PĀHUL or amrit saṅskār, the name given in the Sikh tradition to the ceremony of initiation. The word pāhul or pahul is a derivative from a substantive, pahu — meaning an agent which brightens, accelerates or sharpens the potentialities of a given object. In the history of the Sikh faith, the initiation ceremony has passed through two distinct phases. From the time of Gurū Nānak (1469-1539), the founder, up to 1699, charanāmrit or pagpāhul was the custom. charanāmrit and pagpāhul meant initiation by water touched by the Master's toe—the charan and pag both being equivalents of the word ‘foot'. In early Sikhism, the neophytes sipped water poured over the Gurū's toe to be initiated into the fold. Where the Gurū was not present, masands or local saṅgat leaders officiated. A reference to initiation by charanāmrit occurs in Bhāī Gurdās, Vārāṅ, I.23, born 12 years after the passing away of Gurū Nānak. The practice continued until 1699 when, at the time of the inauguration of the Khālsā, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh introduced khaṇḍe dī pāhul, i.e. pāhul by khaṇḍā, the double-edged steel sword. This was done at Anandpur at the time of Baisākhī festival on 30 March 1699, in a soul-stirring drama. At the morning assembly of the Sikhs drawn from all four corners of India, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, sword in hand, proclaimed, "My sword wants today a head. Let any one of my Sikhs come forward. Isn't there a Sikh of mine who would be prepared to sacrifice his life for his Gurū?" To five similar calls successively made, five Sikhs offered their heads one after the other. They were Dayā Siṅgh, Mohkam Siṅgh, Sāhib Siṅgh, Dharam Siṅgh and Himmat Siṅgh. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh proceeded to hold the ceremony of initiation to mark their rebirth as new men. Filling an iron bowl with clean water, he kept stirring it with a two-edged sword while reciting over it five of the sacred texts, bāṇīs Japu, Jāp, Savaiyye, Chaupaī and Anand (stanzas 1-5, and 40). The Gurū's wife, Mātā Jītojī (according to some, Mātā Sāhib Devāṅ), poured into the vessel sugar crystals, mingling sweetness with the alchemy of iron. The five Sikhs sat on the ground around the bowl reverently as the holy water was being churned to the recitation of the sacred verses. With the recitation of the five bāṇīs completed, khaṇḍe dī pāhul or amrit, the Nectar of Immortality, was ready for administration. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh gave the five Sikhs five palmsful each of it to drink. The disciple sat bīr-āsan, i.e. in the posture of a warrior with his left knee raised and the right knee touching the ground. Every time the Gurū poured the nectar into his palms to drink, he called out aloud, "Bol Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh (Utter, Hail the Khālsā who to the Lord belongs; the Lord to whom belongs victory)„ The Sikh repeated the blessed utterance. After the five life giving draughts had been thus administered, the Gurū sprinkled the holy liquid into his face gazing intently into his eyes. He then anointed his hair with the nectar. In the same manner, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh initiated the other four one by one. At the end, all five of them were given the steel bowl to quaff from it turn by turn the remaining elixir in token of their new fraternal comradeship. Then, following the Gurū, they repeated Vāhigurū five times as gurmantra and five times recited the Mūl Mantra. They were given the common surname of Siṅgh, (meaning lion) and enjoined to regard themselves as the Khālsā, i.e. the Gurū's own. They were told that their rebirth into this brotherhood meant the annihilation of their family ties. (kul nās), of the occupations which had formerly determined their place in society (krit nās), of their earlier beliefs and creeds and of the ritual they observed. Their worship was to be addressed to none but Akāl, the Timeless One. They were ever to keep the five emblems of the Khālsā — kesa or long hair and beard; kaṅghā, a comb tucked into the kesa to keep it tidy in contrast to the recluses who kept it matted in token of their having renounced the world; kaṛā, a steel bracelet to be worn round the wrist of the right hand; kachchhā, short breeches; and kirpān, a sword. In the rahit or code of conduct promulgated for the Sikhs on that day were the four prohibitions, i.e. the cutting or trimming of hair, fornication or adultery, halāl meat or flesh of animal slaughtered with the Muslim ritual, and tobacco.

         The five were designated by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh as Pañj Piāre, the five beloved of the Gurū. He now besought them to initiate him into their brotherhood, and asked them to prepare khaṇḍe dī pāhul. The Pañj Piāre churned the holy water following the Gurū's example and administered to him the vows they had received from him. Even his name changed to (Gurū) Gobind Siṅgh. Many Sikhs then volunteered to undergo initiation.

         The five who took the next turn were Rām Siṅgh, Devā Siṅgh, Ṭahal Siṅgh, Īshar Siṅgh and Fateh Siṅgh. They were called by the Gurū Pañj Mukte, the Five Liberated Ones. According to the Gurū kīāṅ Sākhīāṅ, in the next row stood Manī Rām, Bachittar Dās, Ude Rāi, Anik Dās, Ajāb Dās, Ajāib Chand, Chaupat Rāi, Dīwān Dharam Chand, Ālam Chand Nachnā and Sāhib Rām Koer, followed by Rāi Chand Multānī, Gurbakhsh Rāi, Gurbakhshīsh Rāi, Paṇḍit Kirpā Rām Datt of Maṭṭan, Subeg Chand, Gurmukh Dās, Sanmukh Dās, Amrik Chand, Purohit Dayā Rām, Barnā, Ghanī Dās, Lāl Chand Peshauriā, Rūp Chand, Soḍhī Dīp Chand, Nand Chand, Nānū Rām of Dilvālī, and Hazārī, Bhaṇḍārī and Darbārī of Sirhind.

         Khaṇḍe dī pāhul thus supplanted charanāmrit. Since then initiation has been by amrit or holy water prepared in the manner laid down by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. For the novitiates the same ceremony will be repeated. Pañj Piāre chosen at any place for their piety and reputation will officiate, in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib attended by a Granthī. Among the Paňj Piāre could be women too, as there could be among the novitiates. No particular age is prescribed for initiation. It could take place any time the novitiate is able to appreciate the significance of the ceremony and is prepared to abide by the discipline it imposed. A patit, an apostate or lapsed Sikh guilty of committing a kurahit, i.e. violation of any of the prohibitions laid down by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, will have to go through the same ceremony to have himself reinitiated and readmitted into the Khālsā fold. Khālsā rahit or discipline flowing from khaṇḍe dī pāhul has been sought to be codified in Rahitnāmās, manuals of conduct. Some of these are attributed to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's contemporaries such as Bhāī Dayā Siṅgh, Bhāī Chaupā Siṅgh and Bhāī Nand Lāl.

         Directions with regard to the conduct of the amrit ceremony as issued by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee in its publication Sikh Rahit Maryādā are as follows:

        a) The initiation ceremony may be conducted in any quiet and convenient place. In addition to the Gurū Granth Sāhib, presence of six Sikhs is necessary : one granthī to read from the Gurū Granth Sāhib and five to administer the rites.

        b) Both receiving initiation and those administering it should bathe and wash their hair prior to the ceremony.

        c) Any Sikh who is mentally and physically 'whole" (man or woman) may administer the rites of initiation provided that he himself had received the rites and continues to wear the five K's, i.e. Sikh symbols each beginning with the Gurmukhī letter "ਕ”.

        d) Any man or woman of whatever nationality, race or social standing, who is prepared to accept the rules governing the Khālsā community, is eligible to receive initiation.

        e) No minimum or maximum age limit is stipulated for those receiving initiation.

        f) Those undergoing initiation should have the five K's (unshorn hair, comb, shorts, sword, steel bangle). No jewellery or distinctive marks associated with other faiths may be worn. The head must be covered.

        g) Anyone seeking readmission after having resiled from his previous pledges may be awarded a penalty by the five administering initiation before being readmitted.

        h) During the ceremony, one of the five Piāre (“five loved ones” — representing the first five Sikhs), stands and explains the main rules and obligations of the Khālsā Panth. These are to love and pray to one God, to read, study and live according to the Sikh teachings, and to help and serve humanity at large.

         Those receiving initiation are then asked if they are willing to abide by these rules. If they indicate their assent one of the five says a prayer for the commencement of the preparation of the Amrit (Nectar) and a lesson or passage from the Gurū Granth Sāhib randomly opened is read.

         Clean water and sugar or other soluble sweet is placed in the bowl which must be of steel. The five now position themselves around the bowl in the bīr āsan position (kneeling on the right knee with the weight of the body on the right foot, and the left knee raised). Having so positioned themselves they commence to recite the following :

        The Japūjī Sāhib, Jāp Sāhib, Ten Svaiyyās (Sarāvag sudh vāle), Bentī Chaupaī (from Hamrī kāro hāth dai rachchhā to dushṭ dokh te leho bachāī and the first five verses and the last verse of Anandu Sāhib.

         Anyone who is reciting these prayers should place his left hand on the edge of the bowl and stir the nectar with a short sword held in the right hand. The others participating in the ceremony should place both hands on the edge of the bowl and concentrate and meditate on the nectar.

         After the completion of these prayers, one of the five says the ardās, after which the nectar is served. Only those who have sat through the whole ceremony may be served.

         The Nectar is received by those being initiated whilst sitting in the bīr āsan position (previously described) with the hands cupped, right on left, to receive the nectar.

         This is received five times in the cupped hands; each time after receiving the nectar, the person being initiated says "Vāhigurū jī kā Khālsā, Srī Vāhigurū jī kī Fateh.” This salutation is repeated each time the nectar is sprinkled on the eyes (5 times) and hair (5 times). The remainder of the nectar is then shared by those receiving initiation, all drinking from the same bowl.

         After this, all those taking part in the ceremony recite the Mūl Mantra in unison:

        There is one God; His name is truth,

        The all-pervading Creator,

        Without fear, without hatred;

        Immortal, unborn, self-existent.


         One of the five then details the rules and obligations applying to the initiates.

         "From now on your existence as ordinary individuals has ceased, and you are members of the Khālsā brotherhood. Your religious father is Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (the tenth and last Gurū, founder of the Khālsā brotherhood) and Sāhib Kaur your mother. Your spiritual birthplace is Kesgaṛh Sāhib (birthplace of the Khālsā) and your home Anandpur Sāhib (the place where Gurū Gobind Siṅgh inaugurated the Khālsā). Your common spiritual parentage makes you all brothers and you should all forsake your previous name (surname) and previous local and religious loyalties. You are to pray to God and God alone, through the scriptures and teachings of the ten Gurūs. You should learn the Gurmukhī script if you do not know it already and read daily the Japjī, Jāp, Das Svaiyye, Sodaru Rahrāsi and Sohilā, and should hear or read the Gurū Granth Sāhib. You must keep the five K's and are forbidden to:

        i) smoke tobacco or take drugs

        ii) eat meat killed by ritual slaughter (i.e. according to Muslim or Jewish rites)

        iii) commit adultery

        iv) cut your hair


         Anyone who contravenes any of these rules has broken his amrit vows. He must go through the ceremony afresh after a suitable penance if the contravention has been deliberate.

         Members of the Khālsā must be always ready to work for the community and should donate one tenth of their income for the furtherance of religious or social work.

        j) The newly initiated Sikhs are told not to associate with:

        (i) the followers of Prithī Chand, Dhir Māll, Rām Rāi or other breakaway groups

        (ii) those who actively oppose Sikhism

        (iii) those who practise infanticide

        (iv) those who take alcohol, tobacco or drugs

        (v) those who wed their children for monetary considerations

        (vi) those who perform any rite or ceremony not sanctioned in Sikhism

        vii apostate Sikhs who do not adhere to the five K's.


        k) Ardās is then said and followed by the reading of the hukam. Finally, any of those present with a name that was not chosen using the Gurū Granth Sāhib, are asked to choose a new name in the customary manner.

         The ceremony is then concluded with distribution of karāh prasad, which, to emphasize the new brotherhood, is eaten by those newly initiated from a common plate.


  1. Sikh Rahit Maryādā. Amritsar, 1975
  2. Kuir Siṅgh, Gurbilās Pātshāhī 10, ed. Shamsher Siṅgh Ashok. Patiala, 1968
  3. Kapur Siṅgh, Parāśarapraśna. Amritsar 1989
  4. Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs : Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978
  5. Sher Singh, ed., Thoughts on Symbols in Sikhism. Lahore, 1927

Tāran Siṅgh