PAÑJ PIĀRE (lit. the five beloved), name given to the five Sikhs, Bhāī Dayā Siṅgh, Bhāī Dharam Siṅgh, Bhāī Himmat Siṅgh, Bhāī Muhkam Siṅgh and Bhāī Sāhib Siṅgh, who were so designated by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh at the historic dīvān at Anandpur Sāhib on 30-March 1699 and who formed the nucleus of the Khālsā as the first batch to receive at his hands Khaṇḍe dī pahūl i.e. rites of the two-edged sword.
In Sikh theology, as in the Indian classical tradition generally, pañj or pañch, the numeral five, has a special significance. Gurū Nānak in Japu refers to five khaṇḍs, i.e. stages or steps in spiritual development, and calls a spiritually awakened person a pañch. The ancient Indian socio-political institution pañchāyat meant a council of five elders. Something like an inner council of five existed even in the time of the earlier Gurūs : five Sikhs accompanied Gurū Arjan on his last journey to Lahore; the five were each given 100 armed Sikhs to command by his successor, Gurū Hargobind; Gurū Tegh Bahādur, set out on his journey to Delhi to court execution attended by five Sikhs.
Until the Baisākhī of AD 1699, Sikh initiation ceremony, charan pāhul, comprised the administering of charanāmrīt or charanodak to the novitiate. As Bhāī Gurdās, Vārāṅ, 1.23, records, this was the practice Gurū Nānak introduced for the Sikhs. At the ceremony the novitiate quaffed water poured over the foot of the Gurū and vowed to follow the religious and moral injunctions as well as the code of communal conduct laid down. Later, masands or local leaders, specially authorized by the Gurūs, also administered charan pāhul. According to Kesar Siṅgh Chhibbar, Bansāvālīnāmā, a modification was introduced in the time of Gurū Hargobind when water, poured over the toe of the right foot of each of the five chosen Sikhs assembled in a dharamsāl, was received in a bowl and administered to the seekers after ardās or supplicatory prayer.
Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, who had abolished the institution of masands replaced charan pāhul with khaṇḍe dī pāhul. He summoned a special assembly in the Kesgaṛh Fort at Anandpur on the Baisākhī day of 1756 Bk/ 30 March 1699. After the morning devotions and kīrtan, he suddenly stood up, drawn sword in hand, and, to quote Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth, spoke: "The entire saṅgat is very dear to me; but is there a devoted Sikh who will give his head to me here and now? A need has arisen at this moment which calls for a head." A hush fell over the assembly. Dayā Rām, a native of Lahore, arose and offered himself. He walked behind the Gurū to a tent near by. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh returned with his sword dripping blood and demanded another head. This time Dharam Dās, a Jāṭ from Hastināpur, emerged from the audience and followed the Gurū. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh gave three more calls. Muhkam Chand, a cloth-printer from Dwārakā, Himmat, a water-bearer from Jagannāth, and Sāhib Chand, a barber from Bidar, stood up one after another and advanced to offer their heads.
Gurū Gobind Siṅgh emerged from the tent "hand in hand with the five;" says Kuir Siṅgh, Gurbilās Pātshāhī 10. The disciples wore saffron-coloured raiment topped over with neatly tied turbans of the same colour. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, similarly dressed, introduced his chosen Sikhs to the audience as Pañj Piāre, the five devoted spirits beloved of the Gurū. He then proceeded to perform the ceremony. Filling an iron bowl with clean water, he kept churning it with a khaṇḍā, i.e, double-edged sword, while reciting over it the sacred verses. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's wife Mātā Jītojī, brought sugar crystals which were put into the vessel at the Gurū's bidding. Sweetness was thus mingled with the alchemy of iron. Amrit, the Nectar of Immortality , was now ready and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh gave the five Sikhs each five palmsful of it to drink. At the end, all five of them quaffed from the steel bowl the remaining elixir binding themselves in new fraternal ties. Their rebirth into this brotherhood meant the cancellation of their previous family ties, of the occupations which had hitherto determined their place in society, of their beliefs and creeds and of the rituals they had so far observed.
The five Sikhs — three of them the so-called low-castes, a Kṣtriya and a Jāṭ — formed the nucleus of the self-abnegating, martial and casteless fellowship of the Khālsā Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had brought into being. They were given the surname of Siṅgh, meaning lion, and were ever to wear the five emblems of the Khālsā kes or unshorn hair and beard; kaṅghā, a comb in the kes to keep it tidy as against the recluses who kept it matted in token of their having renounced the world; kaṛā, a steel bracelet; kachchh, short breeches worn by soldiers; and kirpān, a sword. They were enjoined to succour the helpless and fight the oppressor, to have faith in One God and to consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and creed.
The episode of sīs-bheṭ, i.e. offering of the heads, was recorded by Bhāī Kuir Siṅgh in his Gurbilās Patshdhil 10 (1751) followed by Bhāī Sukkhā Siṅgh, Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh, and others. Earlier chronicles such as the Srī Gur Sobhā, and the Bansāvālīnāmā do not narrate it in such detail. Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh, simply says that "five Sikhs were selected one each from five different castes." From what is known about the lives of those five Sikhs, each of them had received instruction at the hands of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, was a devoted disciple and had been in residence at Anandpur long enough to have been affected by its ambience of faith and sacrifice. It was a coincidence that they belonged to different castes and to different parts of India.
Khaṇḍe dī Pāhul, introduced by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh on 30 March 1699, became the established form of initiation for Sikhs for all time to come; so also the institution of the Pañj Piāre. In fact, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had himself initiated by the Pañj Piāre as he had initiated them. Since then this has been the custom. Pañj Piāre, any five initiated Sikhs reputed to be strictly following the rahit, or Sikh discipline, are chosen to administer to the novitiates amrit, i.e. Khaṇḍe dī Pāhul. Pañj Piāre are similarly chosen to perform other important ceremonies such as laying the cornerstone of a gurdwārā building or inaugurating kār-sevā, i.e. cleansing by voluntary labour of a sacred tank, or leading a religious procession, and to decide issues confronting a local saṅgat or community as a whole. At crucial moments of history, Pañj Piāre have collectively acted as supreme authority, representing the Gurū-Panth. During the battle of Chamkaur, it was the last five surviving Sikhs who, constituting themselves into the Council of Five, Pañj Piāre, commanded Gurū Gobind Siṅgh to leave the fortress and save himself to reassemble the Sikhs. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had abolished the masand system and before he passed away, he also ended the line of living gurūs. In the institution of Pañj Piāre, he had created the nucleus of a casteless and democratic continuing society.
Shamsher Siṅgh Ashok