Concept of Sri Akal Takht Sahib
Guru Nanak promulgated the doctrine of a balanced view of life and the practice of truth in an individual in particular, and the society in general. He found Hinduism, the religion of his birth, indecisive in providing a harmonious blend of the spiritual and the mundane in life. One had to either renounce home and hearth and normal desires and objectives to become a recluse torn away from society and its obligations to seek spirituality, or to live a mundane existence and be labeled as maya-dhari, with minimum ritualistic formalities enjoined under the priestly supervision. It was not necessary for him to understand their purport. The Buddhist and Jain traditions were tilted very much towards renunciation of the normal routine of stoical living. The Muslim discipline was unduly belligerent towards other beliefs without offering anything spiritually novel or different.
Guru Nanak taught the Sikhs to meditate on the holy word by abjuring all evils in their daily functions. Perhaps, the emphasis on holy congregations was more pronounced during the times of his successor Gurus to propagate this unique concept of respect and affection for all and dislike for none, till they were shaken out of their languor by the rude shock of the martyrdom of the saintly Guru Arjun Dev. It was a clear signal that the equity of the spiritual and the mundane had not been maintained and required instant correction.
Guru Hargobind, the sixth Nanak took steps to provide necessary checks by establishing Sri Akal Takht Sahib facing Harminder Sahib as an equilibrium of an individual’s character, symbolising a balanced combination of the spiritual and the temporal.
Guru Hargobind had donned two swords, of miri and piri, as a well calculated move and not by mistake, as is commonly held. Establishing of Sri Akal Takht Sahib opposite Sri Harmandir Sahib within the holy prikarma is a corollary of the same plan to strike a balance between bhakti and shakti. In the same context, Guru Hargobind also willed the successor Gurus to maintain a standing garrison as a way of life. Congregations were held regularly at Akal Takht in the mornings and evenings where musical renderings of Bani, poetic recitations, dhadhi and martial themes were presented besides the spiritual preaching. Physical exercises and wrestling matches were a familiar feature of the Sikh routine. The scope of Akal Takht was, therefore, multi-dimensional. All matters of community concern were pondered and decided on by the Guru. In the post-Guru period, it assumed greater significance as a rallying point and a symbolic seat of authority sanctified by Guru Hargobind. All differences of opinion and disputes were discussed with open mind and decisions taken unanimously which were binding on all to which each faction of the Sikhs felt pledged
Present Scenario: Compare the present dismal role of the Akal Takht with its past glory and scope of functions for which the Takht was raised by the Sixth Guru and studiously nurtured by the Khalsa in the crucial and formative years of the eighteenth century. It will then be possible to consider remedial actions to restore its prestige.
One point at this stage needs clarification. While Sri Akal Takht was raised by Guru Hargobind by personally laying its foundation stone for the specific purpose of having a platform for decisions for the welfare of the community, and he had supervised its construction by the hands of Baba Budha ji and Bhai Gurdas only, the other centres which were subsequently named takhts were associated with propagation of the creed in North, East and South. These were never nurtured as additional or alternate seats of authority to arbitrate or take decisions on crucial matters of policy and strategy. All resolutions, the gurmattas were only proclaimed after deliberations at Sri Akal Takht. Therefore, the strategic importance of Sri Akal Takht is indisputable. To date, no practising Sikh has dared to defy the edicts of Sri Akal Takht. It places very serious responsibilities on the conduct of proceedings at this august institution.
From 1708, the gurmatta system was successfully utilised to maintain inter-factional unity and harmony. Whenever this was ignored, clashes and rivalries damaged the overall goodwill of the community leading to its downfall, as is evident today and earlier too, it happened during the Sikh rule with the emergence of monarchy. Let it be emphatically understood that we must reintroduce the tradition of gurmatta, which is far superior to the concept of elective dominance of one faction over the rest. Unfortunately, soon after the liberation of the holy shrines from the control of the mahants, there seemed to be a total lack of perception and preparation of a blue print on the part of the agitating leaders. They fell back to adoption of the secular model of British parliament which was totally unsuited to the theological character of the Gurdwaras. It has been reduced to a power game due to that faulty decision.
Unfortunately, the present position of Sri Akal Takht has been diluted by the emergence of warring blocks, who rule by the principle of electorate and muscle power, ignoring the sacred entity of the Takht altogether. This state of affairs can be remedied by a single stroke policy of selecting and appointing an impartial and apolitical person to assume its charge and remaining at the helm of affairs till he renders satisfactory service. Short-term occupancy will further harm the Sikh cause and should not be allowed by pressure groups. For the ambitious politician, there is a career beckoning in the temporal legislatures of the country. It means we should work for the revival of the system of Sarbat Khalsa to provide checks and counter checks.
The cultural activities which were so arduously introduced by Guru Hargobind ji and which were painstakingly nurtured till the times of Guru Gobind Singh despite his constant preoccupation and harassment by the invading armies of Hindu Chieftains and the Central Government got a back seat by later adverse developments. It is understandable that during times of gruesome struggle through which our community had to pass to save its very existence, cultural activities could not be continued. It has damaged our position among other communities who have formed an image of a Sikh as an uncouth rustic who neither appreciates delicate matters of art and literature nor be intelligent company. These functions have been usurped by the SGPC and DSGMC under their direct control but are handled half-heartedly with improperly utilised vast funds. That thrust and zeal in the propagation of the faith is totally missing which creates waves and leaves a lasting impact. With all the resources of the modern scientific media available, these committees are unable to achieve what our Gurus could achieve with scanty resources.
What is left is a shell of an institution called Sri Akal Takht and it becomes evident how insufficiently equipped and direction less is this once prestigious holy organisation.
The status of Sri Akal Takht should be at a special level and not at par with any other religious institution managed by the SGPC, DSGMC or any other statutory body in control of the Gurdwaras.
An active and virile Sri Akal Takht must be resurrected and accorded spiritual and temporal ascendancy in all matters; religious and temporal and its dictates must run unhindered universally.
Fortunately, the Sikhs everywhere, in India and abroad are not only willing but keen to preserve the supremacy of the universal authority of Sri Akal Takht in directing the future course of the community on an even keel, impartially and selflessly. For maintaining cohesion in the Sikh international community, all matters must be viewed and decided with active participation of the representatives of the Sikhs settled in different locations and the decisions must conform to the highest standards of the Sikh ideals, traditions and sanctions and made binding on all. There should be no scope of resentment or denigration, once all parties are given a fair hearing and explained the Sikh tenets on which the decisions are based.
Advisory committees on each subject made up of a minimum of five experts in their respective fields with clean records must be formulated. They should undertake scholarly research on each subject referred to them to arrive at their decisions. These documents must be freely available and be more than archive records as reference texts.
An appellant apparatus made of five members must be available for one final deliberation so that an aggrieved party feels fully represented to submit its side of the matter. Once the ruling of the appellant council is made, that matter must be considered finally settled for ever.
The findings of all constituted expert committees and of the appellant councils must be treated as sacred and sacrosanct and not discussed by the members individually and in private. All matters deliberated upon by these expert committees would be routed to the presiding officer of the Akal Takht to pronounce a gurmata accordingly from the holy Takht in open forum.
The misnomer for the presiding officer of Sri Akal Takht as a mere ‘Jathedar’ does not in any way enhance the status or position of the incumbent. It is a degrading title, which shows him as a rustic sectional or factional personality, not representing the entire nation. It seems to have caught currency in the same manner as the rural people call any matriculate as Masterji or a mechanic as Ustad ji. It must be shunned to remove the stigma of sectarianism. Priests of any Takht or a gurdwara may be given the honorific title of Bhai Sahib, which was rather sparingly used for the very best in the Guru period. It may be mentioned that the practice of any body assuming the title of ‘Sant’ or ‘Baba’ also needs to be strongly condemned, may be, by an edict of the Akal Takht to stop its misuse. “Sant’, ‘Baba’ or ‘Bhai Sahib’ and such respectful titles may only be conferred by Sri Akal Takht after due deliberations and catalogued. It will go a long way in the prevention of duping the unwary and trusting people by unscrupulous persons of doubtful identity.
Resources: In the name of meeting running expenses and missionary activities, various agencies are using funds generated in the coffers of the Gurdwara committees, leading to their misuse. In any organisation, the collecting agency is never simultaneously the spender too. It is neither fool-proof nor above suspicion. SGPC, DSGMC or such managing committees should be restrained to the task of meticulous accounting of offerings of the devout and returns from Gurdwaras, their properties, industries and institutions managed by them. Taking care of Gurdwara assets is, in itself, a responsible and considerable function.
Budgeting and utilising these resources should belong to Sri Akal Takht which should plan and organise effective missionary works and prepare the results on quarterly and monthly bases, to be scrutinized by a nominated panel of dedicated members. Each and every activity must be painstakingly under scrutiny.
There should be plans on annual, five yearly and ten yearly periods to invest in education, scholarships, new schools and colleges, polytechnics and research projects. Sri Akal Takht should decide where to do building repairs and the need to spend on gilding versus better food in orphanages or granting funds to the needy patients, training of sportsmen, homes for the rudderless destitute and on building of strong future generations. The present generation has withered away without the patronising role of Sri Akal Takht. Our hard earned wealth of the gurdwaras, Guru’s Golak has been frittered away by the so called elected representatives acting without sufficient checks and controls. There is so much to do and precious time is ticking away. Future generations will not forgive us if we do not sit up and set the ball rolling.
In this blue print, it has been deliberately proposed to leave in tact, the structure of the SGPC and its elected representatives, without any change except that the approval for expenditure of the funds is removed from its orbit and control and vested in Sri Akal Takht. It will remove the opportunists who are lured by huge funds at their beck and call and only genuine people will opt for elections with service in mind.