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Evolution of the Sikh Community

A brief study of the evolution of the Sikh community, that took up the challenge of the Mughal rulers and the Afghan invaders and fought against them for a little above half a century before they got their land liberated from them, is necessary to understand their characteristics and the mould into which the Sikh Gurus had put and reared them. Under the Gurus the community assumed a distinct personality which made them unbending and unrelenting before injustice and oppression. An attempt has been made in the following pages to present the Sikh spirit of sacrifice, their code of conduct and discipline which enabled them to cope with immensely hazardous situations.

Guru Nanak (A.D. 1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh faith, was a great social revolutionary. He is considered to have preached ‘liberal social doctrines.’1 In Guru Nanak’s philosophy an ideal man is a free, fearless and moral being. In the contemporary degenerated society man had lost his initiative. His mind was controlled by his faith in rituals and customs which further controlled his social actions in mechanical precision.

Confronted with such a situation Guru Nanak’s sensitive mind thought of evolving a new social system which had to be different from that of the Hindus and Muslims. It was very clear to him that without mental and spiritual liberation there was no possibility of converting a man into a moral man. And so long as he was the member of the present community, he could not be liberated. Therefore, there was a great need of a distinct social group. But so strong were the socio- religious strings and so weak was the individual that it was an extremely difficult task to pull him out from the prevailing vicious social circle.

Guru Nanak wanted his moral man to live in an associative manner with a guarantee of freedom to form social relationship on the basis of equality. The idea of brotherhood of man was an important and active principle with Guru Nanak. He believed in the oneness of God. In the words of Fredric Pincott, “Nanak taught that all men are equal before God, that there is no high, no low, no dark, no fair, no privileged, no outcaste, all are equal both in race and in creed, in political rights and in religious aspirations.”2 All people were considered by Guru Nanak as members of the same human family. It was much wider in its scope than the equality of the followers of the same faith who held all non-members as inferior or the equality of a caste brotherhood who thought of the whole array of other caste groups in the social hierarchy as low. He could think of high and low in terms of merit only.3

As Guru Nanak clearly knew that man could not live in isolation from society, and society influenced the behaviour and attitude of man, he emphasized the significance of sangat or congregation. Thus he argued in favour of the formation of a social group which by practising common moral code would be a cohesive unit. He also considered the assembly or the organised fellowship to be the proper medium for the communication of his message. Wherever he went during his missionary travels, he established sangats with the instruction to his followers to build a place of congregation or dharmsala, where they could regularly meet and sing Lord’s praises. Thus sprang up a network of sangats which became centres of Sikh missionary activities. The sangats helped the Sikhs in maturing their beliefs according to the instructions of the Guru.

Guru Nanak had also started the practice of pangat along with sangat. In Sikh terminology pangat means a row of men sitting together to partake of langar or food from community kitchen. It especially annulled caste. The need of a common mess was felt for the reason that as an institution it possessed the potentiality of a valuable instrument of social reform in a setting where caste taboos prevented people from sitting and eating together.4 The Sikhs shared their earnings with others. In the words of Ganesh Das Badehra,

“If a hungry person approached a Sikh for food be was served with it even if the Sikh himself were to go without it. And in order to entertain the visitor the Sikh would even pawn his clothes and utensils.5

According to Malcolm, at the time of initiation a Sikh was told that “whatever he has received from God, it is his duty to share it with others,”6 because the provisions belong to the Guru and the service in the langar is the privilege of the Sikhs.

In respect of Guru Nanak’s response to religion his mission has been regarded as the promulgation of a new religion. However, much he might have retained from Hinduism or Islam in the matter of doctrine, “his religion remains distinct and complete in itself.”7 He was not a mere reformer but a revolutionary, an originator, and a founder of a new faith and a new community. A new community is born as a result of the alienation of some group from the inclusive society within which it has to carry on its life. It is a kind of a protest movement. Looking at the spiritual leader of the Sikhs, the Mughal government of the country could not but regard them as opponents of accepted religious and prevalent social order and considered it their right and their duty to either bring them into the fold of their own faith or destroy them.8

Guru Nanak was primarily a religious preacher but he observed with keen interest the functioning of the government in the country and felt deeply concerned about the political disabilities of the people.9 He may be said to have been the first medieval Indian saint to condemn aggression and to denounce exploitation as grave social maladies which seriously hinder the evolution of a people’s personality. He was an ardent advocate of honest earnings and he could not tolerate that the earnings raised by the sweat of labours should go into the coffers of the rich and the exploiters.

Guru Nanak upbraided the tyrannical rulers of his days. His political concern was closely related to his idea of society which he believed, must be organised on the healthy basis of justice, fellow feeling, liberty and equality and it should be free from every type of oppression. The sufferings of the people during Babur’s invasion (1520-21) have been described by him with deep emotion. He called the invader “yama (the angel of death) disguised as the great Babur.”10 The Guru resented the Lodi’s inability to discharge their duty of providing protection for their subjects. He said,

“If a powerful person were to attack another powerful person there shall be no ground for anger. But if a ferocious lion were to fall upon a herd of cattle, the master (the protector) of the herd has to answer for it.”11

Guru Nanak strongly condemned the cowardly Lodis who suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Mughals: “The dogs of Lodis have thrown away the priceless inheritance. When they are dead and gone, no one will remember them with regard.”12

Guru Nanak did not attach divinity to the office of the king though he believed that it was the gift of God. According to the Guru, if the ruler’s orders were against justice and equality, it was not obligatory on the people to honour them and in that lay the seeds of defiance and challenge to the authority of an unjust ruler. Guru Nanak’s approval of the people’s right of rebellion against an oppressive ruler inevitably leads to the sanctioning of the use of force. Though the Guru was keenly aware of the Muslim domination in the politics of the country he did not condemn the rulers as Muslims. He clearly identified himself with the ruled as against the rulers.

The period from Guru Angad Dev (1539-1552), the immediate successor of Guru Nanak, to Guru Arjan (1581-1606), fifth in the line of succession, formed the first phase in the development of Sikhism. During this period (1539-1606), it made rapid strides organisationally as well as in numbers and developed into a distinct community.  Guru Angad popularised Gurmukhi letters to be used as a script for the hymns of the Gurus. He condemned asceticism and collected and preserved the spiritual writings of Guru Nanak. The langar further developed under Guru Angad whose wife looked after it.

Guru Amar Das (1552-1574) who succeeded to Gurugaddi after Guru Angad, was his senior in age by twenty five years. But he proved to be a true disciple. He initiated the Sikhs into new ceremonies regarding birth, marriage and death. He enthusiastically pursued and promoted the langar making it obligatory for every visitor, Hindu or Muslim, to partake of the common repast before seeing him. All had to sit in a line and eat together.13 He proclaimed the sanctity of human life and forbade the practice of sati or immolation of widows at the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. According to Indubhusan Banerjee,

“Guru Angad had, no doubt, done something to give the Sikhs an individuality of their own but it was under Amar Das that the difference between a Hindu and a Sikh became more pronounced and the Sikhs began, gradually, to drift away from the orthodox Hindu Society and form a class a sort of new brotherhood by themselves.”14

Since the number of the Sikhs had increased considerably, it was felt necessary by Guru Amar Das to organise the scattered sangats or congregations into a system. He partitioned his whole spiritual domain into 22 circles, called manjis, each manji under the charge of a devoted Sikh whose duty it was to preach the mission of the Sikh Gurus, and to keep the local body in touch with the centre.15 Each of these manjis or bishoprics was further divided into small sections called pirhis. This measure went a long way in strengthening the foundations of the Sikh community and in carrying on its work in different parts of the country.16 By virtue of his mission, the preacher occupied a little superior and distinctive position by sitting on a cot, a manji, while the laymen sat on the ground or carpet. But as a Sikh the preacher had the same status as enjoyed by the other Sikhs.

From the time of Guru Amar Das it began to be felt that the Sikhs should have their own seats of religion and pilgrimage. A baoli with pucca stair-cases reaching down to the surface of water was constructed at Goindwal under the personal supervision of Guru Amar Das.

Guru Ram Das (1574-1574) developed a seat of the Sikh faith which surpassed all previous ones in importance. It was Guru Ka Chak (Amritsar) which was soon throbbing with a new life. Merchants and artisans of 52 trades came from distant places to settle there. Trade flourished. Pilgrims arrived in large numbers. The fame of the town, which lay in the heart of the majha area— country between the Ravi and Beas rivers— spread far and wide and it grew to be the biggest centre of trade in the north.17 As subsequent history witnessed, Amritsar played a significant part in the development of Sikhism. Guru Ram Das had created a town which was to become the religious capital of the Sikhs.

Under Guru Arjan (1581-1606) Sikhism became more firmly established. Its religion and social ideals received telling affirmation in practice. It added to its orbit more concrete and permanent symbols and its administration became more cohesive. By encouraging agriculture and trade and by the introduction of a system of tithe-collection for the common use of the community, a stable economic base was secured. The masands not only collected the offerings of the Sikhs away from the important centres but also propagated the religion of Guru Nanak.18 Guru Arjan gave Sikhism its scripture, the Granth Sahib, and its main place of worship, the Amritsar shrine. He taught, by example, humility and sacrifice. He was the first martyr of the Sikh faith. The work of the first four Gurus was preparatory. It assumed a more definitive form in the hands of Guru Arjan.19

The rapidly growing proportions of the Sikh movement created some new problems. The reaction of the Muslim orthodoxy towards the Sikhs suffered a radical change. To begin with, their attitude was one of indifference or tacit resentment. But as the Sikh movement advanced they began to see a danger in it and became openly hostile to it. The western Punjab had been Islamized and in the eastern Punjab too, a sizeable section of the population had accepted the creed of Islam. With the progress of Sikhism, which was also a missionary creed, like Islam, the pace of Islamization was considerably slowed down, if not halted. The prospects of improved status which Islam offered to the lower sections of the Hindu society were now available from Sikhism as well, because Sikhism, too, like Islam, made no distinction between the high and low. In so far as Sikhism was closer to the roots of the Hindu culture, for the Hindu masses it had an edge over Islam. Therefore, those who wanted to change their religion with a view to improving their position in the society preferred Sikhism to Islam.20 Some of the Musalmans, generally former converts from Hinduism, began to show more interest in Sikhism than in Islam, as is referred to by Jahangir in his Tuzak.21 All these trends naturally alarmed the orthodox elements of the Muslim population and they became progressively hostile to Sikhism.

However, the opposition of the Muhammadan orthodoxy could cause no immediate harm to the Sikh movement on account of Akbar’s policy of religious liberalism. He met some of the Sikh Gurus, and showed his magnanimity towards them by making special grants. The present she of Amritsar was granted to Guru Amar Das for his daughter when Akbar met the Guru at Goindwal. On a subsequent occasion the Emperor met Guru Arjan at Goindwal on his way back to Agra and at his request remitted the land revenue of the area for a whole year. Akbar’s favourable attitude did not merely save Sikhism from the fury of the Muslim orthodoxy at a time when it was just an infant, needing protection, it also provided the necessary conditions for its quick further progress.

The eclecticism of Akbar led to a sharp reaction among the conservative sections of the Muslim population. This reaction gave birth to a powerful revivalist movement with its head- quarters at Sirhind. It was started by a Muslim divine Shaikh Faizi Sirhindi ‘Mujaddad-i-Alf Sani’ to whom even slight concession to the Hindus was an act of hostility to Islam. He advocated the view that “the glory of Islam consists in the humiliation of infidelity and the infidels. Anyone who held an infidel in esteem, caused humiliation to Islam.”22

When Jahangir ascended the throne he was openly in a frame of mind to oblige the Muslim orthodoxy. When Prince Khusrau rose in revolt against his father in 1606 he hastened towards the Punjab in a bid to mobilize support. He was captured and produced before his father at Lahore. Guru Arjan was involved in the false charge of having helped the rebel prince. The Guru was soon taken captive and brought to Lahore where he was sentenced to death by siast and yasa, i.e. death by torture involving no bloodshed.23

The tragedy of Guru Arjan’s death on May 30, 1606 produced a sharp reaction in the small but growing community of the Sikhs. There was a general wave of indignation and protest against the official high-handedness and tyranny and the necessity of self-defence was strongly felt.

Guru Hargobind (1606-1644), who succeeded to his father, framed a policy of militarizing the community. Under him the Sikhs assumed certain additional responsibilities. Guru Arjan’s martyrdom marked a turning point in the history of the Sikh faith. Instead of rosary and other saintly emblems of spiritual inheritance, his son Guru Hargobind wore a warrior’s equipment for the ceremonies of succession. He sanctified steel as a will to resistance of tyranny. He put on two swords, declaring one to be the symbol of his spiritual and the other that of his temporal investiture.24 This was a significant act crucial to the future evolution of the Sikh community. The Guru sat at Akal Bunga and administered justice to his followers. The congregational prayers, introduced by the Gurus, added religious fervour among the Sikhs and strengthened unity and cooperation between them. The sangats took upon themselves the financial and defence requirements of the Guru. Undoubtedly the Guru had no political objective to achieve, and the militant character, added to the Sikh movement, was purely a measure of self-defence.

An important factor operating in the transformation of the Sikh movement was the entry of the Jats in large numbers into the fold of Sikhism during the period of Guru Arjan and after. These people were the descendants of certain tribes that had originally come from foreign lands and settled in the country and were known for their tribal freedom and fighting traits. They were naturally an assertive and virile people who only needed a competent and gifted leader to rouse them to action. Guru Hargobind infused in them the confidence that they could even challenge the might of the Mughal government. Large number of them answered the Guru’s call to arms, recognising in him the type of leader they desired.25

According to Dabistan, the Guru had seven hundred horses in his stables and three hundred cavaliers in his service.26 The Guru is said to have constructed a wall around the city of Amritsar. A fort named Lohgarh was built in the town as a measure of security in the event of an attack on the Sikhs. The Guru also built the Akal Bunga (Akal Takht) where he used to discuss the secular matters with his Sikhs. In the eighteenth century Akal Takht served as a very important forum and hub of the activities of the Dal Khalsa for the Sikh struggle for their liberation.

Evidently, the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, was a little alarmed at these measures of the Guru and he was made a state prisoner and sent to Gwalior. After some years the Emperor realised the futility of keeping him any longer in prison and released him. Jahangir died in 1627. Guru Hargobind had no trouble with him ever since his release from imprisonment.

With the accession of Shah Jahan the attitude of the new Emperor stiffened towards the Sikhs. The Mughals fought against the Guru at Amritsar in 1628, at Lahira in 1631 and at Kartarpur in 1634. The Sikhs won all the battles. Despite the Guru’s unwillingness to fight against the Mughals he faced the heavy odds successfully which left a deep mark upon the future course of the community’s development. In the words of Indubhusan Banerjee,

“Success against innumerable odds could not but inspire the Sikhs with self-confidence and give them an exalted sense of their own worth. They had hitherto been kept under the heels by the Musalmans, but now they learnt, for the first time, that under proper guidance and control, they could meet the Musalmans on an equal footing or even gain the better. The consciousness of their own worth, arising out of their own trying circumstances, became a great national asset. Guru Hargobind demonstrated the possibility—the possibility of the Sikhs openly assuming an attitude of defiance against the Mughal government and considerably prepared the way for the thorough reformation that they received in the hands of Guru Gobind Singh.”27

Guru Har Rai (1644-1661), the seventh Sikh Guru, preached humility and disfavoured a clash with anyone, though he kept the style of Guru Hargobind. He is said to have kept a strong force of 2200 horsemen ready to be employed whenever necessary.28 The Guru also kept the daily practice of his predecessors including the langar which continued to be the central factor in the social transformation Sikhism had initiated. The Guru chose for himself the simplest fare which was earned by the labour of his own hands.

The closing years of Guru Har Rai’s pontificate were marked by the revival of Mughal interference in the affairs of the Sikh community. It could be due to Aurangzeb’s being a staunch Muslim of the Sirhindi or Naqashbandi brand and the Guru’s open sympathy with the Emperor’s elder brother and rival, Dara Shikoh, who was of Sufi persuasion. When Dara, after his defeat at the hands of his enemy, fled across the Punjab, Guru Har Rai is said to have covered up his retreat as against Aurangzeb’s pursuing troops. This aroused the wrath of Aurangzeb who summoned the Guru to Delhi. Guru Har Rai, instead of proceeding personally to the capital, sent his elder son Ram Rai to answer the queries of the Emperor. Aurangzeb used the opportunity to win over Ram Rai who was likely to succeed his father. The Mughal ruler cherished the hope of bringing the prospective Guru under his thumb. Dissatisfied with Ram Rai’s conduct at the Mughal court Guru Har Rai decided to appoint his younger son, Har Krishan, instead. Ram Rai feeling sore over his supersession made an appeal for Aurangzeb’s intervention.

Guru Har Krishan (1661-1664), succeeded to the Guru gaddi at the early age of five. He had a rare ability in explaining passages from the holy Granth. On Ram Rai’s complaint the Guru was summoned to Delhi where he was stricken with smallpox and died on March 30, 1664 at the age of eight.

Guru Tegh Bahadur (1664-1675), the ninth Guru, and the youngest child of Guru Hargobind, was born on April 1, 1621. He succeeded Guru Har Krishan, who was the grandson of his eldest brother. On false and totally untenable charge of inciting the peasantry of the Punjab for rebellion against the Mughal government, he was arrested, taken to Delhi and executed on November 11, 1675 under the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb who was then at Hasan Abdal.

Guru Tegh Bahadur, by offering himself to the Mughal tyrants sword at Delhi, registered his peaceful resistance against the policy of forcible conversion. The execution of the Guru was a staggering catastrophe in Sikh history and the minds of the Sikhs and Hindus, who held him in great esteem and reverence, were rudely shaken. Guru Gobind Singh has recorded the event of his father’s death in Vichitra Natak in the following words:

Thus did the Master protect the frontal mark and the sacrificial thread of the Hindus. Thus did he bring about a great event in the dark age. He did so much for God’s people, giving up his life without uttering a groan. He suffered martyrdom for the sake of religion, laying down his head without surrendering his principles.29

In the words of Harbans Singh,

“The martyrdom was no small happening. It was something of immense magnitude of immense consequence. A most sensitive and comprehensive genius of the age undertook to answer the challenge of the time with all his moral strength. He brought to his response spiritual insight and discipline of the highest order, a living experience which bespoke love, compassion and humility and an inheritance, descending from Guru Nanak, symbolizing the ideals of faith, self-giving service and freedom. The choice was deliberately made. It was no passive submission but a positive decision to confront an existing situation.”30

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom had its immediate implications as well as an eternal moral. It marked the disavowal of the prevailing oppression and bigotry and indicated the way of resistance. It pointed to a new future for society which would be free from tyranny and intolerance.

Guru Gobind Singh (1675—1708) felt that the Sikhs needed reorganisation in order to bring about internal cohesion and provide external defence. Retaining the basic idea of administering pahul to the Sikhs, a new ceremony of giving the nectar in place of the old practice, which some of the people had started misusing to create independent followings of their own, was started. Guru Gobind Singh wanted to strengthen the organisation of the community by making steel an integral limb of a Sikh and thus evolve out of the Sikhs a powerful engine of revolution, a force to fight tyranny and injustice. Within a few days of the adoption of the dramatic procedure of initiating the Khalsa, a little less than a lakh of people hailing from different parts of the country got themselves baptised. It worked a miracle in abolishing the old distinctions. After initiation, a person could claim and was readily given the status equal to any other member of the Khalsa Panth.31 In the words of Teja Singh and Ganda Singh,

“Even the people who had been considered as dregs of humanity were changed, as if by magic, into something rich and strange. The sweepers, barbers and confectioners, who had never so much as touched the sword and whose whole generations had lived as groveling slaves of the so-called high classes, became, under the stimulating leadership of Guru Gobind Singh, doughty warriors who never shrank from fear and who were ready to rush into the jaws of death at the bidding of the Guru.”32

The Guru Gobind Singh brought a new people into being and released a new dynamic force into the arena of Indian history.

Guru Gobind Singh invested the Panth with his personality or, in other words, the Khalsa Panth was to be the Guru in future. He told his Sikhs, “I have bestowed the Guruship on the Khalsa. Khalsa is my very self and I shall always live in the Khalsa.”33 The complete charge of the temporal leadership was given to the Sikhs in 1708 during the last moments of his earthly existence.

Of his close identification with the congregation Guru Gobind Singh provided a unique example at the initiation ceremony in which he, the supreme head of the religious organisation, voluntarily surrendered his authority to his disciples and adopted the usual procedure of being baptised by the same disciples, who a short while ago, had been baptised by him.34 On the one hand poet Senapat, in his book Sri Gur Sobha, identified the Guru with God and on the other he identified the sangat or congregation with the Guru. In this way a divine character was attributed to the collective body of the holy assembly which became sacrosanct and authoritative for the individual members of the congregation. As the tradition goes the Guru rated the congregation above the Guru saying that while the Guru was equal to twenty parts the congregation was equal to twenty one parts. The Guru had converted the Guru-sangat into the Khalsa of the Waheguru, the Supreme Lord and declared that the Sikhs belong to God and their victory belongs to Him. Thus the creator of the Khalsa raised his creation to a status superior to himself when he said:

It is due to them that I am holding an exalted place. I was born to serve them.

Through them I reached eminence.

What would I have been without their kind and ready help.

There are millions of insignificant people like me.35

According to Senapat the aim of Guru Gobind Singh, in founding the Khalsa Panth, was to build up a community that would live a virtuous life and be able to rescue the people from evil-doers and the tyrants.36 The basic character of the Sikh Panth to be good and virtuous was never allowed to be changed. Once the Sikhs asked Guru Gobind Singh why the Sikh rules of conduct prohibited them from carrying away the women of the Muslims as captives as a retaliatory measure. To this the Guru replied, “I wish to raise the Panth—the Sikh community— to a much higher plane and not to push it down into the depths of hell.” In their struggle for independence or sovereignty the Sikhs always maintained this lofty ideal of the Gurus.

According to Gokal Chand Narang, “Guru Gobind Singh was the first Indian leader who taught democratical principles and made his followers regard each other as Bhai or brother and act by gurmata or general councils.”37

The Tenth Master brought Guruship on a level with his followers. It was a revolutionary and a democratic step when in 1699 after initiation he solemnly undertook to abide by the same discipline that had been enjoined upon the Sikhs to follow. Although the Khalsa was designed by the Guru himself yet the Guru was so much charmed and fascinated by his own creation that he saluted it as his own ideal and master. “It was introducing a spiritual socialism in the domain of religion.”38 The Khalsa Commonwealth did not belong to any individual, not even to the Guru—the creator of the order—but it belonged to those who constituted it. In this way a new type of democracy took birth in this land.

The Khalsa, as a combined body of the Sikhs, was made the supreme authority amongst the Sikhs in all matters. No leader, however, great, could challenge the authority of the Khalsa and introduce any innovation in the rules of conduct of the Khalsa Panth. The guidance of the community lay with their collective wisdom and decisions. The rulers that we come across in the pageant of Sikh history may be regarded as the servants of the Khalsa commonwealth in whose name, they functioned.39 Indeed, it was the Khalsa who led the community through its trials and ordeals and finally won political power, the victory being of the Khalsa, of the community, as a whole, and not of the few leaders whatever their individual merit.

Guru Gobind Singh told his followers that the force by itself was no evil, it was its misuse that made it so. He felt that ideals of humility and surrender had no appeal to a tyrant whose soul was deadened by repeated acts of oppression and who used and understood the language of cold steel alone. He was thoroughly convinced that force had to be met by force and that is why he almost deified the sword. He considered it to be the hand of God to punish the evil-doers with:

Sword, thou are the protector of the saints. Thou art the scourage of the wicked;

Scatterer of sinners, I take refuge in Thee;

Hail to the Creator, Saviour and Sustainer, Hail to Thee, Supreme.40

This must not be understood to mean that Guru Gobind Singh believed in the dictum that ‘might is right.’ It was assumed that the wielder of sword must be imbued with a divine mission. It should be used for the protection of the oppressed and for the furtherance of righteous acts. The sword used for such purposes signifies divine beneficence. Guru Gobind Singh symbolized God in the weapons of war. He is Presented as the punisher of the evil and destroyer of the tyrant. But if the sword is used for oppression and for the attainment of power, it loses all its significance. Even where the use of the sword is permissible, it is to be used only as a last resort. “When all other means have failed, it is but righteous to take to the sword.”41 The Guru prayed to God that he might be able to use the sword for a righteous cause.42 The Guru’s sword, like the surgeon’s knife, was not for shedding blood but for rescuing the healthy part of human body from the growing effect of the diseased one.

Guru Gobind Singh, besides advocating spiritual uplift, attempted to revive the spirit of valour by means of heroic literature, martial training and glorification of the weapons of war. To quote Malcolm, “Guru Gobind Singh wrote an account of his own wars in terms more calculated to inflame the courage of his followers than to inform the historian.”43 All this was done with (he clear object of dharam-yudh (a holy war) against the enemies of righteousness and goodness. Dharam-yudh, as the term suggests, means a war against unrighteousness and for the protection of good virtue. It does not mean a mad struggle for power. When the use of sweet reasonableness and gentle persuasion fails to bring about a change of heart in the oppressors, it is perfectly legitimate, according to the philosophy of dharam-yudh, to resort to armed resistance. Dharam-yudh was clearly opposed to militarism in which force is used for the sake of force, aggression or self- aggrandisement. But here force must be used for a legitimate and a noble cause and as a last resort.

The new organisation, Guru Gobind Singh’s magnum opus was, in the words of Indubhusan Banerjee,

“a fully democratic compact community armed to the teeth struggling to maintain what is right and fighting incessantly tyranny and injustice in all their forms.”44

The Khalsa was charged with the responsibility of promoting, with force if necessary, the cause of righteousness. One of the most interesting features of the Khalsa was the idea of commonwealth.

Before Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last he had taken every possible care to promote the corporate aspect of the Khalsa brotherhood. “It was in Sikhism alone,” says Banerjee, “that a sense of corporate unity gradually evolved.”45 Guru Gobind Singh, after the creation of the Khalsa, advised the Sikhs to take decisions or pass gurmatas through a council and this measure gave a form of federative republic to the Sikhs.46

The personal Guruship was ended by Guru Gobind Singh himself. Succession now passed to the Guru Granth in perpetuity. This was the most significant development in the history of the community. The leadership of the community or the Sikh Panth was invested in the Panth itself. 47 The Khalsa ideals served as beacon light for the Sikh leaders. They dared not defy the Sikh ideals. In respect of their duties towards the Khalsa Commonwealth, no Sikh, including the Sikh chiefs, enjoyed any exemption. None could pose to be above the Panth. No single individual or a group of individuals could be considered as superior or equal to the entire body of the community. The Sikh leaders, time and again, declared that they were the humble servants of the Panth, subservient to its will, working for the good and pleasure of the Khalsa Commonwealth.

Thus we see that the community was now united and integrated as never before. All members of the community enjoyed equal privileges with one another. By receiving amrit from the panj piaras (five beloved ones) the Guru had exploded the myth of his superiority to his followers. This equality with one another, common external appearance, common leadership and common aspirations bound the Sikhs together into a compact mass, raising their strength manifold.

Neither the hill chiefs of the neighbourhood nor the Mughal government could tolerate the great revolution that the Sikh Gurus had effected with such tremendous success. Before and after the creation of the Khalsa, the government had made many attempts at destroying the growing power of the Sikhs. But they endured, suffered and survived. And the Sikh community, thus created and reared by the indefatigable efforts of the ten masters and blessed with noble traditions of intrepidity bravery, sacrifice and virtuous conduct, took up the challenge of the Mughal high- handedness, persecution and injustice under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadur and there was no let-up from either side for the next half a century till the Sikhs threw the Mughals and other contestants out of the Punjab.

Notes and References

  1. Teja Singh, The Religion of The Sikh Gurus, Amritsar, 1957, p. 1.
  2. Fredric Pincott, The Sikh Religion (A Symposium), Calcutta, 1958, p. 74.
  3. Adi Granth, p. 1330.
  4. Indubhusan Banerjee, Evolution of the Khalsa, Vol. I, 2nd edition, Calcutta, 1961, p. 159.
  5. Ganesh Das Badehra. Char Bagh-i-Punjab (1855), Amritsar, 1965, p. 112.
  6. Malcolm, Sketch of the Sikhs, London, 1812, p. 185.
  7. Dorothy Field, The Religion of the Sikhs, London, 1914, p. 42.
  8. Jahangir, Tuzak-i-Jahangiri, Lucknow, n.d., p. 35.
  9. Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, A Short History of the Sikhs, Bombay, 1950, p. 14.
  10. Rag Asa Mahalla 1, Adi Granth, p. 360.
  11. Ibid., Ja Sakta Sakte ko mare tan man ros na hoai Sakta sih mare pe wage Khasme sa pursai.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Santokh Singh, Suraj Parkash, Ras I, Chhand 30.
  14. Indubhusan Banerjee, op. cit., p. 183.
  15. Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, op. cit., p. 23.
  16. G.C. Narang, Transformation of Sikhism, New Delhi, I960 (5th edition), p. 33.
  17. Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, op. cit., p. 25.
  18. Zulfiqar Ardistani Maubid, Dabistan-i-Mazahib (1645), Cawnpore, 1904, p. 233.
  19. Harbans Singh, Heritage of the Sikhs, Delhi, 1983 (2nd edition), p. 41.
  20. Fauja Singh, ‘Development of Sikhism under the Gurus,’ Sikhism (Symposium), Patiala, 1969, p. 10.
  21. Jahangir, op. cit., p. 35.
  22. Ahmad Sirhindi, Maktubat-i-Imam Rabbani, Vol. I, Letter No 163, Lahore, 1964.
  23. Jahangir, op. cit., p. 35.
  24. M.A. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. IV, Oxford, 1909, p. 2; Hari Ram Gupta, History of the Sikh Gurus, New Delhi, 1973, p. 109; Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, op. cit., p. 39.
  25. Indubhusan Banerjee, op. cit., Vol. II, Calcutta, 1947, p. 44.
  26. Zulfiqar Ardistani Maubid (Mohsin Fani), op. cit., pp. 235-36.
  27. Indubhusan Banerjee, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 34.
  28. Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, op. cit., p. 48.
  29. Guru Gobind Singh, Vichitra Natak, published by S.G.P.C., Amritsar, 1954, p. 58.
  30. Harbans Singh, op. cit., p. 84.
  31. J.D. Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs (1849), Delhi, 1955, pp. 63-64.
  32. Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, op. cit., pp. 71-72; cf. Ali-ud-Din Mufti, Ibratnama (1854), Vol. I, Lahore, 1961, p. 344.
  33. Senapat, Sri Gur Sobha (1711), Patiala, 1967, Adhya 18, Verses 806-07; cf. Gordon, The Sikhs (1904), Patiala, reprint 1970, p. 40; Ganesh Das Badehra, op. cit., p. 155.
  34. Bute Shah, Tarikh-i-Punjab (1848), MS., G.S., p. 45.
  35. Guru Gobind Singh, Gian Prabodh Padshahi 10, Sawaya 645.
  36. Senapat, op. cit., Chhands, 129-30, p. 21.
  37. Gokal Chand Narang, op. cit., p. 98.
  38. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism, Lahore, 1944, pp. 42-43.
  39. Malcolm, op. cit., pp. 114-15.
  40. Guru Gobind Singh, Vachitra Natak, Adhya I, Chhand 2.
  41. Guru Gobind Singh, Zafarnama, Verse 22.
  42. Guru Gobind Singh, Chandi Charitar, Swaya 231.
  43. Malcolm, op. cit., p. 100.
  44. Indubhusan Banerjee, op. cit., Vol. II, p, 119.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Malcolm, op. cit., p. 52.
  47. Ibid., p. 76, Forster, Journey Bengal to England (1798), Patiala reprint 1970, p. 263.