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GURU NANAK : A PROPHET WITH A DIFFERENCE

A Review by Prof Prithipal Singh Kapur

Author : Dr Kharak Singh
Publisher: Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
Pages 163; Price: Rs 50/-

Dr Kharak Singh, a well known name in the Sikh studies for the last quarter of the 20th century, took to deep study of the Sikh history and religion after he retired from his service with Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, where he made a name for his distinguished contribution in heralding green revolution in the Punjab. Hailing from a devout Sikh family of Majha, his natural impulse and genuine reverence for the Sikh faith led him to take to intensive study of Sikh History & Religion. He was drawn to this arena in the wake of the controversy that surfaced after the publication of McLeod’s maiden work: ‘Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion’ in 1968. McLeod’s total rejection of the Sikh tradition, i.e., the Janam Sakhis in search for what he called ‘historical Nanak’ appeared to Kharak Singh an attempt to denigrade Guru Nanak’s position vis-a-vis the religious prophets of other denominations. He joined hands with Daljit Singh, IAS (retd) to organize the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, which provided a forum to all those who chose to launch a crusade against Hew McLeod, who ‘had attempted to subvert the Sikh tradition to create confusion in the arena of Sikh historical research.’ Soon, Kharak Singh and Daljit Singh became the protagonists of all those who sought to defend the Sikh faith against the ‘onslaught of Hew McLeod and his elan.’ Both the sides held their ground for quite some time. The debate on relevance of tradition vis-a-vis the modern research methodology continues, with McLeod conceding that he was working as a skeptical historian while working on the early Sikh Tradition. The perseverance of Kharak Singh incited Professor Dr Jai Rup Singh, Vice-Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, to invite Dr Kharak Singh to pen a short readable biography of Guru Nanak for young students and the general readers. It was indeed a satisfying assignment for Kharak Singh, who by then had gone through the entire gamut of literature available on Guru Nanak.

In the very Introduction of the book, Dr Kharak Singh expresses his concern for ‘misrepresentation of the Guru and his religion.’ He gives an account of the life of the Guru and his teachings that highlights Sikhism as distinct from other world faiths. As you go through the pages of the book, you discern the anxiety of the author to maintain a balance of understanding between the devotees’ sensitivities and the understanding of scholars who study Guru Nanak on the lines of modern historical research methodology. He also claims to regard Guru Nanak bani as the most authentic empirical evidence thereby justifying the Sikh traditional genre of Janam Sakhis. He presents the teachings of the Guru in a simple but lucid style that remains within the comprehension of the common reader.

The book appeared shortly before Dr Kharak Singh breathed his last, indeed a good consummation of a life well spent for an ideal. The Guru Nanak Dev University deserves our grateful thanks for bringing out such a work.

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