DAYĀ (usually spelt daiā in Punjabi), from Skt. day meaning to sympathize with, to have pity on, stands for compassion, sympathy. It means 'suffering in the suffering of all beings. ' It is deeper and more positive in sentiment than sympathy. Dayā, cognitively, observes alien pain; affectively, it gets touched by it and moves with affectional responses for the sufferer; and conatively, it moves one to act mercifully, pityingly, with kindness and forgiveness. Dayā is antithetical to hiṅsā (violence). One imbued with dayā "chooses to die himself rather than cause others to die, " says Gurū Nānak (GG, 356).

         Dayā is a divine quality and a moral virtue highly prized in all religious traditions. In the Sikh Scripture, mahādaiāl (super compassionate), daiāpati (lord of compassion), daiāl dev (merciful god), karīmā, rahīmā (the merciful one), etc. , have been used as attributive names of God (GG, 249, 991, 1027, 727). In Sikh ethics, too, dayā is, inter alia, a basic moral requirement, a moral vow. "Keep your heart content and cherish compassion for all beings; this way alone can your holy vow be fulfilled" (GG, 299).

         At the human level, one can comprehend feeling of another's anguish, but as a theological doctrine it is to risk allowing suffering in God's life. This has often caused much controversy in theological circles. God does not suffer in the sense of pain from evil as evil, but may suffer compassion (dayā) as bearing the pain of others to relieve them (of pain as also of evil). That is why at the time of Bābar's invasion of India, Gurū Nānak, when he witnessed the suffering of people, complained to God :

        etī mār paī kurlāṇe taiṅ kī dardu nā āiā

        So much agony were they put through

        So much anguish did they suffer -

        Were you not, O God, moved to compassion ?

                                                        (GG, 360)


        The Gurū, in the image of God, is also daiāl purakh (compassionate being) and bakhasand (forgiver) - GG, 681

         Dayā is a virtue of the mind. In Indian thought, virtues are classified into (i) those of the body : dāna (charity), paritrāṇa (succouring those in distress), paricharaṇa (social service); (ii) those of speech : satya (veracity), hitovachana (beneficial speech), priyavachana (sweet speech), svādhyāya (reciting of Scriptures) and (iii) those of the mind which, besides dayā, also include aparigraha (unworldliness) and śraddhā (reverence and piety).

        In Sikh thought dayā is considered the highest virtue :

        aṭhsaṭhi tīrath sagal punn jīa daiā parvānu

        The merit of pilgrimages of holy places sixty-eight, and that of other virtues besides, equal not compassion to living beings.

                                                                                                                                                                        (GG, 136)

        Dayā, in fact, is considered to be Truth in action :

        sachu tā paru jānīai jā sikh sachī lei ;

        daiā jāṇai jīa kī kichhu punnu dānu karei

        Truth dawns when truthful counsel is accepted,

        Seeking familiarity with compassion, one gives away virtuous charity.

                                                                                        (GG, 468)


        Dayā is, in reality, true action or action par excellence (karṇi sar) as are truth and contentment, the other two high virtues

                                                                                                                                                                        (GG, 51).


  1. Sher Siṅgh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
  2. Nripinder Siṅgh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
  3. Avtar Siṅgh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970

Jaswant Siṅgh Nekī