RAHITNĀME, plural of rahitnāmā (rahit = conduct, stipulated conduct or way of life: nāme = letters, writings, manuals) is a term used in Punjabi in reference to a genre of writings specifying approved way of life for a Sikh. These writings, enunciating conduct and behaviour in accordance with the principles of the Sikh religion contain instructions regarding personal and social behaviour, applicable especially to those who have been admitted to the Khālsā brotherhood through ceremonies by the double-edged sword. Sikhism laid as much stress on correct personal conduct as on the purity of mind. Gurū Nānak for whom truth is synonymous with God recognizes the sovereignty of conduct (GG, 62). "His conduct will alone be pure who cherishes Him in his heart," says Gurū Nānak in another of his hymns (GG,831). And "rahiṇī, i.e. conduct moulded in accordance with śabda, is the truest conduct" (GG,56). Rahit as right thinking and right action is also distinguished from rahit as outward formal appearance by Gurū Arjan, Nānak V: "(The misguided one) acts differently. from the rahit he proclaims; he pretends love (for God) without devotion in his heart; (but) the Omniscient Lord knows all and is not beguiled by external form" (GG, 169). Besides these general statements, more specific instructions for the moral guidance of a believer are found scattered throughout the Sikh scriptures.

         The literature containing the rahit can broadly be divided into three categories the textual source which includes Sikh scriptures, other approved Sikh canon, and hukamnāmās; the traditional Sikh history including janam Sākhīs, gurbilāses and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's own announcement not to have a personal successor and to pass on the gurūship jointly and permanently to the granth (the Gurū Granth Sāhib) and the panth (Khālsā Brotherhood). The textual sources with such precepts as can be extrapolated from them are accepted as general constituents of the Sikh rahit. Among the sources of traditional Sikh history, the most important are the utterances traced directly to the Gurūs, especially Gurū Gobind Siṅgh who laid down, at the time of the inauguration of the Khālsā in 1699, rules of conduct and introduced regulations to confer upon his followers a distinctive identity. However, these sources do not, strictly speaking , belong to the genre known as rahitnāmās. Bhāī Nand Lāl and some other Sikhs contemporary or near contemporary with Gurū Gobind Siṅgh compiled the first rahitnāmās. The chief Khālsā Dīwān's Gurmat Prakāsh Bhāg Saṅskār (Amritsar, 1915), Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee's Sikh Rahit Maryādā (Amritsar, 1950) and the English translation Rahit Maryādā: A Guide to the Sikh Way of Life (London, 1971) are the modern versions of rahitnāmās.

         The authorship and dates of composition of some of the latter-day rahitnāmās are not above dispute: interpolations are not ruled out, either. Most of these works are ascribed to Sikhs closely connected with Gurū Gobind Siṅgh; they are in some instances described as dictated or authenticated by the Gurū himself. However, these claims or that they belong to the 17th or early 18th century do not stand strict scrutiny.

         Three of Bhāī Nānd Lāl's works fall in the category of rahitnāmās. Rahitnāmā Bhāī Nānd Lāl in Sadhukāṛī verse, is in the form of a dialogue between the poet and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh during which the latter expounds the rules of conduct laid down for a gursikh or true follower of the faith. The penultimate verse (22) of the Rahitnāmā indicates that this dialogue took place at Anandpur on 5 December 1695, i.e. before the creation of the Khālsā. That explains the absence from it of any reference to pañjkakārī rahit, i.e. the five-symbol discipline of the Khālsā. In the text every Sikh is enjoined to rise early in the morning, take his bath and, having recited Japu and Jāp, to go to see the Gurū among the saṅgat and to listen attentively to the holy word being expounded. He should attend the evening service comprising Rahrāsi, Kīrtan (or Kīrtan Sohilā) and discourse. In answer to Nand Lāl’s request to Elaborate the phrase "Gurū's darshan” i.e. a sight of the Gurū, the latter explains that the Gurū has three aspects, first nirguṇa (without attributes or transcendent), the second sarguṇa (with attributes or qualities) and gurśabda, (the Gurū in form of śabda). The first (Vāhigurū) is beyond sensory perception, but Gurū in the second form can be seen manifested in the entire creation or more concretely in (Gurū) Granth Sāhib, the Sikh Scripture. "Whoever wishes to see me," said Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, "should see Granth jī and should listen attentively to and reflect upon the Gurū's word contained in it." His third form, explained the Gurū, is his Sikh. "A Gursikh who having totally banished his ego dedicates himself whole heartedly to service and observes these rules truly represents me."

         In format, language and style, Bhāī Nand Lāl's Tankhāhnāmā, his second work, follows the same model as his Rahitnāmā, but in content it deals directly with rules and injunctions, especially those breach of which attracts a religious penalty, tankhāh in Sikh terminology. Punishment prescribed in this Tankhāhnāmā is neither corporeal nor pecuniary, but consists in Gurū's displeasure or imprecation. Who becomes liable to tankhāh? He who ignores nām, dān and isnāna (glorification of God's name, charity, holy bath); who joins not regularly the satsaṅg or holy fellowship; who allows his mind to wander while sitting among the company of the holy; who expresses hatred for a poor member of the community; who does not bow to the śabda; who is selfish and greedy while distributing kaṛāh prasād or the holy communion; who puts on the rulers' Turkish turban; who touches a sword with the toe; who distributes kaṛāh prasād or laṅgar without being in full regalia; who dons red apparel; who uses tobacco-snuff; who looks lasciviously upon the womenfolk; who is easily enraged; who gives a daughter or sister in marriage for money; who wears not the sword; who deprives a helpless person of his money or belongings; who pays not the dasvandh or tithe; who bathes not in cold water; who eats supper without reciting the Rahrāsi; who goes to sleep at night without reciting the Kirtan Sohilā; who stands not by his word; who combs not his hair twice daily; who ties not his turban afresh every day; who brushes not the teeth regularly; who slanders others; who eats flesh of an animal slaughtered slowly in the Muslim way; who sings compositions other than those of the Gurūs; who attends performances by dancing girls; who goes to his work without a prayer to the Gurū who breaks his fast without making an offering to the Gurū who commits adultery; who gives not alms to the deserving; who indulges in abuse; who gambles; who hears without protest calumny against the Gurū who earns his livelihood by cheating others; who eats without uttering the word Vāhigurū; who visits a prostitute; who moves, about with head uncovered; who heeds not the Gurū's word; and so on.

         Although Tankhāhnāmā refers to the Khālsā as an established order of devoutly religious warriors, it makes no reference to its five symbols or to the taboos. Besides religious and moral practices of a general nature, it alludes to rules of personal and social etiquette, even of personal hygiene. The last verse of Tankhahnāmā, which the Sikhs usually recite in unison after ardās, contains the well-familiar litany, Rāj karegā khālsā…

         Sākhī Rahit Kī, also ascribed to Bhāī Nand Lāl, is a summary in Punjabi prose of a dialogue between Bhāī Nand Lāl and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. The Gurū adjures his Khālsā to bow only before the Gurū's word and shun Brāhmanical beliefs, rites and rituals. Use of tobacco and trimming or shaving of hair are prohibited. So are adultery, thieving, backbiting and slander. Positive injunctions include early rising, daily ablutions, riciting nitnem, honest work, love of śabda and hospitality. Rahitnāmā Bhāī Prahilād Siṅgh is a short poem comprising 38 couplets. It is anachronistically dated at Abchalnagar (Nāndeḍ) in 1695 when Gurū Gobind Siṅgh was still in Anandpur. Prahilād Siṅgh, Prahilād Rāi before his initiation as a Siṅgh, was a scholarly Brāhmaṇ who at the instance of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh rendered into bhākhā vernacular 50 Upaniṣads which Prince Dārā Shukoh had got translated into Persian. His Rahitnāmā forbids a Sikh to wear a cap or a janeu, the sacred thread of the caste Hindus. It forbids association with masands, with the heretic sect called Mīṇās, with those who shave their heads or with those who practise female infanticide. Use of snuff is also forbidden. The Sikhs must shun idolatry and the worship of graves. They must have faith only in God, the Gurū Granth, Sāhib, and the Gurū Khālsā.

         Rahitnāmā Bhāī Dayā Siṅgh presents in prose, to begin with, the rules of conduct as coming from the lips of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh himself; in this case the author is the first among the Pañj Piāre. The reference in it to Muktsar and Abchalnagar, injunction against the learning of Persian and Sanskrit and the mythical origin of the ceremony of amrit create doubts about its authorship. Besides the usual injunctions regarding the recitation of nitnem, the five symbols of the Khālsā, the K's, nām simaran, etc., and those prohibiting idolatry and Brāhmaṇical practices, the distinctive features of this Rahitnāmā are: the description of how amrit is prepared and administered; proclamation that Khālsā is the incarnation of God; the names of the five Muktās; prescription of fine and corporeal punishment for certain religious offences, and procedure for the redemption of offenders; recognition of Granth-Panth as Gurū inclusion of Dhirmallīās and Rām Rīās among the fallen sects to be boycotted socially; and minutiae with regard to some minor prescriptions and prohibitions.

         Rahitnāmā Hazūrī, also called Rahitnāmā Bhāī Chaupā Siṅgh, is the most elaborate statement of rules of conduct for the Sikhs. Its authorship is traditionally ascribed to Bhāī Chaupā Siṅgh Chhibbar, who had been in attendance upon Gurū Gobind Siṅgh since his (the Gurū's) childhood. Kesar Siṅgh Chhibbar describes briefly in his Baṅsāvalīnāmā how Gurū Gobind Siṅgh decided to have the rules of Khālsā conduct codified and recorded, and how the Gurū responded, shortly before the siege of Anandpur and its evacuation, to the requests from his Sikhs by commanding Chaupā Siṅgh to write a rahitnāmā. When Chaupā Siṅgh humbly professed insufficient competence for so weighty a responsibility, he was reassured by the promise that the Gurū himself would inspire and direct his words. Dutifully, he recorded a rahitnāmā a copy of which written in the hand of Sītal Siṅgh Bahrūpīā was taken to the Gurū for his imprimatur. A second copy was then prepared by a Sūd Sikh and this too was certified by the Gurū. The work was, according to internal evidence, authenticated by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh on 7 Jeṭh 1757 Bk/5 May 1700.The Gurū ordered, it further states, that more copies of it should be got similarly attested and no additions to it were to be made. The concluding portion of this Rahitnāmā containing dates 1759 Bk and 1763 Bk( AD1702 and 1706) is apparently an addition by Chaupā Siṅgh or by interpolaters later. The extant text of the Rahitnāmā seems to be a composite work drawn from at least three different sources. It begins as a formal rahitnāmā presenting a regular series of injunctions, but then switches over to a narrative sequence. It subsequently returns to its formal presentation of the rahit abandoning it again for another extended narrative sequence.

         Of the 1800 injunctions contained in the Rahitnāmā the main ones are: A Sikh should regularly say his nitnem, and be always alert in attending to his duty and earn his living by the labour of his hands; he should have no dealing with mīṇās, masands, rāmrāīās, the shaven ones, and with those who practise female infanticide; he should not drink liquor; he should never be parted from the five, viz. kachchh (shorts), kes (hair), kirpān (sword), bāṇī and saṅgat, he should not use nor deal in tobacco and should not give his daughter in marriage to one who smokes; he should regularly set aside dasvandh or tithe, and he should not trade in pothīs or manuscript copies of gurbāṇī. A special feature of Rahitnāmā Hazūrī is a section devoted to Sikh women. Some of the stipulations: they should not bathe naked; should ensure personal hygiene and cleanliness while cooking or serving; should not abuse a male; should cover their heads while in saṅgat; should learn to read (Gurū) Granth Sāhib but must not read it in public; they should not be baptized; should shun unclean songs and jokes; should be religious, modest and chaste; and so on.

         The Rahitnāmā contains a classic catalogue of Sikh characteristics and virtues. In a free English rendering: Sikh faith is his who honours his kes and preserves them to his very last breath; who recites the śabda; who finds his fulfilment in doing his duty; who reflects on the Gurū's teaching; who is armed with the weapon of chastity; whose word is truth; who accepts the preordained law; who rejoices in feeding others; who believes in the sovereignty of the sword; who worships the Timeless One; who adores the weapons; who has a reputation for charity; who exudes fragrance of his Sikh faith; who earns repute by his readiness to serve others; who commands the sweetness of speech; who is true to his salt; who is modest in his appearance; whose grihastha is with his gentle wife of good breeding; who lives always in the Lord's presence; who adores his family; who obeys the command of the Gurū who lives by the teachings of the Gurū Granth Sāhib; who rejoices in the rites of the Khālsā who remains awake singing the Lord's praise; who dutifully washes his kes; who abjures wrong-doing; who is alert in his conduct; who is disciplined in his speech; whose rahit is truly in his heart rather than merely external; who holds his belief discerningly; who owns the Gurū who loves his fellow Sikhs; who serves his father and mother; who recites bāṇī from memory; who has his mind in control; who attains authority though in service; who has love in his heart; who shares with others what he has; who annihilates his sins; whose dealings are marked by propriety; whose addiction is prasād, i.e. kaṛah prasād (the Sikh sacrament); who is ready for a square fight; who acknowledges the power of the Word; who contributes to the advancement of dharma; who is desirous always of contemplating on His Name.

         However, the extant texts of the Rahitnāmā are adulterated and contain injunctions which are in conflict with approved Sikh teaching. It grants, for example, a position of privilege to the Brāhmaṇ and orders a contemptuous ostracizing of the Muslims. The presence of strong Purāṇic element and the influence of the Devī cult are some of the other possible corruptions in the extant texts.

         Rahitnāmā Bhāī Desā Siṅgh is admittedly a late-18th-century work. It is in the form of a long poem of 146 couplets and short four-line stanzas. The poet states that he had lived in Buṅgā Maralīvālā at Amritsar where Sardār Jassā Siṅgh (Āhlūvālīā) has also lived for a long time. From there, in old age, he visited Paṭnā. During his travels after that, he once in a dream was ordered by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh to write down a code of conduct for the Sikhs. Bhāī Desā Siṅgh lays particular stress on the following points: a Sikh must receive the rites of the Khālsā by ceremony of the double-edged sword; should devote himself to bāṇī and refrain from backbiting and slander; should use vāhigurūjī kī fateh as the form of salutation and greeting, should recite regularly ordered texts; should treat all women other than his wife as daughters or mothers; must maintain the five symbols of the Sikhs; must not flee the battlefield; should make pilgrimage to the Sikh holy places; should serve only the Khālsā or should engage in agriculture, trade or industry, but should not seek employment with the Turks nor indulge in theft or robbery; should be an intent listener at recitals of Gurū Granth Sāhib and at religious discourses; must not use tobacco and other intoxicants nor kuṭṭhā (flesh of animal slaughtered in the Muslim fashion); should eat jhaṭkā (flesh of animal killed in the Sikh manner with a single blow), if at all; must learn reading and writing the Gurmukhī script; must beware of the five sins, viz. adultery, gambling, lying, stealing and liquor; should not criticize other religious faiths; should not live on offerings made at gurdwārās; even a Sikh minister should spend out of the offerings sparingly for his personal use and spend the major part for deg or Gurū kā Laṅgar and on maintenance of the gurdwārā. According to Desā Siṅgh, maintenance of unshorn hair (kes) is obligatory for a Sikh. A common form of living is important, but equally important is rahit or stipulated moral living. He says, "rahit su kesan ko ati bhūkhan/ rahit binā sir kes bhī dūkhan (rahit is ornament for the hair; without rahit the hair of the head too is a fake (verses 82-83). The poet then proceeds to set down instructions regarding the preparation and serving of laṅgar or community meal (90-123).


  1. Pādam, Piārā Siṅgh, Rahitnāme. Patiala, 1974
  2. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
  3. McLeod, W.H., Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester, 1984

Tāran Siṅgh