Guru Granth – Guru Panth
Compilation of gurbani in 1604 by Guru Arjun Dev and its anointment as Guru Eternal of the Sikhs represent a great leap in the development of religious thought or spiritual progress of mankind.
Rudiments of religion can be traced even in the prehistoric man in the form of worship of natural forces like winds, fire, clouds, etc., or geographical features like mountains, rivers, seas, or animals like snakes, which inspired fear or wonder. Such forms of worship have survived upto this day, and are widespread in large tribal areas of the world. Before the idea of one God as creator of the universe gained currency, religion passed through several intermediary stages represented by worship of innumerable gods believed to look after their devotees with powers attributed to them. Their statues appeared, leading to idol worship which persists even today.
Then came prophets with message from God. They denounced idols as His rivals. The prophets never claimed Godhead for themselves. They were content to be His messengers. Their followers, accustomed to idol worship, however, confused / identified their prophets with God Himself and with some people God acquired a human or anthropomorphic form, to be realised through personal intervention of particular prophets in favour of their own followers alone.
It was Guru Nanak who propounded the revolutionary idea that sabad or God’s word (of course received through a prophet) was the real ‘guru’, and not any individual or his body, that brought the message. He says :
sbdu gur pIrw gihr gµBIrw, ibnu sbdY jgu baurwnµ [[.
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 635
sbdu gurU suriq Duin cylw [[.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 943
This was repeated by Guru Ram Das :
bwxI gurU gurU hY bwxI ivic bwxI AµimRqu swry [[
gur bwxI khY syvku jnu mwnY prqiK gurU insqwry [[.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 982
gur mUriq gur sbdu hY swD sµgq ivc pRgtI AwieAw [[..
– Vaar 24 (25)
To stress this unique philosophy Guru Gobind Singh made it perfectly clear that no individual (including himself) was to be confused with God. He warned :
i' w' eT[ gqw/Fo T[uoj?I ..
s/ ;G Boe e[zv wfj goj?I ..
– Bachittar Natak
Guru Arjun Dev compiled the bani of Guru Nanak and his successors as sabad or word received from God in the Adi Granth, and installed it in Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar in 1604. Guru Arjun Dev always installed the volume at a higher level than himself. The subsequent Gurus also venerated the Granth as Guru. Later, the bani of the 9th Nanak was added to it. Eventually, the Tenth Lord, Guru Gobind Singh anointed it as Guru Eternal of the Sikhs in a formal ceremony at Nanded in 1608 before his divine soul merged with God. His message to that effect is daily sung by sangats the world over as :
jo mo kau pRmySr aucrhYˆ [[
qy sB nrk kuµf mih prhYˆ [[.
While Guru Granth Sahib is now universally accepted as Guru of the Sikhs, the role of the Panth as Guru is not so clearly understood even among Sikhs. This role was assigned by Guru Gobind Singh himself. According to Bhagat Ratanavli, attributed to Bhai Mani Singh, Sakhi 138 records :
dsvYˆ pwqSwh Kwlsy ƒ guirAweI bKSI [[
Bhai Santokh Singh gives the following details in his famous epic Gur Partap Suraj (Rut 6, Ansu 41) :
dXw isµG Aru Drm isµG jI mwn isµG qIjo br bIr [
sµgq isµG sµq isµG pµcm, iqnh ibTwXo dy kir DIr [
gurqw Arpin lgy Kwlsy, pµc isµG qih soih srIr [
pµchu mih inq vriqiq mY ho pµcn imlih sy pIrn pIr [
gur Gr kI imrjwdw pµchu pµchu pwhul pUrb pIn [
huie qnKwhIAw bKSih pµchu, pwhul dy iml pµc pRbIn [
lKIu pµc kI bf bifAweI pµc krih so inPl n cIn [
Bojn Cwdn pwcn Arpih Arj krih iqn bWCq lIn [
iek pwcn kI mihmw kihky qIn pRkRmw iPr kr dIn [
SsqR gwqry qb pihrwey kt kswie kr iblm ibhIn [
sRI vwihgurU jI kw Kwlsw Pqy vwihgurU jI kI cIn [
Reference to the role of Panth in the Sarbloh Granth is also relevant :
pwvn pµQ Kwlsih pRgtXo cwr vrn AwSRm suB pµQw [
ien ky drs siqgur ko drsn, bolnu gurU sbdu guru gRµQw [
dÍwdis rUp siqgur ey kihXiq dÍwds Bwn pRgt hir sµqw [
pRqKX klw pwrbRhm DxICY gRµQ pµQ Kwils vrqµqw [
– Gurmat Martand (1), Bhai Kahn Singh, p. 497
Another incontrovertible historical fact is that in 1699 on the Baisakhi day after administering amrit to the first five pyaras, Guru Gobind Singh stood before them with folded hands, and sought the boon of amrit for himself. This shows beyond doubt that the Guru vested his authority in the Khalsa through panj pyaras as representatives. Khalsa thus could take the place of the Guru. History also records that the Khalsa did exercise this authority whenever occasion arose even in the lifetime of the Guru who not only obeyed, but also expressed his happiness over the Khalsa making mature decisions.
The Twin Doctrine
The above account shows that the Granth Sahib, first known as Pothi Sahib, was anointed as the Guru of all Sikhs for all times, and that there could be no personal Gurus in corporeal form after Guru Gobind Singh. It is also clear that his authority as Guru passed on to the corporate body of the Sikhs or the Khalsa. This might appear anomalous on a superficial view. Bhai Kahn Singh explains it as follows :
Kwlsw gurU kI dyh hY Aqy bwxI (gurU gRµQ swihb) Awqmw hY, bwxI dy AwDwr ivhwr prmwrQ is`D krn vwlw pµQ pUrx gurU rUp hY [ bwxI qo' svqµqr ho ky Kwlsw gur pdvI dw AiDkwrI nhIN hY [
– Gurmat Martand (1), p. 336
In the twin doctrine of 'Guru Granth – Guru Panth', the two components have a complementary relationship with a distinct role assigned to each. For effective functioning of body and soul, they have to act together.
In practice the doctrine means that the body of the Panth has to take decisions on temporal matters dealing with a situation prevailing at a particular time strictly following the spiritual principles laid down in Guru Granth Sahib to carry out the will of God or sarbat da bhala.
The oft-repeated injunctions of the Guru, viz, puja Akal ki, parcha sabad ka, didar khalsé ka underlines the essence of the doctrine of Guru Granth – Guru Panth.
Late Prof Teja Singh, the well-known Sikh thinker and philosopher of the last century, briefly gives the relevant background as follows :
"The question of having a supreme Panthic body is most important. At the death of the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, when the Sikhs got spiritual home rule and, wielding the power and authority of the Panth, became masters of their own destiny, they had to dispense with the personal leadership of one man. It was inevitable that, for the exercise of corporate authority, they should create for themselves a central body, but somehow it has not been possible for them upto this day to succeed in providing themselves with this most elementary necessity. In the beginning, when they were left to themselves, they loosely followed the Greek method of the direct participation of every individual in the counsels of the Panth, and for this purpose had yearly or half-yearly gatherings of the Sarbat Khalsa (the whole people) at the Akal Takht. When persecutions became rife, however, these meetings were impossible, and the authority came to rest solely in the Akal Takht. During the rule of the Missals the numbers of the Sarbat Khalsa became unwieldy and it was necessary to have some system of representation; but the general ignorance and the newly-acquired lust for power had corrupted the democratic genius of the people. There appeared on the scene a man of supreme influence in the person of Ranjit Singh, whose ambition was to give the Sikhs an empire similar in power and dignity to that of the Moghuls and whose imperialism did not encourage him to think along the lines of representative institutions. During his time no central association or parliament was possible. The people in the meanwhile had lost all hold on the first principles of Sikhism, what to say of its Institutions; when their rule was supplanted by the British, they were too degenerate and broken-hearted to think of representative assemblies. With the coming of education and a knowledge of Western institutions, the Sikhs too began to form diwans, or associations, to take in hand the work of education and social and religious reforms. Owing, however, to the instinctive self-assertion of the Sikhs and to the lack of a wholesale awakening among them, which could be possible only with mass education, no one association was able to take the central place among them. The Singh Sabha movement started in 1873 slowly caught the mind of the Sikhs and their joint suffering during the six years (1921-26), welded them together as nothing else did before; in the matter of religion they learnt to obey one central body. The new law of temples has given them, for the first time in their history, an association representative of their whole community; but, as I have said before, it cannot take the place of the central body, which should wield the whole authority of the Panth."*
The Present Situation
The Panth is passing through a critical period, and faces numerous problems. Although the Shiromani Akali Dal (B) is a partner in the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, the glow of freedom the Sikhs have struggled for, is nowhere visible. The infamous Blue Star Operation and the repression that followed continue to cast their painful shadows on the Sikh psyche. The Panth is divided into several political parties as well as religious sects.
There is no unanimity on the long-term political goals of the Sikhs. While some sections demand a sovereign independent state, others prefer autonomy within the Indian Union. The SAD has favoured the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973 subsequently modified in 1978. The Hindu majority, however, considers it secessionist, and is in no mood to concede the demand.
There are challenges to Sikh identity, and concerted efforts are afoot to treat the Sikhs as a sect of Hindus. The Rashtriya Sikh Sangat wing of the BJP is busily engaged in confusing the Sikhs on this issue.
Then there is the problem of apostasy, particularly among the Sikh youth. Under the influence of the West and the TV culture, alarmingly large numbers of Sikhs have dropped the most visible and essential requirement of Sikhism – the unshorn hair.
The Sikhs outside Punjab as well as Sikh diaspora outside India have their own peculiar problems. Besides, there are millions of tribal Sikhs like Vanjaras, Sikligars, Lobanas, Tharus, etc., known as Nanak-panthis, who are living in utter neglect and abject poverty in several states of India, notably Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, etc. They have received no attention from the Panth, and are vulnerable to influence of missionaries of other faiths.
To the list of problems must be added the recent controversies over Dasam Granth, All India Sikh Gurdwaras Act, Sikh Personal Law, seating arrangements in langar, the authority of the Takht jathedars, etc.
Little organised effort has been made by the Sikh leadership to carry the message of the Gurus in its pristine form. Clever individuals taking advantage of this situation have established their deras where they preach their own cult in the garb of Sikh religion among the credulous Sikh masses not only in India but also abroad. This leads to erosion of Sikh values and weakens the Panth. Each dera is a potential Schism and a challenge to mainstream Sikhism.
This problem needs special mention; to quote Prof Teja Singh again:
"The belief of the Sikhs that 'there shall be one Guru, one Word and only one Interpretation'* does not allow them — at least theoretically — to have any sects among them. Sects arise in those religions where no arrangement is made to secure the permanency of Guruship. When the founder dies leaving nothing behind but his Word, he begins to be interpreted differently by his followers, and in the course of time sects arise as a result of these differences. In Sikhism, however, a peculiar arrangement was made by which no differences were to be allowed in doctrine or its interpretation. The Guru was always one, and always alive. This was not possible physically. So it was designed that with the change of the Guru the spirit should not change. 'The spirit was the same, and so was the method, the Master merely changed his body'** (Var Satta). As long as the Gurus were personally present they did not allow any change in the doctrine, nor did they allow any new centres to be formed within the pale of Sikhism. Whenever anybody tried to found a schism, he and his followers were thrown out. That was the fate of the Minas, Dhirmalias, Ramraiyas, etc. After the death of Guru Gobind Singh the whole Sikh community, as a collective unit, was invested with the authority of the Guru, and was to guide itself in the light of the Word incorporated in the Holy Granth. It meant that the Word for the guidance of the community was the same as before, only its interpreter had changed his body. Instead of being one person he had assumed the shape of a corporate body, called the Panth.
"Owing to certain historical causes this principle of Panthic Guruship has had no chance of working effectively, with the result that many sects have arisen in Sikhism, and the Sikhs do not know what to do with them. If after Guru Gobind Singh the Sikhs had instituted a central assembly to exercise the right of personal guidance in the name of the Guru, there would have been no differences in interpretation, and no sects would have been formed round those interpretations. But there being no central authority to check, control, unite or coordinate, there have arisen certain orders of preachers or missionaries who in the course of time have assumed the form of sects. Such are the Udasis, Nirmalas, Sewapanthis, Namdharis, Nirankaris, etc."*
The Need for an Apex Body (Guru Panth)
The above problems are indeed formidable, but by no means insurmountable; they can be solved only if we know who is to deal with a particular problem, and how. In order that an agency or institution can solve a problem, it must have the competence to make a sound judgement / decision and the authority required to enforce it. And since most of the decisions would affect the entire Panth, the decision makers should represent the entire global Sikh community.
Let us see if any of the existing Sikh institutions fulfills these requirements. There are some basic institutions which have played an extremely important role in the growth and development of the Panth, and are indispensable. Their relevance, for the present purpose of dealing with current problems, however, is limited. Here we can consider only the Sikh institutions in the sense of an organisation.
In times of crisis we frequently turn to Sri Akal Takht. It is regarded, as indeed it is, a panacea for all ills. It, however, lacks the organisational structure and technical support to perform its functions. Also, while the authority of Akal Takht is accepted by all without question, there is no such unanimity on the absolute authority of its Jathedar.
The SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) is the second alternative. This is often called the Parliament of the Sikhs, and is no doubt the most representative body of the Panth. This, too, however, has its limitations. Sikhs abroad and even the Indian Sikhs outside Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, are not represented on it. Its mode of election does not attract men of the required religious calibre among Sikhs. Further, the fact that SGPC elections are fought by political parties, the goal becomes political authority or hegemony of a group, and not efficient management of Gurdwaras or serving the Panthic interests. In view of this and also because of the existence of other bodies like the DSGMC (Delhi Sikh Gurdwaras Management Committee), the claim of SGPC as the sole representative of the Sikhs gets considerably diluted.
With regard to the ‘council of high priests’ as the central decision-making body of the Panth, nobody is clear as to who are the members of this council. Is it the jathedars of the five takhts ? History does not support this tradition. In fact, until a few years back, there used to be only four takhts. And the two takhts (Patna Sahib and Hazoor Sahib) had no jathedars. They had their high priests who were not under the control of the SGPC and seldom attended the meetings of the council. According to tradition, high priests of these two takhts are not supposed to leave their headquarters, and the best they can do is to depute their nominees with the approval of their respective managements. While we consider this alternative, we should also not forget that there are no qualifications prescribed for the high priests, nor are there any satisfactory procedures for their appointment.
The other existing organisations also do not offer much hope. The Chief Khalsa Diwan appears to have virtually withdrawn from activity. The Sikh Education Conference is practically defunct. The World Sikh Council envisaged in the Vishav Sikh Sammelan of 1995 has been struggling unsuccessfully to make a start.
It will be seen that at the moment there is no agency to represent the Sikh Panth and to take decisions in its behalf, which is acceptable to all. During the Gurus’ times, the Sikhs looked to the Guru for guidance, direction and decisions. When the Guruship was vested in Guru Granth Sahib, it was stipulated that the Guru Panth or a representative body of Sikhs would take decisions in its behalf. According to the contemporary Gursobha, Guru Gobind Singh said, “I have bestowed the physical (or secular) Guruship on the Khalsa” ... ...and “The True Guru is the infinite Word, whose contemplation enables one to bear the unbearable.” This was the intention of Guru Gobind Singh when he nominated five pyaras to go with Banda Singh Bahadur on his expedition to the Punjab. However, in the post-Banda Singh period when Sikhs had to face repression and exile, this institution could not be formalised. The concept was revived during the misl period when the heads of various misls used to meet at Akal Takht on Vaisakhi and Diwali to discuss their problems and a common agenda for the Panth. Their unanimous decisions used to be called gurmattas and were accepted by all as decisions of the Guru. This practice was discontinued by Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his own reasons, and has remained redundant ever since.
This vacuum is responsible for the prevailing confusion and uncertainty, and for a solution of the present as well as future problems, we have to fill it. An agency has to be created that can represent and speak in behalf of the Panth. The Akal Takht and the SGPC are the greatest assets of the Sikh community. The former was bestowed by Guru Hargobind, while the latter was won after a prolonged struggle and tremendous sacrifices, and is also the biggest and the most representative body of the Sikhs. Thse two institutions can provide the answer. The SGPC should take the initiative and convene a meeting of the representatives of the major Sikh organisations like the DSGMC, The Chief Khalsa Diwan, Kendri Singh Sabha, Damdami Taksal, etc., besides accredited fora of Sikh intelligentsia like the Institute of Sikh Studies (IOSS), Chandigarh, Sikh Missionary College, Ludhiana and the Sri Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, Ludhiana to discuss the situation. With an earnest effort, an Apex Body can be created with SGPC as nucleus. All Sikh interests including the Sikh diaspora will have to be represented on it through formal or informal nominations.
It is not my intentions to prescribe any details in this keynote address. These will be discussed by learned scholars. I can only stress that Sikhs must have a representative Apex Body to perform the role of Guru Panth assigned to it by Guru Gobind Singh and to lead the Panth to its destined glory. The IOSS has done a lot of thinking and spade work on the issue. The present seminar is also a part of that effort. Besides a galaxy of eminent scholars, some top leaders have agreed to address this seminar. This makes me optimistic about the outcome. This Apex Body should be assisted by Advisory Committees consisting of eminent Sikhs and experts from different disciplines, for advice on religious, economic, educational and other technical matters. No decision should be made without reference to these Committees.
If the proposed Apex Body of the Panth can be set up, it may be the most auspicious start not only for the 21st century, but also for the 3rd millennium, and the trauma suffered by the community in recent years will not have gone in vain.
This Apex Body which will acquire the status of Guru Panth in due course, will decide its own functions. However, inter alia, it must pay attention to the following :
a. To share the message of Guru Granth Sahib with the whole humanity in the interest of world peace and prosperity.
b. To articulate short-term and long-term goals of the Panth, nationally as well as internationally.
c. To assure coordination among various Sikh Organisations.
d. To deal with the problem of existing or potential schisms.
e. To repulse academic and other attacks on Sikh identity, religion, culture and history.
The proposed Apex Body will derive its authority from Sri Akal Takht Sahib. All decisions will be implemented through it.
Role of Existing Organisations
The proposed Apex Body of the Sikhs is not intended to replace any of the existing institutions. Rather, it will provide them with the support and the Panthic authority they need to discharge their functions. The SGPC and DSGMC will continue to manage the gurdwaras under their charge, as heretofore. In fact, the joint authority of the SGPC and DSGMC should be extended to other gurdwaras also throughout India, through suitable legislation. The Shiromani Akali Dal should continue to look after political interests of the Sikhs in India. The World Sikh Council should be reorganised and enabled to secure a respectable position for Sikhs among the international community. The Chief Khalsa Diwan, and some other organisations like the Sikh Education Society, should be entrusted with the responsibility of providing quality education to the Sikh youth. The Institute of Sikh Studies and Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle should be strengthened and encouraged to take up research work, translation of gurbani, and production of suitable material for dissemination of information on Sikh religion, culture and history. The Damdami Taksal and Missionary Colleges as well as Nihangs will continue to play the traditional role assigned to them in history.
Before I conclude I must say that it was neither my intention, nor is it possible in this brief address to provide a blueprint for the proposed Apex Body of the Panth. That has been left to the learned scholars who will present their papers in this seminar. I have only stressed the urgent need for it. There is no other way we can survive as Panth and make our contribution towards advancement of mankind. The Guru beckons us. Let us respond to his call and carry out the task assigned to us under the doctrine of Guru Granth – Guru Panth.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa;
Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
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