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Sikh Polity

Before determining the pattern of Sikh polity we will have to find answers to certain important questions: (i) Did indulgence in politics fall within the jurisdiction of Sikh religion; (ii) Did the Guru take interest in political affairs; (iii) Did political power or basic moral issues form the fulcrum of the interest of the Gurus?

So far as the first question is concerned, our reply is that politics fell within the jurisdiction of the religion of the Gurus. This fact can be deduced by moral as well as historical arguments. The Gurus as is evident from their utterances, wanted to establish an order where goodness should prevail and unrighteousness eliminated; and where people should have absolute faith in the oneness of God. To make the people righteous, the Guru laid emphasis on the discipline of the individuals as also of the groups. In Jap Guru Nanak spells out the steps which one should take to regenerate oneself. It then becomes the moral endeavour of the regenerate to make the society righteous.

The regenerated persons are variously known in Sikh religious literature. Guru Nanak calls them Gurmukhs, Guru Arjan Dev addresses them as Brahm Gyani and Guru Gobind Singh has named them Khalsa. Now what is righteousness? The Guru, somewhere explicitly and somewhere implicitly, explains that what is not based on justice, fellow-feeling, liberty and equality is unrighteous or oppression. But how to ensure righteousness? Obviously some agency is needed and in fact since the inception of the civilized society, the need has continuously been felt.

It was this need to which state and politics owe its existence. As a matter of fact, need to translate certain moral issues have always been the determinant of the nature and the pattern of the political power. In tribal society, the panchayats or patriarch of a tribe was the symbol of power. When the society transcended that stage, the oligarchy became the wielder of the power. Oligarchy gave place to Monarchy when the former outlived its utility. The changes in the society on moral and social planes always effected corresponding changes in the polity or the agency to wield political power.

The Sikh Gurus who were committed to certain moral issues which formed the basis of the society of their concept could not help take interest in politics. But their interest was not simply an expression of their anguish for the political unrighteousness. It had moral dimension also. For a proper appreciation of Guru Nanak's response to the events in question, the Babar Vani verses must be considered together. In these, Guru Nanak mentions the sufferings caused by war and explains that all this has happened because of the people's blind pursuit of wealth and riches. Because of wealth, it went hard with many. Wealth cannot be amassed without sins and it does not accompany the dead. Indeed, "He who is destroyed is first deprived of his virtue."[1]

It is thus clear that Guru Nanak's response to war and to sufferings caused by war is not only an ample expression of his rage but also involved a moral issue, the issue of the importance of virtue in the nation's healthy growth and stance.

Historical references in Sri Guru Granth Sahib also go to prove that political affairs were not alien to the Guru's religion. Guru Nanak's familiarity, even interest in contemporary politics, may be inferred from his expression in his verses such as: Sultan, Patshah, Shah-i-Alam, takht, taj, hukm, malik, sikdar, qazi, chaudhari, muqqaddam, raiyat. Guru Nanak also makes use of the references such as court, palaces, royal canopy, elephants, armour, cavalry trumpets, treasury, coins, mint, salary, taxes and revenue-free land.[2]

Furthermore, in one of his hymns, Guru Nanak, in a general reference, called the rulers as 'blood sucking rajas'.

The rajas are lions and the muqqaddams dogs;

They fall upon the raiyat day and night.

Their agents inflict wound with claws (of power)

And the dogs lick blood and relish the liver.[3]

A condemnation of the contemporary rule is unmistakable here. It may be pointed out, however, that Guru Nanak's attack is not directed against the ruler as 'Muslims’ or as 'Hindus'. In fact, the bracketing of the Muqqaddams (who mostly were non- Muslims) with the Rajas strongly suggests that Guru Nanak adopts the standpoint of common people, the Raiyat, as against ruler and their subordinates or agents. In another verse, Guru Nanak appears to assume a close connection between the holders of political power and the respective professions of their faith; he also notices 'discrimination' against those who do not belong to their faith. Guru Nanak says:

The Ad Purakh is called Allah,

Now that the turn of the Shaikhs has come;

The gods and their temples are taxed Such is now the custom.[4]

The successors of Guru Nanak also had full knowledge of the contemporary political affairs. As Guru Arjan assumed pontification and took some steps to consolidate Sikhism, Jahangir began to view him with suspicion. Guru Arjan was also responsive to the political stands of the state. Perceiving the reaction that his activities had evoked in Government circles, the Guru embarked upon the course of preparing his people to face the challenges, polemical as well as physical, with determination and wisdom. On the eve of his departure for Lahore in response to the summons of Jahangir, Guru Arjan left a message for his son (Guru) Hargobind that he should sit on the throne determinedly and maintain as much army as he could afford. The message was an epitome of the active interest of the fifth Guru in politics. A little earlier than the moment referred to above, the fifth Guru advised Bhai Bidhi Chand and Bhai Pairana to join the personal staff of Hargobind and hinted that their martial qualities would be utilized fully in the period of his son. Guru Hargobind's open adoption of the policy of Miri and Piri had left absolutely no doubt that the political affairs were not extraneous to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. So is the case of Guru Har Rai and Guru Harkrishan. Guru Har Rai's keen interest in the welfare of Prince Dara bears out our aforesaid assertion. Guru Tegh Bahadur's execution and Guru Gobind Singh's wars against the Mughals and Hill Rajas also point to the conclusion that the Gurus were as much alive to the contemporary political happenings as to their moral and spiritual objectives. In Bachittar Natak XIII, 9-10, Guru Gobind Singh writes:

Those of Baba (Nanak) and those of Babar

God Himself makes them both know the former thus;

as the king of Religion.

Guess the later then as worldly king.

They who fail to render that what is due to the (House of) Baba The minions of Babar seize them and make exactions upon them

And inflict severe punishments upon such defaulters;

In addition, their worldly goods and property are looted and taken away.

In these lines the Guru says in unambiguous terms that there are two forces which claim allegiance of men's souls on earth. The Truth and Morality as Religion, and the state as embodiment of mere utilitarianism and secular politics. The primary allegiance of man is to the truth and morality, and those who fail in this allegiance, suffer under the subjugation of worldly state, unnourished by the courage and hope which is born through un-swerving adherence to the primary allegiance. In this perpetual struggle between the state and the church for exclusive possession of the soul of man, a man of culture and religion shall not lose sight ever of his primary allegiances. He who does so does it at his own peril, for, by doing so, he helps give birth to times in which everything is force, politics of utility and poverty. The Guru does not assert that this perpetual dichotomy and antagonism of the church and the state must be resolved, or even that it is capable of being resolved by the suppression or subjugation of the one by the other. Rather, he appears to recognise their eternal antagonism and character and in this antagonism sees the hope and glory of man; the social and political context in which the Sikh way of life is to be practised. The Church must perpetually correct and influence the state without aiming to destroy or absorb it, as the history shows that the attempt of the one to oust the other meets with no lasting success. Each of the two antagonistic entities surface again after having been crushed in vain and both appear as if bound together. This is what the Guru means, when he declares in the text, that the house of Baba Nanak and the house of Babar, God makes both of them and those who repudiate their allegiance to the house of Nanak suffer grievously, without hope at the hands of the state. Obviously the Guru's corpus of thought also includes also the matters which are essentially political.

Origin of Sovereign Power

Having decided that the Guru's moral order does not exclude political matters, the next question which arises is "Did the Gurus have some definite idea of polity?"

The Gurus were not political philosophers in the sense Plato and Rousseau were. Therefore we do not find any particular political thesis in their writings or utterances. All the same, there are hints scattered in their writings which give quite distinct picture of the polity visualized by him. The cornerstone of the polity was that the sovereignty must reside in the minds of the people. The Guru says, "The Guru's sovereignty is full of twenty measures, but that of the Sangat, as the mouth piece of the people is of over-riding paramountcy, of twenty-one measures. This dictum repeatedly occurs throughout the Sikh literature from the earliest times as the basic principle of organisation and excercise of power, in the Sikh society, Guru Nanak, in the sixteenth Canto (Pauri) of Jap says the Punch must be recognised in the organisation of power (literally in the court). The Panchas alone are fit to occupy seats of supreme authority for exercise of power.

The Panch here connotes 'people of five directions, meaning thereby people of the four directions of the compass and the people residing at the centre, the venue of the assembly.' It was in exegesis of this text of Sri Guru Granth Sahib apparently, that Guru Gobind Singh while glorifying the Panj Pyaras declares, "I am ever present unseen, in the collective deliberations of the Panchas and there is no higher guidance on earth besides."[5] According to Guru Gobind Singh, "The spirit of the people is the spirit of the God. When anyone causes suffering to the people, God's wrath falls on him."[6] Once when a very prominent Brahman, Kesho Datt, visited Anandpur, he felt insulted for not being given privileged treatment. He condemned outright and cursed, what he called the low-caste crowd of the Sikhs who were treated better than the Brahmins and Kshatriyas.

Guru Gobind Singh calmly replied, "Do not blame me for ignoring you, for all are equal in my eyes. I will send you beddings and other things you need, but do not say a word against my inspired disciples."[7] Then glorifying the people, who were condemned by the Brahmins, the Guru said:

All the battles I have won against tyranny I have fought with the devoted backing of these people Through them only have I been able to bestow gifts

Through their help I have escaped          

The love and generosity of the Sikhs Have enriched my heart and home.

Through their grace I have attained all learning.

Through their help in battle, I have slain my enemies 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 True service is the service of these people;

I am not inclined to serve others of higher castes.

Charity will bear fruit in this and the next world If given to such worthy people as these Ail other sacrifices and charity is profitless

From head to foot, whatever I call my own All I possess or carry, dedicate to these people.[8]

Guru Gobind Singh wrote this unique Ode to the Khalsa people glorifying their innate strength and power merely sixty years before Rousseau wrote his Social Contract and about 150 years before Marx formulated his Manifesto. For the Gurus, the people were the prophets of future; they were the first to point in world history that the fate of future civilization was not in the hands of mighty individuals but in the hands of the morally and spiritually awake people.

By people, he does not mean people of a particular society, religious group or social organization; rather the people in general, the people of the whole world, the whole mankind. According to Dr. Trilochan Singh, "The concept of society is found in two senses in the writings of the Sikh Gurus." It is generally synonymous with human society. It is also used in a limited sense for religious groups. When, for example, Guru Nanak criticises the dirty practices of the Jains, he does not condemn the religion but only the social aspect of this religious society. When Guru Nanak says, "The age is a drawn sword, the kings are butchers, goodness hath taken wings and flown; in the dark night of falsehood, I see not the moon of Truth anywhere."[9] He is not speaking of the ruler of any particular state or country but of the world situation at that time. In his writings, Guru Gobind Singh addresses the whole human society. Even if he refers to a particular person or group, the lesson is for the whole mankind. Guru Amar Das has made it clear; Parthai sakhi maha purkh bolde, sanjhi sagal jahane' "When sages speak about a particular person, the moral is for the whole humanity."[10]

Even the national cultures which divide people are regarded by the Gurus as superficial and artificial. The reasons assigned by Guru Gobind Singh for such differences are: Nyare, nyare, desan ko prabhao hai; different social attitude of countries have created these differences.

Prof. J.S. Bains, in his article 'Political ideals of Guru Gobind Singh' says that, "In conformity with the teachings of Guru Nanak, the tenth Guru had argued that authority in every sphere ultimately derives its validity from God and not from any human source." In support of his thesis the learned professor writes, "In the Zafarnama which was addressed to Aurangzeb, the Guru had mentioned that God is the True Emperor of Earth and beyond and that He is the Master of both the worlds." He (the Guru) dilated on this point with more clarity when he said:

The successors of both Baba Nanak and Babar Were created by God Himself.

Recognize the former as spiritual And the latter as a temporal ruler.

According to the learned professor a similar idea was portrayed by the Gurus when they uttered the following words:

By His (God) hukm are all things formed

Not one is blessed, save by his hukm

by His hukm alone nature doth run her course

All serve beneath His hukm, and none may act without it

Under Thy hukm, O God, hath all been done

and naught of itself alone.

We, however, do not agree with the Professor who in our view, has not been able to correctly interpret the verses of Guru Gobind Singh. The original text nowhere says, explicitly or by implication that the church and the state 'both derive authority from God Himself.' It only says 'God maketh them both' as the instruments of His Will. The word in the text, kare neither literally, nor here can be interpreted to mean 'authorized'; it simply means made by or maketh. Similarly the word pehchano does not mean in the sense of a commandment—thou shalt recognize. It means, know, identify, understand, perceive. The (house) of Baba means the true religion on Earth, and the text says, understand the term to mean thus as such. Likewise Unmano (understand) cannot and does not mean 'recognise' and 'accept'. It literally and here in the text means understand, see, guess, infer, that the house of Babar means, the secular worldly state.

That the people were held to be the wielder of sovereign powers in Sikh polity can be seen from the examples of the Gurus. Once the Guru saluted the sepulcher of Dadu in Rajasthan. The Sikhs objected to this act of the Guru on the ground that it was not in conformity with the fundamental Sikh tenets and did not hesitate awarding Tankhah (religious punishment) to the Guru. The classic example of the high esteem in which the Guru held the Sikhs was when after selecting the 'five loved ones', he partook the holy water at their hands, thereby giving the Khalsa the pride of having selected their leader. This emphasis on popular basis of sovereignty and its equation with divine mandate was a unique idea and may be considered as a distinct contribution to democratic theory.[11]

The next issue before us is, how the sovereignty should operate. The Gurus seemed to be aware of this problem. They evolved various organizations for the people's sovereignty to be exercised. The most important among them is the institution of Sangat.

Sangat means an assembly or a union of men meeting together at a common place for perusal of a common activity mostly related to the divine order. One of the main teachings of the Guru to all those who brought faith in them was to form Sangats. Wherever Guru Nanak went, the Sikhs built a Dharamsala where they met every day and sang the praises and the glory of Lord. When the Sidhas asked Guru Nanak to show them miracles, the Guru replied, "I have no power for miracles. I derive all my power from the divine word (Bani), and the Sangat. Away from Sangat, there is not a mole of support to me."[12] Anyone irrespective of caste, creed and clime can become the member of the Sangat. All services can be performed by the Sikh and non-Sikh devotees except the functions of baptism which can be performed by the ordained Khalsa who has lived up to the ideals. Sangat is not merely a gathering of worshippers nor is it just a forum for seeking personal salvation and blessedness, but it has stood for the total re­orientation of life of the individuals and society towards a creative purposeful existence. This being so, all the discussions concerning every aspect of man's life—from fair dealings in business and from disputes to inner conflicts of the soul and the priests were referred to Sangat. Sangat was respected and considered so important that even the Gurus used to submit to its decisions. Guru Arjan refused the marriage of his son Hargobind with Chandu's daughter because Sangat of Delhi had decided so.

In fact, the decision of the Sangats have always been considered based on reasons, dispassion and unbiased deliberations, the verdicts of a composite higher self, subordinating the petty considerations of the composite lower self, 'Man Niwan Mat(i) Uchchi Mat(i) ka Rakha Aap Wahe Guru’. Such decisions are considered to be the decisions of God who guides men to logical inferences which are not overcome by personal or emotional considerations. Such an atmosphere prevails among the members of the Sangat sitting at a place which has assumed the name Gurdwara (Dharamsal during Guru Nanak's period), literally meaning the door of the Guru.

The idea of Sangat is very old in India and if its etymology is traced, it was grounded in the polity of the early Indo- Aryans. There is a mention of Samiti, or a folk assembly in Rig Veda where there is a prayer for 'a common assembly and a common policy.' In Atharva Veda also, the aforesaid assembly has been spoken of. The Atharva declares that 'this Samiti, (the Sikh equivalent of which is the Sangat) is a daughter of God.' The institution of Sangat continued to serve the society till it got smothered under the weight of monarchical institutions.

As regards the constituents of Sangat, it may be said that it is composed of the people, sincere, truthful and honest, dedicated to the Guru's cause which is no other than the cause of the whole people. Sangat, like the Sangh of the Buddhist and the Samiti or Sabha of the Indo-Aryans, is no Sangat if its members are not well-meaning and honest. The members who do not speak and act bonafides, are no honest members, and the honest and well-meaning members are those who are not swayed by bias or favour and who speak out truthfully and fearlessly and are guided by the Guru spirit.

So far as the mode of functioning of Sangat is concerned, it is very simple and straightforward. There is always a congregation in the presence of Guru-persons or eternal Guru, Granth Sahib. At the end of the prayer the aggrieved person would stand up with his hands folded and submit his complaint to the gathering or he could make a report to the Granthi (reciter of the scripture) of the Gurdxvara who would arrange to convey it to the Sangat. The Sangat may take a snap decision or may decide upon some other procedure to satisfy the complainant. The other procedure could be formation of a subcommittee of five noble souls (Panch) who would deliberate on the complaint and arrive at the decision. Mohsin Fani, a contemporary of the sixth Guru, and a traveler from Iran, was amazed at the amount and intensity of one's faith in the Sangat. He found that a Sikh would stand up and submit with his folded hands to the Sangat that he is sinful and the Sangat should pray to God, the Guru, to pardon and forgive his misdeeds and grant him salvation. His inner conflicts were removed and he enjoyed peace of mind. If he lived the remaining life with caution, he was sure to die a happy man.

Sangat '$ working is a two-way activity. Every member of the Sangat should have faith in it and every person who sits in the Sangat should be a disciplined citizen of the Guru's kingdom. Thus there should be perfect rapport between the complainant and the collective will of the Sangat. The complainant should feel that his own voice is also a part of the people’s voice and the Sangat is not only his own self, enlarged and widened, but because of its nature of collectivity, it has gained a high degree of divinity and hence its decision will be just and true.

Panth and Gurmata

Next to Sangat, at local level, there were regional or circle Sangats. During the time of Guru Tegh Bahadur, there was a Bari Sangat at Dacca whose duty was to guide the local Sangat as also to devise plans to ensure that the Guru's commands are disseminated to the people and problems arising were solved.

No account of the operation of sovereignty is complete without reference to the institution of Panth.

Panth from Sanskrit Patha, Pathin or Patham means literally a way, a passage or a path and figuratively, a way of life, religious creed or culture. In Sikh terminology word Panth stands for Sikh faith as well as those who tread on the path of that faith, that is the Sikh people as a whole. It represents the invisible mystic body composing all those who profess Sikhism as their faith and en-compassing lesser bodies, religious as well as political, claiming to represent the whole of the Sikh population or any section of it. Panth for the Sikhs is the supreme earthly glory having full claim on their allegiance. It transcends any of its components and functional agencies.

A further dimension to the concept of Panth was brought about by Guru Gobind Singh. He introduced the initiation of Sikhs into Panth through administration of Pahul prepared by double-edged. Bhai Gurdas Singh's kabit, 'transformed Sangat into Khalsa7 The Panth was now identified with the Guru himself, "The Khalsa is my life and soul." The Panth, now called Khalsa Panth, was the Guru Panth. Guru Gobind Singh at the time of his death declared Adi Granth as the Guru eternal for the Sikhs. The lineage of living Gurus came to an end and the Guru Panth became the corporate body of the Sikhs under the guidance of Guru Granth. By virtue of its status the concept as well as the fact that Panth as a corporate being was a sovereign power, it got further strength and affirmation.

The occasional meets of the whole Panth is a long standing tradition in the history of the Khalsa. In those days of the Gurus, Sikh Sangat in small representative Jathas (Bands) used to come from all the Sikh centers and listened to the Guru's word for some days. At these annual conclaves, the Guru also gave instructions about the propagation of the Sikh jiwan jugati (way of life). When Guru Gobind Singh passed guruship on to Adi Granth and the Panth, the institution of Panth acquired unique importance and no wonder the Sikhs began to look upon, it as the apex organisation.

After the capture of Baba Banda Singh, the Mughal rulers began persecution of the Sikhs with renewed vengeance. The Sikhs organised themselves into Jathas and fled to local or far- off jungles, hills or deserts of Malwa. Irrespective of the blockade by the enemy, the Sikhs would come to Amritsar at least twice a year on Diwali and Baisakhi days. Such conclaves began to be known as Panthic congregation. It is well known that in these conclaves very important decisions were taken which played a significant role in the history of the Sikhs.


The decision of the Panth taken in the presence of the Guru (after Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Granth and Guru Panth) was called Gurmata. The first Gurmata is said to have taken place during the time of Guru Hargobind. Sohan Kavi, for example, uses the term Mata in his work Gurbilas Padshahi Chhevin in the sense of a resolution. It related to the resolve of the Sikhs to fight against the Mughal troops detailed from Lahore to stop the activities of Guru Hargobind which the Mughal Subedar considered an incipient threat to Mughal government. The prefix 'Guru' to Mata was not fixed at that time, although it was much revered and respected and regarded as Guru's decision because, since the inception of Sikhism, it had been embedded in the Sikh psyche that Sangat is the abode of the Guru. Sainapat, who was a court poet of Guru Gobind Singh has left an eye-witness account of the activities of the Guru in his work Gursobha. He refers to a Mata arrived at by Panchas of a certain locality where the Sikhs of the locality were asked to receive Khande-Ki-Pahul. Although he does not prefix 'Guru' to the word Mata, his narrative means the same thing. In December 1705 at Chamkaur, the five Sikhs symbolically representing the authority of the Panth, adopted a Mata ordering Guru Gobind Singh to vacate the mud fortress of Chamkaur and save his life to carry on his mission. The

Guru who was initially reluctant to vacate simply acquiesced in what the Panj Pyaras did. At Naraina, when the Guru saluted the sepulcher of Dadu by pointing his arrow at it, the Khalsa objected and took a decision to award religious punishment to the Guru, for doing an act which was violative of Sikh doctrine. The Guru most willingly presented himself for punishment and admired his disciples for their right thinking and courage.

The Guru all along especially after the creation of the Khalsa endeavoured hard to project the Khalsa Panth and Panj Pyaras as a source of authority. He made it clear whenever he found an opportunity. When the Guru was on the verge of leaving for his heavenly abode, he reaffirmed that all the affairs of the Panth would be regulated before Sri Guru Granth Sahib by the council of five beloved ones chosen by the committed Khalsa. The verdict was to be called Gurmata. It was to be adopted by the assembly of the Khalsa unanimously. Its implementation was binding on the whole Panth. Any infringement was to be considered sacrilegious.

Some scholars especially non-Indians have stumbled on the facts and have drawn wrong conclusion regarding the meeting for Gurmata as the 'Greatest Council’ of the Sikhs. James Brown used the term 'Grand Diet' for Gurmata and Forster referred to Gurmata as the 'Grand Convention of Sikhs'.

All these views betray ignorance or faulty perception of the facts. Historical evidence is available in abundance to testify that Gurmata was decision or a resolution adopted by the body of the Khalsa present at one time at a given place. The statement of Ratan Singh Bhangu and later its endorsement by scholars such as Dr. N.K. Sinha and Dr. Ganda Singh have finally settled the issue that Gurmata was a decision taken unanimously by the assembly of the Khalsa in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and it was called so because the tenth Guru vested the gurship jointly in Khalsa Panth and the Adi Granth.

Usually Gurmatas were passed at Sri Akal Takhat (Amritsar) but under special circumstances, these could be passed anywhere. The essential condition being the assemblage of the Sikhs in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. According to Ratan Singh Bhangu, the leaders of Khalsa could determine any place for the meeting of the Khalsa Panth and adopt resolutions. It does not follow, however, that most important Gurmata were not adopted at Sri Akal Takhat in Amritsar. During the eighteenth century, Amritsar had become the most important centre for the collective activities of the Khalsa. When the leaders as well as their followers came to visit the Darbar Sahib at the time of Baisakhi and Diwali, matters of importance concerning the Sikh Panth could be discussed and resolved. Since the decisions were taken in the presence of The Guru by the Panth, Gurmata besides being the decision became symbolic form of authority of the collective will of the whole Khalsa. Gurmata (decision) could be arrived at local level as well. In that case, local Sangat would gather in the presence of the Guru and take decision. Such decisions (Gurmatas) had as much sanctity as the Gurmata reached at Panthic level.

Panj Pyaras

Panj Pyaras, literally meaning the five beloved ones was the name given to the five Sikhs, Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Himmat Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh, Bhai Muhkam Singh and Bhai Sahib Singh who were so designated by Guru Gobind Singh on March 29, 1699 at the historic congregation at Anandpur Sahib and formed the nucleus of the Khalsa as the first batch to receive at his hands Khande Di Pahul after they had proved their total commitment to the Guru person, Guru Gobind Singh, his ideology and his cause. The Guru then sought baptism from them whom he had just then baptised. The event symbolised the equation of the Guru with Khalsa whom they were representing. Earlier, only the Guru and his nominated Masands could initiate one into the faith through the ceremony of Charan Pahul but now the Guru as well as the Khalsa could do so. These chosen five in fact acted on behalf of the Guru in the latter's physical absence and enjoyed all powers. It is this equation between the two which Bhai Gurdas Singh highlights when he proclaims that great is Guru Gobind Singh who is both Guru and a disciple.

The event signaled many things. It signified that the Guru and the Panj Pyaras and for that matter, the whole of the Khalsa, were one in spirit and therefore coequals. There exists no difference even on temporal plane in terms of authority, ideology and cause. Implied in this was the motivation provided to the Khalsa to initiate people to the order of the Khalsa and do other things on the Guru's behalf. Following their example, any five baptised Sikhs who followed Khalsa discipline could constitute Panj Pyaras at any place and at any time but less in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. In fact the institution of Panj Pyaras was neither fixed or exclusive. The Guru was believed to be present among them and their collective wisdom implied the Guru’s wish. In the perception of Dr. Dharam Singh, "the Guru created a very viable alternative for the institution of person Guru. Understandably, the Panj Pyaras became the cynosure of the Sikhs, a symbol of authority temporal as well as spiritual, an institution to project and radiate Sikh values as well as to operate affairs in the light of the Guru-spirit. Panj Pyaras have collectively acted as supreme authority representing the Guru-Panth.

In 1705, the Guru, his two sons and forty Sikhs put up stout resistance to the Mughal forces whose number was manifold more than the Guru's soldiers. The Guru's ranks thinned further and if the resistance had been continued, the Guru might have suffered grave consequences. At this juncture five Sikhs waited upon him in the form of Panj Pyaras and commanded him to leave the mud fort of Chamkaur for some safe place. The Guru had to submit to the dictates of the Pyaras. By doing this, he reiterated the doctrine of collegial leadership in the direction of state policies. The collegiality of leadership means that all party matters are accomplished by all party members directly or through representatives who all are subject to some rules. The collegial leadership now is popularly known as Panch Pardhani. It does not mean that the five can appropriate into themselves the power, the authority, the temporal sovereignty in the Guru-Panth. It can have significance on the sense of Sangat attuned to the Divine in the holy presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib spontaneously choosing five Gur-Sikhs, deliberating upon or resolving some issue but without acting as autocrats.

According to Dr. Sher Singh when mutual discussion, persuasions or understanding each other's points of view did not help the assembly, the Sangat or the Panchayat to arrive at some definitive decision; then the Five were selected unanimously to give their decision after giving proper hearing and giving due thought at Panthic Meets, even when there was no concern, Panj Pyaras were selected to give judgment which was considered sacred and was binding on all. The decisions so arrived at were considered sacrosanct and binding on all parties.

Form of Government

Flaving given the main features of the Sikhs polity as developed up to Guru Gobind Singh, we have reached the stage where it is not very difficult to judge the form of Government as envisaged by the Gurus.

Monarchical political structure does not fit in the concepts of the Gurus and Sikh polity. When the Sikh religion was being evolved, there were the Hindu monarchs as well as Muslim. The institution of the Hindu monarchy is very old. In the Rig Veda, the monarchy appears as the only and the normal form of government. In the Aitreya Brahmana, supplement of the Rig Veda it is asserted that the law can never overpower lawlessness except through a monarch. "In the war between devas and asuras, asuras were victorious. The devas opined that it was on account of our having no king that asuras had defeated us. They all then agreed to have a king." Rig Vedic tradition accorded divine sanction, for, in the Manav Dharam Sastra, it is laid down that God Himself created the king to protect people from lawlessness. Since the King ruled by divine right, he was a God, unamenable to the control or opinions of the people as far as the theory goes and therefore;

"Even an infant king must not be despised, as though a mere mortal, for he is a great god in human form."

The king to be formally invested with god-head must, however, be anointed, with the Abhiseka Ceremony by the Brahmin priest, for an unanointed king is an unlawful king whom the gods do not favour. An unanointed king is a term of contempt in Hindu politics, and it is declared that such barbarous customs are the hallmark of dirty Westerners and foreigners. According to Arthshastra of Kautalya, 'a single wheel cannot turn and so, government is possible only with assistance.' In this way Arthshastra recommends that a king should appoint ministers and listen to their advice.

Elaborating the concept of the Hindu monarchy, Sirdar Kapur Singh says,

This is the eternal triangle of Hindu monarchy, the god king, the priestly Brahmins and the ministers by royal choice. Here is a king who has no legislative powers and whose function is to uphold the social structure of Varanasram Dharma as laid down in the Brahmanic sacred texts, whose formal installation is dependent upon the approval and good-will of the hereditary priestly class of Brahmins, and who is constantly surrounded by a cliche of ministers of his own creation, who tend to usurp powers and replace him. This Hindu polity ensures a static conservative society which abhors social progress and change as intrinsically undesirable and dangerous, for the Manavdharama Sastra bids a citizen 'to walk in that path of good and virtuous people which his father and grandfather followed; while he walks in that, he will not suffer harm.' It further ensures that this society is upheld by an autocratic king, who rules only by divine right but as a divine being, answerable to no mortal on earth, as far the theory goes. As a necessary consequence this form of government ensures the intellectual leadership of the Hindu society to the priestly Brahmins who are exhypothesis wedded to the Varnasram Dharma, the four-fold economic-political structure of the Hindu social pyramid.

Obviously the Hindu monarchy as declared above according to which the ruler is divine is alien to Sikh polity, in the sense that it is a part of the Divine. He/She is not divine in the sense that he is infallible. Sovereignty does not reside in one man, rather it belongs to people as it emerges out of them. The Sikh polity does not recognise any exclusive priestly class to anoint the king. According to the Gurus, there can be no loyalty to super-individual state if there is no rule of law or no permanent civil service. Morever the four-fold economic- political structure of the Hindu society has no place in the Sikh political scheme. The Sikhs throughout their formative period from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh were continuously made to realise that they formed the microcosm of macrocosm and if they regenerated themselves and practised the programme as laid down by the Gurus, they were very honourable, and collectively they were as good as the Guru himself, even superior to him. By passing on physical guruship to the Panth, the Sikhs were made fully responsible and divine. Such people fully awakened to their inherent potentialities and responsibilities could not but afford the democratic spirit. The idea of deifying any individual or glorification of any person which might lead to the growth of personality cult was rejected as irrelevant to the Sikh way of governance. The institution of Langar, Sangat and the Khalsa have also nourished and sustained democratic ideals. The Sikhs for the greater part of the eighteenth century were zealous about holding the democratic ideals aloft. The authority of Fatu-Hat-Nama-i- Samadi avers that Banda Singh was not unhampered while taking important decisions at crucial moments and their struggle by his own followers. He bowed to the majority decisions of the Sikhs while deciding about the offer of a negotiated settlement made to them by Abdus Samad Khan.

Islamic monarchy was also in no way better than Hindu monarchy. In the Islamic monarchy as it existed in India contemporaneous of the Gurus, the king assumes the status of Prophet Mohammad's apostle instead of that of God, though by no means less exalted, as is apparent from the claim, which the Mughal Emperors made for themselves of being Zilli-Illahi, the shadow of God on earth. The laws of the static conservative society which he is required to uphold are derived from the Koran and the Hadith, instead of the Vedas and the Dharamshastras, and the hereditary intellectual leadership of the Brahmins is replaced by the arrogant presumptions and prerogative of the Ulemas. Likewise the Islamic monarch has his ministers selected and appointed by Royal arbitration who are absolutely subservient to him.

Muslim type of monarchy also did not fit in the frame­work of the polity of the Sikh Gurus for those very reasons which did not qualify Hindu monarchy.

The Gurus evolved a new form of government to which Guru Gobind Singh gave the name of Khalsa Raj—Divine kingdom; though its five beloved ones who happened to belong to five castes and five regions of India: Bhai Daya Singh, a Kashatariya, belongs to Punjab; Bhai Mohkam Singh, a washerman from Dwarka (Gujrat); Bhai Sahib Singh, a Barber from Deccan; Bhai Dharam Singh, a jat from (U.P.) and Bhai Himmat Singh, a Cook from Jagannath Puri in the Eastern India. He thus, in a unique way, secured an inter-regional unity of India. He made all the representatives to eat from the same pan and the Guru himself also ate from the same container. The attempt at inter-regional unity and inter-communal identity besides being a divine act was also a political weapon. The Guru was planning for the establishment of the Khalsa Commonwealth. Corresponding to these five regional representations, he also established five regional seats of authority, for Eastern India, the throne of Patna, for the Deccan the throne at Nanded (Hazur Sahib), for the Panjab, at Akal Takht Sahib at Amritsar, for the hilly Himachal at Anandpur and for the Southern Punjab in Takht Damdama Sahib. Five regions of India, five seats of authority, five representative beloved ones, thus wise the Guru wanted to establish the Republic of the Five.

Sikh polity as it is based on Sikh doctrine, Sikh ethical code, the response of the Guru to various challenges seems to have the following obligations to defray:

  1. It shall strive to propagate, to uphold and to make it a basic that there is inviolable sovereignty of the human person. If God is the true sovereign (Sacha Patshah) in the spiritual and temporal realms, then as a creation of God, man/ woman partakes of the sovereignty of the Divine.
  2. In consonance with this adumbrated understanding, man/woman is entitled to freedom of worship, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom from fear and freedom to pursue any interest.

The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur was symbolic of the assertion of the fundamental right to freedom of conscience with related freedoms of religion, belief and practice both on individual and corporate levels. The freedom with the Guru was not an empirical expediency in religiously heterogeneous society, but a transcendent value described by Guru Gobind Singh as Dharma in Bachittar Natak, characteristic of multi­religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society that Sikhism sought to evolve as the composite integrated Indian/global society based on religion and political pluralism. It was in furtherance of this historical mission that the fifth Guru envisaged a nonsectarian, non-communal, all inclusive integrated polity wherein there would be no room for religious, social or political exclusiveness.

"All are co-equal partners in their common wealth with none as excluded and alien."[13]

  1. It shall restructure society on equalitarian bases. It shall reject the concept of hierarchical fixity as the tradition- honoured principle of social organisation reflected in caste system which in its turn had to follow orthodox law of Karma. It shall also discountenance other differences based on creed, wealth, race et al., and instead, it would lend full recognition to worth and merit of each individual who is viewed in Sikhism as the very macrocosm of God. It shall see that individual is not reduced to the status of a mere ego in a machine or a mere honey gathering insect on a beehive. It is for this reason that Sikhism conceives of the religious evolution of a man as a necessary and integral pre-requisite and condition of its march towards the ideal society.

In this perspective, it would not be out of place to remark that the baptismal ceremony introduced by Guru Gobind Singh had deep sociological implications. It provided a new formative principle, process and channel of vertical mobility to the lower classes and castes in their own right on an equalitarian basis, assuredly in sharp contrast to the traditional process where by a lower group having circumstantially gained power or wealth would try to simulate the customs, manners, ritual and even caste denominations of the higher castes for acceptance on a higher rung in the hierarchical ladder.

It shall respect and promote pluralism—religious as well as social, for; Sikh polity is not only grounded in Sikhism but it has also sprouted and nourished by it.

The different ethnicity of the first five Sikhs initiated into the Order of the Khalsa, the sacrament of the holy Amrit by Guru Gobind Singh mean that Sikh dispensation was not bound down to a particular ethnicity. Guru Gobind Singh in his composition Akal Ustat refers to different people in terms of their ethnic identities suggesting that they are not exclusive, rather fragments of Divinity, each fragment being whole in itself and a part of the whole; and ever striving to realise that whole through love as a value and as the destiny.

The whole of the Earth planet being revered as 'mother' in Guru Nanak Jap Ji, there is no specific holy land or a 'promised land.' This type of understanding, Sarbat Da Bhala (betterment of the whole universe) is remembered in daily Sikh congregational prayer, taking in its embrace such universal issues as human rights, gender equality, the empowerment of the lowest suppressed and marginalised sect of society etc.

  1. Next important feature of the Khalsa Republic was to assume that every individual must engage himself/herself in honest productive labour and there shall be no exploitation of a man by another man with capital or spi or spiovery. The accumulated wealth shall not be employed as the instrument of exploitation and there shall be no privilegentia based on the white collar and gift of the gab.

Khalsa Republic is expected to achieve all this including those listed in the foregoing paragraphs not through coercion and imposition but through transformation, possibly through genuine religious projection of the basic attitudes of the individuals transformation that progressively destroys narrow selfishness. This is the moral imperative for the Khalsa State. It is not a supra individual identity as Hegel thought, to which obedience of an individual is due and for which an individual may be sacrificed.

It shall not be, as it cannot be a theocratic state. Firstly, in Sikhism, there is no cannonised priestly class. Secondly, the source and sanction of secular law lies in the society expressed through the will of the people. Thirdly, Sikhism does not discriminate against individual or group on the ground of creed, caste, sex or class. All are equally entitled to a place in Such Khand via any religious path of their choosing and faith. In fact Sikh polity is neither communal nor Unitarian in character. This being so, religious unitarianism as well as religious totalitarianism is repugnant to the spirit of Sikhism. Nor shall it assume the character of communal state. The reasons are not far to seek. Firstly, it goes against the multireligious, multi-communitarian, pluralistic society which finds validity and sanctification in Sikhism. Secondly, Sikhism does not entertain co-related concepts of Chosen People and the Promised Land to those in Jewish tradition where God is said to have promised to Ibrahim to give his descendants the land of Canaan (now Israel) for an ever-lasting possession. Thirdly, "The Khalsa baptised by Guru Gobind Singh symbolises a generic sociological category representing the full-fledged sovereign Society, and not any particular sect or group."

Notes and References

[1] Jis no ap(i) khuae kartd khus(i) lae chahgial. (SGGS, p. 417)

[2] The relevant verses occur in Sri Rag (Astpadian), Rag Gauri (Astpadian), Rag Asa, Japji, Rag Vadhans (Chhant and Alahnian), Var Majh etc.

[3] Raje shin(n) muqqaddam kute. Jae jagaean baithe sute.

Chakar nehda(n) pain ghao. Rat(u)pit(u) kutiho chat(i) jaho. (SGGS, p. 1288)

[4] Ad(i) purakh ko Allah kahiai sekhah ai vari.

Deval devatian kar(u) laga aisl kirat(i) chali. (SGGS, p. 1191)

[5] Kapur Singh, Parasharprasna, p. 349.

[6] Khalak Khalk Ki jankai, Khalk dukhavai nah. (Tankhahnama)

[7] Sikhism and Indian Society, Indian Institute of Advance Studies.

[8] Guru Gobind Singh, Dasam Granth, translated by Dr. Trilochan Singh.

[9] Kal kati raje kasai dharm pankh kar udaria.

Kur amavas such chandrama disai nahin keh charia. (SGGS, p. 145)

[10] Trilochan Singh, "Social Philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh," article published by the Indian Institute of Advance Studies, Vol. IV, 1967.

[11] Kapur Singh, Parasharprasna, p. 324.

[12] Sidh(i) bolan(i) sun(i) Nanaka tuh(i) jag no karamat dikhal.

Kujh(u) vikhalen asan no tuh(i) kioh dhil awehi lal.

Baba bole Nathji as(i) vekhan(i) jogi vast(u) na kai.

Gur(u) sangat bani bina(n) duji ot nahi hai rai.42. (Bhai Gurdas ji, Var I)

[13] Sabhe sanjhival sadain, koi na dise bahra jio.