VĀHIGURŪ JĪ KĀ KHĀLSĀ VAHĪGURŪ JĪ KĪ FATEH, form of Sikh salutation, was made current among the Sikhs by command of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh at the time of the manifestation of the Khālsā in 1699. The salutation used in the days of Gurū Nānak was Sati Kartār (Hail the Creator, the Eternal). This is how he, according to the Purātan Janam Sākhī, his oldest biography, greeted those he met. Some accounts of his life, such as that by Harijī, mention other similar forms of greeting, one among those being Rājā Rām Sati (Hail the Holy Creator !). In the hukamnāmās or letters sent to saṅgats by the Gurūs prior to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's time, the opening greeting used to be : Gurū Sati (Hail the Eternal Lord !) which is only an inverted form of Satigurū. Other forms of salutation such as Rām Sati (Hail God the Eternal !) and respectful salutations like Pairīṅ-Pauṇā (I fall at thy feet) were also current among the generality of Sikhs. Namaskār (I bow to thee) was in use in greeting the holy, or offering worship to God. Such greetings are specifically mentioned or hinted at in the older writings.
With the development of the Sikh creed in the time of Gurū Nānak’s successors and the propagation of a new tradition basing itself on a monotheism whose roots, however, were Indian, as against the prevalent polytheism, pantheism and, at the higher levels, henotheism, a new terminology came into existence which distinguished the Sikh faith from the numerous creeds prevalent at the time. Names like Ik Oṅkār, Oaṅkār, Pārbrahm were favoured above others for the Godhead: Harī, Nārāyaṇa and Rāma acquired greater currency compared to other names drawn from mythology. But the particular names of God which constituted a kind of differentia of Sikh society were Niraṅkār (Formless), Kartār (Creator), Sachchā Pātshāh (True or Eternal King), Satigurū and Vāhigurū. Gurū is Lord, Master, and Vāhigurū is expressive of wonder or ecstasy at Divine infinitude or glory, with the implied sense of name. Vāhigurū has become the most characteristic name for God in the Sikh creed, like Allah in Islam. It occurs in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (Savaiyyās, Mahalā IV by Bhaṭṭ Gayand, page 1402) repeated ecstatically as a mantra. In the compositions of Gurū Arjan (GG, 376), it is used in the inverted form as Gur Vāhu. Bhāī Gurdās in his Varāṅ has used it as being synonymous with the Absolute, the Creator in a number of places (I. 49, IV 17, VI.5, IX. 13, XI. 3 & 8, XII. 17, XIII. 2, XXIV 1. XL 22). This prolific use by one whose philosophical exposition of Sikh metaphysics and mysticism is the earliest on record, indicates that by the time of Gurū Arjan (the Savaiyyās referred to above were also composed by poets (Bhaṭṭs) attending on him). Vāhigurū as the Sikh name for God was well established and had acquired the overtones which have since been associated with it as expression of the Sikh monotheistic affirmation of faith.
Because of this close and inalienable association, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh at the time of introducing the new form of initiation to the faith, with adjuration to the initiates to maintain a stern moral discipline and to cultivate qualities of crusaders and martyrs for the faith, administered the new faith in terms of the name of God which was held in the highest reverence in the tradition handed down to him. The new form of salutation, which annulled all the previous ones till then prevalent in Sikh society, was enunciation as Vahīgurū jī kā Khālsā Vahīgurū jī kī Fateh ---the Khālsā is the Lord's own : to the Lord is the Victory. This two-fold affirmation was, in the first place, expression of a special relationship between God and those who dedicated their entire life to His service. Second, it was the expression of that faith in the ultimate triumph of the forces of Goodness which despite all apparent setbacks, trials and travail, is the just and essential end of the fight between good and evil in the world. This faith has been asserted over and over again by Gurū Nānak and his spiritual successors. After being administered amrit (water stirred with a two-edged dagger, sanctified by recitation of the Gurū's word and thus transmuted into the elixir of immortality), each initiate was adjured to raise the affirmation, Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh ! This was duly repeated, and the tradition continues till this day. Apart from being used as the affirmation of faith, this formula is also the orthodox, approved Sikh form of salutation.
Two terms in this formula need elucidation. Khālsā is an Arabic word, meaning, literally, 'pure' and used in the administration terminology of the Muslim State system in India for the lands or fiefs directly held by the sovereign and not farmed out to landlords on certain conditions of military service and of making over to the State a share of the produce. In the term khālsā, both these meanings are discerned. In one of Gurū Hargobind's Hukamnāmās and in one of Gurū Tegh Bahādur's khālsā is used for the Gurū's devotees, with the implication particularly as 'the Gurū's Own!' As Gurū Gobind Siṅgh adopted the term and gave it centrality in the enunciation of the creed, the idea of purity perhaps came to acquire primacy. When Gurū Gobind Siṅgh sent a set of youths to Vārāṇāsī to study Sanskrit, they were given the appellation Nirmalā which is the Sanskrit based parallel to the Arabic khālsā. Nirmalās are now a Sikh sect, who have maintained traditions of high scholarship. Khālsā occurs also in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (GG, 654) where it is used in the sense of 'pure', 'emancipated.' This term appealed to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh as being truly expressive of the vision of a noble, heroic race of men that he was creating.
Fateh, fatah in Arabic, literally means opening or forcing the portal of a besieged fort, implying victory. It has been used in the Qura'n in the sense of victory, and one of the attributive names of God in the Muslim tradition is Fattah (lit. Opener, i.e. Vanquisher, over all evil forces). While jai, jaikār have been used in the Sikh tradition for victory and are used thus even in the Dasam Granth, jai was droped from the new Sikh tradition, though for shouts of victory the term jaikārā has become firmly established. Fateh was adopted as the current popular term for triumph or victory and made part of the Sikh affirmation and salutation. Fateh as fatih occurs once in the Gurū Granth Sāhib "phāhe kāṭe miṭe gavan fatih bhaī mani jīt--- the noose of Yama hath been cleft, transmigration hath ceased and, with the conquest of the self, true victory hath been achieved" (GG, 258). The implied meaning here is of a moral victory. Jīt, a word from Indian tradition, like jaikārā has got established also in Sikh tradition, and in the invocation Panth kī Jīt (Vctory of the Panth) is repeated in the Sikh collective prayer daily. Fateh nonetheless remains the prime Sikh term for victory, and has been repeated again and again in Sikh history, down from the Persian couplet put on Sikh coins (Deg-o-Tegh-o-Fateh-e-nusrat bedaraṅg, yāft az Nānak Gurū Gobind Siṅgh) to the common daily parlance of the Sikh people, wherein every success is designated as fateh.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib