In recent years a spate of books on religion and history of the Sikhs have been published in India and abroad. As far as history is concerned, most of them are a restatement of well- known facts and followed the pattern laid down by J.D. Cunningham’s pioneering work History of the Sikhs published in 1899. Even on religion most Sikh scholars were content to accept narration of events set out in the Janam Sakhis and translations of the scriptures made by M.A. Macauliffe in his Volumes, The Sikh Religion published in 1909. Since these works, a great deal of research has been done by Indian theologians and historians which have vastly expanded our knowledge of Sikhism and the political, economic and social development of the Sikh community. Outstanding amongst the historians are Dr. Ganda Singh, Hari Ram Gupta, and the late Dr. Fauja Singh. Amongst those who have explored the hither to untapped material on Sikh religion, a place of honour has to be accorded to Harbans Singh who has also written on several aspects of Sikh history.
However, the most challenging event in Sikh historiography were the publications of two works by Dr. Hew McLeod: Guru Nanak andthe Sikh Religion (1968) & The Evolution of the Sikh Community (1975). In his first book Dr. McLeod totally rejected the Janam Sakhis as sourcematerial. Although most Sikh scholars had also questioned the authenticity of the Janam Sakhis, they took from them whatever they felt could be substantiated by extraneous evidence and gave credit due to accepted tradition. Dr. McLeod jettisoned the entire corpus of secondary material and came to the conclusion that since there is very little historical material in the hymns of Guru Nanak and Bhai Gurdas’ Vaars, the life-story of Guru Nanak is based on fiction. He went further and maintained that Guru Nanak only stated religious beliefs current during his time and should not be regarded as the founder of a new faith.
In his second book The Evolution of the Sikh CommunityDr. McLeod carried his thesis forward and cast doubts on the metamorphosis of the pacifist Nanakprastha Sikhs to the militant fraternity of the Khalsa. He described it as more due to the large scale incursion of the Jats into the Khalsa Panth rather than as something planned out by the Sixth Guru Hargovind, and the last Guru, Gobind Singh. He questioned the authenticity of the baptismal ceremony of the Baisakhi of 1699, the raison d’etre of the Khalsa Panth bound by the symbols of the faith, the five kakkas and discounted the Rehatnamas as subsequent complications and often contradictory of each other.
It was evident that Dr. Hew McLeod was on weak ground and some of his conclusions erroneous. Harbans Singh has put some of the record straight on his The Heritage of The Sikhs (1983). But more needed to be done to establish that Sikh religious tradition was not an edifice built on hot air of make-believe but had sound historical basis for it. Dr. Noel Q King, currently Professor of History and Comparative Religion at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his collaborators have performed this task with admirable ability. S. Daljeet Singh’s analysis of cults like Nathism and Vaishnavism highlights the truly revolutionary role of Guru Nanak as the propounder of an eclectic but a new faith which categorically affirms belief in one God, rejects worship of idols and the division of society into a castehierarchy. Dr. Hari Ram Gupta is acknowledged as the authority on the evolution of the Khalsa from a theocratic to a political force as is Dr. Ganda Singh on the last days of Guru Gobind Singh, the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib as the symbolic representation of the ten Gurus, the rise of Banda Bairagi and the misls leading to the establishment of the Khalsa Raj. Professor Harbans Singh likewise is regarded today as the ablest exponent of the Sikh scriptures and their uniqueness in the body of sacred literatures of other religious systems. All that remained to clear the cobwebs of misunderstanding of Sikhism was to explain the caste composition of converts to Sikhism and its bearing on the militant fraternity. This has been ably done by Professor Jagjit Singh. Scholar as well as laymen will be vastly benefitted by this compilation of different aspects of Sikhism.
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