About the Nishan Sahib Answered
Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).
1. Question: Where do we refer to on matters regarding the Nishan Sahib?
Answer: To The Akaal Takhat sanctioned Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) or SRM. Every Sikh should have a copy of this booklet.
2. Question: Where should the Nishan Sahib be located in the Gurdwara Sahib?
Answer: The Akaal Takhat sanctioned Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) or SRM has the following stipulation relating to the Nishan Sahib in Section 3, Chapter 4, Article V
“Every Gurdwara should install a Nishan Sahib at some high location.” It can be on the ground, on the roof or on a structure of the Gurdwara. The idea is that the Nishan Sahib as a sign board that says “here is a Gurdwara” ought to be visible from as far as possible.
3. Question: What is the function of the Nishan Sahib?
Answer: Very basically, the Nishan is inviting everyone, in the name of the Guru, to come to the Gurdwara and be served. It is our sign board. It is our light house.
4. Question: What does the SRM say about the colour of the Nishan Sahib?
Answer: Section 3, Chapter 4, Article V (r) of the SRM says it must either be Surmaee (Dark Blue) or Basanti (Xanthic) which is yellow.
5. Question: But most Gurdwaras today are seen flying the Bhagwa / Kesri (Deep Orange, Saffron) colour. When and why did this happen?
Answer: Kesri is the colour of the Nirmalas.
Nirmalas were people with Bhramanic, Hindu and Vedic mindsets who originated from Benares but together with other deviant / rejected Sikh groups such as Udasis and Mahants – had control of Sikh Gurdwaras for a long period beginning with the Period of Persecution of Sikhs from 1715 after the fall of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur. This was the time when Sikhs were hunted and they thus lived in the jungles and mountains – leaving control of their Gurdwaras to others.
The control of Sikh Gurdwaras came back into the control of the SGPC after the Singh Sabha Reform Movement beginning the 1920s. By this time, major Gurdwaras in Punjab were already flying the Kesri (color or Nirmalas).
In 1925 even though our Gurdwaras were freed from the control of Nirmalas, Mahants, and Udasis – they left their legacy behind. Much of their practices continued to be done in the Gurdwaras even by genuine Sikhs who took over.
Many of the deviant / rejected groups went on to open up their own deras. Some of them did not have the Nishan Sahib at all. Others hoisted the Kesri one.
6. Question: Are there any Gurdwaras that did NOT follow the Kesri (color of Nirmalas)?
Answer: Yes three groups of Gurdwaras did not adopt the Kesri colour.
First, the Nihang groups and their Gurdwaras flew the Blue Nishan. The Nihangs were the official Nishan Sahib bearers in the wars that Guru Gobind Singh ji conducted during Guruji’s period. They have thus maintained the original colour.
Second, Gurdwaras outside Punjab continued to fly the deep blue colour till the 1950. But the influence of Punjab soon spread to them too.
Third, Gurdwaras outside of India. They carried on flying the deep blue till the 1960s and 70s. But the influx of granthis from Punjab soon persuaded them to follow the Kesri / Bhagwa (Nirmala) colour.
7. Question: Why are some Sikhs now calling for the Nishan Sahib to revert to deep blue – the original colour of the Nishan Sahib?
Answer: Three reasons can be given.
The First is that Jagerti (awakening) that has come about amongst Sikhs that the colour bestowed by Guru Gobind Singh ji is deep blue (Surmayee). And that the colour was changed by the Nirmalas.
Second, these awakened Sikhs feel it is the RIGHT thing to do.
Third, Sikhs want to preserve their unique identity. The Kesri (Nirmala) colour can be seen across India in Hindu mandirs.
There is no reason for Sikhs to adopt this colour especially since our own Guru gave us deep blue colour.
8. Question: Will such a move split up the Sangat – some wanting Kesri and others Blue?
Answer: It should NOT split the sangat. The sangat must be made aware of the fact that deep blue is the colour that was given to the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
The Nihangs are living proof of this as they have preserved the deep blue colour.
Once explained properly, the sangat will be inclined to do the right thing to get the blessings of our Guru.
Every member who is reading this ought to talk about it with family and friends.
9. Question: What other deviant practices relating to the Nishan Sahib were introduced by the Nirmalas, Udasis and Mahants during the 200 years that they controlled Sikh Gurdwaras.?
Answer: They turned the Nishan Sahib into a deity / statute meant for Pooja.
They introduced the WORSHIP of the Nishan Sahib. The practise of washing the pole, the base or the area around it with milk and lasee; offering flowers, metha tek to the Nishan Sahib, adding the pole covering (chola), doing parkarma (going around) of the Nishan Sahib, tying of ribbons to the Nishan Sahib for a few days to convert them to lucky charms etc – were introduced by these deviants.
10. Question: Should the Nishan Sahib be washed with milk or kachee lasee.
Answer: No. Doing so is against Gurmat. Deities / statues are washed in milk and lasee. The Nishan Sahib is not a deity. Deity worship is not part of Sikhi.
Doing such is munmat, or deviant practise, plain and simple. It is waste of milk, lasee, cloth, time and energy. It is not supported by the maryada or Gurbani and there are no historical records of Sikhs doing this in previous eras.
All washing including the place and the base can be done with water as regularly as necessary.
11. Question: What about Metha Tek.
Answer: A Sikh ought to consider his or her head as priceless to only bow before the Guru Granth Sahib. Bowing before just about everything within the precincts of the Gurdwara – gate, steps, stairs, mats, photos, base structure of the Nishan Sahib etc – even if they are all part of the Gurdwara’s physical structure – is to suggest that they are all equal in stature to the SGSS.
There is NO equal of the SGGSJI and nothing higher either.
12. Question: What about other practices and rituals pertaining to the Nishan Sahib.
Answer: Sikhs have by and large, turned the Nishan Sahib into an article of worship. Sikhs are seen walking around the flag pole in parkarma (circumambulation style), folding hands to metha tek or bowing down to the concrete base of the Nishan repeatedly, rubbing their noses on the base, tying pieces of cloth or ribbons to the flag pole and then taking them home a few days later as blessed material, and much more.
None of these are sanctioned by the SRM or Gurbani.
13. Question: Is it necessary to cover up the pole with a Chola.
Answer: No it is not.
The ‘chola” came about as a result of the Mahants’ desire to turn the Nishan Sahib into an article of worship.
Deities in mandirs are usually covered with a kesri / bhagwa colored cloth.
14. Question: What is the right time to Change the Nishan Sahib?
Answer: Whenever the parbhandaks or sangat feel necessary. Whenever it is torn, discoloured, faded or otherwise damaged.
For convenience sake and to make the change into a ceremony, Gurdwaras normally change it during selected Gurpurabs, including Vesakhi.
15. Question: What is the procedure for the Change of the Nishan Sahib.
Answer: It is a simple and straight forward ceremony. First the old one is taken down. Then an ardas is done. Then the new Nishan is hoisted up.
While the Nishan is being hoisted, the sangat may sing some shabads from the SGGS ji.
A Jaikara may be let out once the Nishan reaches the top if the pole.
16. Question: Why do most Sikhs sing Deh Shiva during the Nishan Sahib ceremony?
Answer: Deh Shiva is NOT from the SGGS ji. It is NOT Gurbani. It is NOT written by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
It is a song that is taken from a Hindu book called Markandey Puran. Shiva refers to the wife of Shivji – also known as Durga, Parbati, Shera Walee, Parbatee etc. Sikhs do not pray to any of these persons.
There are 5,800 plus shabads in the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs should sing any of these in order to get the blessings of the Guru.
Read more about Deh Shiva here: http://www.sikhivicharforum.org/?tag=deh-shiva
17. Question: What do I do if the Gurdwara I go to insists on singing the Deh Shiva
Answer: A Sikh does not take part in any rituals, singing or activities that are anti Gurmat. Lots of awakened Sikhs stand silent when others chose to sing songs that are NOT from the SGGS.
Many Gurdwaras sing shabads from Gurbani when performing the Nishan Sahib ceremony.
18. Question: What is the brief history of the Nishan Sahib.
Answer: Sikh scholar cum historian Kahn Singh Nabha writes that the Nishan Sahib was originally called Jhanda (flag) Sahib and that it was founded by Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji.
Guru Gobind Singh ji used it in the same way. Today the Nishan Sahib is found in all Gurdawras.
19. Question: What is the brief history of the type of Pole that is used?
Answer: Kahn Singh Nabha writes that the two majestic Nishan Sahibs that stand in the doorway of the Darbaar Sahib were first put up as wooden poles in 1775 by the Udasi Babas who ran the place then. They were broken up in a storm in 1841 and one was rebuilt by Maharaja Sher Singh and the other by Desa Singh Majithia. Both the flags are made of iron but adorned with copper plates. The high base was rebuilt in 1923.
Such facts illustrate that the Nishan Sahib can and has taken a variety of forms – wooden poles and flags of iron included. Nowhere however is the practise of covering up the pole with a “chola sahib,” or washing it in milk or kachee lassee shown as a practise except in recent times.
20. Question: Can you state the exact paragraph pertaining to the Nishan Sahib in the SRM?
Answer: The Akaal Takhat sanctioned Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) or SRM has the following stipulation relating to the Nishan Sahib in Section 3, Chapter 4, Article V (r): “Every Gurdwara should install a Nishan Sahib at some high location. The cloth of the flag should either be Basanti (light yellow, Xanthic) or Surmayee (greyish blue) in colour. At the top of the Nishan there should either be a Bhalla (spearhead) or a Khanda. “(a double edged straight sword, with convex sides leading to slanting top edges ending in a vertex.
Read more here: http://www.sikhivicharforum.org/?tag=nishan-sahib