RAHIT MARYĀDĀ, traditions and rules which govern the distinctive Sikh way of life and determine Sikh belief and practice. Rahit, from the Punjabi verb rahiṇā (to live, to remain), means mode of living while maryādā is a Sanskrit word composed of marya (limit, boundary, mark) and ādā (to give to oneself, to accept, to undertake), meaning bounds or limits of morality and propriety, rule or custom. Gurū Nānak, who founded the Sikh faith, and his nine successors who nurtured the community during the first two centuries of its existence, not only set for their followers a strict moral standard, but also a distinctive pattern of personal appearance and social behaviour. The tenets of Sikh faith and rules of conduct are not set in any formal treatise, but are scattered in their Scripture and other religious texts and in their historical records. Attempting systematic statements of rules several rahitnāmās or codes of conduct appeared during the eighteenth century after the promulgation by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh of Khālsā rahit or discipline. Another similar and more detailed work of the same period is the anonymous Prem Sumārag. Some general rules regarding Sikh rahit are also contained in various hukamnāmās (decrees or rules in the form of letters) of the Gurūs. Important features of Sikh rahit māryādā may be summed up under the titles: physical appearance; religious beliefs and observances; moral conduct; and social behaviour.

         The first mark of religious investiture of a Sikh personality is kes, i.e, unshorn hair of the head covered with a turban, and an untrimmed beard. Kes is one of the five symbols which every regular, initiated Sikh must adopt, the other four being kaṅghā (comb in the hair), kaṛā (steel bangle), kachchh (shorts) and kirpān (sword), collectively known as the five K's, each beginning with the letter "K". These were the physical features of the rahit prescribed for Sikhs by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh when he administered the rites of initiation to the first Five admitted to the Khālsā brotherhood on the Baisākhī day (March 30) of AD 1699. They were signs of the bond that linked the Sikh community together and gave it its distinctive identity. They were a declaration of privilege as also of the intent to be prepared steadfastly to uphold the ideals the Gurū had demarcated.

         Belief in One Infinite Timeless and Formless Creator God is fundamental to a Sikh's religious creed. His worship is addressed to Him to the exclusion of any incarnations of the divine, the gods and goddesses, idols and images. His devotional practice consists in rising early and reciting his morning prayers after bathing, joining the saṅgat or holy fellowship in gurdwārā, listening to the Gurū's word, and meditating upon God's Name. Gurū for the Sikh is Gurū Nānak and his nine spiritual successors and, then, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the Holy Book ordained Gurū by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, Nānak X. A Sikh believes in the oneness of the Ten Gurūs — all of one light, all one in spirit though different in body. He bows in all circumstances to God's Will (hukam) and has faith in His compassion (dayā) and grace (nadar). He treats his birth as a hukam, being a gift from God and a rare opportunity for his moral and spiritual evolution. Active participation in life as a householder is, therefore, preferred to asceticism. Yet one must live in the world like the lotus which emerges from the mud pure and spotless. Rahitnāmās as well as the religious texts adjure one specifically to be truthful, honest and humble and not to steal, gamble, cheat or slander. Special emphasis is laid on virtuous sexual behaviour. A Sikh male is to treat all women other than his spouse as mothers, sisters and daughters. A Sikh female is similarly required to be chaste and morally blameless. Sikhs do not smoke and are not to consume drugs and intoxicants.

         A Sikh regards all human beings as equal. The Gurūs enjoined him to recognize all mankind as one. They rejected the caste system. "False," said Gurū Nānak, "is caste, and false the titled fame. One Supreme Lord sustaineth all" (GG,83). The Sikh institutions of saṅgat (fellowship) and paṅgat (commensality) invalidate distinctions based on birth or social position. Women among the Sikhs enjoy equal status with men. The Gurūs disapproved of the practice of satī (burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband's body prevalent among the Hindus). The rahitṅīamās expressly lay down injunctions against those who practise female infanticide. A practical and positive step towards the realization of universal brotherhood is the Sikh emphasis on sevā (disinterested service) which extends from labour of the hands in Gurū kā Laṅgar or community kichen to hospitality and charity and to readiness to making any sacrifice to help the oppressed and relieve their distress. The essentials of Sikh message can be summed up from three perspectives: loving involvement with God's revelation through nām,i.e, remembrance or repetition of His Name, straining for the achievement of basic needs, and holding as common possession the fruits of one's labour — partaking of them only upon having dealt with the needs especially of the indigent. In Sikh system, these norms are represented by the three principles: nām japṇā kiat karnī and vaṇḍ chhakṇā.

         Sikh rahit as based on the teachings of the Gurūs and rahitnāmās became lax during the comparative ease and prosperity of Sikh rule in the Punjab. Leaders of the reformatory movements such as Niraṅkārī, Nāmdhārī and Siṅgh Sabhā during the latter half of the nineteenth century sought to restore the purity of belief and living a pattern in consonance with Sikh tenets. New codes and manuals appeared, especially under the auspices of the Siṅgh Sabhā. Fundamentalist in approach was Khālsā Rahit Prakāsh adopted at an open meeting by Pañch Khālsā Dīwān at Damdāmā Sāhib on 13 April 1905, and later released by Bābū Tejā Siṅgh. At the other extreme, making many a concession to Brahmanical practice, was Avtār Siṅgh Vahīrīa's Khālsā Dharam Shāstra: Saṅskār Bhāg issued in 1894, but later enlarged into Khālsā Religious National Law, and published in 1914. In between lay the Chief Khālsā Dīwān's Gurmat Prakāsh: Bhāg Saṅskār, first issued in 1915. More widely accepted and authoritative codes were prepared under the aegis of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, originally established on 15 November 1920 to take over management of Sikh shrines and recognized as a statutory body representing the entire Sikh community under the Sikh Gurdwārāa Act, 1925. On 15 March 1927, it appointed a 28-member Rahu-rīt(i.e. rahit māryādā) sub-committee "to preprare a draft rahu-rīt in the light of rahitnāmās and other Sikh texts and in consultation with leading Sikh scholars." Later, the task was entrusted to Professor Tejā Siṅgh, of Khālsā College, Amritsar, who prepared a draft which was published in the April 1931 issue of the Gurdwārā Gazette, the official organ of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, for eliciting public opinion. The Rahurīt sub-committee considered the draft as well as the comments received from various quarters at its meetings held at Srī Akāl Takht on 4-5 October 1931, 3 January 1932 and 31 January 1932. The final version, after being referred to Sarb Hind (i.e. All-India) Sikh Mission Board and further amended by Dhārmik Salāhkār (i.e. Religious Advisory) Committee received final approval by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā' Parbandhak Committee on 3 February 1945. It was then published under the title Sikh Rahit Māryādā. The manual defines a Sikh as "a person who has faith in the One Timeless Being, the Ten Gurūs (from Srī Gurū Nānak Dev to Srī Gurū Gobind Siṅgh), Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib, their bāṇī (i.e. sacred hymns) and teachings, and in the amrit of the Tenth Master, and who does not follow any other religion." The Sikh rahit is divided into shakh (individual) and panthic (communal).The former is further dealt with under nām-bānī dā abhyās (religious practice), gurmat dī: rāhiṇī (living according to the Gurūs' instructions) and sevā (service). Detailed instructions are given about the nitnem or daily prayers, the form of ardās or supplicatory prayer, and how to act in the saṅgat and in the gurdwārā. Instructions regarding the time-bound and open-ended reading of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, kaṛāh prasād (sacred food or sacrament) and kathā, i.e. discourse on the Scripture as well as rules of social and moral conduct and ceremonies such as those concerning birth, marriage and death are also given in this section. The section on panthic rahiṇī includes sub-sections on Gurū Panth (the Sikh community or the Khālsā); initiation ceremony of the Khālsā procedure for gurmatā or formal resolution adopted in the presence of the Gurū and, finally, authority of the Akāl Takht to hear and decide on appeals against the decisions of local saṅgats.


  1. Vahīrīā, Avtār Siṅgh, Khālsā Dharam Shāstra: Saṅskār Bhāg. Lahore, 1896
  2. Chief Khālsā Dīwān, Gurmat Prakāsh: Bhāg Saṅskkār. 1914
  3. Sikh Rahit Maryādā. Amritsar, n.d.
  4. Raṇdhīr Siṅgh, Bhāī, ed., Prem Sumārag Granth. Jalandhar,1965
  5. Padam, Piārā Siṅgh, Rahitnāme. Patiala,1974
  6. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

Sardārnī Premkā Kaur