What does “Chardi Kalaa” mean?

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Chardi Kalaa, a subtly composite concept, commonly translated as “high morale” or “high spirit”, signifies in the Sikh tradition, to which the usage is peculiar and native, a great deal more. It stands for a perennially blossoming, unwilting spirit, a perpetual state of certitude resting on unwavering belief in Divine justice. It is that everlasting spirit of bravery which makes light of all hardships and handicaps – a spirit that will prompt one who had nothing better to eat than a mouthful of gram to say that he was eating almonds, and spirit which would lead one to describe death as an expedition to the next world, a man with an empty stomach declaring himself to have gone mad with prosperity.

The word “kalaa” of Sanskrit origin has several shades of meaning, a dominant one among which is ‘energy. “Chardee”, in Punjabi, is a verbal adjective meaning rising, ascending, soaring. So, “Chardi Kalaa” would mean an intensely energized, ever-ascending state of the spirit of an individual or of a group. It is characterized by faith, confidence, cheerfulness, courage, fortitude, discipline and resolute willingness to uphold the cherished ideals and readiness to perform the assigned tasks even in face of the most daunting challenge.

Faith is reliance on God and confidence is reliance on the capacities He has endowed men with. These two engender in the individual a state of poise and aplomb. In Chardi Kalaa there is also confidence in the ultimate victory of Truth over falsehood and of Good over evil.

Abiding cheerfulness (sad vigaas) is the hallmark of Chardi Kalaa, which is essentially characterized by an unending flow of splendorous joy which washes away the debris of evil, depravity, brutality, knavery, and other infirmities. Cheerfulness is to morale, what compassion is to grace. It puts the heart in tune with the Lord’s adoration. The Lord’s praise is the keynote of Chardi Kalaa: “Naanak Naam Chardi Kalaa, Tere Bhaane Sarbat Da Bhallaa” – May Thy Name be ever ascendant, O Nanak; may one and all prosper by Thy Grace, ” thus ends the prayer of the Sikhs, said at any time of day or night.

Courage is that state or quality of mind and spirit which enables one to face dangers with self-possession and resolution. It does not consist in overlooking danger, but in perceiving and overcoming it. It is resolute affirmation of an undaunted moral character. Such fearlessness is attained by contemplating on the Fearless One (Nirbhau). It dares seemingly the most impossible, and strives for it unfalteringly. Fortitude is the strength of mind that allows one to endure pain or adversity with unflinching courage. It consists in true patience and quiet endurance (dheeraj).

Discipline resulting from training that leads to controlled behaviour, mentally and morally, is also an essential constituent of Chardi Kalaa. It tames the baseness of worldly passions, fortifies the heart with virtues, enlightens the mind with a discriminating intellect, and furnishes one with enjoyment from within.

Resolution is benevolent intention clothed with ideals for which one essentially finds a way or, else, makes one. ‘Sacrificing oneself but flinching not’ (sir deejai kaan na keejai), spells the strength of its determination.

Perpetual readiness to act (tyaar-bar-tyaar) is another characteristic of Chardi Kalaa. It is in action that a man of Chardi Kalaa exists – not in pious resolution alone. He pursues the ideals he cherishes, makes no noise over a good deed, but proceeds on to another and yet another.

Kalaa also means “fine art” or aesthetic pursuit. Chardi Kalaa thus also stands for aesthetic sublimity. The actions of one in Chardi Kalaa are characterized by elegance and gracefulness. Kalaa also connotes game. Chardi Kalaa, thereby, means playing a winning game according to the accepted rules of the game. One is confident of ultimate victory when one is playing on God’s side and is not discouraged by temporary reverses. Vaheguru Jee Ka Khalsa (the Khalsa belongs to God) has abiding faith in Vaheguru Jee Kee Fateh (victory).

To sum up, Chardi Kalaa is not just high morale, but also unwavering faith in Divine support, certainty of moral victory and sublimity of action. A buoyant endurance, an ever-smiling contentment, and sublime inspiration underlie its pursuit. Even in the most adverse of circumstances, its constancy does not wane.

Sikh history abounds in events exemplifying the spirit of Chardi Kalaa. During the days of holocausts (ghallughara or public massacres), when Sikhs were being hounded out of their homes they chose to belittle their troubles and miseries and kept their faith and fighting spirit alive. They forged a whole new vocabulary (khalsa bole) eulogizing their privations and ridiculing their misfortunes, and never giving in. They submitted to the Will of God with serene cheer. One of the most memorable proclamations of Chardi Kalaa is by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who, during the most desolate of his days in a friendless forest sojourn, proclaimed :

With Thee, O Lord, I’d prefer to sleep on bare ground,

Accurst is living with those whom One loveth not.

(Khiyaal Paatshaahi 10: Shabad Hazaare)

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