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Waheguru (Punjabi: ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ, Vāhigurū) is a term most often used in Sikhism to refer to God, the Supreme Being or the creator of all. It means "Wonderful Teacher" in the Punjabi language, but in this case is used to refer to God. Wahi means "wonderful" (a Middle Persian borrowing) and "Guru" (Sanskrit: गुरु) is a term denoting "teacher". Waheguru is also described by some as an experience of ecstasy which is beyond all descriptions.
The most common usage of the word "Waheguru" is in the greeting Sikhs use with each other:
"Waheguru", and its variant "Vahiguru", appear 16 times in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Vahiguru occurs twice on Ang 1403 and once on Ang 1404. Other words used in the Guru Granth Sahib to refer to God are: Onkar, Satguru ("true teacher"), Satnaam ("true name"),Rama, Rahman, Purushah, Allah, Khuda among others. Indeed, a verse in Guru Granth Sahib just highlights the very fact that different people use different 'words' :
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs (1666-1708), used "Waheguru" in the invocatory formula ("Ik Onkar Sri Waheguru ji ki Fateh", besides the traditional "Ik Onkar Satguru Prasada") at the beginning of some of his compositions as well as in the Sikh salutation ("Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh"). Bhai Gurdas at one place in his Varan (I.49) construes "vahiguru" as an acrostic using the first consonants of the names of four divine incarnations of the Hindu tradition appearing in four successive eons. Modern scholars, however, affirm that the name Vahiguru is owed originally to the Gurus, most likely to the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, himself. According to this view, Vahiguru is a compound of two words, one from Persian and the other from Sanskrit, joined in a symbiotic relationship to define the indefinable indescribable Ultimate Reality. "Vah" in Persian is an interjection of wonder and admiration, and "guru" (Sanskrit guru: "heavy, weighty, great, venerable; a spiritual parent or preceptor") has been frequently used by Guru Nanak and his successors for "SATGURU "(True Guru) or God. Bhai Santokh Singh, in Sri Guru Nanak Prakash (pp. 1249–51), reporting Guru Nanak’s testament to the Sikhs has thus explicated "Vahiguru": "Vah" is wonder at the Divine might; while guru means a spiritual and devotional teacher.
Cumulatively, the name implies wonder at the Divine Light eliminating spiritual darkness. It might also imply, "Hail the Lord whose name eliminates spiritual darkness." Earlier, Shaheed Bhai Mani Singh, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala, gave a similar explication, also on the authority of Guru Nanak. Considering the two constituents of "Vahiguru" ("vahi" + "guru") implying the state of wondrous ecstasy and offering of homage to the Lord, the first one was brought distinctly and prominently into the devotional system by Guru Nanak, who has made use of this interjection, as in Majh ki Var (stanza 24), and Suhi ki Var, sloka to pauri 10.
Apart from the use of this interjection, the attitude of wonder and total submission at the sight of Divine Greatness is prominently visible in Guru Nanak as evidenced for example in the hymn in Dhanasari:
in measure Suhi:
and in Japji:
In Asa Di Var (GG, 462-75) the opening sloka to pauri 3 is woven round "vismad—vismadu nad vismadu ved", "wondrous is the sound, wondrous the wisdom". Wonder and ecstasy are expressed at the cosmic order and its mystery full of contradictions, yet all comprehended in the Divinely-appointed system. This salok concludes with: "Ever present to our gaze is wonder. At the sight of this mystery are we wonderstruck. Only by supreme good fortune is it unravelled." In the opening salok to pauri 4—"bhai vichi pavanu vahai sadvau", "in (the Lord’s) fear bloweth the wind with its myriad breezes" — is expressed wonder at the cosmic “fear” under which the universe operates in obedience to the Divine Law, the Lord alone being exempt from such fear.
In Japji, besides other themes, one that stands out prominent is wonder at the cosmic order, its infinitude and the mystery of its moral élan. As a matter of fact, the theme of Japji may be said to be what occurs in the course of stanza 4: "vadiai vicharu" ("contemplation of Divine infinity"). In stanza 16, for example, is the expression of wonder at the limitlessness of space. Stanzas 17-19, each beginning with asankh (infinite), are uttered in the same mood.
In stanza 22— "patala patal lakh agasa agas", "countless the worlds beneath, countless the worlds above" —is a vision of the limitlessness of the universe. So are stanzas 24, 25, 26, 27, 32, 34, 35 and 36. It is in response to this overwhelming vision of Guru Nanak that the unique Name of the Supreme Being, Vahiguru, originated. No other name could have been adequate to express what in his vision he found lying at the heart of the cosmos, compelling a response in the human self attuned to devotion and ecstasy.
Guru Amar Das has also employed the term in Gujari ki Var (GG, 514-16) and in Astpadis in Malar (GG. 1277). In the former, it is calculated that the interjection "vahu-vahu" ("Hail, hail the Lord") is used as many as 96 times. The interjection "vahu" ("hail, wondrous is the Lord") occurs in Guru Ram Das in conjunction with "Satiguru "(compounded from Guru) in sloka 2 in Sloka Varan te Vadhik (GG, 1421). In Guru Arjan by whose time the formulation Vahiguru appears to have become current and acquired distinctiveness as the Name Divine, the phrase ‘Gur Vahu’ figures in Asa measure (GG, 376). This is only as inverted form of Vahiguru and has the same force and significance. Kavi Santokh Singh in Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth (p. 5686) uses the two terms as synonymous: “simrahu vahiguru guru vahi, or contemplate ye Vahiguru, the Lord all hail.”
The earliest use of Vahiguru, in this form, is traceable to Varan by Bhai Gurdas and to Gayand’s hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In both it may be said to have occurred contemporaneously, for while no date can be assigned to Bhai Gurdas’ Varan, the work may be assumed to have appeared soon after the compilation of the Scripture in 1604, being so much alive with its spirit and phraseology. Gayand in the course of his lines encomiastic of Guru Ram Das (GG. 1403) made use of Vahiguru as the supreme Name Divine in recognition of the primacy and appeal it had by then come to acquire in the Sikh tradition. In this Savaiyya numbered 11, the term occurs twice as Vah Guru. Earlier in that numbered 6, it is repeated thrice as Vahiguru in the opening line, expressing fervour of devotion. So also in the concluding line of Savaiyya 7. In Savaiyya 12, Vahu Vahu (Wonder, personifying the Lord) signifies the Supreme marvel, embracing the infinitude of the universe. In Savaiyya 13, this name is used twice once as Vahiguru in the opening line and Vah Guru in the last line. In the concluding line of Savaiyya 8, Vahiguru is used thrice, concluding with the interjection "Vahi" ("Hail").
Some relevant lines from Bhai Gurdas, Varan, may also be reproduced here: vahiguru guru sabadu lai piram piala chupi chabola, putting faith in Vahiguru, the Master’s teaching, the seeker drains in peace and tranquillity the cup of devotion
By repeating it egoism is cast out:
Vahiguru is for Sikhs the gurmantra (invocatory formula received from the guru) or naam for repetition (silently or aloud, with or without a rosary) and meditation upon the Supreme Reality. Bhai Gurdas in his Varan refers to it variously as japu mantra (invocation for repetition), guru sabadu (the Guru’s Word), sachu mantra (true mantra) and gurmantra. It is also called nam (the Name), and is sometimes compounded as “Satinam-Vahiguru” to be chanted aloud in congregations. Nam japna (repeated utterance of God’s Name, i.e. Vahiguru) is one of the three cardinal moral principles of Sikhism, the other two being kirat karni or honest labour and vand chhakna or sharing one’s victuals with the needy. Since the manifestation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, Vahiguru has been part of the Sikh salutation: "Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh" ("Hail the Khalsa who belongs to the Lord God! Hail the Lord God to whom belongs the victory! !" ). It has since also been the gurmantra imparted formally at initiation to the novitiate by the leader of the Panj Piare administering the rites.