SIKH INSIGNIA, usually called Chakkar ate Khaṇḍā and most commonly used as a distinguishing symbol of faith, consists of a composite figure of a khaṇḍā (double-edged sword), a chakra (steel quoit) and a pair of kirpāns (curved sabres). Khaṇḍā stands upright in the centre; the chakra encircles it with the hilt and tip of the khaṇḍā jutting out : and the swords flanking the chakra, one on either side, blades outwards and their hilts crossing one another over the hilt of the khaṇḍā at the base. This figure is used as a crest superimposed on the Sikh flag, printed on letter-heads, book titles, posters, etc., and as a badge on turbans.
Precisely when the chakkar ate khaṇḍā symbol first came to be used is not known. It is usually linked with the establishment of Akāl Takht by Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644), who is known to have standardized the Sikh flag and who wore two swords one on either side representing mīrī (temporal sovereignty) and pīrī (spiritual pre-eminence) respectively, or with the time of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708), who invented the term sarab-loh (all steel) for the Omnipotent God, and who introduced khaṇḍe dī pāhul as the initiatory rite for admission into the Khālsā Brotherhood.
The components of the Sikh insignia have a dual significance. Superficially, they represent weapons commonly used during the seventeenth century. Khaṇḍā was a long, straight, heavy, flat sword, sharpened at both edges of the blade, comparatively slender at the middle with a tapering tip. The one-foot long replica of it used in the gurdwārās for preparing amrit or pāhul does not give a correct idea of the size of the original weapon which was three or four feet in length and could be in some instances so heavy as to be wielded with both hands. Kirpān was, as it still is, a slightly shorter and lighter sabre. The chakkar (chakra) was a quoit with a sharp and lethal edge when thrown by skilled warriors. Khaṇḍā is now usually seen as a finial on top of flagstaffs or of domes of gurdwārā buildings, while kirpāns and chakkars are still worn and practised by amritdhārī or Nihaṅg Siṅghs.
For the Sikhs the weapons of the chakkar ate khaṇḍā insignia have historical significance and symbolic meaning. Sikhism is a monotheistic faith. The khaṇḍā standing upright and alone in the middle symbolizes oneness as well as omnipotence of God, the ultimate goal of sainthood, and its two sharp edges represent spiritual and worldly aspects of the lives of the soldiers of God--their keenness to live and readiness to die in the service of dharma. Similarly, the pair of kirpāns is for the Sikhs reminiscent of the two swords worn by Gurū Hargobind, one representing Mīrī, tegh or shakti-- temporal power, and the other pīrī, deg or bhakti ---spiritual power, charity and devotion. The chakkar (chakra) is one of the oldest Indian symbols representing dharma, a comprehensive term variously interpreted as religion, righteousness, devotion, duty, a system of thought and practice, etc. Chakra is also associated with the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Even Time is conceived in traditional Indian thought as kālchakra and space is visualized as successive spheres. Taken together, the insignia of chakkar ate khaṇḍā may be taken to signify "One Omnipotent Being (khaṇḍā) extending beyond the circle (chakra) of Time and Space and flanked by two powers (kirpāns), temporal and spiritual, coalescing at bottom around the feet of the One. Sikhism, though deeply spiritual and devotional, has never been another-worldly religion. For it, the social involvement is as crucial as the mystical experience. The Sikh insignia symbolizes most appropriately the fusion of mīrī and pīrī, shakti and bhakti, deg and tegh, saintliness and soldierly valour inherent in the philosophy of the Gurūs.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)