Sri Akal Takht : A Philosophical Perspective
Dr Gurnam Kaur
As mentioned in the theme proposed by the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh Sri Akal Takhat is a unique institution bequeathed to the Sikhs by Guru Hargobind, the sixth Nanak, in his benevolence. It embodies the Miri Piri doctrine, and symbolizes the sovereignty of the Khalsa. There are no two views about this. Since I am not a student of history. I will not go into the history of this very important institution of the Khalsa, how it was started or how it worked. Being a student of Sikh philosophy and religion, I would like to understand the very concept of such an important institution which means so much to the Sikhs. To my mind, Guru Nanak Dev laid the foundation of every institution on a conceptual level in his Bani and by and by all these concepts got actualized during the life time of the Gurus be it the Sangat or Langar or Gurdwara or Khalsa or any other institution. The conceptual study, may perhaps be able to throw some light on what sort of this institution was visualized by the Guru or should it be regarded on the basis of the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Normally during the times of crisis the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the sole guide for us it being the Shabad Guru of he Sikhs. At present also, as Sikhs we are in a crisis and wish to seek some way to tackle the problem we are facing concerning the sovereignty of the Akal Takhat. It is something very serious which demands attention.
Sikhism is a complete religious ideology. We know that the basic theme of the Bani is spiritualism but according to the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib the sphere of religious action is unlimited. It knows no boundaries. The reason being that the religion which was founded by Guru Nanak is a whole life religion because its basic concern is the betterment of human life and the transformation of the whole society. Its approach is collective, Sangati or congregational. Being a societal religion, it takes into consideration the worldly life as well as the spiritual life of man. It has equal concern with the transcendent as well as the material. Being a whole life religion, it covers the spiritual, religious economic, social as well as the political spheres. So the thought contained in the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is fully conscious of political and social aspects of the society along with the spiritual ones. The Gurus expressed their views about the independent, sovereign system in their Bani and whenever the circumstances arose, they expressed their reaction in armed struggle. When Guru Nanak expresses his anguish over the invasion of Babar on India and criticizes his brutality on the Indian masses, along with the incapability and weakness of the Lodhi rulers to defend the country, he has a complete picture of the sovereign state in his mind and what sort of ruling system there should be.
We should keep in mind that whenever the criticism of the contemporary ruling system is there, the spiritual consciousness is always present. So the spiritual and the worldly concerns go side by side. They are united, not separated from each other. But at the same time it is the spiritual which dominates and guides the world. The Bani, which is the guide, the Shabad, the Guru, is not only concerned with the emancipation of the individual self as an individual, it is also concerned with the liberation of the society as a whole at the same time. Guru or Shabd Guru is the guide for that liberation. So the basic concern of the Bani is the emancipation of man as a social being, as a part of the society. So under this light, being a student of philosophy, I have tried to analyse the concepts of Takhat and Sacha Takhat, Sacha Patshah, Miri and Piri as they are envisaged in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Takhat & Sacha Takhat
Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha has written about the Akal Bunga and says that Guru Hargobind Sahib got constructed a high throne, a royal seat (Raj Singhasn, Shahi Takhat), in 1665 Samat or 1608 CE at Amritsar in front of Harmandar and named it Akal Bunga. At this place the Guru used to hold congregations (Diwan) and addressed the Sangat. Akal Bunga is the centre of the Panthak Organisation. From the very beginning, the Panth has been passing Gurmatas from this platform. This Gurudwara is the first Takhat or throne of the Sikhs and the weapons of the Gurus and the brave religious martyrs are placed there. He has given the list also.1
Now we will see the conceptual origin of the Takhat or Sacha takhat in the Bani. Guru Nanak has used sacha takhat for the throne of God and the owner of that throne is God Himself who, Himself being Holy, listens to the supplication of devotees. The Lord of the Divine Mansion listening to such supplications showers approbation. The Lord calls the supplicant to the eternal throne and confers honour and all this happens under the Divine Will.
The successor Gurus have confirmed and carried further the ideology propounded by Guru Nanak. Guru Amardas has termed the universe created as His throne by the Holy Eternal Being to be seated thereon. All creation He has made as His mansion and abode. He is the true King and His will is Holy, Holy is His greatness.2 This idea is further elaborated by Guru Arjan Dev when he says that holy is His rule, holy His ordinance, holy the spot where He abides. Holy is the might assumed by Him and the universe created by Him. The Guru has asked to repeat God’s holy Name to which the Guru ever-lastingly is a sacrifice.
As we have discussed earlier, the ideology established by Guru Nanak was carried further by the successor Gurus and got practical manifestation in the form of institutions during the life time of Guru Nanak himself and the successor Gurus. The Gurus were being termed as Sacha Patishah and the Guru gaddi as Sacha Takhat even during the lifetime of the Gurus. This we can confirm from the composition of Rai Balwand and Sata Doom whose bani is included in Rag Ramkali in the form of a Var.3 As opined by them, Guru Nanak started the royal dynasty within the firm citadel and foundation of truth. Then the umbrella was placed over the head of Lehna. It means the Guru Gaddi was bestowed to Guru Angad Dev. It is further told that over Lehna’s head waved the immaculate umbrealla , as in the home of Guru he was seated on the throne. Here the Guru has been termed as the Sacha Patishah, Holy King, by whose sight is annulled impurity of multiple births. As Guru Nanak decreed, did Guru Angad act. By doing so he was installed on the takhat, the throne. As Guru is all knowing, so knowing the state of each self, everything is known to him. What praise may be rendered to the Holy King, Sacha Patishah who is nobly illumined.
What I am trying to emphasis is that while establishing the institution of Akal Takhat, Guru Hargobind gave practical shape to the already available concept in the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
The Concept of Miri & Piri
As mentioned earlier, Guru Nanak had laid the theoretical foundation for the combination of Miri and Piri, worldliness with spiritualism. He made spiritualism the part of social life. If he criticises the king and his officials of not performing their duty well, he also ciriticises the spiritual persons for their religious hypocrisy. He fully opposed the oppressive and violent attitude of the rulers when he said that in dark age (kaliyug) which has hurts and harms like a knife, rulers have become butchers, righteousness has taken waves and disappeared. This is the dark night of evil. The moon of truth is nowhere visible. For light have I searched in distraction. No path in this darkness is visible. Humanity involved in egoism, wails in suffering. This Nanak seeks to know : How can liberation then be found?5 Guru Nanak in Rag Asa has described how Babar let loose oppression and destruction when he attacked India.6 The main point stressed is should man contemplate God beforehand, that he may escape chastizement (One should be conscious). Rulers in levity and frivolity lost their sense, Babar’s command has gone abroad, that even princes now without a crust go about”. Guru Nanak Dev Ji stressed that one should be conscious about one’s duties before hand. One should be awakened to the situation, be prepared to defend and be self-dependent. This point is made clear further that millions tried to cast a spell to stop Babur, when report of the invasion went abroad. Hindu temples and Muslim sacred spots went up in flames. The princes were cut to pieces mingled with dust. No Mughal, by such spells, was struck blind, none was affected by their spells.7
Guru Nanak wanted to create such a society of man, who could live with dignity, could firmly defend the truth, and should be ready to sacrifice their his life walking on the path of truth. This sort of life is possible only if worldliness and spiritualism are combined together. It is a very difficult way of life about which Guru Nanak says, “If you seek to play the game of love then place your head on your palm then tread on this path. While stepping on this path sacrifice your head ungrudingly.7 We can find so many examples in Sri Guru Granth Sahib which idicate that Miri & Piri both should be combined for the evolution of the perfect human personality and society. In the Bani of Bhagat Kabir, we can see so many indications for the struggle and sacrifice for the establishment of righteousness. Kabir says in Rag Maru, “In the seat of super-consciousness was struck the drum and the weapon hit the target of the heart. As the hero has taken the field, now is the occasion to wage battle. The true is one who fights in defense of the humble; though cut limb after limb, and flees not the field.8 This power is the way for sovereignty.
Guru Nanak guided man to live a dignified life. To live without dignity is sinful. The Guru says in Rag Majh, “He alone is truly alive in whose self is lodged the Lord; Saith Nanak none else is truly living. Such a one, if alive, in ignominy lives. All his gains illegitimate”9 God is truly the True King. Sacha Patishah, all worldly kings are false ones. As we discussed earlier, Guru Nanak told in Asa Di Var True is the laudation. True is Thy Praise, True King! True holy is Thy creative might.”10 Bhagat Kabir says, “No king is great as God: These monarchs, lasting four days, make false ostentation. God’s servant no way is shaken, his glory is spread over the three worlds. None can dare to raise his hand to harm God’s servant; None can estimate his greatness”.11 So man is asked to bow only to God, not to anybody else. Guru Nanak warned those people, who, just to please the rulers started to adopt the culture of the ruling class and were abandoning their own language, culture, customs, dress etc, “In Kali Yuga appeared Atherava Veda, when God has been given the name Allah. In this age people wear blue and the rule of Turks and Pathans is established".12
From the brief study done about the conceptual background of the Akal Takhat and Miri and Piri, we can conclude that the vision of sovereignity, of Sacha Takhat is given in the bani. Akal Takhat is the manifestation of that Sacha Takhat. Such a Takhat is based on the justice for all, well being of the whole human beings without any discrimination. So Akal Akhat is concerned with the whole of the Panth, not a section of the Panth. It is an ideal to be pursued for the achievement of which we have to struggle and resist injustice. Only such a person is capable of doing duties of a religious guide or Jathedar in the modern terms, who is both spiritual as well as full of worldly wisdom. There is no doubt that Miri and Piri are combined in Sikhism but we should not forget that Piri is spiritualism and the Miri should seek guidance from Piri not vice versa. The state of affairs today is very disgusting. Politics is dominating spiritualism because of which we are facing a very ridiculous situation.
Now after analysing the conceptual background and concluding it, the questions, which come to my mind are that Akal Takhat and S.G.P.C. are closely related under the present circumstances. S.G.P.C. is three dimensional. One its members are elected by the Sikh voters when Government wants, though there are rules for regular election in its constitution. Two, the President of the S.G.P.C. and its executive members are to be elected by its members, three: since S.G.P.C. is constituted to manage the religious places of the Sikhs, it has a large number of employees at different posts. The election process is adopted on the lines of general elections on political basis. So the members come from different political groups or parties. The political group or its leader which gets the maximum number of members, actually holds the reins of S.G.P.C.’s president and executive members. Similarly the appointment of the Jathedar of Akal Takhal is totally in his hands and he can use the Jathedar, and the employees of the S.G.P.C. for his political purposes. Then the question arises is there any chance that the Jathedar of Akal Takhat will be able to maintain the soverignty of the Sacha Takhat established by the Sacha Patshah? This is the question not only regarding the Akal Takhat but also the S.G.P.C. management to be fair to the entire Khalsa Panth.
1. Mahan Kosh, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, (Language Department, Punjab, Patiala), Akal Bunga.
2. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, M.3, p. 947 :
scY qKqu rcwieAw bYsx kau jWeI ] vwhu vwhu scy pwiqswh qU scI nweI ]
3. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, M.5, P.48 : scu pwiqswhI Amru scu scy scw Qwnu ]
4. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, P. 967-968
5. Ibid, p. 145
6. Ibid, p. 417
7. Ibid, p. 1412
8. Ibid, p. 12
9. Ibid, p. 142
10. Ibid, p. 856
11. Ibid, p. 470