News & Views




  I S C

  Research Projects

  About Us


Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




Sikh Academics - An Overview

Prabhjot Kaur

The word ‘Academic’ comes from the word ‘academy’, which has been defined in Encyclopedia Britannica like this: “An academy is a society of learned individuals, organized to advance art, science, literature, music and some other cultural or intellectual areas of endeavor.” While trying to understand Gurbani, it becomes evident that though spiritual and moral development of man is the main concern in the compositions of Guru Granth Sahib, the intellectual, academic and aesthetic aspects of a man’s personality have not been overlooked. While talking about social, political, economic and spiritual dimensions of man, the principal aspects of academics like music, science and literature too find adequate space in Gurbani.

That a ‘Granth’- the written word- the sabad- has been accorded the status of Guru in Sikh philosophy and tradition, goes on to prove that academics form a core feature of Sikh thought. No doubt some other schools of thought too, recognize the importance of the ‘word’-[And God said ‘let there be light and there was light’], but in Sikhism the ‘word’ or the ‘sabad’ is at the core of Sikh thought. Apart from rababi Mardana, who sang the compositions of the Guru in accompaniment of rabab, the only other companion of Guru Nanak during his travels was a ‘kitab’-a book. ‘ਆਸਾ ਹਥਿ ਕਿਤਾਬ ਕਛਿ’, says Bhai Gurdas, thereby conveying that wherever he went during the course of his journeys, the Guru would always carry with him a stick, a staff in his hand and a book in his armpit. A rabab and a book (a musical instrument and a book- rabab stands for music - the food for the soul; and a book stands for the food for mind) were his constant companions, signifying the importance he gave to the academic development of man, of which emotional and intellectual development forms is an important part. The soulful cry of his compositions in Guru Granth Sahib could find expression only in music, in specific ragas- musical measures. Sikhs are conscious of this rich heritage and vigorous efforts are being made to revive the tradition of singing Gurbani in the specified musical measures. However, this paper mainly concerns itself with the importance of written literature in Sikh tradition.

‘ਪਰਚਾ ਸਬਦ ਕਾ’ is one of the fundamental concepts in Sikh thought. The word prcw comes from the word ਪਰਚਾ which means ‘to be introduced’. Thus ਪਰਚਾ ਸਬਦ ਕਾ’ means ‘to be introduced to the sabad or to contemplate on the sabad. To regularly contemplate on the sabad is one of the fundamental duties of a Sikh.

In Sikhism, the sabad-the Gyan- the knowledge, the ultimate and True Knowledge and the spiritual wisdom is the Guru, and not the physical body of the person imparting that knowledge. The Sikh principle of ਦਸ ਗੁਰੁ ਇਕ ਜੋਤ, (the same spirit abides the ten Gurus)too means that all the ten Gurus had the sabad - one principle, one spirit i.e.; the spirit of the sabad- as the basis of their teachings. Even during the life time of the Gurus, it was the sabad that had a place of prominence more than the physical self of the Guru. Guru Nanak himself declared the sabad to be his Guru. When asked by the Siddhas who his Guru was, Guru Nanak replied that the sabad was his Guru. The Guru says that the unfathomable and profound word is his Guru and that without the Sabad, the world will lose all balance; it will go insane:
ਸਬਦੁ ਗੁਰ ਪੀਰਾ ਗਹਿਰ ਗੰਭੀਰਾ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਬਦੈ ਜਗੁ ਬਉਰਾਨੰ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 634     

Sikh history stands witness to the fact that after the installation of the Adi Granth in Sri Harmandar Sahib, the fifth Guru himself would sit at a level lower than Guru Granth Sahib, thus according his own physical body a status lower than the status of Guru Granth Sahib, the written word of which he himself was one of the composers. The author of Gurbilas Patshahi 6, states that at the time of his demise, the 10th Guru was asked by the Sikhs as to who they should talk to when they had a longing to meet the Guru in person. The Guru is known to have said that if they had a deep yearning to talk to the Guru, they should read Guru Granth Sahib with full devotion and concentration:
ਬਾਤ ਕਰਨ ਗੁਰ ਸੋ ਚਹੈ ਪੜੈ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਮਨ ਲਾਇ॥

By according a literary composition, the status of the Guru, the Sikh Gurus set upon to create a society of the people who had literary and academic interests and as such possessed a highly awakened intellect. Sikhs pray for a sublime intellect in their collective prayer at the end of every congregation- ਸਿਖਾਂ ਦਾ ਮਨ ਨੀਵਾਂ ਮਤ ਉਚੀ- Let the Sikhs possess humility of mind even while having a sharp intellect of the highest order.

Apart from compiling his own and his predecessors’ compositions, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, an editor par excellence, decided to include the compositions of the enlightened ones of all the faiths too, thus giving recognition to the merit rather than the sect of the composer. Even the compositions of some of his own disciples found a place in the revered Granth, which later was to be formally installed as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs. The poetry of Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal, the two highly revered Sikhs who were contemporaries of the Gurus, though not included in Guru Granth Sahib, is traditionally recited in all Sikh congregations. This speaks of the highly esteemed status given to these compositions and is indicative of high academic standards of the Sikhs at that time.

When Guru Nanak appeared on the scene, he keenly observed the state of affairs of the time and felt sad to notice whatever was happening around. He observed that the scenario was that of tyranny and injustice, of chaos and confusion. Social and political inequalities were blatant. The poor and the weak were groaning under the weight of the injustice being heaped upon them.

The Guru analyzed the whole situation to find out the root cause behind the problem. He came to the conclusion that the whole population was suffering and burning in the fire of tyranny, because the common man in his ignorance had accepted to live under the tyrannous rule and that there was no real religious leader, no real guru to guide him through the difficult situation, where he could learn to live a life of dignity. He was aware that without the guidance of a true teacher, it was not possible to get rid of the prevailing ignorance. So he decided to fill the gap himself so as to create a society of the enlightened and awakened people who could bail the whole population out of the tyranny of the unjust rulers. For this, the people had to be intelligent enough to analyze the situation and to find out the ways and means to get out of the wretched state they were in. To achieve his aim of guiding the common man to the True path, the Guru undertook four arduous journeys around the world, telling the people the way to live life. Bhai Gurdas sums up the whole situation in the following lines:
ਬਾਬਾ ਦੇਖੈ ਧਿਆਨ ਧਰ ਜਲਤੀ ਸਭ ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮੀ ਦਿਸ ਆਈ।
ਬਾਝੁਹ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੁਬਾਰ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਕਰਦੀ ਸੁਣੀ ਲੁਕਾਈ।
ਬਾਬੇ ਭੇਖ ਬਣਾਇਆ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਦੀ ਰੀਤ ਚਲਾਈ।
ਚੜਿਆ ਸੋਧਣ ਧਰਤ ਲੁਕਾਈ।
– Bhai Gurdas, Var 1, Pauri 24

Guru Nanak undertook the tours with the mission of rooting out the ignorance and superstition so that the common man, being intelligent and aware could become the master of his own destiny. Quality education of the masses was the only answer to the problem. So the Guru set about his mission of educating the masses.

 Guru Nanak was of the firm view that only the mother tongue could be the medium of instruction, if a man was to develop himself to the highest level. Since in those days, there was no text available in the mother tongue of the masses, Guru Nanak decided to create one himself. So the first thing he took up in hand was the composition of a religious text, the only source of knowledge in those days, in the vernacular, so as to make all knowledge available to the masses.  He composed Gurbani in the mother tongue of the people to whom he addressed. His own compositions, the compositions of his successors along with the compositions of other great men collected by him during his journeys were to be compiled in one volume. The task was accomplished by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, exceedingly well. Thus Guru Granth Sahib, authored by the best of the minds of the time, became a highly informative source of learning in every branch of knowledge. The intensity of feeling with which it was composed makes it not only a food for intellect and thought, but also nourishment for the starved soul of man. The musical measures (ragas) were the vehicle of innermost feelings of the Gurus for the Supreme.

The second Nanak (Guru Angad) carried on the work started by the first Guru, when he settled at Khadoor Sahib. He made it a point to regularly take classes of young children, boys and girls, every day after the morning congregation. Dr. Littner says that Guru Angad prepared the preliminary text books for small children and also rearranged the Gurmukhi alphabet organizing and serializing it in a scientific way.

The third Guru, Guru Amardas, divided the whole area under his influence into a number of zones and put these under the charge of capable teachers who spread the light of knowledge far and wide. By the time of the tenth Nanak, the light of knowledge imparted by the Gurus through these teachers had spread in all the four corners of the country. The fact that four of the five beloveds who had surrendered themselves to the Guru by offering their heads on his asking, on Vaisakhi day of 1699, came from far off places like Maharashtra, Nanded, Hastinapur and Dwarka; proves that the light of knowledge had reached every nook and corner of the country, with the efforts of the Gurus who often undertook tours of distant places with this mission in mind.

The practice of starting informal schools attached to dharamsalas had started right from the time of Guru Nanak. According to Dr. Littner, this practice continued till the early decades of twentieth century when the formal educational institutions under the British education system started being opened.

The efforts put in by the Gurus bore fruit and slowly and gradually a kind of wave for the spread of education started, which produced some very enlightened individuals. Principal Teja Singh records, “Guru Nanak Sahib was the pioneer of the new education system, who motivated his followers to start preparatory schools. Wherever there was a Gurudwara, there existed a school for girls with it.”

Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru himself was a great scholar and poet who hugely contributed to Guru Granth Sahib. An editor par excellence, he set new standards in editing when he compiled Guru Granth Sahib in a very scientific manner leaving no scope for any spurious additions later on. He also took care to preserve the whole of Gurbani in a beautifully bound volume, which was respectfully installed in Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.

Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib, was a scholar of a very high caliber. The ‘vars’, ‘Kabit’, and ‘swayyas’ composed by him are a repertoire of his deep understanding of the whole of ancient classic literature composed in this part of the globe. The metaphors and similes used by him and other references made by him to the ancient Indian literature leave us with no doubt about his scholarship and deep knowledge of all the available literature of the region at that time, and also his deep understanding of the Sikh principles. He frequently refers to the ancient Hindu mythology by way of comparison to bring home to the common man, the gist of the Sikh thought. A much revered personality, his compositions were declared to be the key to the understanding of Gurbani by Guru Arjan himself. His compositions are frequently recited in Sikh congregations along with Gurbani.

The tenth Guru was a literary giant. He studied the whole of Indian classical literature and made frequent references to it in his compositions. He himself produced voluminous literature of his own. A great scholar of all the Indian classical languages, he makes liberal use of the words from all these languages in his compositions. Macauliffe says, “The poetic intuition and energy of Guru Gobind Singh found exuberant expression in his poetry which is incomparable for sublimity and style, mystical ardor and vitality of content.”

Guru Gobind Singh not only himself produced a bulk of literature, but was also a patron to poets and scholars of his time and so encouraged them that a large number of them flocked to him. Sikh tradition says that at least fifty two of them made their permanent abode at Paonta Sahib, where, every evening, the poet scholars would gather in the presence of the Guru and would recite to him their poetic compositions. The Guru would reward them handsomely and provided them an environment conducive for the creation of high quality literature. Realizing this need of the poet scholars for the peaceful environs, the Guru shifted his base to Bhangani, located eight miles away from Paonta Sahib, when he saw the possibility of the impending battle with Fateh Shah of Garhwal. He did not want the literary activity to be disrupted because of the battle forced upon him. He ensured to provide to the authors an environment that was conducive to the creative literary work. It is popularly believed that weight of the whole mass of manuscripts produced during this time was nine maunds which came to be approximately 350 kilograms. Sadly, the treasure was lost upon the evacuation of Anandpur in December 1705, most of it while passing through the flooded Sirsa stream. Only small fragments and copies of some of the manuscripts survived.

According to Mehma Prakash, written by Sarup Das Bhalla, the tenth Guru sent out Sikhs to different parts of the country to invite and bring to him scholars of repute. His instruction was: “Let them bring with them works pertaining to the fields they specialize in.” When they came, the True Guru bestowed great respect and honor upon them and provided for them without discrimination.

Bhai Nand Lal and Kavi Sainapati were the most prominent among the Court poets at Paonta Sahib. The most popular work of Kavi Sainapati that has been handed down to posterity is Sri Guru Sobha, a life history of Guru Gobind Singh. He is also known to have translated into Braj Bhasha two other well known books namely; Chankya Neeti Shastra and Sukhsain Rama Binod.

Bhai Nand Lal was a very well known scholar of Persian who is believed to have been a poet in the court of Emperor Aurangzeb, but had to flee from there because of the emperor’s policy of conversions. He was received very warmly in the court of Guru Gobind Singh. His poetry, like the poetry of Bhai Gurdas, can be very aptly called the exposition of Gurmat principles as enunciated in Gurbani. Dewan-e-Goya, ZIndagi nama, Jot Vigas, Tankhah Nama and Rehatnama are among the most well known compositions of Bhai Nand Lal.

Bhai Mani Singh ji, though more popularly known as a martyr whose body was dismembered joint by joint, was a great scholar of the Guru’s time. Apart from being the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib, dictated by Guru Gobind Singh at Damdama Sahib, he also wrote Gyan Ratnavali and Bhagat Ratnavali popularly called Sikhan di Bhagatmala. He also transcribed copies of Guru Granth Sahib to be sent to different preaching centers. Baba Deep Singh is also credited with transcribing a number of the copies of Guru Granth Sahib.

With the efforts of the ninth and the tenth Guru, Anandpur Sahib and Damdama Sahib had become established centers of literary activity. Damdama Sahib came to be known as ‘Guru ki Kashi’. The name came from Kashi, the famous old city, known for its learned pundits. This name was given because of the intense literary activity going on there, the foremost of which being the final compilation of Guru Granth Sahib, when the compositions of the ninth Guru too were included. The tradition says that once Guru Gobind Singh flung a handful of reed pens over the heads of the congregation (‘Sangat’), saying: “Here I will create a pool of literature. No one of my Sikhs should remain illiterate.”

Guru Gobind Singh aspired to turn his Sikhs into excellent embodiments of humanity, who were equally brave; serene and composed with a huge reservoir of patience in addition to possessing a very sharp intellect. He believed only a person with pure and sharp intellect could be brave in the real sense of the term. The Guru presents his ideal of a Sikh in the following lines:

ਧੀਰਜ ਧਾਮ ਬਨਾਇ ਇਹੈ ਤਨ ਬੁਧਿ ਸੁ ਦੀਪਕ ਜਿਉਂ ਉਜੀਆਰੇ।
ਗਿਆਨਹਿ ਕੀ ਬਢਨੀ ਮਨੋ ਹਾਥਿ ਲੈ ਕਾਤਰਤਾ ਕੁਤਵਾਰ ਬੁਹਾਰੈ।?

Let your body be the abode of serenity and your intellect sparkle like a burning candle of knowledge. Let the knowledge thus received become your broom with which to shovel out all the cowardice.

With the ideal of removing the feeling of fear and cowardice from the minds of the populace, the Sikh Gurus decided to make the illumined mind the tool, the broom with which to remove all dirt of cowardice and  ignorance from the mind.

With this goal in mind, the Guru set about making his followers the scholars of the highest caliber. He wanted the Sikhs to be fully aware of the literary heritage of the Indian subcontinent, so he encouraged them to learn as many languages as possible. According to Encyclopedia of Sikhism, edited by S. Harbans Singh,the guru wanted his followers, not only trained in soldiery, but also to be men of letters; he engaged a number of scholars to translate Sanskrit classics into current Braj or Punjabi, in order to bring it within easy reach of the less educated laity. Guru asked one of these scholars, Pandit Raghunath to teach the Sikhs Sanskrit. The latter politely excused himself on the plea that Sanskrit was Dev Bhasha, the language of the gods, and could not be taught to Shudras.”

Firm as he was in his resolve to make the Sikhs great scholars, the Guru would not give in. Moreover, he wanted to explode the prevalent belief that only high caste people had the right to all knowledge. So “to even this caste bias, Guru Gobind Singh sent his five Sikhs, namely Karam Singh, Vir Singh, Ganda Singh, Saina Singh and Ram Singh, dressed as upper class students to Varanasi the centre of Hindu learning. These Sikhs worked diligently for several years and returned to Anandpur as accomplished scholars of Indian classical theology and philosophy. In view of their piety, they and their students came to be known as Nirmlas which later came to be known as a separate sect. After the evacuation of Anandpur these preachers went to different places outside Punjab and came back when the Sikhs established their sway on Punjab; founded different centers and were liberally endowed by the Sikh chiefs.”

In the eighteenth century, after the martyrdom of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, when the Sikhs were being hounded, and they had to hide in the jungles to save themselves from being persecuted; the nirmalas, udasis and sevapanthis took upon themselves the responsibility of keeping the flame of knowledge ablaze. They would go to the places of pilgrimage where people assembled in large numbers, and would impart knowledge to the common man. They would also go from village to village with the same mission. Their knowledge of Ayurveda and Indian system of medicine, together with their sense of dedication for the welfare of society, helped them get a ready acceptance with the people and they spread the message of the Guru far and wide. They would also take classes in the Bungas around the parikarma of Darbar Sahib. Thus Amritsar was turned into a big educational centre for the Sikhs. The control of Sikh institutions and Sikh shrines also remained with them. It is a different matter that finally the Sikh community had to launch a powerful struggle and had to make many sacrifices to free the Gurudwaras from the control of these Mahants because of the corrupt practices that crept in the system. Income from hefty endowments to the shrines had turned their head.

Eighteenth century was a very difficult time for the Sikhs when they faced physical extermination from the rulers of the land. Living in the jungles, with even their existence at stake, they could not possibly have thought of putting the history they were creating, in black and white.  During this period and in the early part of nineteenth century the task of interpreting Gurbani and of writing Sikh history largely remained with udasis and nirmalas as they escaped persecution at the hands of the rulers. These writers generally followed the udasi trend of the interpretation of Gurbani.

A lot of literature was produced during this period. Apart from the Janamsakhi literature, (of which more than a half a dozen Janamsakhis are available) which expanded on the ballad(var) written by Bhai Gurdas, detailing the significant episodes of the life of Guru Nanak; and Gurpranali literature(fourteen gurpranalis have been included in an anthology published by Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee); a sizable literature on Sikh history too was produced during this period, the most well known writers of the time being, Kesar Singh Chhiber, who wrote Bansawalinama, Sarup Das Bhalla of Mehma Prakash, Gur Kirat Prakash by Vir Singh Bal, Guru kian Sakhian was written by Sarup Singh Kaushish, Gurbilas patshahi dasvin by Kuir Singh and Gurbilas parshahi chhevin by an anonymous writer. A number of Rehatname and Tankhahnama too were written during this period. Prachin Panth Parkash by Rattan Singh Bhangu, Sri Gurpartap Suraj Granth by Mahakavi Santokh Singh, Nanak Surajode Janam Sakhi by Ganesha Singh Bedi and Tawarikh Guru Khalsa by Giani Gian Singh are other prominent works written during this period.

Though this literature written in the form of a narrative based on the evidence, mainly of oral tradition held in sanctity by the local population, may not pass the test of modern historiography, and has been criticized by many for lack of analytic way of writing history; in the absence of other literature, it does convey a lot about the life times of the Gurus, and the Khalsa.

With the East India Company ruling major part of India, and the rulers feeling the need to know more about their subjects, of whom Sikhism came to be of special interest to them, some English authors, either because they themselves grew curious about the Sikhs or because they were deputed by the authorities to write about the Sikhs; quite a few British scholars studied Sikh theology and Sikh history and wrote books on Sikhism.  J.D. Cunningham was the first one to write the ‘History of the Sikhs’. The book appeared in print in 1849.

M.A. Macaulliffe, wrote a history of Sikhs under the title ‘Sikh Religion’ in four volumes. The book also contains English translation of selected compositions from Guru Granth Sahib. After this, many English translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib have been written, the most well known of these being done by Dr. Gopal Singh, G.S. Talib and Dr. Manmohan Singh. Kartar Singh Duggal and Gurbachan Singh Makin are other writers to have translated Guru Granth Sahib in English. Sentence by sentence translation of Guru Granth Sahib in English, Roman and Punjabi has been done by Dr. Darshan Singh.  Translations of Gurbani have also been done in French, German, Spanish and Urdu, persian and in some Indian languages also.

Earnest Trump, a German philologist and missionary was summoned by India office to work in Punjab to translate the Sikh literature into English. He translated Puratan Janam Sakhi and Bhai Bala Janam Sakhi but did not complete the translation of Adi Granth as he concluded that Adi Granth was not worth translating in full —”the same few ideas, he thought, being endlessly repeated.”

Negative remarks by Earnest Trumpp earned him reproach from all sides and in response to the situation, Raja Bikram Singh, the ruler of Faridkot and patron of Amritsar Khalsa Dewan commissioned a teeka of Guru Granth Sahib in Panjabi which was prepared by Giani Badan Singh, and was revised by a committee comprising Mahant Sumer Singh and Baba Bakhtawar Singh Giani, among others.

Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, a nirmala scholar wrote a number of books and also prepared a dictionary Guru Girarath Kosh in two volumes. Other books written by him include Gurmat Nirnaya Sagar, Tika Bhagat Bani Ka, Tika Guru Bhav Dipika, Saabad Sur kos, Gur Vans Taru Darpan, Tika Sri Rag Ka, and a book on historical Sikh Shrines, Sri Guru Tirath Sangrahi.

With the onset of Singh Sabha movement in the later part of nineteenth century, there was a new resurgence in the academic activity. Though earlier too, a lot of literature on Sikh history and Sikh thought had been created, the literature produced during the Singh Sabha Movement was more on scientific and modern lines.

Prof Gurmukh Singh and Giani Ditt Singh are well known writers of the time. Though Professor Gurmukh Singh left college without completing his graduation in order to be able to propagate reform during Singh Sabha Movement, education was one of his persistent concerns. He was instrumental in having Punjabi included in the curriculum in 1877 at Oriental College Lahore. He also launched Gurmukhi Akhbar, Vidyarak, the Khalsa, the Sudhararak, and the Khalsa Gazette, which were among the pioneer newspapers and periodicals of the time. He also wrote Bharat da Itihas in Punjabi, and Gurbani bhavarth, a glossary in simple Punjabi to help the common man understand Gurbani.

Giani Ditt Singh, a leader and a reformer during Singh Sabha Movement, was equally adept at writing prose and poetry. He wrote around forty books on Sikh theology and Sikh history and on current issues. The most well known of his works are, Guru Nanak Prabodh, Guru Arjan Charittar, Panth Prabodh, Dambh Bidaran, Durga Prabodh, Raj Prabodh, Mera ate Sadhu Dayanand da Sambad, Naqli Sikh Prabodh, and Panth Sudhar Binai Pattar. He also wrote about the martyrdoms of Bhai Tara Singh Van, Subeg Singh, Matab Singh Mirankotia, Taru Singh and Bota Singh.

Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha also hugely contributed to the academic development of the community by writing books. Singlehandedly, he wrote a voluminous and comprehensive work like ‘Gursabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh’, the first encyclopedia on Sikhism. Scholars and researchers refer to it for the most authentic information. Gurmat Prabhakar, Gurmat Sudhakar, and Gurmat Martand, are some other reference books of great value written by him.

Akali Kaur Singh was the pioneer in writing a ‘Tuk Tatkara under the heading Gursabad Ratnakar Kosh, wherein each line of Guru Granth Sahib finds a mention with page number given alongside. Indeed, a very valuable reference book for the researcher in Sikh Studies.

Guru Granth Sahib Kosh by Bhai Vir Singh, Arbi Pharsi Mulak Sahbadan da Kosh and Sri Guru Granth Sahib Kosh by Dr. Gurcharan Singh, A Dictionary of Guru Granth Sahib by Dr. Surinder Singh Kohli,  A Dictionary of Mythological References in Guru Granth Sahib by Dr. Surinder Singh Kohli, Guru Granth Sanket Kosh by Piara Singh Padam A Popular Dictionary of Sikhism by Piara Singh Sambhi, Arth Bodh Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji by Dr. Rattan Singh Jaggi, Guru Granth Sahib-mool sankalp Kosh by Dr. Jasbir Singh Sarna and Tuk Tatkara edited by Dr. Amar Singh are only some of the many more reference books available. Encyclopedia of Sikhism by Harbans Singh, published by Punjabi University is another landmark in the series of reference books written on Sikhism.

Bhai Vir Singh, another prominent author who set new trends in Sikh literature, wrote in all forms of literature. Though he is more popularly known as the father of modern Punjabi poetry, he also wrote beautiful prose. Guru Nanak Chamatkar, Ashat Guru Chamatkar, and Kalgidhar Chamatkar, the books on the life history and the message of ten Gurus are popular even today among the Sikh devotees. He also edited Gurpartap Suraj Granth written by Mahakavi Santokh Singh. Bijay Singh, Sundari, Satwant Kaur and Baba Naudh Singh are the popular novels written by Bhai Vir Singh. Baba Naudh Singh is an authentic exposition of Sikh principles. Raja Lakhdata Singh is the title of a play written by him about which not many people know. Rana Surat Singh, an epic, describes the spiritual voyage of a seeker through the story of the widowed queen Rani Raj Kaur. Bhai Vir Singh started doing detailed translation of Guru Granth Sahib and had completed about 700 pages when the messengers of death took him away. The title given is ‘Santhya Guru Granth Sahib’.  No doubt Bhai Vir Singh is the most prolific writer of twentieth century.

Though not as well known as the other writers of his time, the contribution of Pandit Kartar Singh Dakha to the Sikh academics is enormous. He was known as pandit- a knowledgeable person- because of his scholarship in Sanskrit as well as in Gurbani. He was a great scholar of Nyaya Shastra, one of the six schools of philosophy. Born at a time when Singh Sabha Movement was at its peak. He felt bad about the deterioration of all kinds in the members of the Sikh community. He was convinced that it was because of this that the opponents had started denigrating the Sikh history and Sikh principles. He joined the ranks of Giani Ditt Singh and Bhai Vir Singh and others to give a befitting reply to all who were distorting and misinterpreting Sikh principles. He wrote about thirty books and tracts. He started Gurmat Pracharak Mahavidyalya and also started a monthly journal ‘Guru Kashi Patar’. Prominent among the books written by him are: Guru Kavya Darshan, Alankar Nirnai, Guru Padarth Nirnai, Kharag Khalsa, Sri Japu Nisan and Sikh Dharam te Buddh Dharam etc.  He was also a member of the committee formed to prepare the document called ‘Sikh Rehat Maryada.

Giani Kartar Singh Classwaliya, who was a head Granthi of Darbar Sahib, also wrote a number of books. Some of his books are: Gyan Praksh, Sri Guru Dasmesh Prakash, Nirbhai Yodha, Nirankari jot, Sidak Khalsa, Raj Khalsa Teg Khalsa, Johar Khalsa, Daler Khalsa, Sudhar Khalsa, Khargesh Prakash(patshahi chhevin) and Sri Arjan Prakash. A book on his life and works written by Dr Gurdev Singh Sidhu has been published by Punjabi University Patiala. 

Dr. Bhai Jodh Singh, an author and theologian, who has the unique honor of becoming the first Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala at the ripe age of eighty, was also a recipient of Padma Bhushan, a civil award for contribution to the society. He contributed a lot to the Sikh scholarship. After retiring as Principal from Khalsa College, Amritsar at the age of seventy, he founded Punjabi Sahit Academy for the promotion of Punjabi language. He contributed essays on Sikhism to several reference books including Encyclopaedia Britannica. Among his most well known works are Sikhi ki hai?, Guru Sahib ate Ved, Gurmat Nirnai, Sri Kartarpuri Bir de Darshan, Life of Guru Amardas ji, 33 Savaiyas, Some Studies in Sikhism, and Gospel of Guru Nanak in his own words.

Bawa Harkrishan Singh significantly contributed in the field of education as the Principal of Khalsa College Amritsar and a member of the committee deputed to formulate Sikh Rehat Maryada.

Prof Sahib Singh, who brought to the fore the importance of Gurbani Grammer, was also a theologian who wrote Guru Granth Sahib Darpan in ten volumes paraphrasing each sabad in simple language, while giving the meanings of difficult words also. He also wrote nearly fifty books on Sikh philosophy including his work on Gurbani Vyakaran. His autobiography entitled Meri Jivan Kahani, detailing his arduous journey to success is quite an inspiring book. Many honors were conferred upon him for his scholarly writings. Apart from the honors by Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and the Punjab Government, he was also awarded honorary degree of Doctor in Literature. Punjabi Sahit Academy honored him with a life fellowship.

Giani Harbans Singh Nirnaikar from Patiala, apart from writing around twenty five books on different topics on Sikh theology, wrote Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji: Darshan Nirnain Steek Teeka based on Gurbani Vyakaran,. Pandit Kartar Singh Dakha, Pri. Teja Singh, Bhai Randhir Singh, Bhai Joginder Singh Talwara, and Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti are other scholars to have worked extensively on Gurbani Vyakaran.

Prof Puran Singh, Principal Teja Singh, S. Kapur Singh ICS, Giani Sher Singh, Principal Satbir Singh, Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki, Dr. Shamsher Singh Ashok, Dr. Sher Singh Sher, Dr. Taran Singh, Bhai Randhir Singh, S. Narain Singh, Davinder Singh Vidyarthi, Harinder Singh Mehboob, Piara Singh Padam, S. Raghbir Singh Bir, S. Niranjan Singh, S. Daljit Singh IAS, and Dr Kaharak Singh are some of the prominent scholars of twentieth century who contributed hugely to the exposition of the Sikh thought.

Master Tara Singh, an Akali leader, too wrote Essays on Sikh Concepts. The book was edited by Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer in two volumes. Another book authored by him is entitled ‘Piram Pyala.’

Dr. Ganda Singh, Principal Ganga Singh, Dr. Fauja Singh, Dr. Tarlochan Singh, Dr. Gopal Singh and Karam Singh historian and S. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer are some of the scholars to have written on Sikh history.  Translation into English of Sri Guru Panth Prakash by Rattan Singh Bhangu, and of Sri Guru Sobha by Kavi Sainpati, was undertaken by Prof Kulwant Singh and was published by Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh. At present, the translation in Punjabi, of a voluminous work like Sri Gurpartap Suraj Granth is being done by a team of scholars headed by Dr. Kirpal Singh, under the auspices of Shiromini Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee. Writing of a new comprehensive History of Sikhs has been entrusted by the SGPC to the Institute of Sikh Studies. The project was being handled by Dr. Kharak Singh and Dr. Kirpal Singh. After the sad demise of Dr. Kharak Singh ji, Dr. Kirpal Singh is handling the project with the help of some other scholars.

Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, established with the mission of bringing the ‘latest advances in Sikh Studies to the notice of scholars and general readers’ and also to ‘watch, report and rebut any distortions or mis-representations of Sikh Religion and its History’, has also produced around thirty books fulfilling the mission of the organization. A number of Sikh Studies institutes and chairs established the world over are engaged in the research on Sikh theology, Sikh History, and Sikh diaspora, publishing books on the above themes regulary. 

An emphasis on women education is another hallmark of Sikh academics. Khalsa Dewan Bhadaur opened schools for girls. Ludhiana and Ferozepur were centers for the propagation of women education. A school for girls Sikh Kanya Vidyala was started at Ferozepur by Bhai Takhat Singh and his wife Bibi Harnam Kaur in the year 1892, making them the pioneers of women education in the region. After that many schools and colleges exclusively for girls were opened. There was spate of new colleges for girls on the occasion of the fifth centenary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev ji. Of course improving the moral and academic standards of these colleges demands the urgent attention. Sikh Feminist Research Institute  established in North America with the mission of promoting research and activism on feminist issues while recognizing the emancipator nature of Sikh ideal of egalitarianism especially with regard to gender issues.

Establishment of Khalsa College Amritsar in the year 1892 with a mission to impart education as per the Sikh ideals of education was another milestone in Sikh Academics. Though it could not become a Khalsa University as was initially planned, the college contributed a lot to Sikh academics and produced many eminent personalities contributing hugely to all facets of life. The names of eminent Sikh scholars like Dr. Jodh Singh, Bawa Harkrishan Singh, Dr Sahib Singh, Principal Teja singh are associated with the college.

Chief Khalsa Dewan was founded in 1903 with the objective of promoting the spiritual, intellectual, moral, social, educational and economic welfare of the Sikhs. It was felt that spread of education based on sound, moral and spiritual values was necessary for all round progress of the masses. For this purpose, Sikh Educational Committee was formed in 1908 which started its work in right earnestness, and by 1920, it was running more than 200 educational institutions.

The Dewan hugely contributed in the field not only by opening schools, but also by organizing annual Sikh Educational conferences. This brought about an awakening among the Sikh masses about the importance of education for the uplift of the society and in 1947 at the time of partition there were 340 Khalsa schools being run by various organizations. The Dewan also took up the publication of good quality literature with the mission of bringing about awakening among the Sikhs about their rich heritage.

In 1907, a magazine for women ‘Punjabi Bhain’ was started. Though voices in favor of women education were already being raised by individuals, this was perhaps the first magazine dedicated to the development of women as educated and enlightened beings. The magazine immensely contributed towards the spread of women education. Other topics dealing with family and domestic issues which are of special interest to women too were regularly published.

Apart from many prominent writers, there are others who formed organizations aiming at propagating the message of Sikhism through publications. Gurmat Granth Pracharak Sabha was established at Amritsar in 1885, by Giani Sardul Singh. The Sabha undertook to sponsor research and publish authentic literature such as Janamsakhis and Gurpranalis. Under the auspices of the Sabha, a number of books were published, the prominent ones being Gur-sikkhan de nitt Karam, Sad Sidhant va Panchang va Prashnavali ke Uttar, Thittian var Baranmah, Gur Mahima Prakash, Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji de Path di Vidhi, Gurpurab Patrika, Gurpranali, Gurpanali vidyarthian de Kanth Karan Vali. The Sabha also discovered and printed an old manuscript Gur Bilas Dasam Patshah Ka by Bhai Sukha Singh.

 Gurmart Pracharak Lari was founded in 1919 at Rawalpindi by Giani Sher Singh with the mission of publishing books on Sikh theology and Sikh history. Guru Granth te Guru Panth, Dharam Darpan, an exposition of Asa di Var, Khande di Dar-, Deg Teg da Mali, and Nitnem Satik were published.

 In 1924, S. Dharam Singh started Guru Nanak Vidya Bhandar Trust. The trust opened many schools and libraries and also awarded scholarships to the students. Guru Nanak Vidya Society Bombay started around two dozen schools and made successful efforts in getting Punjabi language the status of optional language in state schools.

Gurmat College Patiala established in the year 1967 to promote the study of Sikh religion and culture produced many renowned scholars and researchers in the field of Sikh studies who are making significant contribution in Sikh academic development. Shahid Sikh Missionary College run by SGPC has also produced many scholars.

Many non sikh writers too contributed to Sikh studies, the most prominent of them being, Dr. Hari Ram Gupta, Dr. Indu Bhushan Bannerji, Dr. Mohammad Latif, Sohan Lal Suri, Shah Mohammad, Bute Shah, Sir Lepel H. Griffin, Sir John J.H Gordon, Qadar Yar and Yogi Allan Khan and Gokul Chand Narang etc.

Many writers took pains to create literature for children to familiarize them with the Sikh history and Sikh principles and to initiate them into Sikh Studies. Bhai Vir Sikh wrote ‘Gur Balam Sakhian’ in a simple and interesting language and as such could hold the interest of the children. Other writers writing for children are Inni Kaur, Ajit Singh Aulukh, Darshan Singh Ashat. Dr Sarabjot Kaur and Dr. Kuldip Kaur too have contributed to literature for children. Hemkunt Press has published a lot of literature for children. SGPC too has published a good number of quality books for children. Vismad, a Mohali based organization has been creating visual and audio material on Sikh history which can very aptly be called a workshop or a laboratory where Sikh principles have been lived. Audios for nursery rhymes explaining the Sikh principles too have been created. Small booklets ‘Gursikh Lorian’ and ‘Gursikh Bolian’ written by Dr. Kuldip Kaur explain the basics of Sikhim to the children.

Another milestone in the spread of literary activity was the contribution of Sikh journalism in meeting the challenges of the time. By 1912, around thirty journals were already being published. Khalsa Samachar, Nirguniara and Khalsa Advocate were regularly brought out by Khalsa Tract Society Amritsar. These tracts brought about an awakening among the Sikh masses about their rich literary, ideological and spiritual heritage. Vidya Pracharak, Gurmukhi Akhbar, Khalsa Sewak, Khalsa Akhbar, Mauji, Phulwari, and Quami Ekta were among the prominent journals of the time.

Giani Kartar Singh Hitkari, father of the well known poetess Amrita Pritam, started Gurmat Tract Society in 1925, which published one tract a month for about Twelve years. The first tract in the series was Atmak Shakti de Sachche Shahanshah, to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Most of the tracts were written by Giani Kartar Singh himself. Among other contributors were Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid, Giani Khazan Singh, Sant Sampuran Singh, Sodhi Teja Singh, Charan Singh Shahid, Giani Thakur Singh, Giani Lal Singh Samundari, Nihal Singh Advocate, Balwant Singh Chatrath, Raghilr Sing Bir, Firoz Din Sharaf, Bibi Harnam Kaur of Nabha and Giani Kartar Singh’s own young daughter, Amrit Kaur. The publications of the Gurmat Tract Society, created new readership and helped disseminate information about Sikh religion and history.

At present too, a good number of journals are being brought. The most prominent being Sikh Phulwari, Sada Virsa Sada Gaurav, Gurmat Sedhan, Sikh Lehar, Sis Ganj, Gurbani Is Jag Meh Chanan, Seva Lehar, and Gurmat Virsa, Atam Parmatam, Sura, Atam Rang, Amrit Kirtan and Sachkhand Patar, Eternal Voice etc. In English, there are: Sikh Review, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Journal of Sikh Studies brought out by different universities, and Nanakism etc.

Dharam Prachar Committee of the Shiromini Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee publishes its monthly journal ‘Gurmat Prakash’ which carries good quality research articles by scholars. Hundreds of good quality books and tracts for free distribution have also been published by SGPC till date. SGPC is also running schools and colleges along with opening new professional colleges. Guru Granth Sahib World University at Fatehgarh Sahib is the latest contribution of SGPC in the field of higher education. Some other organizations are also working on improving the academic standards on the principles of Sikh vision of education. Kalgidhar Trust is running many schools (Akal Academies) in the villages of Punjab. Eternal university and a school at Baru Sahib are being also being run in Himachal Pradesh by the Trust. ‘Satnam Sarab Kalyan Trust’, an organization ‘Sikhs Helping Sikhs’, ‘Baba Nanak Society’ and Guru Nanak Multivarsity are actively working for improving in the educational standards. Apart from lending financial help to the needy students, International Sikh Confederation is running coaching centers at various places in Punjab. Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee also regularly publishes literature on Sikhism and is running schools also.

Many NGOs active in the propagation of Sikhism, like Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, Guru Nanak Dev Mission Patiala, Gurmat Gyan Missionary College and Sikh missionary colleges run by different societies are regularly publishing Sikh Literature.

Establishment of Punjabi University in 1962 and of Guru Nanak Dev University in 1969 on the occasion of quincentenary celebrations of Guru Nanak’s birthday opened up new vistas in the field of Sikh Studies. Departments of religious studies and Sikh studies were started in these universities. Thereafter many other universities too started departments in Sikh Studies. Departments of Guru Granth Sahib Studies, Gurmat Gyan online teaching, Departments of Gurmat Sangeet, and Deaprtment of Encyclopedia of Sikhism in Punjabi University, apart from the departments of Religious Studies and Sikh Studies are contributing a lot to the field of Sikh academics.  Some chairs in the names of respected personalities too were established. This gave further boost to the studies in Sikhism and seminars on Sikhism became a regular feature. Many academicians were motivated into writing about Sikhism. Many new books on Sikh history and Sikh theology came to be written on the occasions of the Shatabadi celebrations of different events dotting the Sikh history. All this contributed to the creation of more literature on Sikhism.

Migration of a large number of Sikhs to the English speaking western world, took with itself the study of Sikhism to these countries. Many scholars from the West took up Sikh Studies as a serious subject and eventually teaching of Sikhism was introduced at many universities in the west, including Toronto University, University of British Columbia, University of Michigan, University of California at Santa Barbara and Riverside, Columbia University and Hofstra University, New York. Today many Sikhs settled in other countries are engaged in the study of Sikhism in these universities. Many interfaith events including Parliament of World Religions every four years are conducted where Sikh scholars participate regularly. At present, the universities the world over have the departments of religious studies and Sikh studies, where research is being undertaken into all aspects of Sikh religion, including philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology.

Academic study of religion arises out of a broad curiosity about the nature of religion and religious traditions. Curiosity to learn more about Sikhs and their religion compelled scholars from different countries and different religious backgrounds to take to the study of Sikh religion. W. Owen Cole, an educationist and the head of religious studies in the University of Chichester in UK is one such scholars, who wrote a number of books on Sikhism, the most prominent being, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, The Guru in Sikhism, Sikhism and its Indian Context, Sikhism and Christianity: A Comparative Study, and Understanding Sikhism. Together with his close friend and Sikh scholar Piara Singh Sambhi, he wrote many books for on Sikhism for school children.

Coming to Punjab of a Christian missionary from New Zealand, Dr. W.H. Macleod, in 1950s, with the mission of converting the people of this area to Christianity; was an event that added a new dimension to Sikh studies. In order to be able to communicate with the local population, Macloed had to learn Punjabi, during the course of which he got introduced to Sikh literature. He was so fascinated with the study of Sikhism that it became a passion with him and he decided to do PhD on Sikh History from the University of London. He obtained the degree in 1965, which perhaps was the first PhD on Sikh religion. He also wrote a number of books on Sikhism.

But an agnostic as Macloed was, he forgot that the components of faith and tradition form an important part in the study of any religion. A deep and affirming faith in the Almighty with a feeling of equally deep Love for the Supreme are integral to the Sikh religion. It is this faith and deep Love that made the five Beloved ones to offer their heads on the asking of the Guru without any question or doubt in their mind. It is the deep Love of the Guru for the Supreme and His creation that made him sacrifice his whole family on the altar of human rights and Truth.

It is this faith and unquestioned love for the Guru and of the Guru for the humanity, of which Khalsa forms a very dear part, that lies at the foundation of the unique Sikh history that fascinated Macloed so much that the study of Sikhism became his life time passion. By ignoring this important component, Macloed unwittingly came to be the principal cause behind many controversies and debates on some important aspects of Sikh history and theology that persist till date.

However, one positive fall out of the whole situation was that the Sikh scholars with deep faith in the message of the Sikh Gurus, woke up to the situation and started writing good quality literature to counter the controversies generated by the ideas expressed by Macleod in more than twenty books written by him. S. Daljit Singh IAS and Dr. Kharak Singh were prominent among them. They successfully propagated the idea that the Sikh thought, even while standing the test of rationality, an outcome of scientific temper as a result of the Age of Enlighenment, still gave primacy to the deep faith and Love for the Supreme.

Thus there were significant developments in Sikh academics in the later part of twentieth century when an environment was created where a good number of quality books were produced in English as well as in Punjabi. No doubt a lot of good quality well-researched, comprehensive and authentic literature had earlier been produced disseminating authentic message of the Gurus in English as well as in Punjabi, but this literature remains relatively unknown to the western readers and perhaps to the young generation in India. An effort must be made to bring before the reading public, interested in the study of Sikhism, the writings of these authors, translated as well as original. Only that way, the controversies and debates generated by the literature produced by the authors whose source of information for research on Sikh thought is not the unbiased study of the primary resource i.e.; Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but the available secondary sources, can be put at rest. For their research they, mainly rely on the secondary sources i.e.; the books on Sikhism written by other authors. Secondary sources are certainly not a good research tool for any authentic research to be undertaken on any topic.

The need of the hour is to study the literature produced by the writers who have studied the original primary sources of study on Sikhism, and are familiar with the idiom and the mythological references used therein. Only such a scholar can reach the depth of the feeling with which Gurbani was written.

It may be also noted that it is important to decode the references from mythology used in Gurbani, as these have been used as metaphors. Metaphors are important to any literary writing, not only because they make it more artistic, but also because they lend greater understanding to the concepts meant to be explained. Moreover we must understand that the popular myths are not about gods and goddesses, but about human consciousness explained through images that are most close to the human mind. They are clues to the nature and dynamics of human consciousness, human psyche.

The Gurus addressed the human consciousness and psyche of the common man inhabiting the Indian sub continent. To make the concepts clear to the common man, they made liberal use of the prevalent myths with which the people of the area were familiar. This way they could make inroads into the inner consciousness of the masses. They gave new meanings to the prevalent symbols of faith and in this way demolished all superstition without hurting their sensibilities. That was how they made a permanent mark on their psyches and established a belief system which was based on rational thought with a feeling of deep devotion for the True One.

On the contrary, taken literally, a metaphor can play havoc with the real content of a literary creation. Metaphor should be taken as a metaphor only, if the authentic message is to be understood and conveyed. It is required of the scholars engaged in the study of Sikhism to be careful in this regard, if authentic message is to be propagated among the masses. The Gurus meant Gurbani to be heritage of the whole mankind. It is the duty of Sikh scholars to expound it for the seekers in the right perspective without creating any confusions or contradictions. Only in such an event, the truth of the following line from Guru Granth Sahib will become explicit and realized in the true sense:

ਦੇਖੌ ਭਾਈ ਗ´ਾਨ ਕੀ ਆਈ ਆਂਧੀ ॥ 
ਸਭੈ ਉਡਾਨੀ ਭ੍ਰਮ ਕੀ ਟਾਟੀ ਰਹੈ ਨ ਮਾਇਆ ਬਾਂਧੀ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 331

Behold, O my spiritual brothers the storm of spiritual wisdom is blowing with full force and it has totally blown away the thatched huts of doubt, and torn apart the bonds of Maya and superstition to liberate man even while living a normal household life along with leading socially useful productive life.



ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All rights reserved.