The full import of the concept of Meeri-Peeri is not understood if it is viewed, as is usually done, merely as a response to an isolated, particular political situation. Seen in a broader perspective, it was born as a God-orientated solution to an ever-recurring historical problem.
1. The Problem
The problem has been referred to in the previous chapters as well, but in order to facilitate discussion here, it may be recapitulated and pin-pointed in simple terms as follows :
a) Firstly, human inequality and human aggression are the root-cause of all social, political, and economic tensions in society.
b) Secondly, starting from simpler forms in primitive societies, this inequality and aggression has consolidated itself, over the centuries, as systems of stratification of society based on status, power, or class.
c) Thirdly, the ultimate sanction for creating and maintaining these systems is political-cum-military power.
These are generally accepted axioms of social sciences, including history, and hence there is no need to argue about it or to seek corroboration for them.
2. The Religious Response
There is no doubt that religion has been misused on an extensive scale to legitimize the inequitable, even inhuman stratification of society. It is religious sanction which helped the caste system to maintain and consolidate itself for thousands of years. But, there is also no doubt that there is another side to this picture as well.
“Every religiously grounded unworldly love and indeed every ethical religion must, in similar measure and for similar reasons, experience tensions within the sphere of political behaviour. The tension appears as soon as religion has progressed to anything like a status of equality with the sphere of political associations.”1 Again, “The conflict of ascetic ethics, as well as of the mystically oriented temper of brotherly love, with the apparatus of domination which is basic to all political institutions produced the most varied types of tension and compromise.”2
What Max Weber postulates clearly, therefore, is that :
(a) The apparatus of domination is basic to all political institutions.
(b) Therefore, not only mystically orientated temper of brotherly love, but all ethical systems must experience tension with political set-ups. In other words, only religions which reject the world, or are indifferent to humanitarian values, can escape tension and confrontation with political regimes which maintain an unjust status quo. We have no concern with this approach.
But religions, which do believe in sharing worldly responsibility and are very much alive to the infringement of humanitarian values, have varied in their approaches towards tackling the problem of the stratification of society. Broadly speaking, these approaches may be divided into two categories, the reformist and the revolutionary.
3. Reform and Revolution
An important feature of a revolutionary movement, distinguishing revolution from reform, is that it does not limit itself to piecemeal reconstruction of a system of stratification. It aims at the complete, at least a radical, reconstruction of the system concerned and not a part of it. That is what demarcates a revolution from reform movements. This magnitude of change, which a revolution seeks to bring about in the status quo, leads to two unavoidable corollaries. A revolutionary movement must aim at capturing political power and it has to depend upon the use of force for achieving that purpose.
4. Political and Violent
A revolution by its very definition, as we have seen, must seek to abolish at least one of the traditional systems of stratification. Any entrenched stratification system might be amenable to reform, but would not surrender without a struggle when its very existence is at stake. And, as all systems get entrenched, in the last analysis, on the basis of political and military sanctions, revolutions have to be political and violent. In other words, there cannot be even a permanent social revolution without a political revolution. “The goals of a revolution are the official objectives for taking up arms, for breaking through the framework of traditional loyalty, or for adopting the anomic course rather than the non-anomic. The significance of the goal lies principally in the way it legitimates the use of violence.”3 The emphasis in our definition upon intensification of political power and recourse to violence illustrates what some concepts of revolution either neglect or underestimate, that revolution is a political phenomenon. Its political dimension figures both with respect to goals and to means. The goal of a revolution in fact may be a new political order, while political methods are unavoidable no matter what the stakes of revolution may be. This double importance of political power gives it some claim to be considered the most important, though not the exclusive, factor involved.4
The revolutionary phenomenon is primarily a political event, a fact that has tended to be overlooked by emphasizing socio-economic considerations. “Subordinate relationships universally and for ever pose a political problem. The issue of subordination is more pervasive than that of exploitation, to which Marx tried to limit it.”5 “The revolutionary process itself is in the first instance a struggle for political power. And whatever may be the deeper driving forces of a revolution, the struggle for the state always appears as the immediate content; indeed to such an extent that the transformation of the social order often appears not as the goal of the revolution, but simply as means used by revolutionaries to conquer or to exercise power.”6
A revolution necessarily involves an armed struggle, especially so when the entrenched system is sought to be abolished within a short time. “Finally, our definition of revolution considers recourse to violence as essential rather than accidental to it. The magnitude and the abruptness of change involved in revolution always produces violence in some form. Revolution must be distinguished from reform, however radical, and from long-term evolutionary development such as the so-called industrial revolution and the growth of certain religious movements. The factor of violence helps to do this.”7
In each revolution there is a point, or several points, where constituted authority is challenged and ultimately overpowered by the super power of revolutionists. In England, Charles did not have enough good soldiers in the Civil War in comparison with the human resources available to Parliament. Similarly, in America also an important initial failure of the government was its failure to use force adequately and skilfully. In France, Louis and his advisers failed to use the military at the decisive moment, the rioting in Paris in July. And, in Petrograd in 1917, at the critical moment, the soldiers refused to march against the people, but regiment by regiment came over instead to join the demonstrators. No revolutionists have ever succeeded until they have got a predominance of effective armed forces on their side.8
5. The Concept of Meeri-Peeri
The concept of ‘Meeri-Peeri’, as the term itself implies, signifies in its essence the blending of worldly sovereignty and spiritual sovereignty. The seeds of this concept may be traced to the earliest Sikh tradition, as the concepts of ‘Sacha Patshah’ and ‘Meeri-Peeri’ both connote virtualy the blending of worldly authority and spiritual authority. The ideal of Sacha-Patshah came to be associated with Guru Nanak himself,9 and the succeeding Gurus,10 at a very early period. Mohsin Fani writes : “Sikhan Guru ha ra Sacha Patshah Yoni Badshah-i-haqiqat midanand.”11 It is true that Sacha Patshah can also be interpreted to mean ‘True King’ as an honorific title, but the significant point is that this title was institutionalized and had political ramifications in the Sikh movement.
The way the Gurus stuck to the title of Sacha-Patshah, despite the dire consequences it invited, clearly shows that this title was meant to be a deliberate challenge to the ruling authority; and the rulers did, in fact, regard it so. Guru Arjan used to hold assemblies which gave them the look of royal darbar (court);12 and henceforth, the Guru was looked upon by his followers as a worldly lord and ruling sovereign.13 One of the reasons of Guru Arjan’s martyrdom was Jahangir’s charge that the Guru “noised himself as a worldly leader”14. Ram Rai incited Emperor Aurangzeb with his allegation that Guru Teg Bahadur boasted of badshahi-karamat, i.e., of kingship and miracle.15 According to Risala-i-Nanakshahi, Aurangzeb did enquire of Guru Teg Bahadur “Why people address you as Sacha Patshah ?”16 Instead of trying to assuage the Emperor’s suspicion, the Guru replied that whatever it was, it reflected the Will of the Almighty, and the faqir was not concerned with the fame or the ill-fame it brought.17 Irvine writes : “One of this Guru’s (Guru Tegh Bahadur’s) crimes, in the Emperor’s eyes, may have been the style of address adopted by his disciples, who had begun to call their leader Sacha Patshah or the ‘True King’. This title was readily capable of two-fold interpretation, it might be applied as the occasion served in a spiritual or literal sense. Its use was extremely likely to provoke the mistrust of a ruler even less suspicious by nature than the Alamgir.”18 In fact, Khushwaqt Rai does state that some of the Sikhs, apparently dazzled by the brilliance of the Guru’s darbar, were prompted to lay claims to sovereignty.19
Another concept, indicative of the blending of worldly power and spirituality, and which has also its roots in the earliest Sikh tradition, is that of “Raj-jog”. Dr McLeod writes : “For some obscure reason Raja Janak held a curious fascination for the early Sikh community. A reference by Kirat the Bard included in the Adi Granth identifies Nanak with Janak; the author of Dabistan-i-Mazahib was sufficiently impressed by the same popular belief to note it in his account of the Sikhs; and references to it appear at various places in the Janam-Sakhis.”20 The likely reason appears to be that Raja Janak was believed, at least by the early Sikhs, to be a reputed Indian mythical figure who combined in his person worldly kingship and a high spiritual status. “Janak, whom scriptures describe as a great Bhagta, combined in his person Raj-jog (i.e., worldly rule and spirituality).”21
In any case, in addition to the inferential allusions given above, we have in Sikh tradition direct references to the combining of Raj (worldly power) with spirituality. Guru Nanak told Shivnabh Raja, who wanted to discard his kingship in order to follow the spiritual path : “Your meeting me should not result in your giving up your raj (rule) and going about abegging; our meeting would be fruitful if you attain the highest attainment (parmpad) in spirituality while retaining your raj (rule). Jog (spirituality) is attainable within raj. Meditate and serve God. I have made you mukat (salvated) within raj.”22 Bhai Gurdas describes Guru Nanak as Sacha Patshah, “who achieved complete control ( jin vas kar ) over Raj-jog”23. Again, according to Bhai Gurdas, Guru Ram Das was free from malice and enmity and lived a life of Raj-jog (“Raj Jog Varte Vartara”)24; and one of the fruitful achievements (sukhfal) of a God-oriented Sikh (Gurmukh) is that he enjoys the bliss of Raj-jog.25
There can be no better interpretation of the Sikh view of Raj-jog than the pattern of life led by the Gurus and the direction they gave to the Sikh movement in the light of this ideal. It is Guru Hargobind who made a formal declaration of the concept of Meeri-Peeri by donning two separate swords, one of Meeri and the other of Peeri, by raising side by side two separate flags representing the same two-fold concept, and by establishing the Akal Takhat (i.e., God’s own throne or seat of political power). This is how the Sikh armed struggle for political power was initiated on the basis of an open declaration combining Meeri and Peeri; but the main issue before us here is whether this development was in harmony with the ideological line followed by the earlier Gurus, or it was a deviation from that ideological line, as alleged by some scholars.
6. Meeri-Peeri and Nam Simran
(a) Factually Incorrect
Such scholars start with the hypothesis that the Sikh movement was a purely religious movement before it took a political turn with the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. This hypothesis is factually incorrect. It has been seen how the concept of Sacha Patshah was institutionalized in the Sikh movement and had political implications before the martyrdom of Guru Arjan; how Guru Arjan himself used to hold assemblies which gave them the look of a royal court; and how the Guru was looked upon by his followers as a “worldly lord and ruling sovereign”. On the basis of the evidence of Dabistan, Dr Narang comes to the conclusion that a state, peaceful and unobtrusive, had been slowly evolved, and with the Guru (i.e., Guru Arjan) at its head as Sacha Patshah, the Sikhs “had already become accustomed to a form of self-government within the empire”26. Toynbee endorses this view that the predecessors of Guru Hargobind had already transformed the Sikh community “from an embryonic church into an embryonic state.”27 “There seems to have been an intermediate stage in the evolution of the Sikh military machine out of the Sikh religious fraternity which had been founded by Nanak about a hundred years before Hargobind’s time. In the last quarter of the sixteenth century of the Christian Era the Sikh community seems to have assumed a form which was already political though it was not yet warlike.”28
Above all, we have the direct evidence of Jahangir, given in his autobiography, that Guru Arjan “noised himself as a worldly leader”, and the glaring historical fact that the Guru blessed, in his enterprise, the rebel prince Khusrau, who contested the throne against his father, Jahangir. “He (Guru Arjan) discussed several matters with him (Khusrau) and made on his forehead a finger-mark in saffron, which in terms of Hindus is called qushqa and is considered propitious.”29 An European contemporary to this event draws the same inference as done by Jahangir : “The Guru congratulated him (Khusrau) for assuming sovereignty and applied three marks on his forehead. Although the Guru was a heathen, and the prince a Mussalman, yet he was glad to put that pagan sign on the prince’s forehead, as a mark of good success in his enterprise…”30 If blessing Khusrau in his rebellion against the Emperor was not involvement in politics, what else was it ?
It was not Guru Arjan’s martyrdom which gave a political turn to the Sikh movement; rather it was the political overtone of the movement which contributed to his martyrdom. And, it was not only Jahangir who regarded the Sikh movement as a challenge to his authority. All those who were keen to uphold the Muslim Shariatic law felt likewise. Sheikh Ahmad Sarhindi, the head of the Naqshbandi Sufi order, had raised a standard of the theological revolt against Akbar’s religious liberalism, and was, on that account, given the titles of “Reviver of the second millennium” and the “Godly Imam”.31 When he heard the news of Guru Arjan’s execution, he was so much overjoyed, that he wrote to the Governor of Lahore : “The execution at this time of the accursed Kafir of Goindwal… is an act of the highest grace for the followers of Islam.”32 It is to be noted that the challenge of the Sikh movement was felt, from the Shariatic point of view, as a challenge to Islam.
In the Shariatic law, religion and politics were intimately entwined with each other; hence any challenge to the Shariat even on the purely theological plane, if it was meant to be serious enough, could not avoid running into a political challenge to a Shariatic state. If the Sikh movement did not invite state persecution earlier, it was because, either the movement was as yet too insignificant to attract the attention of Babar and Hamayun, or they were too preoccupied in consolidating their power; and Akbar was liberal-minded and was, in his own way, attempting to overcome the Shariatic hold. It is significant that Guru Arjan was executed within six months of Akbar’s death, when Jahangir ascended the throne.
(b) Theoretical Plane
The second part of the plank of those who regard the militarization of the Sikh movement by Guru Hargobind as a deviation from the ideological line of the earlier Gurus, is based on their own perception that the use of force, even for a just and noble cause, is incompatible with the path of Nam Simran. Deviation from which view of Nam Simran ?
Nam is essentially an internal spiritual experience which cannot be communicated to others through words. “Says Kabir, a dumb person, on tasting sweet, is unable to express his experience to others.”33 Hence, the experience of Nam can be visualized intellectually, if at all, only hazily and partially. Secondly, whereas there is a clear demarcation between religions which reject the world totally and which do not; there are variations, about the religious goals and the associated practical conduct, within what Max Weber calls ‘inner-worldly asceticism’. “As we have already stated at a number of points, the specific character of the certification of salvation and of the associated practical conduct is completely different in religions which differently represent the character of the promised salvation, the promise of which ensures blessedness.”34
It has been seen in the eighth chapter that there is no uniformity of approach, at least towards some social and historical issues, among Nam Dev, Kabir, Ravi Das, Trilochan, and some other Radical Bhagtas, who claim in their hymns to be votaries of Nam and are believed by their followers to have experienced Nam in their lives. Then, there is a clear difference between the approaches of the Sikh Gurus on one hand, and those of the Bhagtas named above on the other, towards the vital issues of ahimsa and the socio-religious status of women.35 Hence, there is no common criteria for knowing, much less for asserting, what is compatible and what is not compatible with the experience of Nam in its social and historical manifestations ; excepting, perhaps, that these votaries of Nam supported in broad outline humanitarian values and goals. Guru Hargobind told the Maharashtrian saint Ram that he was internally an ‘ascetic’.36 Yet, some scholars presume to know better than the Guru that the taking up of arms, even for a noble cause, was not accordant with Nam. Guru Nanak condemned the rulers and the administration of his time for their oppression of their subjects,37 and was extremely pained to see the suffering caused by Babar’s invasion;38 the Sikh Panth became an ‘embryonic state’ at least by Guru Arjan’s time; and Guru Hargobind took up arms to defend that ‘embryonic state’. Where do such scholars draw the line, as to what is in harmony with Nam Simran and what is not ? And on what basis ? While pondering over these questions, it has to be borne in mind that the conversion of the Sikh Panth into an ‘embryonic state’ had been accomplished in the last quarter of the sixteenth century; that its political confrontation with the Mughal state took place at Guru Arjan’s initiative; and that Sikhism does not swear by the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’.
7. Sikhism and ‘Ahimsa’
It is not our purpose to enter into a discussion of theological or ethical issues connected with the doctrine of ahimsa, in their theoretical abstractions, as there can be no end to hair-splitting. What is relevant for us is the stand of Sikhism on the issue of ahimsa, as illustrated by the hymns of the Gurus and their life-histories.
Guru Nanak expresses his view about ahimsa in a long hymn,43 wherein he emphasizes that the whole life process has a common source. No animal life is possible without the use of flesh in one form or the other. He ridicules the fallacy of those who make a fetish of the question of eating meat but have no scruples in ‘devouring’ (exploiting) men. He points out that all distinctions between non-vegetarian food being impure and vegetarian food being pure are arbitrary, because the source of life is the same elements.
Guru Nanak, being guided by his prophetic revelation, took a unitary view of life. As he viewed life as one whole which could not be compartmentalized, and as he did not want religion to be divorced from life but rather wanted it to serve life, he felt that religion, like life, too could not be compartmentalized. His view (i.e., the Sikh view) of religion does not permit any dichotomy of life, or of any divorce of the individual from his society. Nor does it visualize that true religion, or for that matter true ethics, can co-exist unconcerned with an unjust social stratification, with religious dictation, or with political slavery. In the Sikh view, religion has to meet all the challenges thrown up by life, and not ignore them or let them take care of themselves. “… prophetic revelation involves, for both the prophet and for his followers… a united view of the world derived from a consciously integrated and meaningful attitude towards life. To the prophet, both the life of man and the world, both social and cosmic events, have a certain systematic and coherent meaning. To this meaning, the conduct of mankind must be oriented if it is to bring salvation, for only in relation to this meaning does life obtain a unified and significant pattern… Moreover, it always contains the important religious conception of the world as a Cosmos which is challenged to produce somehow a ‘meaningful’, ordered totality, the particular manifestations of which are to be measured according to this requirement.”44
The prohibition against non-vegetarian diet arose as a corollary of the doctrine of ahimsa. “The behaviour of his subjects was to be regulated according to the ethical ideals of Buddha, and the king saw that the rule of ahimsa, which prohibited killing any living creature, was strictly enforced by imposing a vegetarian diet at court and throughout the realm.”45 It is obivous that such a “universal mood of pity, extending to all creatures, cannot be the carrier of any rational behaviour, and in fact leads away from it”.46
This doctrine had two important implications. First, the use of non-vegetarian diet was supposed to militate against the spiritual progress of a religious person. Secondly, it debarred the person seeking moksha from entering the socio-political field for the objective of undoing social, political, or economic aggression, if necessary by the use of force. Jains and Buddhists were so much overwhelmed by the doctrine of ahmisa that they did not even contemplate taking to the revolutionary path. The Brahmins, although they legitimated the use of force by the kings for the purpose of maintaining the caste order, used the doctrine cleverly to block “the development of the military power of the citizenry, pacifism blocked it in principle and the castes in practice, by hindering the establishment of a polis or commune in the European sense”.47
It is in the Christian world that we find open rumblings here and there, when confronted with the need or the desirability of bringing about a revolutionary change in the established order and the inhibition of pacifism that had come to be associated with the Christian faith. Pere Maillard, the editor of Fre’res du Monde admits : “If I thought my faith (i.e., Christianity) alienated me at all from other people and diminished my revolutionary violence, I would not hesitate to renounce my faith.” Commenting on this, Ellul writes : “Are we to believe, with Pere Maillard, that one must choose between Christian faith and revolutionary violence ? I think he really means that revolutionary violence is, in a sense, the possible outlet for Christian faith, and that if what I take for faith leads me to curtail that violence, then my understanding of that faith is faulty and consequently I ought to abandon it, for by concentrating on violence I am certain to be on the right Christian path.”48
The above passage has been cited not to suggest that the choice is between the Christian faith and revolutionary violence, but to point out that there can be no revolution without resort to violence, at some stage or other, and all those, who have revolutionary objectives and at the same time want to stick to pacifism at all costs, cannot but face a dilemma. Camus clinches the issue and suggests an equitable way out : “Absolute non-violence is the negative basis of slavery and its acts of violence; systematic violence positively destroys the living community and the existence we receive from it; to be fruitful, these two ideas must establish their limits.”49
The Sikh Gurus tried to follow this course. Guru Gobind Singh wrote to Aurangzeb : “Recourse to sword is justifiable when all other means to redress the wrong fail.”50 Guru Hargobind took up arms after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan and Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa after the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur.
8. Why Meeri is an Essential Component ?
“A change of regulation concerning property without a corresponding change of government is not a revolution, but a reform. There is no kind of economic revolution, whether its methods are violent or pacific, which is not, at the same time, manifestly political. Revolution can already be distinguished, in this way, from rebellion. The warning given to Louis XVI — ‘No, sire, this is not a rebellion, it is a revolution’— accounts the essential difference. It means precisely that ‘it is the absolute certainty of a new form of government’. Rebellion is, by nature, limited in scope. It is no more than incoherent pronouncement. Revolution, on the contrary, originates in the realm of ideas. Specifically, it is the injection of ideas into historic experience, while rebellion is only the movement which leads from individual experience into the realm of ideas. While even the collective history of a movement of rebellion is always that of a fruitless struggle with facts, of an obscure protest which involves neither methods nor means, a revolution is an attempt to shape actions to ideas, to fit the world into a theoretic frame.”51
Ellul emphasizes the same ideas, “Revolt at its source is void of thought; it is visceral, physical. Revolution implies a doctrine, a plan, a program, a theory of some kind, though the term ‘theory’ need not have a precise meaning. At any rate, it is my impression that the existence of this preliminary thought is what identifies revolution.”52
“Revolutions originate in the realms of ideas”; the Sikh Revolution originated in the concept of Meeri-Peeri, which had its roots, as seen, in the earliest Sikh tradition, beginning with Guru Nanak; and the creation of the Khalsa and the continuation of the armed struggle during its revolutionary phase was just an extension of Meeri-Peeri. As the Sikh revolution has been discussed in an earlier work, suffice it here to mention that Meeri was made an essential part of Meeri-Peeri, because no structural change in the status quo, as contemplated by the Sikh movement, can be brought about without political power, and political power cannot be captured or retained without military power. The Gurus wanted to establish Dharm (Dharma), if necessary with the help of arms, which, Bhai Gurdas says, Guru Nanak made perfect by “blending the four castes into the noble Panth” and by “abolishing the gap between the rich and the poor”.53
The Sikh armed struggle was not a casual, random, or spontaneous development imposed upon the Panth by the force of circumstances. It was born of, and revolved around, as will be seen in the next section, the Sikh view of dharma. In fact, the Sikh Panth had been deliberately reared as an ‘embryonic state’ to fulfil that dharma, because it could not have been lost upon the Gurus that this development was going to bring them, sooner or later, in confrontation with the established authority, as states cannot ignore, for long, even nascent centres of rival power at their own peril. Not only that, Guru Arjan took the initiative on his own and went a step further in challenging Jahangir’s authority by blessing his rebel son, Khusrau. The Guru could not have been unaware of the consequences. Then he refused to save his life by paying the fine and threatened to excommunicate those of his followers who paid the fine on his behalf.54 This was in consonance with a set purpose, a plan, a design, or programme, whatever one may like to call it. Had the Guru paid the fine, or allowed it to be paid on his behalf, the Sikh movement would have compromised and not developed as a challenge to the Mughal state. And it was one of the last instructions of Guru Arjan himself : “Let him (Guru Hargobind) sit fully armed on his throne, and maintain an army to the best of his ability.”55
Indubhushan Banerjee writes : “Guru Arjan had foreseen and Guru Hargobind also clearly saw that it would no longer be possible to protect the Sikh community and its organization without the aid of arms, and the way he proceeded to secure this end speaks a good deal for his sagacity and his shrewd political sense.”56 If the supreme purpose was to defend the Panth as such minus its dharma, one way out could have been to compromise with the authorities as done by Ram Rai and his followers. If Indubhushan means, what he probably does, that what the Sikh Panth stood for — the Sikh dharma — could no longer be defended without the aid of arms, he is perfectly right. But, it was not only a question of defending dharma, but that of establishing dharma. It was the realisation that the Kingdom of God could not be established on earth without political power which called forth the declaration of Meeri-Peeri. It was not in the nature of a limited response to a particular situation. The doctrine of Meeri-Peeri laid down a new principle, at least in the Indian context, which was to form the basis of the entire Sikh revolutionary struggle to come. It was in pursuance of this principle that Guru Hargobind named the seat of temporal power he set up parallel to the Mughal state, as God’s throne (Akal Takht), and not his own; and it was in pursuance of the same principle that Guru Gobind Singh called the Khalsa as God’s Khalsa (Wahiguru jee ka Khalsa). And the overall posture of the movement was not defensive but offensive, as the initiative for the hostilities came, by and large, from the side of the Gurus.
It has been seen that Guru Arjan took the initiative in blessing the rebel prince, Khusrau. The setting up of Akal Takht, the unfurling of the two flags of Meeri-Peeri, wearing of the royal insignia of plume, and the enrolling of an army were clear challenges to Mughal authority. The initiative for precipitating the hostilities also came from the Guru. It was his men who captured the Emperor’s bird (baj); and when the Emperor’s detachment came to recover it, the Guru not only refused to surrender the bird, but told the Commandant, Mughlin Khan, in clear terms : “I am going to wrest from you all your crowns and birds and distribute these among my own Sikhs. (Taj baj tumre sabha laine; naj sikhan ko ham sabha daine)”.57
“It is easily understandable that with his slender sources it was not possible for the Guru to maintain an attitude of open defiance.”58 Hence, Guru Hargobind’s armed conflict with the state was in the nature of a rehearsal, and it was followed by a period of tacit armed truce, which came to an end with the creation of the Khalsa. In a way, this period is very telling regarding the point we want to emphasize.
The Gurus, though conscious that their movement had not yet developed the resources to cope with the armed might of the Mughal Empire, never relaxed in their political objective of subverting the Mughal state. When Dara Shikoh, who had been defeated by Aurangzeb, crossed Sutlej at Ropar, Guru Har Rai joined him at the head of two thousand troops. The Guru accompanied Dara as far as Lahore, encouraging him for about a month to make a military stand; and returned to Kartarpur only when he found that Dara had made up his mind to flee to Multan.59
The consequences that followed Guru Arjan’s blessing of Khusrau could not have been lost upon Guru Har Rai. Yet, fifty two years later, Guru Har Rai took an even bolder step of joining Dara with his troops and goading him not to give up the fight. There can be no doubt that this was a direct political involvement, and against a party (Aurangzeb) who occupied the throne and had hitherto been successful. The Guru took a calculated risk. It was in the fitness of things that the Guru should have helped Dara, whose chief fault in the eyes of orthodox Muslims was his so-called apostasy. Dara’s success would have helped the Sikh cause. In any case, there was a good chance, which the Guru felt should not be missed, of taking advantage of the split in the Imperial camp for the purpose of combating or weakening the tyrannical state.
Guru Teg Bahadur’s martyrdom was also self-invited. Haqiqat states that Emperor Aurangzeb himself had written to the Guru : “If, as previously, like the poor Nanak-panthi faqirs, you live peacefully in a corner, no harm will befall you. On the contrary, alms, suitable for your maintenance in the style of faqirs, would be given to you from the state treasury… But the horses and arms and equipment of your retinue that you have gathered in your place of worship, must be removed.”60 “Accordingly, the faujdar of Sirhind intimated this order (to Teg Bahadur). Before the proud and virile disciples who had assembled there, Teg Bahadur said defiantly : “We are faqirs; what God has given, why should we return it ?”61 Had the Guru been content to pursue the conventional practice of religion, the door was left open to him by Aurangzeb. In fact, the same Emperor had conferred a jagir on Ram Rai who had chosen the path of least resistance. But Guru Teg Bahadur’s resolve to resist religious and political aggression, and to challenge the state in that process, was an integral part of the Guru’s view of religion and dharma. Otherwise there was no point in his refusing publicly to disarm, because this would be regarded as an open challenge by any state.
9. Peeri, the Sikh Way
Peeri was not only an essential component of Meeri-Peeri, it was its very life-blood. It was actually its fulcrum, as Meeri revolved around Peeri, and it was not the other way around. This was but natural; because the concept of Meeri-Peeri, as in fact that of the entire Sikh revolutionary movement, had evolved out of Guru Nanak’s revelation, whereby he carried God’s mandate to create the Panth for carrying out His Will, His Purpose, in this world. We may refer here again to Wach’s view that the moral, social, and political ideas of the prophet are caused, conditioned, and determined essentially by his basic religious experience. “Owing to his contact with the deepest source of life, the prophet reacts vigorously against all disturbance or perversion of the civic or moral order which is meant to reflect the divine will. He feels danger and seizes crucial moments to interpret present situations in the light of the past and the future.”62
The most common word recurringly used in Guru Granth Sahib to denote a God-ward person is Gurmukh, and Bhai Gurdas designates the Sikh Panth as Gurmukh-Panth at a number of places,63 implying that the Panth was God-oriented, i.e., it was designed to serve God’s purpose. Guru Hargobind addressing his troops on the eve of a battle told them : “Brother Sikhs, this contest is not for empire, for wealth, or for land. It is in reality a war for our religion;”64 and Bachitar Natak records : “He (Guru Teg Bahadur) suffered martyrdom for the sake of his religion; he gave his head but swerved not from his determination.”65 Guru Gobind Singh spurned political power for his own person (‘Bhoom ko raj nahi man chahi’);66 but blessed the downtrodden with political power at a time when his own sons were alive (“Bhai Sudar ei Jat apare; tako panth mah main dhare; sabh jag raj tohe ko deena; pun bid so tum ko gur keena”).67 We cannot enter here into details, but the history of the revolutionary phase of the movement is an open book which leaves no doubt that it was conceived of and directed towards fighting religious and political oppression with a view to making the downtrodden the masters of their own political destiny, and not towards achieving any individualistic, sectional, ethnic, or feudalistic ends.
Historically speaking, it is Guru Arjan who ‘felt the danger, seized the moment, and interpreted the situation’, when he blessed Khusrau; it is he who told the Emperor : “I am a worshipper of the Immortal God, the Supreme Soul of the world. There is no monarch save Him; and what He revealed to the Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Ram Das, and afterwards to myself, is written in the holy Granth Sahib… My main object is the spread of truth and the destruction of falsehood; and if in pursuance of the object, this perishable body must depart, I shall account it great good fortune.”68 And Guru Arjan did refuse to pay the fine and preferred martyrdom; and it is he who instructed Guru Hargobind to sit armed on the throne and keep an army.69
The second important point about the Sikh view of Peeri is that it is double-edged. “I accept only the Saints and punish the evil-doers; yea, this is how I discharge the duties of the keeper of God’s Peace.”70 Guru Arjan says in one of his hymns :
“The Lord hath protected me from the attack of Sulhi Khan, for he could carry not out his foul design; and he, the defiled one, died in disgrace. (1-Pause).
“The Lord chopped off his head with His Mighty Axe, and lo, in an instant he was reduced to the dust. He thought evil of me and lo, evil consumed him in its fire, and He, who had created him, destroyed him too.”71
On the other side, there are innumerable verses in Guru Granth Sahib saying that God is merciful to all mankind, nay to all beings. “He relieves the sufferings of the downtrodden; He is the Succour of the succourless.”72 “God is eyes to the blind, riches to the poor; Nanak, He is the Ocean of virtues.”73 It is in continuation of this double-edged ideological line that Guru Gobind Singh says : “Thou bestowest happiness on the good, Thou terrifiest the evil. Thou scatterest sinners, I seek Thy protection.”74 “God ever cherisheth the poor, saveth saints, and destroyeth enemies.”75 God is “Compassionate to the poor” and “Cherisher of the lowly”.76
“Thus, ‘cherishing the poor’, ‘saving the saints’, and ‘destroying the oppressor’ are, according to Sikhism, God’s own mission. It was in pursuance of the fulfilment of this mission that God sent Guru Gobind Singh to this world : ‘Go and spread my religion there; And restrain the world from senseless acts’.”77 Guru Nanak had indentified himself with “the lowest of the low born”; for, “where the weak are cared for, Thy Mercy is showered”;78 and Guru Gobind Singh armed the downtrodden and blessed them with sovereignty in order to enable them to stand on their own feet.
The third item that draws particular attention is that it is the concept of Meeri-Peeri itself which got institutionalized with the creation of the Khalsa. Therefore, the fulfilment of this concept, and hence its fuller exposition, should be sought in the ideology and historical development of the Khalsa (next chapter).
There is no dichotomy either in the Sikh doctrine or in the movement inspired by it during the Guru period.
In the first place, Nam Marg is not a uniform school of thought or practice. Whereas some reputed Bhagtas of the medieval Bhagti movement itself were strong devotees of Hindu Avtaras, others repudiated the Avtara doctrine. Similarly, while Nam Dev and Kabir strongly condemn Brahminism and the caste, many of them were so much absorbed in their religious or spiritual devotion that they did not react adequately to these or other social problems. Hence, there is no common criterion for judging, much less for asserting, as to what is compatible with Nam Marg and what is not, at least with respect to their varied responses to social and historical problems.
Secondly, the Sikh view of religion and Nam is not confined to the purely devotional plane. It embraces the totality of life, and it inspires, rather requires, participation in God-oriented worldly activity with a view to produce a “meaningful, ordered totality” in the world. The development process of transforming “an embryonic church into an embryonic state” had sufficiently progressed at least by Guru Arjan’s time, and it is he who overtly challenged the authority of the state by blessing Khusrau.
The last, but not the least, is the patent fact that Sikhism is not wedded to the doctrine of ahimsa in the way most of the other medieval Bhagtas are. Apart from the story of Guru Nanak having cooked meat at Kurukshetra, we have the historical evidence that meat used to be served in the langars (community kitchens) of Guru Angad as well as some other Gurus.79 (Guru) Hargobind (when he was not yet Guru) used to hunt when his father was the Guru,80 and there is not the least hint that Guru Arjan disapproved of it.
If partaking of meat and hunting are accordant with Nam Marg, then why is the taking up of arms for a humanitarian cause not ? In any case, there is no dichotomy in the Sikh doctrine or practice. Whatever it was, it was common both to Guru Hargobind’s time as well as to the time of earlier Gurus. Hence, the very premises of judging or interpreting the Sikh doctrine and the Sikh movement, from a narrow view of Nam, or by the norms of ahimsa, are not valid; because, otherwise it would amount to weighing the Sikh view of Nam and the movement it inspired in the scale of non-Sikh ideals and values.
1. Max Weber : Sociology of Religion, p. 223.
2. Ibid., p. 227.
3. Hagopian, p. 3.
4. Ibid., p. 3.
5. Bernard de Jouvenal (cited by Jacques Ellul, B. : Autopsy of Revolution, p. 108).
6. Borkenon, F. : Sociological Review, 29 (1932), p. 41. (Quoted by Fredreich, p. 130).
7. Hagopian, p. 3.
8. Brinton, pp. 94-99.
9. Bhai Gurdas : Varan, Var 24, Pauri 3.
10. Macauliffe, Max Arthur : The Sikh Religion, vol. ii, p. 76.
12. M. Gregor, W.L. : The History of the Sikhs, vol. 1, p. 54;
Latif, Syed Mohammad : History of the Punjab, p. 253.
13. Latif, p. 253.
14. Tuzuk-e-Jehangiri, trans. by Alexander Rogers, p. 72.
15. Bute Shah : Tawarikh-i-Panjab, (Quoted by Gurbax Singh : Punjab History Conference (February 1976), Proceedings, p. 70.
16. Ibid., p. 75.
18. Irvine, William : Later Mughals, p. 79.
19. Cited by Gurbax Singh : Punjab History Conference (February 1976), Proceedings, pp. 77-78.
20. W.H. McLeod : Early Sikh Tradition, pp. 253-54.
The following foot-notes referring to the sources of his statement are given : Adi Granth, p. 1391;
Punjab Past and Present (April, 1967), pp. 55-56;
Ganda Singh : Punjab Past & Present (1969), (Sources on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak;
Kirpal Singh (ed.) : Janam Sakhi Guru Nanak Dev, pp. 381, 1-9;
Shamsher Singh Ashok : Punjab Hath-Likhtan di Suchi, vol. i, p. 341; vol. ii, pp. 230, 241; etc.
21. Bhai Gurdas : Varan, Var 25, Pauri 11.
22. Kirpal Singh : Janamsakhi Prampra, Antka (Miharbanwali Janamsakhi), p. 105.
23. Varan, Var 7, Pauris 1 and 2.
24. Var 24, Pauri 14.
25. Var 29, Pauri 11.
26. Dabistan, quoted by Dr Gokal Chand Narang : Transformation of Sikhism, p. 45.
27. Toynbee : A Study of History, v, p. 665.
29. Tuzuk-i-Jehangiri, quoted by Hari Ram Gupta : History of the Sikh Gurus, p. 100.
30. Ganda Singh (ed.) : Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, p. 184.
31. Hari Ram Gupta : History of the Sikh Gurus, p. 101.
32. Ibid., p. 104.
33. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 334.
34. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 164.
35. Ahmed Shah : Bijak of Kabir, pp. 134-135, 179, 204, 244;
Juergensmeyer, M. : Sikh Studies, pp. 81, 83-88.
36. Pothi Punjab Sakhian, Sakhi 39, cited by Ganda Singh : The Punjab Past and Present, April 1979, p. 241.
37. Macauliffe, vol. 1, p. 232;
Guru Granth Sahib, trans. Gopal Singh, p. 1229.
38. Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 722-23.
39. Guru Granth Sahib, trans. by Gopal Singh, pp. 1230-1231.
40. Wach, p. 321.
41. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, pp. 58-59.
42. Ibid., p. 267.
43. Guru Granth Sahib, trans. by Gopal Singh, pp. 1230-1231.
44. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, pp. 58-59.
46. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 267.
47. Max Weber : The Religions of India, p. 89.
48. Ellul, p. 226.
49. Albert Camus : The Rebel, p. 255.
51. Camus, p. 77.
52. Ellul, pp. 43-45.
53. Varan, Var 1, Pauri 23; Var 23, Pauris 19, 20.
54. Macauliffe, vol. 3, p. 92.
55. Ibid., p. 99.
56. Indubhusan Banerjee : Evolution of the Khalsa, vol. 2, p. 32.
57. Gurbilas Cheveen Patshahi, p. 290.
58. Indubhusan Banerjee : Evolution of the Khalsa, vol. 2, p. 25.
59. Sarkar, Jadunath : A Short History of Aurangzeb, p. 68.
60. Hakikat (Haqiqat) : Indian Historical Quarterly, March 1942, sup., p. 4.
62. Wach, p. 348.
63. Varan, Var 1, Pauri 45; Var 5, Pauris 1, 15; Var 6, Pauri 1; Var 23, Pauris 1, 19; etc.
64. Macauliffe, vol. 4, p. 109.
65. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 295.
66. Koer Singh : Gurbilas Patshahi Das, p. 99.
67. Ibid., p. 131.
68. Macauliffe, vol. 3, p. 92.
69. Ibid., p. 99.
70. Guru Granth Sahib, trans. by Gopal Singh, p. 927.
71. Ibid., p. 782.
72. Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 263-64.
73. Ibid., p. 830.
74. Macauliffe, vol. 5, p. 286.
75. Ibid., p. 280.
76. Ibid., p. 289.
77. Ibid., p. 299.
78. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15.
79. Mehma Parkash, ii, pp. 49, 64, 609.
80. Gurbilas Chevin Patshahi, pp. 84, 85;
cf. Parchian Sewa Das, p. 88.