Admins and Mods: As discussed, this will be my last post on this forum. Please deactivate my account afterwards. I confess that I actually did enjoy my time on here, but paradigm shifts are manifesting in the Sikh world- the traditionalist Sikhs are slowly, albeit surely, being questioned and their status as some de-facto priestly class is being effaced day-by-day. The Sikh youth, long fed on the dribble of some autonomous religio-political Khalistan, are beginning to awaken and unite to control their own future. Tragically, violence and Ad hominem seem to be the only retorts which the traditionalists excel in. When I first joined this forum, it was rightly appreciated as an intellectual assemblage of Sikh youth. Today this assemblage has been supplanted with what can only be called jatha affiliations. It seems unless you are affiliated with some jatha or samprada you cannot be a Sikh. I don't believe this, and nor should you. Of course there are those who will accuse you of being an Indian agent, but why should such fabrications hold us back from questioning what we see and hear? I apologize to AjeetSinghPunjabi and Jonny101 for blindly accusing them and insulting them.
Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh!
Sikhi, Sikh History and Politics.
(Initially intended as a refutation to Haroon Khalid’s Tagorian essay- ‘From Pursuit of Spirituality to the Mighty Khalsa’- we decided to amplify our original thesis and concentrate upon the correlation between Sikhi and the political sphere. Having continually requested our readers to submit their articles to us, we were duly surprised when several frequent readers submitted corresponding essays to be published by us. Their objective, vis-a-vis their respective pieces, was to underscore the importance of the political dynamic in the Sikh worldview. Rather than publish such similar works, we decided to initiate a correspondence with them and publish one “goshti” (questions and answers) disquisition. The results, acquired, are produced below).
Col (Retd) Gurbir Singh Alhuwalia: Having joined the Indian Army as Lieutenant, the now retired Colonel’s passion involves Sikh intellectualism and educationalism. Once part of a think tank analyzing the role of Sikh sampradas during the Sikh militancy, he is currently working upon a book detailing the pitfalls of the Khalistan movement and his own experiences during the militancy.
Professor (Retd) Gurdev Singh: The author of several Gurmukhi articles on Sikh ideology, the Professor is an expert in political sciences and religious studies. He is well placed to comment upon the role of politics in the Nanakian purview.
Harsharan Kaur: Studying sociology in Australia, Harsharan Kaur is currently producing a critique of the nation-state model. Erudite, in her field, she provides a well balanced perspective on the issue of harmonizing spiritualism with polity.
Jagir Singh: An amateur collector of Sikh artifacts and mementos, Jagir Singh is currently editing a multi-volume treatise on the Sikh literary tradition spanning the Guru era and post- Guru era which is due for publication soon.
William Cox: Having been born to a Punjabi mother and American father- William travels between Tennessee, USA, and India. He is a freelance writer who is currently publishing a short history of the Sikhs in Western nations.
To avoid a prolonged discussion we have decided to only publish answers accepted via unanimous resolutions and/or reached by unanimous consensus.
Synchronizing faith with history often manifests the dilemma: does faith emanate from history or vice versa? The propensity of religious institutes to gravitate towards utilizing violence, in the face of the latter query, often precipitates the impression that intellectualism and religious doctrine are antagonistic. Observers, of the Sikh world, cannot have failed to notice the proliferation of this conflict among Sikh ranks in the past two decades which, if put candidly, can be easily categorized as the traditionalist vs. progressionist collision. At the heart of this clash is the issue that is Sikhi antagonistic to the political paradigm and the householder’s life- the traditionalist ambit based on evolving dogma- or is Sikhi compatible with the householder’s life and it’s corollaries, viz the socio-political paradigm, as enunciated by the Adi Guru Granth Sahib Ji? We contend that:
b.) Belief and intellectualism, at least in the Sikh world, should not be necessarily antagonistic to each other.
c.) A more modern approach is required to resolving the issues afflicting Sikh intellectualism and Sikh society, at large, today.
d.) Recent events in NRI circles have lent impetus to emancipating Sikh intellectualism. A vocal minority, in Europe, has succeeded in classifying Sikhs as an ethnicity vis-a-vis the British census; this has naturally lent credence to the myth that Sikh history and the Sikh purview are ethnonationalist constructs- an intentional facsimile of Khushwant Singh’s Punjabi nationalism mythos?- and not correspondent with the Sikh ideology. The ill-planned Khalistan Referendum, D-day being in 2020, having been designed by those ignorant of ground realities on the sub-continent has also fractured the Sikh world on the sensitive issue of self-progression and sovereignty. It is imperative that the polar differences between Sikh philosophy and ethnonationalism be underscored in such dark times. Given the regressive state of Punjab today, secessionist expression should be the last matter on anyone’s mind.
Q: Speaking philosophically, what makes the Sikh ideology unique in it’s harmonizing of both the state and church?
A: If we were to draw comparisons/contradistinctions with other systems, we would essentially be evading the question itself. Let us, then, examine the Sikh approach itself to better underscore it’s idiosyncrasy. The Sikh purview of the world being real posits that both the state and church, whilst distinctive, are fundamentally real and not some illusions. Guru Gobind Singh Ji makes this principle clear when he remarks:
‘Those of Baba and those of Babur, the Creator maketh both; recognize the first as the emperor of righteousness and infer the second to be the emperor of the world. Those who fail in their duty towards the throne of Baba, fell prey to the machinations of Babur. Such defaulters are penalized severely…’
–(Bachittra-Natak, XIII. 9-10).
Whilst Baba signifies truth and morality (an ethical life), Babur signifies the secular state. The dilemma which other faiths have faced in their attempt to iron out discrepancies between state and faith have often lead to one trumping the other- Nanakianism, in sheer contrast, does not claim to hold any solution to resolving the conflictual relationship between church and state. Rather, it posits that truth and morality outweigh the secular state and whilst church must not obliterate the state- it should, from time to time, correct it in a bid to keep it on the straight and narrow. Whenever church and state have clashed, historically, both have annihilated the other and subsequently both have arisen anew to continue their conflict. In this principle, then, lies the crux of the Raaj Karega Khalsa mandate- the barbarity of the political state must be confronted, but when the Khalsa succeeds in effacing the latter tyranny it must not manifest a theophany to reign supreme over the masses.
Q: Is the Sikh purview of politics in tandem with the Sikh ideology?
A: The reason as to why such a question has arisen is that the current Sikh orthodoxy (acting as a priestly class) has mitigated the Sikh philosophy to solely meditation and pacifism. This has lead to an erroneous perception that Sikh history, especially the Rebel or Ruler principle, is not in consort with Nanakianism and as such depreciating of the faith. The actions of the Sikh orthodoxy reflect the corollaries of traditional Indic spiritualism viz amalgamation with some spiritual reality for personal salvation; such quietism naturally denies the dynamism of Sikh history. In Sikhi the Creator, as expounded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, is altruistic and ever-creative. The Sikh’s mission is to remold himself/herself as a tool of this Creator and to execute the latter’s attributive will. The welding of the empirical and spiritual, as engineered by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, influenced the actions of his successors. Some of the more salient of actions of his successors were:
Guru Angad Dev Ji renovated the Punjabi language and promulgated the Gurmukhi script far and wide- not only did this break the stranglehold of Sanskrit and it’s Caste ridden corollaries, but also added a sense of self-hood to the nascent Sikh community. He, subsequently, debarred ascetic classes from influencing Nankianism and-in opposition to pacifism- continued the first Guru’s practice of meat consumption.
Guru Amardass Ji made the practice of Langar pontificate, to the point that all Sikhs and non-Sikhs had to partake of the communal kitchen before seeking audience with the Guru. The anti-Caste stance of the Sikh community was made more perspicuous through this injunction, of the Guru, as Caste also depended on who food was consumed with and by breaking down such barriers the Guru rendered his visitors Casteless. Furthermore, to centralize far flung Sikh groups the Guru set-up 22 dioceses in which women were also selected to leadership roles. His last achievement was the creation of a educational, spiritual and political center at Goindwal which supplanted traditional pilgrimage to Kashi et al.
Guru Ramdass Ji took the momentous step of founding Amritsar which, in due time, would emerge as the theo-political hub of the Sikh cosmos.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji not only concluded the construction of Amritsar, he also completed the Harimandir. His most significant achievement, however, was the compilation of the Adi Guru Granth Sahib Ji which signified Sikhi’s break away from traditional Indic spiritualism and reinforced the community’s autonomy. During his incumbency, the Sikhs emerged as a strong entrepreneurial force and were categorized as a state within a state. Opposing the fanaticism of the contemporary Mughal and Hindu polity, the Guru joyfully accepted his eventual fate: martyrdom.
The incumbency of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji marked the open militarization of the Sikhs. He would go on to rout the Mughals in four divisive confrontations in the Punjab, and subsequently play a crucial role in preserving Sikh political autonomy. His most significant achievement would be the construction of the Akal Takhat and several missionary tours in the periphery of the Himalayas. When Samarth Ramdas, a Maharashtrian abbot, would inquire as to why he retained the apparel of a prince and utilized arms when Guru Nanak Dev Ji had required neither of these- the Guru would swiftly retort that the first Guru had discarded the ways of the world and not the world itself. Ramdas, realizing that his perceptions were about to be radically changed, requested a further elucidation to which the Guru readily acquiesced. He would elaborate that Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Creator was one who vanquished atrocity and the Sikhs were to execute the latter’s attributive will; arms were to be utilized for the protection of the weak and the liberation of the oppressed.
The seventh, eighth and ninth Gurus continued the militarization of the Sikhs and the ninth Guru, despite being offered an option to surrender by the incumbent emperor, laid down his life for the freedom of conscience.
The tenth Guru manifested the Khalsa and ratified the precepts of Guru Nanak Dev Ji before electing both the Guru Panth and Guru Granth as his successors ad perpetuum.
An analysis of the post-Guru period would make this disquisition extensively voluminous. Let us answer the initial query by summarizing the above analysis; Nanakianism emphasizes an inalienable interconnection between the empirical and spiritual facets of life- this is a natural corollary of the perception that the Supreme Reality is an ocean of altruism. A follower of such altruism cannot act as a bystander in the face of immorality as such quietism is an antithesis of the Creator’s attributive will. The Sikh purview of politics, then, is naturally in harmony with the Sikh ideology.
Q: What is the political significance of the Khalsa?
A: The Khalsa, conceptually, represents the summum bonum of both the Sikh ideology-cum-praxis. It is the most perspicuous minded tool of an attributive Creator ergo it’s epithet; the Kaal Purakh Ki Fauj (army of the Divine). The actions of the present day Sikh orthodoxy has rendered the very purpose of the Khalsa’s existence moot. Khalsa-Raaj, Khalsa sovereignty, is often dismissed as some historic affair bearing no relation whatsoever to Sikh philosophy. What, then, is the Khalsa? An appendage of Hindu militarism? A saintly nexus of renunciates? Some saintly legion which cowers from the world and meditates 24/7? In light of Nanakianism’s socio-political tenets, the Khalsa too emerges as a potent force for political change. To avoid a prolonged exegesis, let us focus on some of the more conspicuous facets of the Khalsa vis-a-vis our query:
Revolutionary: The creation of the Khalsa and events prior establish its revolutionary nature. It was designed to acquire political prominence, supplant existing tyrannies and radically alter the incumbent socio-political equilibrium. From Guru Gobind Singh Ji onwards, the Khalsa passed through the valley of death in a bid to annihilate existing empires and birth it’s own. Those who claim to be Khalsas yet imbibe a contradictory spirit rarely mention the Sikhs of the eighteenth century who carved out the Sikh state, and what a state it was. Even in it’s embryonic phase, under Banda Singh Bahadur, the Hindu practice of Caste was annihilated irrespective of it’s religious origins. Irvine narrates:
‘A low scavenger or leather dresser, the lowest of the low in Indian estimation, had only to leave home and join the Guru (referring to Banda), when in a short time he would return to his birthplace as its ruler with his order of appointment in his hand. As soon as he set foot with the boundaries, the well-born and wealthy went out to greet him and escort him home. Arrived there, they stood with joined palms, awaiting his orders… Not a soul dared to disobey an order, and men who had often risked themselves in battlefields became so cowed down that they were afraid even to remonstrate. Hindus who had not joined the sect were not exempt from this.’
-(William Irvine, Later Mughals, i.98-99).
It was a revolutionary state in an epoch where religious stratification was an accepted more.
Leadership: The significance of Guru Gobind Singh Ji undergoing the Khalsa initiation can never be underscored enough. It was a prescient move on the Guru’s part as it transformed the Khalsa into Guru Panth Khalsa. The entire body was made quasi-democratic, therefore self-directive and also self-sovereign. No one man could lord over the Khalsa; only an elected body- Misls- could direct it. When Ranjit Singh implemented autocracy within the body, the results were disastrous- we are still witnessing the fallout even to this day.
Violent: Socio-political movements, by nature, are violent and prone to utilizing force. The Khalsa too is accorded the right to employ force, hence the Gurus’ emphasis on retaining arms around the clock.
The political significance of the Khalsa, after a brief analysis of both its history and philosophy, can be summarized as such: the annihilation of the tyrant and the exaltation of the downtrodden.
Q: What is the Sikh perception of social responsibility?
A: When the Siddhs asked Guru Nanak Dev Ji as to why their spiritual progress remained inert even after centuries of meditation, the Guru enunciated that they were only reaping the fruits of what they had sown i.e. their spiritual state reflected their perception of reality which, for them, consisted of some illusion originating from the cogitations of some dormant Creator(s). The Creator, in the Nanakian purview, resides in his Immanence or Naam. Naam, as the constituent reality of creation, emanates from an attributive Creator who is altruistic. It is natural then that the Sikh too be altruistic and perform selfless service seva through the medium of Immanence. Social responsibility, in Sikhi, consists of realizing one’s role as a tool of the Creator and selflessly serving him via serving his creation.*
Q: Why is the householder’s life given primacy in the Sikh ethos?
A: Social responsibility, as a mandate, can only be retained in the householder’s life. The latter ensures full commitment in the socio-political paradigm and adherence to serving Immanence. Guru Nanak Dev Ji would sum up the principle succinctly when he would observe that though the Siddhs acted all holy and wise, they would beg for sustenance from families (householders) for their daily upkeep.
Q: What are some significant milestones in the evolution of the Sikh state?
A: The Sikh state, conceptually, was founded by none other than Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He added a practical dimension to his socio-political themes by establishing Kartarpur, a locus which was run on his philosophical tenets. The history of the Sikh state, and it’s significant achievements, then commences with Kartarpur Sahib:
-The establishment and growth of Kartarpur.
–The establishment of Khadoor Sahib.
-The establishment of Goindwal.
-The establishment Amritsar.
-The establishment of Akal Takhat Sahib.
-The construction of several forts augmenting the Sikh military prowess in the Punjab.
-The establishment of Kiratpur Sahib.
-The establishment of Anandpur Sahib.
-Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s renewal of Sikh autonomy via manifesting the Khalsa.
-The establishment of the first Khalsa-Raaj, under Banda Singh Bahadur, in the post-Guru era.
-The rise of the Khalsa Misls.
-The rise of Ranjit Singh.
Q: What was the Dal Khalsa?
A: The Dal Khalsa was a general commune of the Sikh leadership, in both military and political circles, which was composed of Misl Sirdars (or chiefs). Though it’s main purpose was militaristic, the Dal Khalsa also implemented the quasi-republican ideals of Khalsa-Raaj and saw to the progress of Nanakianism sub-continentally. It dominated 18th century Sikh politics and imbibed the pragmatic concepts of Nanakianism per se.
1.) Dr. Trilochan Singh, The Turban And the Sword of the Sikhs.
2.) S. Kapur Singh, Parasharprasna.
3.) S. Kapur Singh, Sikhism For The Modern Man.
4.) S. Kapur Singh, Sikhism and the Sikhs.
5.) S. Jagjit Singh, Percussions of History.
6.) S. Daljit Singh, Essentials of Sikhism.
7.) Surjit Singh Gandhi, Sikhs in the Eighteenth Century.
8.) Dr. Tarlochan Singh Nahal, Religion and Politics in Sikhism: The Khalsa Perspective.
9.) Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, Akal Takhat Sahib: Concept and Role.
10.) Capt. Amarinder Singh, The Last Sunset: The Rise and Fall of the Lahore Durbar.
11.) Patwant Singh, The Sikhs.
12.) Karamjit K. Malhotra, The Eighteenth Century in Sikh History.
13.) Dr. Ganda Singh & Baba Teja Singh, The History of the Sikhs vol. i.
14.) Gurinder Singh Mann and Kamalroop Singh, The Granth of Guru Gobind Singh.
15.) Ajmer Singh, Kis Bidh Ruli Patshahi?
1.) Sri Gur Sobha.
2.) Sri Gur Katha.
3.) Gurbilas Patshahi Chevin.
4.) Gurbilas Patshahi Dasvin.
5.) Sri Gur Panth Prakash.
6.) Navin Panth Prakash.
7.) Twarikh Guru Khalsa.
8.) Bansavalinamah Dasan Patshahian Ka.
9.) Sikhaan Di Bhagatmala.
10.) Shahid Bilas: Bhai Mani Singh.