Khalsa : The fulfilment of
Guru Nanak’s Mission
Bhagwant Singh Dalawari
The fact that it was Guru Gobind Singh, our last Guru-in-person, who declared Guru Granth Sahib our perpetual Guru, should be the clearest manifestation of the oneness of the light, the message and the fructification of Guru Nanak’s mission. And, let us not forget that Guru Granth Sahib is a compendium of divine truths projected not only by Sikh Gurus, but also by Hindu and Muslim saints, including some who were called untouchables. But the spectacular wonder is that, as a gesture of self-annihilation and as a projection of his own total integration into the teachings of earlier Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh did not include any of his own hymns. It is true that some eminent personalities have mistakenly taken the view that Guru Gobind Singh diverted the “pure stream of religion” into the “muddy waters of politics”, but they have wittingly or unwittingly ignored the basic attitudes of Guru Nanak and his successors towards defiance of tyranny and resistance to wrong. The Gurus went to the extent of endangering their lives to register their support of human rights and freedom of conscience. The whole programme of the Sikh Gurus aimed at promoting righteousness and freedom, restoring social and political justice through spiritual regeneration and revolutionary ideals. Guru Arjun, as the first Sikh martyr, laid down the syllabus of never surrendering to insolent might, and Guru Tegh Bahadur defied unjust, violent and forcible conversions of those not even belonging to his own faith. Guru Gobind Singh, through the creation of the Khalsa Brotherhood, established, for all times to come, a permanent framework, as we witnessed in the struggles of the 18th and 19th century, for independent and dignified living in the face of tyranny.
Sometimes I wonder how our own historians can have any doubt about the unity of the missions of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, when many foreigners of established impartiality and vision have vehemently stressed the oneness of the whole Sikh system. Could it be that because of the Hindus’ cultural degeneration during those times and the Hindu Hill Rajas’ preference for personal glory, pomp and show, as also the caste-ridden nature of the society resulting in the exploitation of the poor by the Brahmins, that even intellectuals like R N Tagore, J N Sarkar and M K Gandhi could not distinguish between a life of dignity and self-respect on the one hand, and servility through passive external Karam-Kandic (ritualistic) religion on the other. When Guru Nanak openly declared that kings were butchers and dharma had vanished, he was no less defiant than Guru Gobind Singh. In fact, Guru Nanak stressed that in the darkness of falsehood, one could not see the moon of truth, and that in this madness “no one is able to find the way.” But the most significant aspect of the culmination of Guru Nanak’s mission in the establishment of the Khalsa Order in the form of the personal roop of Guru Gobind Singh can be drawn from Guru Nanak’s own words, spoken more than 200 years earlier :
Jau tau prem khelan ka chao, sir dhar tali gali meri aao
It marag pair dhareejai, sir deejai kaan na keejai.
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1412
“If you wish to play the game of love,
Come to me with readiness to die in your heart,
For on this path, even the first step should mean that
You will not hesitate to lay down your life — for righteousness.”
And Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, actually put this statement into practice by asking for heads for the Guru. Gandhi’s consent to offer armed resistance to the raiders in Kashmir in 1947 was definitely in line with Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa Order and not a lesson in ‘non-violence’ by the apostle of non-violence. Our Guru had told Aurangzeb : “When all other approaches become unproductive, it is righteous to take up the sword.”
The fact is that the “Khalsa” was not only the fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission, but also the personification of sachiara as defined in Japji by him :
Kiv sachiara Hoeeyai kiv koorai tutai paal,
Hukam rajaee chalna Nanak likhia naal. (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1)
“How does one become the personification of Truth,
How does the wall of falsehood get destroyed ?
By living in the Will of the Lord, O, Nanak !”
And Guru Gobind Singh himself says that the Khalsa is Akal Purakh ki Fauj (the army of God).
As a matter of fact the continuity and culmination of Guru Nanak’s mission in the hands of Guru Gobind Singh passing through the words and deeds of the successors of Guru Nanak is so obvious that the declarations of both the first and the tenth Guru, point towards the final goal of spiritual uprightness, spiritual and moral basis of the society, defiance of and resistance to tyranny, equality of man and justice to all. In addition, the deeds of all our Masters stress these goals in accordance with the circumstances of the times and the evolution of the revolutionary spirit. What Guru Arjun and Guru Tegh Bahadur asserted in their martyrdom was repeatedly asserted by Guru Gobind Singh, his four sons and the innumerable Sikhs who were bricked, sawn, burnt or boiled alive.
Yeh sir kat sakta hai magar jhuk sakta nahin.
“A Sikh’s head my be severed
But it cannot be made to bow by tyrannical force.”
Let me take one cardinal principle of spiritual defiance in which humility and self-annihilation are manifest leaving no place for personal haughtiness in a saint who has also to function as a soldier. That is why we call the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh sant-sipahi (saint-soldier). The relationship between Guru Nanak’s words of self-annihilation and those of Guru Gobind Singh in terms of complete oneness is evident from the following verse:
Khatiah jamme khate karan t’ khatia vich pah
Dhote mool n’ utreh je sau dhovan pah
Nanak bakhse bakhsiah, nah t’ pahee pah. (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 149)
“I was born in sin, I go on sinning and I am engulfed by sin;
Even if I am washed a hundred times, the dirt of sin cannot be removed.
But, says Nanak, if the Lord in His mercy, forgives me,
I could be forgiven, otherwise I will get a shoe-beating.”
Mer karo trin te muhe jahe garib nawaj na doosar tau sau
Bhool chhimo hamri prabh aapan bhoolanhar kahoun kou mosau.
“My Lord, You have transformed me, a mere straw, into a big mountain,
Surely there is no one else as gracious a Protector of the poor as You are;
Please forgive my trespasses, where can there be another blunderer like me ?”
We need to remind ourselves and let the world know that these two remarkable personalities, who showed the path of righteousness and dignified living to the lowliest of the low, remembered their own smallness before the Lord Almighty. With this strength of humility — Garibi Gada Hamari — Guru Nanak could subdue Babar, and Guru Gobind Singh could defy Aurangzeb. The misguided (or is it deliberate ?) inferences about the difference in approaches of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh among our own people is surprising, when foreigners could clearly see the continuity in unambiguous terms. The creation of the Khalsa meant the creation of a universal, perfect man, the saviour of humanity. It is not without significance that after administering amrit to the Panj Piare, Guru Gobind Singh himself asked to be given the honour of becoming a Khalsa.
Let us now turn to Mr Duncan Greenlees, who has done a magnificent job for the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, in writing about various religions in the World Gospel Series. In The Gospel of Guru Granth Sahib, Mr Greenlees brings out a brilliant, scintillating and wonderfully clear analysis of various aspects of Sikhism. Apart from posing various questions (and giving answers himself) like temple of God, the definition of sin, the identity of man, man’s duty on earth, etc., he also poses the question which, unfortunately, creates problems for some people :
“Q. Why did Guru Gobind Singh ji change the form of Sikhism ?
A. In reality he made no essential change, but in the days of persecution
more stress had to be laid on manly courage. So he introduced external signs and insignia, and thus preserved the precious treasure of the religion from absorption into Hinduism or Islam.”
Why I have quoted Mr Greenlees in particular, and there are many others who have this view, is because he struck me as a man of great insight in that he not only came to the conclusion that Guru Gobind Singh did not make any change, but also gave the reason for creating the Khalsa — manly courage in the days of persecution, and also the potential harm that could accrue to nascent Sikhism, viz. absorption into Hinduism or Islam.
Let me now take up the ideals of Guru Nanak which were put into practice by Guru Gobind Singh in giving shape to Khalsa. Before I refer to Guru Nanak and other Gurus, I venture to emphasise the thrust of the Sikh value system, foremost projections of which are:
– Absolute equality of man
– Total elimination of caste-oriented segregation
– Remembrance of the Lord every instant
– Friendship of all and enmity towards none
– Love for all and Sarbat da Bhala
– High moral character
– Equality for women
– Respect for His creation
Guru Nanak emphasised that Sikhism stood for updesh chau varna ko sajha (the same teaching for all mankind) and Guru Gobind Singh’s five beloved (Panj Piare) came from different castes, three from the Shudras, and one each from Khatris and Vaishs. Guru Nanak had introduced sangat (congregation) and pangat (eating together) and Guru Gobind Singh in administering amrit asked every seeker to drink from the same bowl. In other words, not only were people of all castes made to sit and pray together, but also to eat together forgetting the age-old differences of high and low and of the exclusivity of religious learning for the Brahmins.
We are really lucky that Guru Gobind Singh fashioned a system called Khalsa Order to synthesise the teachings of earlier Gurus so that the people could witness the ideal man who would carry out the teachings in life. History is a witness to the fact that those considered downtrodden, polluted and lowly, fought valiantly and abreast of the so-called high-caste people in defence of the weak and in resisting wrong. It is not without significance that Guru Gobind Singh went to the extent of alienating the Hindu Rajas by not accepting different grades of the Khalsa on the basis of Hindu varnas. But more interesting is the story of the Hindu Rajas who, because of their adherence to the caste system and kowtowing attitude towards the Muslim rulers, preferred to fight on the side of tyranny rather than joining the Guru in emancipating the downtrodden.
Before proceeding further, I want to digress, and do so purposefully. While stating the obvious and while praising my Gurus and emphasising the unity of thoughts about caste-system, I am at the same time ashamed to admit that we have become Guru-ki-gahl. We have brought a bad name to our venerable Gurus by not living their dictates in life and I dare say that the debate on the unpalatable questions continues only because we are not the examples of the Khalsa that the Guru created. We too are caste-ridden, we too kill our girls and we too burn our brides. More disgusting, we carry the divisions based on caste in our gurdwaras and in langar, although the Gurus specially created pangat and Guru Amar Das insisted that Akbar first eat in the community kitchen before meeting the Guru.
If Guru Nanak and the succeeding Gurus insisted upon single-minded attention to God and that His ceaseless remembrance should dominate the Sikh value-system, Guru Gobind Singh defined Khalsa thus :
Pooran jot jage ghat mein tab Khalas tahe nakhalas jaane.
“Khalsa is the one in whom the Light of the Lord burns ceaselessly,
otherwise he is impure.”
But there are more glaring and as significant aspects, which loudly establish through the words and deeds of all the Gurus, their unity of thought and action : Babar-vani of Guru Nanak; the calm unconcerned look at the sword-wielding, threatening Humayun, by Guru Angad; strictness of the rule of pangat (langar) before sangat for Emperor Akbar on the part of Guru Amardas; self-annihilating service by Guru Ram Das; dignified defiance of tyranny and observing the rule of universality of spiritualism by Guru Arjun through Mian Mir’s laying of the foundation stone of Harimandar, and inclusion of hymns of Hindu and Muslim Bhaktas in Granth Sahib; Guru Hargobind’s miri-piri and non-submission to royal edicts; Guru Har Rai’s defiantly dealing with Aurangzeb and disowning his own son, Ram Rai; Guru Harkrishan’s refusal to meet Aurangzeb; and Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom for the sake of freedom of conscience, all point and lead to the determination of Guru Gobind Singh’s goal of zealous protection of civil and human rights of the lowliest of the low through the creation of the Khalsa. The fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission is evident from, besides other things, the Nash Doctrine, enjoining upon the Khalsa to make a complete break with the earlier systems prevalent in society, entailing freedom from all earlier religious traditions, freedom from the shackles of earlier practices and deeds, freedom from caste or family lineage, freedom from stigma attached to any profession or compulsion to follow a hereditary calling, and, more importantly, freedom from all Karam-Kand pursuits in religion or other inhibitions, prejudices and rituals. There was a direct assault on the earlier beliefs that the so-called lower castes were not entitled to or capable of spiritual upliftment. Indeed the martyrdoms attained by the Gurus and Sikhs dominated the history of India, inspiring Bulleh Shah to declare that had there been no Gobind Singh, everyone in India would have converted to Islam.
Let me now lead to the conclusion of this authentic personal understanding by quoting a few other non-Sikh stalwarts :
“The seedling which Guru Nanak planted, the sapling which Guru Arjun and Guru Hargobind nurtured with their blood and bones, was irrigated by Guru Tegh Bahadur with his blood. Guru Gobind Singh nourished it with the overflowing canals of blood of his four sons (two of them, only five and seven years old, were beheaded), five of his cherished lieutenants and thousands of dedicated Sikh martyrs, into a robust tree which produced fruit. The fruit symbolised socio-religious harmony, piety, monotheism, and nationalistic spirit (patriotism).” — Daulat Rai of Arya Samaj
“Sikhism inculcates loyalty, justice, impartiality, truth, honesty and all the moral and domestic virtues known to the holiest citizens of any country.”
And here is a more recent observation :
“I have studied the scriptures of the great religions, I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in Guru Granth Sahib. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind.”
— Pearl S. Buck
What should be noted is that the discerning commentator never got into the error of separating Guru Gobind Singh’s mission from that of Guru Nanak. It was only the view of those who, because of their own inherent understanding of the uneven and Karam-Kand development of what was then considered religion, could not grasp the inherent integration of Bhakti and Shakti in Sikhism.
Or is it — and I say this in great anguish rather than despair —because we, the so-called Khalsa, have not learnt the lessons bequeathed upon us ? We are in a shambles. Our highest religious institutions, our leaders in all fields, seem to give the impression that mere parading of the Guru’s actions and our paying lip-service to his majesty and glory is enough. Our Gurus need no certificate from us that they were great, or that Khalsa was the fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission. But our conduct in terms of the teachings of our Gurus in the fields of spiritual, economic, social, political and other activities must show that we are different, and have been taught to be different in a positive way. But today the picture of a Sikh is of one drenched in alcohol, personal pelf and power, illegal wealth, on sale to the highest bidder and going fast down the moral hill. How can you explain otherwise leaders knowingly wanting to be elected through use of money and liquor to SGPC ? And how can you explain their degeneration to such low levels all along ? I dare say, and I repeat it again and again, that Indira Gandhi would never have dared invade the Golden Temple and Zail Singh would never have dared to honour those in Rashtrapati Bhavan, who had invaded, if and only if, we were the real Khalsa. Unfortunately I see no effort, no enthusiasm, no willingness to adhere to the ideals of our Gurus. It is true that seminars, discussions, writings, newspapers, journals, and other avenues for disseminating information are useful, but nothing tangible will come out of them unless we gird up our loins and present ourselves as examples of the Khalsa of 1699, by living the dictates of Bani. Remember the words of Guru Nanak (as given by Bhai Gurdas), in Mecca in reply to someone wanting to know whether Hindus were good or Muslims :
Shubh amlan bajhon dono roi
“Without good deeds, both will go on lamenting.”
And remember the words of Guru Gobind Singh :
Jab lag Khalsa rahe niara; tab lag tej dion mein sara.
Jab eh gahe bipran ki reet; mein na karoun inki parteet.
“So long as the Khalsa remains distinct and different,
I shall give my whole-hearted strength to him,
But when he begins to behave like a Brahmin
(andron hor bahron hor) I shall not stand by him.”
That is why, Guru Gobind Singh’s words should be taken as fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s projection :
Sachah orai sabh kau, upar sach achar.
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 62
“Truth is above everything but higher still is truthful living.”
That, in essence, is the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh.
After I finished writing this paper last evening and sat in the hour of amritvela at the feet of Guru Granth Sahib this morning musing over our misfortune that in spite of such clear, unambiguous, practical messages and deeds of our Gurus, we are in the doldrums, a hymn from Guru Granth Sahib transmitted from Harimandar Sahib in Amritsar through Jalandhar Radio confirmed that Khalsa indeed was the fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission. While I give this shabad below, I pose the question : How long shall we go on saying : Pidram sultan bood (My father was a King), and when shall we begin displaying in our personality, character and behaviour the Khaas Roop of Guru Gobind Singh that he envisaged for us in 1699 and for which our Panj Piare provided the frame work ?
Har har arth sareer hum bechya poore Gur ke aage......
Ram gurmat har liv laage.... Hamra binau sun’h prabh
thakur ham saran prabhu har maage. Jan Nanak ki lej
paat Guru hai sir bechyo satgur aage. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 172
“O God, through the guidance of our Guru, we became attached to the Almighty. For the sake of God, we sold ourselves to our Guru. The gracious Satguru made us firm in Naam Simran and we became fortunate. We found that the Lord resided in every heart, thanks to Gurshabad which entrenched us in love for the Lord. We decided to annihilate our mind and body before our Guru because through his Words, all doubts and fears vanished. The Guru lit the lamp of knowledge in our heart and the darkness of ignorance was destroyed the moment the Lord’s Name settled in our hearts and our mind woke up. We learnt that those entrenched in maya (mayadhari) would be tortured by the Yamas. Indeed those who did not sell their head to the Guru were unfortunate who came to and went from the world without any gain. O Lord, listen to our prayer, we beg of You this gift, the gift of belonging to You. Says Nanak : You are my honour and my refuge because I have sold my head to Satguru.”
Nothing can be gained without surrendering ourselves completely to God which alone makes us Khalsa. But today, while we parade the truths the Gurus projected, we are rotten as far as the living of truth is concerned. We are alienated both from bana and bani. The projection for the 21st century is that we must prepare ourselves, as a dedication to the celebration of 300 years of Khalsa Brotherhood in 1999, to be the example of the Khalsa in the footsteps of Panj Piare in the terms of the above shabad.