Keeping the Faith Alive
Quite often, movements, organizations and institutions especially of religious nature, are born out of the momentous turns in their religious and cultural history. Sometime, so momentous is the configuration of events and so momentous is the pressure of the time that a new dispensation takes birth to put forth a vigorous challenge to the existing, very often, decadent order. Such, for instance, have been the emergence of Protestant church in Christianity in Europe in the Renaissance period, birth of reformist movements like the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj in Hinduism and Singh Sabha Movement in Sikhism and Khilafat Movement in Islam in Asia, all in the early decades of twentieth century. All these moments ushered in an era of enlightenment and awakening among the people in their respective fields. Their leading lights were men of enlightened sensibility, sensitive disposition, wide awake and alive towards the urgent need to reform as well as to meet the challenge of the times. Likewise, some of the institutions such as the Anglo-Vedic educational institutions, Khalsa College, Amritsar and Aligarh Muslim University and Benaras Hindu University were all products of this enlightenment in order to resist both the onslaught of Christian missionaries as well as to preserve the essential character and identity of their own religious denominations.
In Sikhism, another challenge of much higher systemic theological, philosophical, academic and doctrinal nature emerged in the 1980s which could be countred not by politico-religious leaders by organizing mass movements but by a select group of brilliant scholars, well-versed in Sikh tenets and enlightened, clear minded, competent and committed to the essential postulates of Sikhism and its spiritual, theological, philosophical concepts as enshrined in the sacred Sikh scripture and classical canonical texts. They were also aware of the modes of expression of these basic concepts which came to be formulated through the centuries-old amalgation of oral, discursive as well as written genealogical tradition in Sikh religion. Since this new challenge came from some of the Western Missionaries - turned - academician scholars supported by Western Christian vested interests and unfortunately sad, their Indian Sikh collaborators lodged in Sikh chairs in some of the American Universities funded by a few affluent Sikh individuals, and since this challenge was of more sinister, deeper fundamental and doctrinal nature, it needed to be mapped, engaged countered, and rebutted at an academic and pedagogic level. This onerous task fell on the shoulders and minds of a few enlightened and genuine Sikh scholars having an absolutely clear perception of Sikh theology, philosophy and history. It was a call of duty and a call of the conscience which could neither be ignored nor denied nor escaped by those who were endowed with such a sensitive sensibility. Onus being Theirs alone, they accepted the challenge and rose to combat it.
Initially, they began as lonely crusaders but eventually were joined by some others and soon it became a caravan. They wrote books and articles, organized seminars in India and abroad on the nature of the Divine sanction behind the birth of Sikhism as a revealed religion, its spiritual, theological and ideological formulations and offered rebuttals to the distorted assertions put forth by the new crop of western scholars who employed empirical tools of history to study Sikhism which essentially belongs to the realm of religion, faith and intuitive cognition. Such was the burden on their conscience and such was the peer pressure, though from the rival camp, that a small body of a few Sikh ideologues emerged as an enlightened Sikh think tank and an alert watchdog of genuine Sikh interests in the form of Institute of Sikh Studies in 1989 at Chandigarh. Among its leading lights were Sardar Daljeet Singh, Sardar Jagjit Singh and Dr Kharak Singh who were subsequently joined by some other similar-spirited individuals. They not only combated this new-fangled challenge but also tried to keep the discourse on Sikh studies on the right track and in the right perspective. Now a few similar Sikh institutes and organizations like the Sikh Research Institute and Sikh Coalition have emerged in USA as well and are spreading and propagating the correct version of the Sikh gospel and Sikh ideology in the predominant Christian world. Before summarizing the contribution of Institute of Sikh Studies on the occasion of its Silver Jubilee anniversary, it would be appropriate to profile the contribution of its founding members briefly in order to illustrate and corroborate their enormous role. We are presenting a sample of three representative articles by the three pioneers of the Institute of Sikh Studies to provide a glimpse into the clarity of vision of these scholars about Sikhism and its fundamentals along with two perceptive articles by S. Kapur Singh and Dr Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon. Before enumerating the projects undertaken by Institute of Sikh Studies during its life span of twenty five years, we wish to acquaint our readers with a brief profile of life and contribution of our founder members both to commemorate the memory of those who have departed and to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to the founding fathers.
Despite performing the duties of an extremely demanding job of a senior government servant, Sardar Daljeet Singh was, perhaps, the first Sikh scholar to see through the real design behind the writings of Christian missionary scholars like Ernest Trumpp and Dr. W.H. McLeod and present a correct perspective on Sikh Gurus, Sikh religious mystical, revelatory foundation, theology, philosophy, ideology and role of Sikhism through his well-researched, well-documented books and publications. Sardar Daljeet Singh's efforts were supplemented by the writings of Sardar Jagjit Singh, another eminent Sikh scholar and crusader of similar caliber. While Sardar Daljeet Singh is recognized as an ideologue and a theologian, Sardar Jagjit Singh's contribution belongs to the realm of historical evolution of Sikh religion. His land mark work repudiated McLeod's flawed thesis of Jat predominance in Sikh evolution and presented a holistic version of evolution of Sikh society as visualized by the Sikh Gurus and as demonstrated by all the sections of Sikh society throughout its five-centuries history. He was a 'Saint soldier-scholar" all rolled into one in the words of Dr Kharak Singh. With the passing away of these two giants by the end of twentieth century, the onerous task of keeping alive their legacy and holding aloft the torch of Sikh scholarship and meeting the challenge put forth by the misinformed Christian western scholars fell on the shoulders of Dr Kharak Singh. He not only presented a reasoned and text based documentary evidence of basic Sikh theological concepts through his own and other genuine Sikh scholars' articles in the Institute's quarterly Journal Abstracts of Sikh Studies (AOSS) but also organized a series of Seminars in Major cities of USA and Canada and India with the help of some other Sikh scholars.
He exposed the blasphemous acts of misrepresentation projected by the Batala based Christian missionary scholars led by Dr W.H. McLeod against the authenticity of the text of both Kartarpuri and existing standard text of the Adi Granth and the illegimate claims of some of McLeod's progeny like Pashaura Singh, Gurinder Singh Mann in proclaiming MS 1245 and Mohan Pothis as primary sources of Adi Granth. He, with the assistance of Dr Balwant Singh Dhillon (GNDU), Dr Neol King, Jasbir Singh Mann, Dr Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon and Sardar Gurtej Singh and other Sikh scholars proved that these two texts were not only written after the final compilation of the Adi Granth in (1604) but were also a spurious look-alike literature prepared and popularised by the splinter Sikh sect - the Meenas. In addition to combating this formidable challenge to the fundamental authenticity of Sikh canonical literature, he was instrumental in building the profile and image of the Institute of Sikh Studies as a credible spokesman of enlightened intellectual Sikh opinion to whom the entire Sikh community all over the globe looked forward for guidance. It was this truimverate, this trinity (DJK) which laid the foundation of IOSS. They were assisted by a dedicated team of a few other members in this task of institutional building. Sardar Gurdev Singh put forth a strong defence for Punjab State's claim to its river waters after the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966 through his publication of a highly appreciated book "Scramble for Punjab Waters", which led to the unanimous passage of termination of Agreement Acts, 2004 in the Punjab legislature neutralizing all the existing agreements made under duress and rendering the arbitrarily dug controversial Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal ineffective. Sardar Inderjit Singh Jaijee has been waging a relentless battle against the human right violations by the Indian State through his Movement Against State Repression (MARS) since 1993, through his documentation of repression on Sikhs and Sikh victims of 1984 through his book, Politics of Genocide. He has also been rendering a valuable financial and economic assistance for rehabilitation of children and widows, the victims rendered homeless and destitute by the 1984 genocide and continuously occurring farmers suicides now in the state of Punjab as well as raising Institute of Sikh Studies' concern against more than legally-stipulated imprisonments of Sikh detainees following the tragic incidents of 1984.
Whereas Bhai Ashok Singh Bagrian's family has been a legatee of the sacred relics of Sikh Gurus especially conferred by Sri Guru Hargobind on his devout ancestors in recognisation of their dedicated services, he has been providing valuable inputs regarding fundamental Sikh principles to the leading Sikh institutions including Chief Khalsa Diwan and SGPC which honoured him with the honorific title of Bhai Sahib Bagrian in 1995. Quite often, he has been made a spokesman for putting forth Institute of Sikh Studies' viewpoint on the burning Sikh issues. Bibi Baljit Kaur, besides serving the Institute as its President for two terms, has been instrumental in actively participation the Human Rights movement and getting the Banda Singh Bahadur Memorial established at the historic battle site at Chhappar Chiri by the Punjab Government. Late Dr Kuldip Singh, Gen Gurbakhsh Singh, Major Gen Mohinder Singh, Dr Sukhjit Kaur, Bibi Surinder Kaur, S Harpal Singh and Dr Gurdarshan Singh have been among the other pioneers who have contributed immensely in laying the foundations of the Institute. Dr Kirpal Singh, though not one of the founders nevertheless a member for a long time has been contributing immensely to the academic profile of the Institute. With a record number of publications on Sikh and Punjab history to his credit, he is the editor of Institute's five-Volumes "History of the Sikhs and Their Religion" sponsored by SGPC of which two volumes have already been published. For his editing of the monumental-volume Punjabi translation of "Suraj Pratap Granth" has been conferred with the honour of National Professor of Sikhism by SGPC.
On the eve of Institute of Sikh Studies' silver Jubilee, it acknowledges the services of these pioneers and pays them a debt of gratitude for their contribution.
While it is an appropriate occasion to make an objective and critical stock-taking of the Institutes' achievements during its life span of twenty five years, it is also a moment to set forth its agenda for its future activities. It must take pride in making a land mark contribution in the publications of quality literature and a correct Sikh perspective in the diverse fields of Sikh studies and Sikh history and bringing out a reliable English translation of four classical texts which are included among the canonical texts and primary sources of Sikhism. Suffice it to mention: Sikhism: Its Philosopy and History edited by Sardar Daljeet Singh and Dr Kharak Singh, SGPC sponsored first two volumes of a five volume History of the Sikhs and their Religion, edited by Dr Kirpal Singh and Dr Kharak Singh, Parchian Sewa Das translated and annotated by Dr Kharak Singh and S. Gurtej Singh, Rattan Singh Bhangoo's Sri Gur Panth Parkash in two volumes and Sainapati's Sri Gursobha (1711) translated by Prof Kulwant Singh among its main publications a book on Dr Kharak Singh by Jaswant Rai. Institute has been actively involved in the finetuning and getting the unique distinctively Sikh Nanakshahi Calendar meticulously drawn by Sardar Pal Singh Purewal implemented by SGPC and Sri Akal Takht for the entire Sikh Panth all over the world in 2003 (its latest mutilation notwithstanding), getting the draft of All India Sikh Gurdwara Management Bill prepared and finalized, drawing up the Constitution of International Sikh Confederation and making a framework for preparing a standard English vesion of the sacred Sikh scripture. Similarly, a legal battle, though protacted, is being spearheaded under the leadership of its President for getting Article 25 of the Indian Constitution amended and granting recoginistion to Sikhism as distinct religion different from Hinduism of which it has been unjustly made a part. All those projects though academic in nature and though largely unnoticed by the Sikh masses nevertheless hold a great potential for shaping the destiny of Sikhism and the Sikhs at the national, international and civilization level in the near future. The Institute must feel satisfied and can legitimately take pride in building a reliable database for future renaissance in Sikhism. As more and more Sikhs become educated and enlightened and as the net-savy younger Sikh generation participates, discusses and debates these philosophical issues through their interactions on the social media, Institute's meticulously prepared database and crystalised views are likely to find acceptance and overwhelming support. The Institute must not lower its guard and continue to strive to keep the discourse in Sikh studies on the right track. It must also supplement its financial and infrastructural inadequacies. It must endeavour to build a corpus by soliciting endowments, sponsorships and volumatry donations in order to engage the services of bright scholars for realizing its aims and objectives as enshrined in its constitution. Institute has the credibility and stamp of genuine Sikh scholarship which must be utilized to consolidate its position in Sikh Studies and modern era religio-civilizational discourse.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All