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





The focus of this paper is to make a critical study of devi worship associated with Guru  Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master. The study proposes to trace out the various issues related to  the origin, development and impact of the devi story: How it crept into the accounts related to  the life of Guru Gobind Singh ? Who were the authors who introduced this episode? What is  its relevance to the fundamental beliefs of Sikhism? And, what is its effect on the status of  Sikhism as an independent religion?

The Khalsa Brotherhood was created by Guru Gobind Singh in AD. 1699. Its detail in some  Sikh chronicles, popularly known as Gurbilases, appears with an account of worship of  Goddess Durga. The authors of these Gurbilases or chronicles seem to convey the idea that  Guru Gobind Singh, before creating the Khalsa Brotherhood, invoked Goddess Durga to  bless him. Durga, we know, is a Shakti deity. In Hindu mythology she is known to be the  Goddess of power who in times yore killed many demons and saved the innocent from their  clutches. This tale of Devi worship has now been picked up by some scholars of Sikh studies  to mar the image of Guru Gobind Singh on the creation of a new order. One of them, W.H.  Mcleod, observes in a very diplomatic language:

“Shivalik hills have long been a stronghold of the Devi or Shakti cult ... The result of prolonged residence within the  Sivaliks was that elements of the hill culture eventually penetrated theJat Sikh culture ofthe plains and produced yet another stage in the evolution of the Panth.”1 Mcleod does not pronounce the elements of hill culture explicitly but is at pains to explain  that: “In this (Guru Gobind Singh’s) writing and in those which were produced at his court, we find constant reference to the  mighty exploits of the Mother Goddess, one of the most notable being his own Chandi-ki-var.”2
He then hastens to add another work Chandi Charitra (Satsaya) from ‘Markande Purana’ to  the list and ends with the explication that as a result of “the fusion of these two cultures a  new and powerful synthesis (took shape), one which prepared the Panth for determinative role in the chaotic circumstances of the eighteenth century.” 3 What Mcleod seems to hint at  is that Guru Gobind Singh could bring forth good results only after he had invoked the help  of Goddess Durga before the creation of the Khalsa.

Mcleod, and some of our own scholars, who generally toe his line or, conversely, Mcloed  toes theirs, seem to hold that Guru Gobind Singh with a view to winning over the support ‘of  the hill people did actually undertake the worship of Durga before the creation of the Khalsa.  This McLeod seems to suggest either because of expediency of the situation or because of  Guru’s faith in the might of the Devi. Both these reasons, on which these scholars seem to  base their view, in a way, cast aspersions on the great Guru.

 We, therefore propose to  examine the authenticity of the Devi worship story. Our approach  shall be, first, to trace out the genesis of this story, and see when, how and with what motive,  it got introduced in the account of the creation of the Khalsa, and, secondly, to see how far  this is in consonance with the teachings of the Tenth Guru.

Mcleod has, it seems, given undue importance to the works, Chandi-ki-Var and Chandi  Charitra (Satsaya). It is naive on the part of this scholar to assume that these two works aimed  at appeasing the sentiments of the hill people who were given to the worship of the Goddess.  But this hypothesis does not hold good.

Guru Gobind Singh was a great patron of learning and had quite a large number of poets and  scholars in his court enjoying his patronage. Some of these scholars, it appears, rendered a  number of ancient classics into the native language Desh Bhaka prevalent at the time. In consequence, the story of Ram, Mahabharat, Chankaya Rajaniti, Gobind Gita, Chandi-ki-Var  and Chandi Charitra (Satsaya), etc. were, it seems, rendered into the native tongue. He had  also kept a Persian scholar of the eminence of Bhai Nand Lal in his court who produced works such as Zindgi Nama, Tausif-i-Sana, Ganj Namah, Jot Vikas, Diwan-i-Goya  {Ghazaliat), Arz-ul-alfaz, etc. The two works, Chandiki- Var and Chandi Charitra (Satsaya)  have been irrationally isolated from this whole mass of translated literature, nor, can they  warrant any such conclusion as drawn by Mcleod. In fact the motive for rendering Chandi  Charitra in Desh Bhakha has been explicitly stated in the narration couched in newsimiIies  and metaphors to show poet’s Art. Indeed, the translator has indicated therein his purpose:  “Chandi Charitra has been rendered into Bhakha verse for the sole purpose of instilling the  sentiment of anger. The entire personality of Chandi has been described in unique metaphors.  This story of seven hundred slokes has been completed by the poet to show the daring  exploits.”4 Thus, in this epilogue there is no hint of worship of Devi or of asking any boon from her. Now if we turn to the prologue of this very work, the invocation is not to the Devi  but to God, who is “Ocean of Compassion” (Kripa Sindhu), for helping him in rendering the  story of Chandika in verses: “O Ocean of Compassion, Bless me, so that I render the story of Chandika in befitting language.” 5 

This invocation shows the motive of the translator in rendering an ancient tale into the native tongue, and that motive is clearly not to worship Goddess, in anyway. The same is the case  with Chandi-ki-Var which is the story showing the victory of virtue over evil forces. Hence, as Dr. Jaggi has pointed out, translation of Hindu mythical literature by some poets, not all of  whom were Amritdhari Sikhs or Singhs, cannot by any stretch suggest Guru’s faith in the  Devi or Avtaras.

Now we come to the genesis of the Devi worship story and its aggrandisement in Sikh  literature.

The most important work in Sikh annals pertaining to the times of the Tenth Master is  Sainapat’s Gursobha.6 He happened to be a court poet of Guru Gobind Singh. This work  gives a detailed and realistic account of the creation of the Khalsa on the Baisakhi Day, in the  year 1699.7 The important thing to note is’ that Sainapat does not mention the worship of  Durga anywhere in the book. Had it been a part of the event, he would not have missed it,  rather he would have flashed it conspicuously. This shows that there is no truth in the story of  worship of Goddess by Guru Gobind Singh

McLeod, who concedes its importance as the earliest account of the Baptismal event,  Khande-di-Pahul, and of the fundamentals of the code of conduct tor an initiated Sikh,  however, contends that,the date of this work does not stand confirmed. He observes that there  are two dates AD 1711 and AD 17458, suggested about the production of Gursobha, and, if  latter turns out to be correct, then it does not become a contemporary source detailing  baptismal account.9 The first date of the production of the Gursobha seems to have been  borrowed from S. Hans, who in his A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature, holds AD 1711 to be the date of compilation of Gursobha.10 Hans has concluded this date  from the analytical study of the dating of Gursobha published by Punjabi University, Patiala.  Ganda Singh cites the evidence of Baba Sumer Singh who in his Gurbilas Dasvin Patshahi Ka writes:11

 “saina singh kari gur sobha satmh sat athhsathh nij Obha.” 12

Some mistake seems to have occured some where in holding the date to be AD. 1711, for the  Punjabi manuscript reads: “Sa mat satrah sai bhai barakh athhavan bit; bhadav sudi pandras  bhai rachi katha kar prit.” 13 This gives us 1758 B.K/AD 1701 as the date of this work. Some  manuscript copies of Gursobha, it is alleged, have the word athanav (Ninety-eight) in place of  athavan (Fifty-eight). Hence the discrepency is the year which seems to worry McLeod. The  year 1758 B.K./AD. 1701 is correct and not 1798 B.K./AD. 1741, because the manuscript   itself gives the date 1701 AD.
This is so because another work Chanakya Rajaniti rendered into the native tongue by this  very poet, Sainapat, has come down to us. In this work (Chanakaya Rajniti) it is stated:

 “Guru Gobind Ki Sabha mein lekhak suja.
   Chanakya Bhakha Kari, kavi Sainpat man.” 14

This shows that the author of Gursobha was actually associated with the writing during the  days of Guru Gobind Singh. 15 As such, a lapse of some forty years between the composition  of the two works can in no case be justified. On the contrary it will be more appropriate to  assume that the author undertook to write Gursobha soon after his first work, that is, during  the period when he was still in the Guru’s Court.

The second date relied upon by our friend, McLeod, thus, does not hold good, with the result  that Sainapat’s account about the creation of the Kha/sa Brotherhood becomes contemporary  and authentic. Sainapat’s Gursobha, not only, furnishes the negative evidence of the complete absence of  the story of Devi worship or Horn, but there is also a positive statement therein, indicating  that the Devi, like other Avtars, only indulged in egoist self praises for her own \yorship and  not that of God, the Creator.

Now about the accretion of the Devi worship story to the Baptismal account. The other two  treaties which matter, are Parchi Patshashi Daswin Ki by Sewa Das Udasi (1798 B.K./AD.  1741 and Mahima Prakash (Vartak) by Kirpa Dyal Singh (1798 B.K./AD 1741).16 Both of  them do away with the event in a most cursory way.

“Once the Guru called Pandas from Kashi,
Got the Hom done by them. Initiated the Khalsa Panth.’17

The information given in both the works is identical. The word hom seems to suggest some  sort of ceremonial ritual in the nature of an initial ceremony and not at all the worship of  goddess Durga. If it had been there, they would not have forgotten to mention it, particularly, when they give all sorts of other stories.

Among the chronicles (Gurbilases) of the Guru, that which comes next, is one by Koer Singh  captioned Gurbilas Patshahi 10. 18 This gives the devi-worship account but not without  serious chronological mistakes. It says that the ritual to appease the Devi started in the year  1742 BK (AD. 1687) and went on till 1746 BK (AD. 1689) i.e. for over three years.19 Now,  during this period Gurl,l Gobind Singh was actually at Paonta Sahib and not at Anandpur.  The author forgetting all this makes the Devi appear atop Naina Hills. This is a serious chronological mistake.

After the above mentioned works that deal with the Devi episode, we have a plethora of  writings dwelling on the event in great detail, namely: Mahima Prakash by Sarup Das Bhalla  (1831 BK / 1774) Gurpratap Suriya Granth by Bhai Santokh Singh (AD. 1843) and so on. All  these later writers, however, do not agree in their details of the Devi worship. They differ in  respect of the motive behind the worship; in the identity of the Hotra (Brahmin Agent), in her  effect on the Guru, in Guru’s service rendered to her, and in the gift given by the Devi to the  Guru.

The problem of the Devi worship story in Sikh literature has been critically studied by Bhai  Vir Singh in his Devi Pujan Partal. 20 His study shows growth of the story according to the  fancy of each writer. Yet the source of all these works is obvious. It is Koer Singh’s Gurbilas  Patshahi 10 or else Mahima Prakash of Sarup Das Bhalla. We shall, therefore, dispense with  these accounts and concentrate only on the first three, i.e. Gursobha, Parchi Patshahi Dasvin  ki (Sewa Das) and Koer Singh’s Gurbilas Patshahi 10.

The creation of the Khalsa was a very unique event in which a whole barrier of caste and  status was demolished. Its effect on the privileged class of the Hindu society was bound to be  negative. It appears that in the period intervening between Sainapat’s Gursobha and Koer  Singh’s Gurbilas Patshahi 10, extending to some five or six decades, the Sikhs were engaged  in a most fiercestruggle against the State, when claiming to be a Sikh or Nanakpanthi meant  death. Hence, only Hindu outsiders were left, who, because of their Brahminical  leanings,  introduced the Devi in the Khalsa account in order partly to give credibility to their Hindu  beliefs by attributing Devi worship to Guru Gobind Singh, and partly to dissociate  themselves from Sikhism in the official eye, since being a Sikh meant sure destruction in that period. It is very significant that Sainapat’s account which is the most authoritative and  contemporary record, does not mention any thing like Ham or Devi worship. But it does  mention that on the point of shaving or Bhadar, many Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere were  reluctant to give up their old Hindu appearence and practices. This meant that they were not  willing to declare themselves as Sikhs and run the risk of elimination. Here two facts are  significant. In Parchian Sewa Dass and Mehma Prakash Vartak, it is the Hindu or Vedic  practice of Ham, which is conducted through a Brahmin, thalis mentioned as preceding the  Amrit initiation of the Khalsa. In the subsequent narration, including that in the Mehma  Prakash, it is the Saiva practice of Devi worship that is mentioned. It only shows that the  Ham story or the Devi worship is a mere addition following the personal fancy of the writer  according to his personal belief or preference for Ham or Devi worship. Second; in  introducing the Hindu practice, the writer is not careful as to whether or not he is making a  clear contradiction in his narrative. For example, Koer Singh at one place writes that the  Guru wanted every person to be treated equally, but later concludes by suggesting that  Brahmins should be given preferential treatment.

Another possibility is that the story was introduced on the analogy of the ancient tale of the  birth of Agni-Kul Rajputs, who, it is stated, were born out of Agni Kund. Therefore, these  Brahminically oriented writers created the Devi’s story to show that like the Rajputs of yore,  the Sikhs were born to fight aggression and wrest power from the Malechhas or the Turks.  Evidently, no follower of the Guru could have started Devi story, when there was no mention  of it in Gursobha. There was first a mention of a havan (ham) only in Sewadas Udasi’s Parchi  Patshahi dasvin ki and Kirpa Dayal’s Mehima Prakash (Vartak). Later on, this story of a  Vedic rite was converted into a full-fledged story of Devi worship who bestowed a sword or  a Khanda on Guru Gobind Singh. These Hindu oriented chroniclers did this conversion to  serve a cause they held dear, i.e. the elimination of evil. They were in their own way trying to  propagate the story that the divine forces were on the side of the Khalsa which, they confirmed, had been created  specifically to destroy the Moghal Rule. They had thus no  inhibition in propagation of stories which had no factual basis but which, they thought, would  be good for their cause. Hence the coining of the story of Devi worship and its alignment with the creation of the  Khalsa. The story has, thus, to be considered as only a figment of the imagination of writers  who due to their background of Hindu mythology revelled in the creation of myths, and  thought them to be very potent for the fulfilment of their prejudices or beliefs.

That Guru Gobind Singh did not stand in need of invoking the Devi, is clear from the fact  that his Grandfather Guru Hargobind, had already employed the sword and had fought battles  with the aggressive rulers.21 Even Guru Gobind Singh, before he created the Khalsa, had himself successfully fought a few battles at Nadaun and Bhangani to chastise the  evilmongers.22 He, therefore, did not need any new sanction from any God or goddess to  sanctify or legitimise his act of the creation of the Khalsa.

Ideological Contradiction:
The most vital point to be considered in this context should be the Sikh Gurus’ belief about  God. They believed in only One Formless Supreme Lord whose concept has been made  explicitly clear in Mulmantra and various hymns enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (the  Scripture of the Sikhs). The same unity of thought has been retained in the bani of Guru  Gobind Singh. In the Jap sahib,23 Akal Ustat24 and many other hymns, whenever the Guru  seeks to perform some task, invariably, he invokes God, (the Timeless Supreme Reality, the  Creator) and not a Devi. There are several passages in Guru Gobind Singh’s writings in  which he advocates only the worship of the Supreme Reality and none else.25 Guru Gobind  Singh was strictly an uncompromising monotheist, so he cannot be said to have worshipped  Devi, for this specific purpose.

Our discussion makes it very clear that Guru Gobind Singh had neither any need to invoke  the Devi, nor had he at any time sought her help or blessings. Devi worship is ideologically  in complete opposition and contradiction to the Sikh tradition both in the Bani in the Guru Granth and the accepted Bani of Guru Gobind Singh himself. From the historical point of  view we find that the contemporary author of Gur Sobha who first gives the story of Amrit,  does not at all make any suggestion about Horn or Devi. In fact, Sainapat condemns the role  of Devi as being an egoist. It is only a creation of the later Brahmnical minded chroniclers,  who just exhibited their Puranic bent of mind in introducing the Horn or Devi worship story.  We, therefore, conclude that the story of Devi worship has to be rejected as a myth and as an unreality both on the basis of the historical and the ideological evidence.

1. W.H. McLeod, Evolution of the Sikh Community, Oxford University Press, Bombay, 1975,p. 133
2. Ibid. 
3. Ibid., p.14
4. Sri Dasam Guru Granth Sahib Ji, ed. Giani Mohinder Singh Ratan, Pub. Jawahar Singh Kirpal Singh, Amritsar,  1967, p.99.
5. Ibid., p.74
6. Shamsher Singh Ashok (ed.) Sri Gur Sobha (Kavi Sainapat), Sikh History Research Board, Shiromani Gurdwara  Vrabandhak Committee. Shri Amritsar, 1967.
7: Ibid. Ch.5,pp.29-41
8. The introduction of Khalsa was a revolutionary change and it was not readily accepted by the followers of the Guru.  There is a refrence to the protest of Sikhs of Delhi (of the locality of Gilwali gali) especially those of the Brahmin and  Khatri followers who reacted against the Khalsa rahit of keeping unshorn hair. This account is recorded in Gursobha  written by Sainpat who was an eyewitness of it.
9. W.H. McLeod, The Sikhs, History, Religion and Society. Columbia University Press, New York, 1989, p.63
10. McLeod: “Its (Gursobha’s) potential significance is considerably diminished by the fact that its actual date has yet  to be conclusively settled” - Ibid. See also McLeod’s Who is a Sikh: The Problem of Sikh identity. Clarendon  Press,1989 p.35
11. S. Hans, A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature; p.246
12. See Ganda Singh (ed.) Sri Gursobha (Kavi Sainapat), Punjabi University, Patiala,1980, Introduction, p.17
13. Shri Gursobha, Ch. I, p.10
14. Shamsher Singh Ashok, (ed.) Sri Gursobha (Kavi Sainapat). Introduction, p.1
15. Ibid. Ch 1-18.
16. Parchi Patshahi Daswin Ki (ed.) Piara Singh Padam, Paliala, 1988, Sakhi IS, p.60
17. Mahima Prakosh (Vartak), Sakhi I, as quoted by Bhai Vir Singh, Devi Pujan Partal, Khalsa Samachar, Amritsar,  1%3, p.55 .
18. Koer Singh, Gurbilas Patshqhi 10 (ed.) Shamsher Singh Ashok, p.112
19. See chart of the comparative study of contradictory statement of these authors given in a chart in Bhai Vir Singh’s  Devi Pujan Partal, facing p.66. See Appendix, A
20. See Fauja Singh, ‘Chronology of the Battles of Guru Hargobind’ in Proceedings, Punjab History Conference, Sixth Session, 1971.
21. See Sri Dasam Granth, ‘Bachitar Natak’
22. See ‘Sri Dasam Granth; ‘Bachitar Natak’.
23. Ibid 
24. Ibid. p.74
25. Ibid
26. Ibid. p.55
27. Ibid., p.57
28. Ibid. pp.57-58
29. Sri Dasm Granth. Aka1 Ustat, 40, p.15 30. Ibid., Akal Ustat, 50, p.16
31. Ibid., Aka! Ustal, 140; p.24
32. Ibid., Sawayya, 15 p.714.




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