Perspectives on Guru Gobind Singh Ji – A Seminar Report –
The Institute of Sikh Studies (IOSS), Chandigarh organized a two day seminar on “Perspectives on Guru Gobind Singh” on 27th 28th November 2010 at its headquarters in Gurudwara Singh Sabha, Kanthala, Industrial Area Phase II, Chandigarh. A number of scholars from India and Abroad participated in the deliberations.
The opening of the Seminar of the Seminar started with Ardas recited by Bhai Ashok Singh Bagrian. The first session was chaired by the renowned historian Dr J.S.Grewal and the stage secretary was S. Gurcharan Singh, who is also the Convenor of the Seminar.
The welcome address was delivered by S. Gurdev Singh IAS (retd.), Patron of the IOSS. He provided a brief background of the IOSS and the various activities being undertaken by it.
S. Pritam Singh, President of the IOSS provided an analytical framework for various perspectives on Guru Gobind Singh. He opined that the fundamental ideas which stimulated the basic impulses of the work, mission and teachings of the Guru were:
1. Absorption of the individual soul into the Infinite Soul as the ultimate goal of human life;
2. Creation of an equalitarian and global fraternity;
3. Acceptance of new principles of politics subordinated to those of ethics as pronounced by him in Zafarnama and Fatehnama;
4. Creation of an Order of Khalsa comprising of individuals committed to dedicate their lives for achieving the missions laid down for them.
5. The vision of a new and regenerated humanity.
He felt that while Sikhism was able to achieve balance between its universalistic concerns and its existential concerns during the Guru period by virtue of the Miri-Piri principle, such a balance got weakened after the Guru period because of many factors. He emphasized the need for a multi-dimensional and a multi-institutional reform movement with a focus on achieving a balance between the universalistic concerns of Sikhism and its existential concerns-religious, political, economic, social and cultural. Such a reform movement will also enable the Khalsa Panth to play its role in shaping the religious and cultural dimensions of the emerging global society.
The inaugural address was delivered by Dr Jaspal Singh, Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala. He explained that the message of oneness of God is pervasive in the Guru Granth Sahib. A logical corollary of the same is brotherhood of man which Guru Gobind Singh steered towards promoting throughout his life. Dr. Singh then went on to explain the various descriptives used by the Guru for the Almighty in Jaap Sahib and how his various actions were based on his understanding of the same. The Guru was for widening the existing vertical structure of political power to a horizontal one. He had to pay a heavy price for this mission in the form of martyrdom of his near and dear ones, but he accepted it as the will of the Almighty. Dr Singh concluded his address by reading out couplets in praise of Guru Gobind Singh by Giani Gian Singh, Iqbal and Allah Yaar Khan.
He then released IOSS’s latest publication- Part 2 of translation of Ratan Singh Bhangu’s Sri Guru Panth Prakash by Prof. Kulwant Singh.
Sometimes the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh is criticized for being in alleged divergence to the earlier Sikh tradition. The next three speakers of the morning session dwelt in detail on how the creation of the Khalsa was in fact the continuation and fulfillment of Guru Nanak’s mission.
Dr Kirpal Singh stated that the Khalsa was created by demolishing the barriers of caste and it elevated the lowly by promising them exalted status in society. Both these were fundamental concerns of Guru Nanak’s mission. Guru Nanak had lamented against foreign invasions in his verses preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib. In the 18th century, it was the Khalsa forces which took on and repulsed the foreign invaders like Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. With the establishment of Sarkar-e-Khalsa or Sikh Kingdom by Maharaja Ranjit Singh the tide was finally turned and the country was freed from the fear of foreign invasions from the North West Frontier.
Comparing the writings and contributions of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, Dr. Arvinder Singh beautifully explained how The Creation of Khalsa was an epitome of the Guru Nanak’s message of oneness of God, universal brotherhood and justice. Guru Nanak’s Panth became the Khalsa and His God oriented man (Gursikh) was transformed into a saint-soldier, true defender and practiser of righteousness. Khalsa turned out to be the vanguard of human rights, equality, liberty and justice.
Dr. G.S.Sidhu spoke about Sikh identity and Guru Gobind Singh. He emphasized on the distinct Sikh appearance and unique lifestyle i.e. equality, beliefs free of superstition, courage to fight for justice, Charhdikala attitude.
Principal Prabhjot Kaur spoke about the multi-faceted personality of Guru Gobind Singh. He was a great general whose mission was to destroy evil and to stand up for human rights. He was also a great spiritual personality, a skilled psychologist and an accomplished poet.
Dr. J.S.Grewal summed up the first session and explained how researching and writing various books related to Guru Gobind Singh had a profound effect on his thinking and personality.
The afternoon session was chaired by Dr. Madanjit Kaur and the stage secretary was S. Sadhu Singh.
Dr Sukhdial Singh discussed the Sikh contribution towards freeing India from foreign yoke. He felt that usually under this subject only the Sikh participation in the movement leading up to Independence of India in 1947 is discussed. However, the role played by the Khalsa in freeing India from the scourge of Afghan invasions was much more significant. He then briefly narrated the events of the 18th and 19th century when the Khalsa forces had bravely taken on and repulsed the Afghan invaders.
Dr Paramvir Singh of Punjabi University, Patiala quoted from the Dasam Granth to explain that Guru Gobind Singh came to this world to restore the social, moral and political values in the society. His compositions show that the Guru was a great prophet philosopher, psychologist and a true hero who brought the people to a deeper understanding and realization of the meaning of good and bad, power of love and unity in this world and brought them out of slavery of the ruling and priestly classes. He preached the values and virtues of human dignity, brotherhood, unity, ecumenism and the acceptance of God as the Supreme Reality.
Principal Jagjit Singh discussed in detail the various contributions of Guru Gobind Singh like Saint-Soldier ideal, elimination of caste barriers, ban on intoxicants, promoting democratic principles etc. He felt that Guru Gobind Singh was an apostle for the entire humanity.
Dr. Madanjit Kaur briefly narrated the life story of Guru Gobind Singh focusing on events prior to the Vaisakhi of 1699. She said that the Guru was of the firm belief that upliftment of the down-trodden is only possible if political power is transferred to their hands.
M.P. Terence Samuel shared his views of the Tamil poem “Guru Gobindha Simha Vijayam” (Victory of Guru Gobind Singh) written by poet Bharathi in the early Twentieth century. The poem is basically a narration of the events of Vaisakhi of 1699. Bharathi has used the medium of poetry to include in the narration the ideals of nationalism which he had imbibed from different forces during his times. The poet had a good understanding of Sikhism as a monotheistic religion.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Kartar Singh Gill spoke at length on the battle strategy of Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru laid equal emphasis on both tactical and moral training. The battle tactics of the Guru’s forces were similar to ‘fire and move’ tactics of moden warfare. Strong character and morals were instilled by him in all his soldiers. They were not to attack women, children and the aged. Wounded soldiers were to be attended to and the last rites of own and enemy dead soldiers were to be carried out. Some of these Do’s and Don’ts are now enshrined in the articles of the Geneva Convention.
Gen. Gill also explained in detail the strategies adopted by Guru Gobind Singh during the battles of Bhangani, Anandpur and Chamkaur. Guru’s quick decisions and application of basic principles of war ensured that the enemy plans were defeated even though their forces vastly outnumbered the Sikh forces.
Dr. J. Jayan discussed the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh as an alternative community based on the principles of equality, co-operation, tolerance and collective well being. Through this, the Guru united mainly the scattered society and created a complete independent courageous alternative community.
S. Partap Singh, DIG (Retd.) presented a number of suggestions for show casing the Sikh ethos and for building of authenticated resource material / books for the next generation of Sikhs in India & Abroad.
Others who spoke on the occasion included Dr. S.S.Bhatti, S. Gurnam Singh, S. Jaswinder Singh Brar, S. Jasbir Singh and Wg. Cdr. (Retd.) R.S. Chhatwal, Kartar Singh Goshti.
Summing up, Bhai Ashok Singh said that Guru Gobind Singh’s personality cannot and should not be analyzed in isolation. We have to look into 200 years of Sikh history preceding him for a proper appreciation of the Guru’s contribution. Concluding, he explained that the Guru’s mission was to create a fearless God-fearing man.
S. Gurcharan Singh, Convener of the Seminar then read out a few poems relating to Guru Gobind Singh composed by the literary giants-Prof. Puran Singh, Bhai Vir Singh & S. Charan Singh Shahid. He then proposed a vote of thanks to conclude the seminar.