TANKHAHNĀMĀ, by Bhāī Nand Lāl, is a Sikh penal code laying down punishments and fines for those guilty of religious misconduct. Tankhāh, a Persian word, actually means salary, reward or profit, and nāmā, also Persian denoting an epistle, a code or a catalogue. In Sikh usage, however, tankhāh stands for the opposite of its original meaning and juxtaposed with nāmā it means a religious penal code. Any Sikh, particularly one who received the pāhul (nectar of the double-edged sword) for initiation into the fold of the Brotherhood of the Khālsā, committing a breach of rahit (stipulated conduct) and guilty of kurahit (misconduct) is subject to be punished. One who is so punished is called tankhāhīā. It is traditionally held that the term tankhāh meaning fine for a religious lapse or infringement was first used in the lifetime of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh who was once laid under a penal levy by his own Sikhs for saluting with his arrow the tomb of the saint Dādū (worship of sepulchre or cemetery being taboo according to the Gurū's injunction). Gurū Gobind Siṅgh willingly submitted to the verdict of the Khālsā.

        Bhāī Nand Lāl was a devotee of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and a scholar of Persian in which language he wrote poetry of rare refinement. Answering his questions once, the Gurū defined acts worthy of a Sikh and those not worthy of him. Bhāī Nand Lāl is said to have recorded the former in his Rahitnāmā and the latter in his Tankhāhnāmā. For him who becomes liable to punishment, he uses the word tankhāhī, not tankhāhīā.

        In the Tankhāhnāmā itself a positive and idealistic pattern of living has been charted too. A true Khālsā must, for instance, lead a life of nām (meditation on the Name, dān (charity) and isnān (purification).

        He should overcome the five lusts and be above superstition, pride and adultery; and he should be constantly absorbed in nām; he should protect the weak and the needy, advance against the tyrannical and be armed always to fight evil (verses 27-31). Negatively, a Sikh who does not join the company of the holy, does not bow to the sacred word being recited and does not treat with equality the poorer members in the fellowship invites retribution (verses 3-5). So will a Sikh, who, when distributing kaṛāh prasād, communion food, resorts to greed or distributes unevenly or casts a wanton eye upon the womenfolk (verses 6,10); who bows to the Turks, tyrannical rulers, or dishonours the arms by touching them with his feet; a Sikh who is rash, who gives away his daughter or sister in matrimony for money (verse 11); who carries not his sword and who by deception robs a wayfarer or a guest of his belongings (verse 12); who does not contribute dasvandh, the prescribed one-tenth of one's income, to the community's funds and who earns his livelihood by falsehood (verse 14); who indulges in backbiting and does not keep his word (verse 16); who eats kosher meat dressed in the Muslim way (verse 17); and he who goes about with his head uncovered or eats or distributes food with his head uncovered (verse 24). Verses 7-8 describe the method of preparing kaṛāh prasād. In verses 32 to 36, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh tells Bhāī Nand Lāl that the Khālsā who inflicts not pain on the masses shall be supreme and rule over the land; after defeating and vanquishing the Turks, the community shall bear all the symbols of royalty; the Khālsā shall ride horse and keep hawks; all rebels shall be subdued ; there shall be perfect equality between man and man which will be the victory of the Supreme Lord, the Timeless Being, who alone will remain when all else perishes.


  1. Gaṇḍā Siṅgh, ed., Bhāī Nand Lāl Granthāvalī. Malacca (Malaya), 1968
  2. Padam, Piārā Siṅgh, Rahitnāme. Patiala, 1974
  3. Nripinder Siṅgh, The Sikh Moral Tradition, Delhi,1990

Tāran Siṅgh