true victory hath been achieved. " The implied meaning here is of a moral victory. Jīt, a word from Indian tradition, like jaikārā had got established also in Sikh tradition, and in the invocation Panth kī Jīt (Victory to the Panth) is repeated in the Sikh congregational prayer daily. Fateh nonetheless remains the prime Sikh term for victory, and has been repeated again and again in Sikh history, down from the Persian couplet put on Sikh coins (Deg-o-Tegh-o-Fateh-e-nusrat bedaraṅg, yāft az Nānak Gurū Gobind Siṅgh) to the common daily parlance of the Sikh people, wherein every success is designated as fateh.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib