GURMAT (gur-mat, mat, Sanskrit mati, i.e. counsel or tenets of the Gurū more specifically the religious principles laid down by the Gurū) is a term which may in its essential sense be taken to be synonymous with Sikhism itself. It covers doctrinal, prescriptive and directional aspects of Sikh faith and praxis. Besides the basic theological structure, doctrine and tenets derived from the teachings of Gurū Nānak and his nine successors, it refers to the whole Sikh way of life both in its individual and social expressions evolved over the centuries. Guidance received by Sikhs in their day-to-day affairs from institutions established by the Gurūs and by the community nurtured upon their teachings will also fall within the frame of gurmat. In any exigency, the decision to be taken by the followers must conform to gurmat in its ideological and/or conventional assumptions.

         The 'gurū' in gur-mat means the Ten Gurūs of the Sikh faith as well as gur-bāṇī, i. e. their inspired utterances recorded in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The instruction (mat) of the Gurū implies the teaching imparted through this holy word, and the example set by the Ten Gurūs in person. Direction derived from these sources is a Sikh's ultimate norm in shaping the course of his life, both in its sacred and secular aspects. The spiritual path he is called upon to pursue should be oriented towards obtaining release, i.e. freedom from the dread bondage of repeated births and deaths, and standards of religious and personal conduct he must conform to in order to relate to his community and to society as a whole are all collectively subsumed in the concept of gurmat.

         Theologically, gurmat encompasses a strictly monotheistic belief. Faith in the Transcendent Being as the Supreme, indivisible reality without attributes is the first principle. The attributive-immanent nature of the Supreme Being is also accepted in Sikhism which posits power to create as one of the cardinal attributes of the Absolute or God of its conception. The Creator brought into being the universe by his hukam or Will, without any intermediaries. Man, as the pinnacle of creation, is born with a divine spark; his liberation lies in the recognition of his own spiritual essence and immanence of the Divine in the cosmic order. Fulfilment comes with the curbing of one's haumai or ego and cultivation of the discipline of nām, i.e. absorption in God's name, and of the humanitarian values of sevā, selfless service to fellow men, love and tolerance.

         The way of life prescribed by gurmat postulates faith in the teachings of gurbāṇī, perception of the Divine Will as the supreme law and honest performance of one's duties as a householder, an essential obligation. The first act suggested is prayer -- prayer in the form of recitation by the individual of gurbāṇī, thus participation in corporate service, or silent contemplation on the holy Word in one's solitude. Kirat karnī, vaṇḍ chhakṇā te nām japṇā is the formula which succinctly sums up what is required of a Sikh: he must work to earn his living, share with others the fruit of his exertion, and practise remembrance of God's Name. Gurmat has evolved a tradition of observances and ceremonies for the Sikhs, mostly centred around the Holy Book, Gurū Granth Sāhib. Gurmat recognizes no priestly class as such. Any of the Sikhs admitted to the saṅgat may lead any of the services. He may lead prayers, perform the wedding ceremony known as Anand Kāraj, and recite from the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The rites of passage, viz. ceremonies connected with the birth of a child, initiation, marriage and death, all take place in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. They conclude with an ardās and the distribution of sacramental kaṛāhprasād. The recital of six stanzas from the Anand (lit. bliss) is well-nigh mandatory for all occasions, whether of joy or sorrow, wedding or death.

         On the ethical plane, gurmat prescribes a code of duties and moral virtues, coupled with the distinctive appearance made obligatory for the Khālsā. A Sikh becomes a full member of the Khālsā brotherhood after he has received the rites of initiation and the vows that go with it. Violation of any part of the code (particularly the four prohibitions) of the Khālsā is treated as disregard of gurmat and renders the offender guilty of apostasy. The tribunal of Srī Akāl Takht at Amritsar has traditionally been regarded as Supreme in religious, social and secular affairs of the Sikhs and has the authority to issue edicts for providing guidance to the Panth as a whole and to excommunicate any individual who has acted contrary to its interests or who has been found guilty of attempting to overturn any established Sikh religious convention.

         Directional injunctions under gurmat can be issued to individuals or communities by Pañj Piāre, the five elect ones. They will provide solution to problems that arise or problems brought before them. Or, one 'consults' the Gurū by presenting oneself before the Gurū Granth Sāhib to obtain in moments of perplexity his (the Gurū's) guidance which comes in the form of the śabda, i.e. hymn or stanza, that first meets the eye at the top of left-hand page as the Holy Book is opened at random. There are instances also of the community leaders deciding on a course of action through recourse to such consultation. The institution of gurmatā (sacred resolution), unanimous decision taken or consensus arrived at in the presence of Gurū Granth Sāhib, dates back to the early eighteenth century.

         Some of the conventions and customs established to resolve lingering controversies have become part of gurmat. In regard to the wedding ceremony for instance, the custom of anand kāraj has gained universal acceptance which was not the case until the beginning of the twentieth century: any other form of the ritual will not have the sanction of gurmat today. As regards meat-eating, gurmat has not given a final verdict, both vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism being concurrently prevalent. The use of intoxicants is, however, clearly prohibited. Casteism and untouchability are ruled out in principle; any vestiges of it such as use of caste-names as surnames are generally considered against gurmat. The 48-hour-long uninterrupted recitation of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, called akhaṇḍ pāṭh, has over the decades come to be accepted as part of the Sikh way of life.

         Gurmat does not approve of renunciation. It insists, on the other hand, on active participation in life. Human existence, according to Sikh belief, affords one a rare opportunity for self-transcendence through cognizing and contemplating on the Name and through deeds of selfless service. One rehearses the qualities of humility, compassion and fraternal love best while living in the world. A householder who works to earn his living and is yet willing to share with others the fruit of his exertion and who cherishes ever God in his heart is, according to gurmat, the ideal man. Even as reverence for the pious and the saintly is regarded desirable, parasitism is forbidden in gurmat. The cultivation of the values of character and of finer tastes in life is commended.

         The writings of the Gurūs preserved in the Gurū Granth Sāhib and the Dasam Granth best interpret and elucidate what gurmat is. Some anecdotes recorded in the Janam Sākhīs also help explain gurmat principles. A systematic exposition of gurmat principles was for the first time undertaken by Bhāī Gurdās (d. 1636), who in his Vārāṅ expatiated upon terms such as gurmukh, one attuned to the Gurūs' teaching, saṅgat, fellowship of the holy, and sevā, humble acts of service in the cause of the community and of fellow men in general, besides evolving a framework for the exegetics of gurbāṇī. The process of exposition, continued by men of learning such as Bābā Miharbān (1581-1640), Bhāī Manī Siṅgh (d. 1737) and Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh (1787-1843) and by the writers of Rahitnāmā literature reached its culmination in the Siṅgh Sabhā movement which produced interpreters of the calibre of Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh (1861-1938), Bhāī Vīr Siṅgh (1872-1957) and Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh (1882-1981) .


  1. Kāhn Siṅgh, Bhāī, Gurmat Mārtaṇḍ. Amritsar, 1962
  2. Jodh Siṅgh, Bhāī, Gurmat Nirṇaya. Ludhiana, 1932
  3. Caveeshar, Sardūl Siṅgh, Sikh Dharam Darshan. Patiala, 1969
  4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

Wazir Siṅgh