DEG TEGH FATEH, a Sikh saying which literally means victory (fateh) to kettle (deg) and sword (tegh). All the three words have been taken from Persian which was the State language in the formative period of Sikhism. The word deg, i. e. a large sized kettle or cauldron having a wide mouth, which in the Muslim Sūfi tradition signified charitable distribution of cooked food, also called laṅgar, has here acquired an expanded meaning. While retaining its literal meaning, it has come to stand in the Sikh tradition for the ideal of public welfare or general benevolence or munificence. Gurū Nānak in one of his hymns, likens the Earth to a deg from which sustenance is received by all living beings (GG, 1190). Similarly, tegh has also acquired a wider connotation and has been used in the Sikh tradition as a symbol for chatisement of the evil and protection of the good. As Gurū Hargobind is said to have told a Mahārāshṭrian saint, Rām Dās, during their meeting at Srīnagar (Gaṛhvāl), the tegh is for garīb kī rakhiā (defence of the weak) and jarvāṇe kī bhakkhiā (destruction of the aggressor). Gurū Gobind Siṅgh identified the tegh or sword with the Lord Creator and thereby gave it a still deeper meaning. He addressed it as Bhagautī (goddess), Srī Khaṛāg (Lord Sword), Jag Kāran (Creator of the World) and Srīsṭi Ubāran (Saviour of the Creation), besides reiterating its role as protector of the good (sukh santāṅ karṇaṅ) and destroyer of the evil (durmati darṇaṅ). The two ideals of deg and tegh supplemented each other. In a supplicatory passage in his Krishnāvtār Gurū Gobind Siṅgh says: "Deg teg jag mai doū chalai-deg and tegh both prevail in the world. " In Charitropākhyān, deg and tegh (charity and valour) constitute a composite virtue that was the characteristic of the heroes of yore (Charitra 200. 1; 272. 3; 307. 2).
When Sikhs passing through a period of fierce persecution established their power in the Punjab, this maxim was adopted as an ideal for the Khālsā State and imprinted on their seals, coins and banners. The term fateh added to deg and tegh was the expression of Sikhs' belief that the use of tegh (in the last resort, as permitted by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh), with the ideal of deg or charity steadfastly cherished, must lead to fateh or victory. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had introduced the salutation "Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā, Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh, " ascribing victory to God. The Khālsā affirmed through this slogan that victory, a gift from God, followed the use of tegh in a righteous cause and adherence to the principle of magnanimity (deg) - deg, tegh, fateh. Bandā Siṅgh who first occupied territory, had a Persian inscription on his seal which, rendered into English, read: "Kettle and Sword (symbols of charity and power) and Victory and Ready Patronage have been obtained through the grace of Gurū Nānak-Gobind Siṅgh" Here tegh (sword) is used as a symbol of victory over tyranny and deg (kettle) as a symbol of ready patronage (welfare) for the good. Both being gifts from the Gurūs constituted the governing principles of the polity of the new State. The same Persian inscription incorporating the Sikh ideal of Deg Tegh Fateh was reproduced on the coin introduced by Sardār Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā in 1765 after the Khālsā had gained a decisive victory over the Afghāns. The practice continued during the time of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, the first Sikh sovereign of the Punjab as well as in some of the cis-Sutlej Sikh states which had accepted British suzerainty.
Over the centuries the principle of Deg Tegh Fateh has taken a firm root in Sikh psyche and tradition. The maxim has become part of the Sikh ardās, prayer which is recited at the end of all Sikh services. Every time when the ardās is offered, blessings of the Lord are invoked for the triumph of the ideal of deg and tegh. In the ardās Sikhs also recall their past heroes: "They who dwelt on His Name, ate only after sharing their victuals with others, maintained the deg and wielded the tegh and sacrificed their lives for the sake of dharma, remember them, Khālsā Jī and proclaim Vāhigurū. . . . "