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Bole So Nihal... Sat Sri Akal!

Bole So Nihal... Sat Sri Akal is a slogan or Jaikara (literally shout of victory, triumph or exultation).

It is divided in two parts or phrases. The first, 'Bole So Nihal', is a statement meaning "whoever utters (the phrase following) shall be happy, shall be fulfilled," and the second part 'Sat Sri Akal'. 'Sat' means "truth", 'Sri' (a honorific word) means "great" and 'Akal' (or Akaal) means "the eternal timeless being, ie. God"; thus the phrase can roughly be translated as "God is the Ultimate Truth".

This jaikara, first popularized by Sri Guru Gobind Singh, has become, besides being a popular mode of expressing ebullient religious fervour or a mood of joy and celebration, an integral part of Sikh liturgy and is shouted at the end of ardas or prayer, said in sangat or holy congregation. One of the Sikhs in the sangat, particularly the one leading ardas, shouts the first phrase, Jo Bole So Nihal, in response to which the entire congregation, including in most cases the leading Sikh himself utter in unison Sat Sri Akal in a long-drawn full-throated shout. The jaikara or slogan aptly expresses the Sikh belief that all victory (jaya or jai) belongs to God, Waheguru, a belief that is also expressed in the Sikh salutation Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh (the pure belong to God, Victory belongs to God). In their hour of triumph, therefore, the Sikh’s remember Sat Sri Akal instead of exulting in their own valour.

You can listen to the Jaikara here...

Traditionally, the slogan or war-cry expressing communal fervour and assent to or enthusiasm for a cause, Sat Sri Akal has been so used through the three-hundred-year-old history of the Sikh people, since the creation of the Khalsa. In a normal situation when two Sikhs meet, they exchange greetings pronouncing Sat Sri Akal thus pointing out the glory of God to each other. Although as a salutation it is a form of Sikh greeting, it is not the official Sikh greeting.

The official Sikh greeting is Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh. Those addressing a Sikh religious congregation will, as a rule, greet the audience with the salutation, Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh. Sat Sri Akal shouted in unison responding to the call Jo Bole So Nihal (whoever so pronounces shall prosper) is a call to action, or expression of ecstatic joy or an invocation for Divine aid or succour. While Sat or Sati (Sanskrit satya) means 'true’, 'good’, 'abiding’, 'real’ and 'eternal’, Sri is an honorific denoting beauty, glory, grace or majesty. Sati has the sanction of Guru Nanak’s Mool Mantar in the Japji where after Ik Onkar, it appears as a constituent of Satinamu (Reality Eternal). Akal also occurs in Mool Mantra in the phrase Akal Murati (Form Eternal), descriptive of the Absolute.

Akal as the Divine name appealed particularly to Guru Gobind Singh, as his philosophical vision of the cosmos and the human life centred around this concept. Akal means 'Timeless’ or 'Transcending Time.’ Time being the consuming element, making for birth, decay and death, in Guru Gobind Singh’s vision the most essential attribute lying at the core of human conception of the Divine is Its timeless quality. Kal is Sanskrit for time and in common parlance stands for death—more precisely, the inevitable hour of death. Fear being fear of death basically, in Guru Gobind Singh’s metaphysical thinking and moral philosophy, to make the Timeless the centre of one’s faith is the way to banish fear and to make heroes of ordinary mortals.

Consequently, the inevitability of death and the futility of fear are among the principal themes of Guru Gobind Singh’s teaching. In his compositions there are several verbal formations from kal (time) which express his vision. God is Sarab Kal (Lord of All-Time), Akal-Purakh (the Eternal Pervasive Reality) and has all the attributes arising from His quality of Timelessness. Guru Gobind Singh’s principal composition of adoration is entitled Akal Ustati (Laudation of the Timeless). In places, the Guru has identified God with Time or All-Time, that is eternity. The opening line of one of his hymns reads keval kal i kartar (the All-Time, i.e. the Eternal alone is the creator). This by implication repudiates the claim of Brahma, one aspect of the Hindu trinity or of other deities, to be the true creator.

Akal occurs at four places in the Varan of Bhai Gurdas. In each context it conveys the sense of God the Eternal, Timeless. By the time of Bhai Gurdas, whose active life spanned the periods of Guru Arjan and Guru Hargobind, this term was familiar and well established in the Sikh tradition, and consequently when Guru Gobind Singh picked it out to make it the vehicle for expressing his deepest inspiration, he was only enriching a concept already a constituent of the philosophical milieu of the Sikh people. As reported by the royal news-writer, when in 1699 the new initiation of amrit was introduced by Guru Gobind Singh, for days afterwards, the whole atmosphere around Anandpur, the venue of the baptismal ceremonies, was resounding with cries of Akal, Akal. This referred to the shouts of Sat Sri Akal incessantly raised by the converts to the Khalsa faith filled with new fervour. In subsequent times, after the Sikhs acquired political power in the Punjab, the seal of the Sikh chiefs would bear the inscription, Akal Sahi (Akal be our Succourer). The Sikh army, the Nihangs were called Akalis (followers of Akal). During the early 1920’s, when the Sikh people were fired with a new reformist and patriotic zeal, the party spearheading these programmes took to itself the name Akali, which is politically still a viable term.

For those of you who are Sikhs, please use the greeting 'Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!'.

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