The Nishan Sahib is not only the physical marker of a Sikh place of worship, but it also serves as a spiritual marker of Sikh identity and philosophy.
The Nishan Sahib is so ingrained in the Sikh religion that it is remembered every day in the Sikh prayers of Ardas and Chaupai Sahib.
Chukiaan’, Jhandae, Bun:gae jugo j-ugg atall, d:haram kaa jaaekaar. Bolo jee Vaaheguroo.
May the administrative centers, the banners, the cantonments abide from age to age.
May the cause of truth and justice prevail everywhere at all times, utter, Wondrous God!.
In Ardas Sikhs pray for truth, justice and wish that the eternal banner ever remain flying throughout the ages. It represents the hopes of the faith for as long as Sikh sees the Nishan Sahib banner flying high it means that the message of Guru Nanak is alive and well.
In Benti Chaupai (Chaupai Sahib), a prayer composed by Gobind Singh the Nishan Sahib banner is seen as a banner of Gods protection and shelter:
Kharag ket mai saran(i) tihari. Ap hath dai lehu ubari
Khargg – sword, Ket – flag, Mai Sarn Tehari – To Seek Protection
I seek shelter of God, Who has the sword on his Banner. O God, give me Your own Hand and protect me.
Traditionally throughout human history flags have been used to proclaim national or cultural sovereignty. Can the Nishan Sahib be considered a flag of national sovereignty? According to the Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) Sikhs are defined as any person who believes in the Sikh Gurus and their teachings, the practices of the religion and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion. A Sikh is not defined as a specific ethnic group, nationality or a people from one part of the world.
The Nishan Sahib is not a symbol of national sovereignty but a symbol of spiritual sovereignty. The Nishan Sahib proclaims the fundamental right of Sikhs to practice their faith and live their lives according to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, free from persecution or interference by others.
The American flag is perhaps the most dramatic and easily recognized banner of political sovereignty. For those not familiar with the Sikhs or their religion the Nishan Sahib has been mistaken as a statement of ethnic or national sovereignty as the following news story relates:
Some Irked that Banner at Lodi's Sikh Temple Doesn't Include American Flag
May 30, 2007
By Ross Farrow
Lodi News Sentinel (California)
The new Sikh Temple in south Lodi has a 60-foot-high canary-yellow banner with the faith's emblem, but some Lodi residents wonder why there isn't an American flag to go with it.
"It's almost a slap in the face as an American and as veterans," said Lodi resident Robin Sarisky. "You're an American first; then everything else falls under that."
Sikh temple leaders say that they don't mean to offend anyone. In fact, the banner isn't really a flag, according to two Lodi Sikh board members, Nirmal Samra and John Takhar.
It's a symbol of their religion, not India, the country where a majority of Sikhs were born.
"That's what American people should understand. It's not a flag," Samra said. "It's like a cross in the Christian church."
The universal Sikh symbol is a glyph (called a Khanda) composed of a central, straight-edged sword, symbolizing truth, surrounded by two curved swords representing temporal power and authority, according to about.com.
Sikh members are confused if some people are offended by their banner. They maintain the banner at the temple doesn't show preference to their native country. It's symbolizes their religion.