Khalsa – The Continuation of Guru Nanak’s Mission
Prof Arvinder Singh
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Nanak, was the apostle of justice and equality. Religious fanaticism and unjust rule of Aurangzeb prepared a ground for the creation of ‘Khalsa Panth’. The Creation of Khalsa, in fact, was an epitome of the Guru Nanak’s message of oneness of God, universal brotherhood and justice. Guru Gobind Singh’s vision of Khalsa is an expansion of Guru Nanak’s mission.
The Khalsa was created as per will of Waheguru as revealed to Guru Nanak and his successors from Guru Angad to Guru Gobind Singh. Its foundation was laid on the principle that the whole creation including the whole humanity owes its existence to God who is permeating and pervading it and therefore all parts of it are complementary to each other and none is despicable or abominable.1 The extreme sagacity and vision of Sikh Gurus is evident from thoughtfully planned and measured manner in which they built the structure of their ideology and the Sikh society, epitomised in the order of Khalsa.2
Sikhism is a whole-life system combining spiritual life. The Sant-Sipahi ideal is thus logically and morally essential. Love of one’s fellow-men becomes meaningless, and even hypocritical, if one is not willing to sacrifice and secure for them sustenance, equality, safety and justice in all spheres of life. Hence in Guru Nanak’s system, the ideal of sant-sipahi is spiritually and naturally a necessary culmination. It is, therefore, neither incidental nor accidental that while the first four Gurus organised, motivated and developed the Sikh society, and Guru Arjun created a state within a state, the later five Gurus maintained a regular army and wielded the sword, when necessary.3
Guru Gobind Singh appeared on the scene and he himself explained his mission and the object that he sought to achieve. This aim is similar to the slogan to the one that was explained by the founder of Sikhism (Guru Nanak) with the slogan “Na koi Hindu na Musalman (There is no Hindu, No Muslman)” and started to preach the name of Lord.
Now the tenth master openly confirmed the same object for which the lord had arranged this mission in universal order to reform the society and create a refined society of self respecting people. 4 Guru Gobind Singh’s message to mankind contains the essence of teachings of his predecessor Sikh Gurus.
Bhai Nand Lal says,
Jalweh Aaraa-e Aan Noh Mash-ale Haq Frog
V Zulmat Zadaa-e Shab-e Kazb-o Drog
– Ganjnama (104)
“His kingdom makes the manifestation of the nine torches (nine Gurus before him) brighter and removes the darkness and falsehood from this world.”
The purpose of coming to this world of Guru Gobind Singh was to defend and strive for ‘Dharm’ Guru Gobind Singh In Bachitra Natak, Guru Gobind Singh described the objective of his life, He said,
Hum Eh Kaaj Jagat mo Aye, Dharam het Gurdev Patthaye!
Dharm Chalavn Sant Ubaran, Dusht Saban Ko mool ‘uparan!”
“For this purpose was I born, let all virtuous people understand. I was born to advance righteousness, to emancipate the good, and to destroy all evil-doers root and branch.”
The aim of Khalsa was not to conquer a territory and establish a kingdom but to liberate society from the tyranny of enemies of peace and to defend ‘Dharma’ and rights of the people.5 He was a humanist and his humanism was action-oriented. He evolved a classless well-knit brotherhood of saint-soldiers. He laid a foundation of society which was unconventional in its outlook and democratic in its application.6
Guru Nanak never advocated the life of Bhakti in seclusion, unconcerned with the political conditions of the country on which the life of the common man depended. 7 The condemnation of contemporary politics and government by Guru Nanak springs from his belief in the ideal of justice, an ideal which appeared to be flagrantly violated by the holders of political power in his days. He denounced the pursuit of political power if it ran counter to the path of salvation. 8 He said, “The dark-age is the scalpel, the kings are the butchers and righteousness has taken wings and flown. In this no-moon night of false-hood, the moon of truth is not seen to rise anywhere.”9 The Guru saw his country being invaded by the Mughal ruler Babur and he was an eye-witness to the sacking of Saidpur and the wholesale massacre of the inhabitants of the city. Most of the young people were put to sword and their wives and children were made captives and the whole of the town was plundered.10
He said, “So much beating was inflicted that people shrieked. Does not Thou O God, feel compassion?”11 The cry of Guru Nanak against the injustice and tyranny at the times of Babar’s invasion was heard by God, who subsequently in due course of time ordained Guru Gobind Singh in fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission. In creating Khalsa not only the principle objectives of Guru Nanak were achieved but his teachings and tenets were also followed.12
During the time of Guru Gobind Singh, Aurangzeb was the ruler who was very fanatic. He was following policy of persecution of non-Muslims. His was the age of utmost hatred, religious intolerance, bigotry and discrimination. All this was against the principles of justice and humanity.13 Guru Gobind Singh was well aware of the existing socio-political conditions. He understood the root cause of the prevailing injustice and religious chauvinism.
A moment’s reflection reminded him that Guru Nanak had described the ferocious rulers of his times as tigers and dogs. That situation had not changed even after 200 years. The policy of non violence, submission and surrender had produced no effect upon those ferosity of cruel rulers. Appeals, protest and representations were treated as treason punishable with death. Agitation was followed by disastrous consequences. Should this situation be allowed to continue endlessly? He thought. Musketry and gunnery were the only remedies, he realized.14
In Zafarnama, He described the then prevailing political conditions and compared the rule of Aurangzeb to the ‘dark age.’ He said,
Chirag-e Jahaan Chun Shod-e Burka Posh
Mshah-e Shab Bar-aamad Hameh Jalwa Josh
– Zafarnama, 42
“When the lamp of the world (the Sun) had covered itself (had set), the king of the night (the darkness) came out with all its glory (it became pitch dark).”
Sikhism stands for fraternity, liberty, brotherhood and equality for everybody belonging to all sections of the society as all the Sikh Gurus were unrelenting crusaders against every kind of injustice, untruth and inequality. They fought for the right of the downtrodden and unprivileged classes and advocated equality for everyone.15 The ideal society is to be based on justice, elimination of exploitation, and recognition of the rights of all men irrespective of the caste, rank, and wealth.16 The character and development of the Sikh movement reveals that the first among the main social goals is to build up an egalitarian society; the others are, to use this new society as a base to wage an armed struggle against religious and political oppression. The Sikh movement deliberately built up an order outside the caste society. It was indeed the only people’s movement of Indian origin which strove to capture political power for humanistic ends and socialist objectives.17
The abolition of the caste system had been one of the cardinal principles of the Sikh religion since its birth. It is only natural that Guru Gobind Singh should insist upon the remodelling of the Sikh society on the basis of that principle. One of the important steps towards the achievement of this objective was the replacement of traditional surname (which was caste symbol) for individuals by a common appellation (Singh) which implied a uniform social status. 18
The baptism symbolized a rebirth, by which the initiated were considered as having renounced their previous occupations (Krit nas), for that of soldiering; of having severed their family ties (kul nas) to become a family of Gobind; of having rejected their earlier creeds (dharma nas) for the creed of the Khalsa; of having given up all rituals (karam nas) save that sanctioned by the Sikh faith. 19 He abolished privilege by caste, birth, station and creed, and raised the lowest in all respects to equal of the highest. He, thus, restored manhood to man, womanhood to woman and gave the concept of nationhood to the people.20
Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty. It was a revolutionary step of unique significance in Sikh history which brought about a complete change in the outlook of the lifeless, oppressed and downtrodden people, who were groaning under the yoke of the caste-system and the tyrannical rule of the Mughals.21 He said,
Maanas Ki Jaat Sabhai Ekai Pahchaanbo.
– Akal Ustat, 15 (85)
“Recognise the whole of mankind as one race.”
The Guru gave the Khalsa the social ideal of equality and close brotherhood. There was to be no distinction of birth, caste, class or colour. All were equal in social status, and had the same rights and privileges. He thus pre-empted ninety years earlier the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which formed the bedrock of French Revolution.22 The Guru’s views of democratic equality were much more advanced than the mere equality among his followers. In his system, there was no place even for the privileges of the chief or leader. No leader, he believed, could be fit to lead unless he was elected or accepted by the followers.23
The Sikh thought spurns Machiavellianism where power is the end and not the means or any means are justified in order to acquire power.24 Political power without spiritual morality promotes intrigues, back-biting, self-assertion, opportunism, compromise on principles, backing out of the promises and manifestos, injustice conflict, and wars. Values such as universal brotherhood, moral living, social responsibility, self-surrender, commitment to help the needy, respect for life and rights of others, and truth in human dealings, all to be preserved. Without spiritual values in mind, powerful interest groups fight against one another to promote their own separate agendas, without anyone to speak with credible authority for the common good.25
Guru Nanak had clearly perceived, as Thrasymachus is shown to have held in Republic of Plato, that violence may, some time, succeed on the sole ground that it is violent enough, and thus, violence may win for its practitoners all the powers and glories of this world, and Guru Nanak, therefore, :taught that although it was evil to practise violence for gaining power for its own sake, it was also evil to let violence prevail through passiveness of its victim, and Guru Nanak, therefore, enjoined that before violence becomes successful enough to clothe itself in trappings of morality, it should be resisted and defeated, destroyed or contained by all good men, by violence, if necessary.26
It is Guru Nanak who eliminated the hurdle of Ahimsa that stood in the way of a religious seeker from joining a righteous struggle against tyranny. In most of the socio-political systems, organisations or societies, the greatest instrument of injustice or oppression is many a time the political establishment. Since Guru Nanak wanted clearly to cultivate a high sense of social responsibility in his society, he very sagaciously took the far-sighted step of removing the handicap of Ahimsa from the path of religious man; and described his God to be the slayer of villains and destroyer of tyrants. It is, thus, plain that Guru Nanak clearly envisages for his society a role, if necessary, of confrontation with an unjust establishment whether social or political.27
The creator of universe intervened from time to time to reinforce good in its struggle against evil and, depending upon the gravity of the situation, the divinely appointed instruments of good were entitled to legitimate use of force against the wicked. But they who had been appointed for the task had failed to establish His unqualified worship. Therefore all previous dispensations had been superseded by the dharma instituted by Guru Nanak; it was left to Guru Gobind Singh to defend claims of that dharma by using physical force against the enemies of a divine dispensation. His Sikhs should be always prepared for such a struggle in the cause of righteousness.28
In conformity with the teachings of Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh advocated the use of sword if all other means failed to uproot the injustice, tyranny and misrule. He declared,
Chun Kar Az Hameh Heelat-e Dar Guzasht
Halal Ast Burdan B-shamshir Dast (Zafarnama, 22)
“When the entire stratagem employed for (solving) a problem are exhausted, (only) then taking your hand to the sword is legitimate).
The Zafarnama (Epistle of Victory) is the name usually given to a letter written by Guru Gobind Singh to Aurangzeb which, according to Sainapat, was sent to the emperor in Deccan through Daya Singh and Dharam Singh.29 The letter in Persian verse was composed after Guru’s withdrawal from Anandpur. After detailing infamous deeds by Mughals, it declares that God is just and that justice requires the sword to be drawn when order is threatened.30 Bhai Daya Singh and Bhai Dharm Singh were the first two among five beloved of Guru Gobind Singh who took initiative to respond to Divine call at the time of creation of Khalsa.
Guru Nanak in Japu Ji used mythical oxen as a metaphor to discuss the basis of this world. He said, “It is the world supporting Dharma which is born out of His compassion that binds together this multiplicity and vastness in harmony and contentment, the weight borne by the Bull i.e the world supporting Dharma.” To Guru Nanak, Truth, Dharma and Daya are the basic virtues which are essential to build up a just egalitarian society. In continuation of Guru Nanak’s message in Japu Ji, Guru Gobind Singh intentionally sent the Zafarnama to Aurangzeb through Bhai ‘Daya’ Singh and Bhai ‘Dharam’ Singh to instruct to the zealous, arrogant and unjust emperor of Hindustan. in a lesson of piety, compassion and truthfulness. He said,
Tu Ba Jabr Ajiz Kharaashi Makun
Kasam Ra B-teesheh Taraashi Makun
– Zafarnama, 109
“Aurangzeb! Stop torturing the weak and the timid with your military might. Do not oppress these hapless people on (false) oaths.”
Guru Nanak taught an ideal state craft to Babur, founder of Mughal rule in India. He told him what should be done by him in the interest of masses and what should not be done by him. He categorically laid down the code of conduct for ruler. The Guru said, ‘Deliver just judgements, revere the holy, foreswear wine and gambling. The monarch who indulges in these vices shall, if he survives, bewail his misdeeds. Be merciful to the vanquished, and worship God in spirit and in truth.’31 In Zafarnama, Guru Gobind Singh tried to remind the Aurangzeb the teachings of Guru Nanak to Babur.
Guru Nanak was the harbinger of justice and equality in the medieval Indian society. Justice is a central theme of Guru Nanak’s Divine hymns. He said, “For the king, cleansing is justice.”32 Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Nanak did not give only the message of liberty, equality and justice but also defending the people from unjust rulers of his times. He fought against unjust rule of Aurangzeb and petty hill chiefs.
Ke Ajab Ast Insaaf-o Deen Parvari
Ke Heif Ast Sad Heif Een Sarvari
– Zafarnama, 67
That strange is your justice and strange are the ways you practise your religion and your lordship. What a pity! It is pitiable a hundreds of times.
Guru Nanak, in His Divine hymns, used the religious symbols of Semitic religious tradition. He wanted that Muslims should be true Muslim. He said, “Make mercy thy mosque, faith thy prayer-mat what is just and lawful, thy Quran, modesty thy circumcision and civility thy fast. So shalt thou be a Moslem. Make right conduct thy Mecca, truth thy spiritual guide and pious deeds thy creed and prayer. Rosary is that, what is pleasing to Him. Thus the Lord shall preserve thy honour, O’ Nanak.”33 Guru Gobind Singh raised objection over Aurangzeb’s self-styled misinterpretation of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. He said,
Na Eeman Prasti Na Auzaa-e Deen
Na Sahib Shanaasi Mohammed Yakeen
– Zafarnama, 46
“You neither follow the teachings of Islam nor do you understand its meaning. You do not know the ways of the Lord nor do you have any faith in Prophet Mohammed.”
Khalsa Panth is an epoch making event in the history of mankind. It reflects far reaching depth of the incredible vision of Guru Gobind Singh. He carried out the mission of Guru Nanak in true letter and spirit. Guru Gobind Singh made Anandpur Sahib, a centre of all his activities. The Divine journey started by Guru Nanak from Sultanpur, found culmination in Anandpur in the times of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Nanak. Guru Nanak’s Panth became a Khalsa and His God oriented man (Gursikh) transformed in to saint-soldier, true defender practising righteousness. Khalsa turned out to be the vanguard of human rights, equality, liberty and justice. In fact, Khalsa is the essence of Guru Nanak’s faith.
1. Surjit Singh Gandhi. History of Sikh Gurus Retold. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2009.p. 809.
2. Daljeet Singh. Essentials Of Sikhism. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2004.p. 104.
3. Kharak Singh. “Saint-Soldiers.” Sikhism and Its Philosophy and History. Ed. Daljeet Singh and Kharak Singh. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies, 1997.p.177.
4. Gurdev Singh Hansrao. Ideology of Sikh Gurus. Ropar: Hansrao Publishers, 1990.p. 87.
5. Gurdeep Kaur. Political Ideas of Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1990.pp. 50-51.
6. Sudarshan Singh. Sikh Religion Democratic Ideals and Institutions. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2009.p. 155.
7. Gurdev Singh Hansrao. Op.cit, p. 66.
8. J. S. Grewal. Miscellenious Articles. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 1974.p.149.
9. Guru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p.145.
10. Bhagat Singh. “Guru Nanak’s Admonition to contemporary Rulers.” Studies in Sikhism and Comparative Religions Vol. 18.No. 2 (1999).p. 120.
11. Guru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p. 360.
12. Kirpal Singh. “Khalsa: The Fulfillment of Guru Nanak’s Mission.” Khalsa and The Twenty First Century. Ed. Kharak Singh. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies, 1999.p. 30.
13. Kanwarjit Singh. Political Philosophy of The Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers And Distributors, 1989.p. 9
14. Hari Ram Gupta. History of Sikhs. Vol. I. New Delhi: Munshiram Manohar Lal Pvt. Ltd., 2008.p. 257.
15. Jasbir Singh Sabar. “Equality: A Sikh Perspective.” Journal of Sikh Studies Vol. 24.No. 2 (2000). p.124.
16. A. C. Banerjee. The Sikh Gurus And The Sikh Religion. Delhi: Munshiram Manohar Lal Pvt. Ltd., 1983. p. 123.
17. C. Rajeshwari. “Sikhism’s Attitude to Caste System.” Sikh Review Vol. 43:6.No. 498 (1995).p. 21.
18. A. C. Banerjee. Op.cit, p. 312.
19. Khushwant Singh. A History of The Sikhs. Vol. I. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.p. 81.
20. Gurdeep Kaur. Political Ethics of Guru Granth Sahib. New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 2000. p. 72.
21. Sudarshan Singh. Op. cit, p. 138.
22. Har Ram Gupta. Op. cit., p. 282.
23. G. C. Narang. Glorious History of Sikhism. New Delhi: New Book Society of India, 1972. p. 109.
24. Gurdip Kaur. Op. cit, p. 178.
25. Harbans Lal. “Politics and Religion in View of Miri-Piri Principle.” Khalsa and the 21st Century. Ed. Kharak Singh. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies, 2006.p.167.
26. Kapur Singh, Sikhism for Modern Man. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 2006. pp. 67-68.
27. Daljeet Singh. “Sikhism: A Miri Piri System.” Recent Researches in Sikhism. Ed. Jasbir Singh Mann and Kharak Singh. Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 2002. p. 48.
28. J. S. Grewal. The Sikhs Ideology, Institutions and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 95
29. A. C. Banerjee. Op. cit, p. 330.
30. W. H. McLeod. Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. London: The Sacrecrow Press Inc, 1995.p. 219.
31. Max Arthur Macauliffe. The Sikh Religion. Vol. 1. Amritsar: Satvic Publisers, 2009.p. 121.
32. Guru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p. 1240.
33. Ibid, M: 1, p. 140.