Colors - Sikh Chronicles

Vars of Bhai Gurdas

Bhai Gurdas (1551 – 1629), eminent scholar, scribe of the first version of the Guru Granth Sahib under the direction of Guru Arjan and poet provides the earliest biographical account of Guru Nanak. Bhai Gurdas mentions that Guru Nanak wore blue on his journey to Mecca. The Guru likely did this to blend in with other Muslims on pilgrimage to the restricted city.

Var, Pannaa 1

baabaa fir makae gaeiaa neel basathr dhhaarae banavaaree||
Donning blue attire then Baba Nanak went to Mecca.


Bhai Gurdas also provides a few other references to colors in his writings:

Var, Pannaa 1

rig neela(n)bar jujar peeth svaeaetha(n)bar kar siaam sudhhaaraa||
Blue dress for Rig-Veda, yellow for Yajurveda and for singing of the hymns of Samaveda wearing of the white dress became a tradition.

Var, Pannaa 37

kaalaa dhhoulaa ratharraa neelaa peelaa hariaa saajae||
Black, White, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green colors are adorning (the creation).


Rahitnamas are early formative documents of the Sikh Code of Conduct written in the 1700’s. They were written by a number of authors claiming to be records of Guru Gobind Singhs final wishes to the Khalsa on how Sikhs should lead their life. Although it is generally agreed that many of these were likely written in the post-Guru era, they are still valuable in revealing early Sikh community interpretations and practices in the lifetime of their respective authors.

No reference is made to the color of Nishan Sahibs in these early codes of conduct, but a pattern does emerge of a distaste or prohibition against red. The exact reason for this remains unclear and the autors attributed the prohibition to Guru Gobind Singh. The abhorrence of red may have been a result of 18th century Sikhs trying to distance themselves from association with the religion and practices of the Hindus. Red being an important color in the Hindu faith worn by their holy men as a symbol of worldly renunciation and appearing on their religious banners.

Chaupa Singh Rahit-nama (c 1740’s)
The following offenders should be required to undergo a penance:
381. He who wears red [garments].

Prahilad Singh Rahit-nama
Do not clothe yourself in red. [2]

Daya Singh Rahit-nama
Clothing should be dark grey, white, yellow, or green. Do not wear red clothing. [2]


Bahi Khan Singh Nabha

Sikh scholar Bhai Khan Singh Nabha in his 20th century encyclopedic work Gurmat Martand provides an interesting interpretation regarding this prohibition against wearing red:

Suha (pothohari): red. Because it is a colour associated with women’s clothing red is inappropriate for the manly [3]


Sri Gur Panth Prakash

Sri Gur Panth Prakash commonly known as Prachin Panth Prakash written by Rattan Singh Bhangoo [4] is considered one of the primary historical chronicles and seminal detailed works about the origin and evolution of the Khalsa Panth, during the 18th century. The author Rattan Singh Banghu started the work in 1809 and completed it in 1841. Noted scholar Bhai Vir Singh discovered the original manuscript in 1914, editing and published it that year.

Ratan Singh Bhangu drew upon available Sikh sources such as Janamsakhis and Gurbilases and on the oral history tradition passed down to him from his family. His paternal grandfather was the famous Sikh martyr Matab Singh and his maternal grandfather Sham Singh was the leader of the Karorasirighia Misl. Prachin Panth Prakash is one of the few existing historical Sikh sources of information that we have about the establishment of early Sikh rule in the Punjab during the time of Banda Singh Bahadur.

Rattan Singh relates the story of Guru Gobind Singh wearing blue to disguise himself as a Muslim holy man in order to escape Mughal authorities hunting for him:

Episode 20, The Episode About Machhiwara
Then Satguru called one Sayyad to join his two Pathan followers,
And ordered for different kinds of dresses to be made.
Thereafter, they changed their apparels to look like Hajj pilgrims
By wearing long blue robes and throwing loose their hair upon their backs. (8)


A significant portion of Prachin Panth Prakash details the split of the Khalsa Panth into two rival camps in the post-Guru era. The Tatt Khalsa faction led by Guru Gobind Singhs widow Mata Sundri and the Bandai faction let by followers of Banda Singh Bahadur clashed on a number of issues including their interpretation of colors. We also see mentions of the prohibitions of red found in early Rahitnamas and references to the growing popularity of blue.

Episode 60
The red robes which the Guru had prohibited him from wearing,
He started wearing those very robes out of obduracy.
Doing away with the Guru-ordained greetings “Waheguru ji ki Fateh”,
He introduced his own brand of greetings “Fateh Darshan”. (32)

He dispensed with the blue robes,
And ordained (his followers) to wear red-coloured head gear.
He banned the partaking of non-vegetarian animal food,
So much so that even the wood for fuel was to be washed. (33)

The Factional Fight Between (Tat Khalsa) Singhs and Bandhayee Singhs
They declared “Fateh Darshan” against Khalsa’s “Waheguru ji ki Fateh”,
They were Bishnois against Khalsa’s casteless fraternity.
They donned red robes against Khalsa’s rejection of such robes,
The Khalsa donned blue robes against their dislike of blue robes. (14)

Episode 60
Miri Singh, who was the eldest son of Baba Kahan Singh,
Had participated in a wrestling bout against the Bandhayee Singhs.
He used to remain in the close company of Guru Gobind Singh,
Whom the Guru had initiated with his own hands. (61)

He observed wearing blue robes and steel rings,
And never associated with Meenas, Masands and those indulging in female infanticide.
He never had any dealings with the followers of Ram Rai,
And would harass and kill those belonging to Banda Singh’s faction. (62)

The Factional Fight Between (Tat Khalsa) Singhs and Bandhayee Singhs
Donning the blue robes and steel rings,
He followed the initiated Singhs code of conduct.
Reciting the Sikh scriptures and making prayers everyday,
He did not shirk from fighting and rioting (against his enemies). (3)



1.The Chaupa Singh Rahit-Nama, W.H. McLeod, University of Otago Press, 1987

2. Sikhs of the Khalsa : History of Khalsa Rahit, W.H.Mcleod, Oxford Press, 2003

3. Gurumat Maratand, Khan Singh Nabha, S.G.P.C. Amritsar, 1962, p. 805

4. Sri Gur Panth Prakash: Rattan Singh Bhangoo (Volume 1), Translated by Kulwant Singh, Institute of Sikh Studies, 2006