The creation of the Khalsa was the acme of the Sikh movement, and the outstanding feature of this development is that it marks the organization and institutionalization of the movement around the concept of Meeri-Peeri. Just as the founding of Akal Takht, the declaration of Meeri-Peeri, and the armed struggle under Guru Hargobind appear as a dramatic turn of events, but were basically an extension of the mission of the earlier Gurus (see previous chapter), similarly the organization and institutionalization of the Khalsa period was also an extension of the Meeri-Peeri mission. It is not possible to appreciate fully the raison d’etre, the objectives, and the spirit of the Khalsa without keeping this perspective in view, and what has been called for the sake of convenience “the period of armed truce” should not mislead us into clouding this perspective.
1. ‘The Period of Armed Truce’
In fact, there can be no demarcation of revolutionary movements into water-tight defensive or offensive compartments, or into periods of military action and of armed truce. It is all a question of tactics suiting or unsuiting different objective situations, which are liable to change at any time. What matters is that the movement is perceived as a threat by the ruling authority, or that the ruling authority is viewed as implacably hostile by the movement. The key factors are the militancy of the movement and its attitude towards the Government. There could not be any compromise on that score because Sikhism stood for confronting injustice and aggression in all its forms.
Guru Hargobind initiated the armed struggle but found that the Panth was as yet not in a position to sustain it. But, neither the objectives of the movement were given up, nor was there any let up in the preparations for launching the armed struggle again. It has been seen how Guru Har Rai joined Dara with his troops and goaded him to continue his fight against Aurangzeb. Guru Har Rai and Guru Teg Bahadur undertook extensive tours of the countryside to rally people round the Panth after the set-back suffered during the initial armed struggle. It is noted in Haqiqat that Guru “Teg Bahadur, with the view to revolt, having a large following of his disciples, was moving around intoxicated with power.”1 This statement tallies with that in Siyar-ul-Mutakherin that Guru “Teg Bahadur, who drew multitudes after him, all of whom, as well as their leader, used to go armed. Finding himself at the head of so many thousand people, he aspired to sovereignty… ”2 Ghulam Hussain Khan writes further that Aurangzeb sent an order to the Governor of Lahore to arrest the Guru. Khushwaqt Rai writes that the Guru had enlisted an army of horsemen and camel-drivers, made “an encroachment on the royal ‘prerogative of setting up karkhanas’, and encouraged refractory amils, ajardars, zamindars, munshis, musadis to take shelter in his darbar where he accorded them places of highest honour.”3 We have already cited how Aurangzeb offered to the Guru an allowance for his subsistance from the royal treasury provided he surrendered the arms he had collected and lived peacefully, but the Guru refused to do so in the open darbar. This historical evidence should be enough to show that Guru Teg Bahadur was bent upon confronting the state; and this is the conclusion to which Cunningham and Latif came to; as “his (the Guru’s) repeated injuctions to his followers that they should obey the bearer of his arrows show more of the kingly than of the priestly spirit.”4 Even Guru Harkishan, at a very tender age, had refused to meet Aurangzeb.5
2. Purpose, Organization and Leadership
Unlike most other armed upheavels, revolutions are made and do not just happen. It is so chiefly because they have to have a rare combination of pre-determined revolutionary purpose or plan and an organization and leadership committed to fulfil that purpose. It is the revolutionary ideology (and not any ideology) that furnishes purpose and fixed direction to the movement, and it is the leadership committed to that purpose (and not any leadership) that gives shape to it. “It is the existence of direction… that makes revolution a political act and distinguishes it from a mere riot. Coordination and leadership form the two related aspects of any directed action having political significance. Thus, though in terms of their actual physical quality there is little to choose between the burning of Newgate prison in 1780 and the fall of Bastille in 1789, in terms of historical significance, it is abundantly clear that the latter was a revolutionary act and the former was not.”6 A more glaring example, which clarifies the distinction between revolution and revolt, is the well known rebellion of the gladiators. The capital of Rome lay at their feet, but they did not occupy it because they did not know what to do with it.
Organization and leadership committed to the fulfilment of the revolutionary purpose are equally indispensable, because, “utter mass spontaneity has not produced, nor could it produce, the revolutions history records”7. In a few cases, sporadic mass upheavels have developed into revolution, but at that stage of development they ceased to be automatous and were ideologically harnessed. Otherwise, revolutionary spontaneity is always founded upon revolt and is therefore by nature conservative, or repressive, or utopian.8 Collective spontaneity is, moreover, not really capable of devising specific forms of revolutionary organization.9 Without a revolutionary leadership, “a revolutionary situation produced by a conjucture of long-term and middle-term causes may remain an unrealised potential. Leadership then is necessary to give some coordination to the forces at play so that revolution will indeed ‘break-out’ and, when it does, will not fizzle out into mere disorder. Otherwise the hodgepodge of groups and strata, conflicts and cleavages might work against each other, rather than against the old regime.”10 It is, therefore, obvious that the leadership of a revolution must be clearly conscious of its mission and be deeply devoted to it.
To pin-point, the differences between revolutionary and non-revolutionary armed struggles or movements are “qualitative, marked by differences in kind, not just in amount. Furthermore, the differences move along several distinct planes. The most essential differences between the two are : (a) the stakes of the uprising, (b) the function of ideology, and (c) the role of leadership.”11 As already seen, revolutions are infrequent because the right combination between revolutionary stakes and the role of ideology and that of leadership harnessed to such stakes is scanty. It is in the context of such a rare combination that we shall try to interpret the social and historical significance of the Khalsa.
3. Meeri-Peeri Enshrined
Guru Nanak identifies himself with the lowest of the low born;12 likens the tyrant kings and administrators to blood-thirsty tigers and dogs,13 and was so much pained to see the devastation caused by Babar’s invasion that he goes to the length of humbly remonstrating with God.14 Guru Arjan says : “The ‘bearded’(tyrant) that vent his wrath on the poor of the world; Is burnt in the fire by the Transcendent Lord. For, perfect is the justice of the Creator Lord.”15 And to recall again : “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.”16
This ideological line of Guru Granth Sahib was the basis of Meeri-Peeri when Guru Hargobind declared to the Maharashtrian saint Ram Das that he was : “Internally a hermit, and arms mean protection for the poor and destruction for the tyrant.”17 Guru Gobind Singh, describing the attributes of God, says : “Thou bestowest happiness on the good, Thou terrifiest the evil, Thou scatterest sinners, I seek Thy protection.”18 “God ever cherisheth the poor, saveth saints, and destroyeth enemies.”19 Again, he speaks of God as “compassionate to the poor, and cherisher of the lowly.”20 Thus, “cherishing the poor” and “destroying the tyrant” are, according to Sikhism, God’s own mission. This is how the Sikh view of Peeri was enshrined, and along with it that of Meeri too, but only so long Meeri remained confined within the orbit of Peeri.
It is to be recalled that the great founders of religions were, each in his own way, deeply concerned with following out an experience which became decisive in their lives and which determined their own attitude towards God, towards the world, and towards men.21 The political, national, and social activities of prophets are not central to prophetic activity. These are caused, conditioned, and determined by their basic religious experience.22 Jesus was not at all interested in social reform as such;23 and, yet, in Max Weber’s own opinion, none had influenced the course of human development in such a revolutionary manner as had Puritan religiosity.24 It is so because humanitarian values are found to be common to prophetic experience, and humanitarian values are irreconcilable with systems based on injustice, inequity, and aggression. And, according to the Sikh view, Meeri is perfectly legitimate for undoing unjust orders, but Meeri, in order to be sanctified, must remain tied down to Peeri. Meeri is the means to an end and not an end in itself; the end is Peeri.
Meeri becomes an essential part of Meeri-Peeri, because “for the ascetic, moreover, the divine imperative may require of human creatures an unconditional subjection of the world to the norms of religious virtue, and indeed a revolutionary transformation of the world for this purpose.”25 Bachitar Natak describes the divine imperative received by Guru Gobind Singh in specific terms :
“Go and spread my religion there, And restrain the world from senseless acts.”26
It was in pursuance of this divine imperative that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa.
4. Wahiguru jee ka Khalsa
At the time of founding the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh ended his address with the slogan : Wahiguru jee ka Khalsa; Wahiguru jee kee Fateh. It means, “The Khalsa belongs to God, and so does victory belong to Him.” This slogan became a motto of the Khalsa; and, in order to make it the central focus, is repeated on all congregational occassions and ceremonies, especially the initiation ceremony, as well as a form of daily greeting among the Singhs. Guru Nanak had told Daulat Khan Lodhi, whom he served earlier, after his illumination that he recognized no other authority than that of God.27 Guru Arjan had defied Emperor Jahangir with the declaration : “I am a worshipper of the Immortal God… There is no monarch save Him.”28 Guru Gobind Singh said in his hymn : “Since I have embraced Thy Feet, I have paid regards to none besides.”29 The same lesson continued to be impressed on the mind of the Khalsa by the repeated expression of the above motto. The Khalsa owed allegiance to God and to none else. In its historical implications, it meant allegiance only to the God-oriented Khalsa mission (and not to any worldly secular purpose) with which it believed it had been charged by God Himself through the medium of the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh spurned political power (raj) for his own person (Bhoom ko raj nahi man chahi),30 but blessed the Khalsa with raj31 for the purpose of undoing political oppression and for making the downtrodden the political masters of their own destiny. This is how Meeri was encompassed within the orbit of Peeri. It is highly significant that Guru Hargobind named the centre of his armed struggle as Akal Takht (God’s Throne) and Guru Gobind Singh labelled the instrument of his armed struggle as Wahiguru jee ka Khalsa (God’s Khalsa). It was not a chance coincidence, but signified that it was a continuation of the same mission and on the same lines. Guru Hargobind had told his troops that the battle about to be joined was not for wealth, or empire, it was for the upholding of dharma; and Wahiguru jee kee Fateh was meant to generate a spirit of everlasting optimism and humility — optimism because the mission of the Khalsa, being God’s own, was bound to succeed, sooner or later, and humility, because all victory was the victory of God’s mission and by His Grace. It involved no personal gain or credit for the participant.
Idealism rarely lasts long and mass movements should not be judged by absolute standards, but, subject to these considerations, its record does no little credit to the movement the way and the extent to which it attempted to bear in mind that the Khalsa was meant to carry out God’s mission. As an ideal, the Meeri-Peeri mission continued to be cherished for quite a long time in Sikh literature of the post-Guru period. In the very text, ascribed to Bhai Nand Lal and which contains the oft quoted lines “Raj Karega Khalsa” (“The Khalsa shall rule”), we have also the following injunctions : “Khalsa is one who looks upon all as his own; Khalsa is one who attunes himself with God.” “Khalsa is one who protects the poor; Khalsa is one who crushes the tyrant (dushat).”32 “Where the Singhs fight the Turks for upholding dharma and for the Sikh ideals and to help others, there my (i.e., Guru Gobind Singh’s) presence will be felt among the Sikhs.”33 “Khalsa is the army of God.”34 Historically, the sharing of political power by “the lowest of the low in Indian estimation” under Banda, and by the common peasantry, the Sudras and Kalals (lower than Sudras), to the complete exclusion of castes higher than these during the Missal period, were not chance developments; these were the by-products, though in a distorted form, of the Meeri-Peeri mission and tradition of the Khalsa.
5. Institutionalization of Meeri-Peeri
It was Guru Hargobind who founded the Akal Takht and made it the central institution of Meeri-Peeri, but he did not have much time at his hands to organize the Sikh militant movement on a permanent footing. He laid the foundation of Akal Takht in 1606 AD, and his first engagement with Mughal troops at Lohgarh took place in 1628 AD. Within this short span of time, of which a good many years were spent as an internee in the Gwalior fort by Jahangir’s orders, he had to gather together troops on an improvised basis; and had little time of his own even later as he was constantly engaged in battles following in close succession till he retired to the hills.
By founding the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh gave a permanent organizational and institutional shape to the doctrine of Meeri-Peeri. Historically, it was a landmark, since the role of leadership and organization is important in all stages of revolution. “Thus, the really distinct work of the revolution — the attempted reconstruction or destruction of one or more of the stratification systems — cannot go very far without resorting to effective leadership.”35 Indeed, one of the characteristic features that differentiates revolution from revolt, according to Ellul, is that “revolution seeks to institutionalize itself… what characterizes the transformation of revolt into revolution is the attempt to provide a new organization…”36 The institutionalization of Meeri-Peeri by founding the new organization of Khalsa is, therefore, of great historical importance and its significance may be viewed from more than one angle.
6. Initiation Ceremony
A revolution is developed only by the aid of mystic and affective elements which are absolutely foreign to reason;37 because, “we must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it (revolution) do not influence the crowd until they have been transformed into sentiments.”38 “Political and religious beliefs are sustained almost exlusively by affective and mystic factors. Reason plays only a feeble part in their genesis.”39 In any case, whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude. A revolution is the work of believers.40
The founding of Khalsa was initiated by the solemn ceremony of Amrit Chakna, literally meaning ‘drinking nectar’ — the drink of gods. In addition to partaking amrit, every participant in the ceremony swore by five solemn vows and undertook to abide by certain injunctions. We need not enter into details, as what is relevant to our purpose is that the initiation ceremony bestowed religious sanction to the institution, organization, and leadership of the Khalsa; and thereby strengthened the cohesion, tenacity, and permanence of the salient features of Meeri-Peeri. It made the membership of the Sikh brotherhood, in addition to being spiritual as before, more strictly organizational; and it required of the Singhs a much deeper commitment to the Sikh ideals and cause; a commitment both to the validity of belief as well as a commitment to put one’s interests, tan, man, dhan (body, soul, wealth) at stake for the sake of that belief.
7. A New Beginning, Break with the Past
“The significance of such a (i.e., revolutionary) plan, whatever form it may take, is that it provides a beginning.” Revolution “is the only political event that confronts us directly and inescapably with the problem of a beginning.”41 Revolution is not an attempt to transform what exists; it has nothing to do with reform… it invariably comes down to establishing a beginning. And after that everything assumes a new aspect…”42
The very title of the initiation ceremony ‘amrit chakna’(drinking nectar — the drink of gods) signified transporting human beings to a higher plane of motivation and conduct. Every one on taking amrit had to change his or her previous name into an alike one, the name of a male ending in ‘Singh’ and that of female ending in ‘Kaur’. The Guru himself did so, replacing ‘Gobind Rai’ by ‘Gobind Singh’. In order to emphasize the ‘new beginning’, every entrant into the Khalsa had to (and has to even now) take five solemn vows, each one of which bound one down to make a complete break with the ideological and social past; for the word used ‘Nash’ is very strong, meaning complete annihilation. The vow of ‘Dharm Nash’ meant annihilation of any allegiance to previous dharma, religion, ideology, ceremonies, or practices; that of ‘Kul Nash’ meant annihilation of any ties with lineage or caste; that of ‘Karm Nash’ meant annihilation of the effect of past Karma, i.e., deeds or sins; that of ‘Kirat Nash’ meant annihilation or obliteration of stigmas or discriminations attached to a calling or a hereditary profession; and the vow of ‘Bharm Nash’ meant dispelling all false beliefs, traditions, and superstitions. It is obvious that all this signified the creation of a personality with an entirely new outlook in order to launch him on a new venture. It also meant breaking the shackles of the social past, because caste is founded on religious sanction of distinctions and exclusiveness based on birth and hereditary calling. “In contrast to the orthodox sects, the heresy of the theophratries consists in the fact that they tear the individual away from his ritualistic duties, hence from the duties of the caste of his birth, and thus ignore or destroy his dharma. When this occurs, the Hindu loses caste. And since only through caste can one belong to the Hindu community, he is lost to it. Dharma, that is ritualistic duty, is the central criterion of Hinduism.” Again, “Before everything, without caste there is no Hindu.”44 “For a man to lay his hand to the plough or to cultivate vegetables is… throughout the high castes, considered to entail degradation.”45 Castes came to be downgraded because they took to vocations which involved processes or handling of articles considered to be religiously impure.46 And the Karma theory was utilized to justify the unjust caste order.47
The five vows taken at the time of the initiation ceremony (amrit-chakna) thus bound the proselyte to cut himself completely from his ideological and social heritage. In the Indian caste context, it amounted not to a mere innovatory change or reform; it was a revolutionary social upheavel. Whereas the non-observance of ritualistic or caste duties led to the abrogation of the dharma of a Hindu, one could become a Singh (Kaur) only by severing all his (her) links with that variety of dharma. The term dharma was retained by the Khalsa also, but the Khalsa dharma had a new content and a new dimension.
The creation of the Khalsa not only cut off the Singhs completely from their ideological and social Hindu past, but it also, in a manner of speaking, cut the destiny of the Sikhs into two. To become a Sikh, what was essential was a commitment to the validity of Sikh faith and ideals; but, to become a Singh, in addition as it will be seen, it was made obligatory to stake one’s all, tan, man, dhan (body, mind and wealth) for the practical implementation of those ideals in society. All Singhs were Sikhs, but all Sikhs were not Singhs. It was not a theological cleavage, as both Sikhs and Singhs owed allegiance to the Sikh Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib and to none besides. It was a demarcation based on the degree of commitment to the Sikh faith, as not every Sikh was prepared to stake his all for the faith.
8. The Sikh Revolution Made A Religious Obligation
As already seen, Guru Arjan sacrificed his life for upholding the Sikh concept of dharma, Guru Hargobind fought his battles with the Mughals in order to confront religious and political tyranny; and Guru Teg Bahadur was arming his followers, laying claim to sovereignty, and ultimately sacrificed his life for the same cause. Guru Gobind Singh now gave this religious obligation of Sikhism to fight aggression and injustice an organizational and institutional shape by creating the Khalsa. “It is to destroy the aggressor (asur) and evil-doer (durjan), and to resolve the crisis (sankat), that the Khalsa is created.”48 And as one inevitable sequence of the same purpose, and not for a secular enjoyment, was the Khalsa blessed by the Guru to strive for political power.49 Because, “Even when it (i.e., revolution) springs from revolt, even when it raises the cry of liberty, there is an important difference : revolt is itself the liberating movement. Revolution seeks to organize the situation, to find a stable structure for freedom. Thus, revolt is movement; revolution tends towards establishing of stability. Revolt can take its course under a monarchy or even under a tyrant, without attempting to alter the regime. Revolution is destined to create a new regime or political body. For revolution to exist, the drive to be free must seek to establish freedom. Revolution inevitably channels itself into institutions and constitutions.”50
This is why, bringing about the Sikh revolution was made a religious obligation of the Singhs. The aim was not only to liberate the people from the religious and political tyranny of the regime, but no less also was the aim to “establish the freedom” thus won in the interest of the downtrodden. It was to be they who were to be the masters of their own political destiny; it was they who were blessed by the Guru with sovereignty (raj). “Vaisya, Sudras, and Jats in great numbers have I incorporated in the Panth; they are blessed with the sovereignty (raj) of the whole world…”51 Because, without political power, freedom can neither be won, nor retained. “We saw that some groups united by a characteristic religious experience, would never make an effort to ‘capture’ the state and might even oppose any such attempt on grounds of principle. We will dismiss groups with this attitude for the time being and concentrate on those striving toward the ideal of a ‘holy’ state… The Mohammedan holy army, the warlike organized Sikh, and the followers of Cromwell represent a revolutionary type…”52 “The obligation to bring about a revolution in behalf of the faith was naturally taught by the religions that engaged in wars of missionary enterprise and by their derivative sects, like the Mahdists and other sects of Islam, including the Sikhs…”53
9. Revolution-Oriented Leadership and Symbols
Apart from the vows undertaken at the time of Amrit Chakna (initiation) ceremony, some other features, like the quality of leadership, symbols, rules of conduct, etc., associated with the Khalsa, were all designed to make it obligatory for the Singhs to bring about the Sikh Revolution.
(a) Leadership and Mass Action
It has been seen that, “utter mass spontaneity has not produced, nor could it produce, the revolutions history records. Most spontaneous collective behaviour falls into sub-revolutionary categories (e.g., revolt).”54 This is well illustrated by the fate of the Satnami revolt and that of Jat revolts sparked by the destruction of Hindu temples at Mathura. While the history of most revolutions shows, on the one hand, the “pivotal importance of leadership, planning, and organization”; on the other hand, “without eventual popular response a movement would remain too restrictive to become the advance guard of a genuine revolutionary breakthrough.”55
This problem was faced by all revolutions and each one tackled it in its own way. Guru Gobind Singh made the Five Beloved, whom he had initiated in the first instance, as the nucleus of the Khalsa leadership. They were neither nominees nor elected, but earned the distinction by offering their heads to the Guru. Banda was nominated by Guru Gobind Singh, but he was enjoined to abide by the consensus of the Khalsa, particularly by the advice of the five Singhs selected by the Guru for that purpose.56 During the later revolutionary period, it became customary to elect either five ‘piaras’ (reputed Singhs) or one ‘Jathedar’ (leader) to lead, at different levels of the Khalsa, as the occasion demanded. There was no formal counting of votes. The names were proposed in the open assembly of Singhs and their acceptance ensured by the assembly as a whole.
By following this procedure, the movement kept contact with the masses by keeping the doors of the Khalsa brotherhood open to all persons without any discrimination whatsoever, provided they got initiated, i.e., solemnly entered into a contract to abide by the Khalsa ideology and committed themselves to its practical fulfilment. This procedure also ensured that the leadership of the Khalsa was assumed by persons who were ideologically doubly-distilled. Firstly, by the choice of leadership being made only by Singhs; secondly, as the best out of the available Singhs were chosen by the collective wisdom of the assembly.
The implications of the above procedure are also significant. The instrument of the Sikh revolution to be brought about was the Khalsa and not the masses, as such. In other words, the revolution aimed at was a revolution governed by the Sikh ideology and not any revolution the whims or the interests of the masses might lead to. The ‘state’ to be established was to be a ‘holy state’ and not any ‘state’ for secular enjoyment by anybody, including the Khalsa itself; for, any aim, social or political, which was not God-oriented cut across the very raison d’etre of Sikhism and the Khalsa.
Revolutions are the work of believers, and “Believers live on myths, intellectuals on patterns.”57 Here myth is used in the sense of “a universal system of images capable of evoking instinctively all the feelings and ideas corresponding to a socio-political movement aimed at mass action, images to which myth gives intense reality and which arouse intuitive identification between subject and object and among the subjects themselves.”58
Every Singh was required at the time of Amrit Chakna (initiation) to strictly adhere to certain injunctions. Of these, two were absolutely binding. A Singh had to keep hair intact and had to abstain from the use of tobacco. Any violation of these rules necessitated excommunication or reinitiation. Both these injunctions were designed to establish the separate identity of the Khalsa from Hindus as well as from Muslims. Distinct symbols and signs can, and do, play a great part in separating sects, communities, or societies from one another; “the Jewish retention of circumcision and the Sabbath taboo was also intended, as is repeatedly indicated in the Old Testament, to effect separation from other nations, and it indeed produced such an effect to an extraordinary degree.”59 Unless the Khalsa separated itself from these societies, how could it dream of creating a casteless society of its own and of displacing the old regime by a ‘holy state’ ? Also, keeping hair was designed to demarcate a Singh by his appearance from among thousands of non-Singhs,60 and thus made each Singh a standard-bearer of an open defiance of the state. Thousands of Singhs preferred death than allow their hair to be cut when the Mughal government, in order to single out the Khalsas from the Hindus, ordered the non-Muslims to shave their beards. Later on, when the Muslim rulers and invaders focussed their attention on destroying the premier Sikh temple (gurdwara) at Amritsar, history records how the preservation of this temple became a living symbol of the Khalsa struggle.61
Another important injunction to be observed by a Singh is to keep a kirpan (sword) for the purpose, as Guru Hargobind had declared much earlier, of protecting the poor and killing the tyrant. “Khalsa is one who protects the poor; Khalsa is one who annihilates the tyrant (dushat).”62 Making the keeping of kirpan a compulsory religious injunction for a Singh was designed to serve two purposes. It made the bringing about of the Sikh revolution by the use of force, if necessary, a religious obligation of the Khalsa. It was also meant to preserve practical equality among the Singhs, especially for those downtrodden who joined the Khalsa; because, all the Singhs being equally armed would inhibit the tendency of one dominating over the other.
The value of symbols to a movement is not gauged by the callipers of reason and science; the important thing is the faith that these evoke. What is very significant about the symbols and injunctions associated with the Khalsa (of which we have noted here the important ones) is that all these focus on the supreme purpose of serving, in one way or the other, the Sikh revolutionary cause. This is unlikely to have happened, had there been any ambiguity about the revolutionary objective of the Khalsa. Nor could the Singhs have stuck to these symbols and injunctions at the heavy cost they paid, had their commitment to the Khalsa cause been less or lukewarm. Syed Muhammad Latif concludes his account of the glorious period of the Khalsa in these words : “The wearing of the long hair and beard was enforced, and an initiation into the Pahul of the Guru, or the ‘baptism of the sword’ as it is called, made the votaries Singhs, or ‘Lions’ of the race. The pages of history shine with the heroic deeds of this martial race, and the examples of self-devotion, patriotism, and forbearance under the severest trials, displayed by the leaders of their community, are excelled by none in the annals of the nations.”63
10. Some other Features
There are some other features associated with the Khalsa that also show how the development of the movement at this stage was oriented mainly towards a revolutionary purpose.
(a) The Khalsa Brotherhood
Max Weber writes : “Complete fraternization of castes has been and is impossible because it is one of the constitutive principles of the castes that there should be at least ritually inviolable barriers against complete commensalism among different castes.”64 And, “without commensalism — in Christian terms, without the Lord’s Supper — no oath-bound fraternity and no medieval urban citizenry would have been possible.”65 In order to break this inviolable caste barrier, Guru Amar Das made it compulsory for the visitors to dine at the Langar (community kitchen) before they could see him. Now, the five Beloved Ones, whom Guru Gobind Singh initiated and included the Sudras, dined together.66
The process of fraternization had been carried on all along in the Sikh Panth since the time of Guru Nanak,67 but now a new dimension was added to it. The Khalsa brotherhood, in addition to being a spiritual and social brotherhood, became also a brotherhood-in-arms to serve an egalitarian political purpose. The foundations for this dimension had been laid by Guru Hargobind, but Guru Gobind Singh now formalized it by the Amrit Chakna ceremony and gave it an organizational shape by the creation of the Khalsa. The Amrit Chakna ceremony itself is known by the other name of Khande Dee Pahul, i.e., “the baptism of sword”. “By administering the Pahul (Amrit Chakna) was the authority (of the Khalsa) enhanced; by making the Singhs powerful was (their) sway spread” (“Dey Khande Kee Pahul Tej badhya; Jorawar kar Singh hukam vartaya”).68 All the Singhs on initiation regarded themselves as the sons of Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Kaur (“tat tu mat kee ans bhai ab”).69 Ghulam Mohyy-ud-Din, the author of Fatuhat Namah-i-Samadi (1722-23), records that the low-caste Hindus, “the dregs of the society of the hellish Hindus”, swelled the ranks of Banda, and every one in his army “would address the other as the adopted son of the oppressed Guru (i.e., Guru Gobind Singh) and would publicise themselves with the title of sahibzada.”70 The feeling of solidarity based on the relationship of the concept of spiritual fatherhood and spiritual brotherhood is to a certain extent revolutionary.71 To this was added the spirit of comrades-in-arms generated by dedication to a commonly shared noble cause. This fraternization was as indispensable as the keeping of kirpan (sword) by all Singhs for preserving the egalitarian character of the revolution the Khalsa was committed to. It was to be an egalitarian political revolution and no other.
(b) An Egalitarian Political Revolution
The commitment of the Khalsa to an egalitarian political revolution proved a source of great inspiration and strength to the Sikh militant struggle.
“The Hindu’s conception left unchanged for all time the caste stratification obtaining in this world and the position of his own caste within it; indeed, he sought to fit the future state of his own individual soul into this very gradation of ranks. In striking contrast, the Jew anticipated his own personal salvation through a revolution of the existing social stratification to the advantage of his pariah people; his people had been chosen and called by God, not to a pariah position but to one of prestige.”72
It became an article of firm faith of the Singhs that to seek martyrdom in the battles for upholding a noble cause was mukti (salvation). The forty Sikhs, both at Chamkaur and Khidrana, who died fighting to the last man, are to this day called as Muktas (i.e., who have achieved mukti or salvation) at the time of every Ardas (supplication to mark the end of a Sikh ceremony). To commemorate their memory, the name of Khidrana itself was changed to that of Muktsar, i.e., the place where the forty achieved Mukti. When the eldest son of Guru Gobind Singh died fighting in the battle at Chamkaur, it was commended that it was by his martyrdom that he had qualified himself to become the Khalsa (“Aj khas bhayo Khalsa, satgur ke darbar”).73 All observers, Indian and European, unite in remarking that about 700 Singhs, made prisoners along with Banda and taken to Delhi for execution, had no fear of death; they called the executioner Mukt or the Deliverer. They cried out to him joyfully, “O Mukt, kill me first.”74
It also became a firm faith of the Khalsa that “it had been chosen and called by God” to bring about a social and political revolution to the advantage of the downtrodden. “Create My (God’s) Panth for the cause of dharma”;75 and the Khalsa did regard itself as being God’s own (Wahiguru jee ka Khalsa).76 Guru Gobind Singh blessed the Khalsa (virtually the downtrodden) with raj, i.e., political sovereignty : “You (the Khalsa) are blessed with the raj of the whole world” (“Sabh jag raj tohe ko deena”);77 “We (i.e., the Singhs) have been blessed with raj by you (the Guru), you have not discarded us for having been of low castes” (“Tum Charan te ham raj payo, jat neech nahin dharti”);78 “Now they will rule”; “I (the Guru) am pleased with the sparrows (i.e., the downtrodden)… and I will call myself the bearer of arms only when I make the sparrows vanquish the falcons (i.e., the dominators).”79 It was the faith in this benediction which sustained the Khalsa during its hour of trial :
“The Singhs had no resources,
… ... ...
Were naked, hungry, and thirsty;
Those who fell sick died for lack of medicines;
They were sustained by the hope of Guru’s benediction,
This was the only treasure they had.”80
(c) Dedication of “Tan, Man, Dhan”
An important part of the Sikh ideal from the very beginning was the dedication of one’s all — body, soul, and belongings (tan, man, dhan) — to the Guru or God. “By dedicating body, mind, and possessions to the Guru and abiding by His Will does one reach God.”81 With the militarization of the Sikh movement, this ideal was oriented towards dedication of one’s all to the revolutionary cause. When Banda expressed his desire to become a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru cautioned him that, in order to become a Sikh, he would have to surrender and stake his all for the mission.82 Guru Gobind Singh has himself made this point explicit. “All the wealth of my house, my soul and body is for them (Khalsa).”83 “Khalsa is my own image; I abide in the Khalsa; Khalsa is my body and life; Khalsa is the life of my life; I belong to the Khalsa, and the Khalsa belongs to me; the way the ocean and drop are one.”84
Thousands of Singhs lived upto this ideal. Even at a very late stage of the movement, those who joined the Khalsa Dal were honorary combatant volunteers, who had to pay a penalty if they left the Dal without permission even to visit their families.85 Nihangs, Akalis, or Shaheeds were those volunteers who dedicated their entire lives to the militant service of the Panth. They were to the Sikhs what the Jannaseers were to the Turks, with the difference that they were honorary volunteers and not organized or paid by the state. They were held in high esteem in the Panth and were at one time its conscience-keepers. When the movement entered its lean period, it was the Akalis who became the rallying point for the Missals to coordinate in order to meet a common danger to the Panth; and even Ranjit Singh was afraid of offending them.86 This indicates how the value of selfless dedication to the Sikh revolutionary cause was cherished and given the highest priority by the Khalsa in its golden days; as the Akalis, who were a small minority, owed their honour and prestige in the lean period only to the fall-out of that tradition.
11. Implication and Comment
(a) The Guru’s Militancy and Spiritualism
Rabindra Nath Tagore writes : “The liberation which Baba Nanak realised in his heart was not political liberty, but spiritual freedom. Nanak had called upon his followers to free themselves from selfishness, from narrrow bigotry, from spiritual lethargy. Guru Gobind organized the Sikhs to suit a special purpose. He called in the human energy of the Sikhs from all other sides and made it flow in one particular channel only; they ceased to be full free men. He converted the spiritual unity of the Sikhs into a means of worldly success.”87
Tagore’s view expressed here raises a number of issues which remain unanswered. Are “political liberty” and “spiritual freedom” irreconcilable ? To put it in more specific terms, can spiritual freedom flourish in the midst of an all-pervading political slavery ? Or, can the spiritual freedom, even of an individual, co-exist unconcerned within the surrounding slavery ? In any case, the Sikh view of religion is diametrically opposed to the traditional one given above. It does not permit of any dichotomy of life, or of any divorce of the individual from his society. Nor does it visualize that true religion, or ethics can operate unconcerned beside an unjust social or political order, nor that spiritual freedom can co-exist with dictation or political slavery.88
The second part of Tagore’s comment is also misleading. Guru Gobind Singh did not strive for any kind of worldly success for his own sake or for that of his family. He created the Khalsa and sacrificed his four sons to bring about an egalitarian social and political revolution. Was that meant to raise the downtrodden to be “full free men”, or otherwise ? And, how partaking in a revolutionary enterprise contributes to make men “free themselves from selfishness” is very cogently argued by Camus :
“The appearance of the conception of ‘All or Nothing’ (Lalande, Vocabulaire Philosophique) demonstrates that rebellion, contrary to present opinion and despite the fact that it springs from everything that is most strictly individualistic in man, undermines the very conception of the individual. If an individual actually consents to die, and when the occasion arises, accepts death as a consequence of his rebellion, he demonstrates that he is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of a common good which he considers more important than his own destiny. If he prefers death to a denial of the rights that he defends, it is because he considers that the latter are more important than he is. He acts, therefore, in the name of certain values which are still indeterminate, but which he feels are common to himself and to all men. We see that the affirmation implicit in each act of revolt is extended to something which transcends the individual in so far as it removes him from his supposed solitude and supplies him with reason to act… Then we note that revolt does not occur only amongst the oppressed, but that it can also break out at the mere spectacle of oppression of which someone else is the victim. In such cases, there is a feeling of identification with other individuals. And it must be made clear that it is not a question of psychological identification — a mere subterfuge by which the individual contrives to feel that it is he who has been oppressed. It can even happen that we cannot countenance other people being insulted in a manner that we ourselves have accepted without rebelling. The suicide of the Russian terrorists in Siberia in a protest against their comrades being whipped is a case in point. Nor is it a question of a community of interests. Injustices done to men whom we consider enemies can actually be profoundly repugnant to us. Our reaction is only an identification of destinies and a choice of sides. Therefore, the individual is not, in himself, an embodiment of the values he wishes to defend. It needs at least all humanity to comprise them. When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and, from this point of view, human solidarity is metaphysical.”89
All this reasoning is even more relevant to the case of an egalitarian revolution where its goals are predetermined and known to the participants in advance.
Above all, historical movements have to be viewed more in the light of their social and historical impact rather than in the light of theological abstractions. From this angle, nobody even attempts to face squarely the issue posed by the Muslim Sufi saint Bullah Shah that, had there been no Guru Gobind Singh, India would have been overwhelmed by Shariatic dictation.90 Gupta writes : “We now close the narrative of the Sikhs who… delivered their mother country from the yoke of the foreign oppressor; … who alone can boast of having created a bulwark of defence against foreign aggression, the tide of which had run its prosperous course for the preceding eight hundred years,…”91 What was the other alternative practical course open ? If not, would the non-Muslim Indians have become better “full free men” had they continued to remain slaves ?
(b) God-oriented and not God-oriented
Some scholars do concede that the use of force is religiously and morally justified, but only for the purpose of defending religion and dharma. If fighting to shake off slavery and to win freedom is justified, why is the use of force for establishing freedom thus won in the form of a ‘holy state’ not equally just ? It appears that any confusion on this score arises from not differentiating between a ‘holy state’ and a state as an instrument for the secular enjoyment of political power.
It is a well established principle of Sikhism that it rejects Mammon and not the world. Rather, a Sikh is enjoined to live a worldly life, but he should remain unsullied by the glamour of the world. “The living (khada paida) and wealth of those who are imbued with nam are all chaste (pavitar); The houses, lofty buildings and guesthouses where the God-oriented Sikhs and the poor are taken care of are all chaste;... The activities, dharam, and pursuits of those who utter God’s Nam are all chaste.”92
If a Sikh could be expected to remain unsullied in the midst of wealth and other glamour of the world, why could he not be expected to remain unsullied in the midst of political power of a ‘holy state’ ? And in the Khalsa, the wielding of sword and the practice of Nam went hand-in-hand.
“Khalsa is one who fights in the front ranks;
... … ...
Khalsa is one who gives up ego;
Khalsa is one who looks upon all as his own;
Khalsa is one who attunes himself with God.”93
Guru Gobind Singh’s uncle, Kirpal Singh and some other leading Sikhs expressed their concern to the Guru that it would not be possible to maintain the sense of discrimination between good and evil in the revolutionary struggle the Guru wanted to launch. And, if that discrimination is lost, the Sikh ideals would be nowhere. The Guru’s reply was that the true Sikh would not lose that discrimination; only those would go astray who join the struggle from ulterior motives.94 Hence, the governing criterion in Sikhism for all worldly activities and pursuits was whether it was God-oriented or otherwise.
(c) Historical Basis
There are other scholars who are of the view that there is not enough historical evidence to show that the Sikh Gurus or their followers ever aspired for political power before the time of Banda. Here are the facts which speak for themselves. As it is a very important issue, we recall some of the evidence already given for the sake of ready reference.
(i) Pre-Banda Period
Gokal Chand Narang writes, on the basis of the testimony of Dabistan, that, “A state, powerful and unobtrusive, had been slowly evolved, and with the Guru at its head as Sacha Patshah, the Sikhs had already become accustomed to a form of self-government within the empire.”95 Guru Arjan used to hold assemblies which gave the look of royal darbar (court); and henceforth the Guru was looked upon by his followers as a worldly lord and ruling sovereign.96 Khushwaqt Rai states that some of the Sikhs, apparently dazzled by the brilliance of the Guru’s darbar, were prompted to lay claims to sovereignty.97 Toynbee is also of the view that the predecessors of Guru Hargobind had already transformed the Sikh community “from an embryonic church into an embryonic state.”98
Guru Hargobind founded the Akal Takht (i.e., a throne), donned a kalgi (plume), and unfurled two flags of Meeri and Peeri. As all these steps were well-known insignias of royalty, the Guru thus made an open declaration of his political sovereignty, and fought six engagements with the Mughals in order to defend it. The author of Siyar-ul-Mutakherin writes about Guru Teg Bahadur that, “finding himself at the head of so many persons, he aspired to sovereignty.”99 Ram Rai incited Emperor Aurangzeb with his allegation that Guru Teg Bahadur boasted of badshahi-karamat (kingship and miracle).100
There is internal evidence to show that the author of Sri Gur Sobha was a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh.101 He writes that the Guru established his authority at Anandpur (which came to be later called as Anandgarh, signifying it as a fort); and the hill rajas wanted the Guru either to pay them as a token of their ownership of the place or to quit it, but the Guru refused.102 On the other hand, the Khalsa conquered the surrounding villages, and the Guru’s sovereignty (raj) was established on all sides :
“Pher basyou Anandgarh rajan mani aan;
Nikat jeta basai lai khalse jeet;
Ketak din ar doi bars eh bid bhai bateet;
(“Then founded Anandgarh, and the rajas took it as an affront; … the Khalsa won the surrounding villages, in this manner passed two years and many days.”
Tabe Khalsa aise karai;
Hoi aswar gavan pai charai;
Jo age te milnai awai;
Basat rahai kach bhet charaivei;
Karai bilam bhet nahi daiee;
Tako loot Khalsa laiee;
Ih bid charcha bhai apara;
Tab rajan man mahe bichara;
Hamro raj akarth gaio;
Satgur raj chahu dis bhaio:”103
(Then the Khalsa would act like this; “launched an offensive action against the villages with their cavalry; those who came forward with offerings were not disturbed; those who hesitated and did not come forward with offerings, were looted by the Khalsa; this disturbance (charcha) spread on a large scale; then the rajas thought that their rule (raj) had become meaningless; (and) Satguru’s sovereignty (raj) had been established on all sides.”
When the rajas found that they could not dislodge the Guru on their own, they approached the Mughal authorities,104 which led to the last battle of the Khalsa at Anandgarh with the combined forces of the hill rajas and those of the Mughals.
(ii) Regarding The Period Of Banda
There are no two opinions that the Khalsa, under the leadership of Banda, established a short-lived raj, struck their coin in the name of Nanak and Gobind Singh, and even demarcated, on one side, their territorial sovereignty from that of the Mughals.105 An outstanding feature of this raj was that the lowest of low in Hindu estimation became local rulers. All this happened within years of Guru Gobind Singh’s death.
We in no way under-estimate Banda’s contribution to this temporary success of the Khalsa; but the main relevant issue for us here is : from where else did the inspiration and direction for those historical developments come, if not from Guru Gobind Singh ?
Banda is reputed to have been a vairagi prior to his meeting with Guru Gobind Singh. Wilson writes : “The term vairagi implies a person devoid of passion, and is therefore correctly applicable to every religious mendicant, who affects to have estranged himself from the interests and emotions of mankind… but it is more usual to attach a more precise sense to the terms, and to designate by them the mendicant Vaishnavas of the Ramanandi class, or its ramifications, as the disciple of Kabir, Dadu, and others.”106 In either sense of the term, both as mendicants or as Vaishnavas, vairagis are wedded to ahimsa.
Later, one of the main reasons for the main body of the Khalsa parting company with Banda was that he wanted to transgress the democratic principles of the Khalsa and become himself Patshah, and tried to introduce Vaishnavite usages in the Khalsa Panth.107 Does not that show that Banda departed from the ahimsa principle of the Ramanandi sect, and owned the democratic principle of the Khalsa, which also ran contrary to the caste-bound Vaishnavas, under the influence of somebody, and tended to revert to his earlier religious affiliation when that influence passed away or became weak ? And, there is no record to show that Banda met and was influenced in this respect by any person other than Guru Gobind Singh.
(iii) Paucity Of Evidence
The historical evidence available about the Sikh movement should be judged, not in isolation, but in this background that the recording of history, according to its present-day discipline, was practically unknown to Indians. The fact is that, if the accounts provided by the foreign, Chinese, Greek and Muslim, travellers and historians are left out, Indian history upto the medieval period, left entirely to its own indigenous sources of information, would be reduced to a negligible part. It is evident from a cursory reading of the Bhagatmala, the one original account covering the medieval Bhagti movement, that there is very little of authentic historical significance that one can derive from it. In this context, in reconstructing the history of the Sikh movement, one should not expect the detail and thoroughness of the historical evidence one finds in European historiography. The author of Sri Gur Sobha tends to skip over some important events of the time of Guru Gobind Singh; hence, his brief account of the establishment of the Guru’s raj at Anadgarh assumes greater significance, especially if seen in the light of the later de facto developments of the movement.
1. Haqiqat-i-Baman Uruj-i-Firoa-i-Sikhism, quoted by Sher Singh, in The Sikh Review, February, 1991.
2. Mir Gholam Hussain Khan : The Siyar-ul-Mutakherin, trans. by John Briggs, p. 74.
3. Cited by Gurbax Singh : Punjab History Conference, February, 1976 (Proceedings), p. 80;
Cf. Latif, p. 259.
4. Cunningham, p. 59;
Latif, p. 260.
5. Parchian Sewa Das, p. 80.
6. Petre Calvert : A Study of Revolution, p. 97.
7. Hagopian, p. 181.
8. Ellul, p. 125.
9. Ibid., p. 122.
10. Hagopian, p. 181.
11. Ibid., p. 10.
12. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15.
13. Ibid., p. 1288.
14. Ibid., p. 360.
15. Ibid., Trans. by Gopal Singh, vol. i, p. 191.
16. Ibid., vol. iii, p. 927.
17. Pothi Panjab Sakhian, Sakhi 39, cited by Ganda Singh : The Punjab Past and Present, April 1979, p. 241; Dabistan.
18. Macauliffe, v, p. 286.
19. Ibid., p. 280.
20. Ibid., p. 289.
21. Wach, p. 341.
22. Ibid., p. 348.
23. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 51.
24. Rolland Roberts, p. 306.
25. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 175.
26. Macualiffe, v, pp. 300-301.
27. Kirpal Singh (ed.) : Janam-Sakhi, Meharbanwali, p. 92.
28. Macauliffe, iii, p. 91.
29. Ibid., v, p. 310.
30. Koer Singh, p. 99.
31. Ibid., p. 131.
32. Piara Singh Padam (ed.) : Rehatname, p. 47.
33. Ibid., p. 117.
34. Sarb Loh Granth, part 3, p. 532.
35. Hagopian, p. 2.
36. Ellul, p. 44.
37. Le Bon Gustave : The Psychology of Revolution, p. 17.
38. Ibid., pp. 23-24.
39. Ibid., p. 26.
40. Ibid., p. 17.
41. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 227.
42. Ellul, p. 45.
43. Max Weber : The Religions of India, p. 24.
44. Ibid., p. 29.
45. Senart, p. 69.
Ibbetson, sec. 441, 456, 512.
46. Max Weber : The Religions of India, p. 100.
47. Ibid., p. 121.
48. Sri Gur Sobha, p. 21.
49. Koer Singh, p. 31.
50. Ellul, pp. 53-54.
51. Koer Singh : The Sikh Revolution, chapter xviii, p. 137.
52. Wach, p. 313.
53. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, pp. 229-230.
54. Hagopian, p. 181.
55. Ibid., p. 184.
56. Bhangu, Rattan Singh : Prachin Panth Parkash, pp. 81-82.
57. Ellul, p. 93.
58. Ibid., p. 86.
59. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 71.
60. Rehatname, pp. 88-89;
Malcolm, p. 221;
Hugel, p. 263.
61. Bhangu, p. 325.
62. Rehatname, p. 47.
63. Latif, p. 629.
64. Max Weber : The Religions of India, p. 36.
65. Ibid., p. 38.
66. Narang, p. 81.
67. Toynbee, A.J. : A Study of History, vol. viii, p. 591.
68. Ganda Singh (ed.) : Sri Gur Sobha, p. 24.
69. Koer Singh, p. 129.
70. Cited by Gurbax Singh : Punjab History Conference, (December 15-16, 1973), Proceedings, pp. 55-56.
71. Wach, p. 110.
72. Max Weber : The Sociology of Religion, p. 110.
73. Koer Singh, p. 203.
74. Irvine, pp. 317-318.
75. Ganda Singh (ed.) : Sri Gur Sobha, p. 5.
76. Ibid., Introduction, pp. 40-43.
77. Koer Singh, p. 131.
78. Ibid., p. 132.
79. Ibid., p. 79.
80. Bhangu, pp. 304-305.
81. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 918.
82. Bhangu, p. 80.
83. Macauliffe, v, p. 66.
84. Sarb Loh Granth, part 3, pp. 531-2.
85. Bhangu, p. 215.
86. The Sikh Revolution, pp. 178-180.
87. Sarkar, Jadu Nath : History of Aurangzeb, vol. iii, p. 303.