VAIRĀG, usually bairāg or sometimes virāg in Punjabi, is derived from Sanskrit vairāgyā meaning "change or loss of colour, growing pale; disgust, aversion, distaste for or loathing of freedom from all worldly desire, indifference to worldly objects or to life ; asceticism," or analysed as vi (prefix denoting disunion, separation, division) + rāg (act of colouring or dyeing, colour, hue, tint, dye especially red colour, redness; any feeling or passion especially love, affection or sympathy for; vehement desire of, interest, joy, delight in; musical note, harmony, melody; loveliness, beauty). Simply stated, vairāg has been defined as a mental state or attitude implying "detachment from and indifference to all things that stimulate desire, arouse the passion and strengthen any of the other virtues or vices." Thus defined vairāga may be desirable or otherwise depending on what its practitioner desires or disapproves. However, the term is more often than not employed to connote freedom from all worldly desires and indifference to worldly objects and to life itself. It is thus considered as synonymous with renunciation and asceticism.

        Asceticism, which is the consequence of vairāg, is a value acknowledged in many advanced religions including Christianity and Islam. In traditional Indian religions it is at the core, and has given rise to numerous sects of anchorites and hermits. All these indulge in ritual practices of their respective order. One of the sects of Vaiṣṇav anchorites is named Bairāgī (Skt. Vairāgin). Sannyāsīs (Skt. sannyāsin), torn from worldly affairs, seek liberation by renunciation, meditation or repeated chanting of certain mantras aloud or sotto voce.

        Sikhism introduced significant changes in the traditional concept of vairāg. For the Gurū the world and worldly life were not to be despised because they were the manifested part of the Ultimate Reality. God created earth as dharamsāl, i.e. premises for right action (GG. 7) and human birth is a rare chance fox God-realization (GG.12). Disinterested participation and not renunciation is therefore the right path. Vairāg must be differentiated from tyāg (renunciation) and sannyās (monasticism). Mere abandonment of property means nothing so long as the mind remains chained to desire. Vairāg implies freedom from desire other than a craving for nearness to God.

        In Punjabi speech virāg (vairāg) is also used for yearning, love sickness or sadness caused by separation. Bairāg in this sense is also used by the Gurūs in their hymns to express deep longing for God. Gurū Rām Dās, Nānak IV, says, "Come, meet me O God ; I have been separated for long ; my mind is full of bairāg, my eyes moist with love," (GG, 449). Gurū Arjan also sang, mani bairāg bhaiā darsanu dekhanai kā chāu--- "my mind craves, anxious to have a glimpse" (GG, 50). Vairāg in Sikhism thus connotes not renunciation and escapism, but living a life of rightful activity with a longing to win God's pleasure. Says Gurū Nānak, "Countless bairāgīs talk of bairāg; but bairāgī is he whom the lord likes" (GG, 634).

        According to Gurū Rām Das, "True bairāgīs are those fortunate ones who, living in their houses with their families in a trance of equipoise, imbued in Lord's name and concentrating on Śabda, the Gurū's Word, serve the True Lord" (GG,1246): To quote Gurū Nānak again, "a householder, bairāgī at heart, who dyed in truth and God's fear sips the nectar of true knowledge, feels no other hunger" (GG, 21).

        Three things are necessary for the cultivation of true vairāg--- Gurū, faith and God's grace. As Kabīr says in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, "One does not have detachment (vairāg) without the true Gurū even if one wishes and craves for it" (GG,1104). For the Sikh Gurūs' Word (gurbāṇī) is the true Gurū who shows him the right path. Unwavering faith in the Gurū is, however, necessary. Doubt (dubidhā) being antithesis of faith is a great hinderance to true vairāg, as says Gurū Nānak," so long as there is even an iota of dubidhā, detachment (vairāg) cannot be attained" (GG, 634). But ultimately, everything depends on God's will and pleasure, that is nadar, a basic concept in Sikhism. Neither Gurū nor giān (true knowledge) nor vairāg is found without God's grace. As already said, "countless talk of vairāg but vairāgī is he whom He wills so to be" (GG, 634).


  1. Jodh Siṅgh, Bhāī, Gurmati Nirṇaya. Patiala, 1990
  2. Sher Siṅgh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

Pritam Siṅgh Safeer