The Sarbat Khalsa

March 3, 2024
Reading Time
7 Minutes

What is the Sarbat Khalsa?

The Sarbat Khalsa is a Gurmat-based decision making system born out of the gift Guru Gobind Singh Ji left us in 1708 – when he passed guruship onto Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the collective Guru Khalsa Panth.

When split into its two constituent terms, Sarbat means Entire and Khalsa refers to Amritdhari Sikhs. Thus, a Sarbat Khalsa, means a meeting of the entire Khalsa Panth, in which the Guru Khalsa Panth use Guru Granth Sahib Ji as a guide to create a Gurmata (mata: “a counsel or resolution on an actionable matter” and “Gur-” indicates that the entire process and outcome happened in concordance with the Guru’s teachings). .

The Sarbat Khalsa is the perfect embodiment of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji’s idea of Miri Piri. Where Miri is the temporal or material power – embodied by the Guru Khalsa Panth, and Piri is the spiritual power given to us by the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

The Ideal Process

Normally, a Sarbat Khalsa occurs at the Akal Takht, but the right of calling a Sarbat Khalsa need not be reserved to the Jathedar of the Akal Takht. Especially as the sovereignty of the Akal Takht has been compromised by politics in Punjab and India.

Apart from this, the Sarbat Khalsa is a gathering which begins with an ardaas and occurs in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib Ji, reminding participants of their spiritual master. All the participants have an equal say in the process, and by the end, as John Malcolm observed in A Sketch of the Sikhs; “all internal disputes” were forgotten, and there was “complete union in one cause” (Malcolm & Kapur, 2007). Any animosities between different individuals are set aside. The vices: arrogance, greed, anger, lust and attachment we carry as individuals are nullified through this meeting with Guru Sahib. It is the “supreme sovereign body” and has the ability to “direct the affairs of [our] community” (Singh, 1998).

The goal of a Sarbat Khalsa is unique to other systems, as we do not seek the agreement of the majority. Those systems as mentioned earlier, lead to the disillusionment of the minority. Instead, we look for consensus (agreement), before reaching a Gurmata. Until reaching a consensus, participating members look for solutions that all (instead of just the majority) can agree to, and in this way we safeguard the interests of all (Sarbat).

What has the Sarbat Khalsa been used for in the Past?

The Sarbat Khalsa is an institution which over the years has fallen into disuse, at least compared to the frequency with which they were convened during the 18th century.

According to sources, the first recorded Sarbat Khalsa occurred in 1723. This Sarbat Khalsa was called to resolve a conflict between two groups of Sikhs: the Bandai Khalsa and the Tat Khalsa. The Bandai Khalsa were followers of Banda Singh Bahadur and the Tat Khalsa were the followers of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The resolution of this conflict (aided by Bhai Mani Singh) was an encouraging step for the further use of the Sarbat Khalsa in the future.

Moving forward in the 17th century, some Gurmataey that were passed by the Sarbat Khalsa include but are not limited to:  

  • Resisting established governments
  • Taking up arms against the Mughals
  • Organization of the Sikhs into 11 groups known as misls and combating the invasions of Ahmed Shah Durrani (as detailed by Rattan Singh Bhangu)

As Maharaja Ranjit Singh began to gain more power, he wished to unify the whole of Punjab. A decision-making system, like the Sarbat Khalsa, would undermine his power as ruler; instead, giving power to the Panth. As such, under his influence the Sarbat Khalsa was abandoned with the last assembly occurring in 1805. Although Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule is fondly remembered as the Khalsa Raj, it is also characterized by a regression in certain Sikhi values (as seen by the abandonment of the Sarbat Khalsa and Gurmata institution).

The Sarbat Khalsa was redeemed during the Gurdwara Reform Movement as Sikhs tried to take back power over their gurdwaras away from Mahants (British appointed governors) in the early 1920s. By now, some Sikhs had migrated out of Punjab. As such, not all of the Sikhs were included in the Sarbat Khalsa. This inclusion of Sikhs in the diaspora is a problem that re-appears throughout history – as recently as 2015.

In the modern era, the Sarbat Khalsa has been called twice, namely at the Akal Takht in 1986, and again in 2015. The former declared Punjab as Khalistan, due to the number of anti-Sikh actions occurring in India at that time. And the latter, re-affirmed the previous Sarbat Khalsa and appointed new Jathedars of the Takhts. This Sarbat Khalsa has also been widely criticized for a lack of openness about the selection process of the Jathedars, and the general behind the scenes of the whole process.

How could it be possible for the whole Panth to make progress on issues of such colossal scale?

At times, to me, reaching a consensus with the whole Panth feels like an impossible task. These days, getting anyone to agree with you about anything is becoming more and more difficult. Simply trying to convince my friends that Messi is a better soccer player than Ronaldo leaves us all in an angry daze.

Here, Bhai Gurdaas Ji offers us some optimism in his Vaars:

ਪਰਮੇਸਰ ਹੈਪੰਜ ਮਿ ਲਿ ਲੇਖ ਅਲੇਖ ਨ ਕੀਮਤਿ ਪਾਈ।

ਪੰਜ ਮਿ ਲੇਪਰਪੰਚ ਤਜਿ ਅਨਹਦ ਸਬਦ ਸਬਦਿ ਲਿ ਵ ਲਾਈ।

ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਸੋਹਨਿ ਗੁਰ ਭਾਈ ॥੬॥

Where five sit, the Divine is there; this mystery of the indescribable Divine cannot be comprehended.

But only when those five reject hypocrisy and merge their minds into the Shabad,

Then the Sangat is considered the collective Guru.

Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 29 Page 6.

The assembly of Sikhs who follow Guru’s teachings are considered the Khalsa Panth, and they collectively embody Guru Sahib. As highlighted throughout the history of the Sarbat Khalsa, these gatherings have been used to create revolutions, to resist oppression and foster unity in our religion. This system is the decision-making process that makes sure that all voices are heard, and that on an individual level we all have a place within the collective Khalsa Panth.

But then what’s gone wrong?

There were a great many problems with the last Sarbat Khalsa, but it begins with a lack of representation. Firstly, this system needs to be revitalized for our current situation. Sikhs are all across the world and the Sarbat Khalsa is not limited to only Sikhs living in Punjab. The involvement of Sikhs in the diaspora is crucial for the proper functioning of this institution. Next, the representation of Kaurs or Amritdhari women is severely lacking. During the 17th century, there was no documentation of women participating in those Sarbat Khalsa gatherings. Although this could be attributed to the fact that no women were the heads of their misls or that this was simply the attitude of that time – there is no doubt that this must change in today’s day and age!

Lastly, we are easily infiltrated by outside forces which undermine the sovereignty of our Panth. For example, in 2015 the Punjab government – fearing the outcome of the Sarbat Khalsa, deterred Sikhs from participating in it. The Punjab government questioned the legitimacy of the Sarbat Khalsa, as it was not called by the Jathedar of the Akal Takht (whom they themselves had appointed). The power to select the Jathedar of the Akal Takht resides not with the SGPC, but with the entire Khalsa – the Sarbat Khalsa. The Jathedar is not a position that acts as the ruler of the entire Sikh nation, but is simply a caretaker who reflects the wishes of the entire Panth. Paradoxically, if the SGPC selects the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, then that person does not reflect the Panth’s wishes – as they were not chosen by the Panth. What’s more, is that if the Panth wishes to hold a Sarbat Khalsa, the Jathedar must either call the Sarbat Khalsa, or be overruled. The Jathedar is not an authoritative figure like the Pope or some type of ruler. They simply work alongside the Panth as a “spokesperson” to decree hukamnamas from the Akal Takht. These hukamnamas are not based upon the Jathedar’s own wishes, but ones that the Sarbat Khalsa have deliberated upon.

Moving Forward

It can be easy to be discouraged by the lack of cohesion of the Panth, and the neglect of the Sarbat Khalsa by many. But as time goes on, we realize more and more how disenfranchised we are. We come to realize that the Guru is our support and that the Panth is our consciousness. Upon seeing the power in that village of Chabba, Amritsar during the 2015 Sarbat Khalsa and hearing the Jaikara ring through the crowd:

It fills me with nothing but hope. Going forward, the advent of technology, our ease of access to information, and the rise of prominent Sikhs in the diaspora continue to inspire. We must continue to find solutions for Sikhs in the diaspora to get involved, to rid our religious spaces of external government influences, and to create safe spaces where women and other groups like non-Punjabi Sikhs can freely participate in the Sarbat Khalsa.

As Guru Gobind Singh Ji has said in Sarbloh Granth:

ਇਨ ਗਰੀਬ ਸਿ ਖਨ ਕੋਦਿ ਊਂ ਪਾਤਸ਼ਾਹੀ || ਯਹ ਯਾਦ ਰਖੇਂਹਮਰੀ ਗੁਰਿ ਆਈ ||

“I bestow upon these oppressed Sikhs royalty. Let them remember (and follow the example) of my Guruship.”

Let us use the Guru’s example to try and organize our Panth for the betterment of all (Sarbat Da Bhalla). And when that task seems too hard, when it seems impossible, may Waheguru bless us to remember that: our Guru gave us the duty to be the army that fights for justice. And to achieve justice we must continue to safeguard and put into practice the Sarbat Khalsa, which allows for our sovereignty to remain unimpeached for generations to come.

ਭੁਲ ਚੁਕ ਮਾਫ,

ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਕਾ ਖਾਲਸਾ, ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਕੀ ਫ਼ਤਿਹ!


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Free Akal Takht,

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Romana, Karamjit Kaur. “Sarbat Khalsa and Gurmatta in Sikh Panth.”, 2018,

Sandhu, Amandeep. “Subverting a Popular Movement: How the Sarbat Khalsa Was Hijacked by Radical Sikh Bodies.” The Caravan, 11 Nov. 2015,

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Links for Further Reading:


Anhadh Singh

Anhadh Singh is a first year student at Queen’s University, Canada. He is in the Bachelor of Health Science program and enjoys a great many hobbies like watching TV shows, playing video games, playing soccer, and doing Keertan. He tries to keep himself inspired by attending various Sikh Youth Camps and meeting with his Sangat as best he can.

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