SARDAR, in Persian amalgam of sar (head) and dar meaning holder of headship, is an honorific signifying an officer of rank, a general or chief of a tribe or organization. Sikhs among whom, during the time of the Guru and for half a century thereafter, no words indicative of high rank were current other than the common appellation bhaior, rarely, baba to express reverence due to age or descent from the Gurus, adopted sardar for the leaders of their Jathas or bands fighting against Afghan invaders under Ahmad Shah Durrani.
With the expansion of the fighting force of the Sikhs under the misis the number of Sikh sardars multiplied. During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors, sardar came to be used as an appellation for all ready Sikhs as well as for Sikhs in general having Singh as their common surname, although officially sardar was a coveted title conferred on generals or civil officers of rank. The British government also used the word selectively by incorporating it in the titles of sardar sahib and sardar bahadur conferred mostly, but not exclusively, on Sikhs.
In the Sikh princely states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Kapurthala, Farldkot and Kalsia, too, sardar signified rank irrespective of the religious affiliation of the official so entitled. In the army, both under the British and in free India, junior commissioned officers called Viceroy`s Commissioned Officers (V.C.Os) before independence are referred to as sardar sahiban. Generally, every turbaned Sikh with unshorn hair is addressed as sardarji, and it is customary to use sardar in place of “Mr.” before a Sikh name.