NISHĀN SĀHIB is the name for the tall Sikh flag which marks all gurdwārās and other religious premises of the Sikhs. Nishān is a Persian word with multiple meanings, one of these being a flag or standard. Sāhib, an Arabic word with the applied meaning of lord or master, is here used as an honorific. Thus Nishān Sāhib in the Sikh tradition means the holy flag or exalted ensign. A synonymous term is Jhaṇḍā Sāhib (jhaṇḍā also meaning a flag or banner). The Sikh pennant, made out of saffron-coloured, occasionally out of blue-coloured, mainly in the case of Nihaṅgs, cloth is triangular in shape, normally each of the two equal sides being double of the shorter one. The pennant is stitched to the mast sheath at the top which is also of the same cloth. On it is commonly printed or embroidered the Sikh emblem, comprising a khaṇḍā (two-edged sword) and chakra (an edged circular weapon, a disc or quoit) and two kirpāns which cross each other at the handles, with the blades flanking the chakra. Sometimes the flag would have inscribed on it Ik Oṅkār, term in the Mūl Mantra signifying the Supreme Reality. The flagstaff has a steel khaṇḍā fixed on the top of it. No size is laid down for the Nishan Sāhib. The two flags standing adjacent to each other betwixt the Harimandar and the Akāl Takht at Amritsar are approximately 40 metres high. Nishān Sāhib is hoisted either in the compound of a gurdwārā or on the top of the building itself. Sometimes there are two flags in a gurdwārā, one in the premises and the other atop the edifice.
Outside of gurdwārās, the Nishān Sāhib is seen carried at the head of Sikh processions. In such public marches which generally take place on religious occasions, five Sikhs, designated as Pañj Piāre, carry one each of the five Nishān Sāhibs in front of the palanquin in which the holy Gurū Granth Sāhib is seated. Sikh public congregations as often as not open with the flag-hoisting ceremony at which Nishān Sāhib is unfurled by an eminent member of the Panth. Earlier in the time of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and during the eighteenth century, the Sikh armies, when on the march or in the battlefield, had the Sikh standard carried in front by nishānchīs (standard-bearers). One of the Sikh misls, which in addition to being a fighting formation in its own right, perhaps provided nishānchīs to other misls, was for this reason named Nishānāṅvālī misl. In their ardās, routine supplicatory prayer, Sikhs daily, and in fact every time they pray individually or collectively, recall nishānāṅ dhāmāṅ dī kamāī, the grandeur of their flags and holy places, and supplicate: chaukīāṅ, jhaṇḍe, buṅge jugo jug aṭal (may our choirs, standards and citadels flourish forever).
The origin of the Nishān Sāhib is traced to the time of Gurū Hargobind who hoisted a flag over the Akāl Takht (or Akāl Buṅgā) at Amritsar as it was erected in 1606. The flag, the first of its kind in Sikh tradition was called Akāl Dhujā (the immortal flag) or Satgurū kā Nishān (standard of the true Gurū). The flag on the top of the Harimandar was first installed by Sardār Jhaṇḍā Siṅgh of the Bhāngī clan in 1771. In 1783, Udāsī Mahants Santokh Dās and Prītam Dās brought from ḍerā Rām Rāi (Dehrā Dūn) a tall sāl tree in one piece and using it as the flagpost raised a Nishān Sāhib in front of a buṅgā (a hospice or resting place) next to the Akāl Takht, whence this buṅgā acquired the name Jhaṇḍā Buṅgā. In 1820, Sardār Desā Siṅgh Majīṭhīā whom Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh had entrusted with the management of Darbār Sāhib, replaced the wooden flagpost with a steel one covered with gilded copper sheets. Later, a similar flagpost was also presented by the Mahārājā himself, but this was not erected till 1841 when the one installed by the Majīthīā sardār was damaged in a storm. Then the damaged flagpost was also got repaired and erected by Desā Siṅgh's son, Lahiṇā Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, and two Nishān Sāhibs of equal height have been flying in front of Jhaṇḍā Buṅgā since then. Both these flag posts were of solid iron. After it had been decided to widen the parikramā (circumambulatory terrace around the sarovar), the two Nishān Sāhibs were pulled out and refixed a few metres away from the former site in 1923. In 1962, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee replaced them with new ones of steel pipes similarly sheathed with gilded copper sheets so that electric cables leading to the lights on top could pass through them.