The Ceremony of Khalsa Baptism

Who is eligible to be baptized baptism in Sikhism has never been a ceremony for merely converting people to the New Faith, but it has a positive purpose to bring about a complete change; a new life and a new outlook. It is the inner illumination of the mind and heart. If it does not in any way alter the heart of the recipient, there is then something seriously wrong either with the recipient, or those who have administered baptism to him. If the recipient is a deserving seeker, ready for living according to the vows of a baptized Khalsa (adhikari), and if those who administer baptism are morally and spiritually competent to administer Amrit baptism, the novice will certainly experience an inner transformation, a spiritual rebirth. The novice who wishes to enter the Khalsa Holy Order should fulfil the following conditions:

  1. Any man or woman above the age of sixteen, belonging to any race, nationality, speaking any language is eligible for receiving baptism, but he should be fully conversant with the discipline of the Khalsa Holy Order. He should be physically and mentally prepared for the ordination. Every novice should accept Amrit baptism after a preparation of three years.
  2. The recipient should be about sixteen years old so that he can read and recite prayers. Those who can do so at a younger age are eligible for taking Amrit baptism.
  3. Infants or boys and girls less than sixteen years can be baptized only if their parents and guardians take full responsibility of educating and training them in the Khalsa Code of Conduct and prevent them from committing any acts of apostasy out of ignorance or lack of proper guidance.
  4. Novices who are either completely ignorant of Sikh traditions or were non-Sikhs before seeking Khalsa baptism, should undergo at least three to five years of training and disciplining before they consider themselves eligible for entering the Khalsa Holy Order. Those who accept baptism without necessary preparations, knowledge and training in daily prayers and contemplation, generally never fully grasp the spirit of Sikhism, and after formal baptism they have the tendency to transgress the moral rules of the Khalsa Holy Order. Many persons who adopt Sikhism under emotional admiration of some qualities of Sikhism, or many novices born in Sikh families who have abandoned themselves to the life of evil habits which are extremely repulsive of Sikhism, make the mistake of hastily taking Amrit baptism and adopt Sikh forms. While they continue orthodox manners of external adoption, they secretly or openly relapse into their old habits of smoking and drinking.
  5. On the day the novice is to be baptized, he should take a bath; wash his body as well as his hair, wear clean and freshly washed clothes and should be externally complete with the five K’s: (i) Kesas: Uncut hair; (ii) Kangha: Comb; (iii) Kirpan: Sword of about 6 or nine inches; (iv) Kara: Iron bracelet; (v) Kachh: Drawer of a special type and not an ordinary underwear. The hair should be tied in a tress-knot on the head and the turban tied on it gracefully. The novice should be thoroughly disciplined in keeping and maintaining these Five K’s. Although they are externals and only the removal of Kesas (hair) is an act of apostasy, all other four K’s are equally essential. Before the ceremony starts every recipient has to present himself before the Five Ministers (Panj Piaras) in the presence of the Adi Guru Granth and take a vow that he will dedicate his mind, body and soul to the Ten Gurus and the Sikh Panth. Each one is seriously questioned about his motivation, preparedness and his sincerity about his willingness to take the vows of commitment. If he does not qualify himself for baptism for some reason or the other, he is told about it and is advised to come again when he is fully prepared.

Who is Competent to Administer Amrit Baptism

There is no difference between a layman and clergy member of the Khalsa Holy Order, who takes up missionary work. Ever)’ baptized Sikh who lives strictly according to the Sikh Code of Conduct (Rehit) is competent to administer Amrit Baptism. It matters little whether he is a trained missionary or a person pursuing some secular profession of a physician, lawyer or engineer. When they are put to test, they are judged by their loyalty to the Khalsa Code of Conduct and their moral and spiritual life, all aspects of which are thoroughly probed before they are considered competent about their moral and spiritual life. They all have to submit themselves to strict closed door scrutiny in the presence of the Adi Guru Granth. They have to tell the truth and the whole truth about their inner life. They are forgiven for minor errors or omissions after some punishment or reprimand is given to them. The minimum condition which a Minister in Amrit Baptism requires are five: He must assure on oath other Five, who are participating (Four out of Five Panj Piaras, and Granthi, (the Temple Priest) who joins for other rites of the ceremony, that:

  1. He has not committed any of the four acts of apostasy.
  2. He has not taken any wine, spirit, hemp, marijuana or any drug.
  3. He has been reciting his prayers regularly.
  4. He has not committed any crime like theft, cheating, exploiting, perjury, gambling etc.
  5. He is physically complete, mentally balanced. Physically complete means that none of his limbs should be maimed or missing. Even a person whose little finger has been amputated is physically incomplete. He cannot be included among the Panj Piaras.

Before the ceremony begins, all the Five Ministers selected by the congregation are scrutinized. If it is found that any one has transgressed any of the moral principles, he is rejected. Another person has to be selected. Before a person accepts the duty of administering baptism, he must take a bath, wash his hair. All the five then wear traditional robes, mostly white, blue or yellow. Women also can administer baptism. Out of the five some may be men other may be women, but they must all be above 18 years of age. Guru Amar Das appointed women missionaries and priests even in remote areas where the Muslim culture and rule dominated. Choice was made on the basis of ability and character and not on the basis of age or sex.

Preparation of Amrit Baptism

On the altar of the Sikh Shrines one always see Adi Guru Grahth Sahib, the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In the sanctum sanctorum of the Holy Book, right in front of it, are placed all the things required for preparing Amrit Baptism: Sugar-pellets, bowl, water, Two-edged Sword, and the sacramental food (Karah Prasad), to be distributed after the ceremony is over.

Around the Steel Bowl stand the Five Ministers, elected for the ceremony, called the Panj Piaras: the Five Beloved Ones of the Guru, who represent the Guru physically. All the novices stand in a semi-circle, with folded hands. Men and women, boys and girls, the rich and poor, all stand in one row. Segregation of women, as the Muslims do in the mosque, is a social sin and intolerable discrimination.

The Five Minister stand with folded hands and first offer the Invocation Prayer (Ardasa) seeking the grace and power, and the blessings and illumination for those who are taking Amrit baptism and for those who are instrumental in giving it. After this prayer, the Grarithi or the sixth Master of ceremonies who waves the Chowrie over the Adi Guru Grahth, reads the first hymn on the left page of Holy Book, when it is opened fortuitously by the reader of the Holy Book. This hymn is generally called the Hukam: the hymn indicating the Divine Will. I have seen Muslims and Christians opening the Bible and Kor’an and reading it for such direction.

The Five Ministers then start the ceremony with utmost reverence. They pour the water into the bowl, and then they put some sugar-pellets into the water, and while they do so, they recite the Name of God. All the five sit round the bowl in Vir-asana; sitting in the pose of the classical archers, ready to shoot an arrow. All the Five Ministers place both their hands on the edge of the bowl, clasping it tightly and firmly. From right to left the Five Ministers then recite in deep meditative tone the five prayers one each by turn. They must recite the prayers from memory. They cannot read it form a printed text. Each Minister while reciting the prayer holds the Two-Edged Sword in his right hand, keeps on churning the water while he keeps his left hand on the bowl. After he has completed the prayer, he hands over the Two-Edged Sword to the next Minister. One by one they take up the Two-Edged Sword clockwise and complete them. While the prayer is recited, the Minister’s meditative attention should be on the baptismal water. The magnetism of their personality and the transmuting power of the Divine Word passes through their concentration to the baptismal Water, and it is through this divine magnetism that it becomes Amrit (Nectar). The grace and power of the Divine Word actually changes this natural water to the Water of Immortality: Amrit. When all the recitations are over, the five

Ministers stand up, holding the Steel Bowl of baptismal water in their hands and once more they offer the Invocation Prayer: Ardasa. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and seeking the Grace and blessing of God for those who are about to receive the baptism.

Initiating the Novices

Each novice then comes forward by turn to accept the baptism. He sits with folded and cupped hands, ready to receive the baptism from the Panj Piaras, because all sacraments should be received with clean hands and utter humility and reverence. The cupped hands in oriental traditions are symbolic of humbly and devoutly seeking grace and Divine Power. The Amrit (Baptismal Water) thus prepared, is then given to novices in four stages through four basically similar rites:

  1. Each of the Five Ministers (Panj Piaras) first pours a little Amrit (baptismal water) in the cupped hands of the novice and asks him to drink it, and after drinking utter each time:

Vahi-Guru jl ka Khalsa,

Vahi-Guru ji ki Fateh.

The Khalsa is dedicated to God,

Victory ever is of Almighty God.

This is the Sikh salutation, first introduced by Guru Gobirid Sirigh, which the Ministers ask the neophyte to utter every time they offer him Amrit (baptismal water). Five times they are offered this Amrit, and five times they repeat after them the vow of self-dedication to God—not to any prophet or apostle, but only to God. The symbolic meaning to this rite is that from that day onward the Sikh neophyte should take nothing that is not sanctified by the Word of God. Whatever food he eats for his physical well-being should always be accompanied by spiritual food of the Word of God. Spiritual food should be considered much more important than any normal food we take. Even while taking food we should not forget the Giver, we should remember Him with gratitude and humility.

  1. Then each of the five Ministers sprinkles baptismal water on the eyes of the neophyte, and he again repeats each time Vahi- Guru ji ka Khalsa, Vahi-Guru ji ki Fateh. The sprinkling of the Amrit in the eyes of the neophyte once by each of the Panj Piaras (Ministers) symbolizes that from that day onwards the baptized Sikh shall see no evil, and as the Anand Sahib of Guru Amar Das says, “O mine eyes, in you reside the Light of God.” Eyes are sanctified by Amrit, because in them shines the Light of God. He must concentrate on visualizing this Light through the mystical paths of prayers and worship. He must turn his back on moral darkness and walk courageously towards Light and Truth.
  2. Then each of the Panj Piaras (Five Ministers) pours the Amrit with his right hand on the uppermost tip of the neophyte head, and he is again asked to repeat five times the divine adoration: Vahi-Guruji ka Khalsa, Vahi-Guruji ki Fateh. Amrit is poured on the top of the head, because the head is the Seat of Tenth Consciousness: dasam duar. All spiritual illumination takes place in the innermost recesses of the head, called mastak.
  3. Then each of the Panj Piaras (Ministers) imparts into the ear of the neophyte the Divine Name: Vahi-Guru which is the Sikh Guru-mantra. In this Guru-mantra is the spark of Divine revelation of the Infinite, and this very mantra was introduced or created by Guru Nanak. It has ever remained the same. This Word did not exist in Indian tradition in its present form, though in its analytical forms it did exist. God revealed Himself to Guru Nanak through this Mystic Word. The Guru-mantra is the Essence of divine knowledge and experience. As an eminent German scholar and monk dedicated to Tibetan studies and practices aptly put it: “A mantra is the truth of Being, beyond right and wrong; it is real Being beyond thinking and reflecting…. It is the direct simultaneous awareness of the knower and the known. The mantra etymologically means “tool for thinking.”1 The Guru-mantra is thus a power, a deed, an experience through a combination of music, wisdom and experience. It is vehicle of revelation and an embodiment of Divine Spirit.

The Panj Piaras instructs the neophyte in the techniques of contemplating the Guru-mantra: the Divine Name, (i) Meditation: Simrin with the tongue, (ii) Simrin with the breath, (iii) Simrin in the heart (hirdai kamal: lotus of the heart), (iv) Simrin in the naval- lotus (nabhi kamal), (v) Ajapa-Jap: Ceaseless Simrin in inner silence and vision. Out of these techniques, instructions are given according to the neophyte’s perceptions. The neophytes are told that the techniques of Simrin will unveil themselves from within, if they continue contemplation of His Name in the best way they can do. No one leading the life of Simrin can jump to the highest stage by artificial imitation of techniques.

Some pretenders to Yoga and other techniques have been putting on sale their own Tantric and other techniques as better than any revealed in the Adi Guru Granth Sahib, notably Yogi Harbhajan Singh of 3HO, who has put on sale both Sikhism and Tantra of his own brand, which does not exist either in theory or practice anywhere in the world. His idle boast that his Tantric techniques of meditation sends a man to the highest heaven in one tenth of the period than taken by techniques given by the Gurus and Bhaktas in Adi Guru Granth Sahib, is the worst charlatanry and the most sacrilegious utterance, I have ever known during my lifetime. It surpasses the hypocritical pretensions of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh or Radhasoami teachers who do not go to this length, and reject Tantric Yoga. Neither the Sikh Scriptures nor Sikh mysticism and theology have anything to do with sex-oriented Tantric mantras, yantras, which 3HO Cult are putting on sale in the name of Sikhism and in the garb of Sikhism. There has been worldwide protest against this basically anti-Sikh cult which has been praised, ignored, and even encouraged by petty leaders and half a dozen heavily bribed journalists and scholars. As the seeds of self-destruction are there within the core of the cult, only those American or Canadian Sikhs who extricate themselves from the inbuilt Tantric pit of this cult will be able to survive as genuine followers of Guru Gobind Singh.

  1. The Panj Piaras (Ministers) then carry the Bowl of Baptismal Water (Amrit) to all the neophytes as they keep standing in a semi-circle. Each neophyte then drinks a little Amrit by turn, first from left to right and then from right to left. It is quite possible that neophytes may be Brahmins, Parhias, Muslims, Englishmen or Americans, blacks and whites, men and women. From this day onwards they must share their food and learn to eat with one another, irrespective of their caste, position, status, or race. They must now learn to eat from the same kitchen, and if necessary, from the same plate. All the neophytes are told that they have a new spiritual birth, a new spiritual life. A new social consciousness is created in them.2

Moral and Spiritual Instructions Given to the Newly Baptized

The following are the moral and spiritual instructions which form the basic Sikh Code of Conduct called the Rehit: Moral Code for the Initiated and Ordained Sikhs. The Sufis in their Orders call it Adab-al-Muridan. The following are the basic instructions given almost exactly as they are recorded below:

  1. You shall believe only in One God. Besides One God you shall not pay any homage to gods and goddesses of any faith, nor worship any idol or image of any deity. You should not worship tombs or graves of any saint nor any sepulcher, cenotaph. You should not bow before any Samadhi of dead saint or holy man.
  2. You shall believe in the Ten Gurus from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh as the only prophets of Sikh Faith. No other Guru or Prophet should be acknowledged as their successor. Adi Guru Granth Sahib should be recognized as the Eternally Living Guru. All hypocritical impostor Gurus or saints claiming to be as great as the Ten Gurus should be rejected and disowned. Such impostor Gurus or false prophets should be treated as impostors recusants, and recidivists, and their teaching repudiated.
  3. You shall believe in Sri Guru Granth Sahib as your Holiest Scripture and True Guru. It should be considered the Embodiment of the Ten Gurus. The spiritual writings of Guru Gobind Singh, Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Nand Lal should be treated as canonized Scriptures: Pramanik Bani.
  4. Your Mulmantra: Fundamental Article of Faith and Worship is:

ik Omkar, Sat namii, karta purakhu nirbhau,

nirvairu akal murati, ajuni saibham Gurprasadi.

One God pervades all.

Eternal Truth is His Name.

Creator of all things.

Fearing nothing and at enmity with none

Timeless is His own Being.

By the Grace of the Guru revealed to men.

  1. Your Guru-mantra, the Divine Name which you should contemplate every morning and whenever you get time and solitude is Vahi-Guru: Wondrous art Thou O Enlightener of Soul.3 Every morning you should rise up, take your bath and sit in Simrin: Contemplation of Divine Name.
  2. Sit in meditation before dawn and recite the following prayers. Morning Prayers: All the morning prayers used in preparing Amrit baptism are fixed as morning prayers:
  1. Japuji of Guru Nanak.
  2. Japu of Guru Gobind Singh.
  3. Sudha Sawaiye of Guru Gobind Singh.
  4. Kabio-bach Benti Chaupai of Guru Gobind Singh. Also read with Evening Prayer: Rehiras
  5. Anand Sahib of Guru Amar Das4.

Evening Prayers after sunset:

  1. Rehiras.
  2. Kirtan Sohila: Bed Time Prayer
  1. From this day onwards your divine Father is Guru Gobind Singh and your divine Mother is Mata Sahib Kaur.
  2. You should wear the five emblems of the Khalsa Holy Order called Kakars in Punjabi, because they begin with the letter ‘K’. They are now called “K’s” in English and Kaf’s in Persian. The following are the five K’s:
    1. Kesas: hair with turban on. It also includes the beard, of men.
    2. Kahgha: comb.
    3. Kirpan: Sword 6-9 inches (least miniature length 2-3 inches). It is said when Maharaja Ranjlt Singh opened the cenotaph of Guru Gobind Singh in search of some relics of the last Guru, he found only a miniature Kirpan, 3 inches in length.
    4. Kara: iron bracelet.
    5. Kachh: Underwear coming to a little above knees.
  3. You shall not:
    1. Let your hands ever indulge in theft, plunder and exploitation of the poor.
    2. Let your ears hear calumny, nor should you ever cause injury to others by spreading falsehood about them.
    3. Let your eyes covet other people’s wealth and wives.
    4. Indulge in gambling, betting and other immoral games.
    5. Indulge in cruelty, hatred, greed, falsehood.
  4. You should not take wine or any intoxicant like opium, marijuana (hemp), heroin, hashish, bhang, cocain etc. All these intoxicants are strictly prohibited and considered very harmful for religious and spiritual life.
  5. You should not believe or practice any yogic asanas for siddhis, nor should you practice any Tantric yarntras, mantras, nor should you believe in any astrological superstitions, omens and auspicious days and moments. Every moment when you can remember God and every place and time when you remember God and offer prayers to Him, is auspicious for doing any work.
  6. You should not in any way accept any teaching of Brahmins and Brahmanical rites, or of Yogis and their asanas and siddhis, or of miracle mongering Pirs. You should not believe in fasts or self-mortification in this Path of love and devotion: Bhakti.
  7. You should avoid family and cultural relations with the following break-away Outgroups of Sikhism.
    1. Followers of Minas: Prithi Mal (elder brother of Guru Arjan) and his successors Meharban, Harji, who set up parallel Guruship and separate Grahth of their own. They started identifying themselves more with Vaisnavism and Brahmanical Hinduism in the hope of attracting more Hindu disciples and called themselves Bhaktias. The word Bhaktias is used mainly for Vaisnavas of the Rama and Krsna cult in the Sikh Scriptures.
    2. Dhir Mal’s followers: Dhir Mal was brother of Guru Hari Rai (seventh Nanak). He set up his parallel gaddl at Kartarpur, but his successors during the time of the Misals accepted Khalsa Amrit baptism, and they are now virtually merged in the Khalsa Holy Order.
    3. Ram Rai’s Followers: Ram Rai set up a parallel Guruship after the seventh Guru, but failed to capture the following of the Sikhs. He has some followers now. Ram Rai was burnt alive by one of his ambitious followers, and his four wives were saved from a similar fate by Guru Gobind Singh, who offered one of his disciples to look after the dera of Rant Rai under the supervision of his wife Panjab Kaur. Ram Rai’s school of thought deviated into acquiring occult powers. But till recently they were devoted to Gurbani of Adi Guru Granth.
    4. The Masands and their Followers: Some Masands had built their own cults, and for some time became strong rivals of the Khalsa Holy Order. Those who repented were made members of the Khalsa Holy Order. They have been eliminated and forgotten.

Although most of these discredited cults have either disappeared from the historical scene, or have been absorbed by the Khalsa Holy Order, or have become close associates of Sikhism, the new cults that have emerged under various colours and names, like the Namdhari movement, which started with the noblest and greatest saint in Sikh history by Baba Ram Singh, has constructed 11th, 12th 13th Gurus, which are not accepted by the Sikhs. Baba Ram Singh insisted on Amrit Prachar orthodoxy in Khalsa Rehit, based mostly on Prem Sumarag, a medieval work, but the new Namdhari leaders have drifted away from these basic principles.

The Radhasoamis, Punjab branches, started using Adi Guru Granth and Gurbani as a source book, but with the Radhasoami teachers as the gurus. There have been nearly a dozen splits and branches in this movement. The Nirankari movement was started as a reform movement by an eminent Saint Baba Dayal Ji in the middle of nineteenth century, but Avtar Singh and his son Gurbachan Sirigh have not only disowned the founders of their own Nirankari movement in 1947, but have made it a cult encouraging every immoral and irreligious activity in the name of religion. Up to 1955, they kept on using Adi Guru Granth to attract Sikh devotees, but as they have been patronized by the anti-Sikh political forces in Delhi to harm Sikhism from within, they have become the worst enemies of the Sikhs like the Handaliyas, also known as Niranjanias of the eighteenth century.

After the death of Guru Gobind Singh about ten people set themselves as the spiritual successors of Guru Gobind Singh and spiritual leaders of the Sikhs. But the moral, spiritual and political structure, the high idealism of the Khalsa Holy Order, which the great contemporaries of Guru Gobind Singh, like Baba Banda, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Nand Lal, Baba Dip Singh had established by their suffering and martyrdom, was powerful enough to sweep away these cults and movements of false prophets. I have no doubt that once again in the next ten years, a storm will rise against the decadent forces, now working in league with these anti-Sikh cults, parading in the name of Guru Nanak and Sikhism and actually preaching false doctrines of Yoga, Tantra and other manifestation of false mysticism under the pious names of Santmat, will be swept away. In the next century Truth will prevail. It is the saddest feature of present day Sikh leadership that it takes political shelter under Communist leaders and religious patronage of these cults for their money and votes.

  1. Four Acts of Apostasy: The following are the four acts of apostasy. Whoever commits even one of these acts of apostasy is considered to be a patit: morally fallen from the high ideal. Either he has to present himself before the Panj Piaras and confess the circumstances under which he committed sin. If he has been forced by some outside power beyond his control, he is forgiven. Sikh prisoners of war and freedom movement fighters were sometimes forced to part with their hair and symbols. They were not considered patits. They were given Amrit baptism again without being given any corrective punishment. But any act of apostasy committed wilfully has been taken seriously, and Amrit-baptism is given to him, if he makes his rededication and commitment convincing.
    1. One Who Cuts His Hair or Even Trims It is An Apostate from Sikhism: Hair is the main Symbol out of the five K’s. Without the hair all other K’s are useless and meaningless. It is an indispensable part of the complete personality of a Sikh; complete physically, morally and spiritually.
    2. Adultery Is An Act Of Apostasy: The neophytes are generally told that you should not associate yourself with other people’s wives, or muslis, duranis, turkanis. Muslis, Duranis and Turkanis were popular words for prostitutes or characterless women. There were never any prostitutes amongst the Sikhs. Most of the prostitutes in Punjab came from the Muslim community. Adultery includes illegal sex relations with all women and not only Muslim women as some present day scholars try to explain it away. The word Musli or Turkani does not occur in the Sikh Scriptures. The Sikh Scriptures call other women par triya: women other than legal wife. The Rehitnamas also have this word. It is nowhere indicated that only Muslim women are to be avoided, thereby suggesting that Sikh can have free sex relations with Hindu and Christian women. Adultery covers illegal and immoral relations with all other women. Guru Gobind Singh strictly forbade his disciples from doing any harm to the women of the enemy camp, be they Muslim women of the Mughal camp or Hindu women of the Hindu States of Sivalik with whom the Guru fought about 15 battles.

Mughals and Afghans generally molested all captured women, and carried them away as booty to be sold or kept as slaves. Ahmed Shah Abdall’s poet historian Nur Muhammed, who accompanied him in his seventh invasion, describes the character of the Sikhs against whom his Master fought thus: “Truly they are lions in the battle, and at the time of peace they surpass Hatim (known for his extreme generosity). When they fight with spear, they bring defeat to the army of the enemy. When they hold the spearhead upward, they break to pieces even Caucasus Mountain. When they bend a bow, they set to it the foe killing arrow. When they pull it up to the ear, the body of the enemy trembles like a cane. If their hatchet strikes a coat of mail, then the coat of mail itself on the body of the enemy becomes a shroud. If Brahm Ghor (who fought tigers) came before them, he also would admit their superiority. Besides their fighting, listen to one thing more in which they excel all other warriors. They never kill a coward and do not obstruct one who flees from the field. They do not rob a woman of her gold and ornaments, may she be queen or slave. Adultery also does not exist among them. None of them is a thief. A woman whether young or old is called buriya (mature lady). The Sikhs never resort to stealing and no thief exists among them, and they do not keep company with adulterer and thief.”5

Those scholars who still suggest that adultery was prohibited only with Muslim women and was permitted with non-Muslim women, are either ignorant of Sikh history, traditions, scriptures or they wish to introduce new innovations suitable to their own tastes and character.

  1. Smoking, Or Use Of Tobacco In Any Form Is An Act Of Apostasy. The question arises why of all the intoxicants and drugs which are no doubt prohibited; the use of tobacco and smoking has been made an act of apostasy? It is quite a relevant question. The history of tobacco and smoking indicates the real reason why the use of tobacco and smoking was tabooed to such an extent, that it was made an act of apostasy. A question is often asked as to why smoking is an act of apostasy while drinking wine is comparatively a lesser offence, though a considerable moral offence.6

Wine as an intoxicant is in principle prohibited by all major religions though some of the religions use it in some religious ceremonies. No one can drink wine in a mosque, Hindu temple, Buddhist monastery or a Sikh temple.

No one addicted to wine is considered a good or reliable man in Sikh society. Nevertheless, wine, though strictly prohibited along with other drugs and intoxicants, was used as

a medicine for a number of purposes in Indian homes, and had pervaded the Indian society since the age of Rig Veda so much that it was impossible to eradicate it totally from human use. Total prohibition is always much talked about both in Islamic States and Gandhian societies, but it is a myth and dream that can be fulfilled only if the manufacture of wine is completely stopped, and that is what no country will ever do.

Tobacco was an evil which had entered India just after the compilation of our Holy Adi Guru Granth Sahib. There are many prohibitory injunctions against wine in the Sikh Scriptures, but we find none against smoking for this very reason. This might have given the impression that smoking was not prohibited by the Sikh Scriptures. But now a days smoking in the west has become even more popular than drinking wine, and the average man finds it difficult to believe that it was unknown three or four hundred years ago.

Tobacco (Nicotiana tobacum) received its first name from Tobacco, a province in Yucatan, New Spain; some say, it received the name from the island Tobago, one of the Caribbees, others say from Tabasco in the gulf of Florida. It was first observed at St. Dominga, in Cuba in 1492 and used freely by Spaniards in Yucatan in 1520. It was first brought to England by Sir John Hawkins in 1565. It was manufactured only for export. It was brought to Europe by Francisco Fernandes, a physician of Phillip II of Spain. Ralph Lane, the first governor of Virginia and Sir Francis Drake brought with them in 1586 from the first American possessions of the Crown, the implements and material of tobacco smoking, which they handed over to Sir Walter Raleigh, who became so addicted to smoking that he took a pipe of tobacco even before he went to the scaffold. The Pied Bull Inn at Islington is the first House in England where tobacco was smoked. In 1584 a proclamation was issued against it.

James I in his booklet, A Counterblast To Tobacco attacked Sir Walter Raleigh for making fashionable in his kingdom so vile and stinking a custom as smoking. He wrote, “Have you not reason then to be ashamed and to forbear this filthy novelty, so basely grounded, so foolishly received, and so grossly mistaken in the right to use thereof? If you abuse thereof, sinning against God, harming yourself both in person and goods, and taking also thereby the marks and notes of vanity upon you; by custom thereof, making yourself to be wondered at by all foreign civil nation and by all strangers that come among you, to be scorned and condemned. A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of pit that is bottomless.”7

The cultivation of tobacco was prohibited in England by Charles II in 1684, that is during the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh and fifteen years before the Khalsa Holy Order was established. Permission to grow tobacco in England with conditions was granted by the Board of Trade in April 1886. Indulgence in tobacco spread with great rapidity throughout all nations, and that in the face of the most resolute opposition of statesmen and priests, the counterblast of a great monarch, penal enactments of excommunication and even capital punishment.

Tobacco was introduced into India during the reign of Jahangir and after the compilation of Adi Guru Granth Sahib. All the three Mughal Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb made prohibitory laws against it and strictly prohibited its use in the court, but first secretly and then openly smoking became common. Guru Gobind Singh wisely made it an act of apostasy, and to this day Sikhs as a community are never found smoking except apostates from Sikhism who have drifted away into either atheism, or some other cult, or have relapsed into a life of promiscuity. A person having the appearance of a Sikh or one who claims to have adopted Sikhism traditionally or theoretically, if found smoking or taking drugs has absolutely no place in Sikh society. He is not considered Sikh in any sense of the term. It goes to the credit of this community that where the laws of western and eastern rulers have failed to curb or control smoking, the Commandments of Gum Gobind Singh have been obeyed more scrupulously than any Commandment of Moses has ever been obeyed by Christians or Jews.

Dr David Owen, Minister of State in Britain, said in his speech in the Parliament in January 1976, “Nineteen million people in this country smoke cigarettes; nearly half the adult population, and it is estimated that cigarette smoking is responsible for at least 50,000 pre-mature deaths annually, and great deal of consequential ill-health and suffering. This is because Christian Religion and Christian Churches instead of doing something to prevent it, have patronized it. It is a shameful spectacle that many priests after delivering pious sermons abandon themselves to smoking. If ever a successful movement emerged to curb the control of smoking and use of drugs, it will be from the Churches, Temples, Mosques and Synagogues, and not from the offices of Ministers.”8

It was heartening to note that many efforts of the U.S.A. government to control smoking has been so successful that there are now a large number of seats reserved in trains, planes and buses for non-smokers.

  1. Eating Meat, Killed According To Muslim Rites or Other Sacrificial Rites is an Act of Apostasy: In Sikhism, the question of eating meat or being a vegetarian is paradoxical in its interpretation. It is the most reasonable stand from the point of view of social laws and spiritual life, but has been unnecessarily made complicated by those who think that dietary or styles of eating is the most important thing in Sikh religious life. This is not the case. The Sikh Scriptures and the Rehitnamas are quite clear on many points.

What puzzles many people is that if meat is permitted, why is meat cut according to Muslim religious rites (halal), which resemble the Jewish Kosher (only the Jewish rites are different; the process is the same.) not permitted. Why is it so strongly prohibited that eating halal meat is an act of apostasy?

The main reason for this is that Muslim halal meat (cut according to Muslim rites) was used throughout Muslim Rule in India as a means of conversion of non-Muslims in India. For the same reason the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists do not eat the halal meat. In Mughal India no one was permitted to slaughter animals for food, any other manner than the one prescribed by the Koran and Islamic Law. Guru Gobind Singh made it an act of apostasy, and commanded that those disciples who wished to take meat should not submit to this Islamic law in Aurangzeb’s Islamic State. It was neither essential for a Sikh to take meat, nor to think that mere vegetarianism would make him pious or holy.

Another thing which puzzles many people is that great men in our history and almost all great saints and mystics, without any notable exception, have been strict vegetarians, and have advocated avoidance of meat as diet. Some have even crusaded for avoiding meat for higher spiritual life. The correct position on eating meat is general permissibility, emphasizing tremendous deal of restraint on eating meat. The following points are chief guidelines:

  1. Almost every food and fruit can be offered as a devotee’s offering in Sikh shrines, but meat can never be offered in any form and under any circumstances in a Sikh Shrine.
  2. Meat can never be cooked in the precincts of the Sikh temple, or used in the common kitchen as sacramental offering of the hangar: Community Kitchen. It is strictly prohibited in the Lahgar (Kitchen cum dining hall attached to Sikh Shrines).
  3. Meat is the only food which saints and mystics, devoted to intense meditations, scrupulously avoid. They do so because it is avoided in the langar, which indicates that meat is not considered to be a sanctified food under any circumstances.
  4. It is wrong to associate physical powers with the use of meat, because history records that such great heroes of Sikh history as Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Baba Dip Singh did not take meat. The Nihang Jatha associated with Baba Dip Singh still does not take meat to maintain the tradition of their group.
  5. We have two letters of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, the first to wear two swords, restraining his followers from eating meat. Probably, the habit of eating meat increased considerably and the Sikh Guru asked the devotees to restrain from taking meat for religious and spiritual life.
  6. While there are verses in the Tiff Guru Granth Sahib restraining the Sikhs from taking meat, it is made clear that mere vegetarianism is not the gateway to liberation. It is helpful as a means for a more refined and sober life. So all those who take (as most of the politicians and Sikhs leading purely secular life do these days), are as good Sikhs as the vegetarian Sikhs. God will be impressed by one’s devotion, sincerity, purity of heart and not the rich or poor diet, and not a person’s vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism. Quite a large number of people who take meat also start taking wine and alcoholic drinks. God and the Eternal Guru will ultimately judge men by their deeds, their character and their love for humanity and God. God will not judge men by their dietary habits. Yet diet is closely connected with the system which controls the mind, and one has to take care of the diet.
  7. One of the basic rules of dietary in Sikhism is that one should not eat what causes pain and sickness to the body, and what upsets and fills the mind with evil thoughts. A food may be good for everybody, but if it harms your body, you should avoid it as a religious duty and responsibility to your body and soul. One should also strictly avoid such food which perverts

Letter (Hukamnama) of Mata Sahib Devi, addressed to the Benasar Sangat, dated Chet Sudi 11, 1786 Bk/March 19, 1730 your mind and fills your mind with sinful thoughts. You are the best judge for yourself. No hard and fast rules can be applied for a common diet for all human beings.

  1. Morally forbidden food for a Sikh is that which is unlawfully acquired; food acquired by money that has been acquired by theft, exploitation of the poor or misappropriation of what belongs to others. Such a food may be apparently good for the body, but it will morally and spiritually ruin a person. Wealth acquired by illegal means of exploiting the labours of others is forbidden and sinful. Sikhs should shun it as Hindus shun beef and Muslims avoid pork. For a Sikh, taking food out of such earning would be like eating human flesh (murdar khae). “Eat only that what you earn by the sweat of the brow.”9 “By putting spices in forbidden food it will not become lawful. Those persons whose Guru is blind, eat what is morally unlawful for them to eat.”10 “Fools quarrel about eating or not eating meat”11. Some people interpret this verse to mean that vegetarians who quarrel about eating meat are fools, while meat-eaters who join the quarrel are wise men. The verse simply means that all those who quarrel about eating or not eating meat and turn their back on real spiritual life are fools. Both meat-eaters and vegetarians who quarrel about it and try to show that they are better Sikhs and more religious by merely eating or not eating meat are fools.

Duncan Greenlees sums up the correct position in The Gospel of the Guru Granth Sahib, when he says, “All He gives us for our earthly needs is pure. The Guru does not here advocate that all should eat flesh, but warns us against the superstitious belief that by abstention we can become pure, that spirituality is based on diet, that what goes into man can defile him; and in brief that moksam depends upon the contents of the stomach. So we have absurd arguments about whether fish or eggs are vegetables; whether eating eggs violates the law of ahimsa, whether eggs are sensitive to pain and the like, wasting life’s precious moments in childishness instead of learning how to love and worship God. Experience proves that in fact it is perfectly possible for even the foulest eater to tread the highest path in spirituality, while the most punctilious abstainer from flesh is not infrequently a very sink of materialism and lust.”12

Guru Nanak has rightly stressed that foolish are the people who ignore intense inward devotion to God and debate and quarrel about eating meat, and the guidelines he gives are most appropriate:

Baba hori khana khusi khuaru.

jitii khadhai tanti piriai man mehi chalih vikar.

Listen O seers, if you eat

That which causes sickness in your body,

Or that which disturbs your mind with evil thoughts,

It will lead to unhappiness.

(Adi Guru Granth, Guru Nanak, Sri Raga, 16.)

I would like to stress once more that saints and mystics of all faiths, even Muslims and Christians have generally given up eating meat. Eating meat is sometimes associated with improved mental ability. The eminent Sufi Saint Malik ibn Dinar (D 728 A.D.) once said; “I do not know the meaning of the statement that if a man does not eat meat for forty days, his intelligence is diminished. I have not eaten meat for twenty years, and my intelligence increases every day.”13

References and Notes

  1. Lama Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, pp. 18-19.
  2. For details of Baptism Ceremony see:
    1. Koer Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi Das, Adhaya. 9.
    2. Kesar Singh Chhibber, Bansavalinama, Adhaya. 10
    3. Sarup Das Bhalla, Mehma Parkdsh, Sakhi. 22, (Patshahi Das).
    4. Sukha Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi Das, Adhaya. 11.
    5. Kavi Sainapati, Gursobha Granth.
  3. Bhai Gurdas, “Vahi-Guru Gurmahtar hai jap haumai khoi,” Var. 13, Pauri. 2.
  4. The whole at Anand Sahib should be recited both in the baptism ceremony and prayers. S.G.P.C has shortened it by reading only the first five pauris and the last one. This is not permissible and is against tradition and historical facts. The whole of Japuji, Japu and Anand are to be read both in the prayers and baptism ceremony.
  5. Nur Muhammed, Jangnamah, p. 160.
  6. The Sikh Scriptures and Rehitnamas give strict injunctions against drinking wine.
  7. Maurice Corina, Trust in Tobacco, p. 33.
  8. Health Educational Council’s Reports, 1973-75. Dr David Owen’s speech in the British Parliament, January 1976.
  9. Adi Guru Granth, Guru Nanak, Raga Gujari, p. 141.
  10. Ibid., Majh ki Var, p.489.
  11. Ibid., Var Malar, p.1289.
  12. Duncan Greenlees, The Gospel of Guru Grahth Sahib, p. 135.
  13. Arberry A.J., Muslim Saints and Mystics, p. 30.

Source – The Turban and the Sword of the Sikhs by Dr. Trilochan Singh.