ਜਨਿ ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੀ ਆਏy
Legendary Pioneers in Sikh Studies
– Max Arthur Macauliffe –
Faith, it is said, can move mountains. It can be faith in God, in somebody else’s philosophy or faith in one’s own instincts, intellectual and spiritual responses. Sometime, someone comes across a person, an environment, a sound, a symphony or a combination of all these impulses which enters one’s soul unconsciously and gets embedded permanently in one’s psyche. There is always a mysterious design, call it Divine or unseen power, which brings about such an encounter. One such chance encounter took place between a British prolific scholar and a renowned senior British administrator of the elite Indian Civil Service (ICS) and the soulful sacred verses being recited in the Golden Temple premises at Amritsar on the Diwali night shortly after his arrival in Punjab (India) in 1864. Despite his lack of knowledge and understanding of the linguistic medium (Gurmukhi/ Punjabi) of the recitation of these sacred Sikh verses, their spirituo-musical melody entered his soul. It sparked his curiosity to delve deep into this comparatively unknown religion and its sacred text. So soul stirring was this melody and the peaceful ambience at this sacred Sikh shrine that passeth understanding that led to his conversion from Christianity to Sikhism. Consequently, his complete transformation enabled him to become an eminent scholar of Sikhism and a superb English translator of its sacred verses. Because of this monumental work of English Translation, he is also counted among the pioneers in Sikh Studies. The person so much affected, transformed and distinguished as scholar of Sikh studies and Sikhism was none other than Max Arthur Macauliffe (Sept 10, 1841 – March 15, 1913) and a British Administrator in Punjab, India a from 1864-1893.
Born, bred and educated in Ireland and England and a graduate in broad humanistic education and in Greek, Latin, French and Italian classics in original languages, he qualified and was selected in the elite Indian Civil Services (ICS) and posted as an administrator in 1864 and reached the position of a Deputy Commissioner and a Divisional judge by 1893 when he took a voluntary retirement. Along with his professional, bureaucratic duties, he kept nurturing his passion to explore research, write and publish his writings on Sikhism, Sikh scripture and Sikh heritage with rare love and devotion. His body of academic work consists of various presentations and publications of papers such as, “Diwali At Amritsar and the Alterations of Sikhism” (1881), “The Sikh religion under Banda and its present condition” (1881), “Holy writings of the Sikhs” (1897), “Life and Teachings of Guru Gobind Singh” (1899), in various national and international journals and forums. Simultaneously with these random articles, he has been translating in English selected portions from the sacred Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib which culminated in the publication of his monumental work of English translation of the selected verses of this great text in 1909 in six volumes by The Claredon Press in Oxford under the title “The Sikh Religion - Its Gurus, sacred writings and Authors”. What is more significant, more impressive and more incredible is his enduring passion, his steadfast commitment to his mission and a long series of patronage and cooperation, setbacks and rebuffs and love-hate, relationships of his friends and foes together with his financial, physical and financial ordeals. It will be befitting to catalogue and take stock of some of these events and evaluate his contribution to Sikhism and Sikh studies on the basis of a perusal of these contributing events. It is the impartial evaluation of his utmost devotion and commitment and contribution to Sikhsim despite his monumental troubles and tribulations which make him one of the legendary pioneers in Sikh studies.
Besides his own passion to undertake the English translation of the Sikh scripture, it was an earlier English translation of this text done in 1877 by another British Christian clergyman Dr Earnest Trump and sponsored by the then ruling British India Office which was found to be utterly unsatisfactory, untrustworthy, tendentious and polemical. Moreover, besides being full of imperfections, Trump’s translation reflected his colonial bias and his religious contempt towards the Indian culture including the Sikh sacred text. The common perception among the Sikhs that Trump did his translation work while smoking a cigar further hurt the Sikh sentiments. So when Macauliffe volunteered himself to translate the sacred Sikh text into English, it was immediately welcomed among a wide section of the Sikh society. While Trump’s shoddy translation was the work done by a hired mercenary based on a purely commercial transaction, Macauliffe’s offer as well as his final translated work was his labour of love and a fulfillment of his passion and love for the Sikh text devoid of any financial considerations and advancement of personal reputation. Combined with this selfless motive was Mcauliffe’s keen desire to present to the world outside especially the European Christian world the comparative sublimity of Sikh religion and profoundness of its sacred text which had impressed him so much that he had voluntarily converted to Sikhism from Christianity. It was also going to facilitate a sizeable section of the new generation of English reading and speaking Sikhs to read their own sacred scripture in English translation.
So when Macauliffe was seriously contemplating to undertake this English translation while posted as a Divisional Judge at Ferozepur in 1893, a supportive letter written by Sri Guru Singh Sabha Ferozepure, forwarded by the Chief Secretary of Khalsa Diwan Lahore arrived to accomplish a complete translation of the sacred Sikh text. It also urged him to get it sponsored by the then Punjab Government as it had earlier been done in the case of Dr Earnest Trump’s project. While Macauliffe did not pursue the latter suggestion, he prepared himself to undertake this task voluntarily knowing fully well the financial burden of this project and the physical constraints of his administrative duties as well as the academic, scholastic and linguistic hurdles in translating an unknown oriental language with its distinct cultural and linguistic background into a completely different Western language. But his passion to contribute to the religion and text of his own choice following his complete religious and psychic transformation overrode all other considerations. So he plunged headlong into this scholarly pursuit with complete devotion and commitment. As he could not afford to resign from his financially very lucrative job to pursue his passion, offers of financial support came from some of the then Punjab royal chiefs and Sikh organizations such as Raja Bikram Singh of Faridkot, Raja Hira Singh of Nabha, Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala, Raja Ranbir Singh of Jind, Tikka Ripudaman singh of Nabha, Sardar Ranjit Singh of Chachrauli, Gaekwad of Baroda and Khalsa Diwan. Initially, the Punjab Government had also recommended a sum of Rs 15,000/- to be given as an advance to Macauliffe against provision of several copies of translated work to the government. But later on, when the secretary of State Lord Morley reduced this amount to Rs 5,000/-, Macauliffe refused to accept the Government assistance. But despite all these assurances and actual contributions, his expenses and liabilities exceeded his income while completing his voluntarily taken up assignment. Despite all these constraints since this project demanded a full-time engagement, he took a voluntary retirement from his service in 1893 after putting in 29 years of unblemished service and settled permanently in Amritsar in his home on the cantonment road. Thus, started his rendezvous with his favourite mission and a tryst with his destiny.
While preparing himself for undertaking this onerous task, he used the best practices involved in translating this spirituo-religious text into another language. Since, this text is full of vernacular phrases, usages, references and words from several other Indian languages and their dialects and has its own distinct grammar, he studied a number of Indian languages particularly Sanskrit Prakrit, Arabian, Persian, Marathi, Gujarati besides Punjabi in order to master the textual and linguistic complexity of this rare text to procure a nearly compatible and credible English translation. He had also employed two Sikh Gyanis/ Granthis/exegetes to assist him in the understanding of this text. One of them was a considerable scholar well-versed with the Gurbani usages in Gurmukhi/ Punjabi and their meanings but almost illiterate in English language. The other one was so not well versed in Gurbani text but he could understand the first Gyani’s interpretation of Gurbani done in Punjabi and translate it in compatible English and communicate it to Macauliffe with considerable accuracy. Macauliffe could then prepare the final English version of each verse himself in English. After drafting each translated version, he would circulate it among the prominent Sikh scholars, who would analyse each translated draft, discuss it threadbare and then Macauliffe would finalize the finally approved version to include in the draft manuscript.
Describing one of these scholarly discussions held regularly at Macauliff’s residence, Bhagat Lakshman Singh states that he was surprised to see a gathering of such prominent Sikh scholars at his residence. He found Giani Sardul Singh, Bhai Hazara Singh, Sant Hazara Singh Gujarat, Mahant Prem Singh Sialkot, Gyani Badan Singh Faridkot besides three four other Sikh scholars whose names he did not remember. They would analyse and finalize the translated version of each line after which it was allowed to be included in manuscript. He himself kept attending these meetings and was paid one month salary and travelling fare from Rawalpindi to Amritsar and back. Professor Harbans Lal, a Professor at Texas University then and a well-known scholar of Sikhism states that, “Besides availing the services of these Sikh scholars, he even consulted the scholarly Udasi and Nirmala sect saints through direct consultation or through postal correspondence. He kept on this process of consultation till the final publication of this translated version in English. He even used to invite persons interested in examining his work through invitations in the press. Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, a well-known Sikh scholar of his times, assisted him continuously in this work. We shall deal with his seminal role later on in this article. From this, we could guess about the expenses made by Macauliffe on this project. It is estimated that he spent a whopping sum of two lakhs rupees out of his own sources in addition to the donations received in completing this project in those times.
After completing the translation of the selected verses of contributing Sikh Gurus and other contributors, despite all the burden of his financial academic and professional responsibilities over a period of 15 years from 1893-1907, he prepared for its publication. Earlier, he had aspired to complete this missionary work by 1899, the second centennial year of the birth of Khalsa, but he could not complete it even eight years after this scheduled date. He had resigned from his prestigious and lucrative job in 1893 after putting in 29 years of unblemished service in view of the volume and size his self chosen monumental task to fulfill and realize his passion. After completing this translation work with the active participation and consultation of his contemporary Sikh scholars and becoming successful in creating a favourable impression about the genuineness and credibility of his English translation, he made efforts to seek a stamp of approval from the highest Sikh authority, Sri Akal Takht. Since he had been receiving letters of appreciation of his work from several eminent Indian and foreign scholars and linguistists like J.A. Garrierson (January 11, 1898), Sir William Hunter (October 7, 1898) Sir Edwin Arnold (October 27, 1898) and Professor Max Muller (December 15, 1898), he approached the leading Sikh religious leaders to examine his work and give their response. Consequently, the then Superintendent of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, Col Jawala Singh, called a large congregation of the Sikhs and Macualiffe was called upon to provide proper information about the nature, quality and content of his work to the congregation. The congregation’s response was favourable and enthusiastic towards Macalulffe’s work and the proposal to constitute a three-member committee comprising three Sikh scholars was approved with a voice vote through the sound of Sikh Jaikaras. A series of Akhand paths of Sri Guru Granth Sahib was also started till the completion of committee report and for the well-being of Macauliffe. The Committee, after a thorough analysis of the manuscript, gave the following decision:
“We, through the agency of learned Sikhs acquainted with English, have carefully perused the translation of the hymns of the Granth Sahib by Mr. Macauliffe. The perusal cost us a month and a half of continuous labour. Wherever any of us found what seemed to be an error, we all met, discussed the passages, and either corrected it or allowed Mr. Macauliffe’s translation to stand. Wherefore we now state that Mr. Macauliffe’s translation has been fully revised by us, and is thoroughly correct. The greatest care has been taken in making the translation conformable to the religious tenets of the Sikhs. The translation is quite literal, and done according to all grammatical and rhetorical rules. We now request the Rajas, Maharajas, Sardars, and the learned and accomplished scholars of the Sikh faith to specially read or listen to this translation, if only for once. They will thus become acquainted with Mr. Macauliffe’s labours, and reap the advantage of the true instruction of their Gurus. They should also render all necessary aid to the translator, because he has resigned a high post under Government and spent untold wealth on this undertaking.”
Similarly admiring comments appeared in the Sikh publication “The Khalsa”:
“There can be no denying the fact that the publication of Mr. Macauliffe’s work will be the introduction of a new era in our history. Our Scriptures, though written in our own language, have been so much neglected by our people, that it will be no exaggeration if we say that ninety per cent of our co-religionists do not understand them. The Community receiving English education are without any idea of the sublime truths contained in the Granth Sahib. From infancy upwards their minds are moulded in such a way that it becomes almost impossible for them to talk and write in any other language than English; and we shall not be exaggerating if we say that a great many of them find it difficult even to think in their own mother tongue. This being the case, an English translation of our scripture will at once appeal to the ever increasing community of educated men who will be the leaders of thought from the very nature of things. Already prepared by western culture to think and act independently, they will be constitutionally fitted to understand the catholicity of Sikh principles, and will feel a pleasure in spreading Sikh ideas far and wide. Apart from this, a great deal of the misunderstanding that now obtains about the work of our Gurus and Martyrs will be removed, and the thinking public will see with their own eyes the drift of Sikh teachings.”
Besides similar favourable comments from Baba Khem Singh Bedi, Baba Sumer Singh Mahant of Patna, Baba Hazara Singh Gyani, the most complimentary address was presented by the Singh Sabha, Amritsar to Macauliffe in the following words:
“We are informed by very trustworthy gyanis, that you have been studying our sacred books for over twenty years, and that, resigning a good appointment, you have now laboured continually for some years at making an accurate translation of them; that you have revised it seven times; and have now made it as complete as can be done by human effort; and in doing this you have not only spent your valuable time, but also a very large amount of money. Dr. Trumpp’s translation is not only generally incorrect, but injurious to our religion; and there was a great want felt for an accurate version when Akal Purukh (the Immortal God) induced you to undertake it and fulfil our desires. It would have been well, had we executed the translation ourselves; but Akal Purukh granted you the credit of the performance. As the holy Guru Tegh Bahadur foretold that men would come from beyond the seas to assist the Sikhs, so you have been rendering us mental and bodily assistance; and we now earnestly recommend to the members of our faith, who can afford it, to render you all possible aid in publishing your work, and we trust our wishes will be fulfilled.”
However, the most laudatory comment came from the illustrious German scholar of Sanskrit and translator of many Vedic Texts, Professor Max Muller from his latest work Auld Lang Syne about Macauliffe and his work as follows:
“It is a pity that we possess so little information about the original Sikh reformers. Their sacred book the Granth Sahib exists, nay it has even been translated into English by the late Dr. Trumpp. But it turns out now that Dr. Trumpp was by no means a trustworthy translator. The language of the Granth is generally called old Panjabi; and it was supposed that a scholar who knew modern Panjabi, might easily learn to understand the language as it was four hundred years ago. But this is not the case. The language of the Granth Sahib is full of local dialectic varieties and forgotten idioms, so much so that it has been said to be without any grammar at all. Mr. Macauliffe, who has spent many years among the Sikhs, and has with the help of their priests paid much attention to their Granth Sahib, has given us some most interesting and beautiful specimen of their poetry which form part of their sacred book.”
After receiving such an overwhelming support and approval from the Sikh religious scholars and the Sikh community and foreign scholars especially in contrast to the unsatisfactory and offensive remarks about the Sikh religion and its sacred text by an earlier English translator of German missionary Dr Ernest Trump, what Macauliffe calls his Odium theologicum Macauliff made preparations for the publication of his work. But to the utter shock and surprise of Macauliffe, the publication of this translated work into a book form presented its own problems. Apart from the primitive state of printing industry in India and the exhorbitant cost of publication of such a large volume, the most insurmountable hurdle against the publication of this translated version of the sacred Sikh text came from the hostile response of the traditional mindset of the Sikh masses. The voices were raised against the proposed publication of sacred Sikh text in the book form which was considered as Manmatt which amounted to be an act of sacrilege which must be curbed and nipped in the bud, as described by Principal Teja Singh in his autobiography “Arsee”. In order to cross this hurdle, he entreated Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, his close confident and eminent Sikh scholar to intercede and persuade the opposing Sikh opinion makers to allow him to publish his life-long work in a single volume as such. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, being well-versed with the traditional Sikh mentality in such sensitive matters apprised Macauliffe about the futility and ultimate failure of such an effort to change the traditional Sikh opinion in such sensitive matters. He, however, suggested an ingenious plan to overcome this problem to change the format and title of his work before its final publications.
He suggested that instead of publishing the whole work in a single volume Macauliffe should write the biographies of contributing Sikh Gurus and other contributors in English and include their sacred verses along with their English translation and publish the entire Corpus of his work in six volumes under the title “The Sikh Religion”. Seeing no other way out, Macauliffe accepted Bhai Kahan Singh’s suggestion and decided to publish the work along his suggested guidelines. This plan involved more hard work and more research, and more written work. Since there was no alternative, he prepared himself to revise his manuscript and proceeded to publish it from England instead of from India.
By the time he had finalized the manuscript, his financial position had become quite precarious. Not only had he resigned from his government service, his investments made from his life time savings had also gone haywire. Following the adverse comments given by the then British Lt Governor on the case file containing earlier proposal recommending an advance payment of Rupees fifteen thousand for the publication of Macauliffe’s book on the basis of the government remaining neutral towards religious issues, his subordinate secretary of State Lord Morley reduced the government grant from Rs 15,000/- to Rs 5000/- which Macauliffe refused to accept. Following this change in government attitude, some of the other Indian individual and organizational donors also slackened. By this time, some of the leading lights of the Khalsa Diwan had either died or were replaced by a new set of members who started cold shouldering Macauliffe. His main financial supporter Raja Bikram Singh had also expired in 1898. Despite all these setbacks, Macauliff collected his final draft of manuscript and proceeded to England to get it published there. The only silver lining in this otherwise dark scenario was the unstinted assistance of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha who readily agreed to go to England with him for proof reading and make last minute corrections. As a result of their joint efforts, this whole monumental path breaking work in English translating along with biographical sketches of original contributors was published in 1909 by Clarendon Press in Oxford. Same year, Macauliffe’s written description of this work about Sikhism was published in the latest eleventh issue of Encyclopedia Britanica which was another landmark contribution of Macauliffe to Sikhism. It will not be out of place here to describe briefly the stellar role and contribution of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha in lending every kind of support and assistance to Macauliffe in the successful execution and completion of his work on Sikhism. From their chance meeting at Rawalpindi in 1885 during the summit meeting between India’s Governor General and emperor of Afghanistan till the completion of Macauliffe’s work in England, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha kept providing his valuable suggestions and scholarly inputs to the latter. After identifying Bhai Sahib’s scholarly command on Sikh doctrines, Gurbani and matching proficiency in English language and Western religious concepts, Macauliffe succeeded in procuring the former’s services from Maharaja Hira Singh of Nabha in whose employment Bhai Sahib was serving as a royal tutor to the Crown Prince. As a result Bhai Sahib spent four months with Macauliffe and apprised him with the fundamental concepts of Gurbani and Sikhism. Later on, this short association turned into a life-long relationship. Macauliffe used to stay at the Bhai Sahib’s farm house in his native village Pitho in District Bhatinda, Punjab along with his team of Gyanis and other scholars. His timely suggestions to Macauliffe to publish his entire work in six volumes along with the biographical sketches of Gurbani contributors saved his work from the impending damage from the doubting Johnies among the Sikhs. Bhai Sahib’s going to England and doing the entire proof-reading and last minutes corrections before its publications and letters’ certifying its copyrights in the name of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha speaks volumes for his immense contribution and their life-long companionship. It must have compensated all the rebuffs and humiliations that Macauliffe had received from his co-religionists. He writes, “For literary assistance I must acknowledge my indebtedness to Sardar Kahn Singh of Nabha, one of the greatest scholars and most distinguished authors among the Sikhs, who by order of the Raja of Nabha, accompanied me to Europe to assist in the publication of this work and in reading the proof thereof.” No wonder Macauliffe had written all the copy rights of his work in the name of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha.
Even after the successful completion of his lifelong mission, Macauliffe’s troubles were still not over. He was in for fresh setbacks and rebuffs. While he was looking for an opportunity for the launch of this publication from a Sikh platform, the dates for the annual Sikh Education Conference for the year 1911 to be held at Rawalpindi were announced. He made plans to come to India with his book and informed the Conference’s organizers about his visit through a telegram. According to Principal Taja Singh, when Macauliffe arrived at the Rawalpindi Railway Station nobody had come to receive him despite his advance information. Shocked and frustrated, he hired a horse-driven tonga and reached the home of Bhagat Laxman Singh. He narrated his tale of woes to his host who promised to compensate for this humiliation and promised to present a resolution in Macauliffe’s favor in the subject committee meeting of the Conference being held the next day. But the subject committee refused to pass this resolution after which he felt abandoned by the very custodians of Sikh religion for which he had spent his whole life and his resources. The hostile attitude of the British authorities towards him because of his conversion from Christianity to Sikhism was understandable, but his humiliation by the Sikhs was unbearable. He felt it was the unkindest cut of all the setbacks he had received so far. He returned to England, a highly broken and frustrated man and a mental wreck. His only savior was his personal Punjabi attendant Mohammad who served his master faithfully till the last breath of his life. However, this blunder on the part of the Sikhs was set right next year when a resolution praising the contribution of Macauliffe was passed with an overwhelming majority in the Sikh Educational Conference held in 1912 at Ambala. It was passed with the joint efforts and support of Bhagat Laxman Singh and Diwan Bahadur Leela Ram of Hydrabad Sindh who was also presiding over this Conference. But this belated acceptance of his work could not heal his deeply hurt feelings and he died next year on March 15, 1913. Before his death, he had bequeathed his property among his relatives including his faithful attendant Mohammad. It was a heart moving letter written by Mohammad in his broken hybrid English to Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, which communicated the sad news of Macauliffe’s tragic end. The Manuscript of this letter is still available in the Dr Ganda Singh’s collection of papers. He had written that Macauliffe was found reciting lines from Japuji ten minutes before he had breathed his last. Some specimen lines from this valuable letter are being reproduced below: “1913 March today Friday 21 Sir Mister Kahn Singh good morning much better you look. I am sorry you now dear friend very good night come India and I am sorry Saturday 15 tonight last time it is 8 O’Clock past ten minutes lost Sir dear Lost Mister Macauliffe a sleep London now I am sorry.”
It is unfortunate that even after his death, a controversy arose about the disposal of his dead body. While the Christians regarded him a non –Christian as he had converted to Sikhism as early as 1860s and worked his whole life for Sikhism, he could not be given, a Christian burial, a section among the Sikhs there, being wary of inviting the displeasure of the majority community, the Sikhs objected to his remaining a non-kesadhari even after his adoption of Sikhism and hence not being entitled to cremation according to Sikh rites. Finally as recorded by Bhagat Laxman Singh and Principal Teja Singh, it was decided that Macauliffe’s body, after putting it in a coffin be lowered and kept in a grave for five minutes only, and then should be cremated. So his body was cremated. The fact was that he had adopted Sikhism and was a Sehajdhari Sikh in real terms. As Prof Harbans Lal has stated that he (Macauliffe) had given up everything including his job, his perks and privileges, his ancestral religion, his Christian friends and everything else which belonged to him in order to spread the message of Sikhism far and wide which was the mission of his life. According to Bhagat Laxman Singh, Macauliffe had started his career as researcher of Sikhism and he had died as a Sikh whom both his ancestral religion and contemporary co-religionists, the Sikhs had almost excommunicated. The move to raise a memorial fund in memory of Macauliffe by some of his well wishers and admirers and establish a library in his memory also met with failure. According to Principal Teja Singh, despite their desperate appeals and efforts they could collect only around two thousand rupees. So after abandoning the proposal of establishing a library, it was proposed to handover this meager fund to Panjab University, Lahore asking it to award a medal to a Sikh student annually from the interest earned on this fund after holding an essay writing contest. But this proposal too was rejected by the University authorities since it restricted the competition to Sikh students only. Finally, Principal Teja Singh handed over Rs 3245/- collected so far to the Khalsa College Amritsar management. Dr Gopal Singh Dardi, the author of English translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib had received this medal in 1934 at the age of sixteen years. After this as per the discrete enquiries made by G.S. Bhullar, from whose book most of the references included in this article have been cited, nothing about the fate of this fund and medal has been categorically revealed except that a mention is made in the Khalsa College prospectus every year. Such is the sad state of affairs in Sikh institutions and Sikh society?
The arrival of Max Arthur Macauliffe in India and his path-breaking work on Sikhism were a Divine God-sent gift and blessing to the Sikhs and Sikhism. The period between fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire in Punjab and the Sikh renaissance in the form of the Singh Sabha and Gurdwara Reform Movement in 1920s was a period of all round degeneration in Sikh religion and society. It was an interregnum when Sikh Gurdwaras went into the custody of Udasi Mahants, who being collaborators of the British authorities, had been misusing the Gurdwara funds, usurping the vast Gurdwara properties and following non-Sikh Brahminical practices. Prof Harbans Lal’s following lines published in the Oped page of the contemporary news paper, “Khalsa Advocate” on December 15, 1904 describe the miserable state of Sikh religion. He summed up, that Counterfeit Gurus had mushroomed in large numbers whose sole aim was to exploit the innocent Sikhs and propagandize their own supremacy. The true spirit of Sikhi had disappeared altogether and faith in the Sikh Gurus had reached its nadir. The Sikh masses were steeped in blind belief and idolatory. Whatever was life sustaining and service of humanity in the Sikh tradition had lost its appeal. Some members of the families even remotely related to Sikh Gurus but belonging to the subcastes like Bedis and Sodhis had raised their own Deras and Chowkies and designed their own codes of conduct/ Rahit Maryada to promote their own worship and amass personal wealth. Brahminical practices like drawing horoscopes of the newly born, putting gangajal in the dying person’s mouth, immersing the bodily ashes after death in the Ganges, worshipping the Pandas and consulting astrologers for auspicious timings for performance of betrothal and marriage ceremonies creeped into Sikh society with a vengeance. The original recension of Guru Granth Sahib called the Kartarpuri Bir which even the mighty Maharaja Ranjit Singh had failed to procure from the Sodhi dynasty was later on sold by one Sadhu Singh Sodhi, a latter Sodhi descendent to a British official for a consideration. Its despatch to London Office was stopped at the Calcutta Seaport at the last moment by the intervention of Dr Earnest Trump who had insisted on doing his English translation from the original version. The Sikh ruler of Kapurthala who had himself apostatized by renouncing the Sikh form had abolished Sikhism as a State religion in his State. Macauliffe who had been completely mesmerized and transformed by the profoundness and appeal of sacred Sikh verses, the universal and humanitarian teachings of Sikh Gurus and their teachings and had converted himself into Sikhism to spread the invaluable message of Sikhism throughout the world through his lifelong mission of English translation and his other writings and lectures on Sikhism in India and abroad was shattered by the pace of degeneration in one of the finest religions of the world and the series of personal setbacks which he had received from the votaries of this religion. Despite all these personal and religious rebuffs, he, like a true crusader, continued his relentless efforts to stem the rot till the last breath of his life. His nearly perfect and meticulous English translation and it being one of the two earliest versions is his everlasting contribution to Sikhism and Sikh studies. While Vol I deals with Guru Nanak, his selected verses and the originating events of the Sikh religion, Vol II deals with the lives and representative verses of next three Gurus namely Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amardas and Guru Ramdas. Similarly, while Vol III is allotted to the life and verses of Guru Arjan Dev, Vol IV deals with lives of Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkrishan and life and verses of Guru Tegh Bahadur. While vol V is exclusively devoted to life and work of Guru Gobind Singh, Vol VI presents the lives and verses of Bhaktas included in the sacred Sikh scripture. Macauliffe’s work tries to restore the originality and essential distinctiveness of Sikh religion and its spiritual and moral teachings which, according to him, were being threatened in some quarters by branding it as a syncritic amalgamation of the two existing religions in India. The modern understanding of the uniqueness and distinctiveness of Sikh religion has to a large extent, emerged from the presentation of his work on Sikh religion. Despite his study of the earlier ideological studies of Sikh religion in English by the foreign scholars like Henry Colebrook, John Malcolm, Joseph Davey Cunningham, Horace Hayman Wilson, Monier Williams, and Fredrick Max Muller and their operative lines in the footnotes of his work, his description and presentation of Sikhism is based on his own study and judgement,.
Fortunately, after a temporary fading of interest in his work, his contribution is being widely acknowledged among the enlightened English reading Sikhs across the world. Various academic and Sikh organizations and conferences such as Academy of Guru Granth Studies in USA, Canada and London have started celebrating Max Arthur Macauliffe’s centennials in the twenty first century. Will the premier Sikh organization SGPC revise its agenda to include the acknowledgement and celebration of the contribution of these scholarly foreign and Indian Sikh icons like Max Arthur Macauliffe instead of wasting its valuable resources on the crowd-pulling endless chain of Nagar Kirtans and other unproductive rituals/ Practices?
Works consulted and Cited
1. Max Arthur Macauliffe: The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, Published by Clarendon Press, Oxford, London, 1909
2. G.S. Bhullar: Qalam Siahi (Pen & Ink) Punjabi, Navyug Publishers, New Delhi, 2020, Essay on M.A. Macauliffe, p. 97-114.
4. The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol 3, page 1-4, published by Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab, India, 2002