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Deg Teg Fateh - Origin and Meaning

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Deg Tegh Fateh!

(The Sikh Encyclopedia)

DEG TEGH FATEH, a Sikh saying which literally means victory (fateh) to kettle (deg) and sword (tegh). All the three words have been taken from Persian which was the State language in the formative period of Sikhism. The word deg, i.e. a large sized kettle or cauldron having a wide mouth, which in the Muslim Sufi tradition signified charitable distribution of cooked food, also called langar, has here acquired an expanded meaning. While retaining its literal meaning, it has come to stand in the Sikh tradition for the ideal of public welfare or general benevolence or munificence. Guru Nanak in one of his hymns likens the Earth to a deg from which sustenance is received by all living beings (GG, 1190). Similarly, tegh has also acquired a wider connotation and has been used in the Sikh tradition as a symbol for chastisement of the evil and protection of the good.

As Guru Hargobind is said to have told a Maharashtrian saint, Ram Das, during their meeting at Srinagar (Garhval), the tegh is for garib ki rakhia (defence of the weak) and Jarvane ki bhakkhia (destruction of the aggressor). Guru Gobind Singh identified the tegh or sword with the Lord Creator and thereby gave it a still deeper meaning. He addressed it as Bhagauti (goddess), Sri Kharag (Lord Sword), Jag Karan (Creator of the World) and Sristi Ubaran (Saviour of the Creation), besides reiterating its role as protector of the good (suikh santan karnan) and destroyer of the evil (dumiati daman). The two ideals of degand tegh supplemented each other. In a supplicatory passage in his Krishnavtar Guru Gobind Singh says: "Deg teg jag mai dou chalai deg and tegh both prevail in the world." In Charitropakhyan, deg and tegh (charity and valour) constitute a composite virtue that was the characteristic of the heroes of yore (Charitra 200. 1; 272. 3; 307. 2).

When Sikhs passing through a period of fierce persecution established their power in the Punjab, this maxim was adopted as an ideal for the Khalsa State and imprinted on their seals, coins and banners. The term fateh added to deg and tegh was the expression of Sikhs` belief that the use of tegh (in the last resort, as permitted by Guru Gobind Singh), with the ideal of deg or charity steadfastly cherished, must lead to fateh or victory. Guru Gobind Singh had introduced the salutation "Vahiguruji ka Khalsa, Vahiguruji ki Fateh," ascribing victory to God. The Khalsa affirmed through this slogan that victory, a gift from God, followed the use of tegh in a righteous cause and adherence to the principle of magnanimity (deg) deg, tegh, fateh. Banda Singh who first occupied territory, had a Persian inscription on his seal which, rendered into English, read: "Kettle and Sword (symbols of charity and power) and Victory and Ready Patronage have been obtained through the grace of Guru NanakGobind Singh." Here tegh (sword) is used as a symbol of victory over tyranny and deg (kettle) as a symbol of ready patronage (welfare) for the good. Both being gifts from the Gurus constituted the governing principles of the polity of the new State. The same Persian inscription incorporating the Sikh ideal of Deg Tegh Fateh was reproduced on the coin introduced by Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluvalia in 1765 after the Khalsa had gained a decisive victory over the Afghans. The practice continued during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the first Sikh sovereign of the Punjab as well as in some of the cisSutlej Sikh states which had accepted British suzerainty. Over the centuries the principle of Deg Tegh Fateh has taken a firm root in Sikh psyche and tradition. The maxim has become part of the Sikh Ardas, prayer which is recited at the end of all Sikh services. Every time when the ardas is offered, blessings of the Lord are invoked for the triumph of the ideal of deg and tegh. In the ardas Sikhs also recall their past heroes : "They who dwelt on His Name, ate only after sharing their victuals with others, maintained the deg` and wielded the tegh and sacrificed their lives for the sake of dharma, remember them, Khalsa Ji and proclaim Vahiguru ...."

1. Teja Singh, SIKHISM : Its Ideals and Institutions. Bombay, 1937

2. Sher Singh, The Philosophy ofSikhism. LAHORE, 1944

3. Prakash Singh, The Sikh Gurus and the Temple of Bread. AMRITSAR, 1964

4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990.

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