The Word ‘Sikh’

(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)

The term ‘Sikh’ has extensively been used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, hymns of Bhai Gurdas Ji and other Sikh texts. Even the religion started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji is mostly known as ‘Sikh Religion’. Thus, one can simply comprehend that this word is so significant in this religion.

It is widely accepted that the word ‘Sikh’ is derived from Sanskrit word ‘Shishya’, which is used for ‘disciple’. When we study the holy Gurbani, we come to the conclusion that the term ‘Sikh’ has been used for other meanings as well in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The purpose of this article is to get an understanding of this word in context of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and other Sikh literature.

The Word ‘Sikh’ for ‘Shikha’ (hair tuft): –

The word ‘Sikh’ has been used in the Gurbani for ‘Shikha’, ‘Choti’ or hair tuft also: –

Jab Nakh Sikh Eh Man Cheena.

(When I came to understand this mind, from the tips of my toes to hair tufts).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 972).

The word ‘Sikh’ for ‘Shikha’ or hair tufts has also been used in Sri Dasam Granth Sahib: –

Pahle Chandi Charitr Banaayo.

Nakh Sikh Te Kram Bhaakh Sunaayo.

(Bachitra Naatak, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib).

The Word ‘Sikh’ for ‘Sikheya’ or teaching: –

The word ‘Sikh’ has also been used for ‘Sikheya’ or teaching in the Gurbani. For example: –

Naanak Aakhai Re Manaa Suneeyai Sikh Sahee.

(Says Nanak, listen, O mind, to the True Teachings).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 953).

The Word ‘Sikh’ as an imperative verb: –

The word ‘Sikh’ has also been used as an imperative verb in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji: –

Gur Mil Chaj Achaar Sikh, Tudh Kade Na Lagai Dukh.

(Meeting with the Guru, learn proper conduct, and suffering shall never touch you).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 953).

The Word ‘Sikh’ for disciple (Common Noun): –

Mostly, the word ‘Sikh’, as a common noun, has been used for ‘disciple’ in the Gurbani: –

Guru Jina Ka Andhula Sikh Bhee Andhe Karam Karen.

(The disciples, whose teacher is blind, act blindly as well). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 951).


Kabeer Sikh Saakha Bahute Keeye, Keso Keeyo Na Meet.

(O Kabeer! So many disciples and students are made, but has not made God his friend).

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 1369).

At one place, Bhai Gurdas Ji describes how Bhagat Kabeer Ji got ‘Gur Mantra’ from Ramanand Ji. Then, Bhai Gurdas Ji says: –

Sun Partaap Kabeer Da, Dooja Sikh Hoya Sain Naayee.

(After listening the glory of Kabeer, Sain became [Ramanand Ji’s] second Sikh).

Here, the word ‘Sikh’ has been used for Bhagat Sain Ji. Bhagat Sain’s hymns are included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Bhagat Sain Ji was a Sikh of Bhagat Ramanand Ji.

The Word ‘Sikh’ in Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji

In Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, the word ‘Sikh’ (disciple) has been used for many times. In ‘Rudra Avtar’, it is told that Datt Avtar made many Sikhs: –

Jal Madh Jaun Munde Apaar.

Ban Naam Taun Hvaige Kumaar.

Gir Madh Sikh Kine Anek.

Gir Bhes Sahat Samajho Bibek.163.

Bharath Bhanant Je Bhe Durant.

Bharathi Naam Ta Ke Bhanant.

Pur Jaas Sikh Kine Apaar.

Puri Naam Taun Jaan Bichaar.164.

Parbat Bikhai Saje Sikh Keen.

Parbat Su Naam Lai Taahe Deen.

Eh Bhaant Uchar Kar Panch Naam.

Tab Datt Dev Kinne Bisraam.165.

Saagar Manjhaar Je Sikh Keen.

Saagar Su Naam Tin Ke Prabeen.

Sarsut Teer Je Keen Chel.

Sarsuti Naam Tin Naam Mel.166.

Teerthan Beech Je Sikh Keen.

Teerath Su Naam Tin Ko Prabeen.

Jin Charan Datt Ke Gahe Aan.

Te Bhye Sarab Bidya Nidhaan.167.

Im Karat Sikh Jah Tah Bihaar.

Aasraman Beech Jo Jo Nihaar.

Tah Tahi Sikh Jo Keen Jaaye.

Aasram Su Naam Ko Tin Suhaaye.168.

Aarann Beech Jea Bhe Datt.

Sanyaas Raaj At Bimal Mat.

Tah Tah Su Keen Je Sikh Jaaye.

Arinn Naam Tin Ko Rakhaaye.169.

(Dattavtar, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib)


Hai Sabh Logan Ko Karta Brij Bheetar Hai Karta Eh Leela.

Sikhyan Ko Barat Har Hai Eh Saadhan Ko Harta Tan Heela. (…395).

(Krishnavtar, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib).

The Word ‘Sikh’ as synonymous to the word ‘Chela’

The word ‘Chela’ has again and again been used as a synonymous with the word ‘Sikh’ for ‘disciple’.

Saint Kabeer Ji has used the word ‘Chela’: –

Toon Satgur Hau Nautan Chela.

(You are the True Guru, and I am Your new disciple). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 324).

The word ‘Chela’ as synonymous with the word ‘Sikh’ has been used by Guru Nanak Dev Ji: –

Guru Paasoh Phir Chela Khaaye.

(The disciple feeds on the Guru). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 349).

Aavan Athhtrai Jaan Staanavai, Hor Bhee Uthhsi Mard Ka Chela.

(Coming in seventy-eight, they will depart in ninety-seven, and then another disciple of man will rise up). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 723).

Tera Kavan Guru Jis Ka Too Chela.

(Who is your guru? Whose disciple are you?). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 942).

Sabd Guru Surat Dhun Chela.

(Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 943).

Guru Amardas Ji has used the word ‘Chela’ for disciple or Sikh:

Aape Gur Chela Hai Aape, Aape Dasse Ghaat.

(He Himself is the Guru, He Himself is the disciple, and He Himself shows the destination). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 517).

Guru Ramdas Ji used the word ‘Chela’ for disciple or Sikh:

Aape Satgur Aap Hai Chela, Updes Karai Prabh Aapai.

(He Himself is the True Guru, and He Himself is the disciple; God Himself imparts the Teachings). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 605).

Aape Gur Chela Hai Aape, Aape Har Prabh Choj Vidaani.

(He Himself is the Guru, and He Himself is the disciple; the Lord God Himself plays His wondrous games). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 669).

Jan Naanak Naam Pareyo Gur Chela, Gur Raakhoh Laaj Jan Ke.

(Servant Nanak is called the Gur-Chela; O Guru, save the honor of Your servant). (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 731).

Bhai Gurdas Ji has used the word ‘Chela’ (disciple) frequently for Sikh in his hymns. For example: –

(1) Gur Chela, Chela Gur Hoyee. (15-16-7).

(2) Gur Chela, Chela Guru, Chele Parcha Parchaaya. (24-5-4).

(3) Gur Chela Parvaan Kar, Chaar Varan Lai Pairee Paaya. (24-12-4).

(4) Gur Angad Gur Ang Te, Gur Chela, Chela Gur Bhaaya. (26-34-2).

(5) Jo Gur Gopai Aapna Kyon Sijhai Chela. (34-2-1).

(6) Gur Govind Khudaaye Peer, Gur Chela, Chela Gur Hoya. (39-4-1).

In Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, the word ‘Chel’ (Chela) has been used for ‘Sikh’:

Saagar Manjhaar Je Sikh Keen.

Saagar Su Naam Tin Ke Prabeen.

Sarsut Teer Je Keen Chel.

Sarsuti Naam Tin Naam Mel.166.

(Datt Avtar, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib).

Thus, the word ‘Sikh’, if used for ‘disciple’, is synonymous with ‘Chela’.

If we go by this explanation, it can be said that Sri Ram Chandra was a Sikh of Sri Vashishth Ji, and Sri Krishna was a Sikh of Sri Sandeepan Ji.

When the word ‘Sikh’ is just a synonymous with ‘Chela’ or ‘disciple’, it is a common noun. The word ‘Chela’ can be used as a synonymous with the word ‘Sikh’, if the word ‘Sikh’ is used as a common noun.

The Word ‘Sikh’ as a proper noun: –

The word ‘Sikh’, if used in a special context, stands for a person who follows a specific organized religion, mostly known as Sikh Religion and Khalsa Panth. The SGPC has published ‘Sikh Rahat Maryada’ that gives a definition of Sikh in these words: –

Any human being who faithfully believes in

i. One Immortal Being,

ii. Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib,

iii. The Guru Granth Sahib,

iv. The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and

v. the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.

The word ‘Sikh’ as explained in definition given by the SGPC is a proper noun. The word ‘Chela’ cannot be used as a synonymous with the word ‘Sikh’, if the word ‘Sikh’ is used as a proper noun. The terms ‘Sikhism’ and ‘Sikh Religion’ are originated from the word ‘Sikh’, but if terms ‘Chelaism’ and ‘Chela Religion’ are coined, they necessarily would not be synonymous with ‘Sikhism’ and ‘Sikh Religion’.

Thus, we find different meanings of word ‘Sikh’: –

(1) ‘Sikh’ (disciple), as a common noun,

(2) ‘Sikh’ (a follower of a specific organized religion), as a proper noun,

(3) Teaching,

(4) Imperative Verb,

(5) Hair tufts.

12 thoughts on “The Word ‘Sikh’

  1. Pingback: Amrit World » Blog Archive » Sikhs and Hindus

  2. S.S. Chadha

    It shouldn’t forget that this is an opening article of ‘Sikhs and Hindu’ section, I think ‘Amrit’ has something different in his pocket. I am curious to read further.

    Best of Luck Mr. Amrit.

  3. S

    It seems like some of the people leaving comments have some insecurity issues. This is a well researched article, being a Sikh requires one to dwell and learn. You people make it sound like he has found some ‘negative’ meanings of the word Sikh. It is troubling when the majority of people find learning/research meaningless or negative, when we really should embrace and be thankful there are a few of us taking the time to understand our faith, heritage & philosophies.

  4. Amardeep Singh

    Gur Fateh!

    Amritpal Singh,

    I am glad to read your article and your continuous effort to make use of both primary and secondary Sikh texts in all your research.

    It is of course not surprising that the likes of “gupt singhni” and “khalistani”, whilst choosing to hide behind screen names, are busy promoting the cult of anti-intellectualism that permeates the Sikh Diaspora – comments such as theirs are precisely why articles such as these need to be written, as you mentioned, the greatest challenge facing the Panth today is the lack of adequate scholarship and at best reliance on 2-year trained Granthis to act as our scholars and preachers in Gurdwaras.

    Keep up the good work!

    Amardeep Singh.

  5. Brar

    I never thought that word ‘Sikh’ has other meanings as well. Thank you very very much for this great information.

  6. Gupt Singhani

    Amrit, I cannot understand why you write such articles. There is no need to tell that Sikh has other meanings also.

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