In our previous two publications, The Sikh Revolution and In The Caravan of Revolution, we attempted to establish the historical validity of the Sikh revolutionary movement. The present attempt, in the main, revolves around the same theme, but here we are not bound down within the confines of any particular discipline. Life is too complex, if not a mystery, to be fathomed through a compartmentalized approach, hence, should be explored from as many angles as possible.
The scholars of social sciences do recognize the limitations of their disciplines. In the first place, they have not been able to define even basic social concepts such as freedom, progress, justice, ideology, etcetera. Another kind of incompleteness in the study of social sciences stems from employing “imperfect knowledge” and “imperfect laws”. There is a serious debate among historians as to whether the validity of so-called historical facts can be established at all,1 and the study of so-called general laws or universal hypotheses has raised doubts as to whether there are any “laws” in history and human behaviour.2
This fluid state of its knowledge, in which social science finds itself at present, has certain important implications. It is not possible to expect scientific standards in the study of social sciences, especially due to the human factor involved, comparable to those of the natural sciences. It is men, after all, who make history; and, “in addition to being a political and economic animal, man is also an ideological animal — this is nowhere clearer than in the revolutionary situation.”3 Besides his mundane interests, he is also a bundle of instincts, sentiments, emotions, urges, aspirations, ideas, ideals, biases, prejudices, etc., which, in varied combinations, constitute the motive force of his actions. No ideas, ideals and emotions, no revolutions. This makes the task of interpreting historical and social movements highly complex and difficult.
Therefore, “as a complex macro-event, revolution would seem to suggest multiple rather than a monistic approach to the question of its causes.”4 They are produced by a multiplicity of interdependent causes, and a sufficient account of which all is probably out of the question.5 This is why certain economic interpretations of revolution, or even Pareto’s preoccupation with circulation of elites, invariably incur the charge of gross over-simplification.6 Max Weber, who has contributed more than anyone else to the sociology of religion, is the first to protest against the one-sided assumptions of social and economic materialism; and he emphatically rejected the interpretation that, “the characteristic feature of a religious attitude can be simply the function of the social stratum, appearing as its ‘ideological’ expression, or a flex of its material or ideal interests.”7
This complexity of revolution makes it obvious, “that only a broadly based interdisciplinary approach can begin to grapple with the multilateral totality of the revolutionary process.”8 “In the final analysis it may be that revolutions are too complex to lend themselves to anything stronger than probabilistic explanations.”9
We hope, therefore, that it would not be out of place, in this arena of ‘probability-improbability’ relationship, to venture an interpretation of the Sikh movement in the light of the well-known role which “Prophetic Mandate or Mission” has played in human affairs. We are aware of the view that, “Religion is the experience of the Holy”, and that this experience will ultimately defy any attempt to describe, analyse, and comprehend its meaning scientifically.10 But, one cannot ignore how the religious creative energy released by the Prophetic Missions of Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and other prophets changed the entire cultural content of civilizations, and, even otherwise, led to tremendous social, political, and historical development. Hence, it is not necessary for a scientific study of the Sikh movement to probe into the rationale of the revelation Guru Nanak received. What matters is the depth of the certitude of faith and commitment to his mandate it generated, as also the implicit faith and the magnitude of commitment to his mission it inspired among the Sikhs.
We have introduced a chapter just to show that there is a rational way of looking at faith as “ultimate concern”. Anyway, Gustave le Bon has shown, that “among the most important factors of history, one was preponderant ... the factor of belief ”11, and, “if a great number of historical events are often uncomprehended, it is because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which really has very little influence upon their genesis”12. This is exactly what we find happening regarding the interpretation of the Sikh movement, as we have not come across satisfactory conventional explanations for some vital issues related to it. For example, more than a dozen Bhaktas comprised the medieval radical Bhagti movement, which was, broadly speaking, not wedded to the old Hindu tradition and was anti-caste in its outlook. But, not in a single case was an organized and sustained effort made to found and develop a society outside the Hindu fold and the caste society in the manner it was done by the Sikh Gurus. Why not ? And, what was the inspiration and the directive force that coordinated the development of the anti-caste character of the Sikh Panth over a long period of about 200 years during the Guru period ? Similarly, why has the Sikh movement been the only movement of Indian origin which inspired and led the downtrodden to capture political power in their own interests ? In fact, it is a land-mark even on the world map, for, the Khalsa, as an instrument of the Sikh plebeian political revolution, was created 90 years before the French Revolution. These vital issues, and some allied ones, cannot be brushed aside and have to be tackled. We have attempted here, in a humble way, to answer these questions, but it has to be made clear that this attempt is of an exploratory nature.
It is revolutionary ideology which inspires a revolution, and it is the men inspired by that ideology who carry it out. In fact, it is the hallmark of ideology which distinguished revolutionary movements from other armed upheavals. As it is attempted to interpret the Sikh movement while ignoring or underplaying in it the role of Sikh ideology, we have added a chapter on the significance of revolutionary ideology.
Another hurdle in understanding the Sikh movement is this prejudice that religion has played an altogether negative role in history, and for that reason is an “opium for the masses”. We have devoted some space to remove this prejudice and to show that religion has also been the biggest integrating force in history. It has a great revolutionary potential and has factually given birth to two political revolutions — the Islamic and the Sikh.
Finally, we wish to add that in addition to the historical data we have relied heavily, for substantiating the viewpoint presented here, on the findings of or expositions by eminent scholars of political science, as this discipline is no less scientific or rational than that of history. We have quoted or referred to these scholars very extensively, and in order to convey the sense of their writing correctly, we have tried to keep as close to their own language as possible.
The discipline of Sociology is mainly a descriptive science, and is not much concerned with the ‘how and why’ of social phenomena. But, it has the scientific merit of investigating and studying facts without bias — “sine ira ac studio”13. Hence it is very authentic for the de facto recognition of social phenomena or facts. For this reason, we have also quoted or referred extensively to the scholarly works of Max Weber and Joachim Wach, who have studied the sociology of religion in depth and detail, particularly for the purpose of authenticating, in so far it is possible, the phenomenon of Prophetic revelation and its implications.
We submit again that ours is a humble exploratory effort, and this work is published in the hope that it might draw the attention of those competent scholars who are in a position to study and develop this subject thoroughly.
1. Carr, E.N. : What is History, pp. 7-30.
2. Hagopian, M.N. : The Phenomenon of Revolution, pp. 123-124.
3. Ibid., pp. 255.
4. Ibid., pp. 128.
5. Ibid., pp. 134-135.
6. Ibid., pp. 128-129.
7. Joachim Wach : The Sociology of Religion, p. 12.
8. Hagopian, p. 125.
9. Ibid., p. 125.
10. Wach, p. 14.
11. Le Bon, Gustave : The Psychology of Revolution, p. 14.
12. Ibid., p. 15.
13. Wach, page 8.