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  1. 13Mirch

    Jathedar of Akal-Takhat

    KINGS WITHOUT THRONES The so-called Jathedar of Akal-Takhat. The unsavoury controversies which impugn the office of Jathedar Sri Akal-Takhat, from time to time, have rendered the position a fulcrum of religio-political conflict. The most recent crisis to afflict the management of the Takhat, and it’s head honcho, saw the unconditional pardon of controversial godman Ram Rahim for his provocative mimicry of Guru Gobind Singh Ji (the tenth Sikh Guru) in early 2007. Rahim’s caricature had ignited widespread riots across the sensitive Indian border-state of the Punjab. (1) Sikhs, of all hues, had clashed with Rahim’s followers in a frenzied orgy of violence which spanned several days and resulted in the deaths of several Sikh protesters. (2) Political exigency, it seems, played a crucial role in Rahim’s pardon which the godman stringently denied requesting. All hopes of gaining votes via Rahim, however, were exhausted owing to two unforeseen circumstances: -The widespread opposition of all sections of Punjabi and non-Punjabi Sikhs to the pardon which was issued from the Akal-Takhat, and ratified by the other Takhats with the exception of Hazur Sahib. -Rahim’s subsequent conviction in a rape case dating to 2002. (3) The limelight, throughout this entire period, was continually focused upon the Jathedar of Sri Akal-Takhat whose charge holds paramountcy in Sikh theo-politics. The subsequent Sarbatt Khalsa-a premature eyewash in all respects except some- gave vent to the demands of a majority of Sikhs and declared all SGPC employed Takhat Jathedars as Personae non gratae. Ironically the very jathas which were instrumental in the passing of the latter resolution have today, unanimously and candidly, revoked it and are now the blue-eyed darlings of their one-time foe. Yet not all is smooth-sailing in the Sikh world. Already an increasing number of the community’s youth are beginning to call for a critical re-evaluation of the role of all Sikh sampradas and jathas, and whether they are required in the context of the Guru Panth Khalsa doctrine. Naturally, the Takhat system and it’s administration have received more than their fair share of scrutiny. The four Takhats, as historic and current embodiments of the Nanakian doctrine of Miri-Piri, cannot be divorced from the Panthic framework owing to their grounding in Sikh ideology. Their administration, though, was born out of post-Sikh empire politics and does not bear any relation to how the Takhats were managed in the past. It is crucial, then, that the below queries be scrutinized attentively: -What parameters define/regulate the office of Jathedar for the Akal-Takhat which is paramount among the four Takhats? Is he/she a sovereign Per se; a dictator or a Caliph of the Sikhs retaining the power to impose personal arbitration upon the Panth? -Can any organization/group which acquires control of the administration of the Sri Darbar Sahib (the theo-political hub of the Sikh world) elect a Jathedar of the Takhat and/or claim itself to be sovereign? -In light of historic precedents, particularly Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s dissolution of personal Guruship into the more corporate Guru Panth Khalsa and the scriptural Guru Granth, is the current stead of Jathedar ideologically viable? This is not the first time that a situation has arisen concerning the functioning of the Akal-Takhat. The first time was when the dissident Minas acquired sway over the Darbar Sahib in the 17th century. They were ousted, after six decades, by the warrior-savant Bhai Mani Singh who subsequently regulated the Takhat under the directions of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. (4) The demise of Akali Phula Singh in 1823 A.D. allowed Maharajah Ranjit Singh to acquire control of the sacrosanct Darbar until his own demise in 1839 A.D. (5) State control was renewed by the British who were finally forced to relinquish control of the complex to the Sikhs in 1920 A.D. Yet all dreams of re-establishing a pristine Akal-Takhat, as it had been under Bhai Mani Singh and pre-Sikh empire polity, were effaced by the Sant Fateh Singh Akali administration in 1962 A.D. (6) In 1986 A.D., two years after the commencement of the Sikh militancy, gun-wielding separatists would temporarily evict the Akali-SGPC combine and nominate their own administration. (7) It would be short-lived and the ensuing decade would see the Akali-SGPC combine return. From a particular perspective, then, there is ground enough to desire change in the Jathedari system which seems opposed to impersonal law. Yet change can only manifest if the workings of the entire system are comprehended in a historic context and not in light of any sampradaic/ organizational bias. The Akal-Takhat in principle: Speaking conceptually, the edifice located next to the Harimandir (commercialized as the Golden Temple) is not necessarily the Akal-Takhat per se. Rather, it symbolizes the concept of truth and morality outranking all other allegiances. (8) The epithet Akal-Takht consists of two differing terms: Akal signifies the timeless Purakh, Sri Vaheguru (misconstrued to define God in the Abrahamic purview of Sikhi) whose immanence resides in creation and is the truth in toto. (9) Takhat signifies a throne or locus of temporal power; Akal-Takhat, then, means the throne or seat of truth and morality- the edifice is intended to symbolize this salient concept of Nanakian philosophy which forms a bedrock conviction of the Sikh worldview. The edifice, owing to it’s conceptual basis, has become a prominent facet of the Sikh world. It can be consummately summarized that the Akal-Takhat is the de facto polity of the Sikhs; those who seek to acquire control over it do so with the intent that they might impose their writ upon the Guru Panth Khalsa. (10) Yet the latter is one of the two pontificate constituents of the Panth (with it’s other half being the Guru Granth), and as history establishes not prone to being imposed upon. Initiation: Though Guru Nanak Dev Ji (Nanak I) established the ideological foundations of the Sikh praxis, it was left to his successors to consolidate them and implement them in deed. The martyrdom of the fifth Nanak Guru Arjan Dev Ji, in defense of the Sikh ideal of freedom of conscience, acted as a catalyst for the ideology’s swift evolution. Having presciently forecast the adverse changes about to be wrought in the contemporary political milieu- the proliferation of Islamic theophany and the consecutive impeachment of all infidels- (11) the Guru, prior to his execution, advised his son to construct an edifice signifying Nanakianism’s temporal leanings and to raise a standing army to protect the weak and liberate the tyrannized. (12) His advise did not fall on deaf ears. Upon receiving news of his predecessor’s, and father’s, martyrdom Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji (Nanak VI) with the aid of the venerable Baba Budha and Bhai Gurdass commenced constructing a stone plinth which was ultimately completed on 15th June 1606 A.D. As Sikhs gathered to witness the investiture of a new Guru, they were awestruck when the latter mounted the plinth dressed in the regal apparel of an emperor. Whilst war-balladeers sang glories of war and the battlefield, Baba Budha presented the Guru with two swords intended to signify Miri(temporality) and Piri (spirituality). The welding of the empirical and theoretical having been initiated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji ratified it by physically manifesting it. The plinth, in defiance of the government of the day and in accordance with Nanakiandiktats, was named Akal-Takhat. Early Days: As a result of contemporary politics, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji was incarcerated in the Gwalior fort for three years. (13) In the mean time the Sikhs were lead by an elective council consisting of Baba Budha, the chief steward of the Harimandir; Bhai Gurdas, the chief caretaker of the Akal-Takhat; the mother and wife of the Guru and several other confidants of the Guru. (14) This council would hold communes of the Sikhs at the Akal-Takhat and pass resolutions vis-a-vis the community. After his release, the Guru would war with the Mughals for a brief period of time before shifting his headquarters to the sylvan Shivalik hills. (15) The Darbar Sahib, as a result, would fall into the hands of the Minas. There is a general concurrence in all scholarly circles that Harji, chief of the Minas, was an able administrator despite his anti-Nanakian stance. (16) Yet the man could not visualize employing the Akal-Takhat for his own selfish ends because the Takhat was accepted as a symbol of Panthic suzerainty and not as some supreme Vatican dominating the latter. If the Takhat had indeed been some prime authority, Harji could have effortlessly disrupted the line of Gurudom and declared himself and his lineage Guru ad vitam aeternam. Principally: Harji’s inability to utilize the Takhat for personal aggrandizement brings the following considerations to the fore: -The Akal-Takhat, contrary to current perceptions, as a concept was more potent than physical edifice. -The concept was embodied by the incumbent Guru who retained all de facto paramountcy over Panthic affairs. -Ideology was more pontificate than locus. The third factor is possibly the most critical as the prior two factors arise out of it. Contrary to modern-day contentions, the admixture of Miri and Piri was institutionalized by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Why then was a Takhat never established at Nanakana Sahib or Kartarpur; two loci sanctified by the Guru’s stay? Well aware of the importance of ideology, Guru Nanak commanded his successor to emigrate to Khadoor Sahib thus divorcing the essence of the Guru from any particular region or locale. The same principle was at play when Guru Gobind Singh Ji (the tenth Nanak) invested the Khalsa with the epithet and mandate of Guru Panth Khalsa. Miri-Piri would be the mainstay of the Guru Panth (the collective) as long as it remained loyal to the Guru Granth (ideology). Not even a single shred of evidence has been found which posits that the Akal-Takhat was ever mentioned by the said Guru as being some supplementary authority to either the Granth or the Panth. (16) Ascendancy of the Guru Panth: In the post-Guru era period, the warrior-savant Bhai Mani Singh traveled to Amritsar and after a prolonged struggle ousted all Mina and Brahminical factions which had transformed the site into a den of immorality. (17) One of the tenth Guru’s close confidants, the Bhai implemented the policies of tenth Master vis-a-vis the Darbar. (18) The original plinth constructed by the sixth Guru was renovated and covered to shield it from the elements. Weaponry was placed inside and recitations of the Adi Guru Granth Sahib Ji were commenced. The Harimandir received it’s own version of the updated Adi Granth and sophists, tasked with providing elucidations of Gurbani, were posted outside both structures. Professional musicians, trained in the Sikh musical tradition, were employed for the Harimandir whereas balladeers where deputed outside the Takhat. (19) In the dark days which followed, Mani Singh and other associates of the tenth Guru remained firm to the mandate of the Guru Panth Khalsa and invested considerable effort in institutionalizing practices for the latter’s assemblies and resolutions. The Darbar Sahib complex having been intended as the theo-political hub of the Sikh world, Sarbatt Khalsas or corporate assemblies of the Sikhs were held therein. Ratan Singh Bhangu vividly describes the routine adopted on assembly days: ‘They sat in the Harmandar listening to wisdom and contemplating on the Guru’s word. They ascended the Akal Bunga and sat at the Takhat. They held congregations and adopted resolutions for destroying the anti-Sikh people and for preserving the Singhs. The Sarbat Khalsa held court there…’ (20) Institution of the Dal-Khalsa: The ever-growing military strength of the Guru Panth Khalsa and it’s social-cum-political policies convinced the oppressed classes of the Punjab that salvation lay with the Sikhs. Having initially been split into two general bodies, the Budha-Dal and Tarna-Dal, a Sarbatt Khalsa was communed on 29th March 1748 in which the 66 constituent battalions of the Guru Panth were re-organized into 12 various Misls or confederacies. (21) The Misls followed a three-tier structure when it came to Panthic politics. Populations falling under a particular Misl elected councils to represent their voice to Misldars: the constitutive element of the Misls. These were often Sikhs who were military veterans; stringent in their adherence to Sikhi, and often cohorts in battle. The Misldars, in turn, were outranked by an elected Sirdar or chief who was authorized to represent the entire Misl at Sarbatt Khalsas. Misldars would often sit behind a Sirdar at Sarbatt Khalsas and advise the latter with respect to resolutions and implementations. (22) The Misls, for military purposes, retained the aforementioned dual general bodies. As a collective, they were known as the Dal-Khalsa; the cumulative of the Khalsa. The Akal-Takhat served as their assembly ground. The most respected Sirdar was elected to see to the defense of the Darbar, proclaim the resolutions of the Sarbatt Khalsas and tax each Misl on the basis of it’s profit earned in wars. The upkeep of the Darbar; the implementation of resolutions or Gurmatas; the duty of being the first line of defense et al was bequeathed to the Akalis- once the Praetorian guards of the Guru and now of the Guru Panth Khalsa. (23) With political ascendancy, however, would come hubris and the Akalis would fail in arresting it. As a result, the Misls would soon be on the route to ruin and Ranjit Singh would ultimately relegate them to oblivion. The Last Great Sirdar: Ranjit Singh, the emperor of Punjab, would subsume all Misls except one in his empire: this was the Shahid or martyrs’ Misl, consisting solely of Akalis and lead by Akali Phula Singh. The Akali, from the onset, would preserve the Budha-Dal and Tarna-Dal divisions of the Dal Khalsa including the Akalis role of seeing to the upkeep of all Gurudwaras and acting as an independent militia of the Guru Panth Khalsa. (24) He would base his headquarters at Amritsar from where he would occasionally travel to Lahore to impart advice to Ranjit Singh. On two occasions he would pull up the latter for transgressing against the Sikh Code of Conduct. Once Singh would be passing by the Akali’s residence in Amritsar when the latter happened to be looking out. Seeing the emperor of Punjab on Lali, an Afghan horse which had cost the lives of 200 Sikh soldiers, the Akali caustically asked: ‘blind fool, who gifted you this he-buffalo?’ (25) Ranjit Singh, initially, treated the Akali with disdain whose predecessor had been at odds with him. (26) But after being boycotted by his fellow Sikhs and fearing the Akali’s military prowess, he elected to humbly submit himself before the belligerent warrior. The streets of Lahore would soon be aflame with the news that a Muslim dancer, Moran, had fallen pregnant to the emperor. Matters would be exacerbated further when the dancer, branded as a prostitute by her own community, would be taken in wedlock by Ranjit Singh. The ceremony was performed in the presence of the Adi Guru Granth Sahib Ji much to the Akali’s chagrin. After consulting his fellow Akalis and other leading members of Sikh religiosity, the Akali would summon Ranjit Singh to the Akal-Takhat where he would be judged against the Code of Conduct he had violated. It would be found that not only had he debased the exterior features of Sikh physicality-bequeathed by the Gurus themselves- by having an affair out of wedlock, but also that he had violated the sanctity of the Guru Granth by attempting to wed a non-Sikh (who expressed no desire of conformism and was equally guilty in the scandal) in it’s divine presence. The penalty pronounced was a public flogging. It goes to Ranjit Singh’s credit that he instantly denuded himself and allowed the Akalis to tie him to a flogging post for public debasement. Witnessing his humility the Sangat requested that the penalty be downgraded to some mundane service. The emperor was untied and after being ordered to submit finances to the Darbar, was forgiven. (27) Akali Phula Singh would fall fighting in 1823 A.D. Subsequently, Ranjit Singh would acquire control of the entire Darbar Sahib complex suo motto. British Ascendancy: The fall of Sikh sovereignty, in 1849 A.D., created a vacuum which was swiftly plugged by the British. Fearing a resurgence of Sikh ascendancy the British acted swiftly in hijacking all Sikh Gurudwaras and imposing a priestly class, the Nirmalas, upon the Guru Panth. (28) The entire Darbar fell under British administration which cemented itself by the formalization of contractual agreements (dastar-ul-amal) which were politically ratified in 1859 A.D. (29) In a bid to augment their stranglehold, various administrations introduced selective rogue elements in the capacity of poojaris (religious employees) and in 1881 A.D. a Sarabrah or chief manager. Akal-Takhat as a Fiefdom: In a bid to turn the tide of evangelism flooding the Punjab, and restore dignity to Sikh self-hood, Professor Gurmukh Singh launched a literary offensive against all proselytizers and also Sikh traditionalists who were in cohorts with the British. Gurmukh Singh’s popularity increasing day-by-day, his prime detractor Khem Singh Bedi approached the poojaris at the Akal-Takhat to expel him from among Sikh ranks. Bedi’s main ambition was to see himself declared as the 15th Guru of Sikhs and the ouster of the Adi Granth from Sikh Gurudwaras ubiquitously. (30) He had fallen foul of Gurmukh Singh, however, who publicly denounced him. On March 14th 1887 an edict was issued from the Akal-Takhat-an edict without a Gurmatta, a true travesty of Sikhdom- with an addendum provided by a self-proclaimed 29 member intellectual panel, Sarabrah Akal-Takhat and the chief Granthi of Taran Taran expelling Gurmukh Singh for alleged anti-Panthic activities. Bedi’s delight soon soured, though, as Sikhs sub-continent wide ignored the edict and demanded his expulsion from both the Panth and his ancestral residence. (31) The World Sikh Convention of 1995 would finally declare the controversial edict null and withdraw it after a posthumous apology to Gurmukh Singh. The Height of all Illogicality: Sarabrah Arur Singh, in a bid to appease his Occidental masters, conferred a robe of honor upon Gen. Dyer and Capt. Briggs immediately after the notorious Jallianwalah massacre. He would, then, invite them to the Akal-Takhat to partake of the Sikh initiation ceremony. When both men laughed him off stating that they had no desire to imbibe the Sikh Code of Conduct, the Sarabrah exempted them from retaining the appearance of a Sikh and avoiding both alcohol and tobacco. (32) The 1925 Gurudwaras Act: Ubiquitous corruption in Gurudwara administrations would see the birth of the Gurudwara Reform Movement which would expel all atrophied traditionalists from major and minor Sikh shrines. In 1920 A.D. a strong Jatha under the command of Teja Singh Bhuchar would march into the abandoned Darbar Sahib and take over the day–to-day operations of the locus. Bhuchar would be named as Mukh Sewadaar or chief administrator of the Akal-Takhat, and by default the entire Darbar. It is intriguing to note here that Bhuchar never referred to himself as Jathedar of Akal-Takhat nor was he ever named as such by his parent body, the S.G.P.C. (33) In 1925 A.D. the Gurudwaras Act would be implemented vis-a-vis the Sikh community. The Act, still relevant today, would define the Jathedar of Akal-Takhat as Mukh Sewadaar retaining no prerogatives to arbitrate upon any matter(s) whatsoever. (34) It is crucial to note here that the template for Jathedar would be derived from the custom prevalent at Hazur Sahib, Patna Sahib and Anandpur Sahib where the Jathedars function as the voice of the majority rather than autarchs. (35) Post-Independence: Until the 1960’s, the role of Jathedar of the Akal-Takhat was defined via the regulations implied by the epithet of Mukh Sewadaar. Any decision which was to be arbitrated/mediated upon by the Jathedar was done in tandem with Panthic bodies established specially for the purpose. (36) What is more, the Jathedar would often wait outside the Gen. Secretary’s office to receive his daily wages. The triumph of the Sant Fateh Singh Akali-Dal, in both state and religious politics, would soon mark the dawn of a new and tendentious era in which the prevalent Status quo would be ousted in favor of a more party-friendly approach. The Sant “gifted” the position to list MP Sadhu Singh Bharu who had campaigned for him in the 1960 elections but lost. (37) Bharu’s political sycophancy and the Akalis’ inability to unite would land him in hot water. Gurcharan Singh Tohra, having re-united with the Akalis, however would come to the rescue. The Akalis had transformed the position of Jathedar from Mukh Sewadaar to autocrat. The final nail, in the coffin, would be delivered when Tohra issued a statement proclaiming that: -The Jathedar was supreme arbitrator and beyond the laws of the S.G.P.C. – The position of Jathedar was for life. -The Jathedar could veto any/all decisions passed by Sikh bodies etc etc. (38) S. Kapur Singh’s voice would be the sole voice of dissent against Tohra. Ironically, he was ignored. Bluestar and After: If the Sikhs thought that post-partition their history would be one of peace and progress, they were roughly jolted awake when the Indian Army invaded the Darbar Sahib complex in June 1984. Employing the pretext of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to attack the sacrosanct complex on a Sikh religious anniversary, the succeeding years would see a mass subversion of Sikh ethics and doctrines. Some of the more visible facets of this subversion would be: 1.) The manifestation of militant vs. militant conflict. 2.) The rise of Damdami Taksal as some sole Panthic authority retaining chief prerogative over Panthic politics. 3.) Infiltration of Sikh institutes by the so-called “third agency.” 4.) Commencement of the myth that Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale is alive and will soon return to establish Khalistan. 5.) Taksal’s refusal to organize any Sarbatt Khalsa versus the militants’ holding of such an event in 1986. (39) 6.) The creation of a new political entity in the form of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji’s father, brothers and nephews. 7.) Baba Joginder Singh Ji’s, the Sant’s father’s, termination of all Akali-Dal factions and the birth of a new ad hoc Akali-Dal/S.G.P.C. 8.) Santa Singh Budha-Dal’s ephemeral claim that he was Panthic dictator and as such some ‘Panth Padshah.’ (40) 9.) Jasbir Singh Rode’s volte face over the issue of Khalistan. 10.) The election of Darshan Singh Raagi and the latter’s attempts at positing himself as Panthic autocrat. 11.) Professor Manjit Singh’s ludicrous attempts at establishing an amalgamated ad hoc Akali-Dal, and his ultimate ouster from the Takhat. Summary: To reiterate some salient aspects of what we have established: 1.) The Akal-Takhat imbues Panthic sovereignty rather than is Panthic sovereignty. 2.) The Guru is the de facto authority of the Panth. That authority, currently, is retained by the Guru Panth on the precondition of it’s adherence to the Guru Granth. 3.) The position of Jathedar is not despotic and the latter cannot be accepted as some prime authority of the Panth per se either under historic precedence or the All India Gurudwaras Act 1925. There is no easy solution to the crisis which currently afflicts the Akal-Takhat. It has been suggested that a World Sikh Parliament be convened in the vogue of the Dal-Khalsa which acted as the fifth and democratic Takhat of the Panth. Every solution has it’s own range of difficulties though. What is currently required, however, is that the parameters of Mukh Sewadaar be promulgated among the Panth and an intellectual body be created to either re-introduce the historic precedents behind Jathedar Akal-Takhat, or a new criterion be introduced. Sources: (1) Accessed from https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/dark-history-behind-india-s-guru-in-bling-ram-rahim/story-zH3VFLAgvYVcxp6ZgbXNaM.html (2) Accessed from http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Mumbai_Sikh-Dera_Sacha_Sauda_clash#SGPC_announces_Rs._5_lakh_for_Sikh_killed_in_Mumbai (3) Accessed from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/gurmeet-ram-rahim-rape-case-took-15-years-heres-a-timeline/articleshow/60255191.cms (4) Dilgeer H; (2011) Akal Takht Sahib: Concept and Role, The Sikh University Press (Waremme, Belgium); pg. 60-61. (5) Jathedar Akal Takhat- In Historical Perspective, paper presented by Dr. Sangat Singh. Accessed 2018. (6) Sikhism and the Sikhs, S. Kapur Singh; pg. 184. (7) See Sangat Singh. (8) See Dilgeer, pg. 11. (9) Ibid. (10) See Kapur Singh, pg. 196. (11) Singh G; (2015), A Brief Account of the Sikhs, Dharam Parchar Committee (Amritsar, Punjab); pg. 7-8. (12) Sikhaan Di Bhagat Mala, ed. Trilochan Singh Bedi (1994); pg. 126. (13) Singh K; (1963), A History of the Sikhs vol. i, Oxford India Paperbacks (New-Delhi, India); see section on Sikh Gurus. Singh refutes Gupta’s oft repeated canard that the Guru was imprisoned for nine years. (14) Singh G; (1974), Sikh Gurua Da Ithiaas, self-published, pg. 232. (15) See Sangat Singh. (16) Ibid. (17) See Dilgeer, pg. 60-61. (18) Ibid. (19) Dhillon K; (1963), Twarikh Harmandar Di, self-published, pg. 21. (20) Sri Gur Panth Prakash, vol. ii, ed. Gurtej Singh; Singh Brothers (Amritsar, Punjab); pg. 789. (21) See Dilgeer, pg. 84-86. (22) Gandhi Singh S; Sikhs in the Eighteenth Century, Singh Brothers (Amritsar, Punjab)- please see subsection titled Misl Polity and Structure. (23) Ibid, Misl Shahidaan. (24) Ibid. (25) Singh K; (1983) Sikh Jarnail Akali Phula Singh Shahid, Singh Brothers (Amritsar, Punjab); pg. 8. (26) See Sangat Singh. (27) Ibid. (28) See Dhillon K, pg. 84. (29) See Sangat Singh. (30) Badhwal S; (1954) Dukh Di Twarikh: Professor Gurmukh Singh te Behmoniaad Hamla, published in Patrika magazine. (31) Ibid. (32) See Sangat Singh. (33) Ibid. (34) Ibid. (35) Ibid. (36) Ibid. (37) See Dilgeer, pg. 166. (38) Ibid, pg. 164. (39) See Pettigrew’s Sikhs of the Punjab– interviews with Zaffarwal. (40) India Today, September 15, 1984. https://tisarpanthdotcom.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/kings-without-thrones/
  2. 13Mirch

    Miri-Piri in Sikhi.

    The Sikh Theory of Dual Sovereignty. The three paramount aims of Nanakianism, ab initio, are: 1.) The reorientation of the individual from a base creature- a creature of the senses- to a spiritually attuned and intuitive being. 2.) The consecutive reorientation, and arraignment, of societal atrophy vis-a-vis equality and universalism. 3.) The establishment of a corporate base from whence the downtrodden and oppressed can be made to realize their status as founts of all civic authority and be steeled to resist both socio-political and politico-religious tyranny. Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the initiator of the ethos, openly decried the incumbent powers of his time who continually eschewed the fundamental rights of their subjects. A witness to both Brahminical (Caste) and Shariat (Islamic) totalitarianism, the Guru sundered his acolytes from traditional Indic spirituality which emphasized a quietist attitude towards life and mandated the spiritual seeker to retreat from societal concerns. (1) Via the Guru’s perception, both ruler and the ruled were equally culpable in the atrophy of the socio-political paradigm, ‘The emperors be insatiable beasts, their viziers be the curs. The Age is a knife, the kings be the butchers. In such darkness, the moon of morality is nowhere visible.’ (2) ‘…the subjects, blind, and devoid of knowledge divine pay bribes to satisfy their overlords’ avarice.’ (3) His was a faith which challenged the individual to offer their head, figuratively and literally, in pursuit of societal betterment and resistance in face of authoritarian oppression. (4) Rejecting the Semitic theory of man’s inherent imperfectness, in toto, the Guru bowed to his acolyte Angad and nominated him as his successor. The ideology of Nanakianism, thus, was identified as being paramount than the corporeal body. Angad who imbued it in full was transformed into Nanak II whilst his predecessor discarded his own mortal coil for the heavenly realms having laid the edifice of a Sui generis faith and nation. It was, essentially, the continuation of a revolution which in time would herald the raising of a corporate entity dedicated to challenging the might of all absolutist states and their pretensions of being the sole focal points of all dedication and loyalty. The arraignment and subsequent execution of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Nanak V, at the hands of the theocratic Islamic Mughal state- far from altering the complexion of the Sikh faith as most modern historians contend- acted as a catalyst for Nanakianism’s rapid evolution. Acknowledging that the times were not conducive for dialogue Guru Arjan advised his successor to arm himself, and after investing himself with sovereign regalia, to raise an army and construct a seat of power. It was in the latter vein that Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji ascended the steps of the newly constructed Akal-Takhat in 1606 A.D. and, after having been coronated Guru, promulgated the principle of Miri-cum-Piri or dual sovereignty. Nanak Ihad mandated his acolytes to accept the worldly life in full and the responsibilities it entailed. Nanak VI not only renewed this mandate but explicated it in full through the concepts of Miri and Piri. This principle of dual sovereignty, fundamentally speaking, posited that the individual was the fount of all political authority and that he/she must owe their allegiance to truth and morality (5) rather than any political state. The state, as Schulse, contends cannot lay claim to absolutism and divine perfectness without forfeiting it’s right to rule as the very notion of it’s perfectness is imperfect. (6) Such a state would necessarily lay claim to the right to govern not only the bodies but also the minds of it’s subjects exclusively which is a hazardous and Orwellian notion in all respects. The unfolding of Sikh history from the 17th century onwards, then, must be analyzed in the light of the Miri-Piri doctrine in order to grasp the antagonism which the faith-cum-nation has continually displayed towards historic and post-modernist states. The salient facets of Miri-Piri, generically, stipulate that: 1.) The State is self-limited and cannot lay claim to absolute perfectness irrespective of it’s governing model. 2.) The government of any State is Primus inter paras rather than potentate as the subjects of a state are the focal points of all civic authority and not the government itself. (7) 3.) Truth and morality outweigh political prerogative(s). 4.) The State is an expression of power, it’s government the tool to exercise this power. The individual, essentially, is the fount from whence this power originates. Vis-a-vis the Khalsa, the collective body of the Sikhs, the doctrine is more explicit: 1.) The demarcation between State and Faith must be reflected in the set-up of any political entity qua the Sikhs; faith -in this case- means righteousness and when the State digresses from it the Sikhs are to initiate dialog with the powers that be or ,failing that, resort to the sword. Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Nanak X, aptly sums up this principle in his Zafarnamah: ‘When all forms of tolerance and mediation are breached, it is righteous to resort to the sword (force)…’ (8) 2.) The Sikhs, as per their own metalegal charter, must be dealt with impersonally i.e. through the aegis of impersonal law rather than arbitrary self-will. (9) 3.) The State must generically realize that it is a tool and governance is a privilege. The government is Primus inter paras and it should realize that in due course it’s perceptions will clash with those of other civil groups. It cannot lay claim to absolutism, perfectness and/or an individual’s pristine loyalty. (10) 4.) The Khalsa- corporate collective of the Sikh nation- being a body of the pristine, has been bequeathed the sovereignty of both the spiritual and temporal realms. When dealing with it, the State cannot atomize it into singular figures vis-a-vis political policy. (11) Following protracted discussions with Bahadur Shah, the fanatical Aurangzeb’s successor, Guru Gobind Singh Ji initiated the occultist Madho Dass into the Khalsa and re-named him Banda Singh Bahadur. Bahadur, now reformed from his ascetic ways, was dispatched to the Punjab as Commander-In-Chief of the Khalsa forces; his mandate, if put simply, was to avenge the atrocities committed on the Guru’s Sikhs and pave the way for Halemi-Raaj or a just State. Parleys with Bahadur Shah had been blocked by the latter himself who was unwilling to efface his predecessor’s bigoted Shariat policies leading to the realization of the Guru’s above mentioned maxim. (12) Banda Singh and the Khalsa vanguard broke the Mughals’, otherwise, tenacious grip on the Punjab through a protracted guerrilla war in which they were supported by the Punjabi peasantry. In 1710 A.D. a coalition of the Khalsa and the peasantry succeeded in annihilating the Mughal bastion of Sirhind and over-running it. Declaring the commencement of Sikh reign, as a result, the Khalsa minted coins with the herald: ‘Triumphant, the Khalsa asserts it’s sovereignty in both the worlds seen and unseen.’ (13) Weathering a century long persecution, the Sikhs stuck to their guns until they ultimately succeeded in establishing the Halemi-Raaj envisioned by their Gurus. During the darker days of their existence they were offered many respites by their persecutors. The Afghani hordes, lead by Ahmad Shah Durrani, offered them a treaty on condition of them accepting vassalage. Taking affront, the Khalsa blatantly refused and continued it’s crusade against the foreign aggressors. Ratan Singh Bhangu describes the prevailing Sikh spirit thus: ‘…the Khalsa, then, replied: “who has ever bestowed political power for the asking?” There is no meeting ground between the Turks and the Singhs…’ (14) Vassalage was never-and never will be- the Khalsa ideal; full sovereignty is the Khalsa’s aim for the implementation of Halemi-Raaj. The question which naturally emerges, here, is that how does the principle of Miri-Piri correspond with current political setups? Let us analyze the four current political state setups viz the welfare state, the communist state, the modern democratic state and the theocratic state to answer this query. The welfare state, as described by S. Kapur Singh, consists of four elements namely: 1.) Ubiquitous responsibility for providing equal opportunity to all constituents irrespective of prior/present situation(s). (15) 2.) Ubiquitous responsibility for providing equal financial security for the aged, infirm etc. 3.) Ubiquitous responsibility for implementing and collating taxes in order to reduce the margin between the “haves” and “have not’s.” 4.) Ubiquitous responsibility for utilizing all available resources. Welfare, as a political principle, however is a welfare state’s main leverage in imposing upon the individual. When one of the aforementioned elements are accepted, the others naturally follow. (16) This model of state, then, posits a quid pro quo formulation where slavery is the price of security. (17) Once this formulation is placed in the hands of the power-hungry, the subjects are logically rendered apolitical. Welfarism, as a political philosophy, is best summarized by Aristotle in his description of tyranny: ‘the humility of the subjects; the disunity of subjects, and consecutively, the inability of the subjects to unite…’ (18) Nanakianism, though emphasizing universal welfare, differs radically from the current mode of Welfare i.e. the welfare state. True welfare, on an universal scale, cannot be imposed externally but only achieved via the internal transformation of an individual; (19) for this particular reason, Miri-Piri does not correspond with the welfare state. The communist state, seemingly flawless in theory, posits the supremacy of the state vis-a-vis the individual and the latter’s loyalty. Speaking historically, communist states have continually followed a generic trend: 1.) The notions of equality and fairness are translated into the daily economic life of the proletariat. 2.) Complications arise and a governing group arises which captures power. 3.) Eventually falling to corruption, the communist government assumes the mantle of the state and vice versa. 4.) The state-cum-government being the sole master of all economy, all dissent is brutally suppressed. Akin to any other political model, the individual is sacrificed for the good of the government. (20) Owing to it’s swift and logical devolution towards totalitarianism, communism by no means can coexist with Miri-Piri. The modern democratic state, laudable for it’s constitutional principles, is anathema to Miri-Piri as it represents a centralized form of political supremacy i.e. a ‘one man, one vote’ (21) system of governance. Though paying lip service to the rights of minorities, the modern democratic state annuls their very existence by cutting down on their representation vis-a-vis political administration. The recent history of the Sikhs, in independent India, reflects the inherent failings of modern democracy in toto. Outnumbered, the minority is often forcefully subsumed by a bellicose majority with democratic institutions often acting as legal ratifiers of the latter course of action. Owing to it’s basis in the Sikh faith, it is often assumed (mistakenly) that Miri-Piri envisions a theocratic state along the lines of the Islamic caliphate etc. The theocratic state, or political theophany, promulgates the unity of religion as being a prerequisite for the unity and continuity of the state. This unity is achieved on the basis of the motto, cuius regis eius religio or let my ruler’s faith be my faith. (22) Simultaneously, theocracy also emphasizes the salvation of the subject’s soul as it is believed that the true purpose of all political activity is to be found in the next world and not this one. (23) Nanakianism perceives this world as being real thus opposing the very basis of theocracy. Secondly, it does not permit the implementation of cuius regis eius religio as it believes in the freedom of conscience out of which arises an individual’s civic power. The relentless rebellion which the Sikh launched against the Indo-Islamic/Hindu polity, thus, was essentially an attempt at effacing political theophany and undoing the tyranny of the theocratic state. Miri-Piri, if it is to be summarized appositely, emphasizes the socio-spiritual freedom of the individual which is constantly in danger of being suppressed by the state. The Sikh aphorism, baagi or badshah; rebel or ruler is essentially the faith’s answer to all such states who coerce the individual into a subtle slavery of sorts vis-a-vis the continuation of power and the extinction of all non-conformity. A proud people, the Sikhs have rarely tolerated state encroachment on their rights. The maxim Raaj Karega Khalsa not only sums up their principle of dual sovereignty but also acknowledges the prime role which polity plays in the day-to-day life of individuals. As such, any atrophy in the political paradigm can only be arraigned if the individual recognizes his true worth; this is why, then, the Sikhs have continually been a thorn in the sides of all powers who have ever had the misfortune to cross swords with them. Sources: (1) Sri Gur Panth Prakash, vol. i, S. Gurtej Singh (2015); pg. xx-xxi. (2) ASGGS, referenced in Political Attitude of Guru Nanak, Balwant Singh Dhillon; quoted in Journal of Sikh Studies. (3) ASGGS; quoted by Macauliffe, vol. i, pg. 232. (4) Martyrdom in Sikhism, Institute of Sikh Studies (2004); edited by Dr. Kharak Singh, pg. 61-paper presented by Brig-Gen. (retd) Hardit Singh. (5) Singh K; Theo-political Status of Sri Darbar Sahib. Article accessed from Sikhsiyasat.net. (6) Deutsches Staatstecht, vol. i, sec 16; referenced by Singh K in Theo-political Status of Sri Darbar Sahib. (7) Ibid. (8) Zafarnamah, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib. (9) See Singh K; Theo-political Status of Sri Darbar Sahib. (10) Ibid. (11) Ibid. (12) Habib I; Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikhs of the Khalsa: Reports from Bahadur Shah’s Court, 1707-1710.’ (13) Though different historians provide different transliterations, the essence is virtually the same- the Khalsa rules supreme in both the spiritual and temporal realms as represented by the cauldron (charity/spiritualism) and temporality as represented by the sword. (14) Sri Gur Panth Prakash, vol. ii, transliterated by Gurtej Singh, pg. 921. (15) Singh K; Sikhism for the Modern Man, pg. 74-75. (16) Ibid. (17) Ibid, pg. 76. (18) Accessed from http://www2.idehist.uu.se/distans/ilmh/Ren/flor-mach-aristotle-tyrant.htm (19) Sikhism for the Modern Man, pg. 75-76. (20) Ibid. (21) Ibid, pg. 78. (22) Ibid. (23) Ibid. Accessed from: https://tisarpanthdotcom.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/of-miri-and-piri/
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