SIKH IDENTITY: A CONTINUING FEATURE
Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon
In recent years some western writers as also a few Indian writers, particularly sociologists and historians, while writing about Sikh religion, its injuctions, doctrines and practices have made two fundamentally fallacious observations by calling Sikhism a tradition and a pluralistic religion. Such descriptions, apart from being doctrinally incorrect, give an entirely wrong image of the fundamentals of the religion and the Sikh society as a whole.
In this paper, we intend clarifying the issue by showing that Sikhism is not only a well-defined religion but is far from being pluralistic. To out-siders not acquainted with Sikhism such misrepresentations might seem plausible because Hinduism with its innumerable sects and cults and undefined doctrines has generally been taken to be a tradition and a pluralistic system. But for scholars in India there could hardly be a ground for confusion about Sikhism. Another two factors have also led to such loose statements even in the academic field. First, studies in sociology and anthropology have become so specialised and narrow in scope that scholars sometimes lose the overall perspective. Unfortunately, after Independence the political factor and the ensuing tensions have also led to some skewing of visions.
We have taken up this isssue because in the writings of W.H. Mcleod1, Rajiv Kapur2 and in papers contributed at Berkley (U.S.A.) and Toronto (Canada), an entirely wrong perspective has been presented. Our essay deals with, as a case study, the paper of H.5. Oberoi (presently in the Chair of Sikh and Punjabi studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada), read at the Conference held at Toronto in February, 1987 (published in the book, 'Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century' Goseph T.O.' Connell, Milton Israel, Willard G. Oxtoby, eds., with W.H. Mcleod and J S Grewal, visiting oos.), brought out by Center of South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, 1988). We have chosen this paper, 'From Ritual to Counter-Ritual Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question, 1884-1915', because W.H. Mcleod's book, 'Who Is A Sikh?", also suffers from the same draw-back, which H.S. Oberoi3 quotes liberally, and presents practically the saJI1e faulty and narrow point of view.
Oberoi in the opening para of his paper writes, "Until then (late nineteenth century) the Sikhs had shown little collective interest in distinguishing themselves from the Hindus. Sikh notions of time, space, corporality, holiness, kinship, social distinctions, purity and pollution, and commensality were hardly different from those of the Hindus. Also the two shared the territory, language, rites de passage, dietary taboos, festivals, ritual personnel and key theological doctrines. The construction of personhood within the two traditions and their solutions for existential problems were quite alike. In brief, the semiotic" cultural, affective and territorial universe of the Sikhs, and Hindus was virtually identica1."4
The confusion in the paper starts from the very loose and incorrect connotations accepted by Oberoi of the words 'tradition', 'holiness', 'societal distinctions', 'purity' and 'pollution; 'commensality', 'key theological doctrines', etc. Oxford dictionary defines tradition as something which is supposed to have divine authority but is not committed to writing;
(1) Opinion or belief or custom handed down, from ancestors to posterity especially orally or by practice. (2) Theological doctrine etc. supposed to have divine authority but not committed to writing, especially. (a) laws held by Pharisees to have been delivered by God to Moses, (b) oral teaching of Christ and Apostles not recorded in writings by immediate disciples, (c) words and deeds of Muhammad not in Koran.
In no religion of the world key theological doctrines, ideas of purity and pollution, holiness, societal distinctions, commensality, etc. have been more rigorously defined and authenticated than in the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth, which the Gurus call the revealed Words (Shabadr But in making his descriptions in reference to theolgoical ideas and doctrines, Oberoi completely distorts their meanings since he never makes any reference to the Guru Granth.
Because, a cultural practice or the acceptance of an idea, if contrary to the injuctions in the scripture, is an aberration and can never be deemed to redefine the doctrine or be made the basis of the presence of a deviant group. Oberio's basic fault is that he neither defines Sikhism nor clarifies how a deviant practice forms the faith of a pluralistic group in Sikhism. For, in a religion, persons violating the vows of marriage are not taken to form a new sect of that religion, or a pluralistic group. Therefore, in order to show the contrast between Sikhism and Hinduism, and the two societies, it is necessary to state briefly the fundamentals of the Sikh ideology and their difference from the doctrines of Hinduism. Significantly, the basic principles of Sikhism were defined by Guru Nanak and he also laid the foundations of its social structure.6 The later Gurus, only developed that structure and built the Sikh Society clearly in pursuance of those principles. Guru Nanak is the first man in India, who broke the dichotomy between the spiritual life and the empirical life of man and made an inalienable combination between the two. Further, in the Japuji he defines 'who is a Sikh' and 'how to be a Sikh' by saying that to be a true person (Sachiara) and break the wall of darkness, obstructing man's vision one has to carry out His Will, the same being Altruistic? It is this clear definition that brought about a fundamental departure from the earlier Indian religions, including Hinduism. At one stroke Guru Nanak made the following revolutionary changes; (1) Instead of the world being Mithya, or a suffering, he called it real.8 (2) He rejected monasticism, asceticism and withdrawal from life and instead recommended total participation in life and acceptance of social responsibility.9 (3) Instead of down-grading the status of woman in relation to spiritual life and recommending celibacy, he recommended a householder's life and equality of man and woman.l0 (4) Instead of the religious doctrine of Varna Ashram Dharma and consequent rules of caste, pollution, social segregation and professional immobility, he accepted equality of all men.l1 (5) He rejected Ahimsa as an inviolable religious doctrine.12 (6) Instead of life negation he recommended life affirmation in all fields of life.13 (7) In his ethical monotheism, the Guru Granth clearly denies the idea of Avtars and their worship, including those of gods and goddesses.14 (8) Instead of religion being a matter of personal devotion and salvation, he, because of his fundamental doctrine of combining the spiritual with the empirical, organised a society in which promotion or defence of righteousness became essential.15
Accordingly Guru Nanak not only organised a society but the created a system of succession so as to develop it on the lines of his thesis. Hence the clear differences between Hindu and Sikh societies, their value systems and social practices. The call Guru Nanak gave to every seeker was, "If you want to tread the path of love, then enter upon my path with your head on your palm".16
Guru Nanak's successors from the second Guru onwards created various institutions of Manjis and Masands, centres of Sikh organisation, etc. For, according to Guru Nanak, he was a prophet ordained to carry out a mission. The Sikh Gurus thus weaned away the Sikhs from the old Hindu society and created new motivations among their followers to pursue the mission. Exactly the same words as of Guru Nanak were spoken by Guru Arjan when Bhai Manj, a Sakhi Sarvaria, came to seek his advice. The Guru's reply is very revealing of the Sikh thesis. He said, "You may go on with the easy path of Sakhi Sarvar worship, because Sikhism is a very difficult path and unless you are willing to be dispossessed of your wealth and to sacrifice your very life, it is no use coming to me."
But Bhai Manj did become a Sikh.17 Guru's statement made two things very clear, namely, the risk and sacrifices involved in following the Sikh faith, and, secondly, that a dual loyality to Sikhism and to any other religious system was out of question. The Sixth Guru while creating the institution of Akal Takhat only institutionalised the fundamental doctrine of Guru Nanak combining spirtitual and empirical lives of man. Guru Hargovind made it clear to Sant Ram Das that he was simply pursuing the mission of Guru Nanak.18 Guru Nanak's mission of creating whole men' motivated to accept total responsibility in respect of all spheres of life (Sant Sipahi ideal) was continued by the subsequent four Gurus till Guru Gobind Singh did the epitomic work of creating the Khalsa, closing the line of personal Gurus and entrusting the ideological Guruship to the Shabad'(Guru Granth). He directed the Khalsa to shoulder the total responsibility of defending and pursuing righteousness and justice. It is extremely significant that demand for total commitment to the mission, and willingness to sacrifice everything for the cause was the same as had been made by Guru Nanak and repeated by Guru Arjan to Bhai Manj. Just like Guru Arjan, Guru Gobind Singh also made it clear by his Nash doctrine that multiple loyalities and plurality of beliefs were out of question in Sikhism.19 The only difference was that whereas both the Khalsa and non-Khalsa Sikhs were Sikhs, every Sikh was not a member of the Khalsa till he had made the necessary commitment required by the Tenth Master.
3. Faults in the Assumptions and Methodology of Oberoi
This conclusion is evident so far as the doctrines were concerned; everything laid down in the Guru Granth was final and unalternable. Secondly, that so far as plurality is concerned one could only be a Sikh or a Khalsa with unalloyed loyalty to the Scripture. Accordingly, there is no scope for accep~ig any doctrine of 'holiness', 'theology', 'rituals', 'practices', 'customs' and rites', variant from those embodied in the Guru Granth. Nor is there any scope for plurality of sects and sub-sects, tradition and sub-tradition, big tradition and small tradition in any sense different from the Sikhs and Khalsa defined above. Accordingly, it is ridiculous for Oberoi to call groups like Udasis, Suthreshahis, Sangatshahi, Jitmalis, Bakhatmalis, Mihanshahis, Sarvarias, etc. as lying within the framework of the Sikh faith.2° Further examination of Oberoi's paper will proceed in the light of the doctrinal position stated above.
Oberoi's statement that,"ln the absence of centralized Church and an attendant religious hierarcy, heterogeniety in religious beliefs, pluralitY. of rituals, and diversity of life styles were freely acknowledged.'.21 is obviously baseless. For elimination of the Brahminical heirarchy was a major achievement of the Sikh Gurus. However, there was no bar to attending festivals, fairs, or be a part of institutions so long that partaking was not incongruous with the doctrines of the Gurus. The Sikh cosmology stood well defined and there was only a single Sikh identity impossible of variation or transgression. It is strange that without defining Sikhism Oberoi writes, "Most Sikhs moved in and out of multiple identities, defining themselves at one moment as residents of this village, at another as members of that cult, at one moment as part of this lineage, at another as part of that caste and yet another as belonging to a "Sect". The boundaries between what could be seen as the centre of the Sikh tradition and its periphery were highly blurred". There simply was no single source of authority within the Sikh tradition and thus several comEeting definitions of what constituted a "Sikh" were possible".
We have indicated the definition laid down by the Gurus both for Sikhism and a Sikh. It makes it also clear how essential was Guru Gobind Singh's step of Amrit ceremony and the related Nash doctrine clearly defining the Sikh. In this context Oberoi's statements about Sikhism and Sikh identity are just unwarranted by facts. He makes another observation, borrowed from Arya Samaj writings of the late 19th Century, that Sikh separatism was the result of economic competition between Sikh and Hindu middle classes and it had some backing from the British. He gives no evidence whatsoever to support his observations regarding the supposed competition and the economic distress. With this preamble, he proceeds to make a detailed description of some social and superstitious practices prevalent in Punjab.
Before we proceed to examine his statements regarding the Hindu and Sikh societies, it is necessary to expose the basically wrong assumptions in his preamble and his method of study. All social studies if those remain unrelated to earlier periods or religious doctrines, and are done in isolation for a narrow period of time would be distortional, unless they appropriately give some background of the societies that are under study. This is far more true of emerging religious societies, especially prophetic religious that make a major and radical departure from the earlier religious societies. Oberoi's paper makes an entirely baseless assumption that for four hundred years before the end of the 19th century the Hindus and the Sikhs formed one society. This means that in those four hundred years there was a single and peaceful Hindu society without any major historical events. In short, he makes a complete black out of the Sikh epoch, the Sikh Scripture and its redical doctrines, the ten Gurus and their mission, the Sikh society and a century of its persecution and revolt, and the phenomenal achievements of the Guru and the Sikhs in those four hundred years. No student of social history can ignore the radical regeneration brought about by the Sikh Gurus by introducing the creative institution of martyrdom, practically unknown to the Indian society. No understanding of the 19th Century Sikh society is possible without a clear grasp of its religion, history and achievements. Obviously, this gross omission, by Oberoi, evidently deliberate, vitiates his entire paper and shows its motivated slant.
What we have emphasised above is the presence of an entirely new Sikh society with radically different motivations, Ideals and ethos as separate from the old Hindu society. Those motivations and ethos were created by the Gurus through the glorious institution of martyrdom over a period of more than two hundred years. In the early 18th Century started the period of Sikh revolt, struggle, intense persecution by the state, ending finally in triumphs of the Sikhs and their freedom from socio-political oppression. Sikh society alone went through this fire of turbulations and trials. It is during this period of four hundred years, that their ideological, social, ethical and cultural separateness from the Hindu society was defined and welded clearly. But all this has been naively ignored by Oberoi.
After their success came the fifty years of Sikh rule in the Punjab. Some facts and features of this period are necessary to state. Apart from the fact that power brought some weaknesses, it also drew the flock of fair-weather friends, who had stood clearly apart during the earlier centuries, especially the Century of struggle and persecution, but for the first time entered the Sikh fold to reap benefits of the Sikh Raj. Here some demographic facts are extremely important. During the Guru period the question of plurality of Sikhs did not and could not arise because Sikhism was led and defined by the Gurus themselves. In the 18th Century when there was price on Sikh heads, and thrice it was reported that all Sikhs had been exterminated,23 the chances of plurality of faith were still less. It was a completely homogenous society with singleness of faith, with its members ready to sacrifice their all as desired by the call of the Gurus. lt is this history of persecution, struggle and martyrdoms that welded the Sikh society with a unity of ideals, ethos and practices entirely different from the surrounding Hindu society. We have given this background, because in the 18th Century the pOEulation of Sikhs was once reported to be only twenty thousand 4 but in the period of Ranjit Singh it rose to the peak figure of 10-11 lacs.25 We just wanted to indicate that it is naturally these converts of convenience, who formed a significant part of the Sikh Community in the second half of the 19th Century.26 These were drawn largely from the Hindu society, who naturally did not shed straight away many parts of their earlier practices. The characters of these two segments of the Sikh society were found notably different by discerning observers.
John Malcolm in his book, 'Sketch of the Sikhs', published in 1810, writes, "The character of the Sikhs, or rather Si nhs, which is the name by which the followers of Guru Govind, who are all devoted to arms, are distinguished, is very marked. The Sikh identity is shared by the Sikh merchant, or cultivator, of the soil, if he is a Sinh, not merely by the soldiers who so conspicuously paraded it. The 'followers of Guru Govind or Khalsa Sikhs are clearly distinguished.' Another category of Sikhs whom he calls Khalasa Sikhs he considers them quite different in character. "Their character differs widely from that of the Sinhs. Full of intrigue, pliant, versatile and insinuating, they have all the art of the lower classes of Hindus, who are usually employed in transacting business; from whom, indeed, as they have no distinction of dress, it is difficult to distinguish them."27 A similar distinction is made by Forester and J.D. Cunnigham. Malcolm also indicates Nanak Putras, who were Bedi descendents of the family of Guru Nanak from Lakhmi Das?28 lt is these Nanak Putras who because of the favours gained by them during the Sikh rule, later continued the practice of personal following among Sikhs and Hindus, a practice distinctly censured by the Gurus. It is in this context of a distinct and radical difference between the Hindu and the Sikh societies of the earlier three centuries that we proceed to examine the sociological observations made by Oberoi in the rest of his paper. He has prefaced his description with the wholly incorrect statement that in the earlier four hundred years, the Sikhs and the Hindus formed a single homogenous society and the gap was created by the Singh Sabha on account of economic competition among the middle classes and stringency of resources among the traders and agriculturists. We have indicated the serious methodological fault of Oberoi and his deliberate exclusion of important facts about the earlier period of Sikh history and Sikh struggles and achievements. Religious societies are formed only if they have an ideology and successfully emerge out of the fire of persecution. It is these struggles and the institution of martyrdom for the faith which frame and mould their character. Students of history know that there would have been no Christian religion or society unless the followers of Christ had gone through decades of persecution and shown their defiant response of suffering and martyrdoms in the early two hundred years. A view is held even today that Christ never wanted to create a religion separate from Judaism, but it is his martyrdom and the subsequent response of his followers, the Christians, who created Christianity, and the Christian society.
We have to make another general observation. Anything not prescribed by the Sikh scripture or the Gurus, a Sikh is not barred from practising in relation to his social and cultural life. But something barred by the Scripture or the Gurus or contrary to clear injunctions is an aberration and its practice by some cannot indicate plurality of the Sikh faith or constitute a sect of the Sikh society. Sinners and adulterers are there in every religious society but they form no sect of the faith. We have noted this point because in his description of practices, Oberoi makes no distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned practices, thereby creating confusion and obliterating the line between cultural practices and aberrations. Here we might also record that rituals and ceremonies are, broadly speaking, of three kinds:
(1) Acts or rituals performed as the result of religious or ethical injuctions of the concerned faith. (2) Those which cater to customs or social practice unrelated to any particular faith. (3) Utilitarian practices following mundane needs of the local society. Oberoi in describing his rituals has neither indicated the extent of their prevalence nor related them to religious injuctions of the Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims. The Punjab society of the times was constituted of about 52% Muslims, about 12% Sikhs and the remaining were Hindus. Sakhi Sarvar was a Muslim Pir from the largely Muslim populated area of Punjab. His following among the Muslims was naturally the largest, numerous of his followers were Hindus.29
4. Examination of Oberoi' 5 Paper
Now we proceed to examine his paper which suffers from lack of methodology substituted by irrelevant profusion of details, thereby creating confusion and drawing inferences unsupported by precise facts. In his opening paras Oberoi again makes a curious statement that cultural practices were not "an extension of their religious traditions, but were embedded in a complex idiom of kinship, patron-client relationships and asymmetrical recipro city 30." In the background we have explained how obvious is his misstatement that, "Religion, I would like to argue, is not, as has often been assumed, a key to understanding the pre-British society"31. He makes a similar misstatement when he says that, "In the Indian religious tradition, unlike the Judeo-Christian, there was no notion of a well-demarcated religious community possessing a centralized ecclesiastical hierarchy. People did not conceive of themselves simply as "Hindus" or "Sikhs 32 ". Anyone with the knowledge of Brahmanism would find such statements to be just groundless. For, Brahminical rules rigidly governed every phase and act of life whether religious, social or cultural; and Brahmins were the exclusive agency to supervise and conduct all related acts and ceremonies concerning human interests. Brahmanism and Brahmin hierarchy have been considered the bane of the Hindu society. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Gurus purposely rejected both. But Oberoi brands this as the elimination of a necessary feature of a society. Again it is Oberoi's complete ignorance of the Sikh religion when he says that religion is for the individual salvation of man.33 , It is a Hindu idea that was specifically discarded by the Gurus by creating and organising a separate religious system in which social responsibility and social salvation of man were an essential part, following Gurus' doctrine of combining the spiritual
and the empirical concerns of man.34 This combination exists both in Sikhism and Islam which distinguishes them radically from the other societies in the East where the dichotomy between the spiritual and the empirical continues, creating thereby a wide gap between the householders and recluses who only withdraw from the social sphere to seek personal salvation.35 The observations of Oberoi show his complete ignorance both of the Sikh religion and its society and the Hindu religion and its society. In the Hindu society there is a wide social and cultural gap between its main stream and its saints, yogis, sanyasis and other religious groups pursuing Moksha. That is why Maitra's study of Hindu ethics clearly concludes that the ethical injuctions of that religion hardly relate to the empirical, social or cultural life of the society. His ignorance also explains his observation that religion was a highly localised affair. For that reason his views based on studies in South Asia or peasant societies elsewhere are quite irrelevant in respect of the Sikh Society in Punjab.
Seen in the light of our observations, and in the background of the prophetic and monumental work of the ten Gurus in creating a new religion and organising the Sikh society, and the extreme sacrifices the Sikhs made to maintain their identity created by the Gurus in the earlier centuries, it is ridiculous for Oberoi to assume that, "religion as a systematized sociological unit claiming unbridled loyalty for its adherents is a relatively recent development in the history of the Indian peoples. Once this phenomenon surfaced, probably sometimes in the nineteenth century, it rapidly evolved, gained wide support and became
relfied In history. Out of this reification process it easily turned into something separate, distinct and concrete; what we to-day recognise as Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism"36. Though the phraseology is slightly different, in essence Oberoi is voicing the views of a Hindu scholar who says, "But when it comes to the Indians belonging to religions which originated in India, such as Buddhists Jains and Sikhs, many a Hindu regard them as downright unpatriotic or unspiritual or both if they wish to maintian their distinct identity from the Hindus"37. And so far as Parkash Tandon's statement, Oberoi quotes, we have already noted the phenomenon of certain Hindu castes entering the Sikh fold during the period of Ranjit Singh. "From the fact that Hindus and Sikhs shared positions within a single social structure, and from the "peculiar" nature of religion in Indian society, there flowed an important consequence: the religious ca tegories "Hindu" and "Sikh" were ambiguous, fluid and fragile"38. This is not correct, because the distinction continued right through the 19th century as observed by Malcolm except for the new entrants, who entered because of socio-political considerations.
As for the Sutak and other such superstitious practices, we have to state that the Guru Granth clearly deprecates this and other Chhut practices in the Hindu societies. The difficulty is that in making his observations, Oberoi seems to make a deliberate confusion by neither giving the extent of those practices nor of making a distinction whether or not such practices were confined only to Hindu castes. He concedes that in the case of the birth ceremony, the child was named by a Sikh Granthi and Sikh prayers were made. Vague and general statements like, "There was an immense variation in ceremonial not only among the different castes of Sikhs but also within caste groups among Sikhs of different localities,"39 are numerous in the paper of Oberoi. There are also statements concerning the employment of messengers (Prohit or Nai) from certain castes. Similarly, many cultural features like the use of drums,.singing and dancing are equally without any meaning and consequence. Since in every society there are local cultural practices that contravene no religious injuctions. These have no relevance for our discussion.
It is well known, and Oberoi concedes it, that Guru Amar Das distinctly provided for the Sikh society separate non-superstitious practices, regarding birth, marriage and death ceremonies40. The disappearance of Hindu practices during the Guru period and the revolutionary period has been evident and their re-appearance in the 19th Century among some sections of the neo-converts is understandable. In all his statements Oberoi seems purposely to have avoided indicating their extent. The only practice about which there is some evidence of its extent, is about Sakhi Sarvarias who were only 3% among the Sikhs,41 and Oberoi mentions it as an evidence of Sikh pluralism. The argument is ridiculous, for, it is Guru Arjan who stated that one could either be a Sikh or a Sakhi Sarvana. Followers of Sakhi Sarvar, a Muslim saint, formed a separate sect. It is known that this Muslim practice, was quite common even in the Hindu society and later was also brought in the Sikh society when in the 19th Century sections of the Hindus accepted Sikhism. Therefore, such aberrations, unsanctioned by the Sikh Gurus, disappeared progressively. But it proves pluralism neither of Islam nor of Sikhism. So far as the Sikh society of the 18th Century is concerned, the observations of Malcolm and others are unambiguious. By the Amrit ceremony the tenth Guru obliterated all distinctions of caste and the rest, thereby separating Sikhs from the Hindus. The Guru's intention found expression in the initiation ceremony and those who understand the meaning of that ceremony will appreciate that Guru Gobind Singh had separated his followers for ever from the Hindus. The Singhs, Akalis and Shahids strictly observed the injuctions of the Gurus. Obviously, those who sacrificed their all for their religion and its symbols would not indulge in any Hindu practice prohibited by the Gurus. It is also meaningless for Oberoi to quote Barbara Myershoff and Sally Falk Moore to suggest that, "ritual practices help people to overcome indeterminancy in life"42. The argument is irrelevant concerning the Sikhs whom the Gurus had given a new scripture and a distinct identity regarding their form and beliefs, including ceremonies for birth, marriage and death. If Brahmins or others were employed for ancillary purposes that hardly affected the identity of the Sikhs.
The most revealing part of Oberoi's paper, which virtually demolishes the entire structure of his argument, is when he says, "All this, no doubt, can be qualified to some extent. Within the pluralistic framework of Sikh tradition in the nineteenth century there was a significant khalsa 'sub-tradition' that did not blend very well with the amorphous state of the Sikh faith. The Khalsa Sikhs had their own notion of what constituted the Sikh past and more importantly they possessed a distinct life style ritual in the form of Khande-da-Phahul or baptism rites. Those who underwent this rite had to maintain the five well-known symbols of the Khalsa and in addition strictly to observe the injunctions laid down in the rahit-namas or manuals of conduct"43. "These manuals most clearly manifest the aspirations and ethos of the Khalsa sub-tradition. They visulised a considerably deritualized Sikhism, shorn of polytheism, idolatry and Brahmanical dominance. But a great deal of historical and linguistic research needs to be carried out before we can be sure how precisely the rahit-nama texts related to the aspirations of the Khalsa. However, one point is clear: in many ways the rahit-nama literature foreshadowed the homogenous Sikh identity and religious boundaries of the late nineteenth century.'44
The existence of the body of Sikhs whom he calls Khalsa, he cannot conceal. But nothing can be a bigger distortion than, for Oberoi to state that the community which the Gurus created, led and motivated for over two hundred years, whom they gave a new Scripture fully governing their religious and empirical life, to build whom the Gurus suffered unparalleled martyrdoms, and who went through a century of struggle, involving extreme sacrifices and persecutions at the hands of the state were only a 'sub-tradition' of the amorphous Sikh faith. Either the Guru Granth embodies doctrines of an amorphous faith or there was in existence another Scripture conveying the tenets of that amorphous faith. Oberoi's statements in this para cross all bounds of sense when he states that the practices of the Khalsa or the statement in Rahit-namas embodied aspirations of the Khalsa and not the epitomic work and injunctions of the ten Gurus in creating the Sikh religion. For him the creation of the Sikh religion and the Sikh society by the Gurus, whom he calls the Khalsa,' and its self perception of having a distinct religious identity, has no meaning unless the same is accepted by the Hindus or the rest of the population of the province. Another misstatement of Oberoi is that Sikhs comprised two sections, those who took Amrit or aspired to take Khande-Di-Pahul,and those who took Charan-Pahul. After 1708 A.D. when the Tenth Master passed away, who were the Sikhs getting the Charan Pahul and who was the Guru whose Charan Pahul they were getting to baptise them as Sikhs and where were those Sikhs and Gurus during the 18th Century, when Sikhs of the ten Masters, whether Amrit-Dhari or otherwise were fighting their life and death struggle. Evidently, these new Gurus and their followers like mushrooms of the rainy season appeared only in the rule of the Sarkar-i-Khalsa. It has already been noted that in the second half of the 19th Century this tribe of the Gurus and Sikhs continued their trade of having Hindu followers on grounds of their being Nanak-Putras through Lakhmi Das. And it is this very group who later appeared in the Amritsar Singh Sabha whom Oberoi calls genuine Sikhs 45 and their practices in violation of the Sikh religion as authentic and valid, forming the 'Great tradition', and Sikhs of the ten Gurus as the 'little or small tradition'. Such gross misstatements have hardly ever been made before in acadmic discussion.
The next part of Oberoi's essay is based on the validity of these premises and assumptions. For, he clearly argues that the Singh Sabhas that tried to revive the Sikhism of the Gurus (or the small tradition) by invoking the injunctions of Guru Granth, were innovators, thereby destroying Sikhism of the Charan Ka Pahul Sikhs and their Gurus (great tradition) whose history is non-existent in the earlier four centuries. In making such statements Oberoi has surpassed all records of "Gobellian truths".
All Oberoi's inferences suggest that his study lacks reliable information, depth and objectivity, and he draws conclusions that have no rational basis. His bias and ignorance of Sikh religion and history are too obvious to be concealed. Vagueness and confusion are a specific feature of his style and description. It is an evident fault for any precise academic discussion. He says that from among Sikhs two elites were fostered by colonialism. He does not indicate as to who they were, what was the origin of the members of each. He concedes that many members of one came from families and castes who enjoyed high ritual standing. He admits that the members of the opposite group were from the lower socioeconomic strata, but they emerged as a power block the like of which ''had not existed in the Sikh society"46. He conceals the fact that the first elite, who had a higher social status, were exactly the ones who enjoyed favours and privileges from the British masters. And the others were persons drawn from what the Hindu society considered the lowest castes. He gives no reason whatsoever why the second group swept away the influence of the gilded gentry from among the Sikh masses. He conceals the truth, because if he told it, his entire house of cards he had structured would fall to pieces. The fact is that the second group with no socio-economic backing invoked the authority of Guru Granth, Sikh injunctions and the heroes of Sikh history, who had sacrificed their all to maintain the Sikh faith and its identity. The other group failed because their stand was wholly contrary to the Sikh scripture and four hundred years of Sikh history. Some of the big ones of this group were Nanak Putras through Lakhmi Das who had never been a part of the Sikh society of the earlier centuries. They failed because their stand was as spurious as the arguments of Oberoi that Singh Sabha innovators created a new Sikhism entirely different from the Sikh religion & society the Gurus had structured during earlier four centuries.
It is very unfortunate that in making a misstatement or concealing a fact, Oberoi has no inhibitions, if it should serve his argument. An instance is his calling 'Prem Samarag' a midnineteenth century or a late Reht-nama. According to the established view of experts of Punjabi literature like Mohan Singh and S.S. Kohli and historians like J.S.Grewal and Randhir Singh 'Prem Samarag' is a production of the first quarter of the eighteenth century (near 1716-18) and it contains mention of Sikh practices of birth, marriage and death.47 Oberoi conceals this fact because unless he did that the very basis of his paper alleging innovations on the part of Singh Sabha, and not revival of old Sikh practices, is completely knocked out. Use of such academic ethics is unfortunate. May be, Oberoi has followed Mcleod in the use of such tactics because Mcleod has also used the same method in avoiding the clear evidence of 'Prem Samarag'48. It only records the existence of those practices in the beginning of the 18th Century. Actually, these distinct practices about birth, marriage, and death were in troduced during the time of the third and fourth GuruS49.
The issue in the paper is the commonness of Sikh religion and Hindu religion. The presence of numerous bards, geneaologists, story-tellers, ministerals, diviners and healers is hardly relevant since these categories catered to all members of the Punjab society composed of three religions. Nor is it relevant that myriad of literary traditions that were kept alive through oral texts. Islam is an exclusive religion with Quran as its sole guide. Similarly Sikhism has its authenticated and unalterable Scripture which has to be followed by every Sikh. Contravening its injunction is a clear aberration. Hinduism too has its scriptures but their interpretation and rites prescribed by custom are many. Hence reference to "little tradition" and practices or customs, social code, myths or legends unrealted to any religion, or not violaltive of Sikhism, have no meaning or relevance to our discussion. Here it is also necessary to state and emphasize that the category of "Sanatan Sikhs", "Nana Panthis" or like groups arose only in the 19th century when the umbrella of Sikh Raj became available.50 They were never a part of the Sikh society either during the Guru period or during its struggle in the 18th century. The Udasis because of the ascetic tradition of Baba Sri Chand, never joined the Sikh society.51 Udasis did take charge of the virtually vacant Sikh shrines and continued there undisturbed because even the Mughals considered them not to be a part of the Sikh society. In fact, because of the Udasis being ascetic celebates and life negating, they remained distinctly demarcated from the Sikh society which is completely life affirming, socially responsible and anti.ascetic.52 Rather, because of their being in many respects near the Hindu Synasis and sects in their practices, they became the instrument of introducing Hindu practices at the Sikh shrines. Accordingly, removal of the Hindu idols from the Sikh shrines was natural. Whereas there are numerous hymns in the Guru Granth, rejecting, gods and goddesses and worship of idols,53 Oberoi has not quoted a single hymn sanctioning their worship or any historical evidence of Hindu idols at the 'Sikh shrines during the Guru period. As to Udasis, the story about Baba Gurditta becoming an Udasi ascetic is a myth. The evidence of Mehma Parkash, Gurbilas Patshahi Chevin and Bansavli Nama (K.S. Chibber) shows that Baba Gurditta married twice, had two sons and expired following a hunting incident.54 Even Parchian Seva Das, written by an Udasi author, nevet mentions Baba Gurditta becoming a part of the Udasi tradition, which remained, because of its ideology, always outside the Sikh Panth.lnfact, Chibber writing about Sikh Reht clearly records that Sikh, should never give up their religion and become Bairagis or ascetics, the two systems being contradictory.
Oberoi's statement that the Hindu-Sikh religious differences appeared only in the nineteenth Century can only be made by one who places an iron curtain between the Singh Sabha period and the four hundred years of earlier Sikh history. The history of different religions show that generally a religion has flourished the most under its own flag, but never has a religion gained a new shape or identity after the fall of its political umbrella. Nothing can
be more contrary to facts and history then the statement that after the loss of Ranjit Singh's empire, the Singh Sabha created the miracle of a new religio-cultural system, with new definitions and a new identity and consciousness, without the sanction of its religious past and scripture.
Anyone acquainted with the Sikh religion and its four hundred years of history knows that after the fall of the Sikh Raj and during a lean period of Sikh history, the Singh Sabha did a commendable task in steering the community to a safe harbour, thereby enabling it not to lose its socio-religious moorings, But the sole weapon it used was to ask the Sikhs to draw their inspiration and strength from the profound and great base of their religion and tradition the Gurus had created. The wisdom of the Singh Sabha leaders lay in deciding not to fight on two fronts, the political front in relation to the British and the socio-eonomic front facing the far too numerous Hindus and Muslims. The efforts and role of the Singh Sabha have to be understood and appreciated in their restoring the self confidence of the community and linking it firmly to their Gurus and religion.
It is indeed amazing that Oberoi has tried to raise a structure, which has entirely no basis in facts, logic or history. The reason for raising this phantom, simply does not exist in the field of academics and has therefore, to be found outside it in the domain of what Oberoi calls "material, pragmatic or economic interests."
1. For details see two recent publications of W.H. Mcleod; The Sikhs (Columbia,
1988) and Who Is A Sikh? (Oxford, 1989).
2. Rajiv A. Kapur, Sikh Separatism: The Politics of Faith (London, 1986).
3. Macleod, W.H; Who Is A Sikh?, pp.65 n.10, 68 n.22, 69 n.26, 72 n.11, 78 n.48, 79. 49, 80n.50, 81 n.51.
4. Oberoi, H.S; From Ritual to Counter- Ritual; Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question, 1884-1915 in O'Connell, T. Joseph et.al. Sikh History and Religion in Twentieth Century (Toronto, 1988), pp.B6-137.
5. Daljeet Singh; Essays On The Authenticity Of Kartarpuri Bir and The integrated Logic and Unity of Sikhism (Patiala, 1987), pp.1,88.
6. "Any student of Sikhism and Sikh society cannot fail to notice how the Sikh Gurus, especially GuruNanak, Guru Arjun and Guru GobindSingh, were very sensitively awake to and critical of not only the social but also the political abuses and consequent miseries of people, which is another aspect of their attitude of social criticism and protest." Ray, Niharranjan; The Sikh Gurus and The Sikh Society (Patiala, 1970), p.68.
7a Guru Granth, p.1.
8a Guru Granth p.463.
9. Guru Granth, p.26
10. "It is by woman, the condemned one, that we are conceived, and from her that we are born; it is with her that we are betrothed and married.
..... ..... ...... ...... ........ .......
Why should we call her inferior who gives birth to great men?" Asa-di- Var, quoted by Teja Singh; Essays In Sikhism (Lahore, 1944), p.65; Guru Granth, p.785
Guru Granth, p.75
11. "Think not of race, abase thyself, and attain to salvation"
Nanak, Adi Granth, Sarang Rag (trans.) Cunningham, ). J.D; History of the Sikhs (new Delhi, 1966), p.334;
"The heart gets impure with greed, and the tongue with lying: The eyes get impure by staring at another's wealth, his wife or her beauty; The ears get impure by deavouring the slander of others. Nanak, these impurities lead the soul of man bound to hell. All other impurity supposed to be contracted from touch is superstitious. Birth and death are ordained; we come and go by His will. All eating and drinking, which God gave as sustenance, is pure.
Nanak, those who have realised this through the Guru do not believe in that impurity." .
Teja Singh, Essays In Sikhism (Lahore, 1944),pp.16-17
12. "Men discriminate not and quarrel over meat eating; they do not know what is flesh and what is non-flesh or in what lies sin and what is not sin." Guru Granth, pp.1289-90.
13. House-holders and hermits are equal, whoever calls on the name of the Lord." Asa Ragni (Nanak from Guru Granth) (Trans.) Cunningharn; op.cit.,p.334;
"Touch not the feet of those, who call themselves Gurus and pirs, and go about begging.They who eat the fruit of their own labour and share it with others are the poeple, Nanak, who have found the right way."
Var Sarang, (Trans.) Teja Singh; op.cit. p.24; 'There can be no love of God without active service." Japuji, (Trans.) Ibid. p.20.
14. "Numerous Muhammads have there been and multitudes of Brahmas Vishnus, and Sivas, Thousands of Pirs and Prophets, and tens of thousands of Saints and Holy men; But the Chief of Lords is the One Lord, the true name of God.O Nanak! of God, His qualities, without end, beyond reckoning, who can understand Nanak," Ratan Mala Cunningham; op.cit., p.330.
15. Daljeet Singh; Sikhism-A Comparative Study of its Theology and Mysticism (New Delhi, 1979), pp. 194-97; Dhillon, G.S; Researches in Sikh Religion and History (Chandigarh, 1989), p.2.
16. Guru Granth, p.l412.
17. Macauliffe, M.A; The Sikh Religion, Vol.IlI, pp. 7-8. The second story also concerns Guru Arjan when he deprecated the Sakhi Sarvar practice of preparing a big cake and presenting it before the priest who read Durud (a verse from Quran) and then kept the cake, giving only a marginal part to the devotees. The Guru says, "Without the true Guru they must sit and watch without eating until the Durud, is read."Macauliffe, V ol.III, p.419
18. Teja Singh; Sikhism: Its Ideals and Institutions (Calcutta, 1964), pp.80-81.
19. In order to emphasize the complete independence and separateness of the Sikh ideology, Guru Gobind Singh introduced the Nash doctrine, involving Kartnash, Kulnash, Bharamnash, Dharamnash and Karamnash i.e. forsaking of all those beliefs, prejudices and traditions that stood in the way of the sole worship of the Supreme Being. Cunningham, ) J.D; Op.cit. p.64;
Bannerjee, l.B; Evolution of the Khasa Vol.1l (Calcutta,1963), p.1l6; Daljeet Singh; op.cit.,60; Dhillon, G.S; Religion and Politics: The Sikh perspective (Chandigarh, 1989), pp.17-18.
20. Oberoi; op.cit., p.137.
23. Gupta, Hari Ram; History of the Sikhs, VoI.II pp.39-45; Also YoU, p.281.
24. Kohli, Sita Ram; Foreword to Umdat-ut-Tawarikh of Sohan Lal Suri, Daftar Iv, pii.
25. Devi Prasad, Pandit; Gulshan-i-Punjab (Lucknow, 1872), p.224 Also see Cunningham; op.cit.,p. 301
26. Dhillon, G.S; Character and Impact of The Singh Sabha Movement on the History of the Punjab (Ph.D. dissertation, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1972), pp. 28-29.
27. Malcolm, John; Sketch of the Sikhs (Calcutta, 1810), pp.220.
28. Ibid pp. 26-61.
29. Dhillon, G.S; Researches in Sikh Religion and History (Chandigarh, 1989), p.80.
34. Daljeet Singh; op.cit., pp.194-197; Dhillon, G.S; Religion And Politics: The Sikh Perspective (Chandigarh, 1989), pp.l-2.
37. Mann, Jasbir 5ingh and Saraon, Harbans Singh; Advanced Studies in Sikh ism (Patiala, 1989), p.28
38. Oberoi; op.cit., p.l42.
39. Ibid., p.l43.
40. Ibid., p.151.
41. Dhillon, G.S. Researches in Sikh Religion and History (Chandigarh, 1989), p.79.
42. Oberoi; op.cit., p.l46
44. Ibid., p. 147
45. Ganda Singh; Kukian Di Vithiya (Amritsar, 1946), p.36;
Avtar Singh Vihria,also stressed the need for human Gurus and declared that Bedis, Bhallas, Trehans and Sod his deserved special reverence due to their descent from the Sikh Gurus. For details see Vihiria, Avtar Singh; Sikh Dharam Tatdarshan (Lahore, 1894), pp.20-25, 55-60;
Hari Singh, Bhai; Prem Parkash (Amritsar, n.d.) P. 2-3 Vihria, Avtar Singh; Shok Pattar (Lahore, 1905), p.38; Khalsa Akhbar,Lahore, March 26,1897; Vihiria, Avtar Singh; Khalsa Sudhar Taru (Amritsar, 1894), pp. 252-57; Also Gurdarshan Shastar (Amritsar, 1916), p. 157.
46. Oberoi; o.p.cit., p.147.
47. Ibid. p.155, .46.
48. Mohan Singh; An Introduction to Punjabi Literature (Amritsar, 1951) pp.121-42; Kohli, S.S; Punjabi Sahit Da Itihas (Ludhiana, 1955), p.216; Grewal, J.S; Prem Suntarag : A Theory of Sikh Social Order in The Sikh Review, September, 1989; RandhirSingh; Prem Samarag Granth (Patiala, 1953), p.9.
49. Dhillon, Balwant Singh; Guru Amar Das And The Mughal State in the Journal of Sikh Studies, Vol.XI, No.ll, August, 1984. (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar) p.88.
50. Khalsa Akhbar, Lahore, March 26, 1897, Vahiria, Avtar Singh; Sikh Dharam Tatdarshan (Lahore, 1894), pp.21-24, 50-60
51. "Sri Chand, the son of Nanak, justified his father's fears, and became the founder of the Hindu sect of 'Udasis', a community indifferent to the concerns of this world". Cunningham , J.D, op.cit. p.43
52. Ibid. pp. 44-45;
Malcolm; op.cit., p.27.
53. Guru Granth, pp.310 and 1102; The author of Dabistan, who visited Punjab in the times of the Sixth and Seventh Gurus, says about the Sikhs, 'The Sikhs of Guru Nanak condemn idolatry and believe that all the Gurus are identical with Nanak. They do not read the Hindu Mantras, nor do they pay any regard to their shrines. They do not believe in Hindu Avtars and do not study Sanskrit, which according to Hindus is the language of the gods. The Sikhs do not have any faith in the ritual and ceremonies enjoined by the Hindu Shastras. A learned Hindu named Partap Mal, seeing that his son was inclined towards Islam said to him, 'There is no need for you to turn Muhammedan. If you want to get freedom in eating and drinking you may better join Sikhism.' Quoted by Teja Singh;Sikhism; Its Ideals and Institutions (Calcutta, 1964), pp. 80-81.
54. Bhalla, Sarup Das, Mehma Parkash (ed.) Lamba, Gobind Singh and Khazan Singh; Part II (Patiala, 1971) pp. 527-31;Gurbilas Patsahi Chevin (Patiala, 1970), p. 511; Chibber, Kesar Singh; Bansavli Nama Dasam Patshian ](a in Parkh (ed.) S.S. Kohli, Research Bulletin of Punjabi Language And Literature Vol.II, 1972, Panjab University, Chandigarh, pp. 70-72.
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