News & Views




  I S C

  Research Projects

  About Us


Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




Understanding of Religion and the Sikh Religion in Kashmir – A Historical Outline

Ahmad Showkat

Much of the literature has been written on the philosophical interpretation of religion, and many theories have come up in this direction. My endeavour here in any case is not to chalk out speculation or a theory on religion, which for me would be at least premature and hasty in scholastic circle, not to examine in detail the existing theories and approaches to study and analyse it, but my aim is to demarcate areas which I find especially niggling and worthy to discuss. Although many new terms have been used intentionally in part two of this paper, I have focused on the Sikh religion in particular and the Sikhs in general, the only worth discussing minority community in the Muslim Majority Valley of Kashmir, bearing many ills and odds, reside and live with, as against what the Kashmiri Pandits did i.e. mass migration during 90’s of the twentieth century.
Religion is life, philosophy is thought….. We need both thought and life, and we need that the two shall be in harmony
– James Freeman Clarke

Religion is one of the most authoritative, prominent and pervasive forces in the human society. It shapes how people behave and how they think about the world and their own place in it. Religious values influence people’s achievements and religious meanings help them to interpret their experiences. It is such a complex and indefinable topic that most scholars of religion are seriously questioning whether it can be studied or not. What is “religion” and why do many people adopt and retain their religious doctrines, practices and beliefs? It is very hard rather difficult to define. But, this complex subject is central to the majority of our lives and it has assumed great significance in today’s confusing world. To define and understand it one must be an intellectual rather than traditional intellectual, what I mean is “teacher or priest”. 

The word “religion” has been derived from a Latin word “religare” (“to tie” or “to bind”) and religio (“conscientiousness,” “respect,” “awe,” or “sanctity”). According to the Encyclopaedia of religion, It has been defined as “Belief in and reverence or a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator or governor of the universe….a personal or institutionalised system grounded in such beliefs and worship…”1 Here it refers to the union between the material (man) and spiritual being (God).  But  it is no more related as there are religions which do not believe in spiritual being (God) for e.g. Communism, Buddhism, Jainism and then what about animists- who believe in the existence of an unseen reality- (the supernatural, but not in “gods” per se).

Many great scholars have defined the term religion as, for ancient Greek philosopher  Plato (B.C 427-B.C 347), the science of begging and getting gifts from the Gods; for Kant, the recognition of moral duties as divine commands, for Muller, the intuitive faculty of apprehending the infinite, for British historian A. D. Nock (1902-1963), the human refusal to accept vulnerability;  and for sociologist Emile Durkheim, who gave functional perspective to religion defined it as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things” He proposed that humans cannot live without organized social structures, and that religions are a glue that hold a society together, for they teach social virtues such as love, compassion, philanthropy, justice, and discipline over our desires and emotions.

Religion for great German materialist and socialist philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), who aptly provided the answer to the second part of my question as-Religion is the  general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur [trans.: principle], its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its universal source of consolation and justification. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless condition. It is the opium of the people. (Karl Marx, 1843, pp. 53–54)

Though these giants however, have deemed it with the weakness and the helplessness of the human being in-front of the supernatural power- God.

I believe that religion is a “non-emblematic concept” and its foundation lays on the faith, emotion and devotion which means “an eventual concern with orthodox implication and belief in God” (abstract). It should not be associated with the narrow and restricted conception which often confines virtue and integrity to one’s own kind; rather relatively it should be perceived as a comprehensive sum-total way of life affixed in faith in spiritual being and uttering itself in ethical conduct at the individual and social level. It should be related to the values like morality, devotion, love and sympathy rather than the sacraments, form, symbol and rituals be cherished. It is a “belief-in-nothing” which accompanied everything- a sole authority of the world.

There are two broad types of definition in general use in the study of religion.  (A) -In the narrow sense, it is “associated-definition” i.e., definitions in terms of the supposed content or “substance” or religious thought and values. It is co-related with traditions, scriptures, myths, rituals, institutions so on and so forth. These inner dimensions so called “labels” are a notion that is used in an attempt to bring some kind of order to the study of religious patterns that are in fact complex, diverse, ever-changing, and overlapping. To say it has been confusedly associated with Cultural-ideals i.e. which means the thing people do and believe, the custom they follow, how one behaves and the attitude one has, the way the human beings develop in order to handle with their ambience. Although it does help in the process of acculturating common norms and ideas which help the societies to emerge, grow and sometimes vanish. (B) In the wider sense or inclusive-definition- which has been perceived by the influential scholar of world religions, Ninian Smart, as what includes not only scrupulous religious conventions but even also the secular ideologies, convictions and doctrines of the world over, which may occur in personal, non-institutional ways, without the ritual and social dimensions of organized religions. He distinguished seven dimensions of religion: a) Ritual (public or private ceremonies) (b). Narrative and mythic, (c). Experiential and emotional (feelings of guilt, dread, awe, devotion, ecstasy, peace, etc.), (d). Social and institutional (group dimensions involving shared beliefs, identity, membership), (e). Ethical and legal (rules concerning human behaviour) (f). Doctrinal and philosophical, and (g). Material (things and places representing or manifesting the sacred).

Mostly the narrow sense which has less relevance is followed by the different religious peoples of the world- be it Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Judaists, Sikhs etc.
Religion in itself is not a problem, as it shapes the entire life not only of the individuals, but also of society as a whole. It has been the greatest source of consolation to millions of sorrowing and suffering. But when religion is restricted to a particular ideology and when we confine its boundaries it becomes  problematic which in long run gives rise to chauvinism and division. Of course the numerical strength of the religions [whatever it is] increases, but it is not by following the quintessence of the true religion but by following traditions.

Religion is an unambiguous term and it depends on faith and free will or to say it is “much more a matter of emotional attitudes as it is a matter of beliefs and much more a matter of theory as it is a matter of practices”. Religions today face challenges from within and outside, and it has also probably become the manifestation of the “elite-nexus” who have engaged masses into many issues which are mind-boggling complexities. Modernism or the western models of beliefs have killed God, which resulted in the loss of the true spirit of the religion. On the other hand post- modernism killed both God as well as man. The essence of true religious teaching is that “one should serve and befriend all” is now losing ground. On the importance of the religion, Winston C. King2 rightly says that “Difficult as it is, therefore, we cannot avoid the valuation of religions, either explicit or implicit. For it, all ideas about anything, including religion are equally good, valuable, and true, either we are talking about nothing, or else all such ideas are equally false, worthless and evil”.

Who is friend and who the foe of your (native land)
Let you among yourself thoughtfully make out.
The kind and stock of all Kashmir is one.
Let you mix milk and sugar once again
Hindus will keep the helm and Muslims ply the oats;
Let you together row the boat of this country.
Ghulam Ahmad Mahjur- a national poet of the Kashmir.

Sikhism in Kashmir
The valley of Kashmir is known all over the world for its pristine picturesque beauty, surrounded by an unbroken ring of mountains situated on the northern extremity of India; a land of contrasts by virtue of its strategic and unique importance in the sub-continent comprises of many ethnic and religious groups who lived in relative harmony resulted in disseminating a spirit of humanism and tolerance among its inhabitants which gave them the identity of incomparable distinction. Prior to establishment of the Sultanate (A.D1339) the inhabitants of the valley were Pandits- who according to Schofield were the Brahmin class of educators, scholars and preachers in Hinduism.3 With the process of islamization or what I mean “spiritual- imperialism” in the valley, the majority among them accepted Islam.  Historians dispute whether the conversion of Muslims in the valley was forced or initiated by the followers themselves. However, it is universally agreed that Muslims quickly became the majority, and belonged to a lower socio-economic group than that of the Kashmiri Pandits. Despite the predominance of the Muslim population in the Kashmir, the minorities have maintained their distinctive characteristics. They live in harmony with each other. Co-mingling from centuries without antagonism, the last two or three decades saw a tension among minorities in Kashmir; it was due to the cross insurgency in the valley. Though it is true that where-ever the minority exists they are under pressure and threat and they always suffer. But the positive aspect is that they have the feeling of solidarity and fidelity towards their fellow members and the religion in many cases provides the bond of unity among them. The division of the people according to the Census of 1891 into different religions are4:

       Hindus           Sikhs               Muhammadans      Christians     Parsis     Total
       52,576            4,092               757433                    132                8             814,241

The Muslims constitute 93 per cent, whereas Hindus represent 6.45 per cent of the population. According to the different census reports from 1951 onwards the overall Muslim population in the Jammu and Kashmir state is decreasing from 70% to 62 %. But in the valley of Kashmir they still top the rank.6 Here my aim is not to deal with the decreasing Muslim population nor the increasing rate of the Hindus but the other minority religious group i.e. Sikhs which constitute a half of Percent of the total population according to the above census figures.

Who is a Sikh? How this energetic class came into being in the Kashmir is a matter of great controversy among the literary people. Sikh is defined according to the Sikh code of conduct “Rehat Maryada”, as “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Sri Guru Gobind Singh; Sri Guru Granth Sahib; the teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru; and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion”.

Many historians have written about their origin in the Kashmir. According to Macauliffe, the founder of the Sikhism (Guru Nanak Dev Ji) visited Kashmir and many were converted to the new fold and thereafter went into the Himalayan states.6 The renowned Sikh scholar  while making an elaborate description to the third udasi of the founder, said that Nanak travelled to eastern states, China, Tibet, Yarkand, Ladakh, Gilgit, Skardoo and reached Srinagar (Kashmir) via banks of Wullar Lake; and the first convert was a Brahman Pandit namely Braham Das of Mattan (Anantnag).7 According to Professor Himat Singh it was at this place that the Gurdwara “mattan- sahib” was constructed having six minars, which latter on was demolished by Dogra regime.8 The first among Muslims who accepted Sikhism was bhai Katu Shah during the visit of Guru Hargobind Ji to the valley.9 At Shaji marg a gurudwara with his name was constructed.

The other historians believe that Sikhs of the Valley were originally Brahmans from Punjab and they can be distinguished and differentiated “from Brahmans of Kashmir by their method of wearing the hair, by the absence of the effeminate gown among the men, and by their accent”.10 While the most common view is that “they were imported by Raja Shukhjiwan (A.D 1754) and were converted to Sikhism during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh”.11

Keeping the divergent views under consideration it seems Sikhism came to Kashmir with the Udasis of the Sikh Gurus, but it is apt to mention here that, their number in the valley remained limited and confined during the time of their gurus. It may be because of the reactionary policies of the Mughals against them, lack of the “ardent clerical staff for propagation of this new faith” and secondly ‘the difficult geographical formation of  Kashmir’ which separated it from the “guru nagri; the third and most important aspect that of the role played by the Muslim Sufi’s who have made the process of Islamization rapid and also made Kashmir as their home (Pir-War). On the other hand when Maharaja Ranjit Singh established his rule in Kashmir, the number of the Sikhs seems to have increased-but whether he imported the Sikhs from outside or converted is a mystery. The Sikh population was important for the Maharaja, as it would provide the psychological benefit to the rule.  The other important aspect is that, as per the language they speak is Semi- Punjabi or what is known as Lahdi-Punjabi and not the Kashmiri as is the case of Pundits’. It clarifies that they are not the natives of Kashmir. Although, their number may be few who have adopted Sikhism out of the Brahmans or Muslims of the valley, but due to their natural trait of ‘civilizing- assimilation’ they are not considered “outsiders” and they have maintained cordial relations with the rest of the population.

 Every now and then people used to chant and mourn the mass exodus of the Pandits from the valley [90’s] but very few commit to memory the grave massacre or genocide of the Sikhs during qabaili raids in the valley especially in district Baramulla, [village Chandoosa] the migration of many Sikh families during the turmoil period of nineties, the recent Chattisingpora episode and their ever decreasing economic position.12

Whatever be their history – as a minority group facing many ills and odds, challenges from within and outside, the “daring Sikhs” have organized and maintained the viable distinction and identity in the state. Baring many problems in the Muslim majority Kashmir they remained part and parcel of this land and added their own colour to the multi-coloured valley.



  1.   James Hastings, (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. X, 1952, New York, p. 661-62.
  2.   Winston C. King: Introduction to religion (1954), P.13.
  3.   Schofield, Victoria, Kashmir in the Crossfire, New York: Viva Books Private Limited, 1997.

  4.   Cf. Walter Lawrence, The Valley of Kashmir, p. 225.
  5.   In 1951 total population of J&K was 3,253,852(projections) the number of Muslims were 2,277,694 i.e. 70 %. In 1961 total population was 3,560,976 in which Muslims number were 2,241,463 i.e. 68 %. In 1971 total population was 4,616,632 in which Muslims number were 3,000,810 i.e. 65%. In 1981 total population was 5,967,389 in which Muslims number was 3,789,291 i.e. 63%.  In 1991 total population was 7,718,700 (projection) in which Muslims number were 4,785,594 i.e. 62%. For details see Census of India, 1951 onwards and also see Radiance 2-1-94.
  6.   Max Arthur Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, Vol. I, pp. 163-168.
  7.   Giani Gian Singh, Tawareekh Gur Khalsa, p. 192-198. 
  8.   Himat Singh, Kashmir Lai Qurbani, Patiala, 2004, p. 1
  9.   S. Anoop Singh Sodhi, Kashmir and the Sikhs- An Insight, Srinagar, p. 28.
10. Walter Lawrence, The Valley of Kashmir, p. 300-05
11. The Sikhs of Tral and Hamal declared their ancestors accompanied Raja Sukh Jiwan P. N. K. Bamazi, History of Kashmir, pp. 19-20; also see G.T Vigne. Kashmir had been conquered by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1819 as a province governed through governors appointed by the Sikh court. Cf. foot note 15. Sukh dev Singh Charak, Eng. trans., Rajdarshani, p. 227.
12. Every Sikh of the valley remembers those tragic moments of 1947 and the latter heart burning episodes which befell on them on 20 March 2000 when their brethrens were ruthlessly massacred.


ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2013, All rights reserved.