CREATION OF THE KHALSA : A NON-SIKH INDIAN
The history of the birth of the Khalsa has long been illuminating the Sikh creative mind over the centuries. Even the Sikh studies of the recent times do not fail to highlight this episode. Thus one modem scholar has portrayed this occassion as the ‘central event’ of Sikh history, because it stimulated ‘a revolutionary change’ in the minds of the gurus’ followers. Again it is credited with ‘sealing’ the borders of Punjab to invaders and giving the Sikhs’ sovereignty’ over the whole province. The Khalsa, according to another leading exponent of the Panthic philosophy of the post-independence decades, was committed to the ‘task of founding a society’ for maintaining ‘the permanent and unalterable Dharma’ ‘affecting all aspects of human life’ and ‘totalitarian in its effects.1
These seminal observations underlining the creation of the Khalsa are reported to have been questioned by some notable, dissenters’ in India and abroad. 2 Again these have generated scholarly debates and introduced an additional dimension to Sikh studies of our times. Generally speaking, we are accustomed to listening to what is being debated amongst the leading experts in English. But we are not perhaps aware of how the twentieth century non-Sikh Indian mind has often tried to appreciate the Tenth Guru’s creation of the Khalsa. A study of this literary harvest may provide a glimpse of the attitude of the non-Sikh authors of the Indian sub-continent towards the Panth.
For the convenience of our present discussion, we may refer to three monographs - one each written in Bengali, Hindi and Oriya - dealing with the life and message of Guru Gobind Singh, especially the fighting role of his Khalsa in the history of the Sikh resistance movement against the Mughals. Incidentally, these monographs were brought out in the first half of the present century, when India’s fight for national liberation was generating a new sense of self-consciousness and stimulated a search for the past heroic tradition of the sub-continent. These authors were no less affected by certain communal considerations of the period. Thus politics religion and literature were brought closer on a common platform centering around the story of creation of ‘the Khalsa on the day of the Baisakhiin 1699.
Tinkari Banerjee’s (b. 1856) Guru Gobinda Singha seems to be one of the pioneering studies on the life of the Tenth Guru undertaken in any modem Indian language outside Punjab. 3 Banerjee was born and brought up in an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family and it had a deep imprint on his literarary craft. The monograph was an incomplete one when it was first brought out in 1896. It was later on enlarged, revised and published in its present form in 1918. Based mainly on the Suraj Prakash, it was perhaps the most detailed biography of the Guru in Bengali and its author was not altogether unmindful of the works of the British authorties like Ma1colm, Cunningham and Cave Brown. The biographer however regarded the Suraj Prakash as the most reliable source of information in this regard and generally depended on Bhai Santokh Singh’s view whenever there was any difference of opinion among the authorities. Banerjee claimed to have drafted the biography of the Guru in accordance with the Sikh religious belief and ethical tradition. A historian of the Sikhs, according to him, should first sincerely try to appreciate the basic tenets of the Panth before undertaking any task of reconstructing its religious institutions and historical tradition. With this end in view, he seems to have cultivated a closer relationship with the Bhais of the Barabazar Gurdwara, Calcutta, who, on their turn helped him in communicating the significance of the writings of Bhai Santokh Singh., The biographer devoted a chapter (Chapter XVI) entitled the Pahul Sanskar’ on the birth of the Khalsa. He had no doubt that
the Khalsa’s formal induction to militarism had a significance of Its own and this therefore requires more than his passing attention. He quoted the Guru’s injunction that every Sikh should always bear arms and fight whenever he would be challenged by his enemy. While appreciating the growing demand for militarism in the Panth, the biographer also reterred to the dignity involved in it and as a historian tried to find out its answer from the political sufferings and military harrasment encountered by the Sikhs in their daily life in Punjab. He went back to the martyrdom of the Ninth Guru and portrayed how his son and successor, Gobind Rai, had to fight out the grave situation arising out of it. The author emphasized that the young Guru had to negotiate the situation when his Sikhs were steadily encircled by their enemy. It put an immensse pressure on the resources of the Panth. The Guru’s call to arms, according to him, was therefore an answer to the twin objective, namely, the protection of life and religion of the Sikhs within the political framework of Punjab. Banerjee tried to provide an answer to Guru’s militarism in a historical setting which we generally miss in Rabindranath Tagore’s early twentieth century writing on the Sikhs. Unlike Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Banerjee also tried to appreciate this issue from the perspective of a Sikh.4
Another significant point that had received the serious attention of Banerjee in his account of the birth of Khalsa is the relationship between the Guru and his Sikhs. While denying any place to the Massands, Minas, Dhirmalis, Ramrais, Kurimars and Narimars in his vision of the Khalsa, his disciples were particularly instructed not to have any truck with them. It necessitated a redefinition of his Sikhs. Banerjee thus argued that Sikhs should not only be brave, but they should always try to emulate the tradition of Guru Angad when he had been serving Guru Nanak as one of his disciples. Of all his disciples, Banerjeecontinues, Guru Angad (Lehna) alone passed the different ordeals with all grace. Deep veneration, unquestioned surrender, absolute faith and universal readiness to serve the Guru even at the risk of one’s life, would be some of the essential distinguishing marks of a true Sikh. The Panch Piyaras with their five Ks were destined to perpetuate the tradition.
This perception of the Guru’s Sikhs in the scheme of the Khalsa coupled with the total elimination of the dissenting sects, Banerjee sought to project as the ideal of surrender and service of the days of Guru Nanak. Thus the Guru’s biographer drew our attention not only to a code of conduct that underlines that personal and organisational aspects of the life of a Sikh, but confirmed the presence of an uninterrupted historical tradition since the middle of the fifteenth century. It would be perhaps no exaggeration to point out that Banerjee’s commitment to Biahmanical ethos did not here affect his appreciation of some of the rahit as enshrined in the lives of the Gurus and perpetuated by his disciples.
But Banerjee’s craftmanship also bore a few unmistakable marks of his deep Sanatani commitment and he made no secret of it. Thus, his Guru Gobind Singh was no doubt a heavenly commissioned personality on earth; he was fighting for the deliverance of the Hindus against the Mughal tyranny. Againthe Sikh messiah agreed to baptise his Sikhs only after he had received the blessings of Goddess Bhabani. This is symbolised by the gift of her sword for the success of his earthly mission. The biographer felt no hesitation in recording that one of the five Ks was the gift of mythical Hanuman to the Khalsa. Besides, his pronounced Hindu bias clouded his assessment of some of the major issues denounced by the Guru at the time of the creation of the Khalsa. The biographer’s unequivocal assertion in the constructive role of Hindu caste system as well as his insistence on the continuance of worship of Hindu idols in the future scheme of work of the Khalsa underlined his sincere attempt to rehabilitate these’ two Brahmanical religious ingredients within his vision of the Khalsa. This sounds like an echo of the views of the contemporary Punjab Hindu Sabha leaders who were universally opposed to granting any separate communal status and Identity of the Sikhs from that of the Hindus. His depiction of the birth of the Khalsa was a confused patchwork of a few contradictory Hindu-Sikh religious beliefs and institutions and therefore suffers from an inherent dichotomy and contradiction. Incidentally, they also constitute some of the distinguishing marks of the leading non-Sikh authors of his generation writing on the Panth.
Another important biografhical contribution came from the pen of Beni Prasad (1897-1945). 5 A scion of a Lower middle class Vaishya Jain family of Agra, Prasad recounts trye story of the birth of the Khalsa in his Guru Gobind Singh 6 in Hindi. It was published In the Manoranjan Granthamala series of the Nagri Pracharani Sabha, Benaras. Prior to it, he had briefly dealt with this problem In the Saraswati (Allahabad) at the threshold of the present century (October 1907). 7 Prasad was associated with the different English and Punjabi sources though he did not refer to them even in the footnotes of the biography of the Tenth Guru, perhaps anticipating the pattern of readership.
Generally speaking, he narrated the circumstances leading to the creation of the Khalsa in a popular readable style so that it could evoke a note of enthusiasm in the mind of his readers. He deliberately sought to highlight the element of drama in the biography and devoted a considerable amount of space and attention to the Guru’s address and dialogue with his disciples which we generally miss in the volume of Banerjee. Further, as against Banerjee’s restrained and serious literary style, Prasad was in full cry with his assertive but orthodox Hindu religious sentiment in his analysis of the birth of the Khalsa. He injected much of this sentiment in Guru’s speech on the day of the Baisakhi and again on the following day, while he was talking to the Hindu Hill Rajas envisaging a united frontal attack on the Mughals. In the eyes of the Hindi biographer, the issues involved at the time of the creation of the Khalsa were equally clear and definitie. He documented it as a bold attempt at restoring the lost Hindu glory of the days of the Vedas. Guru’s disciples, Prasad claimed, were the direct descendants of the ancient Aryan heroes like Lord Krishna, Rama, Yudhisthira and Bhisma. Besides, the Hindus were the original sons of the soil, i.e., the Aryavarta, but they were subjected to numerous indignities like religious oppression, political enslavement and social sufferings at the hands of the alien Mughals. The biographer was therefore of the opinion that the Guru had conceived of the Khalsa for attaining the deliverance of the Hindus as well as the Indians from the clutches of the Mughal on slaughts. He deliberately added to this scheme of work a spirit of ancient Hindu racial superiority, perhaps as a counterblast to European racialism of his time.
Prasad’s depiction of the circumstances leading to the birth of the Khalsa was generally meant to be an all Hindu affair: the Guru was a hero of the Hindus and fought exclusively for the Hindus. In this monograph, one would therefore often come across references about the Sikhs as an integral part of the Hindu society and Guru Gobind Singh as one of the chief architects of the past Hindu military greatness. The Guru’s Khalsa, according to him, introduced a spirit of regeneration in the moribund Hindu polity. It crystalised in the rebirth of the Sikhs as a powerful sub-section of the Hindu social order challenging the fabric of the Mughal Empire. It reached the high water-mark under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the first half of nineteenth century. While Beni Prasad had no doubt failed to maintain a clear line of demarcation between Sikhism and Hinduism, he however took a meticulous care in identifying some of the injunctions of Guru Gobind Singh, constituting an integral part of the birth of the Khalsa. Here he practically went a step further from that of Tinkari Banerjee and furnished a list of twenty-one injunctions, many of which were missing in the Bengali biography of the Sikh Guru. Besides, he drew our attention to the significance of the abolition of caste ranking by the Guru. It resulted in a better cohesion in the Sikh society. Prasad did not generally hold a very high opinion about the Brahmins. In this regard his individual bias was perhaps reflected in the Guru’s denunciation of the caste system, especially its upper echelon. Prasad concludes his study with a critical appreciation of the long term significance of the functional role of the Khalsa on the Indian society and polity. The biographer regarded the Khalsa as a living social force, projecting a definite programme of action in our life. His insistence on the Guru’s injuctions like the continuance of unity among the disciples, leading a disciplined livelihood, dissociating them from evil human designs, their readiness to fight the enemy with a corresponding firm commitment to monotheism, simultaneously rejecting priestly domination and meaningless rituals, suggest that the Khalsa was conceived to play ‘a definite constructive role’ in social relationship. This was not merely an important religious institution in the eyes of the author, but it had an agenda of constructive social programme for neutralising the threats of an orthodox state power and the growing menace of the caste-ridden Hindu social institutions. The Guru’s Khalsa sought to provide an effective answer to both of them and he warned his readers not to fall a prey to any of these provocations contrary to the message of the Khalsa.
In Oriya, Lingaraja Mishra furnished an outline of the circumstances leading to the birth of the Khalsa ,in his brief study entitled Guru Gobinda Simha. 8 The biographer was an erudite Sanskrit scholar, sometimes served the Satyabadi school of Gopabandhu Dass, participated in the nationalist movement and edited the popular nationalist daily the Samaj published from Cuttack. 9 Like two other biographers, Mishra seems to have consulted some of the well-known secondary English sources mentioned earlier and recorded the Guru’s life and mission in a simple style. The Oriya scholar tries to appreciate the message of the Khalsa from the view point of an Indian natinoalist and reviews it as an important chapter of India’s heroic tradition of the medieval days. The Guru, according to him, was committed to the regeneration of the Hindus and their fight for a rightful place against the oppression of the Mughals. His version of Sikh militarism under Guru Gobind Singh was as interesting blending of religion and nationalist politics of his time and he justified resistance on moral grounds.
The biographer was particularly concerned with the twenty-one fold instructions of the Guru communicated to his disciples a t the time of the creation of the Khalsa. According to him, these were first preached by the Tenth Guru to the Panch Piyaras who promised to respect them in their personal life. Later on, they communicated these instructions to other members of the community assembled at Anandpur on the day of the Baisakhi. .
These generated cl new enthusiasm among the Sikhs and served as a protective shield against the dissenters. The news however alarmed the Emperor Aurangzib and it precipitated a general conflict between the Guru’s followers and the Mughals. In spite of his scholarship and commitment to the study of history, Mishra’s depiction of the birth of the Khalsa suffered from a few serious terminological and other ambiguities. His pronounced Hindu nationalist bias affected his appreciation of the message of the Khalsa and its role during the days of the declining authority of the Mughals in Punjab. Besides, he was of the opinion that the birth of the Khalsa occurred in 1698, i.e., a year ahead of the widely accepted view and he offered no argument defending his view. Again, heexphasized that the Khalsa was the other name of Sikhism ever since it was first preached by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century and Guru Gobind Singh was credited with the birth of the Akalis (which actually should have been the Khalsa) on the day of the Baisakhi. These erroneous observations about some of the fundamental institutions of Sikhism do not necessarily speak highly of his scholarship in Sikh history, though it may be said to have reached a greater height in the writings of his contemporaries like Chintamani Acharya and Shivaprasad Dass in Oriya.
These three monographs written in three different Indian Languages over a period of nearly 20 years in widely varying conditions of India may be taken up as an indicator of the extent
of interest as well as the pattern of response of some non-Sikh authors in the first half of the present century towards the creation of the Khalsa. It may be argued that one should not perhaps try to arrive at a conclusion on the basis of meagre evidence of a particular category of works. While partially endorsing the contention of the above View, these monographs may also provide a few of the distinctive marks of Sikh studies which may again be scrutinised on the basis of a detailed research to be undertaken at a later date. These authors were deeply influenced by the contemporary communal question and their three major findings in relation to the above may be listed below: (1) the Khalsa prominently stood for the revival of a militant form of Hinduism, (2) it however denied any separate communal identity to Sikhism from that of the Hindus and (3) it also conveyed a deep critical sentiment against the Mughals, emphasizing in the same breath the importance of the cooperation of the Muslims in Indian political life. It was widely believed by many of them, in the words of Bulle Shah, that ‘agar na hote Guru Gobind Singh, to sunnat hoti sabh ki’.
Perhaps an attempt at extending the frontiers of Hinduism marks an important aspect of these Sikh studies of the pre-independence decades. In this way the biographers also sought to popularise the life and teachings of the Sikh Gurus and tried to record them in a style to be easily appreciated by common people. Popular legends, symbols and imaginary dialogue among the different historical personalities constitute an interesting
feature of their literary craft. 10 Such writings were widely appreciated by the people, many of whom had no direct access to other sources of Sikh history. In this way a popular version of the message of the Sikh Gurus and martyrs was carried to the arena of many non-Sikhs; this left behind a deep imprint on the minds of many of our predecessors and perhaps affected the evolution of Indian politics even in the post-independence decades. This popular literary touch, we, however, often miss in the writings of many of our contemporary non-Sikh academicians engaged in the pursuit of Sikh studies beyond Punjab.
1 For details, see Kapur Singh. ‘The Tasks Before the Sikh Youth’, The Sikh Review,
September 1968, pp. 25-26; Madanjit Kaur, ‘The Creation of the Khalsa’
Advanced Studies in Sikh ism (Chandigarh : Institute of Sikh Studies, 1989), pp:
195-213; Dr Trilochan Singh, ‘Baisakhi in Sikh History’.
2 J.S. Grewal, ‘The Khalsa of Guru GobindSingh’, ‘From Guru Nanak to Maharaja
Ranjit Singh’ (Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 1982), pp.82-93; W.H.
McLeod, The Evolution of the, Sikh Community (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 16, W.H. McLeod, Who is a Sikh: The Problem of Sikh Identity
(New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp.43-61.
3 Tinkari Banerjee, Guru Gobinda Singha (Calcutta: Sanskrit Press Depositary,
4 For their views, see Ani! Chandra Banerjee, ‘Sir ).N. Sarkar on Sikh History’,
Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh (New Delhi: Rajesh Publications, 1975), pp.l85-97.
5 For Beni Prasad’s career, see Sushila Tyagi’s unpublished contribution to be
published in the Dictionary of National Biography. I am indebted to Professor
N.R. Ray for allowing me to consult this article.
6 Beni Prasad, Guru Gobind Singh (Kashi: Nagri Pracharini Sabha, 1914).
7 Beni Prasad, ‘Sree Guru Gobind Singhji’, Saraswati, October 1907, pp. 419-21.
8 Lingaraja Mishra, Guru Gobinda Simha (Cuttack : Satyabadi Press, 1933).
9 For the above information about Mishra’s life, I am indebted to Dr. K. Bhyian
of Anandamohan College, Calcutta.
10 I like to draw attention to the following lines of two poems, one (A) written by
Rabindranath and the other (B) by Subramania Bharati.
(A) Come one, come all, follow me.
The Guru gives you the call;
From the depth of my inspired soul I say,
Awake, my whole country, awake, arise.
Fear no more and doubt no more,
Let there be no hesitation;
I have attained the Truth,
I have acquired the Path.
The whole humanity is trekking to follow me,
Caring not for life or death.
(Translated from the original by Dr Tri!ochan Singh).
(B) No Kings for you, God is your King.
The Rule of Law is the only law
And wrong doing, your enemy.
Guru Gobind’s flag fluttered
High above: the world cheered,
The beginning of the end
of Aurangzib’s reign.
(Translated from the original by Dr Prema Nandakumar).
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