Reviving Glory and Authority of Akal Takht
Brig Hardit Singh
Sikhism, apart from its distinctive tenets of belief in father-hood of God and brother- hood of mankind, worship of one formless God through the medium of shabad, and its universal scripture containing sayings of bhagats of other religions, is also different in its institutions and concepts of Akal Takht, Punj-Piaras and the doctrine of Guru Granth-Guru Panth. The Akal Takht is not merely a sacred edifice, its glory and authority is integrated with the functioning of Punj Piaras and Guru Granth-Guru Panth concept. The object of this paper is to high-light the historic and basic facts of the three constituents with a view to suggesting a working plan to revive their glory and authority which is subdued at present.
After the execution of his father Guru Arjan Dev ji (1563-1606) by the Mughal emperor Jehangir, Guru Hargobiind Sahib(1596-1644)felt the need to instill martial spirit amongst the Sikhs to protect the new religion. He, therefore, erected the edifice of Akal Takht (Immortal Throne) opposite the Harmandir Sahib as the highest seat of spiritual and temporal power to stress that a man has to live full life and there is no dichotomy between the temporal (Miri) and religious (Piri) aspect of human life. This is not a new innovation as it is based on Guru Nanak’s (1469-1539) maxim, “Should you like to play game of God’s love (to fight against injustice, oppression, subjugation and exploitation) enter into my path and then do not hesitate to lay down your life.” The Guru sat at the Akal Takht in full regalia wearing two swords, held court, issued edicts and discussed all matters concerning the community and humanity at large. The Akal Takht was also turned into an arena to build up physical strength and martial spirit of the Sikhs by encouraging sports, wrestling, military training and singing of heroic, deeds by the court bards.
Guru Hargobind Sahib moved to Kiratpur Sahib in 1634 to avoid Amritsar becoming a battlefield between the Moghals and the Sikhs. As none of the successor Gurus stayed at Amritsar therafter, the Takht sovereignty remained with the Gurus wherever they were. On the earthly departure of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) in 1708, the Akal Takht’s sovereignty reverted to its original place and Amritsar became the rallying point and hub of the Sikh world. It is the only Takht that existed during the Gurus’ period and as such it is supreme to the other four Takhts out of which three were recognized by the Panth in the 18th century and the one in Damdama Sahib in 1962.
After the departure of Guru Hargobind Sahib to Kiratpur Sahib in 1634, management of the Akal Takht was briefly as under :
1634-1696 – Minas decedents of Baba Pirthi Chand (1558-1618) brother of Guru Arjan Dev ji.
1696-1764 – Bhai Mani Singh ( d.1737) and Udasi Sadhus.
1764-1849 – Akali Nihangs during the Misl period and the Sikh Raj.
1849-1925 – British, under D.C. Amritsar through a ‘Sarb-rah’
1925-todate – SGPC. A statutory body constituted under the Gurdwara Act of 1925.
It was during the Misl period i.e 1764 to 1799 that the Akal Takht functioned in its full glory and majesty and sanctity when the Misl sardars constituted Sarbat Khalsa under the umbrella of the Akal Takht to coordinate their collective affairs. Maharaja Ranjit Singh although remained subservient to the authority of the Akal Takht, did not allow any parallel center of religious or political power to exist in his kingdom.
The Akal Takht as the name denotes is the Throne of the Immortal, which cannot be occupied or headed by any person such as the Takht jathedar. No jathedar was ever appointed by the Gurus nor is there any Sikh history or tradition of such an appointment. The practice of appointing jathedars came into vague after the enactment of the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925 although there is no provision in the Act for creating such a post and the Act does not even make mention of the term jathedar.
The institution of Panj Piaras is based on Guru Nanak’s maxim “Panch Parwan – Panch Pardhan” – The five blessed and approved bhagats form the presidium. Whilst Guru Gobind Singh openly brought out this institution at the point of sword in 1699, the earlier Gurus had also practiced this concept. For instance, Guru Teg Bahadur’s (1622-1675) Panj Piaras were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Dyalla, Bhai Gurditta and Bhai Jaita. Panj Piaras concept is thus ingrained in Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh demonstrated their role in his life time when he quitted the Chamkaur Garhi at their bidding, paid fine imposed by them for bowing to Pir Dadu’s grave against Sikh code of conduct and appointed Panj Piaras to accompany Baba Banda Singh Bahadaur as his advisors when he was commissioned to chastise Nawab of Sirhind and to establish rule of law in Punjab.
The advantage of collective leadership of five gurmukhs selected by the Panth is that whereas an individual can be corrupted by power, pelf, prestige and wealth, all the gurmukhs selected by the Panth cannot be. Punj Piaras will command respect and obedience from the Sikhs. The Sikhs are more amenable to spiritual leadership and this trait can be traced to the mushroom growth of “Baba Deras.” On the other hand about half a dozen Akali parties have sprouted under the self glorifying and power hungry leaders.
The other advantage of Panj-Piaras selected by the Panth is that power remains in the hands of the Panth for the Piaras are answerable to the Panth and they can be replaced at the Panth’s will. The Panj Piaras need not be highly educated or scholars because as bhagats they are sagacious enough to handle any situation. Excessive reading and writing according to Guru Nanak (Asa-di-var Stave IX) devoid of the truth, is all vanity and vexation of spirit. Nowadays, the SGPC, appoints Akal Takht jathedars and Panj-Piaras out of their employees to deliberate on Sikh affairs. Some decisions made by them during the last few decades have been controversial and not to the best interest of Sikhism. Further a wrong impression has been created that Sikhism for being controlled by the priests is a medieval faith.
Guru Granth – Guru Panth
Under this doctrine, both the spiritual and temporal power which had rested with Gurus themselves, was bifurcated into two by Guru Gobind Singh and bestowed with Guru Granth and Guru Panth respectively with the proviso that Guru Granth being the Divine Light is supreme and all panthic decisions have to be taken in conformity and spirit of gurbani. The role of Guru Granth is eternal, inalienable, clear and distinct. Panthic affairs on the other hand, are changeable according to different situations and time and as such were entrusted to the care of the Panth. By begging ‘amrit’ from the selected Panj-Piras, Guru Gobind Singh elevated their status to that of the Guru, made them representatives of the Panth and the Panth assumed the title of Guru Panth. When the Guru enthroned the Adi Granth as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs he ended, succession of living gurus or individual leaders.
Since the days of the Gurus, the concept of Guru Granth – Guru Panth has not been implemented except for about 35 years during the Misl rule in the 18th century. This period proved to be the glorious part of the Sikh history when they stopped invasions of India across its north-west frontier for all time to come and extended their rule or influence from Lahore in the north to Delhi in the south. The situation even now is not conducive for its full implementation due to stable government in India; the Akal Takht is not under the control of the Panth; due to existence of four statutory bodies in Amritsar, Delhi, Patna and Nander; and vested interests of political parties. No government will allow any other power religious or political to exist in the country. Neither the central government nor the SGPC will agree to free the Akal Takht from their statutory hold. Under these circumstances, it may not, be an easy task to revive the full glory and authority of the Akal Takht for the present.
Fortunately, the constituents of the concept of Guru Granth – Guru Panth, i.e Guru Granth Sahib the Akal Takht and Panj Piaras command utmost respect and obedience of the entire Sikh Panth irrespective of party or individuals political affiliation, status and position. A working solution may be found if the SGPC whilst controlling the administrative and gurdwara aspect of the Akal Takht allows the Punj-Piaras selected by the Panth to use its premises as and when any important religious, social and economic matter concerning the Panth is to be deliberated and allows the use of seal of the Akal Takht to communicate their decisions.
The best forum to select Panj Piaras and to implement their decisions is the newly formed International Sikh Confederation based at Chandigarh which should ultimately move to Amritsar to function under the umbrella of Akal Takht.
When the Akal Takht was placed under the jurisdiction of the SGPC, the Sikh population was confined to a small area in the north of India, now the Sikhs are spread all over the world. A case may be taken up with the Government of India to grant the Akal Takht a special status for its use by the Panth.
The glory and authority of the Akal Takht is largely dependent on the full implementation of the Guru Granth – Guru Panth concept. Whilst we are alive to the sanctity of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, only lip service is being paid to the institution of Punj Piaras who are mainly used these days for ‘amrit sanchar’ and ceremonial purposes. The authority of the Akal Takht cannot be exercised independently due to its control by a statutory body. Till it is relieved of this restriction, SGPC may be requested to allow Punj Piaras selected by the Panth to use its premises as suggested in this paper.