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Gur Panth Parkash

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

 

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SIKHS AND TEMPLES

Principal Teja Singh

To Sikhs even more important than the associations are their temples, which have played a great part in their history. So much of their history is taken up with either founding of temples or their protection against different kinds of aggressors. The Sikh Prayer, in which the most stirring events of Sikh history are daily recounted, grows most eloquent when reference is made to the brave heroes who suffered martyrdom for the sake of the temples. Much of the daily religious discourse turns on the labours of the devout Sikhs, like Bhai Buddha, Bhai Bhagtu, Bhai Bahlo, Bhai Kalyana and thousands of others, in connection with the excavation of sacred tanks or the collection of material for the raising of temples ; or it expatiates on the sufferings borne by the Sikhs, like Bhai Mehtab Singh1 and  Baba Dip Singh2 in their attempts to rescue their temples from the rulers or the immoral priests. Sometimes it is a Massa Rangarh and sometimes a Sarbrah, but the story is always the same. To tell the truth, the freedom of their temples has always been the measure of the Sikhs’ freedom or prosperity.

During the days of persecution when the Sikhs were living in a forced exile outside the Punjab, their temples had come into the charge of certain monastic orders or those who professed Sikhism but did not conform to its outward symbols. The prominent Gurudwaras were made the chief mark of hostility by the enemy. When Taimur, the son of Ahmad Shah Abdali, took charge of the Punjab in 1757, the first thing he did was to destroy the Amritsar temple and fill up the sacred tank.

This enraged the Sikhs as nothing else had enraged them before, and when in 1758 under two Jassa Singhs they won complete victory over the Afghans, the first thing they did was to restore the temple and the tank. When the Durrani came again in 1762, in his zeal to root out the Sikhs he again demolished the temple, polluted the sacred tank with the blood of cows, and took away the Holy Book to Kabul. But the Sikhs rose again strong as ever and restored the temple in 1763. Similarly in Delhi a mosque had been erected on the spot where the body of Guru Tegh Bahadur, executed by the orders of Aurangzeb, was burnt. When, however, Sardar Baghel Singh of the Karorsinghia Missal got control over Delhi, he used his authority only to raise temples over the places sacred to the memory of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Harkishan, Mata Sahib Kaur and Mata Sundri, and then he retired.

With the establishment of a centralised Sikh Government the security and splendour of the temples was ensured. Munificent jagirs were added to them. All the wealth of art was lavished on their buildings and their equipments, and richest offerings suited to the taste of a ruling people began to pour in from all directions. Once a beautiful canopy decked with gems and jewels, was presented to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. When he stepped towards the royal chair placed underneath it, he was so greatly impressed by the beauty of the workmanship that he exclaimed: “Oh ! take it away to the Golden Temple. The Guru alone deserves such a precious thing.” That canopy is still preserved in the Golden Temple treasury, although many of the precious stones have since been removed by somebody. There is another story showing how the most valuable things were considered worthy of the Sacred Temple only. At the marriage of Prince Nau Nihal Singh, the grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when a garland of pearls worth lakhs was brought to him to wear, he said that it was too good for him and at once sent it away to the Golden Temple, where it is still exhibited in jalau on certain ceremonial occasions. All this interest, however, was shown on the ornamental side of Sikhism, and no intelligent attempt was made to preserve the purity of the ritual, which was likely to grow corrupt as soon as the Sikh influence was lifted off.

In the days of the Gurus, the temples were supervised by the local sangats in the Guru’s name, or by masands, who were appointed by the Guru himself and who, according to the Dabistan. worked for their living and did not receive any pecuniary help unless they happened to be very poor or were found incapable of helping themselves. They were punished and their order was abolished by the Tenth Guru, when they became corrupt. This wholesome tradition was kept up even after the Tenth Guru, when the Panth itself as the Guru-incorporate became self-governing and continued to govern the temples through local congregations. The income of the temples was not permanent and being very small, hardly sufficient to maintain the incumbents, there was no temptation for them to grow corrupt or defy the congregations. Besides, the offering of money was looked upon by the incumbents as poisonous3 and was spent on the free kitchens invariably attached to the temples or in some other way beneficial to the sangat.4

There are many examples of Sikh preachers, who refused to accept jagirs. Bhai Lakha Singh refused to accept the patta of the pargana of Sujanpur granted to him by Sardar Amar Singh Bapa in 1764. Bhai Bhagat Singh refused to accept the grant of seven villages made by Sardar Sada Singh Bahrwalia Nakai in 1766. Bhai Suba Singh refused the pargana of Mirpur granted to him by Sardar Gujar Singh of Gujrat. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in recognition of his service to the Panth, made a grant of land near the Akhara of Santokh Das to Pundit Nihal Singh who had translated the Japji into Sanscrit. The Pundit tore up the patta in the presence of the Maharaja and refused to see him in future. The names of Bhais Dargah Singh, Jai Singh Thakur Dayal Singh, etc., are worthy of mention in the same category.5

Even when they accepted any permanent source of income as a charitable endowment, the priests were kept straight in their conduct by the influence of sangats. There are instances of changes made not only in the management but also in the control of Gurdwaras. The Golden Temple of Amritsar and the Gurdwaras of Anandpur, Gandiwind and Hafizabad were once in the hands of Udasis, but when the Sikh sangats thought it fit they removed the Udasi priests and appointed Singhs instead. Similar changes were made from time to time in other places also.

But with the establishment of the British Government, the situation was entirely changed. The central Sikh temples at Amritsar and Tarn Taran gradually passed into the hands of Government. The new law made the position of the Mahants or priests virtually as independent as that of persons owning private property. The law, as amended later, did provide in a case of the misuse of trust that any two or more persons interested in the affair, with the consent of the Advocate General (Section 92 of the C. P. C.) or the Collector (Section 93 of the C. P. C.) could bring the matter to a court. But this provision was hedged round with so many restrictions in favour of the incumbent who enjoyed great influence on account of his riches, and the whole procedure was so lengthy and expensive that it could be rarely availed of. The Mahants began with impunity to sell off the lands and property attached to the temples and to squander the income on drinking and loose-living. In many cases, with the connivance of authorities, they got the Guirdwara properties entered in their own names and became their masters.

They could defy the Sikh Sangats with impunity not only in the matter of disbursing the income of jagirs, but also in the observance of ceremony and ritual. Those who had no other source of income except the daily offerings could not dispense with the congregations, but here, too, the Sikh control being absent, they began to adapt the ritual to the inclination of the people who formed a majority in the congregation. The extent of this mischief may be measured from the fact that the Sikhs form a majority nowhere in cities. In the central Gurdwaras at Amritsar and Tarn Taran, the Manager and the priests were secure against any check from the public and could introduce any changes they liked in those temples. Many superstitions and corrupt practices began to prevail, first unobserved and then in defiance of the Sikh sentiment. Idols were set up and openly worshipped in the precincts.

Thieves and rogues began to haunt these places with impunity. The worst of it all was, that these places being the premier temples, their example came to be followed everywhere else.

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References

1..         After the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh, Granthi of the Golden Temple in 1738, the temple was turned into a nautch-house and its precincts into a stable by Massa Ranghar, the Mohammedan taluqdar. The Sikhs, who had been declared outlaws, were passing their days and biding their time in the desert of Bikaner. They heard of the desecration in: 1740 and sent Bhai Mehtab Singh of Mirankot, a village near Amritsar, to free the temple. He came with only one companion and, killing the tahiqdar and his party, cleared away in a few minutes. Afterwards he himself was martyred.

2.         Hearing at Damdama Sahib near Bathinda that the Amritsar temple was being desecrated by Ahmad Shah Abdali, he vowed to go and save the temple or give up his life there. He came fighting, until at a short distance from Amritsar his head received a mortal cut. But it is said that he did not mind it, and supporting his head with one hand he fought on with the other, until he fell down in the precincts of the temple, where his cenotaph stands.

3.         See Macauliffe: Vol. I, p. 45 and Vol. Ill, p. 8 ; Bhai Gurdas : Var XXXV. 12; and Rattan Singh’s Panth Prakash prepared at the desire of Sir David Ochterloney.

4.         See the Nirmal Panth Pardipka.

5.         See Suraj Prakash : instructions of Guru Gobind Singh to one Santokh Singh.

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