A Critical Analysis
Dr D. S. Chahal
The book entitled, “The Construction of Religious Boundaries” written by Dr Harjot Oberoi and published by Oxford university Press, Delhi has become the second most controversial work after that of Dr Pashaura Singh’s Ph.D Thesis. Oberoi has tried to portray Sikhism, the most modern and scientific religion, parallel to a mythological religion by digging out old, unreliable, unauthenticated, illogical, and unscientific information. Oberoi first tried to build a basic skeleton of his theory of indistinguishable identity of Sikh practices during the nineteenth century from those of other religions, especially Hinduism. Then he tried to fill in the mass of unauthentic information in that created skeleton to prove that Sikhism is not a distinct religion and that those who (Singh Sabha) tried to put Sikhism in its teal perspective, have done the greatest damage to the beliefs of the people. In a nutshell, Oberoi has misconstrued the data, collected by him, to rove the diffused boundaries of Sikhism as well as to degrade Sikhism, And Granth, and Guru Nanak. Evidently, either Oberoi was unable to comprehend the Sikh philosophy enshrined in the Aad Granth or he has produced this work intentionally to degrade Sikhism to the level of Hinduism under some influence. This paper exposes his efforts of misrepresentation of the data he used to declare indistinguishable identity of Sikhism.
CRITICAL ANAYLYSIS OF OBEROI’S DATA
Oberoi starts to build his theory of indistinguishable identity of a Sikh and Sikhism under the title of Construction of Religions Boundaries” by saying that his book seeks to answer two closely related questions:
1. How are Indian religions to be conceptualized? and
2. What did it mean to be a Sikh in the nineteenth-century? Preface).
He further writes that he first began to grapple with the latter question in 1978 when he wrote a Master’s seminar paper, “Sikhs and the Singh Sabha Movement” for the Center of Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He says that he ended up with far more questions than he had answers for. The prominent questions he raised were:
1.Why did an influential set of Sikh leaders seeks to purge established practices and establish a homogenous community?
2. Why was religious plurality looked at with disdain? (Preface)
He had also admitted in the Preface of his book that it would have achieved its purpose if it leads to other, richer, alternative interpretation. My critical analysis of Oberoi’s work indicated that there is a much better, richer and correct alternative interpretation of the data he collected than that presented by him in his book. The new interpretation of his data is given along with that of his in this paper.
Oberoi starts “Construction of Religious Boundaries” with the following two statements:
1. “Ruchi Ram Sahni’s father worshipped idols and also recited Rehras and Sukhmani with equal warmth and regularity.” (p 2)
2. “In order to cure sick cattle, face the vagaries of the weather, or obtain fecundity, the peasantry was willing to bargain with the most powerful sacred resource without bothering with religious labels.” (p 15-16).
With these two examples he tried to show the diffused boundaries between Sikhism and Hinduism. If one bases the foundation of religious boundaries on the practices of such ignorant people like the father of Ruchi Ram Sahni, one cannot differentiate the fundamentals of Sikhism from Hinduism. In Sikhism worshipping of idol is useless to attain salvation. For example:
The Almighty cannot be structured (into idols of stone or metal).
He is created by himself. (AGGS, Jap, p 2)
Those who call a stone as their god, their services are wasted.
Those who fall at the feet of an idol, their endeavors (for salvation) go in vain. (AGGS, M5 p 1160)
When a person is aware of these facts of Sikhism then that person under no circumstances will perform idol worship. He would read the Gurbani and will practise its principles.
Similarly, if a person is aware of the fact that the only one powerful sacred resource is the Almighty according to the Gurbani then one would not bother to find out ther powerful sacred then resource of any other religion or sect of a religion. The Almighty, the only powerful sacred resource, will be explained in details later in this paper.
One more thing about Ruchi Ram Sahni’s father is that had he understood the following verse from Rehras he would not have worshipped the idols. Rather he would have only recited Rehras and Sukhmani.
The Shiva, Brahma, and Devi created by You (the Almighty), are contemplating on You. “Similarly Indra sitting beside other devtas are meditating on You”. (Then why would one meditate on the idols of these devtas, why not contemplate the Almighty directly).(AGGS, M1, P 8)
It is quite clear form the above verse of Gurbani how malicious and unacademic was the act of Oberoi to justify his notion of indistin-guishability between Sikhism and Hinduism by quoting the ignorance of Ruchi Ram Sahni’s father who gave equal importance to idol worship and reciting of Rehras and Sukhmani.
Oberoi reports that “Religion as a systematized sociological unit claiming unbridled loyalty from its adherents and opposing an amorphous religious imagination, is a relatively recent development in the history of Indian peoples. Once such a tidy cultural construct surface, probably sometime in the nineteenth century, it rapidly evolved,gained wide support and became reified in history. Out of this reification it easily turned into something separate, distinct and con-crete: what we now recognize as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. It is often overlooked that the naming of religious communities - Hin-duism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism - only took place in the nineteenth century. As Smith notes, ‘This process normally took the form of adding the Greek suffis “-ism” to a word used to designate the persons who are the persons who are the members of the religious community or followers of a given tradition” (p 17-18)
Oberoi should understand that it is not necessary that suffix “-ism” is essential to designate a religion, e,g., Christianity and Islam. These religions were not modified into “-ism” form either during the nineteenth or during the twentieth century. They remained to be called Christianity and Islam then and now. On the other hand Sikhism, is a literral translation of the Punjabi word, Sikby, the religion founded by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century:
Sikhism is a contemplation on the advice of the Guru. (AGGS M1, p.465)
There are very derogatory remarks about the AGGS by Oberoi as follows:
“Religious texts like the Adi Granth are so amorphous that those in favor of the status quo, reformists, and insurrectionists, could all with ease quote chapter and verse in favor of their cause. This often happened during the colonial period, when one social group wanting to collaborate with the empire would read the scriptures in one way; their Opponents would interpret the same verse in another mode. We need to know the reasons and mechanisms, through which widely dievergent religious views and identities can be supported by the same religious sources. A consideration of these issues is germane for Our understanding of universal religious communities” p 22).
The above observation of Oberoi may be partially correct in respect of different interpretations of Gurbani from the AGGS to serve the specific motives of the interpreters. This has been going on since the time of Sikh Gurus that is why Guru Nanak” in his third form (Mahla 3) explains in the following verse that it is so due to the limited knowledge of the interpreter about Gurbani:
“The word (sabd) is true.
The verse (bani) is true.
The rare follower (Gurmukh) could recognize it.
The one who integrates oneself with the true word (sabd) gets salvation * .11.
(*Salvation = Liberation from ignorance or illusion)
The above verse was correct then and it is correct now that there are very few followers of Sikhism who could interpret !he Gurbani and the Sikh philosophy correctly. There are many Sikhs and non-Sikh scholars who are still not interpreting Gurbani in its real perspective.
Now I would like to comment on the following remarks of Oberoi:
“Religious texts like the Adi Granth ae so amorphous… We need to know the reasons and mechanism, through which widely divergent religious views and identities can be supported by the same religious sources.”
My study of AGGS reveals to me that the philosophy of Guru Nanak enshrined in the AGGS is the most scientific and logical ever recorded in any religious text. I have tried to explain this briefly in some of roy articles (1-4). My study also indicates that the Gurbani of the Sikh Gurus in the AGGS is in the most crystalline form rather than in an aIllorphous form as remarked by Oberoi, and that there is one and only one real interpretation of each and every verse of Gurbani which is consistent with the whole philosiophy of Sikhism incorporated into the AGGS. There cannot be more than one interpretation whatsoever the circumstances may be if the interpreter keeps in his mind the scientific information about the origin of universe; origin of life; origin of roan; and modern Sciences while interpreting Gurbani. Thus the Gurbani enshrined in the AGGS does not give any divergent views and identities. It is only the intentional distortion of the Gurbani by certain persons, by particular organizations or by particular schools of thought to give the divergent views and identities to serve their own motives.
“Early-period Sikh tradition did not show much concern for establishing distinct religious boundaries. However, a dramatic change came about with the rise of the Khalsa in the eighteenth century; sections of the Sikh population now consciously began to push for a distinct and separate religious culture.The most concrete expression of this transformation was the creation of a distinct code of conduct for Khalsa Sikhs which established an unprecedented rite of initiation” (p 24).
The distinct and separate identity of Sikhism was not done at the time of initiation of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh. The distinctiveness was already declared by Guru Nanak during the fifteenth century, i.e., right from the time when the foundation of Sikhism Was laid. Oberoi has also pointed out (at pages 56 &57) that those.who argue for the existence of a distinct Sikh world view from the initial Guru period often quote the following verse of Guru Arjun: AGGS, MS, p. 1136
Oberoi has given an English interpretation of the above verse and has stopped at the stanza of “Na hum Hindu na Muslman.”, but there are three more stanzas after this.
Let us interpret the above verse of Guru Arjun in its real perspective:
Neither I keep the fast (of Hindus) nor observe the month of Ramdan (of Muslim).
But I Serve the One Who emancipate all. 1
There is Gosain (for Hindus) and Allah (for Muslims) But for me there is the One.
Thus I have released myself from both Hindus and Muslims.1.Pause.
Neither I go to Kaaba to perform the Hajj
Nor I go to bathing pilgrimages to meditate.
(Because) I contemplate the One, not any other. 2.
Neither I worship the Hindu way nor i pray like Muslims.
(Because) I realize in my mind the only One, the Formless.
I am neither a Hindu nor a Muslim.
(Because) my body belongs to the One to Whom you call Allah or Ram.4
As this verse was written to advise Kabir also on his verse incorporated in the AGGS at page 1159, thus the last stanzas are interpreted as:
Hey Kabir! say what is there in showing or practising (the above mentioned rituals).Because the Almighty can be recognized by yourself on meeting the Guru/Pir.
In. this verse Guru Arjun has reiterated the already laid out philosophy of Sikhism by Guru Nanak. Here Guru Arjun rejects the old religious practices in fIrst part of each stanza of this verse then emphasizes on the new way of life, i.e., life of theism (believing in only One, the Almighty, described by Guru Nanak in the beginning of, the AGGS). Thus Guru Arjun has emphasized at least four times in this verse the new way of life. Then he declared that he’ is neither Hindu nor Muslim. Thus it is clear that Guru Nanak’s mission was to develop a new way of life - theism (new religion) different from those already established. The details of this new way of life (new religion) are given step by step throughout the Gurbani. While criticizing the above verse, Oberoi brings out another point: “It is over simplistic to suggest the they are discounting one set of categories to embrace new set of labels (page 58).
The above verse clearly indicates that Guru Arjun is explain with examples that he is neither Hindu nor Muslim and that he follows none of their religious practices but a new way of life of theism, i.e. contemplation on the Only One, explained by Guru Nanak in the beginning of the AGGS. The definition of the Only One has been explained at later stage. In the above verse no new set of labels (i.e., taboos and rituals), mentioned by Oberoi, is employed, or anywhere else in the Gurbani for the new way of life.
Nevertheless, it can be admitted that some taboos and rituals have been introduced into Sikhism by the self- styled custodians of sikhism because of their incomplete understanding of the Gurbani. There is no doubt that eventually such taboos and rituals will be eliminated to portray Sikhism as it is described in the Gurbani.
“By the closing decades of the nineteenth century the Singh Sabha, wide-ranging religious movement,began to view the multiplicity in Sikh identity with great suspicion and hostility” (p 25).
There is no multiplicity in the Sikh identity according to Gurbani. However, multiplicity of Sikh identity was introduced into Sikhism by the so-called Sanatan Sikhs.
I. BOUNDARIES AND TRANSGRESSIONS: THE KHALSA NORMATIVE TRADITION
Early Sikh Traditions: “For much of its early history the Sikh movement, in line with indigenous religious thinking and practices -with the exception of understandable emphasis on soteriological teaching of Guru Nanak - had shown little enthusiasm for establishing a pan-Indian community” (p 47).
“Guru Nanak’s fundamental teaching was that those who wished to transcend the constant cycle of birth and death, shoud live in accordance weith the will of the Creator which meant spending life on earth immersed in nam simeran or remembrance of the Divine Words. In Nanak’s paradigm of interior religiousity there was no place for austerities, penances, pilgrimages or necessary formal worship at established religious centers such as mosques and temples. His successors, faced with a rapidly expanding constituency and changing social forces, found it hard to sustain his minimalist teaching” (p 48).
Oberoi, .like many other scholars, has formed such opinion without looking roto the Gurbani and the totality of Guru Nanak’s philosopliy Guru Nanak has not only written about nam simeran philosophy. Guru Nanak has not only written about nam simeran but he has extensively written about mischievous politics as well as social and cultural behavior of the state and the subjects. Besides, he perspicuously mentions the clear identity of the Sikhs as previously explained. To keep the identity consequently, an establishment of benign raj, sovereignty of the Sikh for the Sikhs and by the Sikhs, was emphasized by the Firth Nanak, Guru Arjun, as follows:
Now the Gracious Lord (the Alimghty) has promulgated an ordinance.
None shall cause any harm to others.
The whole humankind shall abide in peace.
This is the benign soverignty. (AGGS, M 5, P 74).
Oberoi has quoted a paragraph from a Janam Sakhi that followers of Nanak were called “Nanak Panthis”. On this basis he concluded that the term “Sikh” was still not crystallized during the seventeenth and early- eighteenth centuries. He writes: “The category “Sikh” was flexible, problematic, and substantially empty: a long historical intervention was needed before it became saturated with signifiers, icons and narratives, and thus lost its early fluidity. The label “Sikh” had not become hegenomic. Various categories were used to express association with the Sikh movement: Nanak-panthy, Gurmukh-panth, Nirmala-panth, Gursikh, and Gurmukh-marg” (p 53).
Oberoi has emphasized that separation of Sikhism from other religions was not achieved even after the writing of the Aad Granth: “While propagandists of modern Sikhism see in the collation of the Adi Granth in 1603-4 under Guru Arjun a powerful public declaration of the separation of the Sikh panth from other religious tradition, histori-cally it is difficult to admit such an interpretation” (p 54). He further says that, “It (Adi Granth) was certainly neither the first nor the last such collection.Because Fatehpur manuscript, virtually unknown in Sikh studies, is most instructive.This anthology of devotional poetry was complied in Rajasthan twenty-one years before the Adi Grnath” (p 54). (Oberoi has spelt the title as “Adi Granth” whereas the right spellings are “Aad Granth”. When it is spelt as “Adi Granth” it is Oberoi’s spellings)
It is highly objectionable from any norms to draw such conclusions from an unauthentic story from Janam Sakhi that the category “Sikh” was flexible, problematic and substantially empty.Because the separation of Sikh path was already declared by Guru Nanak and Guru Arjun before the compilation of Aad Granth as explained earlier. It was due to the ignorance of this fact which made it difficult for Oberoi and the writer of the Janam Sakhi to see the separate identity of Sikhs.
It is not understood what the Fatehpur manuscript has to do with Aad Granth or Sikh identity. Its authorship is unknown, and it has mostly compositions of Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Parmanand and Kanha. It does not contain even a single composition of any Sikh Guru according to Oberoi himself. Thus its compilation, its existence and even mentioning it here is irrelevant and does not prove anything.
Oberoi has further criticized the Aad Granth saying that it failed to bring out the Sikh identity: “While there is no denying the fact that the Adi Granth has become a key cultural marker of the Sikh ethnicity, it would be a gross misinter pretation to view it in the same vein for early seventeenth century. Its heterodox textuality and diversity contributors were for more the manifestation of a fluid Sikh identity than a signifier of exclusivity” (p 55).
It is really a lamentable situation that many scholars have failed to understand the role of Bhagat bani in the Aad Granth. The Bhagat bani was added in the AGGS as the contemporary literature which raised the voice against the malpractices in Hinduism and Islam. ‘Most scholars believe that Bhagat bani was added in the AGGS because of its agreement (affinity) with Gurbani. However, it was not the case because it (Bhagat bani) varies from Gurbani at many places, and the Sikh Gurus have also given their own comments there upon (2,8,9,). Therefore, it is very important for the scholars, if they want to make any statement about the Sikh and Sikhism, to consult and interpret only the Gurbani of the Sikh Gurus that has been enshrined in the AGGS by Guru °Arjun and Guru Gobind Singh. Had Oberoi realized the above fact he would not have made such incorrect statement alleging a fluid Sikh identity in the AGGS because of its diverse contributors and the heterodox textuality.
Oberoi mentioned the heterdox textuality of AGGS. According to Webster Dictionary (10) “hetero dox” means: contrary to or different from an acknowledged standard or traditional form. It is a pity that Oberoi could not understand that it is due to the heterodox textuality of the AGGS which gives Sikhism, a distinct and different identity.
“As a consequence there is no fIxity to Nanak’s image in the Janam Sakthi stories: much like Puranic gods and goddesses, he is always transforming and wandering. In one myth he is represented as an ascetic who lives on sand, in another he becomes a householder who toils for a living. One set of stories transport him to Mecca, another set takes him to Hardwar. The Nanak of Janam Sakhi is a saint who delights in mixing up as his own the sartorial styles of Muslim pirs and Hindu ascetics; chooses companions and disciples whose castes and religions do not match; pays no heed in his social transactions to spatial and dietry religious taboos. It is perhaps to keep pace with this kaleido-scopic persona that mythologists, besides calling him guru, shower his identity with religious titles: pir, sadh, bhagat, faqir and derves. The underlying logic of these varied terms of address is to convey the ever-transforming personality of Nanak” (p 55&56).
The above observations about the ever-transforming personality of Guru Nanak have been taken by Oberoi from the work of McLeod and Hans on Janam Sakhis. Then Oberoi draws very derogatory remarks about the personality of Guru Nanak and Sikh identity as follows: “Just as there is no fixed Guru Nanak in Janam Sakhi, there is no fixed Sikh identity in the early-Guru period” (p 56).
If Oberoi wanted to carve out the personality of Guru Nanak, the most logical and scientific approach for him would have been to consult his authenticated bani incorporated in the AGGS by Guru Arjun. It was the most unacademic act of Oberoi to construct the personality8 of Guru Nanak merely from Janam Sakhi’s. Moreover, travelling by Guru Nanak to Mecca and Hardwar was taken to explain the Sikh philosophy to the Muslims and the Hindus, respectively. How on earth could Oberoi adversely relate these episodes to build the personality of Guru Nanak?
Deviation: “But as the initial Guru period comes to a sudden end with execution of Guru Arjan in 1606, the Sikh movement begins to show signs of moving, at least in part, beyond existing cultural traditions. A continuous Jat influx into the Sikh movement throughout the seventeenth century alongside a protracted conflict with an increas-ingly hostile Mughal state gradually gave rise to new Sikh cultural pattern” (p 58).
“Given the paucity of written records it is hard to specify why the Khalsa order was established and it is even harder to specify the exact nature of the Khalsa under Gobind Singh” (p 59).
Most historians like Oberoi, McLeod and others write about the deviation of pacific Sikhism to militant Sikhism after the martyrdom of GuruArjun and due to influx of Jats in Sikhism. It is a pity that these scholars do not look into the authenticated information about Sikhism in the Gurbani. The Gurbani systematically leads the people towards becoming the Sikhs, and to create a benign Sikh kingdom. These scholars should also be aware of the fact that the whole Sikh philosophy was formulated by Guru Nanak in his first five Mahlas. No new philosophy was formulated by other Mahlas. The succeeding Gurus only preached whatsoever was already formulated except that bani of Guru Teg Bahadur was added by Guru Gobind Singh in the AGGS. The bani of Guru Teg Bahadur does not differ from those of the first five Gurus. Moreover, the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, did not add any of his own bani in the AGGS and reiterated that the AGGS is the only Guru of the Sikhs after him.
There is no paucity of record in the AGGS to specify why the Sikh order was established. Consequently, specification of Sikhism/ Khalsa order merely from Janam Sakhi and Rahit Namas, as done by Oberoi and others, is a blunder (5).
Sahajdhari and Khalsa: “In the apocalyptic vision of Kesar Singh Chibber, a Brahmin Sikh, the political power of the Khalsa only spelt doom for the Sikh tradition. Writing in 1769 he prophesied that in ten years all would be chaos in Punjab. Even the Adi Granth would disappear from circulation”(p 75).
“Paradoxically, as the Khalsa mode attained hegemony within Sikh tradition, it simultaneously came to be accepted that there were alternative ways of being a Sikh: the Sikh Panth was not coterminous with the Khalsa and it was possible to be a Sikh without being a Khalsa” (p 75&76).
Oberoi took the above information from “Bansavalinama Dasan Patsahian da” written in 1769 by a Brahman Sikh, Kesar Singh Chibber. Every Sikh is aware of the damaging activities of Brahmins to the spread of real Sikhism right from the beginning and they did it directly as Brahamins as well as indirectly in the garb of a Sikh, like Kesar Singh Chibber. The pity is that Oberoi used this information without evaluating it in the light of the other information available in the AGGS. Oberoi is also well aware of the progress of Sikhism and increase in the circulation of the AGGS since the prophesy of Chibbar Inspite of the above facts Oberoi still preferred to quote Chibber to degrade Sikhism.
On page 76 Oberoi describes Sahajdhari and Khalsa Sikhs as follows: “All those Sikhs who did not turn into Khalsa Sikhs - and they certainly do not seem to have been numencally InsIgmficant since the days of Gobind Singh were often referred to in the mid eighteenth century as Sahajdhari... In many ways the Sahajdhari Sikhs totally inverted Khalsa categories of thought and religious boundaries.”
Oberoi further quoted McLeod as follow: “The word Sahaj in the writings of Guru Nanak refers to the state of ineffable bliss that could be attained by following the path of nam simeran. Therefore, the compound word Sahajdhari refers to those who accept the nam simeran teachings of Guru Nanak and do not enter the fold of the Khalsa or recognize its code of conduct.” (p76).
First of all I would like to say that there is no such term as Sahajdhari Sikh in Gurbani. It is always a “Sikh” whenever it has been used in the AGGS (AGGS, M3, P 601; M 4, P 305, 667; M 5, P 79). Moreover, McLeod is totally wrong to interpret “Sahaj”. Because according to Gurbani every Sikh is supposed to attain this state of “Sahaj”. Thus Sahaj, the “state of mind” or “ineffable bliss”, attained through nam simeran, can not be applied to make a new sect like Sahajdhari Sikhs.
Again Oberoi quotes a document dated back to 1783 and according to him it has been recently discovered. This was written by Bawa Mansha Ram faqir for guidance of Ramgarela Ram, head of an Udasi establishment in Bihar. He has described Udasi as,“ The word Udasi is described from Sanskrit Udasin, meaning to be detached, and can signify renunciation or indifference to worldly concern” (p 78). If it is so then Udasis, so called Sahajdhari Sikhs by Oberoi, are quite contrary to the Sikh philosophy as detachment or renunciation of worldly concern is totally banned for a Sikh (7).
Oberoi continues comparing Udasis and the Khalsa Sikhs. All the characteristics given by Oberoi for the Udasi on pages 77-80 are in direct conflict with the fundamentals of Sikhism (7). How could any scholar draw a conclusion that an Udasi practising renunciation, cut-ting hair or keeping them as matted, wearing a chain around the Waist, smearing ash on his body, keeping a vessel made of dried pumpkin, a cap and rosary of flowers, and a deer skin upon which hatha yoga is Performed, can call himself a Sikh or a Sahajdhari Sikh. Oberoi is out of his mind to compare such Udasis or so called Sahajdhari Sikhs with Skhs of Guru Nanak, as none of the above practices are approved in the Gurbani for a Sikh. Then how on earth can an Udasi head, Bawa Mansha Ram faqir, write to anothr head, Ramgarela Ram, “... not to forget true teachings of the Sikh Gurus, daily recite Gurbani (the Guru’s word), unfold the pages of the Granth...”, hen they are not going to follow its fundamentals. Because, if they want to practice the teachings of Guru Nanak they they have to drop other illogical and unscientific practices of Udasis.
From the whole discussion of Oberoi on Udasis and Khalsa Sikhs one coud easilsy conclude that according to Oberoi Udasi is a Sahjdhari Sikh who will give great importance to recite the Gurbani of Sikh Gurus the but will not practice the fundamentals of Gurbani. Instead they will continue to follow their own old religious practices. It is a most irresponsible act of a historian, like Oberoi, to use un-authentic, illogical and unscientific historical literature to prove that Udasis were Sahajdhari Sikhs.
On page 80 after discussing the Udasis and Khalsa Sikhs he raised a fictitious question, “The description of radical differences between Khalsa and Sahajdhari modes of identity raises the question: why, after the Khalsa transformation, was there a duality in Sikh identity?” The rest of his book is to justify the duality in Sikhism. Oberoi first tried to explain that people, so called Udasis, Sahajdharis and Nanak Panthis, continued to practise old celigious beliefs as well as those of Guru N anak. Then he declared that there was no clear cut identity of Sikhs or Khalsa Sikhs. Oberoi should have consulted Gurbani before making the statement on “duality” in Sikhism:
Don’t fall in doubt of duality;Don’t worship any other than the Alimighty; --
Don’t visit any tombs or cremation yards.(AGGS, M1, p 634) Those involved in duality in suffering are cauhght:
Unattuned to the holy word, is their life a waste. (AGGS, M3, p 362)
Being a simple historian, Oberoi lacks the ability to evaluate the available information is its real perspective. There was clear cut logical explanation that most of the Sikhs, belonging to the. Categories named by Oberoi, failed to get out of the web of superstitions and old mythological practices, e.g., the father of Ruchi Ram Sahni who practiced both ways of life in the hope that one of them would work for him However, those who succeeded to transform themselves into the new mode of Sikhism became Sikhs while others remained stuck in the web of the mythology and old religious practices. Because of this action of theirs to drop the old practices and to take up the new ones of Guru Nanak, one may call them’ as Sahjadhari Sikhs, because they are trying to adopt Sikhism step by step. But they should never be called Sahajdhari Sikhs because they practise modes of Sikhism and Hinduism at par.
Oberoi has forgotten the natural phenomenon of human behavior to break the old habits and to pick up new ones. I want to quote my personal experience. I have been driving for about 10 years from my home to my office four times a day, i.e., every morning, noon and evening. I cross many traffic lights and stop signs on my way. One of the stop signs, considered unimportant, was removed by the municipality. After removal of the stop sign when I approach the. Place of the old stop sign I inadvertently put my foot on the brakes to stop as if the stop sign was still there. Since, my brain was programmed to stop at that place every time I crossed it, it took almost a year for me to delete that program from my brain. Similar is the situation with every person adopting a new way of life. He inadvertently continues a part of the old way of life till he has completely switched over to the new one. It is a common phenomenon with the new immigrants in UK, Canada, USA and other countries that they cannot drop their old habits all of a sudden and pick up new style of living overnight. It takes sometimes generations to switch over to new systems.
Keeping in view the fact of slow adoption of new religious practices or a new living style by people a producer of a new product continuously bombards the brains of the consumers through advertisement on TV and radio many times a day, and through newspapers, weeklies and monthlies to persuade the consumers to try the new product.
Therefore, it needs continuous coaching to prepare the people to take up new religious practices of Sikhism and to drop the old and deep-rooted religious norms that they have been practicing for generations. That was the reason that Guru Nanak took 239 years (from Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, 1469-1708) to impart the complete philosophy of Sikhism. Sikhism was preached by the Sikh Gurus by logic and also by practising the new norms themselves.After 239-year of preaching Sikhism reached the Khalsa stage. Guru Gobind Singh ordained the AGGS as the spiritual Guru of the Sikhs. Then he entrusted leadership of the Panth to selected Sikhs for dissemination of Sikhism through propaganda, publications, communications, etc.This system of preaching continued starting with Bhai Mani Singh, Banda Bahadur and others. Finally Sikh Raj (benign Kingdom) was established under the capable leadership of Maharaja Ranjt Singh.
Oberoi should have taken into account the psychology of people in adapting Sikhism before making any of the above statements.
II. SANATAN TRADITION AND ITS TRANSMISSION: GURU, SAINTS, ASCETICS, AND SCHOLARS
Now in the second chapter Oberoi has forgotten everything he had said before, and has started with another approach of Sanatan Tradition to denigrate Sikhism. According to him, Sanatan Sikhs are, “In their eyes, all that they stood for was created at the beginning of time, when the universe came into existence. As a result custom was in their eyes a norm that needed to be respected, followed and enforced. How is one to broach on world-view so rooted in eternity?” (p93).
While making the above statement Oberoi has really shown the bankruptcy of his knowledge and common sense. At the beginning of the time (when “big bang” occured about 15 billion years ago) only physical laws (laws of Nature or Hukm of the Almighty according to Guru Nanak) were created. Thus there is no possibility of formation of religious norms for human beings at that time when there were no human beings. Our solar system with its planet, earth, was formed about 4.7 billion years ago. Life started on the earth only about 3.5 billion years ago. Although the man (Homo sapiens) originated about 250, 000 years ago after a long journey of evolution, the creation of modern man (Homo sapiens) is the most recent event in the history of the universe, I.e., a ttle more than 35 000 years ago. Thus the earliest religious norms could be formulated around 5,000 years ago, the time of the beginning of civilization, according to latest available data about thee origin of Man (6). Thus religious norms, supposed to be Sanatan, cannot be said to have been created at the time of creation of the universe as claimed by Oberoi or Sanatan Sikh. Therefore, there is no characterstic of eternity to such norms made by man about 5,000 years ago. Almost all such so called norms have been challenged by Guru Nanak as well as science.
It is a well-established fact that Dasam Granth was not Written by Guru Gobind Singh. Instead he reiterated that only the AGGS is the “Guru” for Sikhs. Moreover it is also a fact that Guru Gobind Singh did not include his own bani in the AGGS though he added the bani of the Ninth Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Inspite of the above facts Oberoi is trying to portray that Sanatan tradition of Sikhs is influenced by the
Dasam Granth (p 96-99).
To convince the readers of his book, however, Oberoi emphasizes that Dasam Granth was compopsed by Bhai Mani Singh and was equally venerated by the Sikhs as the Adi Granth; and no writing was removed from Dasam Granth on the success of killing of Masa Rangar by Sukha Singh. Then he introduces step by step the old mythological work from Dasam Granth in Sikhism as follows: “He reports that great goddess, known as Devi, Chandi, Durga, Bhavani and Kalka helped the gods, waged battle against powerful demons - Mahishasur, Sumbha and Nisumba - and eventually emerged victorious. These stories are from Devi - Mahatmya (500-600 CE) or Markandeya Pur ana and Devi-Bhagavata Purana. He says in Sikhism God has always been portrayed as masculine term. The goddess myth in Dasam Granth transposes the early tradition and add a new maternal dimension to Sikh understandings of Ultimate Reality” (p96&97).
Oberoi is not aware of the fact that there is no proof that Dasam Granth was complied by Bhai Mani Singh. Most probably the authorship of Bhai Mani Singh has been assigned by Sanatan Sikhs or Brahmins to introduce Brahminism in Sikhism through the Dasam Granth. In Gurbani the Alimighty has been referred to as father, mother, brother, friend, sandhi (relatives) (AGGS, MS, P 103) and even as yar (very close friend, male or female) (AGGS, MS, P 703&704). Doesn’t it include femininity of God in the AGGS which Oberoi failed to find out?
Then Oberoi tries to introduce avatar wad (incarnation of God into human being) in Sanatan Sikhs in spite of the fact reported by himself on page 96 from Guru Gobind Singh’s savaiya that GurU Gobind Singh doesn’t believe in avatar wad. Oberoi puts much emphasis on chaubis avatars, included in Dasam Granth. There are 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu which range from a tortoise to man-lion and deities like Buddha, Krishna and Rama. Then Oberoi quotes various unauthenticated and illogical stories from Koer Singh’s writing to include Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh in the line of avatars to give authenticity to avatar wad for the Sikhs (p 97-103). Thus Oberoi declared that “The Dasam Granth became paradigm for the entire religious culture of Sanatan Sikhs. While Sanatan Sikhs considered the Adi Granth and Dasam Granth their texts, they also began to accord an almost analogous status to Puranas” (P 98).
Oberoi quotes another early nineteenth century work of Anandghan where “sat nam karta purkh” has been portrayed in two Vedantic doctrines as a nirguna (being without form and manifesta-tion) and saguna (manifested in the form of avatars) (p 101). This interpretation is absolutely wrong. Became the Almighty in Gurbani has always been expressed as nirguna. Whenever it is mentioned as saguna, it means that the existence of the Almighty can be visualized and realized by proper understanding of Gurbani and practising its philosophy. The saglma aspect (incarnation in human being) of the Almighty described by Anandghan and Oberoi is totally absent in the fundamentals of Sikhism. It is the work of Anandghan, Kesar Singh Chibber, Santokh Singh, Koer Singh, Giani Gian Singh, etc., who emphasized the saguna form of the Almighty to support the idea of incarnation of the Almighty into human form.
Further Oberoi derives four conclusions from Anandghan’s long commentary on “sat nam karta purkh” from Jap as follows: “First, he relies heavily on Puranic and Sanskritic literature to back his interpretation of Japji. Second, as in the Dasam Granth, the avatar paradigm seems to be his major presumption. Third, for him - and in this he was hardly an exception for his time - the writings of the Sikh Gurus were not authoritative enough to expound on Sikh theology. Fourth, and this follows from previous points, Anandghan is reversing an earlier Sikh doctrine that Gurbani, or the Word of Guru, is central to the attainment of liberation and there is no need for reliance on avatars who themselves are creatures of God. But all these are not solely his inversions, they were the product of what was enunciated in the “great code” and picked up by tens of thousands of people besides Anandghan” (p101).
Neither Anandghan nor Oberoi has given any sound, logical or scientific proof of incarnation of the Almighty into the form of human being, or any good reason for acceptance of Vedantic, Puranic or other mythological philosophy. Similarly, without giving any reason both have tried to degrade the philosophy of Sikh theology. On the, other hand I would like to explain to these scholars that the Almighty described by Guru Nanak cannot be structured into any form with stone or metal.
Now let us examine the definition of the Almigjty given by Guru Nanak as the genesis (the Origin/beginning) of the AGGS.
The only one; His Name is the Truth (exists for ever);
He is the Creator; He is without fear (not governed by any other);
He is without any revenge; He is timeless in existence;
He neither takes birth nor dies;With His grace (has been defined)*.
*see Chahal (2, 4) for detailed discussion on “has been defined”.
It is such a concise and precise description of the Almighty that it is scientifically and logically true to its characteristics. Under no circumstance the Almighty described by Guru Nanak can incarnate in the form of human being as avatar to save the world from peril of evil. Scientifically and logically, if He, being the Almighty, can not save the world from the peril of evil, then He will not be able to save the world from the peril of evil by incarnation into human being.
The Fifth Guru Nanak (Guru Arjun) again has emphasized very strongly against the incarnation of the Almighty as follows:
That mouth be burnt which says that the Almighty takes birth (incarnates). (AGGS, M 5, P 1136)
Guru Nanak has also clearly mentioned that the Almighty cannot be structured: The Almighty cannot be structured (into idols of stone or metal). He is created by Himself. (AGGS, Top, p 2)
It seems to me funny and irrelevant in the Space Age, when Oberoi quotes unrealiaf?le information from Anandghan, Koer Singh, Kesar Singh Chibber, Santokh Singh, Giani Gian Singh, Gulab Singh, Janam sakhis etc., to prove incarnation of God, and that practices of Sanatan traditions were part of Sikhism during nineteenth century.
With the support of the work of the historians mentioned above, and pujaris in Gurdwaras, .the next step of those so called Sanatan Sikhs was to mstall Idols in the Golden Temple premises. According to Oberoi (p 103& 104) the first large image in metal casting of Guru Hargobind presented by Raja of Chamba was installed in the recincts of the Golden Temple and was followed by another gold image of the sixth Master below the Akal Takhat, and a minor idol of Guru Nanak in the inner sanctum of the main shrine. Large images were also housed at Baba Atal. In 1880, the management of the Golden Temple mooted the ide? Of installing the idols of the ten Sikhs Gurus at the main entrance of the Sikh shrine. Already within the precincts of the Golden Temple pujaris sat with stone images instructing pilgrims to worship before them. Similarly at Akal Takhat, the supreme seat of Sikh ecclesiastical authority some pujaris publicly worshipped images. Along the worshipping of idol the philosophy of living guru also continued with these people and considering of Adi Granth as Guru was far from being fully accepted (p 104).
It has already been discussed that there is no place of idol worship in Gurbani and Sikhism. The irony is that the removal of these images from Golden Temple by the Singh Sabha has been taken as a very serious setback to Sanantan Sikhs by Oberoi.
Defining a Sikh: The concise, simple and ready-made definition of Sikh was provided by a Sanatan Sikh, Avtar Singh Vahiria, as follows:
“ Any person who accepts the teachings of Guru Nanak is qualified to be a Sikh” (p 104 & 105). But according to Oberoi two distinct kinds of Sikhs, Sahajdhari and Khalsa, were recognized (p105). It was recognized by Sodhi Ram Narain Singh in “Khalsa Dharm Sastar” written in 1914 that was based on the wriotings of Avtar Singh Yahiria. According to the above sastar and the pustak of Giani Gian Singh, the low castes who embraced Sikhism were not allowed to mix with the high class of Sikhs and they were also not allowed to proceed beyond the fourth step in the Golden Temple (p 106). So much so that once a low caste Sikh was barred from entering the Golden Temple and Was got arrested. Another Sikh who reacted against this unlawful arrest of low caste Sikh,was beaten by the Sanatan Sikhs (p 107).
In the fundamentals of Sikhism there is no casteism whether a person previously was a low caste or a Brahmin before adopting Sikhism:
Call everyone high, none appears to be low; As the Almighty has molded everyone alike; And His same light shines in all of them. (AGGS, M 1, P 62)
Once a person becomes a Sikh then that person is a Sikh consequently there should not be any discrimination. It is very surprising that writers like Sodhi Ram Narain Singh, Avtar Singh Vahiria Giani Gian Singh, etc., holding good positions in the hierarchy of Sikhism could write such sastars against the principles of Sikhism, that would create casteism in Sikhism. It is still more surprising that persons like Oberoi would accept such sastars that are based on the philosophy contrary to that of the Sikh Gurus, to classify the Sikhs into Sahajdhari Sikhs, Khalsa Sikhs and Mazhabi (low caste) Sikhs.
“The religious establishments were made up of Guru lineage, holy men, ascetic and traditional intellectuals, who helped the ordinary mortals seek worldly fortune, overcome sorrow, and those who were ready for it were given instructions in moral and religious precept” (p.138).
These religious establishments were controlled mostly by Nir-malas and Udasis. Besides the teaching of Aad Granth, the Nirmalas and Udasis regularly taught the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas and Sastras. In fact they never broke their linkages from Vedantic and Puranic philosophy, although they were controlling the Sikh institutions. If they were following the wrong paths, it is not the fault of the philosophy of Sikhism. In fact Oberoi failed to recognize the role of such persons who had their roots in Nirmalas, Udasis, etc., to amalgamate Sikhism into Hinduism. He being in a chair for Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia should have disseminated the teachings of Sikh Gurus rather than supporting the people (Nirmalas, U dasis and so called Sanatan Sikhs or Sahajdhari Sikhs) who in the garb of a Sikh were trying to destroy the identity of Sikhism.
III. AN ENCHANTED UNIVERSE: SIKH PARTICIPATION IN POPULAR RELIGION
In this chapter Oberoi discusses the enchanted universe where he has dug out literature dealing with the strong belief of people in miracle saints, malevolent goddesses and gods (Durga, Kali, Kalka, Mahesri, Bhiwani, Sitla Devi, Mansa Devi, Naina Devi, Suraj Devta, Mother Earfu, etc.), Village sacred sites (tombs, graves, pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), land tree (Prosopsis spicigera), tulsi, cow and even bull) evil spirits and witchcrafts as their right religion. Then general conclusions are drawn on the connections between popular religion and its relationship with Sanatan “Great Tradition” :
1 “For much of the nineteenth century Sikhs were deeply involved in the worship of miracle saints and undertook regular pilgrimage to their shrines. Among these saints Sakhi Sarvar, also known as He of the Rubies, Rohinwala or He of the Hills, was widely worshipped by Sikhs”(p 147).
2. “For average Sikhs living in rural tracts, the local god (like Bhoomia) was far more important than the distant universal God acknowledged by Sikh sacred text” (p166).
3. Oberoi has blamed the Singh Sabha for dissuading the Sikhs from miracle saints, goddesses and gods, evil spirits and witchcraft (p 190).
Anonymously written “Gurbilas Chhevin Patsahi,” a biography of the sixth Guru, Hargobind, was the first attempt by the so-called Sanatan Sikhs to keep the Hindu mythology and Sikh philosophy at par. Gurbilas is conscious of Sikhs visiting non-Sikh shrines in search of cures and other boons. It retained the theory of reincarnation of God and portrayed Guru Hargobind as the twenty-fourth reincarnation of Vishnu (p 190 & 191). Similarly in “Sau Sakhi” (also anonymous, a book of prophecy, mythology, hagiography and narrative tradition) there is great insistence that Sikhs maintain unshorn hairs, undertake the pahul, stay away from images worship, refrain from tobacco, and not worship Sitla Devi. But it introduces that reciting specific verses from Japji could cure specific ailments and problems. The Sau Sakhi also insists fuat no break should be made with what is prescribed in the Vedas: the references to Brahminical rituals. It also reiterates the avatar paradigm and the mythical narratives of the Devi to maintain the Sanatan Sikh tradition. To put a seal of authenticity to Sau Sakhi by the Sanatan tradition its authorship was assigned to the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (p 191-193).
In this chapter Oberoi then discusses the rise of Nirankaris and Kukas, although they followed the Sikh scripture but maintained new codes of conduct that were un-Sikh-like.
In this chapter Oberoi has written 64 pages on the enchanted universe where stories and examples given are all wrong and illogical according to the present knowledge of science.
Let us examine the history of Sakhi Sarvar as described by Oberoi (p 48-162). Sayyid Zainulabidin, a resident of Baghdad migrated to India in 1126 CE and settled at Shakot in the district Jhang. He married the daughter of a village headman from Khokhar tribe. From this marriage he had a son, Sayyid Ahmed, later known as Sakhi Sarvar. He was killed by his kinsmen in 1174 CE and was buried in Nagaha in Dera Ghazi Khan district. Then Oberoi describes his miracle work and his popularity amongst Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.
Oberoi failed to notice that as his mother comes from the Khokhar tribe, who are muslims as well as Sikhs, thus both innocent Muslims and Sikhs were attracted to Sarvar’s so called miracle power, although both religions (Islam and Sikhism) reject to idolize pirs.
Similarly Oberoi used another example of Gugga Pir for proving the diffused boundaries. Gugga Pir was originally from Hindu Rajput lineage and then embraced Islam. He was expert in snake bites and other ailments (p 160). Because of his background of Hinduism and embracement of Islam, both Hindus (including so-called Sahajdhari Sikhs) and Muslims were attracted to him. Here Oberoi could not discern the fact that people visited his shrines for snake bites and other ailments, but not as part of their religious practices.
According to M. Macauliffe at the Sarvar shrine, the spirit possession represented an effort on the part of a powerless sector of society (mostly women) to voice its dissent and articulate needs normally suppressed by communicating their needs through the medium of an intrusive spirit. According to I.M. Lewis spirit possession continues to be widespread strategy to alleviate the conditions of female subordination among women in much of the South and South East Asia, Hong Kong, Japan, North Africa and middle East (p 159).
Thus such desperate women, may belong to any religion, would seek the help of anybody, may belong to Islam, Hinduism or even to Sikhism (nowadays we find many Sikhs practising in so called enchanted universe, they are not practising it because they want to keep Sanatan tradition but to extract money from innocent Sikhs), through whom they could press men to agree to their demands without altering basis of the patriarchal domination. Oberoi has failed to see the reasons behind such spirit possession and going to such persons to get their demand fulfilled. Such practices are common with peasantry and innocent peoples of all religions in the world including the advanced countries like Canada, Europe, UK, and USA.
Moreover, according to the above observations of Macauliffe and Lewis such practices are not related to any religion and should not be confused with characteristics that would be necessary to create the boundaries of religions. Oberoi has used a major portion of his book on such unauthentic, unscientific and illogical practices to create a difused boundary of Sikhism in the nineteenth century.
However, Oberoi admits himself that Ditt Singh, the leading ideologue of the Singh Sabha, took great pains at the turn of the century to write a lengthy vernacular tract denouncing those who worshipped the miracle saints, Sakhi Sarvar, Gugga pir or any other such pirs (p162).
Philosophy of Sikhism described in the Gurbani incorporated in the AGGS dissuades people from believing in spirit possession, miracle saints, and provides equal rights for women. The same philosophy was taught by Ditt Singh as admitted by Oberoi. If the Sikhs of the nineteenth century followed the philosophy of Sikhism in its real perspective they would not have become prey to miracle saints like Sakhi Sarvar, Gugga Pir or gods and goddesses.
VI. CONSERVING SANATAN SIKH TRADITION: THE FOUN-DATION OF THE SRI GURU SINGH SABHA
In this chapter Oberoi describes the high speed with which Christianty was spreading in the Punjab and conversion of some well-known Sikhs into Christianity. To check the conversion of Sikhs into Christianity a new movement originated under the, name of Singh Sabha, Oberoi gave the backgrounds of the early leaders of Singh Sabha like Dyal Singh Majitha, a millionaire, and Avtar Singh Vahiria, a learned Sikh, who were once the members of the Brahmo Samaj. Although their main objective was to save the Sikhs from conversion, instead they introduced Sanatan tradition in Sikhism.
Oberoi has already discussed the definition of Sikh in Chapter II. However, he has taken up this topic again with more emphasis on Sanatan traditions. In 1886 Avtar Singh Vahiria, Editor of Gurumat Prakasak, appealed to the Sikh scholars to find out authentic writings to answer the questions being raised about Sikhism. Oberoi wrote that the answer to the first question, Who is a Sikh?, was unequivocally as follows:
“All those wno believed in the sanctity of the Sikh Gurus and the Adi Granth were Sikhs. Both Sahajdhari and Khalsa were equally qualified to be Sikhs and no one had the right to insult the former by calling them monas. Only Sikhs who had taken the pahul and then cut their hair could be carried monas; the. word was most inappropriate if used for Sahajdhari Sikhs” (p 242). Thts defimtIon appeared in the May 1887 issue of the Gurnmat Prakasak, a magazine of Singh Sabha.
Oberoi also emphasized that the Sahajdhari Sikhs were following Sikh practices as well as those of Hindus, while Khalsa Sikhs were following strict code of conduct prescribed for them.
Finally Oberoi interpreted from all the above information “that Amritsar Singh Sabha kept the Sanatan episteme intact. Its activities did not move beyond routine activities and intentional action, thus largely keeping older cultural and religious patterns going on” (p257)
The logical interpretation of the above information quoted by Oberoi could be that the thoughts of the early leaders of Singh Sabha were still being dominated by the Brahminical philosophy and that it was very difficult for them to get rid of them. It is a pity that any scholar like Vahiria who tries to write on Sikh and
Sikhism depends more on the secondary literature written by biased historians rather than on the primary and authenticated source, Gurbani incorporated in the AGGS. That is the reason why all the definitions on Sikh and Sikhism I found in old and contemporary literature and encyclopedias are quite different from the real one. The only good definition of a Sikh is given in the Rahit Maryada written by the SGPC, Amritsar but that too needs modifications (1, 3)
THE INTERPRETATIVE PROCESS: EXPANSION OF THE SINGH SABHA
In this chapter Oberoi traces the history of introduction of English and vernacular education system in the Punjab and the emer-gence of elite group amongst the Sikhs. Then he conceptualizes the origin of Arya Samaj and Singh Sabha. This chapter is worth reading to discover the origin of Singh Sabha and its achievements - publication of various dialy newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines in Punjabi and English; publication of books in Punjabi; recognition of Punjabi language in Gurmukhi script; and teaching of Punjabi courses – Giani (highest proficiency), Vidwani (high proficiency), and Budhimani himani (proficiency). Oberoi has mentioned the fllowing activities of Arya Samaj and Singh Sabha in this chapter that would be very important documents to interpret the further discourse on the boundaries of religions:
1. The original Arya Samaj envisioned a Hinduism. frer of polytheism, superstition, tdolatry, child marnage, evil priests and social decadence (p 280). Thus some prominent Singh Sabha members were attracted to Arya Samaj, because there was no conflict with Sikhism. But soon Arya Samaj, was taken over by the fundamental Hindus and they turned agaisnt Sikhism. Thus the Sikhs started to withdraw their membership from Arya Samaj (p 287).
2. Ditt Singh (1853-1901) became a leading ideologue of the Singh Sabha. He was author, publisher, journalist, public speaker, preacher, consultant, teacher and polemicist par excellence (p 289).
3. Ditt Singh and Jawahir Singh were the first to bring to the notice of other members of Singh Sabha in their meeting of February 1887 that the Sikhs of the countryside are losing the Sikh traditions and that the first responsibility of Singh Sabha ought to be the reform and correction of folk Sikhism (p 294).
4. Basant Singh, another Singh Sabha member reported that “Due to the establishment of the Singh Sabhas in cities, all those who violated the teachings of Sikhism are now under great pressure. Consequently, many of these people have now started to shift to villages where they find it easy to cheat and mislead innocent Sikhs” (p 296).
5. The other important point to be noted in this chapter is the conditions to become the member of Smgh Sabha “The Karachi Singh Sabha opened its membership to both Sahajdhari and Khalsa Sikhs as long as they were ready to declare that they adhere to the tenets of the Gurus, do not belong to any other religious sect, and pay a subscription of at least annas four per menses” (p 298). This condition clearly indicated that there was no room for practising the so called Sanatan tradition in Sikhism.
A NEW SOCIAL IMAGINATION: THE MAKING OF THE TAT KHALSA
Oberoi has given very good account of the onerous task of Sikhizing the Sikhs by the Singh Sabha and the Tat Khalsa. It was really a tough job to dissuade the Sikhs from Sakhi Sarvar and Gugga Pir. The job done by the Singh Sabha is commendable. For example, writing of novels by Bhai Vir Singh, tracts by Ditt Singh, publication of articles covering the Sikh practices in Khalsa Akhbar, Bhai Kahn Singh’s work, “Hum Hindu Nahin” (We are not Hindus), helped to wean the Sikhs from Pirs, Brahmins, superstition, evil spirits, faith healing, visiting of non-Sikh shrines, etc.
Three core doctrines - Guru, Granth and Gurdwara (the three Gs) - became the foci of the Tat Khalsa praxis for Sikhization of the Sikhs (p 316).
In Tat Khalsa view of the world the Granth was the rightful heir of the ten Sikh Gurus, it took precedence over all other sacred texts: the Vedas, the Gita, the Puranas, and even Dasam Granth. It surpassed divines and their skills to work miracles, saints, bhais and members of Guru lineage (p 319).
While under Sanatan Sikhism the Adi Granth and the Dasam Granth were deemed at par, Tat Khalsa leadership was to radically alter this equilibrium. The Dasam Granth, whicp enshrined the “Great Code” of Sanatan tradition, was gradually eased out of the Sikh rituals, by the early twentieth century it no longer enjoyed the textual hegemony it once enjoyed (p 319). Thus the metaphysical and cultural assumptions of Sanatan Sikh tradition as sanctioned by the Dasam Granth, such as the strong beliefs in the role of avatars and conceptions of the divine in feminine terms were no longer permissible (p 320).
The Dasam Granth is again being introduced in Sikhism by the Sanatan Sikhs in these days by preaching from Dasam Granth in Gurdwaras and publishing books and articles in dailies, weeklies and monthlies in these days. The Sikhs should be aware of this trap and should refute such preachings and publications. There is a long story how the Tat Khalsa was able to remove the idols from the precincts of Golden Temple and other Gurdwaras. The plan of Arya Samajists and Sanatan Sikhs of installing the idols of 10 Sikhs Gurus on the entrance of Golden Temple was averted by the strong action of Arur Singh (p 324-325).
Then the rite de passage was formulated by the Tat Khalsa. The Sikhs were transformed into an independent religion by rigid enforcing of external symbols (5 Ks), initiation to Khalsa, birth, death, marriage and other social functions. In 1910 and 1931, respectively, the Chief Khalsa Diwan and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee set up a commission to formulate a new Rahitnama. The changes introduced by the latest Rahitnama, title Sikhs Rahit Maryada, and published in 1950, were a tribute to the far-reaching implications of Tat Khalsa thinking on the construction of personhood within the Sikh community during the present century (p 343).
Oberoi argues that between 1880 and 1909 the body was made a principal force of symbolic concern (5 Ks) and a central means of projecting ideological preoccupation … Although Guru Gobind Singh may be said to have been the first within Sikh tradition to recognize the semiotic potential of the body to manifest the power of a corporate imagination, it took an interval of almost three centuries and decisive intervention by Singh Sabha activists before this sign-vehicle (5 Ks) was fully harnessed (p 344).
It is a very unfortunate affair that before making the above statement Oberoi has forgotten the fact that immediately after the first initiation of the Panj Pyara (Five Beloved Once) by Guru Gobind Singh, thousands of Sikhs accepted the sign-vehicle (5 Ks) on the Baisakhi of 1699 CE. Later within a short spell of time all the Sikhs under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadur who ,established Sikh Raj for a short time, were wearing the 5Ks. Banda Singh Bahadur minted his own coin and circulated his own currency and introduced a new reform ofland of its own kind not known before -land to the tillers. After the arrest of Banda Singh Bahadur, slaughtering of Sikhs en mass was started by the Mughal rulers. A very few Sikhs were left. Then again there was a rise in Sikh misls and ultimately Maharaja Ranjit Singh established the great 5 Ks and was wearing 5Ks and was regularly meeting at Golden Temple and Akal Takhat for the Sarbat Khalsa.
Oberoi was worried about: what prompted the radical changes in the lexicon, grammar and syntax of the Sikh tradition, and what factor made this unprecedented change possible (p 351).
He admits that the new elites’ unceasing efforts to formulate and create a sub-culture for themselves wasa major force behind the Tat Khalsa’s construction of modern Sikh identity (p 351). But he puts this Success on the British that the necessary structure for such a transformation was provided by the far-reaching impact of the British rule on the urban and rural society in Punjab (p 351).
Oberoi again quotes that, “In a recent work of the social anthropologist R.G. Fox, influenced by the work of British Marxist scholars such as Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson, has rigorously argued that Sikh identity, as we know it today, was a creation of colonial state (p 371).
The answer to all the above questions of Oberoi is that the success of putting Sikhism in right direction was due to the consistent efforts of dedicated Sikhs of Singh Sabha.
RESISTANCE AND COUNTER-RESISTANCE: THE TRIUMPH OF PRAXIS
Inspite of the success of Tat Khalsa explained in earlier Oberoi still writes in this chapter that “The Tat Khalsa’s monotheism, iconoclastic sentiments, egalitarian social values and notion of a stand-ardized Sikh identity did not blend well with the polytheism, idol worship, caste distinctions and diversity espoused by Sanatan Sikhism” (p 382).
To justify the above statement of non-blending of Tat Khalsa’s Sikhism with Sanatan Sikhism Oberoi has quoted some incidents. The incidents given by him are directly related to either Khem Singh Bedi or Avtar Singh Vahiria, both active members of Singh Sabha and Khalsa Diwan but having their roots in Sanatan traditions. Khem Singh Bedi wanted to revive the guru lineage as he claimed Guru Nanak’s lineage. A vtar Singh Vahiria in collaboration with Arya Samajists tried to torpedo the work of Tat Khalsa by publishing articles, books, tracts and lecturing in public. What Avatar Singh Vahiria and Khem Singh Bedi did while being the member of Singh Sabha and Khalsa Diwan, Oberoi is doing today to tarnish Sikhism while holding the Sikh Chair at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. This Chair is to propagate Sikhism in its true perspective but he is introducing the Sanatan tradition in Sikhistn and this latest book of his is serving the purpose.
GENERAL COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS
The Sikh philosophy has such an appeal that everybody who comes across any verse of Gurbani wants to adopt the path of Guru Nanak, explained in the Gurbani. Unfortunately the person who starts to follow Guru Nanak’s path keeps on clinging to the old philosophy that was being practised by him for generations together. It is not easy for a human being to cut off the old ties and to switch over to the new philosophy as explained previously. Moreover, most of the old religious practices are based on superstitions that if this or that ritual is not done one would end up in hell or suffer bad fortune in the future. Thus for most of the people who are weak-hearted and lack decision making power, like the father of Ruchi Ram Sahni, start practising both the norms, i.e., old ones and that of Guru Nanak in a hope that at least one of the two would work for them.
Therefore, there is a dire need to specify the Sikhism/Khalsa order by a group of specialists in the fields of Gnrbani, languages, history, science, medicine and law. They should specify Sikhism/Khalsa order by consulting the Gurbani incorporated in the AGGS and the information available from history after creening their authenticity with present day knowledge of various sciences. This would answer the above question raised by Oberoi and to be raised by other Sikhs and non Sikhs in the future.
After reading very carefully the recent works of Dr Piar Singh and Pashaura Singh and nliw that of Or Harjot Oberoi, “The Construction of Religious Boundaries” it appeared to me that there would be many such surprises for the Sikhs before the 1999 CE, the 300th anniversary of Completion of Sikhism. I would regard all these works as a blessing in disguise because these works have awakened the consciousness of scrupulous Sikhs once again to dissuade the Sikhs from falling into the trap of so called Sanatan Sikh traditions and losing the distinct identity of Sikhism. If the Sikh institutions and scrupulous Sikhs fail to bring out the truth about Sikhism before 1999, the damage done by such publications would be colossal and it may take many decades to bring back Sikhism in its pristine purity.
Abbreviations: AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib; M = Mohla; p = page.
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