Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Khālsā Bolī

In Advanced Gurmat class at Camp Chardi Kala we read the sākhī of Bābā Gurbaksh Singh Shahīd as written in Panth Parkāsh by Rattan Singh Bhangū. So I had to discuss a little bit about the language of the Khālsā or as some of you would say purātan Sikhs. For example, milk is called samundār (ocean). The words sound kind of funny but the whole point is the carhdī kalā nature and tactical ways to scare the enemy. The Khalsās had become like legends and the enemy really started believing that the Khālsā drinks oceans! On the other hand tea (cā) was known as dhidh phūknī (stomach burner). The context of the sākhī was how Bābā Gurbaksh Singh and other shahīds creatively reinterpreted the marriage barāt (janj) ritual and actually dressed up (as if getting ready for their "marriage with death") like the lārā and the sarbālās to meet with the mighty Mughal army that attacked Harmandir Sāhib. Those of you that are familiar with Bābā Jarnail Singh and the episode of the attack on Harmandir Sahib in 1984 may know that some Singhs dressed up as sarbālās when the final moment came when Bābājī and other Singhs stepped out of Akāl Takht Sāhib for the final battle. Anyway, it was a great lesson, the kids didn't fall asleep...I think!! :-)

Back to the Khālsā bōli, here is a quote by Principal Teja Singh in his essay "Humour and Sikhism" regarding this language.

As a result of this brave spirit, there grew up among the Sikhs a peculiar slang, which was called the Vocabulary of Heroes. In it the things connected with difficulties of life were expressed in terms of such cheerfulness and bravado, as if for the Sikhs pain and suffereing had lost all meaning. Death was familiarly called an expedition of the Khalsa into the next world. A man with an empty stomach would call himself mad with prosperity. Grams were almonds, and onions were silver pieces, while rupees were nothing but empty crusts. A blind man was called a wide-awake hero, and a half-blind man an argus-eyed lion. A deaf man was said to be a man in the upper storey. A baptised Sikh was called a brother of the Golden Cup, which, by the way, was only an iron vessel. To be fined by the community for some fault was called getting one's salary. The big stick was called a lawyer or the store of wisdom; and the speak was to roar.
Sirdar Kapur Singh has some examples of this vocabulary of heroes in his writings too. But by and far the most extensive dictionary of Khālsā bolī that I have come across is available in the Mahān Kosh by Bhāī Kahn Singh of Nābhā. I just went through a few of them. Full interpretation and what is the context of the words used has not been done (yet!). Hopefully some of you will research some of the words...send me your thoughts!

Akaldān – sotā, stick – lit: that which graces wisdom or common sense

Arang barang – to lie down, to go to sleep

Samundar – milk

Savāiā – little bit – lit: “quarter more”!

Sava lakh – one – lit: 125,000

Sava lakh fauj – one Singh/Kaur – lit: army of 125,000 men/women

Shīsh mahal – roof with a hole in it – lit: house of shining glass

Subedār – Sikh who is brooming/cleaning – lit: a military rank

Sūrmā – blind man - lit: wide awake hero, brave one

Sodhnā – cleansing a wrong doer, freeing land

Harā karnā – to finish, empty – lit: to make green, to blossom

Kājā – hungry

Kājī – chicken - lit: qazi - muslim mosque official

Kābulī kutā – ahmad shah durrani – lit: the dog of Kabul

Anna – extremist hindu – lit: blind person

Kanna – extremist muslim – lit: one eyed person

Kesar – haldi/tumeric – lit: saffron the spice (haldi is cheap spice, saffron is expensive..get it?)

Kotvāl – chākū – knife - lit: jail official

Gopāl ladū – eggs - lit: ladoos of Gopal

Gangā jal – alcoholic drinks – lit: water from the Ganges - ie. no water is holy!

Carhāī – to die – lit: an expedition - charhāī karnā is to wage a battle

Chāl mārnī – to fall - lit:to jump

Dharamraj dī dhī – sleepiness - lit: the daughter of the messenger of death

Dharamrāj dī dhī nāl judh karnā – to sleep – lit: to battle with the daughter of the messenger of death

Thānedār – donkey - lit: jail keeper

Deg masat – to run out of langar - lit: the kettle is tipsy - masat is from mastī

Langar mastānā - to run out of langar, langar not being ready – lit: langar is tipsy

Panjakha – one-eyed – lit: one with five eyes

Basant kaur – makki – corn

Badām – dry grams/chick peas – lit: almonds

Bhūtnī – rail, train – lit: female ghost, witch - train was result of British. Nihangs hated the British!!

Mithāī – sweet potato – lit: Indian sweets

Ransinghā vajāunā – to fart – lit: to play the ransingha, a panjabi wind instrument - I am not joking!!

Lakhnetrā – one eyed - lit: one with hundred thousand eyes

Lakhbahan – one armed - lit: one with hundred thousand arm

many more...consult the MahanKosh!!


  1. Thanks for the post. I was familiar with some of the words before, such as samundar and dhidh phūknī!

  2. Yes, that is quite common. But did you know about arang barang? or thānedār!? I think they are great!

  3. LOL! No, but now I know, some of them are actually quite funny! I guess there is reason to why the language was given a touch humor, since most of them were going through stressful time. Its great though, now that you have shared "vocabulary of the heroes", do share something about their attitudes!

  4. I'll just say.. seems like an amazing bunch of people!