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Culmination and Beginning

The period of Guru Gobind Singh was at once a period of culmination as well as beginning. It marked the culmination because the concepts, organisational structure and goals of Sikhism became clear and concrete and elaborated to their logical end. This obviously brushes aside the views of some scholars who hold that the tenth Guru stood apart from Guru Nanak.

On conceptual plane, Guru Gobind Singh was monotheist of the type of Guru Nanak. As with all the Gurus, God with him was a living experience, a primal force who creates, recreates and takes care of his creations; but in His social functions, the Guru regarded Him smasher of the tyrants, 'All- steel', Protector and Saviour of the righteous. This was obviously the logical development of the concept of God. Guru Nanak once mentioned God as "The killer of the unrighteousness." This function of God continued to be hinted by Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan also. But it fell to the tenth Guru to express it more elaborately, clearly, explicitly and unequivocally and frequently. This function was not the result of thinking in an ivory tower. It was rooted in the social pattern which the Gurus were striving to finally emerge. A community of house-holders would ill brook God who is not connected with them and does not protect them against the violators of peace and destroyers of life and property.

Guru Gobind Singh in Akal Ustat says:

"Thou art the Protector of life and the giver of all prosperity Thou art the cure of all sorrows and sufferings"

"I bow to Him

Whom I see here as a warrior fully armed, and there as a scholar seeking pure knowledge."

That God helped and protected his dear ones or the good, and destroyed the evil was an old recognised strand of Sikh metaphysics. Guru Gobind Singh not only laid more emphasis in this strand than was the case before but also evolved the idea further. He envisaged God as a mighty, invisible and invincible warrior armed to the teeth and ever ready to use his powers in support of the good.

This institution of Guru also touched its culmination point during the period of Guru Gobind Singh. Guru had acquired a place of great importance in Sikh religion from the very beginning. The predominant personality of the Guru established a nucleus around which Sikh Panth could rally.

Yet still in another respect in which the tenth Guru brought to completion development of an important old institution was the evolution of the Sikh scripture. Guru Arjan Dev had done a great job by authenticating the diverse compositions and preparing a single holy book for the benefit of his people. But since then, the work had remained where it was left. Guru Gobind Singh included in it the compositions of his father and put the seal of finality on it. Subsequently, this finalised version of Sri Adi Granth was invested with the Guruship and named Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Besides, he completed the evolution of the institution known as Sangat. In the beginning, it was merely a religious gathering of devotees, functioning more or less in isolation. Gradually there was many fold increase in its function, and the isolation of one from the other was lessened by the forging of common links, such as building up certain religious centres, institution of manjis and masands as the agencies of the central leadership and the assertion of the principle of the supremacy of the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh raised them to the state of Khalsa thereby investing them with the rights and powers of dealing with the Guru directly instead of through some agency. According to Dr. Fauja Singh, "With the foundation of the Khalsa, the network of semi-integrated Sangat was fully integrated." The investing of the Khalsa with supreme powers marked the completion of the historical process long underway.

The institution of Guruship also touched its zenith and culminating point under the direction of Guru Gobind Singh.

Throughout the development of Sikhism in the pre-Gobindian period, the Guru had been assigned a place of predominance and significance. Guru Nanak regards the Guru as an absolute necessity. He highlights this point in so many verses. As a matter of fact in Guru Nanak's system, the Guru formed the pivot on which everything else revolved. The disciple was asked to tread the path Divine, to remain ever content within His Will and to obey His commands. But in these matters, as in everything else, the Guru was to point out the right path. He was to interpret the Will of God, and the commands of the Almighty were also to issue forth through the medium of his ordainments. The Guru, therefore, was to be implicitly obeyed. In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, this fact is emphasised again and again. We can glean a large number of verses from the compositions of Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan Dev enjoining upon the Sikhs to obey the Guru in letter and spirit. Guru Ram Das says:

Sikhs of the Guru and friends, walk in God's way.

Faithfully obey what the Guru preacheth.

Hear, servants of God and brethren, serve the Guru very promptly.

Tie up service to the Guru as Thy travelling expenses to God.

Think not of to-day or to-morrow.

Sikh tradition is also eloquent on this point. Bhai Gurdas who lived in the late 16th century says in his exposition of the essence of the Sikh religion, "The Sikh who receiveth the Guru's instruction is really a Sikh. To become a disciple must be like a purchased slave, fit to be yoked to any work which may serve his Guru. Love none but the Guru; all other love is false.[1]

A natural consequence of such teaching was the unquestioning devotion of the Sikhs to their spiritual head. Sujan Rai of Batala wrote in 1696, "The reliance which this sect (Sikhs) has on its leader is seldom seen in other sects. If a way-farer arrived at mid night and takes the name of Baba Nanak, he is treated as a brother."[2]

The implicit faith in a common superior, knit the Sikhs together like soldiers of the regiment. The predominant personality of the Guru supplied the nucleus around which the Sikh Panth could gradually arise. Under the leadership of Sikh Gurus, the Sikhs evolved a sense of corporate unity which found expression through their behaviour and institutions such as Langar and Sangat.

But what was the sense in which the Guru was held up to the period of Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru was understood in three ways: The Guru was God, he was the voice of God, and he was the 'word', the Truth of God. A large number of verses can be quoted in support of the aforesaid three senses in which the Guru was held.

If we go deeper, we will find complete identification of apparently different senses. The following passage amply proves our point:

"The word is Guru and the mind (which is focussed on it continually) is the disciple. By dwelling on the ineffable one, on Him the eternal Guru-Gopal, I remain detached, it is only through the word that I dwell on Him and so through the Guru, the fire of ego is extinguished.[3]

The passage quoted above gives the meaning of forty- fourth verse of Siddh Gosht that brings out this identity not just with the pronouncement that the Word is the Guru but also with reference to the Guru-Gopal. God Himself is Truth.

Closely connected with the above definition of the Guru is the question "Were the Sikh Gurus not Gurus?" They were Gurus by all visions because they were the perfect personalities embodying 'The Truth' and conveying only the Truth. Their persons, in themselves, were not Gurus. This fact the Gurus themselves brought home to the people by example, and precepts.

It is stated in the old Janam Sakhi that when Guru Nanak finally resolved to make Bhai Lehna his successor, he placed five paisa before him and bowed before him. In the Tikke di Var (Coronation Ode) we are told that "Guru Nanak's bowing to Bhai Lehna (Guru Angad) reversed the order of things." It shows that from the very beginning the impersonal character of guruship had been recognised. The physical personality of the Guru was detached from the spirit of Guruship which was to be regarded as one, indivisible and even continuous.

The fact that the name Lehna was changed to Angad must be regarded as equally significant. Speaking of Angad must be regarded as equally significant of the nomination of Angad to the Guruship. The Coronation Ode says, "He had the same light, the same ways, he merely changed his own body." This idea is stressed again and again in the Sikh writings. The guruship was something apart from the personality of Guru and this would explain how the successive Guru could be regarded identical.

Mohsin Fani says, "They (the Sikhs) believe that when Nanak bade farewell to this world, his spirit became incarnate in the person of Angad. Angad at his demise transmitted his soul into the body of Amar Das in the same manner who further conveyed his spirit into the body of Ram Das; whose soul transmitted in the person of Arjan Mai. In short, they believe that, with the transfer of soul into Lehna (Angad), Nanak the first became Nanak the second and so on, to the fifth in the person of Arjan Mai. They believe that whoever does not recognise in Arjan Mai the true Baba Nanak, is an infidel. In their hymns and compositions all the Gurus designated themselves as Nanak. Even in private correspondence they signed as 'Nanak'." This thing was even observed by the author of Bahadur Shah Nama who called Guru Gobind Singh as 'Guru Gobind Nanak'.[4] Guru Gobind Singh himself declares that all Gurus were one and that without understanding this vital aspect of hierarchy, perfection could not be attained. Guru Gobind Singh says:

Nanak assumed the body of Angad        

And made his religion current in the world Afterwards Nanak was called Amar Das As one lamp is lit from another—7 The holy Nanak was revered as Angad

Angad was recognised as Amar Das,

And Amar Das became Ram Das,

The pious saw this, but not the fools—9

Who treated them all distinct;

But some rare persons recognised that they were all one. They who understood this obtained self-realisation.[5] —10

Guru Gobind Singh was not only fully conversant with the different stands of the concept of Guru but also subscribed to them.

For some time, the Guru did not effect any change. Then quite a few developments that had taken place prompted him to review the existing system. One was the nature of relationship between the Sikhs and the Guru. Dr. A.C. Banerjee says, "The importance attached to the Guru, did not, however, create a community depending on autocratic leadership. The ideal of brotherhood was an active principle from the very beginning. As a result, the Sikh community was governed by principles of equality and democracy. The individual Sikh was exalted to a position almost to that of the Guru himself. Guru Ram Das said:

To those who obey the will of the Guru,

I am sacrifice

I am ever a sacrifice to those who served the Guru.

Quite a large number of verses can be gleaned to prove the veracity of the aforesaid point.

The next important development was that the unity of Sikhs as a community was being disturbed by the emergence of the impostor Gurus of dissentient sects and the degenerate Masands. To keep the Sikhs united, was the most important need of the hour as well as for posterity. This aspect lurked in his mind when he took the momentous decision of making changes in the institution of the Guru. On the Baisakhi day of 1699, he made a pronouncement to the effect that henceforth, the Khalsa was his form, limb of his limbs and breath of his breaths. He invested the Khalsa with the dignity of Guruship. In the Kesgarh assembly, Guru received baptism from five worthy Sikhs. When they were astonished at his demand, he said, "The Khalsa is the Guru and the Guru is the Khalsa. There is no difference between you and me. As Guru Nanak seated Guru Angad on the throne, so have I made you also a Guru."

The investing of Guruship on the Khalsa was a step of great benefit to the Sikh community. It seems that the abolition of the Guruship had a logical connection with the Guru's war against sectarianism within the Sikh community. The sects owed their origin to the ambition of the disappointed candidates for the guruship. It was not enough to boycott the existing sects, but the emerging of new sects must also be prevented. The abolition of personal Guruship was obviously an efficacious remedy of the disease. Furthermore, to impart divinity to each individual of the Khalsa organisation was, to instil confidence, establish democratic functioning of the Khalsa brotherhood and the unity amongst them.

But this development was the culmination of the process that had commenced with the inception of Sikhism. The Guru could impart Guruship to the Khalsa because essence of Guruship being truth or word was impersonal as well. And to the Khalsa he gave Guruship because, the Sikhs had already been exalted to a status equal to the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh was able to transmit Guruship to the Sikhs because there was no elective principle involved in the selection of the Guru. Each Guru was nominated by his predecessor. He could snap the human link, but the idea of new links had been propounded and expounded by the earlier Gurus.

Guru Gobind Singh effected another change in Guruship on the eve of his departure for his heavenly abode at Nanded when he spoke to his disciples that they should also regard Sri Guru Granth Sahib as their Guru along with the Panth (Khalsa). The injunction that the Granth should also be considered, as 'Guru' was also the culmination of the development underway. Word (Shabad) had already been given the status of Guru by all the Gurus. If the relative emphasis is a good guide to some conclusion, we can say that this point was more frequently stressed by Guru Arjan Dev. Guru Gobind Singh, obviously comprehended the correct import and significance of this point. This being so he updated and thus completed Sri Adi Granth by including the verses of Guru Tegh Bahadur in it and made categorical statement investing Sri Adi Granth with Guruship. The development could be effected because of the impersonal character of Guruship and the mystic identification of the Guru with the Word, the facts which were emphasised upon from the beginning of Sikh History.

Guru Gobind Singh also carried forward the social and religious aspects of the revolution launched by Guru Nanak. The successors of Guru Nanak had guided the revolution with great devotion and ability. Yet much more was needed to be done in this context. The creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh was not merely an endeavour to integrate the members of his community; it was also a powerful bid to carry to culmination his predecessor's resolutions in socio-religious life of the society. The code of conduct prescribed for the newly- created Khalsa order was so devised as to impose a strict discipline on the Sikhs, adherence of which would raise the Sikhs to the lofty ideals of Sikhism.

Theory of Struggle (Dharam Yudh)

The clear-cut formulation of the Dharam Yudh theory was also the work of Guru Gobind Singh. This theory can also be interpreted as the Theory of Progress. This theory in rudimentary form was already existing. The Gurus preceding Guru Gobind Singh followed it not only in their day-to-day life but also preached it through their sacred compositions. The vitriolic comments of Guru Nanak on the contemporary political and social systems were obviously indicative of the struggle raging in his mind to establish a new politico-social- set-up.

The cheap and senseless imitation on their part of their ruler's ways, with no other object than that of placating them was exposed as an act of servility and submission to a tyrant. It was dubbed as an act of shameful cowardice. Compromise with injustice or tyranny was thus shown as a great evil and fearlessness or heroism against tyranny a great virtue. According to Guru Arjan Dev, in the fight between good and evil, God's support would always be on the side of good, for, He is verily the smiter of the evil and the wicked and since times immemorial has been the unfailing protector of the good as against their enemies.[6] Guru Ram Dass says: "In all Jugas He has been creating savants and in all Jugas has their honour been protected by Him. Harnaksh the tyrant was smashed by Him and Prahlad the victim saved. The arrogant and the foul- tongued were forsaken while favours were showered upon Namdev.[7] Guru Arjan depicts Sikh devotees as Mall or Pehlwanra (wrestlers) in the wrestling bouts between good and evil.[8]

It was exactly to highlight this type of thinking that Guru Arjan Dev in his parting message to his son advised him to wear two swords, one symbolising Shakti and the other Gian[9] through Bhakti. Guru Hargobind, on his part, addressed himself to the tasks of shaping the minds of the people to rise and fight against injustice and un-righteousness. He collected arms, trained his people in the art of warfare by organising regular training exercises and roused them to a sense of fervent heroism by precept as well as by example. He also fought a few successful skirmishes with Mughal forces in which he and his men displayed extra ordinary valour. All this led to the building up of a glorious and never-to-be-forgotten tradition of heroism.

This tradition of upholding righteousness was further enriched by the ninth Guru. By his sacrifice he not only vindicated his faith in his stand, but also taught a lesson that oppression must be resisted. The sacrifice of the Guru blazed a new trail in so far as it was a commitment to an open struggle against the organised oppression of the state.

This then was the ideology which Guru Gobind Singh had inherited. He so modified it that it became a theory of struggle which would not only explain its aims but also boost the morale of the participants. He named this theory Dharam Yudh. The theory finalised by the Guru had the following adjuncts:

  1. that God was eternal protector of the good against the oppressors. He was also the mightiest warrior;
  2. that it was morally justified to wage war against the evil forces and tyranny;
  3. that the use of force was justified against oppression and oppressors of all kinds.

This is why the Guru was motivated to raise the importance of weapons as they constituted the vehicle of success and power. Weapons were depicted as decorating the person of the Almighty Himself thus partaking of the attribute of divinity. In consequence, they were entitled to all respect and veneration. The chief of them, the sword, was called Khal Dal Khandan (scatterer of the armies of the wicked), Sukh Santa Karnan (protector of the saints), Durmat Daman (scourage of the evil), Jag Karan (creator), Sant Ubharan (saviour) and Pratparan (sustainer). Although the force was of primordial importance in Guru Gobind Singh's theory of Dharam Yudh, it should not be confused with militarism. In militarism, force is employed for the sake of force, aggression and self-aggrandizement, but the Guru allowed its use only for a noble cause, just enough to correct the malady like a surgeon’s knife and that too as a last resort.

It is the moral duty of the people to wage war against evil. Guru Gobind Singh professed openly that he had been ordained by God to extirpate the evil and uphold the good. In this context evidence of Bhai Nand Lai is of great importance. He says:

Rakh-i-Adl o Insaf Afrokhtah Dil-i-Jabar o bedad ra Sokhta

Bina-i-Sitam ra Bar Andikhta Sar-i-Ma dalat ra bar Afrokhta

"He brightened up the force of equity and justice and burnt down the heart of tyranny and inequity. He uprooted the foundation of cruelty and lifted the head of justice."

The theory of Dharam Yudh of the Guru has been expressed very beautifully in the following excerpt from his composition Krishnaavtar.

Glory to noble souls who on their earthly way

Carry upon their lips the Name of the Lord,

And ever contemplate deep within hearts Knowing that the body is a fleeting vesture,

They make the Lord’s song, they make the Lord’s Name A boat to carry them over life's rough ocean,

They wear as a garment that is as a fortress serene detachment, Divine knowledge is the light of their minds Their cleaver's broom in their wise hands is the broom of wisdom

With it they sweep all cowardice and all falsehood.

The contemporary source such as Sri Gursobha also lends evidence to the theory of Dharam Yudh when he says:

For this was the Khalsa created to fight the evil to smite the wicked And to get rid of crisis.

Dharam Yudh as preached by Guru Gobind Singh was "not a fight to protect or promote the interests of a particular sect or creed and therefore is to be distinguished from the Christian crusade of medieval period and the Muslim fehad of the familiar variety. Nor was it a religious war in the usual sense of the term. It was a moral war waged for the victory of good over evil, for the triumph of righteousness over tyranny and oppression. His concept in traditional ethical terms was analogous to the mythological character of Goddess Durga's fight with the demons Mahikhasur, Sumbh and Nisumbh; to Lord Rama's fight with Ravan of Lanka or to Lord Krishna's struggle with Kans. It was based on dynamic view of religion which in its essence was a social catalyst. The Guru viewed religion as something committedly concerned with the problems of society and as it had a vital role to play in human affairs it must work for healthy flow of social or collective life and must of necessity contend against the ills hampering the smooth and unhindered mainstream of its existence. But the revolutionary role that the Guru visualised for religion was not to be stinted in any way by harnessing it to the narrow interests of any particular religious creed or dogma. On the contrary it was to be conducted with a view to promote the general good of the society.

Furthermore, the political and social ideals were concretised and institutionalized. Before Guru Gobind Singh, it was not so. It is to his credit that he was forthright, and clear in putting forth his views on social, political and cultural matters.

But the period of Guru Gobind was not merely a period of culmination. It was also a period of a mighty beginning. By his reforms and under the impact of his dynamic and magnetic leadership, the Sikh Community was not only strengthened but also converted into a powerful force of revolution and progress.

Notes and References

[1] M.A. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. IV, pp. 244-63.

[2] India of Aurangzeb, p. 91.

[3] Sabad(u) guru surt(i) dhun(i) chela.

Akath katha le raho nirala.

Nanak jug(i) jug(i) gur gopala.

Ek(u) sabad(u) jit(u) katha vichari.

Gurmukh(i) haumai agn(i) nivari. 44. (SGGS, p. 943)

[4] William Irvine, Later Mughals, Vol. I, p. 90.

[5] Bachittar Natak, Chapter V, Pauris 7, 9, 10.

[6]    Sakat nindak dusht khin mahe bidarian. (SGGS, p. 517)

[7] Her(i) jug(u) jug(u) bhagat upaya paij rakhda aia Ram raje.

Hernaksh dusht har(i) maria Prahlad taraia.

Ahahkaria(n) nindaka(n) pith dei, Namdeo mukh(i) laia. (SGGS, p. 451)

[8] Haun gosaih da pehalwanara. Main gur mil(i) uch dumalara. (SGGS, p. 74)

[9] Lehne dharion chhatar(u) sir sifti amrit pivdai. (SGGS, p. 966)