KHALSA: THE SAINT SOLDIER
1. The Background
To grasp the significance of the ideal of ‘Saint Soldier’ it would be helpful briefly to refer to two most prominent features of the religious tradition of India before Guru Nanak. These are:
- Dichotomy between spiritual and empircallives, and
- The Caste system.
While the former was cbmmon to practically all systems of religious thought, the latter constituted the very foundation of the diversity of faiths included in Hinduism.
Dichotomy between Spiritual and Empirical Life: In a monistic system like Sankra’s Vedanta, the world is unreal or mithya. In Dualistic systems like Yoga, Sankhya and Jainism, two kinds of Reality are assumed - spiritual and material. And man is a combination of both. In Buddhism the world is a place of suffering in the endless cycle of birth, life and death. Goals vary from a realisation of the self to deliverance from transmigration, or nirvana or mukti or merger with the Ultimate Reality. The effort of the individual is directed towards a
selfish end of personal salvation with little or no regard for, or even at the cost of the society and fellowmen. Worldly activities were considered incompatible with, and a hindrance to spiritual progress. Renunication or withdrawl from the world; asceticism celibacy, and
ahimsa were essential components of the spiritual discipline prescribed. There was little scope or need for altruism or moral deeds. Dichotomy between spiritual and empirical lives was complete. In Nathism, which was the predominant faith at the time of Guru Nanak, the initiate had to take vowsof following nooccupation, living on alms, celibacy and ahimsa. Although living as a parasite on society, the Naths looked doWn upon householders and any concern with the society was considered irreligious and beneath the dignity of a religious man. Some of the practices endowed with religious merit have been recounted by Guru Arjun Dev :
“Despite recitation of holy texts, study of Vedas and praxis of bowels and the Kundalini. From the five agents has not come parting of company,
And more and more in egoistic thinking is one bound, Cherished One, by such devices comes not union
Innumerable are the means I have adopted.
Tired of all such, at the Lord’s Portal I threw myself.
Praying, ‘Grant me discriminating understanding’.
Vows of silence I observed; on my bare hands received food,
And unclad in forests wandered. Wandered overwater-edges and holy spots over the earth. Still has duality not dropped off.
At holy water-edges I resided where the desires are fulfilled.
Had the saw placed over my head;
Yet thus is not impurity of mind washed off, despite a million devies.
Cold, maids, horses, elephants - thus charities of various kinds I dispensed ;
Gave away grain, clothing, land Still
found I not the Lord’s Portal.
To offering before deities, sprinkling sandal-wood paste, folding of hands,
Lying prostrate, and to the six ritual acts have I remained devoted.
Still, by egoism in bonds am fallen.
Not by these devies is the Lord met.
Eighty four poses of Yoga-praxis too to exhaustion I performed; Lived to a great age,
yet not found union with the Lord,
And into transmigration fell.
Royal display of glory, the pomp of kingship I had,
And exercised absolute, authority;
Lay in elegant couch, applied to my limbs
sandalwood and attar - all these are gateway to terrible hell.
Divine laudation in holy company is the supreme act of piety.
Saith Nanak: This to such comes as by primal writ are thus destined to receive.
In such joy of devotion is thy servant absorbed.
By grace of the shatterer of suffering of the humble,
To Divine laudation is my mind devoted.
Caste System: The Indian caste system is a unique institution evolved by the Hindu society, and has no parallel anywhere in the
history of the world. The fundamental assumption of the cast ideology is that2, Men were not - as for classical Confucianism - in principle equal, but forever unequal. They were so by birth, and ‘were as unlike as man and animal’ The whole society is divided into four major castes: Brahmins, Kshatris, Vishyas and Sudras. The number of sub-tastes, however, exceeds 3,000, all of which are meticulously arranged in a hierarchical social pyramid in which the social grade of each group was fixed permanently by birth. Each layer in this social pyramid was superior in caste status (i.e. virtually in social status) to all layers below it, and lower in caste status to all the others above it, irrespective of their political or economic position. The privileges, disabilities, obligations and duties, i.e. practically all aspects of social,behaviour, of each sub- caste were regulated by fixed rules and codes. At the top were the Brahmins enjoying every conceivable privilege,and at the bottom were the Sudras, mostly untouchables, doomed to perpetual serfdom doing alHhe dirty and disagreeable jobs required of them, with no hope of ever moving up along the social ladder. The system had religious sanction of the Vedas, and was confirmed by the Avtars of Vishnu, incarnated as Lord Rama and Krishna. One was born as Sudra as a punishment for sins of one’s previous birth, and
nobody could, therefore, change it. Every Varna could perform only the specific functions allotted to it. Only Brahmins could preside over religious ceremonies. Wearing and use of arms was the monopoly of Kshatria. Vaisyas could not do anything except farming and trading. It was a grave offence for a Sudra to attempt anything other than his menial jobs. ord Rama, known as Maryada Purshotam, is said to have cut off the head of a Sudra f9r the sole crime of indulging in religious rites not allowed to his caste. Lord Krishna was supposed to have asserted that he was the creator of Chaturvarnya.
It is obvious that religious requirements or creeds of different
castes were different. Guru Nanak draws atter-tion to this is anomaly:
3 “The Yogi’s creed in seeking enlightment in expressed.
The Brahmin’s in following the Vedas,
The Kshatras creed is heroism; the Sudra’s service of others.”
The Guru, however, does not approve of this. He goes on:
“Should one, however, realise this secret,
One creed all should inspire.
Nanak is a slave to one with such realisation.
In him is manifest the immaculate Lord.”
II The Consequences
Rigid enforcement of the caste system ensured internal stability of the society and control of the Brahmins for almost three thousand years. The life-negating pacificist religious beliefs also helped in this. But an unjust and exploitative system cannot sustain itself indefinitely.
The vast majority of the population had been deprived of education,and had been disarmed. The shabby and cruel treatment meted out to the Sudras and even the Vaisyas did not inspire or encourage any feelings of sympathy or loyalty to the higher castes. So when the Muslim invaders started their attacks from the North and West, they met no formidable resistance. Mahmud Ghaznavi is known for his seventeen invasions on India. It was almost a sport with him. He would corhe any time he liked and return with as much loot as troops could carry. He desecrated temples, killed people by the thousands and took men and women as slaves. His official reporter records that while his troops were plundering the famous Temple at Somnath and breaking the idols, people from the surrounding 300 village collected and sat chanting mantras, and did not offer any resistance. Bakhtiar Khilji is believed to have crossed into India with only 300 horsemen, and trampling vast territories, reached as far as
Nalanda, where he demlished the famous University, killing 1,000 teachers and about ten thousand students, besides destroying over 100,000 valuable manuscripts. Such examples of wanton destruction by invaders could be cited by hundreds from the Indian history. Muslim
invaders were able to establish their empires in India without much difficulty. Indian pacificism was no match for the life-affirming approach of the outside armies. The Muslim rule in India lasted for almost a thousand years, only to be replaced by another foreign power, the British.
Guru Nanak was himself a witness to the attack of the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. In his famous composition, Babarvani, he gives a very vivid account of the atrocities committed by his armies on innocent people, including women and children. He calls Babur’s army as a ‘horde of sin’. At the same time he takes to task the local rulers for their unpreparedness. He points out the need for contemplation beforehand to escape chastisement, as well as the futility of spells for dealing with the Moghal invaders, or any other aggressor.
III. The Concept of Saint Solider
We have seen that religious thought of the pre-Guru period, was oriented towards evelopment of the individual, in respect of some selected traits or qualities, rather than his entire personality and the society. The popular couplet ‘Janani jane to bhagat jan, kai data kai sur’ indicates the prevalent values of the times. The ideals sought were bhakti or charity or heroism. One of these was considered enough. It never occurred to religious leaders that emphasis on a single quality would lead to lop-sided development of the individual, and emaciate the society. Guru Nanak, on the other hand, wanted balanced and fullest evelopment of the individual, covering every aspect of his life, physical, temporal, moral and spiritual. Himself perfect, he set out to create a perfect society of perfect individuals, basing his philosophy on the unity of God, the Sole Loving Creator. This is amply testified by Dr. Mohammad Iqbal in his reference to Guru Nanak thus:
“Phir uthi Tauhid ki awaz ik Punjab se,
Mard-i-kamal ne jagaya Hind ko phir khwab se.”4
Guru Nanak’s religion derives its origin from his mystic communion with the ‘Sole Loving Creator.’ And he wanted all human beings to develop in His image to carry out the Lord’s Altruistic Will.Guru ArJun furnishers some hints on that image as follows:
“Among kings art Thou reputed as the Supreme King;
Among possessors of land also Supreme.5
Lord Creator, what can we utter of Thy praise ?
In wonder are we beholding all.
Supreme Bestower among those that bestow gifts.
Among masters of glory art Thou all glorious;
Among hedonists the Supreme Hedonist.
Among heroes art Thou Supreme Hero; among enjoyers of leisures
Among householders art Thou Supreme Householder;
Among doers art Thou Supreme Creator; among yogis the Supreme Yogi.”
The Guru’s system differs radically from earlier religious traditions in its goals. The Guru did not approve of any selfish goal of personal salvation through asceticism and withdrawl from life, flourishing on parasitism. The Guru saw God as All Love. He loves, His creation, and has a Will that is Altruistic. So the goal for the Guru’s ideal man or ‘gurmukh’ is to carry out the Altruistic Will of God. The devotion of the Guru’s disciple expresses itself as love for His creation in the form of service and sacrifice. For, love without sacrifice is meaningless. In fact love and sacrifice are closely Iinked cemplementary qualIties. Love of a cause inevitably leads to sacnfice or heroism. The Guru’s religion, therefore, rejects pacificism of the earlier salvation systems, and prepares the seeker to be saint as well as a soldier, and not a saint or a soldier. He says:
“Shouldest thou seek to engage in the game of love,
Step into my street with thy head placed on thy palm.
While on to this stepping, ungrudgingly sacrifice your head.”6
Guru Arjun repeated the same thing, when he said:
“Accept first death as inevitable, and attachment to life discard; Turn dust of feet of
all - thereafter to us come.”7
Sikhism is a whole-life system combining spiritual life with empirical life. The ‘Saint-Sipahi’ ideal is thus logically and morally essential. For, love of one’s fellowmen becomes meaningless, and even hypocritical, if one is not willing to sacrifice and secure for them
sustenance, equality, safety and justice in all spheres of life. Hence in Guru Nanak’s system the ideal of ‘Sant-Sipahi’ is spiritually and naturally a necessary culmination. It is, therefore, neither incidental nor accidental that out of the Ten Gurus, while the first four organised, motivated and developed the Sikh society, and Guru Arjun created a state within a state, the later five Gurus mainted a regular army and wielded the sword, when necessary.
It must be emphasized that while a Sikh is expected to acquire the skills of a soldier, he is permitted to use his sword only for a noble cause, to resist oppression and tyranny, and to secure justice and equality for humanity. Guru Gobind Singh gave a clear sanction to the
use of force, when he said:
“When all other means (to secure justice) fail,
It is righteous to take the sword in hand.”
On the other hand, fighting for selfish ends, self-aggrandisement and lust for power, is condemned in clear terms. The Guru says: “Call not those hereos that in pride die and bear sufferings :
Blind, not realising the self, in duality are they absorbed.
In extreme of wrath they wage battles.
In this life and the next sufferings.
Declare the scriptures, pride pleases not the Lord.
Those dying in pride, of liberation shall be deprived
And in the cycle of death and birth shall ever move.”8
Guru Nanak condemned the invasion of Babur in strongest words, since his exploits were not only devoid of saintliness, but were actually opposed to it. Dr. Iqbal expresses similar sentiments, when he says:
“Be it the pomp of monarchy.
Or the show of democracy,
Separate (nobility of) religion from politics,
What remains is the sheer tyranny of Jenghese.”9
Guru Arjun stressed the need for saintliness in heroes, when he said:
“In this age such alone are designated as true heroes,
As in the love of Lord are dyed.”10
In numerous hymns the Gurus has urged upon the heroes to
inculcate saintly qualities. Using metaphor of wrestling, the Guru refers
to the fight with the evil forces thus:
“I am the wrestler of the Lord;
With Lord’s blessing holding my tassel high.
The assemblage has gathered
And the Lord Himself is witnessing.
Trumpets and drums playing;
The wrestlers in the arena are moving around.
The five wrestlers’ have I overthrown,
The Master has stroked my back.”11
The ideal of Saint Soldier is the practical expression of the wholelife approach preached by the Gurus, who categorically rejected renunciation which is usually associated with saintliness. Guru Ariun says:
“Saith Nanak : By contact with the Master is the true device of living perfected.
In a life of smiling playfulness, enjoyment of wear and food,
Is attained liberation.”12
“My self, in joy abide by endeavouring and working in the way of God.
By meditation obtain union with the Lord;
Thus, sayeth Nanak, shall thy anxiety be removed.”13
IV. Founding A Society of Saint-Soliders
Guru Nanak was not content to merely state his doctrines. He knew that, in the background of long Indian tradition, these would be forgotten, unless he could create a motivated and wel1- knit society, wedded to his principles and willing to fight for them. With this idea in mind he had been organising Sangats, wherever he went. Towards the end of his tours he created the nucleus of a Sikh society and Centte at Kartarpur, in the form of a colony, in which everybody including the Guru himself, worked and ate together, attended the daily
congregations, and imbibed the spirit of the Master and his religion. The members of this community were the humble and the lowly people who had suffered for centuries under the Draconian Varna Dharma and the tyrannical rule of the foreign invaders. The infant society had to be nurtured, until it grew in size and conviction, and developed a full consciousness of the strength oftheir cause and potentialities. All this could not be achieved overnight or even in one generation. So the Guru introduced the institution of succession, passing on the torch to his worthiest disciple, Lehna, giving him the title of Angad, Le., a part of his own self. This succession continued, until it reached the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh. Each Guru made rich contribution to the cause of advancing towards the goal of an organised society of saintsoldiers. The first five Gurus created the necessary infrastructure like the institution of Sangat and Pangat, creation of headquarters at Amritsar, compiling of the Scripture, organisation of districts for efficient administration, starting the institution of Daswandh
(one tenth of income as contribution towards common socioreligious development of the society), developing physical strength of the individual and the society as a whole, etc.
The Sixth Master, under instructions of his great father, took the next step to implement the doctrine of Mir-Piri by doning two swords at the time of his coronation. He took up in real earnest the training of his followers in the military skills and warfare. It needs to be noted that the symbol for Piri or spiritualism was also a sword, and not a rosary, signifying that even spiritual obligations cannot be discharged fully without shakti or sword. In the initial stages even mercenaries were employed to impart training. For, the earlier disciples of the Guru, thoroughly grounded in the Sikh doctrines, required training in the arts of soldiery. The goal was to create a society of saint soldiers, properly trained, equipped and willing to fulfil their social responsibilities and fight and die for the cause of justice and defence of the poor and oppressed. History records that the army of Guru Hargobind fought four pitched battles with the forces of the local Mughal Chiefs, and won. The following three Gurus also maintained
armies, approximately thirty thousand strong, and continued preparing their followers for the ensuing struggle. The Ninth Master, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who died a martyr for resisting the forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam, championing the cause of freedom of faith, is also
famous for his slogan of saint-soldierly concept.
“Frighten not; fear nol.”14
The first part shows a saint, and the second a soldier.
V. The Epitome
The revolutionary movement launched by Guru Nanak culminated in the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh on the Baisakhi day of 1699, when he dramatically selected the Five Piyaras, the most devoted of his Sikhs or disciples, who had offered their heads to he Guru for the sainIty cause, to form the nucleus of the Khalsa Panth. Around this nucleus under the inspiring leadership of the Guru and the example of his unparalleled sacrifices, rew a society of saint-soldiers, with strong convictions of the spiritual realities of life, wedded to the highest moral values trained in the arts of soldiering, and ever willing and prepared to fight for the cause of justice, in the’ defence of the poor, the oppressed and the down-trodden. The exploits of the Khalsa are too well-known to need mention in this brief paper. Suffice it to say that it was this organisation of saint-soldiers, that stemmed the spate of invasions from the North West that had plagued India for nearly a thousand years, and introduced an era of peace, stability, freedom and human dignity after centuries of tyranny, destruction, slavery, humiliation and human indignity.
VI. The Saint-Soldier In History
The history of Sikhs after creation of the Khalsa is the story of an unending series of martyrs and saint-soldiers, who staked their lives for the cause of justice and resistance to oppression and exploitation. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into details of such heroic deeds and near miracles performed by the Khalsa. One of the numerous examples, recorded by Rattan Singh Bhangoo in his Panth Parkash, is the attack on Kasur, on the complaint of a Brahmin whose wife had been forcibily taken away by the Pathans. The attack was undertaken against heavy odds, with a meagre 24,000 soldiers against an enemy over a lac strong, involving tremendous lisk. With conviction of the righteousness of the cause, and with faith in the Lord, the attack was launched, because the Khalsa could not resist the call to duty as saint soldiers. A mere saint of earlier traditions, would have paid little attention to the Brahmin’s request, and would have advised him to accept it as the will of Providence. And a mere soldier would see no need or justification for such a risky operation. But the saint-soldiers of the Guru did not shirk their responsibility, and succeeded in rescuing the Brahmin’s wife, at a heavy cost in terms of loss of life.
“Every page of Sikh history burns with a hundred star-like names; one name is enough to thrill a whole life in us with the noblest spirit of heroism. The names of Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh, his Four Sons, the five Beloved Disciples,and the Sikh Martyrs and devotees, the heroes of war’ and peace, provide the Sikh with an inexhaustible and intense past which few races in history can provide in its life-giving death-defying powers of inspiration to serve the Master and his ideals.”15 Among the countless heroes mention may also be made of the Forty Muktas, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Baba Dip Singh, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, Bhai Bota Singh, Bhai Mehtab Singh, Bhai Sukha Singh, Nawab Kapur Singh, Maharaja Jassa Singh, Akali Phula Singh and others. Outstanding among the more recent saint-soldiers are the names of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh and Baba Waisakha Singh, who spent their lives in jail for resisting the oppression of the British Rule in India in response to the inner call for action as disciples of the Guru.
The spirit of saint-soldiers lives and will life forever. The Akali Movement of the early twenties furnished ample evidence of this spirit. Professor Puran Singh makes a touching reference to this as follows:
“The awe-inspiring scenes of the “Akalis” in their present somewhat confused struggle, however misled and misguided from certain points of view-oourting death like moths, the Sikh women coming and garlanding their husbands before the Akal Takht to go and bare their breasts to bullets,if need be, in the name of the Guru; mothers and fathers putting with their own hands the flaming crown of martyrdom on their young sons’ heads and praying that the Guru may grant them the honour of death in His Name; people laying themselves down on railroads before the rushing railway engines,carrying a trainful of their bretheren as prisoners as an appeal for stopping the train to let them who are out of prison to feast those who are going in; thousands dressed in yellow and black, vying with each other to be the first to form the group of five hundred or a thousand martyrs that are sent to face prison, torture and even death in the name of the Guru; and the universal diffusion of this one feeling of service and sacrifice throughout the Sikh massesthese make one wonder if one is living in an age of rank materialism as the present one, or in the age when under the direct inspiration of the Tenth Guru, the Sikhs were taking the vows of absolute self-surrender to the Ideals of the Khalsa.16
The concept of Saint-Soldier is clearly traceable to Guru Nanak, who made a radical departure from the earlier pacificist and personal salvation-oriented religious thought. Guru Nanak preached a positive approach to the world, and a whole-life religion, with emphasis on atlruistic activity and righteous deeds, based on the highest moral values. He wanted balance development of the individual to create a perfect man or ‘the man in all men’ that he himself was.
The Guru’s vision went far beyond the individual. He wanted to create a perfect society, and took positive steps towards that end. He envisaged a society of godmen living as householders in the midst of the social milieu, engaged in pursuits of daily life, discharging with a sense of responsibility their social and political functions, committed to carrying out the Altruistic Wid of the Loving Creator, and willing and ever prepared to resist oppression and fight injustice. That was his concept of the Ideal Man combining spiritual and empirical values, the saint-soldier, and a perfect society of such individuals. Under his successors the idea flourished and advanced towards the most fitting epitome of the creation ofthe Khalsa under Guru Gobind Singh. That was indeed the final event, on the Baisakhi of 1699, the greatest day in the history of mankind. For, the socio- spiritual ideal of ‘Saint-Soldier’ is the highest ideal that has ever been given to mankind.
1. Adi Granth: Mahila 5; page 641-42; (Trans. Talib)
2. Jagjit Singh; Perspectives on Sikh Studies; page 14; Guru Nanak Foundation,
3. Adi Granth: Asa di Var, M -1; page 469.
4. Mohammad Iqbal: Bang-i-dara.
5. Adi Granth: Gujri M-5; page 507.
6. Ibid., page 1412.
7. Ibid., Var Gauri M - 5; Page 1102
8. Ibid., Var Maru M -3; Page 1089.
9. Mohammad Iqbal: Bang-i-dara.
10. Adi Granth; Dhanasari M-5; page 679.
11. Ibid., Siri Rag M-5; page 74.
12. Ibid., M-5; page 522.
13. Ibid., M-5; Page 522.
14. Ibid., Sloka M-9; Page 1427.
15. Puran Singh : Spirit of the Sikh Part 1, Page, 9.
16. Ibid., Spirit of the Sikh Part I, Page 8.
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