HUKAMNĀMĀ, a compound of two Persian words hukm, meaning command or order, and nāmah, meaning letter, refers in the Sikh tradition to letters sent by the Gurūs to their Sikhs or saṅgats in different parts of the country. Currently, the word applies to edicts issued from time to time from the five takhts or seats of high religious authority for the Sikhs -- the Akāl-Takht at Amritsar, Takht Srī Kesgaṛh at Anandpur Sāhib (Punjab), Takht Harimandar Sāhib at Paṭnā (Bihār), Takht Sachkhaṇḍ Srī Hazūr Sāhib at Nāndeḍ (Māhārāshṭrā) and Takht Damdamā Sāhib at Talvaṇḍī Sābo (in Baṭhiṇḍā district of the Punjab). Letters addressed to Sikhs by historical personages such as Bābā Gurdittā, the elder son of Gurū Hargobind, Mātā Sundarī and Mātā Sāhib Devī, widows of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, and Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur are also included in this genre. Some of the letters of the later Gurūs to saṅgats or prominent Sikhs have in recent years been traced and published in two collections, with most of the material common to both, the first entitled Hukamnāme, edited by Gaṇḍā Siṅgh (Paṭiālā, Punjabi University, 1967), and the second NĪsāṇ te Hukamnāme, edited by Shamsher Siṅgh Ashok (Amritsar, Sikh Itihās Research Board, Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, 1967) . A separate anthology of Gurū Tegh Bahādur's hukamnāmās, in Devanāgarī transcription and with an English translation, was published by Punjabi University, Paṭiālā, in 1976. All hukamnāmās were originally written in Punjabi, in Gurmukhī characters. Those of Gurū Hargobind as also most of Gurū Tegh Bahādur's are believed to have been written in their own hand. It appears, however, that in the time of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, the text was written by a scribe while the Gurū put down on the top of the letter an authentication mark, an invocation or some direction. There is a near uniformity in the format of the hukamnāmās. The earlier ones bore no date; from An 1691 onwards they were usually dated and also, at times, numbered. Later on, the practice of recording at the end of the text the number of lines in the body of the letters also came into vogue. The scribes began the text with the words, Srī Gurū Jī kī āgiā hai (It is the order of the revered Gurū, or the revered Gurū desires), preceded by the formula Ik Oṅkār Gurū Sati, later Ik Oṅkār Satigurū (Remember One God, the True Gurū) . Bāndā Siṅgh Bahādur (1670-1716), blessed by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh himself, introduced a seal in Persian script as authentication mark and recorded the initial formula to read as Ik Oṅkār Fateh Darsanu (God is One, Victory to (His) Presence), and the text began with Sache Sāhib dī āgiā hai (by order of the True Master) . Hukamnāmās of Mātā Sundarī begin with the words Srī Mātā Jī dī āgiā hai, and those of Mātā Sāhib Devī with Srī Akāl Purakh Jī kā Khālisā Srī Mātā Sāhib Devī Jī dī āgiā hai (Mātā Sāhib Devī's order to the Khālsā of the Timeless One) .
Apart from their importance to the Sikhs as the sacred remembrances of the Gurūs, the hukamnāmās are invaluable historical documents. Names of persons and places to which they are addressed provide clues to the composition, socially, of early Sikhism and its spread, geographically. One of the earliest huakamnāmās discovered is a missive addressed by Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644) to saṅgats at Paṭnā, Ālamgañj, Sherpur, Bīnā and Monghyr, in Bihār, and includes no fewer than 62 names of prominent Sikhs belonging to those communities. Hukamnāmās of Gurū Tegh Bahādur (1621-75) and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708) are addressed to saṅgats as far apart as Ḍhākā, Chiṭṭāgoṅg and Sylhet in the east and Paṭan, present-day Pākpaṭṭan, in Pakistan in the west. In addition to blessings from the Gurūs and acknowledgement of the devotees' gifts, these letters contain instructions for the followers to cultivate love and prayer as well as indications with regard to the offerings they might bring. The demands ranged from cash contribution in the form of gold or huṇdīs (bills of exchange) to pet birds, garments, weapons, cannons and war elephants. Sometimes these demands are written in abbreviated forms. The hukamnāmās which are dated help to fix the chronology of certain events. For instance, letters instructing Sikhs not to recognize masands, or tithe-collectors, but to bring their offerings directly to the Gurū on the occasions of Baisākhī and Dīvālī are all written during 1699 or later, confirming the abolition of the institution of masands Simultaneously with the creation of the Khālsā on 30 March 1699. The almost identical letters, both dated 1 Kārtik 1764 Bk/2 October 1707, while informing the saṅgats at Dhaul and Khārā of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's meeting with the Emperor (Bahādur Shāh), enjoined upon them to present themselves duly armed when the Gurū arrived in Kahlūr (Anandpur). This was not to be, for the Gurū passed away at Nāndeḍ, in the South, a year later, but the Gurū's intention of returning to the Punjab is clearly established. The hukamnāmās are important linguistically as well and provide crucial clues for tracing the development of the Gurmukhī script and Punjabi prose.