NADAR (Arabic nazar : glance, favourable regard, favour), implying Divine grace, is a concept central to Sikh religious tradition affirming its faith in a Transcendental Being responsive to human prayer and appeal for forgiveness and mercy. It reiterates at the same time a belief in the sovereignty of Divine Will (razā) overriding the law of karma which itself is a constituent of hukam, the all pervading and all-regulating Divine Law. From His Will flows grace which as the divine initiative leads the seeker to his ultimate destiny. It is postulated as the critical determinant in this process. In their holy utterances recorded in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the Gurūs have repeatedly stressed how indispensable is God's grace in one's spiritual quest and how in devotion and contemplation it be constantly solicited. Some other terms used to express the concept of nadar are prasād (graciousness, favour, mediation), kirpā (kṛpā: tenderness, favour, clemency), kirpā kaṭākh (kṛpā kaṭākṣa: glance or nod of grace), and dayā or taras (pity, mercy, compassion) drawn from Indian tradition. Others, drawn from Islamic tradition, particularly of Sūfī orientation, are karam (bounty, favour, grace), bakhshish or bakhshīsh (gift, grant, beneficence) and mihar (love, favour, mercy).

         Nadar implies a cosmic order wherein a law superior to the law of karma, i.e. ordained system of retribution, operates. In systems like the Sāṅkhya and Pūrva Mīmāṅsā and in creeds like Buddhism wherein karma is held supreme in determining and shaping destiny, the concept of nadar will have little relevance. It is in the theistic creeds, particularly those with attachment to devotionalism and with sensitiveness to cosmic mysteries that it takes priority as a principle overriding retribution. Within the traditional Indian religious thought, the concept of grace finds its strongest expression in the philosophy of Viśiṣṭādvaita (identity in difference) formulated by Rāmānuja. In Islamic tradition which describes Allah employing epithets such as rahmān and rahīm (merciful), karīm (beneficent, gracious), ghafūr (forgiving, clement), sattār (concealer of sins) and raūf (benign), karam and fazal are the words used for grace. In Christianity, too, the concept of grace is firmly established. But even in these creeds grace is not uncaused or an arbitrary favour, but is the result of good actions, devotion and complete surrender and submission of the self to the Universal Self. Yet the phenomenon is not unknown that of the many who tread the path of good actions and devotion and strive to grasp the Ultimate Truth, only a few in fact lay hold on it. As says Gurū Nānak :tere darsan kau ketī, bilalāi virlā ko chīnasi gur sabadi milāi — many there be who long for Thy vision; but few encounter and perceive the Gurū's Word (GG, 1188).

         In the Sikh system the doctrine of nadar is juxtaposed to that of karma.Karma is certainly important in that it will determine a favourable or unfavourable birth. At times the theory seems to receive support in the Sikh scriptures that those who in their previous existences have lived lives of relative merit acquire thereby a faculty of perception which enables them to recognize the Gurū. But the total order of creation visualized in Sikhism, besides acording a necessary place to karma as far as the initial perception of the Word is concerned, specifies mercy or grace as the ultimate arbiter. It is finally through nadar that the initial desire for liberation is roused as well as opportunity to lay hold on the means of liberation is obtained. In a significant line in the Japu, Gurū Nānak contrasts the two, karma and nadar. karamī āvai kapaṛā nadarī mokhu duāru—karma determines the nature of our birth, but grace alone reveals the door to liberation (GG, 2). Nadar is the basic and primal factor even in prompting the human self (jīvātman) to devotion. Says Gurū Arjan: jā kau kīrapā karahu prabh tā kau lāvahu sev— whomsoever Thou favourest, O Lord, him Thou putest in the path of devotion (GG, 814). And, again, it is through God's grace that the seeker reaches his goal: gur parsādī hari pāīai matu ko bharami bhulāhi—through Divine grace is union with God attained, let no one linger in doubt about this (GG, 936).

         Just why Akāl-Purakh should show mercy or grace in this manner is a matter which must remain a mystery. Mankind 's understanding of the Divine Order will not provide an explanation for the fact that the prerequisite perception is awakened in some, whereas others remain bereft of it. There is a point beyond which the human understanding cannot proceed, and the giving or withholding of such perception is an issue which lies beyond that point. Akāl-Purakh confers this awareness of nām, śabda and hukam, through His sovereign Will (razā) and Grace (nadar), freely and openly bestowed, yet not upon all seekers. The ability to find the True Gurū, to hear to the Gurū's voice (śabda) and to respond to it comes to some by Akāl Purakh's gift of mercy. Were He to withhold it, there is nothing a man can do. Without this gift of initial perception, without a divine stirring, the Gurū will not be heeded and the divine Name remains unrecognized. There is, however, no cause for fatalism and despair. Sovereignty of the Divine Will notwithstanding, Gurū Nānak points to the path to divine favour. One is to be content in His Will and to cleanse the mind with a view to deserving and receiving His Grace, if and when bestowed. Resorting to the imagery of curd-making for which the vessel must be thoroughly washed, the Gurū affirms at the opening of Rāga Sūhī: bhāṇḍā dhoi baisi dhūpu devahu tau dūdhai kau jāvahu — wash the vessel, purify it with incense, only then proceed to receive the milk (GG, 728). Another helpful way is that of sukrit (right action) which has a lasting effect. Says Gurū Nānak: "Listen, listen to our advice, O my mind, it is the right action that will last; and there may not be another chance" (GG, 154-55). At another place, he says: "Everyone desires, but whether one will be fortunate enough to achieve depends upon karam " (GG, 157). The use of the term karam raises a kind of ambiguity. Karam as spelt and pronounced in Punjabi may mean either the Sanskrit karma (action) or its resultant karam of Punjabi meaning fate or destiny, or it may mean the Persian karam (grace, favour). In any case, the doctrine in Sikhism is that nadar is most likely to descend on one who engages in good actions. Another way to earn grace is ardās, prayer and supplication in extreme humility, self-abnegation and self-surrender to Divine Will. Such humility of spirit is the basis on which the spiritual and ethical life pleasing to God may be built, and grace obtained. In a nutshell, Divine favour (nadar) prompting the self to prayer and devotion may possibly be won through humble supplication and through cultivation of virtue and right action.


  1. Śabadarth Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib . Amritsar, 1969
  2. Avtar Siṅgh, Ethics of the Sikhs . Patiala, 1970
  3. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism . Lahore, 1944
  4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition . Delhi, 1990
  5. Wazir Siṅgh, Philosophy of Sikh Religion . Delhi, 1981
  6. Harned, David Baīly, Grace and Common Life . Patiala, 1970

Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib