Singh Founds the Khalsa Brotherhood Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The creation of the Khalsa brotherhood, an order of militant ascetics, inaugurated social reform, instituted a religious-political bond, and instilled a martial spirit among certain Sikhs in India who joined the order as a form of self-defense against a reviving orthodox Islam.

Summary of Event

The creation of the Khalsa, or the Brotherhood of the Militant Ascetics (Saint-Soldiers) by the tenth and the last Sikhguru Gobind Singh Gobind Singh was the culmination of the evolutionary process of the Sikh oikoumene, or the Panth, dating from the days of the fifth Sikhguru, Arjun Arjun . Arjun’s achievements included the development of the masand system, in which deputies of the guru were in charge of collecting voluntary contributions—similar to tithe from a parish flock); finalizing the foundation of the Sikh headquarters at Amritsar and the temple of God, Harimandir; and the compilation in 1604 of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs containing 5,894 hymns composed by saints of the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries. Sikhism [kw]Singh Founds the Khalsa Brotherhood (Mar. 30, 1699) [kw]Khalsa Brotherhood, Singh Founds the (Mar. 30, 1699) Religion and theology;Mar. 30, 1699: Singh Founds the Khalsa Brotherhood[3120] Organizations and institutions;Mar. 30, 1699: Singh Founds the Khalsa Brotherhood[3120] Social issues and reform;Mar. 30, 1699: Singh Founds the Khalsa Brotherhood[3120] India;Mar. 30, 1699: Singh Founds the Khalsa Brotherhood[3120] Khalsa Brotherhood Gobind Singh Singh, Gobind Bahādur, Tegh Jahan, Shah Aurangzeb Jahāngīr

These developments were instrumental in articulating a distinct Sikh identity toward the closing years of Emperor Akbar’s reign (r. 1556-1605). Akbar’s reign also witnessed an orthodox Islamic revivalist movement responding to his founding of an eclectic religion called Din-i-Ilahi (Divine Faith) in 1580. The Sikh community came to be seen not only as a non-Islamic sect but also as a separate polity—resembling an imperium et imperio—within the Mughal Empire Mughal Empire . Guru Arjun’s complicity with the rebellion of the Mughal crown prince Khusru Khusru in 1606 quickly led to his execution by Emperor Jahāngīr. Jahāngīr[Jahangir] Arjun’s death forced the peace loving Sikhs to transform themselves into a militant community (waza-i-sipahiana) for self-defense. His death was seen as martyrdom, and, according to tradition, it led directly to a deliberate arming of the community and the Mughal government’s apprehension. A common threat thus united the Sikhs in a common faith. Martyrs;Sikhs in Mughal Empire

The word khalsa appears to have been derived from the Persian khalisa, which designated Crown lands in Mughal India. In “panthic” parlance, khalisa became synonymous with the pure Sikh community, the Khalsa, who were initiated by their guru and who owed their offerings to him (instead of to the masands). These offerings resembled the revenue from the Crown lands (khalisa) that were paid directly to the emperor’s revenue collectors. Guru Gobind sought to unify the Sikhs who had divided into different factions or sects. The dissidents were known as minas, rival lineages claiming guruship beginning with the elder brother of Guru Arjun. The minas were supported by the masands, who needed to be segregated and suppressed. This “cleansing” operation was necessary because of the rising Mughal hostility that began during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan Shah Jahan and reached a climax with Guru Tegh Bahādur’s Tegh Bahādur execution in 1675, discussed below

During the reign of the sixth guru (Arjun’s son Hargobind Hargobind , 1606-1644) and the seventh guru (Har Rāi Har Rāi , 1644-1661), who actually retired to Kiratpur in the Kahlur hills following the outbreak of hostilities with the Mughal headquarters of the Punjab at Lahore, relations between the Sikhs and the imperial Mughals were more or less uneventful. It was during the reign of the ninth guru, Tegh Bahādur (who had moved to the plains) that hostilities resumed between the Panth and the imperial administration. Eventually, Tegh Bahādur was executed by Emperor Aurangzeb Aurangzeb . Like the execution of the fifth guru, Arjun, the death of Tegh Bahādur was interpreted by the Panth as martyrdom, which provided strong motivation for the consolidation of “panthic” cohesion. It was this cohesion that led to the creation of the Khalsa.

According to tradition, Guru Gobind founded the Khalsa Order at Anandpur on Baishakhi Day, 1699, the first day of the Indian astronomical year (which corresponds to March 30, 1699). In the early morning hours, Gobind entered a specially constructed canopy, where a huge congregation of Sikhs had gathered to celebrate the spring festival. Behind the canopy was a small tent with a single opening for entry. Gobind delivered a fiery sermon, listing the atrocities of the Mughal rulers and the inaction of numerous Hindu sects. He exhorted his listeners to safeguard their secular and spiritual rights and endeavor to organize collectively to redress the wrongs inflicted on them as a community.

Also during his sermon, he sang paeans to the sword: “God subdues enemies, so does the sword, therefore Sword is God and God is the sword.” After his oration, he sang, “I salute arrows and gun. O Sword! You are powerful and relentless, I salute thee.” He then brandished a sword and declared that dharma (religion or duty) demanded sacrificial blood. He then asked for a volunteer who was willing to be sacrificed. Five men offered their heads: a man of the khatri (trader class), a farmer, a dhobi (washerman), a kahar (water-carrier), and a nai (barber). Even though the congregation saw the five men enter the tent one by one and saw the guru emerge five times with a blood-smeared sword, the volunteers were spared their lives for their loyalty and courage. In their place, five goats were beheaded by the guru. The volunteers came to be known as the “five beloved,” or the Panj Pyare—the five original Khalsa.

The guru baptized the chosen five with a double-edged sword (khande di pahul) and was in turn baptized by the five, thereby establishing the tradition of guru as disciple and disciple as Guru (ape Gur Chela). Following the baptismal ritual (pahul), they all took the surname Singh, which means “lion.” The guru then announced the rahit, which all initiated members of the Khalsa were to observe henceforth. The rahit, a series of instructions and injunctions for the lifestyle of the initiated, declared, among other things, that every initiated Sikh was to wear a kachha (undershorts), kirpan (dagger or sword), kesh (uncut hair), kangha (comb), and kara (steel bracelet). The rahit is also known as the five K’. The initiates also were forbidden to touch meat that was slaughtered in the Muslim manner (kuttha) and instead consume jhatka meat from an animal decapitated with one stroke. There was to be no idolatry, and the guru’s hymns should be read or sung daily. The initiates at all times were to avoid the company of nonbelievers, to confine their matrimonial relations within the families of the initiated, and to not beg, accept gifts, practice slavery, lie, boast, or steal. The prescribed professions for the Khalsa included farming, trade, warfare, and any work with the pen.


The importance of this brotherhood for the Sikh community lies primarily in the fact that the Khalsa became a political entity as contrasted with the pre-Khalsa panth. This development was a major factor behind the revolt of Banda Singh Bahādur Banda Singh Bahadur (1670-1716), who established for some time a veritable Khalsa rāj (a Khalsa state or rule). Later, the Khalsa emerged as a highly politicized community with a distinct political goal developed since Guru Gobind’s days: The Khalsa will rule (raj karega khalsa).

It must be noted, however, that not all Khalsa Sikhs were Singhs. Even in Guru Gobind’s days baptism of the double-edged sword was voluntary. The Singhs thus baptized came to be known as keshdharis (bearing uncut hair) and the non-Singhs as sahajdharis (slow-adopters, or the easygoing) Khalsa. The latter came to be seen as somewhat inferior to the former and were encouraged to observe the five K’s of the rahit. Eventually, the Khalsa Singhs acquired the distinction of representing Sikh identity.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banerjee, Anil Chandra. The Khalsa Raj. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1985. This work examines the achievements of the Sikhs to the period ending in 1849.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banerjee, Himadri, ed. The Khalsa and the Punjab: Studies in Sikh History to the Nineteenth Century. New Delhi: TulikaBooks, 2002. This edited volume provides up-to-date analyses by distinguished Indian experts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banerjee, Indubhusan. Evolution of the Khalsa. 2 vols. Calcutta: A. Mukherjee, 1947-1963. A pioneering history by an acknowledged master of Sikh history of Calcutta University.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kapoor, Sukhbir S. The Creation of the Khalsa: The Saint Soldier. New Delhi: Hemkunt Press, 1999. An anthology of specialized articles, mostly by Sikh scholars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kohli, Surindar S. The Life and Ideas of Guru Gobind Singh, Based on Original Sources. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1986. Contains an important excerpt from the English translation of Guru Gobind’s autobiography, Bachittar Natak (wondrous drama).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loehlin, Clinton E. The Granth of Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa Brotherhood. Lucknow, India: Lucknow Publishing House, 1971. A succinct analytical survey.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McLeod, Hew. Exploring Sikhism: Aspects of Sikh Identity, Culture, and Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A solid general survey useful for students as well as general readers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McLeod, Hew. Sikhism. New York: Penguin, 1997. Explores how Sikhism emerged from the Hindu background of the times and examines the splitting off of a number of separate sects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McLeod, Hew. Sikhs of the Khalsa: A History of the Khalsa Rahit. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. A magisterial analysis of the Khalsa and their rahit.

Reign of Aurangzeb

Founding of the Marāthā Kingdom

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Aurangzeb; Jahāngīr; Shah Jahan;Śivājī. Khalsa Brotherhood Gobind Singh

Categories: History