TANKHAH, from Persian tankhwah, generally meaning pay or salary, has an additional, ironical connotation in Sikh vocabulary. The word in this sense means expiatory penalty levied upon a Sikh from breach of rahit, i.e. the prescribed code of conduct or of a vow religiously made. This use of the term appears to have come into vogue during the first half of the eighteenth century. The earliest use of the term tankhah and tankhahl or tankhahia appears in Tankhahnama attributed to Bhai Nand Lal, Rahitnamas ascribed to Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Chaupa Singh (dates not specified) and Gur Ratan Mal (Sau Sakhr) compiled by Sahib Singh in 1724 (or 1734).

While Bhai Nand Lal`s Tankhahnama and Chaupa Singh`s Rahitnama. list faults of omission or commission which render a Sikh tankhahia, i.e. liable to penalty, Bhai Daya Singh`s Rahitnama also suggests amounts of fine for some of the misdemeanours and mistranslations. Chaupa Singh, on the authority of Guru Gobind Singh, lays down a general rule with regard to the administration of tankhah : “If someone who has committed a kurahit (breach of the code) stands up with folded hands before all, i.e. the sangat, pardon him : do not be adamant. Realize tankhah, but bear him no rancour or animosity.”

Ordinarily it is only the sangat, holy assembly of Sikhs or Pahj Piare, five Sikhs chosen or appointed by it, who have the authority to declare a person tankhahia and impose tankhah. The sangat or Pahj Piare will confront the offending member of the community with the charge and seek his explanation which, if found unsatisfactory, leads to his being declared a tankhahia, who generally accepts with humility the tankliah levied on him by way of penance for his error and who after undergoing the “punishment” returns to the fold ridding himself of all blemish. It is not uncommon for a Sikh who has violated the religious discipline on any count to confess to the sangat or Pahj Piare and voluntarily attract tankhah in expiation.Since the purpose of tankhah is to reclaim the defaulter, it generally requires him to perform certain religious acts such as reciting for a given number of times specified scriptural texts in addition to the daily regimen of prayers, and humble service at a gurdwara which may be in the form of dusting the shoes of the devotees or scrubbing used utensils in Guru ka Larigar or the community refectory.

One may also have to make an offering of karah prasad worth a declared sum or make a cash contribulron towards the Guru`s golak or the common fund.In case of one or more of the four hajar kiirahits or major lapses, i.e. cutting of hair, smoking, adultery and consumption of kuttha or halal (flesh of an animal slaughtered according to Muslim practice), occurring, a tankhahia after due atonement must also be re-initiated. When an act of an individual affects the community as a whole, the authority of Akal Takht at Amritsar is invoked. The procedure is the same as followed by local sarigats in dealing with violation of the religious code.

In cases, rare so far, where a person refuses to accept its verdict, the Akal Takht has the power to excommunicate him/her. The first recorded instance of the award of religious punishment involved Guru Gobind Singh himself.According to Gur Ratan Mal, the Guru once travelling through Rajputana reached Naraina, also called Dadudvara after the Saint Dadu who had lived there, where he saluted the sepulchre of the saint by lifting an arrow to his head. The Sikhs accompanying him took exception to this and wished to impose tankhah for he had infringed his own edict : gor marhi mat bhul na mane (worship not even by mistake graves or places of cremation).

The Guru appreciated the Sikhs` vigilance and immediately offered to pay the fine. Tlie Sikhs then debated the quantum of tankhah, adds another old source, Malva Des Ratan di Sakhi Pothi. They in the end asked him to pay Rs.125 which amount they spent on the purchase of a tent for Guru ka Langar.In 1733, a Sikh, Bhai Subeg Singh, who was an employee of the Mughal government at Lahore and who was deputed to negotiate peace with the Khalsa, was, on reaching the appointed venue, first declared tankhahia for being in the service of the oppressors and allowed to commence parleys only after he had made good the tankhah.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) was once summoned to the Akal Takht and, held guilty of moral and religious misdemeanour, was awarded tankhah including physical punishment which he readily accepted. The latter punishment was, however, waived by Akali Phula Singh, then jathedar, of the Akal Takht.More recent instances are those of tlie imposition of tankhah on Baba Kartar Singh Bedi, one of the direct descendants of Guru Nanak, for supporting Maliant Narain Das, the head priest of the Nankana shrine, who had started a campaign against the reformist Sikhs culminating in an open massacre of them on 20 February 1921; proclamation of Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchchar as ta.nkha.hia and his expulsion from the membership of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee for his defiance of and disrespect towards the Pahj Piare who inaugurated karseva or cleansing by voluntary service of the holy tank at Amritsar in June 1923; and the excommunication on 6 August 1928 of Babu Teja Singh of the Pahch Khalsa Diwan, Bhasaur, and his wife for garbling the scriptural texts and altering the form of gurmantra as well as of ardas.In November 1961, five Sikhs, eminent in the religious hierarchy, were named as Pahj Piare to investigate and decide upon an allegation that Master Tara Singh, the seniormost political leader of the Sikhs, had broken his solemnly made religious vow during an agitation against the government.

Tara Singh was pronounced guilty of having gone back on his plighted word and of having blemished thereby the Sikh tradition of religious steadfastness and sacrifice in that he had abandoned his fast begun after ardas or prayer at Sri Akal Takht without achieving the stipulated goal.Pie was laid under expiation to have an akhand path or unbroken reading of the Guru Granth Sahib performed at the Akal Takht, daily to recite for one month an extra path of the Japu, offer karah prasad of the value of Rs.125 and to clean the shoes of the sahgat and dishes in the Guru ka Langar for five days. The Pahj Piare exonerated Sant Fateh Singh, another political leader, of a similar charge saying that he had given up his fast, which preceded Master Tara Singh`s, under the command of Pahj Piare and the sahgat in general, though he too was held guilty, along with eight members of the Working Committee of the Shiromani Akall Dal, for acquiescing in Master Tara Singh breaking his fast.

Fateh Singh was to recite for one month an additional path of theJapu and wash dishes in Guru ka Langar for five days. Other members of the Working Committee were to broom the Golden Temple precincts and clean dishes in Guru ka Langar for two days. In 1984, Giani Zail Singh, then President of India, Buta Singh, a Central minister, and Santa Singh, leader of the Buddha Dal of Nihangs, were declared tankhahias by the Akal Takht, the first for allowing the army to march into the premises of Golden Temple in June 1984, and the other two for subsequently holding an unauthorized Sarbatt Khalsa meeting and taking up, on behalf of the government but against the wishes of the Sikh community, the reconstruction of the Akal Takht building.

Giani Zail Singh, however, convinced the Pahj Piare of his innocence and was pardoned. The other two failed to submit their cases and were consequently excommunicated from the Panth. The institution of tankhah has thus served over generations to ensure religious integrity and discipline among Sikhs, at individual as well as at pan thic level.

References :

1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, n.d
2. Attar Singh, ed., Malva Des Ratan di Sakhi Pothi. Amritsar, 1950
3. Padam, Piara Singh, ed., Rahitname. Patiala, 1974
4. Randhir Singh, Bhai, ed., Prem Sumarag Granth arthat Khalsa Jivan Jach. Amritsar, 1965
5. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. New Delhi, 1994
6. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990