Sri Akal Takht Sahib – A Concept
Concepts vs Rituals
Guru Nanak freed us from all kinds of rituals, ceremonies, superstitions, pilgrimage places, and what not. And, in their place, he gifted us with concepts, which shall last till eternity, in their pristine form, unaltered, capable of being practised in all places and ages, for all generations of their followers to come. He and his successors, demonstrated these practically and precisely, not caring for the price that might have to be paid, during their lifetimes. Some such conceptual gifts are:
- The concept of ek pita ekas ke hum barik was established, when Guru Nanak uttered Na koi Hindu, na koi Musalman” at the river Bein, (near Sultanpur Lodhi), at a time when Hindus and Muslims were extremely intolerant of each other;
- The concept of manas ki jaat sabhey ekeh pehchanbo was made apparent, when Guru Amar Das made it mandatory to eat in langar for those seeking his audiance at Goindwal;
- The concept of dassan nauhan di kamayee was marked when Guru Nanak preferred to dine with Bhai Lalo in stead of Malik Bhago, at Eminabad, Lahore;
- The concept of so kyon manda aakhiye, gender equality, was stressed when Guru Amar Das appointed male as well as female heads of pirhis for religious instruction, at Goindwal;
- The concept of hukam rajayee chalna was made evident, when Guru Arjun Dev uttered Tera bhana meetha laagey even while choosing to embrace martyrdom over giving up his faith, at Lahore;
- The concept of a sant-sipahi was elucidated when Guru Hargobind wore two kirpans, one for miri and the other for piri, at Amritsar;
- The concept of sura so pehchaniye jo larre din ke het got accentuated, when Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed himself to protect followers of a faith other than his own, at Delhi;
- The concept of Bani Guru, Guru hai Bani was expounded when Guru Gobind Singh conferred gurgaddi on the Adi Granth Sahib at Nanded;
- The concept of sirr dhar tali gali meri aayo was put into practice, when Guru Gobind Singh sought heads from his followers at the edge of a kirpan, at Anandpur Sahib;
- The concept of the ideal, the sachiara, the Khalsa, was made manifest by Guru Gobind Singh, at Anandpur; and so on, to cite only a few instances.
Today, we have gurdwaras at all such places to mark these events. But, as is obvious and we are all well aware that these concepts are to be observed wherever we live, at all times, and not only at places where these were first introduced.
In a similar manner, the concept of sole allegiance to the Lord Almighty, i.e., Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, was made manifest in the construction of an Akal Takht at Amritsar. And, the selection of its site is again not without significance — the Akal Takht (the throne of Almighty) being constructed in front of and facing the Harimandir Sahib (the mandir of Almighty) brings out very clearly that the Guru expects his Sikhs to function as sant-sipahis and, thus, address spiritual as well as temporal matters with equal concern and measure.
Further, by making us bow at a Takht of the Akal (Timeless) alone, the Guru ensured that we lead our lives and manage our affairs as sovereigns for all times to come! It was, thus, not a strategy for Mughal times alone. It is a concept for eternity, irrespective of the ruler of the day, irrespective of whether we are in minority or majority, irrespective of the religion/race of the people around, irrespective of the nature of governance, and so on. Sovereignty thus bequeathed is unparalleled.
Equivalence out of Question
During Guru Hargobind’s times, the Guru himself sat upon the throne, and discharged the duties as per the Will of the Almighty. As of today, can we imagine that some individual, singularly, or some political party, for that matter, can be equated with the Guru? The answer, undoubtedly, is a big NO. Therefore, no criteria, whatsoever these may be, can find the person, who could be given the position to issue directives to the entire Panth, spread, by Waheguru’s mehr, all over the world today. Therefore, no effort should be wasted on working out ways and means to ‘appoint’ an ‘able’ Jathedar, Akal Takht.
The present post of Jathedar, Akal Takht should be renamed as Mukh Sewadar, Akal Takht with the role matching the nomenclature. During the misl period, the ‘leader’ of a misl was referred to as a jathedar, and all jathedars would unite under the banner of Akal Takht, Amritsar to formulate strategies and make collective decisions. Today, we have numerous Sikh organizations involved in promoting Sikh values in all major cities of the world. We, therefore, should put in place a system that can bring together representatives from all these various Panthic organizations. Such an institution, so formed (as is being created in the form of the International Sikh Confederation), alone can be equated to the Panth, the Panth of the Guru, the Guru Panth, and, therefore, be in a position to give practical shape to the concept of Akal Takht, i.e., that of seeking direction for the Panth under the guidance of the Akal, Almighty.
Onus is on Us
The bricks of a building cannot perform a role or maintain its significance; the Supreme Court of India is not supreme for the bricks and mortar that it is made up of. Neither is any individual taller than an Institution; the status the White House enjoys amongst the Americans is not due to the President of the day; the Vatican is sacred for the Catholics, irrespective of the Pope of the day; and so on. In other words, the respect that an Institution commands is ensured by the people to whom the institution belongs. Thus, the prestige of the Akal Takht in this day is in our hands. But, of late, the reverence that is due to the Akal Takht, has suffered a setback at our hands. At each one of our hands, that is.
No matter how many devotees bow at the Nishaan Sahib everyday, it should not be taken as indicative of the veneration of this Institution among the Sikhs. Then, how to ensure supremacy of the Akal Takht, and project the same to the world? Reverence for the Akal Takht will reflect only in our unquestioning compliance to the directives issued therefrom. A hukamnama leading to factions in the Panth reflects nothing but just the opposite. As such, I repeat, each one of us owes responsibility for the status that our prestigious institution, the Akal Takht, enjoys during our times.
But how to ensure the unquestioning compliance to hukamnamas from the sangat ? The Guru is supreme authority. Guru Gobind Singh sought initiation from the chosen Five, thereby, honouring them with some authority. Therefore, any responsibility should be placed on at least five, the more being the better. Definitely, not on one. Therefore, only collective representation of the Panth can be considered anywhere close to the Guru. And, coming from representatives of the Panth, no hukamnama would face rejection from any quarter. Further, such unanimity for the world to see would translate into admiration and respect for us as a people.
Supremacy is in the concept, and not in the building / individual. No denying the historical and religious significance of the Golden Temple to us today, but can one gurdwara be more sacred than the other? Similarly, the Nishan Sahib is indicative of self-governance, wherever it sways. As we all know, the Gurus did not necessarily operate from the Akal Takht. They lead their followers from wherever they were. Eighth Guru to the Tenth Guru never visited the Golden Temple complex in their lifetimes. Even Guru Hargobind, who constructed the Akal Takht at Amritsar, shifted to Kiratpur in later years of his life.
Deriving from the foregoing, any gurdwara in the world, as long as the entire Panth finds its representation there, can be said to be a Takht of the Akal, Almighty. Thus, any decision announced from such a gurdwara, be it in Sydney or Washington or Toronto or Mohali, should be considered equally a decision of the Akal Takht, provided representatives of the Panth make it. It is important for us to view this concept in this light, so that no one can ever destroy our spirit of sole allegiance to Almighty, even if our opponents demolish the structure of the Akal Takht at Amritsar, believing it to mean extermination of Sikhs, as has been done in the past many a times.
We must catch the spirit of the concept the Gurus gifted us. The Golden Temple and the Akal Takht are unique and special because Gurus, with their own hands, sowed the seeds of these concepts here. If, for some reason, we are denied access to the Akal Takht, Amritsar, does it mean we shall get a directionless community? No ruler, no invasion, no operation can snatch the concept away from us — that is what the Gurus ensured by introducing concepts, and not pilgrimage centres and rituals. These places were never meant to be for mere worship, but are a lesson for us to take with us wherever we go.
Did the Guru not make copies of the Adi Granth to be installed at various places, for reaching out to as many people as possible? True mark of respect to the concept of Akal Takht would be that we all unite under its banner, and impart the teachings of the Gurus to one and all alike.
Embodiment of the Concept
The Golden Temple and the Akal Takht will continue to enjoy their special status as of today, but just as every gurdwara equally sacred, every Nishan Sahib equally authoritative. It’s not the gold that makes the Golden Temple special, but the foundation of the concept of a temple being the dwara of the Lord that makes it so. Similarly, it’s the concept of self-determination, and a people who owe sole allegiance to the Almighty that found its root in the construction of an Akal Takht, which makes it unique. These are, thus, the birthplaces of these concepts and are, as such, the rallying point for Sikhs from across the globe.
Lets Face It
The Akal Takht is not merely an object of worship; it is a concept to be practised, as the Gurus did, by guiding their own fate, irrespective of the rule/ruler of the day. Today, Sikhs belong to various nationalities, and are scattered all over the world. But we are a divided lot, not only geographically, but also ideologically. We are at a loss to put up a united front in spite of cordial relationships amongst most countries. On the contrary, what world witnesses of the Sikh community is the use of kirpan for personal pelf. Therefore, till such time as we are capable of projecting ourselves as a united people at the world stage, by rising above petty politics and in the service of needy, we have failed the Gurus.
Lets Achieve It
The United Nations is a Body of nations, and Sikhs are a nation, as per every definition of the word. Member countries of this organization are, in fact, states, according to the subject, Sociology. As such, lets seek that, in conformity with its name, the United Nations include the Sikh nation as well amongst its members. From such a platform, we would be able to make the world aware of our value system and, through whatever means possible, contribute positively towards attaining world peace, a far cry in these times as different civilizations are clashing violently. Irreligious political leaders have landed the world in a mess, and the apolitical religious leaders are unwary of their responsibilities. At such a juncture in history, what could be better suited than the Ideology of the Gurus, wherein respect for all the religions and races is inbuilt, and sarbat da bhala is the aim?