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





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The militarization of the Sikh movement, the creation of the Khalsa, and its prolonged  struggle for the objective of capturing political power by the down trodden masses, are the  hard facts of Indian history which cannot be ignored. These were not fortuitous developments, or what have often been called ‘the accidents of history’. The Sikh movement  was an organic growth of the Sikh religion or the Sikh view of life. The founding of the Sikh  panth outside the caste society in order to use it as the base for combating the hierarchical  setup of the caste order, and the creation of the Khalsa for capturing the state in the  interests of the poor and the suppressed, were only a projection, on the military and political  plane, of the egalitarian approach of the Sikh religious thesis. But, some writers, having failed to grasp the socio-political significance of the Sikh religion, have tried to cloud the genesis of  the Sikh movement by suggesting that the militarization of the movement was initiated and  reinforced by the influx into it of a large number Jats. The refutation of this hypothesis is  important, because its elimination would leave no plausible alternative in the field to contend  the thesis that the militarization of the Sikh movement was a logical development of the Sikh  view of religion. The subject is considered in two sections. The first deals with some specific  points about the subject raised by Dr. McLeod, and in the second the problem is examined  in a wider context.


Dr. McLeod has stated that ‘the arming of the Panth could not have been the result of any  decision by Gum Hargobind’, and that, ‘the growth of militancy within the panth must be  traced primarily to the impact of Jat cultural patterns and to economic problems which  prompted a militant response.’1 This proposition raised three issuesthe question of leadership  and initiative, the impact of Jat cultural patterns and economic problems.

On this issue, it has to be seen whether effective leadership and initiative lay with the  followers of the Gums or the Gums themselves.

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that any of the succeeding Gums was nominated  in consultation with, or at the suggestion of, the Sangat (the Sikh followers). The choice of  the successor was always a personal decision of the nominating Gum. The faithful were  expected to accept the nomination without any reservation. Even when the nomination of  the ninth Gum was vaguely indicated by the word ‘Baba Bakale’2, the devout Sikhs diverted  all their attention to finding out the intended Baba at Bakala. It was the founder Gum, Gum  Nanak himself, who had arrived at the decision that, in order to carry forward his aims and  ideals, he must have a successor. Evidently, the choice of the successor was the most important decision of the Gums, who, whenever necessary, applied extremely rigorous tests  before making the final selection. Those who, for whatever reason, did not accept the  nomination, had to opt out of the main current or were discarded, as it happened in the case  of the Minas, the Dhirmalias and the Ramrayyas. No deviation from the avowed ideology  was ever tolerated. Baba Atal, a son of the sixth Gum, is said to have shown a miracle. It  being against the Sikh ideology, the Baba was given such a stem reprimand by the Gum for  his lapse that he had to give up his mortal coil. Ram Rai, who merely misquoted the Gum  Granth in order to please Emperor Aurangzeb at Delhi, was completely disowned by his  father, the seventh Gum. It would, therefore, be too simplistic to suggest that the fifth Guru, ho laid down his life for the sake of the faith and its ideology but did not agree to change an  iota of the Sikh scriptures, would choose a person who would follow an ideological line  different from him; or that the sixth Gum, who had made his own son lose his life for an  ideological error, would himself allow any distortion of the ideology so as to accommodate  his Jat followers.

The entire Sikh history is a refutation of the assumption that the Guru, even though not elected or selected by the Sikhs, were mere figure-heads, had no clear-cut objectives and  plans for the community of which they were the accredited and unchallenged leaders, and  were stampeded into unauthorised action by the will, predilections or the leanings of their  followers. A glance at the landmarks of the Sikh history will further clarify this point.

The turning points in Sikh history during the Gum period were: (i) the break with the Indian  ascetic tradition, (ii) the building of a society not based on the caste structure, and (iii) the  militarization of the Panth. All these changes were so radically opposed to the Indian religious tradition that it would be idle to suggest that a mere chance combination of  ideologically indifferent elements and circumstances placed in juxtaposition could have  achieved them. Only a purposeful and determined leadership could have brought about the  said departures.

The decision to eschew asceticism was Gum Nanak’s taken at a time when there was practically no organized Sikh sangat. Kabir also preached against asceticism. Why, then were  there no marked social and political growths among Kabir-Panthies similar to those of the  Sikh? This difference lay in the systematic work that the Sikh Gurus did for their ideals, as is  instanced by the third Guru having deliberately separated the Sikhs from the passive  recluses. Similar is the case regarding the caste system.

Kabir was unequivocal against the system of castes, but the Kabir-panth never developed into a social entity distinct from the caste-ridden Hindus; because he showed no purposive  drive or the will to organize a separate Panth outside the caste society as Guru Nanak and  his successors did. The Kabir-Panth did not have to surmount more difficult circumstances  than the Sikhs in overcoming caste prejudices. It is Guru Nanak who started the institution  of a common kitchen for all. But, it is only the third Guru who made it obligatory for  everyone to partake food from the Langar. This calculated approach is indicative of the  hesitation or opposition expected from their rank and file to the Gurus’ new line of thinking.  When the tenth Guru, after quite a long interval of preparation by the previous Gurus, decided to break away completely from the caste society and created the Khalsa, there were  dissensions and disputes among the Sikh ranks.3 But, it was entirely because of the initiative,  guiding influence and drive of the Gurus that the movement, despite all opposition, never swerved from its ideals.

 The arming of the Sikh community was the third turning point in  the Sikh history. This was the necessary sequence of Guru Arjan’s decision to ‘defend his  faith by the open profession thereof’, to raise the institution of the ‘True Emperor’, and to  help the rebel Khusro. And yet there is an unwarranted conjecture that what Jahangir was really concerned about was the growing Jat following of the Gurus, and that the reasons given by Jahangir himself in his autobiography for his ordering execution of the fifth Guru should be discounted.

It is an accepted fact that there was a rift in the Sikh ranks at the time of Guru Arjan’s  succession. It is nowhere known, however, that those who opted out in favour of Prithi  Chand excluded Jat Sikhs. Not far from Amritsar, at Jandiala, was the religious headquarter  of Handalias, a schismatic sect of Sikhs, who were themselves Jats and had Jat following. 4  But, neither Prithi Chand nor Handalias, both of whom had set up separate Guruships in  opposition to the Sikh movement, ever came into conflict with the administration. On the other hand, they cooperated fully with the authorities. Prithi Chand was instrumental in the  persecution of Guru Arjan, and, in later history, the Handalias became active agents of the  authorities for the persecution of the Sikhs.5 ‘The gurus of this sect (Handalias of Jandiala) took service with Abmed Shah and drew terrible vengeance on themselves from Charat  Singh when he attacked Jandiala in 1762.6 If the mere intrusion of Jat elements into the Sikh  ranks could arouse the fears of the authorities, it should have done so in the case of Prithi  Chand and Handalias too; because there is no evidence to indicate that the Jat followers of  these two sects were less armed than the Jat followers of the Gurus. But the real difference  was that one party chose the path of challenging the political authority of the day, while the  other was interested in mere ritualism, without the socio-political concerns of the Sikh faith.  That Guru Arjan made his momentous choice deliberately, and that it was his own, is  established by the fact that he told Jahangir that he was a worshipper of the Immortal God and recognized no monarch save Him. The Sikhs of Lahore wanted to compromise with the  authorities by paying the fine on his behalf but he forbade them to do so. 7

If the arming of the Panth was at the instance of the Jats, why did Bhai Buddha, the most leading Jat, remonstrate with Guru Hargobind when he found him insisting on the militarization of the Sikhs? 8 According to McLeod the enrolment of Jats in large numbers to  the Sikhs ranks is supposed to have begun in the time of Guru Arjan. He was Guru for  nearly twenty five years. Why this arming of the panth, which McLeod assumes must have  preceded Guru Hargobind’s decision, was taken notice of by Jahangir and his subordinates  in the last nine months of the Guru’s life and not earlier by Akbar or his Administration?  Akbar too could not have been less alive to any potential threat to his political authority.

Nor is there any basis for McLeod’s presumption that the Jats were armed but the Khatris were not. Ibbetson writes: ‘The Khatri occupies a different position among the people of the  Punjab from that of other mercantile castes. Superior to them in physique, in manliness and  in energy, he is not, like them, a mere shopkeeper, but a direct representative of the  Kshatriya of Manu.’9 It is true that the Khatris of the present times have taken more to trade.  ‘They are not usually military in their character, but are quite capable of using the sword,  when necessary.’10 Nothing prevented the Khatris from bearing arms in the earlier troubled  times we are dealing with. When the Taruna Dal branch of the Khalsa Dal was reorganized  into five divisions, two of these were headed by Khatris and one by a Ranghreta.11

Nor was Guru Hargobind’s decision to arm the Sikhs taken casually or accidently. In the first place, it was done under the specific instructions of Guru Arjan.12 Secondly, at the very  time of his installation as Guru, it is he who directed Bhai Buddha to amend the ceremony  followed on such occasions and adorn him with two swords of Meeree and Peeree,  signifying the blending of religious and temporal authority. It was not customary for the  Sangat to suggest changes or innovate ceremonies, much less a radical departure such as this  one. He followed this up by founding the ‘Akal Takht’, a seat of temporal authority as  distinct from the place of worship alone, and set up two flags fluttering before it, one  distinctly signifying religious and the other temporal authority. Such steps amounted to the  declaration of a parallel government and marked an open change in the external character of the movement. Here we have the indisputable authority of Bhai Gurdas, the Guru’s  contemporary, that far from persuading the Guru to take these steps, there were grumblings  among the Sikhs against the line taken by the Guru.13 Even Bhai Buddha, chief among the  Sikhs and the Jat, initially argued against it with the Guru. There is no mention, whatsoever,  that -the other Jats among the Sikhs supported the Guru on this issue, or that Sikhs ever  grouped themselves on caste lines to deliberate on any subject. The Masands, leaders of the  local Sangats, approached the Guru’s mother in ‘order that she should dissuade the Guru  from inviting trouble from the rulers. By inference, had those among the Sikhs, who were  opposed to Guru Hargobind’s policy of militarization, been consulted, they would not have  supported Guru Arjan in bestowing his blessings on Prince Khusro, as that would have  invited the Imperial wrath. As the interval between these events is not long, it is reasonable  to suppose that the composition of the Sangat could not have changed materially. The  incident of the ‘hawk’ also indicates that the initiative for challenging the political authority came from the Guru. As to the creation of the Khalsa, Sainapat, a contemporary, and Koer  Singh, a near contemporary, expressly state that the tenth Guru’s step was opposed by many  members of the higher castes.14 The dramatic manner in which the nucleus of the Khalsa, the five Beloved Ones, was chosen, 15 shows how Guru Gobind Singh had kept his counsel to  himself. A surprise was sprung on the Sangat. Far from influencing or pressurizing the Guru  to found the Khalsa only five among all the Sikhs came forward to offer their lives, and the  total number of others who were also initiated on that day was twenty-five only. 16 The  creation of the Khalsa caused a serious rift among the Sikh ranks, but the Guru did not  deviate from his plan. At Anandpur, on another occasion, he allowed those who wanted to  discontinue the military struggle (Bedavilas) to depart but stuck to his plan. Aagin, at a time  when he had lost his army and had no visible chance of success left, and when some Sikhs  suggested to the Guru at Muktsar to discontinue the struggle against the state and offered to  bring about conciliation between him and Aurangzeb, the Guru chided them for their  presumptuousness in trying to advise the Guru.17

These glaring facts should be enough to show that the initiative and determination for carrying on the armed struggle against the established state was invariably that of the Guru  and not that of his followers. The working of a movement or a system cannot be evaluated merely by taking into account the objective or environmental factors. The Indians far  outnumbered the British in the administrative machinery of the Government of India; and  even in the army the ratio of the Indian soldiers to the British soldiers was roughly three to one. But one cannot conclude from this that the Indians were in effective control of the  Government of the country. For the purpose of any assessment, the directive purpose and  the levers of power have to be correlated with the objective conditions.

It is McLeod’s assumption that the Jats who used to come to Guru Arjan to pay homage  must have come armed. In the first place, it was no Indian religious custom to go armed to  any holy person. Rather, the general practice was, as a mark of respect, to disarm oneself beforehand. In fact, Ghulam Hussain Khan asserts that upto the time of Guru Gobind  Singh the Sikhs wore only religious garb, without any kind of arms’18. Nor is it established  that the bearing of arms was a Jat peculiarity. If the Mughal policy was to disarm the  population, it would not have left the Jats out. If not, why other elements of the population,  especially Khatris and those who later became Mazhabi Sikhs, did not also bear arms? In all  probability, the exploited class of peasants were, by and large, unarmed. Arrian noted that  husbandmen are not furnished with arms, nor have any military duties to perform.19 The  revenue and other demands on them were so excessive that they were compelled to sell their  women, children and cattle to meet them. ‘The peasants were carried off, attached to heavy  iron chains, to various markets and fairs, with their poor, unhappy wives behind them,  carrying their small children in their arms, all crying and lamenting their evil plight.’20 When  these peasants resisted, their uprisings misfired, because ‘the purely peasant uprising of a few  villages would, perhaps, have constricted pitifully with the military efforts of even the smaller  Zamindars.’21 All this points to the probability that the common peasants were unarmed.  There is, therefore, no reason to believe that the Jats who came to the Guru were differently  placed. When the Sikh visitors to Guru Gobind Singh complained that they were harassed  on their way by Muhammadans, the Guru advised them to come armed. That is, probably,  also the reason why Guru Gobind Singh in his letters (Hukamnamas) lays special stress that  his Sikhs should come armed to Anandpur. The ‘Rehitnamas’ also insist that the Khalsa  should remain always armed.22

There is another aspect which needs elucidation. What was the motive force, the urge, which  led to the militarization of the Sikhs? The Sikh ideology clearly involved the finding of  solutions for the multifarious socio-political problems posed by the times. It is, therefore,  important to understand that in the matter of identifying the motivation, the ideology of a  movement would normally furnish the closest clue for investigation and verification. In any  case, there is no ground for ignoring this approach and instead for putting a premium on  random speculation. A good deal of misunderstanding about the Sikh history could be  avoided if the prejudice against the religious duty of fighting just political battles and the use  of force for a just cause are shed. The Gurus did not ‘dabble in politics’ casually or  accidentally, as some historians have put it; they regarded it as their duty to fight not only social injustice but also political oppression. Guru Arjan could have chosen to remain  indifferent to political affairs. Similarly, Guru Hargobind could have avoided the setting up  of a parallel political authority. Further, why did Guru Har Rai, if he was not working for a set objective, offer military help to Dara Shikoh, knowing full well the consequences that  followed a similar step taken by Guru Arjan? Again, Guru Tegh Bahadur deliberately did not  follow Aurangzeb’s advice to disarm his followers.23 Instead, he embraced martyrdom to  save the oppressed Kashmiri Pandits, because the resolve to resist religious persecution and  combat political oppression was a part of the Guru’s programme. Guru Gobind Singh leaves  no doubt about his mission of life: “I took birth in order to spread faith, save the saints, and  extirpate all tyrants.”24 That his Sikhs also understood it to be so, is shown by the  contemporary Sainapat, who wrote that the purpose of creating the Khalsa was ‘to destroy  the evildoer and eliminate suffering.’25 The near-contemporary Koer Singh also recorded that  the Guru was born to destroy the Mughals.26 (i.e. the tyrants of the times ?) Even the later  Sikh writings unanimously speak of this being an objective of the mission.27 Sainapat twice  makes a very significant remark that, while founding the Khalsa, the Guru at last revealed  what had till then been kept a secret.28 This indicates that the creation of the Khalsa was a pre-planned objective of the mission. All these signposts that charter the course of the Sikh  movement, extending over a long period, drive one to the conclusion that the Gurus were  working with the set aim of combating social and political injustice and of remoulding the  social structure.

Before discussing the role of Jats, we should like to make one point clear. Leaving aside its  interactions with the external factors, the Sikh movement in its internal development was essentially the product of the Sikh ideology. But mass movements, especially those which set  before them the objective of capturing political power, cannot afford to admit only ideologically conscious members. Such persons are always in a minority. So long as the  Gurus were alive, there was no question of views and interests contrary to the Sikh doctrine  coming to the surface, because the word of the Guru was final. After them, there was an  interplay of action and reaction between the ideologically conscious and less conscious  elements, within the Sikh movement. Like all such movements, the Sikh movement may also  be roughly divided into two phases, the period of ideological ascendancy and that of its  decline. In the first phase, the Khalsa period, Sikh ideology remained supreme in  determining the character and the direction of the movement. In the second phase, the  period of Missals and Ranjit Singh, the hold of ideology on individuals and the movement, as  it always happens, relaxed. With the passage of time, regression in the ideological level is not  peculiar to the Sikh movement. Revolutions have always been haunted by reaction. What we  seek to emphasize is that it would be wrong to judge the history of the Khalsa phase of the Sikh movement in the light of later developments. That would be putting the cart before the  horse. During the period of the Gurus, and for most part of the eighteenth century, it was  the Sikh ideology that influenced the Jats and the other elements who joined the movement  and not the Jat character that moulded the movement during its revolutionary phase.

It has been assumed that the Jats must have joined in large numbers because Guru Arjan established some religious centres in the rural areas of Majha. But, there is no data to infer  this or that the Jats were the prominent element among the Sikhs when Guru Hargobind  decided to militarize the movement, or that the Jats used to come armed when they came to  pay homage to the Gurus. The Jats are well known for their indifference towards deep  religious affairs. 29 The short interval of time between the opening of these centres and the  time when the influx of Jats into the Sikh ranks is supposed to have aroused Jahangir’s  misgivings is not such as to favour the theory of large scale enrolment of the Jats in Sikhism.  Bhai Gurdas has given the names of about 200 prominent Sikhs of Guru Arjan. Of these ten  were Brahmins, eight Jats (including two whose caste is given as Jatu, which is a Rajput sub- caste), three fishermen, three calico-printers, two chandals, two brick-layers, two Bhatts, one  potter, one goldsmith and one Muhammadan. The rest either belonged to the Khatri and  other castes connected with commerce, trades, etc., or did not have their castes specified.30

The above figures indicate clearly the caste-wise composition of Guru Arjan’s important Sikhs. The constitution of the general Sangat is not likely to have been materially different  when Guru Hargobind became the Guru and started militarization. The number of Khatris  and castes connected with commerce, profession, etc., is many times more than the  combined number of Jats and lower castes. Among the latter category, the low castes  outnumber the Jats. The conjecture about Jats having joined Guru Arjan in large numbers is contradicted even by Mohsin Fani, who says: “Some Sikhs of the Guru do agricultural work  and some trade, and a multitude takes up service.’31

These figures, thus, knock out the bottom of the assumption that the setting up of rural centres increased the proportion of Jats among the Guru’s followers to such an extent as to  cause apprehensions in Jahangir’s mind. Besides, as already stated, it would be going beyond the limits of historical propriety to reject the autobiographical testimony of Jahangir about  his motives for ordering Guru Arjan’s execution and instead to impute a conjectural motive  to the emperor for his action.

Bhai Gurdas’s testimony about the reaction of the Sikhs against the Guru’s steps for militarization has already been indicated. He does not mention many Jats in his enumeration  of important Sikhs of Guru Hargobind. True, Mohsin Fani says that many Jats joined as the  Guru’s followers. This author was twenty years younger than Guru Hargobind, who was  eleven years old when he became the Guru, took the decision to arm the Sikhs, built the  Akal Takht and started the construction of Lohgarh fort. In view of his earlier observation  about the Jats being in a minority in the time of Guru Arjan, Mohsin Fani’s statement that the Jats joined as the followers of Guru Hargobind refers evidently to a period subsequent to  the latter’s decision to militarize the Sikhs. This would correspond to the evidence noted by  Macauliffe that, on learning of the military preparation initiated by Guru Hargobind, five hundred warriors from Majha, Doaba and Malwa regions volunteered their services to the  Guru32 Moreover, Mohsin Fani’s evidence has no weight compared to the authentic, reliable  and contemporary evidence of Bhai Gurdas. In fact,” the adversaries of Guru Hargobind  derisively called his forces weak because they were composed of barbers, washermen,  cobblers, and the like.33 In any case, how could a minority group make its impact felt to such  an extent as to change overnight the very direction of the movement? It has already been  made clear that the vital decisions were always made by the Gurus themselves. The Sangat  never forced the Gurus to action. But, supposing, for argument’s sake, that Guru Hargobind  wanted to take into account the views of the Sangat in making his momentous decision, that opinion could naturally have been of the leading Sikhs, of whom Jats, according to Bhai  Gurdas, formed a negligible minority. And it would be illogical to suggest that these few Jats,  even if they had views different from those of other non-Jat Sikhs and the Guru, could  impose their will on the rest on such a crucial and ideological issue. Actually, the Guru,  according to Bhai Gurdas, stuck to his decision, despite the opposition from Baba Buddha,  the most revered Sikh, his mother, the Masands, and some others.

From the time of Guru Har Rai to that of Guru Gobind Singh, there was no overt military activity except that of maintaining some armed men. Before founding the Khalsa, Bhikhan  Khan, an opponent of the tenth Guru, spoke contemptuously of his forces being composed  of low-caste men.34 Almost all the participants whose names are recorded in connection with  the battle of Bhangani (Le. pre-Khalsa period) were non-Jats.35 The first three well-known  martyrs from amongst the Sikhs, during Guru Tegh Bahadur’s time, were Bhai Mati Das,  Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dyala, all nonJats. Out of the five Beloved Ones (the Five Piaras),  only one was a Jat, and he too belonged to Hastinapur, outside the Punjab. According to  Koer Singh, Guru Gobind Singh said : “Vaisayas, Sudras and Jats I have incorporated in the  Panth.”36 Of the twentyfive Muktas mentioned by Koer Singh, three was Bhatias, five  Khatris, four Aroras, three Lubanas and two water-carriers.37 The castes of the rest are not  given. The forty men at Chamkaur included five Bhatias, four Aroras, some Khatris and  Kalals (distillers), two Ranghretas (sweeper caste), two Brahmins, Sangat Singh of the  TransIndus areas, sons of the Guru and the Guru Himself.38 Those who took part in Banda’s  campaign, at least in its initial stage, were recruited chiefly from the lower caste Hindus.39  About Sirhind’s conquest by Banda, Irvine writes, ‘The scavengers and leather-dressers and  such like persons, who were very numerous among the Sikhs, committed excesses of every  description.40

In the face of all this, there is no basis for suggesting, much less for asserting, that the  growth of militancy within the panth could be the result of the impact of the so-called Jat  cultural patterns. Besides, it is not understood how these so-called Jat patterns could be so powerful as to submerge established ideological considerations and the views of the large  majority of the influential participants in the Sangat. Whether or not the original Jat patterns  of culture, or Jat traits, corresponded to the characteristic features of the Sikh movement, will be seen hereafter.

Another hypothesis advanced is that the Khalsa accepted the five symbols (the five K’s)  under the influence of Jat cultural patterns. Unless the Jat cultural patterns are identified and  correlated with the five K’s or other characteristics of the movement, this view remains  conjectural. For, there is no evidence to suggest that the five K’s were distinct and  characteristic Jat features. Megregor writes of the people of the Punjab who opposed  Alexander when he crossed the Ravi : “Some had darts, others spears and axes. No mention  is made of bows and arrows, so generally employed by the Sikhs of the present day, as  weapons of war. 41 No mention is also made of the weapons used by the Jats in their  encounters with Mahmood Ghaznavi, Timur and Babar. If the Kirpan (the sword) was ever  used as a weapon by the Jats, Manu had specified it as Kshatriya’s weapon42 much earlier, and its use in Indian history was more conspicuously associated with the Rajputs. In fact, any  group resorting to militancy would adopt the weapons current in the times. Then why trace  the adoption by the Khalsa of this ‘K’ (Kirpan) to the Jats cultural patterns?

Another important ‘K’ is the Keshas (hair). Alberuni noted that one of the strange customs that differentiated the Hindus from the people of his own country was that the Hindus ‘do  not cut any of the hair of the body.’43 ‘Formerly the whole population (of Dogars), as is the  case with the poor classes still, wore their long hair over their shoulders without any  covering either of sheet or turban.44 This shows that the keeping of hair was, if it ever was,  not a Jat peculiarity. Anyhow, the point is not about keeping the hair as such, but about the  sanctity that came to be attached to them; so that the Singhs would give up their lives rather  than allow these to be removed.

Rose writes: ‘The Jats of the Punjab cannot be said to have any distinctive tribal cults. When Muhammadans or Sikhs they follow the teachings of their creeds with varying degrees of  strictness. When Hindus they are very often Sultanis or followers of the popular and  widespread cult of Sakhi Sarwar Sultan…The only distinctive Jat cults are tribal…Among the  Hindu & Sikh Jats, especially in the north-central and central Districts, a form of ancestor  worship, called jathera, is common.45 Sikhism which transcends tribal consciousness and  customs, is opposed to all forms of ancestor-worship, and the position of the non- Jats was  not so subservient in the Panth as to enable the Jats to impose their cultural patterns, if any,  on the Panth against known Sikh tenets. In any case, this Jathera-worship, or any other  similar tribal cult, can in no way be linked with the sanctity attached by the Sikhs to any of  the five ‘K’s. About the Sultani cult, the District Gazetteer of Amritsar (1892-93, p. 50)  records that: ‘Sikh Jats freely intermarry with Sultani Jats, but will not eat cooked food from  their houses, or share any food with them. Even in one family, a member who has become a  Sikh will eat separately from another member who lias remained a Sultani.46 This further  illustrates that Sikhism, far from borrowing Jat cults, was a force which worked to draw the  Jat Sikhs away from the cults prevalent among the Hindu Jats.

Had there been any substance in Mcleod’s conjectural hypothesis, how would one explain the total disappearance of these cultural symbols, supposed to have been borrowed by the  Sikhs from Jats, from amongst the non-Sikh Jats of the Punjab and the neighbouring states?  How, during the days of the general persecution of the Singhs, only the Khalsa of genuine  faith retained their hair at the cost of their lives, while other Jats, who joined them for  temporary gains, had no compunction to remove these in order to save their skins? How, in  the modern times, the Jats among the Sikhs, comparatively speaking, have become lax in  keeping their hair and the non-Jat Sikhs have grown strict47 in their adherence to these  symbols? Further, whether the five ‘K’s were borrowed by the Panth from the Jats or not is  not the relevant point; because symbols by themselves do not lead to anything, much less to  militancy. Revolutionary movements are not made by the symbols; it is such movements that  give meaningful significance to them.

Unfortunately, the above hypothesis completely misses the significance of the prescription of the five ‘K’s. The Guru’s step was clearly aimed not only at carving out a new community, distinct from the others, with its own cultural patterns, socio-religious ideology, and  approach to life, but also at cutting away the members of this community from their  previous moorings and affinities so as to avoid reversionary trends. That is why, at the time  of the baptism ceremony, one of the injunctions was that: ‘hereby are destroyed all your connections with previous religious systems, customs, rituals, occupational stigmas, etc.,  etc.48 There is a clear record of the Guru’s determination to create a new and distinguishable  people. On being told that few Sikhs appeared to have stood by Guru Tegh Bahadur at the  time of his martyrdom because there was no distinguishing mark on a Sikh, the Guru is  reported to have said: “I will assign such distinguishing marks to the Sikhs that a Sikh  present even among thousands will not be able to conceal himself.”49 The Khalsa were, thus,  given a new uniform which nowhere existed before.

Undoubtedly, the contribution of the Jats, with their fighting qualities, to the Sikh struggle is very valuable, but, the contribution of the castes lower than the Jats has also been quite significant during the Khalsa or the revolutionary phase of the movement. If the inspiration  of the Sikh ideology could turn these people, who had been rendered spineless by the caste  system for centuries, into a fighting class, the Sikh movement needed no goading from the  Jats for its militarization. Also, if the bearing of arms and martial qualities are the only  requirements for shaping a revolutionary movement, why could not the Jats produce one  elsewhere?

It has also been suggested that the militarization of the Sikh movement was the result of the  economic pressure. Agrarian troubles were no doubt one of the factors for the downfall of  the Mughal empire. Religious persecution of non Muslims was another reason. Rattan Singh  Bhangu has not ignored the fact that those who were oppressed by the State or the  Administration joined the Khalsa.50 But the question is, why, in the Punjab, the Khalsa alone  became the centre of resistance? Why did the Kashmiri Pandits travel all the way to  Anandpur? Why did the Jats of Haryana, who were in no way less oppressed, build no  resistance on their own? If economic causes or religious persecution alone, without an  ideology, an oriented leadership and an organization, could give rise to movements, then  there should have been a general revolt throughout the length and breadth of the country.  But nothing of the kind happened.

There were, in broad’ terms, four types of peasant upheavals. Firstly, there were the uprisings which the common exploited peasants undertook on their own. These were  sporadic and unorganised, and instead of bearing any fruit invited further oppression and  misery. Secondly, there were peasant revolts built around the leadership of Zamindars, as  distinguished from Jagirdars, which were localized affairs. These, when successful, either  served the personal ends of the local Zamindars or ended merely in plundering. If the  Zamindars could unite for a common purpose, they would have become a force to reckon with, because the total number of their armed retainers, as estimated by Abul-Fazl, was 44  Lakhs. The third category was the successful revolt of Bharatpur Jats. It had only the limited  objective of establishing the rule of a Jat family. The fourth category comprised the Satnami revolt and the Sikh movement, wherein, along with the peasants, the other lower castes also  played a major role. Here also, the Satnami revolt was in the nature of an ephemeral flare-up.  51 It collapsed suddenly and did not carry on any sustained struggle, because it lacked ideology preplanned and objectives and a determined leadership. It was only in the Sikh  movement that we find the combination of objective conditions with a distinct ideology,  clear-cut revolutionary aims to be achieved, and an inspired and determined leadership. This is the reason why its course and character were different from those of others and lasted for  over three generations even after the demise of Guru Gobind Singh. (The responses to  economic problems were, thus, not uniform.) It is, therefore, idle to trace the source of a revolutionary movement, divorced from its ideology and leadership, to sheer economic  causes.

Another conjecture made by Dr. McLeod is that the synthesis of the Devi cult with the Jat  culture had much to do with the evolution of militancy in the Panth, in inspiring it to deeds  of valour, and in playing a determining role in its history.52

This suggestion is self-contradictory. For, while, on the one hand, it completely ignores the basic role played by the Gurus’ ideology in the development of militancy in the Panth and  the creation of the Khalsa, on the other hand, it banks on an alien religious inspiration that  goaded the Jats to militarize the movement and to fight zealously for socio-religious causes.  In other words, the argument concedes that the Jat culture, left to itself, was incapable of  galvanizing the Jats for a purposeful military action. The assumption is not only very conjectural, but misses all the established facts:

  1. Guru Hargobind went to Kiratpur after having finished all his battles in the plains. So the question of Jat Sikhs or Guru Hargobind getting inspiration from the Devi cult becomes an anachronism.


(ii) When Guru Hargobind was at Kiratpur, one Sikh named Bahiro cut off the nose of the  Devi’s idol. When the hill Raja complained to the Guru of this, the Sikh’s answer was, how  the Devi, that could not protect herself, could save others.53 This indicates what respect the  Sikhs had for the Devi.

(iii) The news-writer, who reported to the emperor about the founding of the Khalsa,  specifically mentioned Durga as one of the deities which the Guru forbade the Sikhs from  paying homage to.54

(iv) The various forms of Devi are the consorts of Siva; hence Deviworship cannot be  advocated by one who decries Siva worship. There are many verses of Guru Gobind Singh  to this effect.55

(v) If the number of important temples built and fairs held in honour of the various forms of  Devi are an indication of the prevalence of the Devi cult, it should be the least common among the Jats of the Sikh region. Because such temples and fairs are the most common in  the hilly tracts of the Himachal. Next comes Haryana. But in the Sikh Jat tract there are only  two such important temples. The votaries of one of them at Batala are confined to a sub- caste of khatris,56 while, the second one, the Bhaddar Kali temple at Niazbeg, is about 7 miles  from Lahore and has only a local reputation.57 The fair which was held there was attended by  people who collected from Amritsar and Lahore towns and the neighbouring villages.58 As  this part of Lahore district is not a Sikh majority area (for that reason it forms a part of  Pakistan), it is not unreasonable to surmise that the number of the Jat Sikhs attending this  fair were never significant. As against this, there are many important Devi temples scattered  all over the eastern districts (i.e. Haryana).59 Rose, who has not omitted to note even petty  cultural practices like those of the Sikh watercarriers worshiping Bhairo, 60 makes no mention  that Sikh Jats worship the Devi.

If the cult of Devi had inspired the Jats who visited Anandpur, how is it that it disappeared altogether from among them afterwards? If the Sikh water-carriers, who form a microscopic  minority among the Sikh population, could retain Bhairo worship, why could not the Jats  retain Devi worship? Also, if the Rajputs of hilly Punjab, which is the home of Devi cult,  and the Hindu Jats of Haryana, where the Devi cult is widespread, could not be inspired by  it to take up arms for higher religious or political ends, how is it that it inspired only the Sikh  Jats, whose visits to Kiratpur or Anandpur to pay their respects to the Guru were very short  and occasional?




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