Weapons have traditionally played an important role in Sikh religious practice and Sikh history. An arrangement of weapons is found on todays modern Nishan Sahib as well as Nishan Sahibs of the past.
Learn about the various types of weapons that have appeared on Nishan Sahibs and why they are such an integral part of Sikh worship. Read a section of Guru Gobind Singhs Shaster Nam Mala in praise of God using various weapons as metaphors.
Actual proportions and scale of the weapons comprising the Sikh Khanda emblem.
Why would the religious emblem of the Sikhs be composed of weapons?
An early travel account by a European explorer written a little over 80 years after the time of Guru Gobind Singh reveals the uniqe respect for their weapons have Sikhs have historically held:
It is said that they have a sort of superstitious respect for their sword. It was by it they obtained their independence and power; and by it they preserve them. A Seik, though in other respects infinitely less scrupulous than any other Hindoo, before he will eat with any one of another religion, draws his sword, and passing it over the victuals, repeats some words of prayer, after which he will freely partake of them.
Sketches Chiefly Relating to the History, Religion, Learning, and Manners of the Hindoos
Quintin Craufurd, 1790
Weapons, especially the sword have a deep spiritual meaning within Sikhism. The kirpan is one of the articles of faith that every baptized Sikh Khalsa is required to carry at all times. While the spiritual significance of each specific weapon appearing on a Nishan Sahib is open to subjective personal interpretation, a clearly defined spiritual association between weapons and the Supreme Being was established early on in the development of the religion by the Sikh Gurus.
In the first lines of the Sikh daily prayer Ardas, Guru Gobind Singh asks Sikhs to remember the Supreme Being and all the Gurus. In referring to God, the Guru chose to use the unique metaphor of the sword (Bhagauti):
Ekh-oonkaar Vaaheguroo jee kee Fat'eh.
Sree Bhagautee jee Sahaa-e.
Vaar Sree Bhagautee jee kee Paat'shaahee D'assveen
God is One. All victory is of the Wondrous Guru (God).
May the respected sword (God) help us!
Ode of the respected sword recited by the Tenth Guru.
Pritham Bhagat'ee simar kaae Guroo Nanak laeen’ D'hiaa-ae.
Phir Angad. Guroo t'ae Amar-Daas Ram-Daas-aae hoeen’ sahaa-ae.
First remember the sword (God); then remember and meditate upon Guru Nanak.
Then remember and meditate upon Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das: May they help us!
The word Bhagauti, meaning sword, has been mis-interpreted by some to suggest that it is a reference to a Hindu diety with a similar sounding name and that these lines are evidence that Sikhs are worshippers of this Hindu diety. This is not the case as the Sikh context of the word has an altogether different meaning. The following lines from the poetry of Bhai Gurdas, the original scribe of the Guru Granth Sahib help to clarify the Sikh definition of Bhagauti as a metal sword:
Bhai Gurdas, Varan XXV, 6
Nau bhagauti lohu gharaia
Iron (a lowly metal) when properly wrought becomes a (powerful) sword.