I often get the question from other Sikhs asking why many Sikhs from non-Punjabi background greet each other with a simple "Sat Nam!" rather then the Khalsa greeting of "Vahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh!" or more common greeting of "Sat Siri Akal". Typically Sikhs that have taken Amrit greet each other with the longer greeting of "Vahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh!" and most everyone else uses the shorter greeting of "Sat Siri Akal." Well, to understand this you have to know a little bit more of the history of the Sikhs who "sprouted" in the western part of the world. Back in the early days (1960’s and 1970’s) when SSS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi ji came to America/Canada and started teaching, there were no western Sikhs, let alone western Sikhs who had taken Amrit. He used to make fun of our usual American greeting of "Hello". He pronounced it, "HELL – oh." and encouraged a more universal and conscious way of greeting each other which served as a reminder to each other; "SAT NAM". This greeting has stuck since then and is used by many thousands of people (sikhs and non-sikhs alike) since it is a beautiful, simple and universal greeting that anyone can understand and relate to. It didn’t matter if you considered yourself a Sikh or not you could relate to and feel inspired by the simple "Sat Nam" reminding you of your "True Identity".
Comments by Shakti Parwha Kaur (who was one of the first Sikhs from western background): "Sat Nam" means: "Truth is God’s Name and/or Truth is Our Identity." By saying this, I establish, however briefly, instant rapport, a common ground acknowledging our shared divine identity – certainly the best basis for any conversation! Following that initial respectful greeting we are free to disagree about any topic: politics, religion, movie preferences, or the best restaurants. I say SAT NAM to my accountant, my banker and my non-Sikh relatives! I’ve programmed my answering machine greeting so that it always begins with SAT NAM. It’s just the most universal and simple greeting to which everyone can relate."
I personally vary which greeting I use depending on who I am meeting or talking to. Sometimes I say "Sat Nam", Sometimes I greet with full "Vahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh", and sometimes I even say "Hell-Oh" (yeah…can’t help it sometimes). Ultimately these are just tools to remind and uplift each other, and I don’t think it is right or wrong to use one thing over the other. So, any greeting that inspires or reminds us of God and our higher self I think would be preferred and best.
ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ
Ik Ong Kaar Sat Nam
God and We are One, This is our True Identity
– Guru Nanak Dev Ji