VĀK, from Sanskrit vāka (sounding, speaking; a text, recitation or formula) or vākya (speech, saying, statement, declaration, a sentence or period), has a special connotation in the Sikh system. In Sikh terminology, Vāk means the command or lesson read from the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Vāk laiṇā or hukam laiṇā (obtaining or receiving the Gurū's word or command) is for the Sikhs tantamount to having a darshan or audience of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, ever present Gurū for them. It is an act of seeking the counsel or instruction of the Gurū who 'speaks' through the vāk or hymn recited aloud. Customarily, vāk or hukam is recited in saṅgat by an officiant after the installation or opening of the Gurū Granth Sāhib in the morning and every time after ardās or supplicatory prayer is said at the end of the service. Vāk or hukam may be read individually by the seeker from the Holy Book in thegurdwārā or in his own home or he may request the granthī (officiant) or any one else present to read it out for him.

        The Sikh Rahit Maryādā or the code governing Sikh belief and practice published by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, statutorily elected religious body representative of the entire Sikh community, lays down the following procedure under the head hukam laiṇā:

        (a) To bow before the Gurū Granth Sāhib, respectfully to attend the saṅgat which truly represents the Gurū, and to recite or listen to vāk amounts to having the darshan or sight of the True Gurū. To have a sight of the Gurū Granth Sāhib by uncovering it and then not to read the vāk is manmat or self-willed transgression.


        (b) During the congregation, only one thing should take place at a time--- kīrtan, discourse or scripture-reading.

        (c) During the congregation, only a Sikh (man or woman) is entitled to sit in attendance of the Gurū Granth Sāhib.

        (d) While any one, Sikh or non-Sikh, may read the Scripture for himself, only a Sikh should read it aloud for the saṅgat.

        (e) For obtaining vāk, the hymn at the top of the left hand page of Gurū Granth Sāhib opened at random should be read out from the beginning. If the beginning is at the preceding page, the leaf may be turned. A complete hymn should be read ending with the line where usually the name Nānak appears.

        (f) Hukam should also be picked from the holy book at the end to mark the close of the ceremony.


        Vāk thus recited in slow rhythm and with correct intonation makes impact on the listeners. It is taken to be the Gurū's command for the day. Historically, there have been instances when theological or even mundane disputes have been settled by having recourse to vāk. For example, on 12 October 1920, when the priests of the Harimandar refused to accept the sacrament (kaṛāh prasād) brought by a group of the so-called low castes, it was agreed to obtain the Gurū's verdict. The priests agreed. As the custom goes, the Gurū Granth Sāhib was opened at random and the words read impromptu went unambiguously in favour of the reformers. This was accepted without argument and without question. Such reliance on vāk arises from the belief of the devotees that the bāṇī of Gurū Granth Sāhib is revelation enjoying Divine sanction.


  1. Sikh Rahit Maryādā. Amritsar, n.d
  2. Cole, W Owen, The Guru is Sikhism. London, 1982

Piārā Siṅgh Sāmbhī