VĀHIGURŪ, also spelt and pronounced Vāhgurū, is the distinctive name of the Supreme Being in the Sikh dispensation, like Yahweh in Judaism and Allah in Islam. In Sikh Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the term does not figure in the compositions of the Gurūs, though it occurs therein, both as Vāhigurū and Vāhgurū, in the hymns of Bhaṭṭ Gayand, the bard contemporary with Gurū Arjan, Nānak V (1553-1606), and also in the Vārāṅ of Bhāī Gurdās. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, Nānak X (1666-1708), used Vāhigurū in the invocatory formula (Ik Oṅkār Srī Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh, besides the traditional Ik Oṅkār Satigur Prasādi) at the beginning of some of his compositions as well as in the Sikh salutation (Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh varied as Srī Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh). Bhāī Gurdās at one place in his Vārāṅ (I.49) construes vāhigurū as an acrostic using the first consonants of the names of four divine incarnations of the Hindu tradition appearing in four successive eons. Some classical Sikh scholars, such as Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh and Paṇḍit Tārā Siṅgh Narotam, taking this poetic interpretation seriously, have traced the origin of the term in ancient mythology. Modern scholars, however, affirm that the name Vāhigurū is owed originally to the Gurūs, most likely to the founder of the faith, Gurū Nānak, himself. According to this view, Vāhigurū is a compound of two words, one from Persian and the other from Sanskrit, joined in a symbiolic relationship to define the indefinable, indescribable Ultimate Reality. Vāh in Persian is an interjection of wonder and admiration, and gurū (Sanskrit guru: heavy, weighty, great, venerable; a spiritual parent or preceptor) has been frequently used by Gurū Nānak and his successors for satigurū (True Gurū) or God. Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh, in Srī Gur Nānak Prakāsh (pp. 1249-51), reporting Gurū Nānak’s testament to the Sikhs has thus explicated Vāhigurū : Vāh is wonder at the Divine might; gu is spiritual darkness while rū is illumination brought to eliminate this darkness. Cumulatively, the name implies wonder at the Divine Light eliminating spiritual darkness. It might also imply, "Hail the Lord whose name eliminates spiritual darkness." Earlier, Bhāī Manī Siṅgh Sikhāṅ dī Bhagat Mālā, gave a similar explication, also on the authority of Gurū Nānak. Considering the two constituents of Vāhigurū (vāhi + gurū) implying the state of wondrous ecstasy and offering of homage to the Lord, the first one was brought distinctly and prominently into the devotional system by Gurū Nānak, who has made use of this interjection, as in Mājh kī Vār (stanza 24), and Sūhī kī Vār, śloka to pauṛī 10.
Apart from the use of this interjection, the attitude of wonder and total submission at the sight of Divine Greatness is prominently visible in Gurū Nānak as evidenced for example in the hymn in Dhanāsarī : "gagan mai thālu ravi chandu dīpak bane tārikā maṇḍal janak motī (GG,663); in measure Sūhī : "kauṇ tarājī kavaṇu tulā terā kavaṇū sarāphu bulāvā" (GG, 730) ; and in Japu : "kete pavan pāṇī vaisantar kete kān mahes, kete barame ghāṛatī ghaṛīahi rūp rang ke ves" (GG,7). In Asā kī Vār (GG, 462-75) the opening śloka to pauṛī 3 is woven round vismād--vismādu nād vismādu ved, wondrous is the sound, wondrous the wisdom. Wonder and ecstasy are expressed at the cosmic order and its mystery full of contradictions, yet all comprehended in the Divinely appointed system. This śloka concludes with : "Ever present to our gaze is wonder. At the sight of this mystery are we wonderstruck. Only by supreme good fortune is it unravelled." In the opening śloka to paūṛī 4 bhaī vichi pavaṇu vahai sadvāu, in (the Lord's) fear bloweth the wind with its myriad breezes is expressed wonder at the cosmic "fear" under which the universe operates in obedience to the Divine Law, the Lord alone being exempt from such fear.
In Japu, besides other themes, one that stands out prominent is wonder at the cosmic order, its infinitude and the mystery of its moral clan. As a matter of fact, the theme of Japu may be said to be what occurs in the course of stanza 4 : vaḌiāī vīchāru (contemplation of Divine infinity). In stanza 16, for example, is the expression of wonder at the limitlessness of space. Stanzas 17-19, each beginning with asaṅkh (infinite), are uttered in the same mood.
In stanza 22 ---pātālā pātāl lakh āgāsā āgās, countless the worlds beneath, countless the worlds above--- is a vision of the limitlessness of the universe. So are stanzas 24,25,26,27,32,34,35 and 36. It is in response to this overwhelming vision of Gurū Nānak that the unique Name of the Supreme Being, Vāhigurū, originated. No other name could have been adequate to express what in his vision he found lying at the heart of the cosmos, compelling a response in the human self attuned to devotion and ecstasy.
Gurū Amar Dās has also employed the term in Gujari kī Vār (GG, 514-16) and in Aṣṭpadīs in Malār (GG, 1277). In the former, it is calculated that the interjection vāhu-vāhu (Hail, hail the Lord) is used as many as 96 times. The interjection vāhu (hail; wondrous is the Lord) occurs in Gurū Rām Dās in conjunction with Satigurū (compounded from Gurū) in śloka 2 in Sloka Vārāṅ te Vadhīk (GG, 1421). In Gurū Arjan by whose time the formulation Vāhigurū appears to have become current and acquired distinctiveness as the Name Divine, the phrase 'Gur Vāhu' figures in Āsā measure (GG, 376). This is only as inverted form of Vāhigurū and has the same force and significance. Kavi Santokh Siṅgh in Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth (p. 5686) uses the two terms as synonymous: "simrahu vāhigurū guru vāhī, or contemplate ye Vāhigurū, the Lord all hail."
The earliest use of Vāhigurū, in this form, is traceable to Vārāṅ by Bhāī Gurdās and to Gayand's hymns in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. In both it may be said to have occurred contemporaneously, for while no date can be assigned to Bhāī Gurdās' Varāṅ, the work may be assumed to have appeared soon after the compilation of the Scripture in 1604, being so much alive with its spirit and phraseology. Gayand in the course of his lines encomiastic of Gurū Rām Das (GG, 1403) made use of Vāhigurū as the supreme Name Divine in recognition of the primacy and appeal it had by then come to acquire in the Sikh tradition. In this Savaiyyā numbered 11, the term occurs twice as Vāh Gurū. Earlier in that numbered 6, it is repeated thrice as Vāhigurū in the opening line, expressing fervour of devotion. So also in the concluding line of Savaiyyā 7. In Savaiyyā 12, Vāhu Vāhu (Wonder, personifying the Lord) signifies the Supreme marvel, embracing the infinitude of the universe. In Savaiyyā 13, this name is used twice once as Vāhigurū in the opening line and Vah Gurū in the last line. In the concluding line of Savaiyyā 8, Vāhigurū is used thrice, concluding with the interjection Vāhi (Hail).
Some relevant lines from Bhāī Gurdās, Vārāṅ, may also be reproduced here : vāhigurū guru sabadu lai piram piālā chupi chabolā, putting faith in Vāhigurū, the Master's teaching, the seeker drains in peace and tranquility the cup of devotion (IV.17) ; "pauṇu gurū gursabadu hai vāhigurū gur sabadu suṇāiā, pauṇ---gurū is the Master's word where through he imparted the holy name Vāhigurū (VI.5) ; vāhigurū sālāhṇā gurū sabadu alāe, to laud the Lord let me give utterance to the Master's Word (IX.13) ; satiguru purakh daiāl hoi vāhigurū sachu Mantra sunāiā, the holy Master in his grace imparted to the seeker the sacred incantation Vāhigurū (XI.3) ; nirankāru ākāsu kari joti sarūp anūp dikhāiā, bed kateb agocharā vāhigurū gursabadu suṇāiā, the formless Lord manifesting Himself granted sight of His unique effulgent self and imparted to the seeker the Word Vāhigurū, that is beyond the ken of Vedas and the Muslim Scriptures" (XII. 17); vāhigurū gurumantra hai japi haumai khoī, Vāhigurū is the Master's incantation. By repeating it egoism is cast out (XIII.2) ; dharamsāl kartārpuru sādh saṅgatī sachkhaṇḍu vasāiā, vāhigurū gur sabadu suṇāiā, Gurū Nānak in the temple at Kartārpur established the Realm Eternal as the holy congregation, and imparted to it the Divine Word Vāhigurū (XXIV.1) ; sati nāmu kartā purakhu vāhigurū vichi ridai samāe, let the seeker lodge in his heart the holy Name, the Creator immanent, Vāhigurū" (XL.22). In these verses, Vāhigurū signifies the supreme Name Divine, to which devotion may be offered. It is transcendent and annular of sin and evil, thus combining in itself the 'attributed' and the 'unattributed' aspects in consonance with the Sikh doctrine voiced in the Scripture. The main point is that by Gurū Arjan's time and after, this name over all others was established as the object of devotion. The term received the final seal in the time of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh.
Vāhigurū is for Sikhs the gurmantra (invocatory formula received from the Gurū) or nām for repetition (silently or aloud, with or without a rosary) and meditation upon the Supreme Reality. Bhāī Gurdās in his Vārāṅ refers to it variously as japu mantra (invocation for repetition), guru sabadu (the Gurū's Word), sachu mantra (true mantra) and gurmantra. It is also called nām (the Name), and is sometimes compounded as "Satinām-Vāhigurū" to be chanted aloud in congregations. Nām japṇā (repeated utterance of God's Name, i.e. Vāhigurū) is one of the three cardinal moral principles of Sikhism, the other two being kirat karnī or honest labour and vaṇḍ chhakṇā or sharing one's victuals with the needy. Since the manifestation of the Khālsā by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh in 1699, Vāhigurū has been part of the Sikh salutation: Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā, Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh (Hail the Khālsā who belongs to the Lord God ! Hail the Lord God to whom belongs the victory!!). It has since also been the gurmantra imparted formally at initiation to the novitiate by the leader of the Pañj Piāre administering the rites.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib