GOD, a term used to denote any object of worship or evocation, signifies the belief of most modern religions in the existence of a Supreme Being who is the source and support of the spatio-temporal material world. Theologians remember Him by the name of God. The fundamental belief of Sikhism, too, is that God exists, not merely as an idea or concept, but as a Real Being, indescribable yet not unknowable. The Gurūs, however, never theorized about proofs of the existence of God. For them He is too real and obvious to need any logical proof. Gurū Arjan, Nānak V, says, "God is beyond colour and form, yet His presence is clearly visible" (GG, 74), and again, "Nānak's Lord transcends the world as well as the scriptures of the east and the west, and yet he is clearly manifest" (GG, 397) . In any case, knowledge of the ultimate Reality is not a matter for reason; it comes by revlation of Himself through nadar or grace and by anubhava or mystical experience. Says Gurū Nānak, "budhi pāthi na pāīāi bahu chaturāīai bhāī milai mani bhāṇe (He is not accessible through intellect, or through mere scholarship or cleverness at argument; He is met, when He pleases, through devotion) " (GG, 436) .

         Sikhism as a religion is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The Gurūs have described God in numerous ways in their hymns included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, but the unicity of the deity is consistently emphasized throughout. Briefly, God for the Sikhs, as described in the mūl mantra, basic formula of the faith, viz. Ik oaṅkār satināmu kartā purakhu nirbhau nirvairu akāl mūrati ajūnī saibhaṅ gurprasādi, is the "One Supreme Being, the Immutable and Eternal Name, the Creative Masculine Principle, Without fear and Without rancour, the Timeless Verity, Unincarnated and Self-Existent, known through His grace." Oaṅkār is a variation of the mystic monosyllable Om (also known as anahata nāda, the unstruck sound) first set forth in the Upaniṣads as the transcendent object of profound religious meditation. Gurū Nānak prefixed the numeral one (ik) to it making it Ik Oaṅkār or Ekaṅkār to stress His oneness. He is named and known only through His immanent nature. Almost all of His names are attributive. The only name which can be said to truly fit his transcendent state is Sati or Satinām (Sanskrit satya), the changeless and timeless Reality. He is transcendent and all-pervasive at the same time. Transcendence and immanence are two aspects of the same single Supreme Reality. He is immanent in the entire creation, but the creation as a whole fails to contain Him fully. As says Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Nānak IX, "He has himself spread out His own māyā which He Himself oversees; many different forms He assumes in many colours, yet he stays independent of all" (GG, 537).

         God is Kartā Purakh, the Creator-Person. He created the spatio-temporal universe not from some pre-existing physical element, but from His own Self. Universe is His own emanation. It is not māyā or illusion but is real (sati) because, as say Gurū Arjan, "True is He and true is His creation [because] all has emanated from God Himself" (GG, 294) . But God is not identical with the universe. The latter exists and is contained in Him and not vice versa. God is immanent in the created world, but is not limited by it. "Many times He expands Himself into such worlds but He ever remains the same One Ekaṅkār" (GG, 276) . Even at one time "there are hundreds of thousands of skies and nether regions" (GG, 5). Included in sach khaṇḍ, the figurative abode of God, there are countless regions and universes" (GG, 8). Creation is "His sport which He Himself witnesses, and when He rolls up the sport, He is His sole Self again" (GG, 292). He Himself is the Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer.

        What is the Creator's purpose in creating the universe? It is not for man to enquire or judge the purpose of His Creator. To quote Gurū Arjan again, "The created cannot have a measure of the Creator; what He wills, O Nānak, happens" (GG, 285). For the Sikhs, the Creation is His pleasure and play. "When the showman beat His drum, the whole creation came out to witness the show; and when He puts aside his diguise, He rejoices in His original solitude" (GG, 174, 291, 655, 736).

         Purakhu added to Kartā in the Mūl Mantra is the Punjabi form of Sanskrit puruṣa, which literally means, besides man, male or person, "the primeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle; the supreme Being or Soul of the universe." Purakh in Mūl Mantra is, therefore, none other than God the Creator. The term has nothing to do with the puruṣa of the Sāṅkhya school of Indian philosophy where it is the spirit as a passive spectator of prākriti or creative force.

         That God is nirbhau (without fear) and nirvair (without rancour) is obvious enough as He has no sarīk or rival. But the terms have other connotations, too. Nirbhau not only indicates fearlessness but also the absence of fearfulness. It also implies sovereignty and unquestioned exercise of Will. Similarly, nirvair implies, besides absence of enmity, the positive attributes of compassion and impartiality. Together the two terms mean that God loves His handiwork and is the Dispenser of impartial justice, dharam- niāu. Gurū Rām Dās, Nānak IV, says: "Why should we be afraid, with the True One being the judge. True is the True One's justice" (GG, 84) .

         God is Akāl Mūrati, the Eternal Being. The timelessness involved in the negative epithet akāl has made it popular in Sikh tradition as one of the names of God, the Timeless One, as in Akāl Purakh or in the slogan Sat Srī Akāl (Satya Śrī Akāl) . One of the most sacred shrines of the Sikhs is the Akāl Takht, the Eternal Throne, at Amritsar. Mūrati here does not mean form, figure, image or idol. Sikhism expressly forbids idolatry or image-worship in any form. God is called Niraṅkār, the Formless One, although it is true that all forms are the manifestations of Niraṅkār. Bhāī Gurdās, the earliest expounder and the copyist of the original recension of Gurū Granth Sāhib, says: "Niraṅkār ākāru hari joti sarūp anūp dikhāiā (The Formless One having created form manifested His wondrous refulgence" (Vārāṅ , XII. 17). Murati in the Mūl Mantra, therefore, signifies verity or manifestation of the Timeless and Formless One.

         God is Ajūnī , Unincarnated, and Saibhaṅ (Sanskrit svayambhū), Self-existent. The Primal Creator Himself had no creator. He simply is, has ever been and shall ever be by Himself. Ajūnī also affirms the Sikh rejection of the theory of divine incarnation. Gurū Arjan says: "Man misdirected by false belief indulges in falsehood; God is free from birth and death... May that mouth be scorched which says that God is incarnated" (GG, 1136).

         The Mūl Mantra ends with gurprasādi, meaning thereby that realization of God comes through Gurū's grace. "Gurū" in Sikh theology appears in three different but allied connotations, viz. God, the ten Sikh Gurūs, the enlightened ones and enlighteners, and the gur-shabad or Gurū's utterances as preserved in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Of God's grace, Gurūs' instruction and guidance and the scriptural sabad (Sanskrit, śabda, lit. Word), the first is the most important, because, as nothing happens without God's will or pleasure, His grace is essential to making a person inclined towards a desire and search for union with Him.

         God in Sikhism is thus depicted in three distinct aspects, viz. God in Himself, God in relation to creation, and God in relation to man. God by himself is the one Ultimate, Transcendent Reality, Nirguṇa (without attributes), Timeless, Boundless, Formless, Ever-existent, Immutable, Ineffable, All-by-Himself and even Unknowable in His entirety. The only nomenclatures that can rightly be applied to Him in this state of sunn (Sanskrit, śūnya or void) are Brahma and Pārbrahma (Sanskrit, Pārbrahman) or the pronouns He and Thou. During a discourse with Siddhas, Hindu recluses, Gurū Nānak in reply to a question as to where the Transcendent God was before the stage of creation replies, "To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder. Even at that stage of sunn, he permeated all that Void" (GG, 940). This is the state of God's sunn samādhī, self-absorbed trance.

         When it pleases God, He becomes sarguṇa (Sanskrit, saguṇa, with attributes) and manifests Himself in creation. He becomes immanent in His created universe, which is His own emanation, an aspect of Himself. As says Gurū Amar Dās, Nānak III, "This (so-called) poison, the world, that you see is God's picture; it is God's outline that we see" (GG, 922) . Most names of God are His attributive, action-related signifiers, kirtam nām (GG, 1083) or karam nām (Dasam Granth, Jāpu). God in the Sikh Scripture has been referred to by several names, picked from Indian and semitic traditions. He is called in terms of human relations as father, mother, brother, relation, friend, lover, beloved, husband. Other names, expressive of His supremacy, are ṭhākur, prabhū, svāmī, sāh, pātsāh, sāhib, sāīṅ (Lord, Master) . Some traditional names are rām, nārāyaṇ, govind, gopāl, allah, khudā. Even the negative terms such as niraṅkār, nirañjan et al, are as much related to attributes as are the positive terms like dātā, dātār, kartā, kartār, dayāl, kripāl, qādir, karīm, etc. Some terms peculiar to Sikhism are nām (lit. name), sabad (lit. word) and Vāhigurū (lit. Wondrous Master) . While nām and sabad are mystical terms standing for the Divine manifestation and are used as substitute terms for the Supreme Being, Vāhigurū, is an ejaculatory phrase expressing awe, wonder and ecstatic joy of the worshipper as he comprehends the immenseness and grandeur of the Lord and His Creation.

         Immanence or All-pervasiveness of God, however, does not limit or in any way affect His transcendence. He is Transcendent and Immanent at the same time. The Creation is His līlā or cosmic play. He enjoys it, pervades it, yet Himself remains unattached. Gurū Arjan describes Him in several hymns as "Unattached and Unentangled in the midst of all" (GG, 102, 294, 296) ; and "Amidst all, yet outside of all, free from love and hate" (GG, 784-85) . Creation is His manifestation, but, being conditioned by space and time, it provides only a partial and imperfect glimpse of the Timeless and Boundless Supreme Being.

         That God is both Transcendent and Immanent does not mean that these are two phases of God one following the other. God is One, and He is both nirguṇa and sarguṇa. "Nirguṇa sarguṇu hari hari merā, (God, my God is both with and without attributes), " sang Gurū Arjan (GG, 98). Gurū Amar Dās also had said, Nirguṇa sarguṇa āpe soi (He Himself is with as well as without attributes) " (GG, 128) . Transcendence and Immanence are two aspects of the same Supreme Reality.

         The Creator also sustains His Creation compassionately and benevolently. "My Lord is ever Fresh and ever Bountiful" (GG, 660) ; "He is the eradicator of the pain and sorrow of the humble" (GG, 263-64) . The universe is created, sustained and moved according to His hukam or Divine Will, and Divine purpose. "The inscrutable hukam is the source of all forms, all creatures.... All are within the ambit of hukam; there is nothing outside of it." (GG p.1). Another principle that regulates the created beings is karma (actions, deeds) . Simply stated, it is the law of cause and effect. The popular dictum "As one sows so shall one reap" is stressed again and again in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (GG, 134, 176, 309, 316, 366, 706, 730) .

         The created world though real is not eternal. Whenever God desires, it merges back into His Timeless and Formless Self. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh calls this process of creation and dissolution udkarkh (Sanskrit, utkarṣaṇa) and ākarkh (Sanskrit, ākarṣaṇa), respectively: "Whenever you, O Creator, cause udkarkh (increase, expansion), the creation assumes the boundless body; whenever you effect ākarkh (attraction, contraction), all corporeal existence merges in you" (Benatī Chaupaī). This process of creation and dissolution has been repeated God alone knows for how many times. A passage in the Sukhmanī by Gurū Arjan visualizes the infinite field of creation thus:

        Millions are the mines of life; millions the spheres;

        Millions are the regions above; millions the regions below;

        Millions are the species taking birth.

        By diverse means does He spread Himself.

        Again and again did He expand Himself thus,

        But He ever remains the One Ekaṅkār.

        Countless creatures of various kinds

        Come out of Him and are absorbed back.

        None can know the limit of His Being;

        He, the Lord, O Nānak! is all in all Himself.

                                                (GG, 275-76)


         Man, although an infinitesimal part of God's creation, yet stands apart from it insofar as it is the only species blessed with reflection, moral sense and potentiality for understanding matters metaphysical. In Sikhism, human birth is both a special privilege for the soul and a rare chance for the realization of union with God. Man is lord of earth, as Gurū Arjan says, "Of all the eight million and four hundred thousand species, God conferred superiority on man" (GG, 1075), and "All other species are your (man's) water-bearers; you have hegemony over this earth" (GG, 374). But Gurū also reminds that "now that you (the soul) have got a human body, this is your turn to unite with God" (GG, 12, 378). Gurū Nānak had warned, "Listen, listen to my advice, O my mind! only good deed shall endure, and there may not be another chance" (GG, 154). So, realization of God and a reunion of ātmā (soul) with paramātmā (Supreme Soul, God) are the ultimate goals of human life. The achievement ultimately rests on nadar (God's grace), but man has to strive in order to deserve His grace. As a first step, he should have faith in and craving for the Lord. He should believe that God is near him, rather within his self, and not far away. He is to seek Him in his self. Gurū Nānak says: "Your beloved is close to you, O foolish bride! What are you searching outside?" (GG, 722), and Gurū Amar Dās reassures: "Recognize yourself, O mind! You are the light manifest. Rejoice in Gurū's instruction that God is always with (in) you. If you recognize your Self, you shall know the Lord and shall get the knowledge of life and death" (GG, 441) . The knowledge of the infinitesimal nature of his self when compared to the immenseness of God and His creation would instil humility in man and would rid him of his ego (a sense of I, my and mine) which is "the greatest malady man suffers from" (GG, 466, 589, 1258) and the arch-enemy of nām or path to God-Realization (GG, 560) . Having surrendered his ego and having an intense desire to reach his goal (the realization of Reality), the seeker under Gurū's instruction (gurmati) becomes a gurmukh or person looking gurūward. He meditates upon nām or śabda, the Divine Word, while yet leading life as a householder, earning through honest labour, sharing his victuals with the needy, and performing self-abnegating deeds of service. Sikhism condemns ritualism. Worship of God in the Sikh way of life consists in reciting gurbāṇī or holy texts and meditation on nām, solitary or in saṅgat or congregation, kīrtan or singing of scriptural hymns in praise of God, and ardās or prayer in supplication.


  1. Śabadārth Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib. Amritsar, 1959
  2. Jodh Siṅgh, Bhāī, Gurmati Nirṇaya. Amritsar, 1932
  3. Prītam Siṅgh, ed., Sikh Phalsaphe dī Rūp Rekhā. Amritsar, 1975
  4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
  5. Kapur Siṅgh, Parāśarapraśna. Amritsar, 1989

Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib