Sikh Religion And History: The Western Studies
In order to know the meaning and genesis of the Western Studies on Sikh Religion and History writing in modern times one can easily begin with Harbans Singh, Fauja Singh and Stephen Dunning. First comes a Lecture1 delivered by Harbans Singh at Harvard University, Cambridge, on April 30, 1969, under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of World Religions, in honour of the Guru Nanak Quinquecentennial. This Lecture was published in India in 1971 by the Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. III, No. 2. Its title was “Guru Nanak As Historical Memorary and Continuing Reality In Sikh Tradition”.2 The published article of 1971 clearly says that the Janamsakhi accounts “tell their story in the language of myth and legend. There is no attempt at chronology”.3 Obviously Harbans Singh treated Historical Memorary as if it was more significant than Chronlogy for the Sikh History.
Secondly we can take up Fauja Singh for his article entitled as ‘Religio-Cultural Heritage of The Punjab’.4 It was published in 1984 by the same Journal that had produced the above Lecture of Harbans Singh. The last paragraph of Fauja Singh is interesting to know his method and ideas about the appearance of Sikhism in the Punjab. Interestingly this para begins with ‘The advent of Islam’ that brought new ideas in this country. These ideas influenced the Hindu society. The institutionalized Hinduism was led by the Brahmins and the Yogis who did not accept the new ideas divisions. Their indifference created a vacuum that was filled up by a new leadership rooted in the commercial classes of the Punjab. This new leadership gave us a new socio-religious approach. “It was in these circumstances that Sikhism, a new religion, made it appearance in the Punjab”5, concluded the Historian. However, his method or approach to History is surprising. Take a notice of the word ‘advent of Islam’ used by him. Further, he was silent about the chronology of Indian History and its march from the Ancient period to the Medieval Era though he has mentioned the Sant traditions emerging between the 7th and he 15th century.6
Harbans Singh showed his concern for the Modern Sikh History and the chronology of Western Studies of Sikhism by his article entitled ‘Scholarly Study of Sikhism’ published in 1970.7 He declared Sikhism as the last, so for, of world’s major religions. It was significant “especially from the sociological and reconciliatory points of view.”8 Sikhism was born at a time when Hinduism and Islam had lived on the Indian soil in sharp conflict. It attempted to steer a course between the two. Sikhism got a short span yet it had a deeply humanitarian and social outlook. The language of this article as well as the description of Sikh History given by Harbans Singh need attention. According to him Sikh religion grew under the care of ‘ten spiritual masters’. The Sikh creed and the civil organization continued its inner dynamism initiated by ‘The First Guru, or Prophet-teacher’. Guru Gobind Singh, “ the tenth and last of the Sikh Gurus, brought to consummation the work started by Guru Nanak.”9 He created the Khalsa that was joined by all classes and sections of society including the peasants and the lowly Surdas. Harbans Singh writes:
A prolonged spell of fierce persecution followed the death of Guru Gobind Singh. Suffering brought power. Under Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), the Sikhs established a strong kingdom in the Punjab. This eventually fell to internal machinations and the onrush of British conquest.10
This Sikh downfall in 1849 is followed by the Singh Sabha Movement or the renaissance movement. There is a mere reference to the Sikh struggle or revolutionary movement on the west coast of the United States. But Harbans Singh is silent about the Ghadar Movement, Banda Singh Bahadur, the Nirankari movement and the Namdhari struggle. Even the world Ghadar is missing.11 However, he has stressed upon the need to explore Guru Granth Sahib and Punjabi Literary works. He looks on the Sikh Scriptures as a source of concordance, ethos and an “authority for deciding matters of communal and religious importance”. In this context any five Sikhs may represent a particular congregation to take the decision.12
Notwithstanding by the limitations of Harbans Singh’s article under consideration, we can turn to show its Historiographical worthiness, if any, by summing up its Historical writings and their chronology. He says, “The first published work on the Sikhs, in any language, appeared in 1788. That was 80 years after the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh”.13 This publication was the result of East India company administration under Warren Hastings who had sent Major James Browne in 1783 to Delhi to keep watch on the Sikhs and their rise to power. Actually it was a manuscript written in Devanagari and it had been rendered first into Persian. Browne himself made its translation into English and wrote an Introduction to it. The translated work was published under the title History of the Origin And progress of the Sikhs. The word Sikhs here was spelled as ‘S-i-c-k-s.’ In fact all the early western writers had employed their variable spellings for the word Sikh. These variables can be numbered into 22. Harbans Singh says that Browne had a sound political judgement about the future importance of the Sikhs for the Bengal administration.14 But he did not explain this political concern of the British.
The diplomatic interest of the British in Sikhs and their country continued to attract the following kinds of scholars even after the rise of Ranjit Singh to power (1780-1839) :
1. Dispatch and Memoranda writers or English officers
2. The Memoirs and Diary writers.
3. Accounts of the Travelers and Adventurers
4. Employees of the Sikh Court of Lahore.
As a result of the following works of History appeared between 1798 and 1898:
1 Grorger Forster, A Journey From Bengal To England (1798).
2 Victor Jacquemont, Letters from India (1834)
3 Charles Hugel, Travels in Cashmire and the Punjab, Containing a particular Accounts of the Government and Character of the Sikhs (1845)
4 Steinbach, The Punjab beings a Brief account of the Sikhs (1845)
5 John Martin Honigberger, Thirty-five years in the East (1852)
6 Alexander Gardner, Memoirs (1898)
More important than these works there were regular essays that did appear between 1812 and 1846. These essays were:
1. John Malcolm, Sketch of the Sikhs (1812)
2. H.T. Prinsep, The Origin of the Sikh Power in the Punjab(1834)
3. W.L.M. Gregor, The History of the Sikhs(1846)
After Gregor, Harbans Singh referred to J.D. Cunningham’s book that came in 1849. But he was silent about the regime of William Bentenick (1828-35), the Lord Auckland (1837-41) and Charles Metcalfe. We know that Malcolm and Metcalfe had been in the diplomatic and Military Service of the East India Company even under Lord Wellesley (1798-1805) and these two were the authors of the Amritsar Treaty of April 1809. This Treaty had divided the Sikhs and Punjab into two zones(1) The cis-Satlej Sikh States and (2) The Trans Satlej Kingdom of Lahore under Maharaja Ranit Singh. The British Military and political regime in India showed a tremendous interest in Punjab, Sindh and Afghanistan between 1806 and 1849 A.D. Ignoring all this, Harbans Singh devoted one lengthy para of his article to Cunningham15 and his style of presentation of Sikh history.
It was true that Cunningham was a captain in the British army in India but he was rooted in the Romantic Movement in the West. For this very reason he was inspired by nationalism and humanism. Inspired by his European background and the moral aspect of Sikh religion as it has been emphasized by Malcolm before him Cunningham dealt with Guru Gobind Singh deeply and with sympathy. He referred to the Adi Granth as well as the Dassam Granth by his two separate Appendix. He mentioned the Sikh sects also. Harbans Singh had not mentioned it although he wrote that Cunningham’s History was popular with the Modern Sikh Scholars in the Punjab in even 1970. Cunningham had criticized the British policy towards the Sikhs after 1843 but he was dismissed for this argument.
After Cunningham, Harbans Singh dealt with Dr. Ernest Trumpp. Again, of Trumpp is very poor. He describes him as a German Orientalist who was commissioned by the East India Company “In 1869 to make the translation”.16 This statement of the author is factually incorrect. There was no East India Company to rule India after 1858. Further the British idea of having the Sikh Scriptures translate into English had been originated with R.N.Cust by 1857.17 In fact the Adi Granth and the Dassam Granth had been procured in 1859 by the Punjab administration through a Sodhi chief of Kartarpur namely Sadhu Singh, for this translation to be made or through the Secretary of State for India. A partial translation of the Adi Granth began with Trumpp in 1869 while he was in London. He visited Lahore and Amritsar on this task by 1870. While in Punjab, he refused to translate the Dassam Granth in 1873. We know that this refusal of his was not accepted by the British authorities in London. In this regard a problem was made by the British administration in Calcutta and Lahore. The Punjab officer who conducted this investigation was the D.P.I.,C. Pearson during 1873-75. Trumpp’s poor health forced him to abandon the translation project by 1874. We should not forget that L.H. Griffin and Sardar Attar Singh of Bhadour were in touch with Trumpp’s work by 1875.
Unfortunately Harbans Singh jumps from Trumpp to M.A. Macauliffe in the straight way. He did not mention Griffin and Attar Singh or their Historical works on the Punjab Nobility and Guru Gobind Singh, respectively.18 This Sikh Sardar of Bhadour was anti-Namdhari Movement, and he had translated some parts of the Dassam Granth for the British after 1876. He was a loyalist to the British while he was either in Lahore Singh Sabha or in Amritsar Singh Sabha after the establishment of Khalsa College, Amritsar (1893). This attitude of his did not find favour with Harbans Singh who praises Macauliffe for producing his translation of the Granth Sahib in six columns published by the Oxford University Press in 1909. According to him, this work “remains the best introduction to the early period of Sikhs’ history and to their sacred writings, unsurpassed so far in its scholarship.”19
After Macauliffe, Harbans Singh refers the emergence of English knowing Sikh scholars such as Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Sewaram Singh and Khazan Singh. The Bhagat Ji was running a newspaper, Khalsa, in English language in 1899, and he had written a book entitled life of Guru Gobind Singh, in 1909. He had contact with Macauliffe and Khazan Singh of Nabha. Sewaram Singh produced his work The Critical Study of the Life and Teachings of Siri Guru Nanak in 1904. and Khazan Singh his The History and Philosophy of Sikh Religion in 1914. These three scholars were followed by many more between 1912 and 1937. They were20:
1 Sardaul Singh Careeshar who did take part the Gurdwara Reform Movement.
2 Sir Jogindra Singh who wrote a novel
3 Puran Singh(Sisters of the Spinning Wheels in 1921, and The Book of the Ten Masters, in 1926)
4 Bhai Jodh Singh in the Khalsa College, Amritsar
5 Teja Singh
6 Ganda Singh
We are told that Bhai Jodh Singh and Teja Singh were devoted to Sikh theology while Ganda Singh’s choice was history. He made History popular with the Indian or Hindu academics comprising of:
1 Sita Ram Kohli
2 Hari Ram Gupta
3 Indubhusan Banerjee of Bengal
4 Gokal Chand Narang(Transformation of the Sikhs in 1912)
All thesse ten authors (6+4) grappled with the Sikh Reformation and Identity issues caused by the Singh Sahba Renaissance. But they had been blind to the British role in this regard.
Harbans Singh did refer to Khalsa College, Amritsar but only in the context of John Clark Archer of Yale. In 1937 John made ‘a sustained study of Sikhism’. He was in touch with Bhai Jodh Singh and Ganda Singh, and had himself come from America. His book was published in 1946 by Princeton University Press. He dealt with Sikhism ‘as a venture in the reconciliation of religions’.21 He described its doctrines, institutions and places of worship in conclusions made by John were tentative and surprising. What did surprise Harbans Singh? He has not mentioned it.
Comparative study of Sikhism continued after John C. Archer also. In 1952 Duncan Greenlees published ‘that very admirable book The Gospel of Guru Granth Sahib. It was published in Madras by Theosophical Publishing House through their World Gospel Series. The book had a translation of Japuji and a 200 page historical essay. Harbans Singh has praised this work. In the same literary lineage came C.H. Loehlin with his work entitled as The Sikhs and Their Scriptures. He had stayed in India for 30 long years.22
After these two above mentioned, Harbans Singh included in his survey the following names or works:
1 Kapur Singh (Parasharprasa )
2 Narain Singh (Our Heritage)
3 Gopal Singh, Trilochan Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh, Kapur Singh, Bawa Harkrishan Singh and Khuswant Singh worked on the entire Guru Granth published in 1960 by the UNESCO.
1. Harbans Singh closed his survey with reference to (1) Gurbachan Singh Talib’s Guru Gobind Singh’s Impact on Indian Society (1967), and
(2) W.G. Archer, paintings of the Sikhs.23
(3) Guru Gobind Singh Foundation established in 1968 and Punjabi University, Patiala established in 1962. This University has a Department of Guru Granth Studies in the Gobind Bhavan.
Stephen Dunning presented an account of the evolution of modern studies on Sikh Religion. His article’The Sikh Religion : An Examination of Some Of The Western Studies’ dealt with the historical aspects of these studies also. This article began with the following authors and their works 24.
1 Max Arthur Macauliffe ‘The Sikh Religion : A Symposium’. It was published, rather reprinted by Susil Gupts, Calcutta, in 1958.
2 E.G. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism(Sikh University Press: Lahore, 1944). This book was accepted by C.H. Loehlin in his work The Sikhs and Their Scripture (Lucknow: Lucknow Publishing House, 1964), pp.10,63.
3 R.C. Zaehner, The Concise Encyclopedia of living Faiths(Beacon) Press: Boston, 1959). He i.e. Zaehner devoted a very short para to Guru Nanak alone and ignored the growth of Sikhism and its popularity after him.
Like Zaehner, Hans-Joachim Schoops in his book The Religions of Man published in 1968 considered Sikhism as an insignificant sect of Hinduism founded by Guru Nanak to unite the Hindu and Muslim religions round the god Rama.25 Another Western writer named Huston Smith had totally omitted the Sikhs. It was Jack Finegan’s work The Archeology of World Religions published by Princeton University Press in 3 Volumes and in 1952 that included Sikh faith as a separate religion.26 Seen in this light Dunning’s article started with the London publication of Macauliffe in 1909. It was actually speaking its reprint by Calcutta in 1958. After Calcutta came Lahore 1944 that published Sher Singh and Boston and his publication in 1964. In between Princeton University Press got published the study by Finegan. Jack Finegan was followed by Arnold Toyngbee’s Selections from the Sacred Writings of the Sikhs. Revised by George S. Frasor this work of Toynbee was published in New York: Macmillan, 1960. Toynbee referred to the establishment of Guruship of the Adi Granth by Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. This Scripture thus began to be worshipped as a ‘living’ Guru to the Orthodox Sikhs. In fact this Scripture “ is the most Highly Venerated”. Outline of Sikh History as made by S. Dunning need care to understand his article for he had divided this history into the following phases:
1. Sikh History began in 1469 with the birth of Guru Nanak and it covered the execution of Guru Arjun and the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. This last Sikh Guru was praised by Toynbee.
2. In 1716 i.e. eight years after Guru Gobind Singh death the Muslim oppression in Delhi was noticed by an Ambassador of East India Company. The British envoy found the 780 Sikh Prisoner as highly faithful to their Faith. Upto 1803, there appeared two books mentioned below.
1 George Foster, A Journey from Bengal to England in 1798.
2 William Franklin, Memoirs of George Thomas in 1803.
These two were soon followed by John Malcolm in 1812 and H.H. Wilson in 1848. According to Dunning, this was the second phase of Sikh History of the Sikhs. While dealing with Malcolm and Wilson Dunning was very brief.
3. The third phase of History was marked by the British “Protection” of the Punjab between 1849. This phase also saw the appointment of Trumpp in 1869 “to translate the Guru Granth”. 28 According to Dunning the appointment was made by the East India Company?
Dunning’s description of Sikh History in this phase and third is very limited and factually incorrect also. He does not know much or deep about Malcolm and Wilson. He has ignored the Benetinck era of Sikh History (1828-35). Like Harbans Singh, he is factually wrong by saying that Trumpp was appointed by the East India Company in 1869 to translate the Guru Granth Sahib. Where was the Dassam Granth? This question did not occur to our scholar under consideration.
4. This fourth phase of Dunning begins with the year 1893 and ends by 1909.
This was the Macauliffe era of Sikh or Punjab History. In this phase also Dunning had been partial and subjective. He did not refer to Gurmukh Singh, Giani Ditt Singh or Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha. Further he had been silent about Bhagat Lskshman Singh and his autobiography published by Ganda Singh. However, he had informed his readers how the work of Macauliffe was followed by Dorothy Field’s The Religion of the Sikhs ( John Murray: London, 1914). Further soon Garret had got published J.D. Cunningham after revising it. In fact, there had appeared in Punjab Market the following works by the year 1930:
1. C.H. Payne, A Short History of the Sikhs(London,1920)
2. J.N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India, 1929.
Along with some more western writers these two were followed by Archer, A Study in Comparative Religion (Princeton Uni. Press: 1946)
5. Dunning traced the fifth phase of Sikh History from John Clark Archer’s The Sikhs in Relation to Hindus, Muslims, Christinas And Ahamadiyhas. It was a study in comparative religion as mentioned above. After 1946 came the work of C.H. Loehlin (1964,1966) and W.H. McLeod’s Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion in 1968. Dunning had considered McLeod’s book as ‘the first through unbiased, critical and original western study of the foundations of Sikhism’29. After writing this Dunning had dealt with the four western scholars namely (1) Trumpp (2) Macauliffe (3) Archer, and (4) McLeod.
How had Dunning dealt with these four western scholars of Sikhism? It is not enough to sum him up in this regard. Significantly his description of each author is lengthy and critical in approach. His method becomes evident when we examine his sub-headings that he did assign to the above four writers in the following way:
1. “Trumpp: Sikhism As Hindu Sect”30
2. “Macauliffe: Sikh Orthodoxy Responds”31
3. “Archer: Sikhism As ‘Reconciliation”.32
4. “McLeod: The Case Against Muslim Influence”33
Trumpp had received by Dinning a space of 31/2 printed pages, Macauliffe covered his 41/3 pages, Archer had been given 51/4 pages, and McLeod got 51/3 pages. Obviously McLeod had been given the Maximum space or consideration by Dunning. Our author under review did not believe that McLeod had simply restated the position of Trumpp.34 We are further told how Guru Nanak had used the Punjabi word ‘man’ in a very broad sense to glorify God and to save human beings from haumai. McLeod found Guru Nanak’s greatest positive originality due to his understanding of ‘The Divine Self- Expression’. 35 In fact he was the first western scholar to appreciate the importance of Simran in Sikhism. Briefly speaking, McLeod wrote that Muslim influence on Guru Nanak was ‘minimal and indirect’. Sikhism was closer to Hinduism. As a faith it was without a relation to Christianity, Dunning had praised C.H. Leophin’s position in this matter. Further, Dunning also had glorified Macauliffe and informs his reader as to how his volumes were praised or used by Dorothy Field also. We know that Macauliffe had shown the merits of Sikhism for both Humanity and the British Empire. The British had indeed refused to patronize him or to save him from his financial difficulties. Like J.D. Cunningham, M.A. Macauliffe suffered in his Job, nay even in health. His popularity among the English educated Sikhs was also due to the efforts of Bhagat Lakshman Singh and Kahn Singh of Nabha. Dunning had seen these two Sikh scholars and their help to Macauliffe. He had also ignored the authorities of India office Library. In-spite of these limitations Dunning had reminded us how the faith of Guru Nanak and his successor was as great as the reform of or by Luther in Europe. Obviously Guru Nanak was a Protestant reformer. He was not respected by Trumpp and for this very reason Macauliffe had condemned this German missionary who had considered Sikhism as a Hindu Sect Market by Pantheism and Theism. This view of Trumpp was rejected by Archer also. He was in fact very near to the contents of Sikhism s stressed by Jodh Singh through theology.
1. Sardar Singh Bhatia, Anand Spencer (eds), The Sikh Tradition: A continuing Reality (Punjabi University, Patiala: 1999), p.47, f.n.
2. Ibid, pp47-68
3. Ibid, p.53.
5. Bhatia, Spencer(eds), op.cit; .20
6. Ibid ;p.17
8. Ibid, p.237
9. Ibid; p.238
10. Op.cit; p.238
14. Bhatia, Spencer (eds.), op.cit; p. 240.
15. Sec, Bhatia, Spencer, op.cit;p.241
16. See Bhatia, Spencer, op.cit,p.242
17. Nazer Singh, Guru Granth Sahib over to the West (Common Wealth : New Delhi 2005), pp.9-10
18. Ibid, pp.16-17,21-22,25,27-38
19. Bhatia, Spencer, op.cit,p.242
20. Ibid; p. 243
21. Bhatia, Spencer, op.cit,pp. 243-44
23. Bhatia, Spencer (eds.), op.cit; p. 245-46
25. Bhatia, Spencer, op.cit; p. 273,f.n.05
26. Ibid, p.251
27. Ibid; p. 251
28. Bhatia, Spencer, op.cit; p. 252.
29. Bhatia, Spencer (eds.), op.cit; p. 253
30. Ibid; pp. 253-57
31. Ibid; pp.257-61
32. Ibid; pp. 262-67
34. Ibid; p. 267
35. Ibid; p. 268
36. Ibid; P. 271
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All