Guru Gobind Singh’s Concept of Alternative Community
Dr J Jayan
Guru Gobind Singh’s philosophy creates the dynamic spirit in the Sikh community. He changes the existing social norms on the basis of moral values and he empowers the people through the political ideology by which the meaning of collective life is revealed. The Guru does not recommend the life of a hermit. Through the formation of Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh evolves an alternative community on the basis of social equality, economic justice and respect for dignity of labour.
Guru has the view that the organized ruling class denies the demands and needs of the so-called lower class. The elite communities are organized on the basis of power, wealth and ideology. Again, due to the foreign invasions, the houses of the ordinary people were frequently looted. “They were not allowed to keep gold, silver and money in their homes; they could not ride horses. In the western India they could not wear turbans even. They did not wear silken and other good clothes.”1 It is in this circumstance that Guru Gobind Singh addressed the people, gathered on the Baisakhi congregation of 1699, about the need of an alternative community. He proclaimed that “All the four castes Hindus for each of whom the Ved-shastras have laid down different rules, should abandon those altogether. Follow one path and adopt one form of adoration (of God). They should consider one another as equals, and no one should think himself preferable to another. They should leave aside all those rites and customs, and be progressive in their pursuits.… None of the Hindu deities, such as Rama, Krishna, Brahma and Devi etc, are to be adored.… Men of all the four castes should eat out of the same vessel and reform one another…”2
After the creation of Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh is said to have declared, “Without political power, Dharma cannot be practised, and without Dharma, the society would be an admixture of scum. Nobody will offer you sovereignty. It will have to be obtained with the force of arms.”3 Guru Gobind Singh realizes that, the weak and the oppressed are the easy victims of the powerful people. Therefore, he equipped the downtrodden to face the persistent threat from the powerful.
“A man not free to bear arms in self-defence, and
One unable to proclaim his free sovereign status with unshorn hair,
Is like a miserable sheep,
Inviting all and sundry to catch it by the ears and
Lead it to the nearest slaughter-house.”4
Gulam-Moh-ul-uddin, a Persian historian, reports about the initiation of Khalsa and refers to the Guru’s injunction: All of you think alike, forget religious differences, shun caste based rituals, worship alike, join common brotherhood, do not consider anyone inferior to you, eat from the same dish, and shun mutual animosity.”5
Through the formation of Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh established an alternative society which is free from Hindu and Muslim pattern of social order. Guru Gobind Singh decided to withdraw power from the Mughals and to confer it on the Sikhs. He empowered the Sikhs to enjoy full sovereignty in the society. The term ‘Khalsa’ is an Arabic word. There are various interpretations of the term Khalsa. One of the general meanings of this term is free from impurities or pure. According to Nirbhai Singh the term ‘Khalsa’ was prevalent in the Mughal revenue records. “It was the confiscated land from the local princes who became rebels and refused to pay revenue to the emperor.”6 Kapur Singh observes, “Khalsa is a Perso-Turkish administrative term, which means, ‘royal’ not subordinate to any one; answerable to no subordinate; sovereign directly administered by the sovereign.”7 Therefore, by using this term, Guru Gobind Singh gives special identity to the followers of the Sikh Gurus, an identity, which distinguished them from the Hindu and Muslim socio-political system. It also refers that Sikh community is not lower to Hindus or to Muslims or to the prevailing political norms.
Apart from other religious institutions, Khalsa focuses on socio-political and religious aspects of the Sikh community. Khalsa tries to change the then prevailing social hierarchy and inequality and also the political uncertainty in the community. The Guru realized that unless the problem of casteism is eliminated, there cannot be any major change in the life-style of common person, because social inequality and class hierarchy deeply influences the day to day functioning of the society.
Again, Guru Gobind Singh deconstructs this business-oriented myth created by the crafty priests. To eradicate the priesthood in Indian tradition, Sikh Gurus allow every individual in the community to read the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib. Thus the people are protected from any interference of priesthood in the Khalsa or Sikhism. By the time of Guru Gobind Singh, the Masands became corrupt and degenerate; their actions and position became almost identical to the Hindu religious priests. The Masands collected money from the individuals to perform Pujas and rituals on their behalf. “Sainapat, Guru Gobind Singh’s court poet who had spent a number of years with Guru Gobind Singh presented the aim of the creation of the Khalsa as to annihilate the wicked and the sinful and to remove all adversity…By it, Guru Gobind Singh established a direct link with his disciples, putting an end there by to the undesirable agency of the Masands.”8
In Sikhism, the idea of God is conceived by the Gurus from the moments of socio-political reality. The idea of God is related to the highest as well as the lowest member of the society. The Sikh Gurus consider God as the emancipator of the suppressed. The same idea is inculcated in the ideals of Khalsa. The libertine aspect of the idea of God is explained with the terms like protector and the sword. In one place Guru Gobind Singh says, “I bow to the scimitar, the two edged sword, the falchion and the dagger. I bow to the holder of the mace. I bow to the arrow and the musket. I bow to the sword, spotless, fearless, and unbreakable; I bow to the powerful mace and lance.”9 The Guru gives self-confidence to make individuals feel like warrior and king. Again, Guru Granth Sahib says, “From rusted iron I have been transformed into gold by uniting in the union.”10 This shows the transformation of the peasants (they use only iron instrument) into rulers (users of gold objects). According to Guru Gobind Singh, the person who believes in Khalsa must be of religious faith, meek and must be in possession of weapons to maintain one’s own sovereignty and integrity.
Guru Gobind Singh fights against tyranny and oppression and uses force as the last resort. In the “Zafar Namah or Fateh Nama – 22, he says, forced by the circumstances, I came forward and planned the use of arrow and gun. When all other means have failed, it is lawful to have a last resort to the sword.”11
It is in this context; Guru explains the ideals of Khalsa from metaphysical and social milieu and explains the nature of individual as a saint-soldier who is ready to sacrifice his/her life at the altar of truth. This shows the need for using weapons and also the idea of a brave soldier who is committed to the realization of social justice. Guru Gobind Singh, in another instance, says that sword was the first creation of the Creator. Guru Gobind Singh also affirms that he got the power to defend the army of enemies due to God. “God empowered us and we contained the battle.”12 Guru Gobind Singh creates the awareness of freedom and bravery among the oppressed and the suppressed classes. He raises an army to defend the Sikh community. Thousands of warriors give their lives for the sake of Sikh community. It is also possible to see that the Guru gives equal importance to activities which lead to mental and physical fitness. “Guru Gobind Singh kept the Sikhs busy in hunting, riding and village sports. But it was all on a limited scale, as Guru Gobind Singh did not have full leisure due to the enmity of hill Rajputs on the one hand and that of Turks and Mughals on the other hand.”13 Guru Gobind Singh believes that it is necessary for the oppressed people to gain confidence, intentionally and consciously, through the self imposed rules of service, discipline, hard work and sacrifice.
The roots of Khalsa can be seen from Guru Nanak himself. He developed a community which was based on hard working, free from begging and a society fully committed to serve the poor and needy. The notion of superiority based on caste, family, power and self, stands out rightly rejected. Similarly, occupational taboos, superstitions, rituals and concept of previous births were also rejected.
As an alternative society, Khalsa stresses the need of ethical norms. The superstitious belief, rituals, idol worship and tomb worship are criticized and declared futile for spiritual progression. The use of intoxicants like tobacco and evils like gambling and theft are condemned in the severest terms. In the Sikh institutions the “Use of tobacco in any shape is prohibited. Gambling, especially the play of caupar (a kind of chess) and visiting prostitutes, from Hindus and Muslims. The Sikhs maintained the highest standard of moral conduct in the combat zone also. “According to Qazi Nuruddin the author of Fatuhat-Nama-i-Samadi, the Sikhs are wicked, haughty, and ungrateful but if a woman falls into their hands they look upon her as their mother.” “The Khalsa derived their strength from the forbearance of sensual pleasures,” says Forster.14
Generally, the group of five maintains the internal administration. Even the Guru was also considered one among them. After the formation of Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh said, “The Khalsa is the Guru and the Guru is the Khalsa. There is no difference between you and me.”15 The Khalsa believes in the democratic principles, which provide equality and justice in the functioning of the organization. At the time of the creation of Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh selected five members (Panj Pyaras) who founded the nucleus of the Khalsa. Complete equality was practised in the Khalsa. The Panj Piaras were drawn from different castes. It is said that, it represents a form of self-government provided by ancient sages as Panchayat or a council of five. Panchon Men Parmeshwar which means, God is present in the council of the chosen five, was the famous saying in those days.16
In this sense, Khalsa resembles the village administration of the medieval age. Khalsa promises dignified status, complete social equality and spiritual elevation to all irrespective of caste and birth. Khalsa gives respect to the rights of the individual, for example that of equality, which is contrary to the social norms of Vedic Brahmins. Vedic Brahmins develop the concept of Varna Dharma and justice (Dharma) on the basis of social hierarchy and punishment (Danda). According to Hindu mythology the so-called lower class revolted against the higher class. “The Devatas in turn approached Brahma to create a powerful person to save the Devatas and maintain order. Thus Brahma created a ruler who ruled with the help of Danda. Though this is a ‘Divine Right’ explanation, it also suggests that God created the state to protect the ruling class- the Devatas, and also justifies any amount of force used against the mass or Rakshasas by the rulers or Devatas.”17 It is clear that Rakshasas are none other than the so-called lower class people and the Devatas are the higher class.
In Khalsa there is no monarchical head, no authoritarian chain of command and responsibility, and because a recognized procedure existed, for decision making by the whole community corporately. Certainly every member of the Khalsa has equal rights to take any decision concerning the future of the community.
In general, Khalsa creates an alternative community based on the principles of mutual help, co-operation, tolerance and collective wellbeing. Through this, Guru unites the scattered society and creates a complete independent courageous alternative community.
1 Diwan Singh, The Revolution of Guru Nanak, peoples publishing house, Chandigarh, p15
2 Madanjit Kaur, Ed., Guru Gobind Singh and Creation of Khalsa pp.56-57
3 Kharak Singh, Ed., Khalsa in the Twenty First Century, p.199.
4 Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna, p.42.
5 Gurnam Kaur, Khalsa: A Thematic Perspective, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, P.88
6 Nirbhai Singh, Sikh Dynamic Vision, p.346.
7 Kapur singh, Parasaraprasna, p.60.
8 Madanjit Kaur, Ed.,Guru Gobind Singh and Creation of Khalsa, p.63.
9 Max Arthur Macauliffe, Tr., The Sikh Religion, p.286.
10 Gurbachan Singh Talib, Tr., Sri Guru Granth Sahib, (1990), p.638.
11 Madanjit Kaur, Ed., Guru Gobind Singh and Creation of Khalsa p.99.
12 Gurbhagat Singh, Sikhism and Postmodern Thought, p.183.
13 Diwan Singh, The Revolution of Guru Nanak, peoples publishing house, Chandigarh, p.45
14 Diwan Singh, The Revolution of Guru Nanak, peoples publishing house, Chandigarh, P.45
15 Daljeet Singh, Ed., Sikhism: Its Philosophy and History, Op. cit., p.397.
16 Daljeet Singh and Kharak Singh, Ed., Sikhism: Its Philosophy and History, p.397.
17 Kancha Ilaiah, God as a Political Philosopher, p.84.