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







Sikhism is the youngest of the world religions. Guru Nanak, to whom it traces its origin, was born in the year 1469 A.D. He has been rightly described as original formulator of the Sikh tenets and its founder. Just before his death he installed Guru Angad as his successor to carry on his mission. By this process of succession from one Guru to the other, Guru Gobind Singh became the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs in 1674 on the martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. He was just nine years old, but wise beyond his years endowed with rare qualities of head and heart. With unparalleled zeal to raise the down-trodden and fight against repression he created the Khalsa, uplifting the weak and instilling in them supreme courage and devotion to the righteous causes. Within a few years he created a mighty force of self-respecting, dauntless, brave and disciplined Sikhs. He ended the line of personal Gurus by ordaining, just before his death, the vesting of Gurudom in the Granth Sahib (the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs) that had been originally compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru. Since that day, in the year 1708, Guru Granth Sahib has continuously served as source of inspiration and guidance for the Sikhs and revered as their Guru Eternal.

The century following the departure of Guru Gohind Singh was a long and continuous period of ordeal, hrutal persecution and immense suffering for those who professed the Sikh faith. They, however, did not lose heart and fought not only for their survival, but, convinced of the righteousness of their mission and inspired by the teachings and the lives of their Gurus, even emerged as the single and powerful moral and political force which sealed the north-western borders of India against foreign invaders leading to the establishment of a mighty kingdom (Sarkar Khalsa) under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was few years after his death that the British, who had already occupied the rest of India, annexed Punjab forcing the Sikhs to join their Hindu and Muslim countrymen as subjects of the British.

From all that has been said above it is evident that the Sikhs, who were born just about five centuries back, lived through this eventful period in full gaze of history. During the last one- and-a-half centuries they have worked hard and struggled not only to survive but also made outstanding contribution to the welfare of their country and humanity. They have been mostly concentrated in the Punjab. When the Congress agreed to the Partition of India in 1947 the Punjab was divided and Sikhs, besides facing un-imaginable loss of life and property, found themselves split with about half of their brothers on either side of the border. Those who managed to survive in the West Punjab, that became a part of Pakistan, were forced to migrate leaving their hearths and homes. Endowed with indomitable will and faith in God, in due course they settled in the rest of India and even abroad in distant places, including Canada, U.S.A. and England. Wherever they went they attracted attention not only because of their distinctive looks wearing turban and beard, but also because of their integrity, hard labour and will to work, which naturally evoked interest in the Sikhs, their religion, history and social structure. This received impetus in recent years because of the celebrations of centenaries of the births of Guru Nanak, Guru Amar Das and Guru Gobind Singh, besides that of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

Since a large number of educated Sikhs had migrated to foreign countries, the scholars abroad also became interested in them and some of them have made valuable contribution to the Sikh studies. Some of the works that have recently appeared are, however, tendentious and in conflict with the accepted Sikh tradition and beliefs. They not only offend the Sikhs and injure their susceptibilities, but also tend to lead astray unwary students of Sikh religion and history. It is curious indeed that despite the fact that the Sikhs came into being only five hundred years back and they have lived, struggled and achieved something in full view of history, they find themselves victims of distortions, misrepresentations and misunderstandings, to say the least.


The foremost among the foreign writers who have recently come on the scene is Dr. W.H. McLeod, author of Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Evolution of the Sikh Community, and Early Sikh Tradition. Even a hurried glance through these works reveals that McLeod is at pains to propagate that Sikhism, which has recently been gaining a foothold in the West, does not deserve much consideration as it is only a rehash of a minor effete Hindu creed. Being conscious of the fact that Sikhism traces its origin to Guru Nanak, McLeod starts with him. A lot had already been written about his life and teachings, and even from his own days Guru Nanak has been lauded as the Apostle of Universal Religion, Unity of Godhead, Brotherhood of Man and messenger of peace and goodwill, laying emphasis on Truth and righteous living, discarding idolworship, rituals and dogmas and denouncing castesystem. Having been involved in the Christian Missionary activities for a number of years in the Punjab, the homeland of the Sikhs, McLeod seems to be deeply conscious of the fact that after the 1947 Partition of India, in this part of the country, the Christian Missionary work has no future unless the faith of the new generation in its own traditions is undermined. For that purpose a fresh study, with a nonbeliever’s approach accepting nothing that is not established to his satisfaction, of the founder of Sikh Religion and Sikhism assumes importance. His endeavour is to tell the growing Sikh generation, and the Westerns among whom the Sikhs have recently spread and who feel attracted to the Sikh tenets, that the image of Guru Nanak hitherto projected by his numerous biographies and studies on Sikhism is not real but legendary or a myth, and Sikhism has nothing new to offer.

As the Sikhs were preparing to celebrate the quincentenary of the birth of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of their religion, to spread his message of brotherhood of man and universal goodwill and peace, Dr. McLeod came up with his Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion in 1968. In its preface the author, while warning us that it is not, “in any direct sense, a study of the faith of Sikhs”, claims that it is “a study of the man Guru Nanak and a reference to the Sikh religion has been included in the title because the adherents of that religion quite rightly regard Guru Nanak as a determinative formulator of the beliefs which have ever since constituted the primary basis of the Sikh religion.”1

The title of this book generates the expectation of a new scholarly biography of the great Guru, leading to better understanding of his personality and mission. Disappointingly enough what the reader finds on opening it is an assiduous effort to destroy or distort the prevailing image of this great prophet by asserting that the incidents of his life narrated in his numerous biographies have no historical basis but are the brainchild of his devotees who sought to glorify him by attributing super-natural power to him.

McLeod examines various sources of the life of Guru Nanak only to reject them. Even the Adi Granth, which treasures the hymns (bani) of Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus, is ignored despite specific reference in some of them to the contemporary events like the invasion of Babar, the depredations that followed and the sufferings of the people. He doubts the context of ‘Babar-vani’ and other suggestive verses as he refuses to believe that Guru Nanak was present at Saidpur when that city was sacked.

The janam-sakhis narrating events from the life of Guru Nanak have been discarded as “hagiographic accounts with a very substantial portion of legend and of very little historical value.” More detailed examination of the various janam-sakhis and the incidents narrated therein form the subject matter of McLeod’s latest book Early Sikh Tradition— A Study of Janam-Sakhis.

Examining the various incidents or Sakhis narrated in the janamsakhis, McLeod summarily rejects all that smacks of miracle or wonder. Applying the test of probability to the rest he very grudgingly accepts 28 as possible. Out of 124 Sakhis analysed by him as many as 87 are rejected as improbable or impossible and bare 37 classed as probable. Summing up his conclusions McLeod says:

“The janam-sakhis have served as a vehicle of a powerful myth, one which still commands acceptance within the society which developed it……. The myth which they express may be briefly stated as follows. Baba Nanak was the divinely commissioned giver of salvation. To all who would seek salvation the way lies open. The means of salvation consists in loyalty to the person of Baba Nanak and acceptance of his teachings. This is the myth. The form which was developed to give it expression was the narrative anecdote which, in relating some incidents concerning the life of Nanak, sought to authenticate the claims made on his behalf. These anecdotes collected into anthologies or structured biographies, constitute the janam- sakhis.”2

His conclusions are not surprising as his approach is negative and he starts with the assumption that janamsa as in the case of the Gospels, are mainly collections of myths developed during first two centuries from the imagination of the followers. This treatment of janam-sakhis is wholly untenable especially in view of the authentic hymns (Bani) of Guru Nanak himself treasured in the Adi Granth and other contemporary and near- contemporary evidence.

The following passage occurring in his book Evolution of Sikh Community, reveals the working of Dr. McLeod’s mind.

“The basic point which needs to be made as far as the authentic Nanak material is concerned is that the janam-sakhis tradition can provide no more than pointers to possibilities. Each  of these possibilities must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny and only when it is actually established can it be accepted. Unlike the person in a court of law janam-sakhis must be held guilty until proved innocent Given the hagiographic nature of the janam-sakhis and their general lack of reliability as far as the historical Nanak is concerned, material which cannot be positively established should only rarely be given the benefit of doubt.”3

With this attitude is it any wonder that McLeod finds next to nothing in the various janam-sakhis and other source material, including the Adi Granth and Varan Bhai Gurdas, as positive evidence of historical Nanak ? As a result of his laborious pruning of available biographical material and rejection of the bulk of janam-sakhis he gives us the life picture of Nanak of History in less than a page.4 Stopping short of declaring Nanak a mythical figure he mercifully accepts that he lived in flesh and blood having been born in 1469 A.D. and lived till 1539, but asserts that he had an uneventful life in the course of which he did not take to any calling, and later in response to a Divine call, wandered about, ultimately setting as a peasant on the banks of the Ravi at Kartarpur (now in Pakistan) and collected a following.

It is here profitable to refer to the approach of another Western scholar, Dr. James A. Veitch. In an excellent chapter on Religion of the Sikhs, this learned Professor of Religious Studies stresses the importance of religious tradition and work like Janam-sakhis in dealing with the lives of great religious teachers in these words:

“Of course it is difficult to distinguish between what happened in the life of the historical person Nanak, and how later traditions interpreted the impact he made upon the contemporary religious scene. Later generations, in recapturing the founding vision of Guru Nanak tend to fill out the record with stories which are more interpretative. This should not surprise the European reader: thinking and writing in historical terms is a phenomenon which has had a relatively short history in the West. Stories which are part and parcel of all religious traditions provide the media through which truths are expressed. The question to be asked of stories illustrating difficult incidents in the life of founders of the great religious traditions (such as Guru Nanak, Gotama, Muhammad and Jesus) is, not did it really happen in the way described? But what religious truth is being expressed in this story? However, this sort of comment should not obscure the originality and fresh insight into the nature of the Divine, injected by this remarkable person - Guru Nanak - into the religious life of North India.”5


Encouraged by the slow reaction of the Sikhs to such tendentious writings about their faith and their Gurus, McLeod came up with his second book, The Evolution of the Sikh Community. In the five essays covering 104 pages he has attacked most of the Sikh traditions, institutions and beliefs, questioned their validity and striven to create doubt about others. Some of the propositions put forward by him are these:

(1) It is misleading to call Guru Nanak the founder of Sikh religion as he did not originate a new school of thought Or set of teachings. What Guru Nanak offers us is the clearest and most highly articulate expression of the nirguna sampradaya, the so-called Sant tradition of Northern India, a system which he inherited, reworked according to his own genius and passed on in a form unequalled by any other representative of the tradition. It was the influence of Nath doctrine and practice upon Vaishnava bhakti which was responsible for the emergence of the Sant systhesis.”6

(2) The ten Gurus never preached one set of religious doctrines or system and particularly the third Guru created new institutions on the old Hindu lines, the very thing Guru Nanak has spurned.”7 From the sixth Guru onwards, the teachings of Guru Nanak were completely given up in favour of a militant pose in response to socio-political situations.

(3) The arming of the Panth would not have been the result of any decision by Guru Hargobind, but because of Jat influx in the Sikh fold “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.”8

(4) The traditional account about the founding of the Khalsa on the Baisakhi day of the year or 1699 (A.D.) cannot be accepted as there are “compulsive reasons for scepticism”, and “the traditions relating to the period of Guru Gobind Singh must be in some considerable measure, set aside. The slate must be wiped clean and must not be rein scribed until we have ascertained just what did take place during the eighteenth century.”9

(5) The Sikh code of discipline, Rehat Maryada, and Sikh symbols were evolved during the eigthteenth century as a result of gradual growth, though the tradition declares they were definitely settled by a pronouncement of Guru Gobind Singh and were a part of the Baisakhi day proceedings in 1699 (A.D.).10

(6) Though the Gurus denounced caste system and preached against it, yet they did not seem sincere or serious in removing caste differences.11

(7) The succession of the Granth Sahib as Guru of the Sikhs, ending the line of personal Gurus on the death of Guru Gobind Singh, was not because of an injunction of Guru Gobind Singh himself but was a subsequent adoption by the Sikhs, who were fighting for their existence, to meet the needs of the Panth for cohesion.12

(8) The authenticity of the current version of Guru Granth Sahib which is widely accepted and used by the Sikhs, is open to question since there are three manuscripts (Birs) available which are not entirely identical.13

These are some of the salient propositions that have been put forward by Dr. McLeod. They not only belittle the Sikh faith and doctrines in the eyes of the English speaking people and other non- Sikhs but also tend to shake the faith of the younger generation of the Sikhs in their religion, Gurus, scriptures, institutions and all that they inherit. He has been emboldened by the fact that in our own Universities even the scholars who are working in the Departments of the Sikh Studies have not cared to rebut or even examine his thesis and to place before the people the correct picture and real facts. This neglect has already resulted in considerable harm as even uncommitted scholars and researchers, without proper examination of the issues involved, are prone to accept the word of McLeod in the absence of any challenge by the Sikhs themselves or availability of the other point of view.

All these propositions put forward by Dr. McLeod are clearly in conflict with the basic beliefs and long unbroken traditions of the Sikhs. Their acceptance by an unwary mind may shake the faith of the believer or mislead an unsuspecting scholar, who is not fully conversant with the Sikh history, traditions and beliefs. Dr. McLeod was certainly not unmindful of the far reaching consequences of this challenge to the Sikh tradition and the unmistakable trend of his writings to undermine the Sikh faith. That he was conscious of the delicacy of the task undertaken by him is obvious from his Preface to Guru Nanak and Sikh Religion wherein he says: “For no one is the injunction to tread softly more relevant than for the historian whose study carries him into religions beyond his own society. Should his study extend to what other men hold sacred the injunction becomes a compelling necessity. For this reason the westerner who ventures upon a study of Sikh history must do so with caution and almost inevitably with a measure of trepidation. In such a field the risk of giving offence is only too obvious.”14

Curiously enough Dr. McLeod casts all caution to the winds and feels compelled to make sweeping observations which not only tend to undermine the Sikh faith but also denigrate the mission of the Sikh Gurus and distort their image. His approach being wholly negative his conclusions are entirely unjustified.


Approach and Attitude
In dealing with the works of McLeod and others of his ilk, one has to be satisfied that the approach is fair and unbiased and the conclusions are based on adequate data. This important aspect has been dealt with, in the next chapter of this volume by the eminent scholar Prof. Noel Q. King, whose specialisation is History of Religion. He has also dealt with critical scholarship and the historical methodology which Dr. McLeod claims to have applied to his study of Guru Nanak and his Religion. The conclusions reached by him are important and no scholar engaged in search for truth can ignore them. Dr. King writes:

“It is apparent from all this that critical scholarship is a native growth in Judaism and Christianity. Every species of critic is more dangerous when it turns to weapons developed in one religion on to another. In addition, if the critics themselves have departed from their  own belief, their remarks on other peoples’ sacred things are liable to be affected thereby. If they are disappointed in their own faith, often their bitterness will be expressed in what they say of the faith of others. If they think their own old religion is based on irrationality and nonsense, they will hardly be able to refrain from extending the same methodology and arguments to the religions of other people.”15

Dr. King further tells us that it is most important to remember the personality and circumstances of the critics and asserts:

“In any subject which entails human subjects, the work must be put into a personal context. If it is to do with religion it should also have the statement of ingredients, including the religious standing of the writers. If he or she is a believer it is necessary to know this, so that the critical reader can allow for bias. If he or she is not a believer, we should have some indication of that too, lest the disillusionment or enlightenment of a post-Christian, a post- Jew or a post whatever, should give the critic rosy-coloured spectacles or a jaundiced outlook. “16

Dealing with the study of religion John A. Hutchison points out that among the general issues and the problems which one faces is “the tension between commitment and objectivity and closely related tension between the religious adherent or participant and that of the student of religion”. Elaborating he cautions:

“For the person who claims no religious adherence or who seeks to study a religion different from his own, the problem will be very different of seeking by imaginative sympathy to identify his subject. He must strive to reproduce in some measure by imagination or sympathy the view point which the adherent possesses by his real participation.”17

Referring to the characteristics of a good study he says that the student of religion must seek the facts as objectively fully and as freely as is humanly possible. He must not hide, suppress or distort facts and this maxim is particularly necessary in the study of religion in order to dispel deeply rooted prejudices.

Let us turn to McLeod himself to ascertain his attitude to the study of the Sikhs and their religion. As has been observed earlier, in his Preface to “Guru Nanak and His Religion” he says that he seeks to apply rigorous historical methodology to the traditions concerning the
life of Guru Nanak.

In his later book The Evolution of Sikh Community he goes further and refuses to attach any importance even to the long established traditions in dealing with the creation of the Khalsa on the Baisakhi day of the year 1699 (A.D.). He declines to accept the unbroken tradition and all other historical evidence by saying:

“Traditions abound but so too do compulsive reasons for scepticism and asserts that the slate must be wiped clean and must not be reinscribed until we have ascertained just what did take place during the eighteenth century. We may be sure that something certainly did happen on the Baisakhi day of 1699 and some of the tradition will eventually turn out to be subsequently accurate.”18 Again while dealing with the Khalsa code of discipline he writes:

“Although the actual institution of the code may be safely attached to a declaration made by the tenth Guru in 1699 any analysis of its actual contents must extend over a much wider period. It must relate to cultural features which were already present within Sikh society at that time, and to events which came later, particularly to events which took place during the eighteenth century.”19

It is curious indeed that being unable to refute that Guru Gobind Singh had promulgated the code of discipline at the creation of the Khalsa, McLeod persists in saying that the Sikh symbols, and some other features of the Khalsa were adopted later. In the same strain he disregards what he himself calls “an extensive, generally consistent and almost universally accepted body of tradition to explain the creation of the Panth which indisputably had well- formulated religious doctrines, a coherent discipline and the strong conviction that it has been born to rule.”

In its final analysis the attitude of McLeod to the study of Sikhism is to accept nothing which the Sikhs value or believe in, reject even the established traditions and doubt historical facts. With this approach he asks the Sikhs to prove positively to his satisfaction that what they believe about their Gurus, religion, history etc. is correct. Even when he finds that the traditional account has a valid basis, he chooses not to accept it saying that there may be another possibility.

In justification what can be urged is that Dr. McLeod has adopted rigorous critical methodology developed in the West during the last two centuries. This has been examined in detail by Dr. N.Q. King. While saying that he was not calling for a moratorium on critical scholarship, and that Sikhism like all the great religions needs it to meet the needs of its highly educated followers, he warns that intellect and its methods as we presently know them are not perfect nor absolute, nor infallible, nor do they see things in focus or whole.”

Referring to McLeod’s studies on Sikhism under reference he writes:
“Whatever Dr. McLeod intended many readers will ask his books wrong questions and get the wrong answers. The books to an uninitiated reader seem to reiterate the notion that a great amount of Sikh belief appears to be based on uncritical religiosity. The reader seeking the well-springs of what Sikhism is will not be assisted. The only successful opponent to thousands of years of Passing conquerors must have something that makes him tick ! Nowhere in these books is there an attempt to tell us what it is. The reader wishing to know about the heart of Sikhism will turn to these books and be offered meticulously and exhaustively carried out drills in certain methods of Western criticism. The readers’ desires, and the books purpose differ.”20


On some of the propositions put forward by Dr. McLeod we have in these pages the studies made by well-known Indian scholars and historians, besides the opening essay by the eminent Professor of Comparative Religions and History, Or. Noel Q. King.

Sardar Daljeet Singh has dealt in details with the various features of Nathism and Vaishnavism, which, according to McLeod, are the elements of Sant Mat that Guru Nanak is said to have reworked and put forward. Making comparison of these two systems with Sikhism Daljeet Singh has brought out the distinction features of Guru Nanak’s teachings which are not only in conflict with the Sant Mat, but unequivocally reject them.

Dr. Hari Ram Gupta, the renowned historian, whose specialty is the Punjab History, has given a detailed account of the founding of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh on the Baisakhi of the year 1699 A.D. It is based upon authentic contemporary and near- contemporary evidence. This must dispel any doubt which McLeod has voiced without any cogent material to justify it.

Dr. Ganda Singh and Professor Harbans Singh, writing separately about the installation of Guru Granth Sahib as Eternal Guru ending the line of personal succession, have affirmed the Sikh tradition finding abundant unimpeachable evidence to support it.

Prof. Jagjit Singh has studied in detail the caste system as it prevailed in the Hindu society and brought out that Guru Nanak and his successors not only rejected it but also took effective steps to wean away the Sikhs and obliterate all distinctions of castes and status.

Prof. Jagjit Singh has also forcefully controverted Dr. McLeod’s thesis about the militarisation of Sikh movement that it was the influx of Jats that led to it.

Beginning of Sikhism
The Sikhs trace the origin of their faith to Guru Nanak who indisputably is the determinative formulator of the Sikh teachings. Dr. McLeod, while conceding that “the following which gathered around Guru Nanak was certainly the original nucleus of the Sikh Panth”, asserts that he cannot be called the founder of Sikh religion, because “if we compare his teachings with those of other contemporary or earlier religious figures, we shall at once see that he stands firmly within a well-defined tradition, nirguna sampradaya, the so-called Sant tradition of Northern India.” Elaborating it he says: “It was the influence of Nath doctrine and practice upon Vaishnava bhakti, which was primarily responsible for the emergence of the Sant systhesis. Muslim beliefs, both Sufi and orthodox, had at most a marginal effect. “21

Both Hindus and Muslims, who had been at loggerheads for hundreds of years, felt attracted by Guru Nanak’s teachings, and that too, despite the fact that when Guru Nanak set out to spread the message of God after his mystic encounter at Sultanpur Lodhi, he had declared: “There is no Hindu, there is no Musalman.” The original nucleus of followers that he had gathered around him was drawn from both these opposing religious communities and when he departed from this world both claimed that he belonged to them.

This brings out the universal nature of Guru Nanak’s doctrine and the fact that men of conflicting faiths dIscovered that here was the one in whom they found the culmination of their own faith. That is why he is still remembered in Punjab as the “King of holy men : the Guru of Hindus and the Pir of Musalmans.”

As K.L. Seshagiri Rao points out, the question whether Guru Nanak gave humanity some new truth. or merely echoed the ideas contained in Hindu heritage, is neither proper nor fair. as it ignores the historical fact that the great leaders of the world are as much created by history as they are the creators of history Scholars of various religions have found some cardinal elements of their own religions in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, but this only highlights the universal appeal of Sikhism as the world religion and not that it is a sect of another, or a syncretic blend of different, and often conflicting, faiths. Dr Richard V Desmet in his study “Nanak and Christ” finds “a remarkable convergence of their teachings and affinities between them”, and says: Nanak’s singing of the true God seems like an echo across the centuries of monotheistic preachings of Jesus.”22

Again it is interesting that Dr. LM. Joshi finds that Sikhism is nearer to Budhism than to any other religious tradition and there arc rnanifest similarities between them. Despite this none has traced the origin of Sikhism to Christianity or Budhism, which is fundamentally different both from Sikhism and Christianity being a non-theistic religion. Monotheism, brotherhood of man, rejection of caste system and idol worship, and some other religious beliefs, which are cardinal both in Islam and Sikhism, have fostered an impression that Guru Nanak’s teachings arc nearer to Islam and that Sikhism was horn out of the wedlock of Hinduism and Islam. Discovery of some elements of various religious in Guru Nanak’s teachings merely goes to show that Sikhism have universal appeal and elements of World Religion and not that Guru Nanak was propagating the principles of one or the other of the existing religious the view that Guru Nanak’s monotheism was because of Islam’s influence, Dr Mujeeb asserts :

“The revelation that came to Guru Nanak must have been as direct and immediate and as independent of history and social circumstances as the religious records of the Sikhs show it to be.”

In his recent Berkely Lectures on Sikhism at the University of California, Professor Harbans Singh has aptly summed up the correct position in these words:

“The beginnings of the Sikh faith go back to the revelation brought to light by Guru ‘Nanak. In the message he delivered lay the seed of a vital thoughtstream which moulded a new community of men. Attempts have been made to split Guru Nanak’s doctrine into various strands and to trace their origin to precedent schools of thought. But to understand Guru Nanak fully, we have to look at the totality of his tenets and at what impact it made on history. In this perspective, we shall see that Guru Nanak is historically the founder of the Sikh faith. His precept was definitely the starting point. In many significant ways, it signalled a new departure in contemporary religious ethos. Sikh tradition in continuum bears witness to the individual quality of Guru Nanak’s intuition.”23

Rejecting the theory of syncretistic union between Hinduism and Islam,or an effort to have in his teachings a judicious mixture of elements of each faith to be acceptable to all, Prof. Harbans Singh continues:

“His equal attention to Hindu and Muslim identities and use of some of their religious vocabulary have led some to depict him as the reconciler of the two, faiths and to see Sikhism as a deliberate mingling of Hindu and’ Muslim practices. To do so will mean missing much of his individual genius and misinterpreting the historical development arising from his revelation.”24

While observing that some of the notes were already audible in the milieu in which Guru Nanak was born. Prof. Harbans Singh rejects the contention that the Nirgun Sampradaya and Sufism were the basis of Guru Nanak’s teachings. Admitting that all this was a part of Guru Nanak’s inheritance, he, however, maintains that yet he belonged to none of these systems and orders, nor could he be placed in the framework of any of these and asserts that attempts at tracing kinship between him and Bhakti reformers and the description of Kabir as “forerunner of Sikhism” are equally misleading. The inclusion of some of the sayings of Kabir and other Bhaktas in the Guru Granth Sahib was much later by Guru Arjan Dev. McLeod himself concedes that “there is no evidence to support the impression that Guru Nanak had met Kabir and little to suggest that he knew any of his works”, yet some Western scholars have gone to the extent of describing Nanak as “a disciple of Kabir, or a second- rate Kabir.” Such observations are neither fair nor tenable. They betray thoughtless acceptance of the views of some Hindus to whom the very idea of independence and distinctness of the Sikh doctrine has been an anathema.

In dealing with this matter it is important to remember that the songs of Kabir and some others found in Guru Granth Sahib are only a part of the compositions of those Bhaktas. It is abundantly clear that Guru Arjan, who compiled the Adi Granth, had selected these leaving out others which did not accord with the Sikh doctrine. So far as Kabir is concerned we have the recent study by Ms. Karim Schomer, “Kabir in the Guru Granth Sahib: An Exploratory Essay.” Pointing out that historians of Indian religion have tended to oversimplify the medieval religious situation by classifying all important figures, movements and literature as representative of either Saguna Bhakti or Nirguna Bhakti, she tells us:

“Even a preliminary examination of the corpus of Kabir’s utterances included in the Guru Granth Sahib reveals some noticeable differences between Kabir the mystic and the organized Sikh Panth. The inclusion of some of his utterances in the Guru Granth Sahib is not automatic proof of identity of moods and motivation between him and the compilers of the Granth. “25 On comparison of the various songs of Kabir found in the Kabir Granthavali with some of those included in the Guru Granth Sahib, Schomer sums up her conclusion in these words:

“Thus we see that the dohas of Kabir included and preserved in the Guru Granth tradition tend to be those which encourage the ‘moods and motivation’ appropriate to a solid, moral, Godfearing religious community of householders. Utterances pointing to the ecstasies of mystical experience are not totally absent, but are strikingly few in comparison with those found in the Kabir Granthavali.”26

Similar studies of the sayings of other Saints that are found in the Guru Granth Sahib will reveal that Guru Arjan took care to select only those hymns which were consistent with the teachings of Guru Nanak. This clearly brings out the points of departure from the current Bhaktas’ cult. The most important was the emphasis of Guru Nanak and his successors on social morality while living as a householder and not as an escapist. What Cuningham says in this connection is instructive:

“Ramanand and Gorakh had preached religious equality, and Chaitan had repeated that faith levelled caste. Kabir had denounced images, and appealed to the people in their own tongue, and Vallabh had taught that effectual devotion was compatible with the ordinary duties of the world. But these good and able men appear to have been so impressed with the nothingness of life, that they deemed the amelioration of man’s social condition to be unworthy of a thought…. They formed pious association of contented quietists, or they gave themselves up to the contemplation of futurity in the hope of approaching bliss, rather than called upon their fellow creatures to throw aside every social as well as religious trammel, and to arise a new people freed from debasing corruption of ages. They perfected form of dissent rather than planted the germs of a nation, and their sects remain to this day as they left them. It was reserved for Nanak to perceive the true principles of reform and to lay down those broad foundations which enabled his successor Gobind to fire the minds of his countrymen with a new nationality, and to give practical effect to the doctrine that the lowest is equal with the highest, in race as in creed, in political rights as in religious hopes.”27

The lives, works and thoughts of all great men of the bygone centuries are the common heritage of all of us, but God-inspired men like Nanak go forward discarding all that alienates man from God and impedes human progress. Their new concept of God’s purpose and man’s duty opens vast avenues for man’s redemption and good of the society transcending all that has gone before. Tracing of influences of some earlier traditions must not blur our vision and prevent us from discovering the contribution made by Guru Nanak and his successors to religious thought.

Reminding us that all great religions of the world had their precursors, Prof. Harbans Singh elaborates:

“Gautama and early Budhism were preceded by the intellectuals of Brahmanic orthodoxy and exponents of several yogic asceticism. Jesus and primitive Christianity show the influence of Hebrew prophets, Essene Sectarians and rabbinic teachers. Similarly Guru Nanak was the product of his times and the heritage that had come to him. But his originality, like that of other great teachers, lies in his reassertion of the eternal truths and in what he made of his inheritance and what he created out of the matrix of his own personality.”

Talking about Sikhism and Bhakti and Sant cults, Dr. Attar Singh rightly emphasises:

“It is Sikhism alone which instead of seeking accommodation either within Hinduism, or within the conquering Islam chose to protest against both of them, revolt against the former and confront the later. It is this revolutionary configuration of protest, revolt and confrontation that the inner urges and aspirations sought and achieved their basic articulation not only mystrically and metaphysically but even as historically. “28

Commenting on the fact that several commentators of Sikh faith have seen in Guru Nanak a kindred soul of the Sufis or Islam and the Bhaktas and Saints of the Hindu faith, Dr. Attar Singh aptly points out:

“But the crucial point which is not appreciated is that while Guru Nanak went along with the Sufis and the Bhaktas to a certain length, he ultimately reaches past both of them when he demands a new praxis, both individual and social, to make a bid for changing what was dead and rotten…… Guru Nanak’s religious quest starts appropriately with man and the human condition in both, the necessary and contingent, eternal and the temporal contexts …… In Guru Nanak’s faith vital question is not that of man losing his identity in God but that of God’s awakening within man.”29

In this volume we have a comparative study of Nathism, Vaishnavisill and Sikhism made by a well-known scholar of Theology Sardar Daljeet Singh. He has examined in detail the various features of these three systems and has come to the conclusion that they are independent in their fundamentals and world views. Their activities and ideologies are different. They are entirely different in approach, their ideas and ideologies, and their modes of worship. Even their goals are different. Rejecting the caste system, idol worship and escapist attitude Sikhism stands by Itself. Accepting the householder’s life and responsibilities to carry out the Attributive Will of God and a continuous virtuous end eavour to solve problems of man a Sikh has not only to work for his own emancipation but also work for the good of the society.


Birth of the Khalsa
The Sikhs owe their distinctive look and identity to Guru Gobind Singh who created the Order of the Khalsa on the Baisakhi day of the year 1699 (A.D.). For that historic event he had called upon his followers to reach Anandpur Sahib with arms and wearing their hair and beards inviolate. The historical records reveal that eighty thousand Sikhs responded to his call. At an impressive function he baptised the faithful into the new Order of the Khalsa by administering to them Amrit prepared with double-edged sword (Khande-Ka-Pahul). He enjoined upon them the wearing of the five insignia or emblems (Kakas) beginning with the letter ‘K’, including Kesh and Kirpan; rejection of old customs; adoption of the new mode of life; a strict code of conduct; forging brotherhood of his disciples as equals dedicated to the service of God and the humanity. In the words of Dr. J.S. Grewal, Guru Gobind Singh successfully completed ‘the revolution’ which had been initiated by Guru Nanak. Both in his life and his death Guru Gobind Singh had made himself master of the imagination of his followers. He had fired their imagination and instilled new spirit into them which inspired “sparrows hunt the hawks and one Sikh fight a legion.” Prof. Harbans Singh has beautifully summed up the result in these words:

“The inauguration of the Khalsa was the realization of Guru Gobind Singh’s divinely inspired vision and his design for the uplift of the people. It was a grand creative deed of history conceived to bring about a revolutionary change in the minds of men and arouse their energies for positive and altruistic action. They were to be made conscious of the disabilities of their state, of their servitude and abjectness and taught to stand upon their feet and work ceaselessly and courageously to redeem their predictment. They were to be rid of the superstitions and divisions which had enfeebled and entombed their spirit for centuries and were given a new conceit of themselves and their destiny. A new impulse of chivalry arose in the northern India and it resulted in an endless chain of shinning deeds of sacrifice and gallantry, giving the irrevocable turn to the course of events. How the Guru shook out of their lassitude people reconciled for long to their fallen state, their will to action completely atrophied, is one of the miracles of history.”30

Thus out of the oppressed and demoralised arose a distinctive people fired with a sense of mission and determination to usher in a new society implicitly believing that the Khalsa will rule. With faith in God and righteousness of their cause they did carve out the kingdom of Punjab, leaving no trace of the Mughal rule and sealing the northwestern borders of India against the foreign invaders by planting their own banner even beyond the rugged frontiers of their land.

Creation of the Khalsa was evidently an outstanding event of farreaching consequences not only for the Sikhs but in the history of India. Hew McLeod, however, chooses not to accept the account of the birth of the Khalsa on the Baisakhi of the year 1699 (A.D.), not because he finds any evidence to falsify it but by simply refusing to believe it, saying:

“Our knowledge of the 18th century is still limited. Traditions abound but so too do compulsive reasons for scepticism. What we do know, however, indicates that traditions relating to the period of Guru Gobind Singh must be, in some considerable measure set aside The slate must be wiped clean and must not be rein scribed until we have ascertained just what did take place during the eighteenth century.”

It may be remembered that the eighteenth century, on which McLeod needs more light is the period following the death of Guru Gobind Singh who departed from this world in 1708. To accept the account of Guru Gobind Singh’s life and achievements McLeod asks for a convincing account of what went on in the century after him, to exclude the suspicion that the tradition in question is historio-graphical phenomena.

Here in this volume Dr. H.R. Gupta, the eminent historian, has exhaustively dealt with the founding of the Khalsa. He finds ample and unrebuttable evidence in support of it. As Prof. Harbans Singh reminds us, it must not be forgotten that there is unbroken tradition in support of the Sikh account of the creation of Khalsa which stands unrebutted and cannot be discarded on mere suspicion about its authenticity.

The detailed account of this historic event rests upon authentic sources, including the newswriter of the Mughal Court, who was present on the occasion. Khushwant Singh, who has dealt with it in detail, has beautifully summed up the impact of this momentous step in his History oJ the Sikhs.

“Sikh chronicles maintain that baptism of the twenty thousand Sikhs at Anandpur was followed by mass baptism all over Northern India. The Guru had dinned into the timid peasantry of the Punjab that they must take the broom of Divine knowledge and sweep way the filth of timidity.

Thus did Gobind ‘train the sparrow to hunt the hawk and one man to fight a legion’. Within a few months a new people were born - bearded, beturbaned, fully armed, and with a crusader’s zeal to build a new commonwealth. They implicitly believed that The Khalsa shall rule Their enemies will be scattered. Only they that seek refuge.31 will be saved.” Here the present writer would like to refer to his family history. He is a direct descendant of Mahan Singh who had got baptised as Khalsa and received Amrit from the hands of Guru Gobind Singh himself. In the history of the family based on the family records and diaries it is recorded not only that Mahan Singh went to Anandpur Sahib and got baptised as a Khalsa but also that Guru Gobind Singh himself graciously administered Amrit to him, changed his name from Mehtab Shah to Mahan Singh and enjoined upon him to observe the new code of discipline and all the essentials of the new Order, including the five emblems (Kakas). From that day Mehtab Shah became Mahan Singh, with changed appearance as a Khalsa wearing Kes and the rest of the four emblems, daily reciting the Gurbani, particularly Japuji Sahib and lap Sahib.


Sikh Symbols and Discipline
It is further specifically recorded in this account how Guru Gobind Singh enjoined upon him to observe the new Khalsa Code. “When I was baptised and received Amrit from the hands of Guru Gobind Singh Maharaj it was enjoined on me to keep Kes and wear Kirpan, Kara, Kanga and Katch. I was directed to be righteous in my conduct, do good deeds, worship God and be honest and upright. I was asked to consider all Sikhs as my brothers, share my earnings with others, and consider the service of my parents far more meritorious than pilgrimage to tiraths. It was emphasized that God is neither born nor dies: One who takes birth and dies can never take the place of God. I was commanded to shun intoxicants, consider all women, other than the one whose hand I had got in marriage, as my mother, sister or daughter, and avoid evil ways.”

This is positive evidence of the authenticity of the Sikh tradition, which is unbroken, that Guru Gobind Singh had himself prescribed the 5 Ks, including Kes and Kirpan, and laid down rules of conduct and discipline for the Sikhs initiated into the Order of the Khalsa taking vow from them to observe the same.

It is also recorded in this family history that at the time Guru Gobind Singh blessed Mehtab Shah with Amrit he changed his name to Mahan Singh and thereafter this ancestor of mine wore a changed physical appearance as Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. All this must dispel any lurking suspicion about the Sikh traditional account of the origin of the Sikh symbols and the basic requirements of the Rehat Maryada which an Amritdhari, or baptised Sikh, has to observe.

The fact that in course of time these rules were compiled or elaborated by some persons does not warrant the conclusion that the Rehat Maryada was a subsequent invention. It is important to remember that by the year 1699 (A.D.), when Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa, he had fought many battles, studied and written prolifically, conversed with the learned whom he had gathered around him at Poanta Sahib, contemplated a lot on the problems facing the country and people around him, besides having constant communion with the Creator whose attributes he recounted in his outstanding composition Jap Sahib, and invoked His blessing in his other inspiring and inspired hymns. From his early days he believed that he was the man with a mission. In his autobiographical composition Bachitar Natak he asserted that the Lord sent him into this world charged with the duty to uphold the good and uproot sin and evil. It was after deep and long contemplation and considerable planning that he created the missionary force, Khalsa, to accomplish his mission. When he created a new Order of Saintsoldiers, armed but devout and committed to the good of humanity, he could not have omitted to lay down a strict code of discipline and insisted on its observance. It was indispensable for the new organisation, that had to actively enga ge in battles and save the oppressed and the meek. Broad and essential outlines, especially the wearing of the symbols and observance of religious injunctions, must have been laid down at the foundation of the Khalsa and explained to the mammoth gathering. If latter they were compiled by various persons and each of them gave his own account, it is unfair to say that the Rehat Maryada was a subsequent innovation.

In dealing with this question it is necessary to keep in mind that the decades following the death of Guru Gobind Singh were of continuous grim struggle for survival for the Sikhs. Banda Bahadur, whom Guru Gobind Singh, in his last days, charged with the duty of punishing the persecutors of the Sikhs and those, who had murdered his sons, planted the Guru’s standard in a village thirty five miles from the capital, by the time he learnt about the murderous assault on Guru Gobind Singh. Thereafter in rapid strides he led the Khalsa into the Punjab and with the destruction of Sirhind became the master of the territories between the Jamana and the Sutlej. Vastly outnumbered by the Mughal forces Banda was captured and eventually executed alongwith his four-year old son and hundreds of Sikhs in June 1716. Edicts were issued to capture and kill the Sikhs wherever found and price was set on their heads. The Sikhs not only faced the wrath and the might of the Mughals but also met the onslaught of the invaders, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. The Sikhs were hounded and brutally massacred. One of these holocausts known as Chhota Ghallughara was in June, 1746 and another, far more disastrous, Vada Ghallughara (The Great Holocaust) was on February 5, 1762.

In this state of affairs when the Sikhs were hunted and hounded for several decades right from the death of Guru Gobind Singh, can it be imagined they would forge the five Sikh Kakas or symbols and wear them. The unshorn hair, which is one of these, at once marks out a Sikh and enables you to pick out one in a multitude. Had it not been an injunction of Guru Gobind Singh, who had created the Khalsa, the Sikhs carrying a price on their heads could not have even thought of introducing these symbols which would make them easy targets. The very fact that throughout their life-and-death struggle they stuck to these symbols and all the Sikh martyrs refused to surrender their hair leaves no doubt about the tradition. Since Guru Gobind Singh was determined to make sparrows fight hawks, as he himself proclaimed, it can well be believed that he himself deliberately prescribed the wearing of long hair and other four symbols so that men with courage to wear the external marks of identification as Sikhs may flock under his banner and when apprehended would not be able to deny that they are the Sikhs of Guru Gobind Singh.


Guru Granth Sahib
The line of personal Gurus had continued for over two hundred years. The Sikh Church with its cardinal tenets, beliefs, doctrines, and various institutions stood fully organised and established, culminating in the Order of the Khalsa promulgated by Guru Gobind Singh himself. Since the days of Guru Arjan, who had compiled and installed Granth Sahib (Adi Granth) in the sanctum sanctorum, Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar, this foremost holy Scripture of the Sikhs had occupied central place in Sikh religious life being the treasure-house of the Guru’s Word (Shabad). In the words of Prof. Harbans Singh:

“The Word enshrined in the Holy Book was always revered by the Gurus as well as by their disciples as of Divine origin. The Guru was the revealer of the Word. One day the Word was to take the place of the Guru. The line of personal Gurus could not have continued forever. The inevitable came to pass when Guru Gobind Singh declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be his successor. It was through the Word that Guru could be made everlasting. This object Guru Gobind Singh secured when he pronounced the Holy Granth to be the Guru after him. The Guru Granth was henceforth, and for all the times to come, the Guru for the Sikhs.”32

The question may be examined from another angle. During the life time of some of the Gurus some aspirants for the exalted and holy office kicked up disputes and created difficulties for the acknowledged Gurus. Ram Rai, the eldest son of Guru Har Rai persistently opposed the succession of his younger brother Har Krishan who had been nominated as the next Guru by their father. Guru Gobind Singh’s own father. Guru Tegh Bahadur, faced worst opposition. The latter’s predecessor, Guru Har Krishan was yet a child when he became the eighth Guru. He lived only for a couple of years thereafter and when he died unexpectedly, of small-pox, indicated that his successor would be his elderly relation living in Bakala and not any of his contenders Ram Rai or Dhirmal. When, in accordance with this injunction, Guru Tegh Bahadur was traced and installed by the Sikh masses as their Guru, despite his reluctance being of retiring habits, his adversaries attempted to remove him from the scene and compelled him even to quit Punjab. Is it any wonder that in this background Guru Gobind Singh sagaciously decided to put an end to personal succession and installed the Holy Granth Sahib as the future Guru of the Sikhs in perpetuity? This step was in full accord with the teachings of his predecessors. Right from Guru Nanak it has been emphasised that the “Word” is Guru, the Guru reveals the Word as it comes to him from God and as kindled light shows the way, for the afflicted and toiling humanity, to the fulfilment of the goal of human existence. It is a fundamental Sikh tenet that Guru resides in his Word and is the voice of God. Guru Nanak unhesitatingly declared: As the Word of the Lord comes to meI reveal it to you, O Lalo!33

This has been the consistent stand of a This has been the consistent stand of all the Gurus. Even when the person of the Guru was revered and loyalty to the Guru became unswerving it was Word or Bani of the Guru that was supreme and served as inspiration and guide for the Sikhs, who gave it an honoured place in their daily religious routine and on all occasions. Guru Gobind Singh himself left no doubt about the place of ‘Word’ in Sikh theology and unambiguously declared:

“Whatever the God tells me I convey it to you” Since the Sikhs hold that their’s is the revealed religion and the revelation started with Guru Nanak, the succession of Guru Granth Sahib, embodying the Word or Bani of the Gurus, ending with Guru Gobind Singh, was natural culmination of that faith.

Guru Granth Sahib no doubt continues even today to serve as the primary cohesive factor for the Sikhs, but it is unfair to suggest that it was installed as Guru, not because of any injunction of Guru Gobind Singh, but to serve as a cohesive force for the leaderless community after the execution of Banda Bahadur. It is important to remember that since the succession of Guru Arjan, the Fifth Guru, the office of the Guru had become hereditary. All the four young sons of Guru Gobind Singh having courted martyrdom in the service of the Khalsa, none was left to succeed the Tenth Guru. Guru Gobind Singh did not die suddenly, but because of bursting open of a healing wound. He was fully conscious and being aware of his approaching end he had ample time to nominate his successor. According to the unbroken Sikh tradition he vested Gurudom in the Granth Sahib in perpetuity, deliberately putting an end to the line of personal Gurus. It is unimaginable that such an astute leader as Guru Gobind Singh would leave the question of future leadership of his trusted flock unsettled, being fully conscious of the fact that on previous occasions self-seekers and enemies of the Gurus and the Panth had attempted, though unsuccessfully, to capture the office of the Guru. Had he not intended to abolish personal succession he would have named one of his able and trusted disciples to take his place.

McLeod’s assertion that the tradition about the vesting of Guru’s authority in Granth Sahib owes its origin not to any actual pronouncement of Guru Gobind Singh but to “an insistent need for maintaining the Panth’s cohesion during a later period” must be rejected yet for another reason. The Sikhs, who had become leaderless on the heroic martyrdom of Banda Bahadur had continued to fight against their extermination and met repeated and fierce onslaughts of invaders despite dwindling numbers. They were fired with the spirit instilled in them by the founder of the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh, who had trained “the sparrows to hunt the hawks, one man to fight a legion.” Had they been in search of a cohesive factor in absence of a personal Guru why would they not give that role to Dasam Granth (which contains considerable martial inspiration) instead of choosing Guru Granth as their Guru in perpetuity? The fact that they owned and revered Granth Sahib as their Guru leaves no doubt that it was because of the injunction of Guru Gobind Singh, whom they could never think of disobeying. It is also clear evidence of the fact that the Sikhs never even entertained the idea of any individual succeeding the Tenth Guru, nor of a successor other than Guru Granth Sahib.

Here we have the benefit of the studies made by two eminent Indian scholars who have dealt with the subject at length. Dr. Ganda Singh, who has devoted his life to research in Sikh History, has examined the question of succession to Guru Gobind Singh in all its details. He has referred all the available material on the subject. On careful appraisal of the contemporary, near-contemporary evidence, unpublished manuscripts, and historical works, including these of Muslim, Hindu and European, he has unreservedly rejected the suggestion that any individual had succeeded the Tenth Master as the Guru of the Sikhs. He unequivocally asserts that before leaving this world Guru Gobind Singh had installed Granth Sahib as the perpetual Guru of the Sikhs ending the line of personal Gurus.

Professor Harbans Singh of the Punjabi University, Patiala, has examined the issue from another angle as well. Pointing out that from the very inception, right from Guru Nanak himself, it was the Word that was taken as the voice of God and the Guru its revealer, he tells us:

“One day the Word was to take the place of the Guru. The line of personal Gurus could not have continued forever. The inevitable came to pass when Guru Gobind Singh declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be his successor. It was only through the Word that the Guruship could be made lasting.”34

Professor Harbans Singh’s conclusions are supported by ample historical evidence, including unpublished records like Bhatt Vahis that have recently come to light.


Caste and the Sikhs
The Sikh Gurus, right from Guru Nanak, rejected the caste system that had corrupted the Hindu Society, and condemned it in no uncertain terms. In promoting the Brotherhood of man and egalitarian character of revolutionary movement started by him, entry to the Sikhfold was open to all irrespective of caste, community or status in life, and with their participation in the langar and sangat - the two institutions started by Guru Nanak himself - equality as members of the new religious order was assured. Sudras rubbed shoulders with the Khatris, Brahmins and others in religious congregations and dined together in the common kitchen (langar). Guru Arjan not only had the foundation stone of the Sikh temple (Harimandir) laid by a Muslim Saint, Mian Mir, but went further and incorporated the compositions of the low caste and some Muslims in the Granth Sahib, which is now the Guru Eternal for the Sikhs. With the creation of the Khalsa this movement for a castless society reached its culmination. Out of the first five baptised into this order by Guru Gobind Singh, only one was a Khatri, another Jat and the rest all from the lower caste. To emphasize that caste had no validity or a place in Sikh society and they were all equals the Guru went further and himself received baptism (Amrit ) from the hands of these very panj Piaras (the Five Beloved).

McLeod while conceding that the Sikh Gurus were “beyond all doubt vigorous and practical denunciators of caste” has accused them of insincerity by gleefully introducing the fib that the Jats bewail the fact that there was never a single Jat Guru, and the Gurus did not marry outside the Khatri fold. Calling this as violation of the Gurus’ own injunction against caste system, he tells us that some critics accuse them of insincerity and asks: “How one can respect a commandant when its promulgators ignore it?”

In the following pages Jagjit Singh, himself a Jat, has examined the Sikh attitude towards caste in all its aspects and he had demonstrated how untenable and unfair is McLeod’s criticism and charge of insincerity against the Gurus.

The Sikh Gurus on the other hand, so says Jagjit Singh, broke away completely from the caste system both ideologically and organizationally, by creating the Sikh Panth outside the caste society. They went further and created institutions like Langar, Sangat, Amrit which not only enabled, but required, the Sikhs from all castes to congregate, worship, interdine and live together, in peace and war without distinction of caste. Since the Hindus had been in the grip of caste system for centuries the progress of the break a way casteless society was bound to be slow. Even among Christians and Muslims, some of those Converted from Brahmins and Khatris are even now reluctant to marry those who come from lower castes. The mere fact that intermarriages between Jats and non-Jats or scheduled castes are not common does not mean that the Sikhs believe in caste system. Increasingly Sikhs are marrying irrespective of caste considerations. The difficulty in completely getting rid of the caste influence has been due to the fact that the Sikhs, while setting up a distinct religious rder did not break away from the Hindu society out of which most of them had come. If out of a family one became a Sikh, the rest, including his brothers and sisters, remained Hindus, yet they lived together and there was no social segregation. In these circumstances if some Sikhs continued to be under the old family notions about matrimonial alliances it is unfair to accuse them of non-Sikh conduct. Rejection of caste system cannot be construed as an injunction to marry outside your caste, but as freedom to marry irrespective of caste considerations.

It must be not be forgotten that in seeking a bride or a bridegroom quite a number of considerations arise. Suitability is determined, among others, by social position, ability to fit in the new family, religion, education, common outlook on life etc. If the Gurus did not marry outside the Khatri fold it is unfair to accuse them of violation of their own injunction against caste system. For continuation of the family tradition and their mission they had to select a lifepartner for themselves or their children after taking into account all the relevant factors. Is it suggested that in order to demonstrate their rejection of the caste system they should have made it a point to marry Vaishayas or Sudras? In dealing with this question it is unfair to shut Our eyes to the bold steps that the Gurus, right from Nanak, took in rooting out untouchability and introducing practices and institutions that promoted egalitarian and casteless society.

McLeod then tells us that the Jat community laments that no Jat was made a Guru. It is for the first time that one learns about such a grouse, and that too, from McLeod. No such grievance has ever been heard before even in private. As it has actually happened, out of the ten Sikh Gurus the last seven had common descent from the same Sodhi family and only the first and second came from different families. Even the third Guru, Amar Das Bhalla, was related to his successors as the fourth Guru Ram Das was his son-in-law. We must not forget that in choosing their successors the Gurus had to find out who would be most suitable to carry on their mission and command the confidence of the Sikhs. Guru Nanak chose his deserving disciple Lehna (Guru Angad), thus depriving both his sons, not withstanding the fact that one of them, Baba Sri Chand, was a deeply religious and highly respected youngman devoted entirely to spiritual uplift. It is significant that whenever some Sikh Guru faced opposition to his succession it was only from his close relations who aspired to the august office of the Guru and not from anyone who wanted the succession to be out of the family or for a Jat or another non-Khatri.

The important fact that has to be kept in mind is that right from its inception the Sikh movement unequivocally rejected caste system and strove successfully to keep out its attendant evils. An unbiased observer has only to look around and see what a great distance the Sikhism has traversed. The present day light-hearted talk of Jat and nonJat constitution of the Panth has nothing to do with the Sikh ideology but is prompted by economic factors and political ambitions of the few.


The martyrdom of Guru Arjan in 1606 A.D. was a turning point of the Sikh movement. He was the Apostle of Peace and devoted his time to the building up of the Sikh Church. Under him, as Khushwant Singh puts it, the seed sown by Guru Nanak blossomed in its fullness, and men from far and near, including Muslims, flocked to him. Emperor Jehangir could not bear the growing influence of Guru Arjan and resolved to put an end to what he called “this false traffic that lured fools from all over.” Thus Guru Arjan was taken to Lahore and tortured to death. This shocked the Sikhs. The Guru’s son and successor, Guru Hargobind realised that time had come to defend his Sikhs and the Faith with arms. So he invited offerings of arms and horses to train his men as soldiers. At the time of his installation as Guru he girded not one but two swords as defender both of the Faith and temporal interests of his people. The new element that thus moulded the growth of Sikhism reached its culmination when Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Guru, created the Khalsa Brotherhood, making the sword and unshorn hair essential equipment of the Khalsa by including them in the five kakas (Sikh symbols) that he prescribed at the baptism of his Panj-Piaras (the Five Beloved) who first responded to the call of the Guru and offered to lay down their heads for him and the Panth.

Dr. McLeod has challenged this traditional and long accepted account of the militarization of the Sikh movement and contends that the arming of the Panth could not have been the result of any decision of Guru Hargobind, but the growth of militancy within the Panth must be traced primarily to the impact of the cultural patterns of the jats who had entered the Panth in large numbers. In putting forward this bold theory McLeod has not only ignored the historical perspective but also the vital factor of ideology and Sikh ethos. At the very outset McLeod assumes that prior to the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, jats in large numbers had not only entered the Sikh fold but also became so powerful as to divert overnight the course of peaceful religious movement in an entirely different direction. There, however, is no basis for the assumption that the jats were the predominant element among the Sikhs when Guru Hargobind became the Guru or that they were assertive enough to change the Course of a peaceful religious movement that had flourished under Guru Arjan. In fact, the testimony of Bhai Gurdas and Mohasanfani is to the Contrary and that finds support from the participants in the preKhalsa battles and that of Chamkaur. Again it is significant that out of the martyrs who were with Guru Tegh Bahadur and among the five Piaras, only one was a jat, and he too was from Hastanapur, a place outside Punjab. In Banda’s campaign the recruits were mostly from the lower castes.

It must not be forgotten that till the martyrdom of Guru Arjan the Sikh movement had a peaceful course for a hundred years of its existence, and during the twenty five years of his pontificate this Apostle of peace had worked ceaselessly to foster amity and goodwill. He not only got the foundation of Harimander Sahib laid by the Muslim Saint Mian Mir but going further included the compositions of Muslims and low castes in the Granth Sahib that is now the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs. Would the jats, who according to McLeod did not enter the Sikh fold empty-handed but carrying their arms, be attracted by this apostle of peace, Guru Arjan, in numbers, or having entered wait till the succession of Hargobind to militarize a peaceful movement and spoil for a fight against the mighty Mughal Empire? No. On the contrary, it was the assumption of the role of the defender of Miri and Piri that prompted jats to join this egalitarian revolutionary movement.

In these pages the thesis of McLeod about the militarization has been examined by jagjit Singh in all its aspects and what he says cannot fail to compel us to join issues with McLeod on this point. Mcleod’s theory proceeds on certain assumptions which are not warranted by facts. Jagjit Singh has rightly pointed out that there is no material to support the assertion that the Jats were the predominant element among the Sikhs when Guru Hargobind decided to militarize, or even later when Guru Gobind Singh fought his battles or when Banda Bahadur came on the scene. Keeping of sword and unshorn hair were not the element of the Jat culture and it was only after Guru Hargobind called upon his Sikhs to bring arms as offerings that his Sikhs responded. Jagjit Singh pertinently asks how is it that those Jats who remained out of the Sikh fold neither retained the peculiar Jat features, upon which McLeod relies, nor developed the spirit and outlook that distinguished the Sikhs of the Jat origin. On dispassionate study one cannot escape the conclusion that it was the Sikhs ideology and the leadership of the Sikh Gurus, who sacrificed even their lives and those of their near and dear ones, that transformed the disparate elements and moulded them into the Khalsa imbibing the fervour for martyrdom till this day.

These are some of the salient issues raised by Or. McLeod. The others which are also of cardinal nature need to be gone into to elucidate the Sikh Doctrine and assist those interested in the Sikh studies. They will form the subject matter of a companion volume. The Sikh Studies are at a crucial stage and the Sikh, are passing through a very difficult period which faces them with numerous problems. The worth of a particular study will be judged by the objective of the scholar concerned. Now that quite a number of the Sikhs are settling abroad and they are the educated class, they need understanding to make them useful member of the society in which they live. Thus the objective to promote understanding of their religion, history etc. is most welcome. In India itself it becomes increasingly necessary to bring out the distinct contribution made by the Sikhs and their Gurus not only to the national good and Indian society but to human welfare as well. Scholars engaged in such studies, including those who are wedded to the critical methodology, should undertake the job not in a spirit of discovering fallacies, but to strengthen the Sikh Tradition.


Panja Sahib
It is not within the scope of this volume to examine Or. McLeod’s conclusions on scrutiny of the various incidents (sakhis) of Guru Nanak’s life narrated in the janamsakhis to which he has devoted 147 pages of his first book Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion and later the entire volume of 300 pages, Early Sikh Tradition. The present writer will, however, like to place before the reader what he has personally observed at the popular and highly venerated Sikh shrine of Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal in the North Western district of Attock, now in Pakistan about 30 miles from Rawalpindi. In this volume Or. Noel Q. King on examining McLeod’s rejections as “aetiological legend” the Sakhi about Panja Sahib and the Sikh tradition associated with it concludes:  “Dr. McLeod who is so outstanding for his exhaustive field work does not seem to have tried to collect oral evidence from the many living Sikhs who have visited Panja Sahib and indeed possess detailed photographs. In addition, Pakistan welcomes New Zealander and though Sikh shrines are carefully sealed off to prevent fanatics damaging them, scholars with persistence and adroit use of resources can get access to most things. It has to be admitted that critical scholarship has here performed less than its best with regard to one of the sacred things for which Sikhs are willing to lay down their lives.”

These comments have been occasioned by the fact that McLeod had made much of the varying remarks of some foreign travelers who described the Panja (palm impression) found in this shrine differently as “palm-mark etched upon the rock”, “an incision cut into it”, or a “bas-relief”. Dr. King rightly points out that Dr. McLeod, who is anxious to ascertain facts, could have easily gone to the spot and seen for himself what it looked like. Being a New Zealander, who had spent many years in Punjab, he had easy access, especially when engaged in research.

The present writer was born at Rawalpindi and educated there. After doing Law he practised there at the Bar till he shifted to the Lahore High Court towards the end of the year 1942. Every year he used to visit panja Sahib several times particularly on the annual Baisakhi festival which is even now being celebrated there by Sikhs from all over the world. He distinctly remembers that at the edge of the pool, there had always been a clear impression of open palm of a hand recessed into the rock, or hand-shaped depression. Visitors to the shrine could not resist the limpid cool water and while taking a dip or bathing would throw water over the palmimpression and collecting it in the palm of their own hand, as it dripped, sip it.

The existing Gurdwara building was erected in the year 1932 (A.D.) after demolishing the old one that had been built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The palm impression found there before and after reconstruction is the same. There is, however, an important difference in topography. Prior to 1934 the portion of the rock above the palmimpression looked to be a part of the rock that lead to the foot of the hill associated with the memory of Wali Qandhari and it fostered the belief in the Sikh traditional account (Sakhi) about this holy place. While constructing the new Gurdwara building, the ground above the Panja was levelled to extend the compound and build langar, store houses and accommodation for visitors and others. This was later regretted as it had interfered with the natural surroundings that had historical value. Such thoughtless acts of demolition of historic buildings are even now going on, despite the fact that the Shriomani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a statutory body, is charged with the duty of looking after and maintaining the histotic Sikh Gurdwaras and sacred places. One such recent instance is that of Qilla Anandgarh in Anandpur Sahib, the fort from where Guru Gobind Singh fought many battles. Till a few years back the walls of the fort, its parapets, the baoli, hideouts with buildings above it were intact. Now, except for the main entrance to the fort, which is also likely to be demolished soon, every building or feature of the fort has been obliterated and its back portion has been levelled to link it with the adjoining hillock on which the Gurdwara Keshgarh stands. Our children and scholars are thus being deprived of the occular evidence that lends credence to the various incidents recorded in the Sikh history. Soon there will be nothing left at Anandpur Sahib to connect it with the history of Khalsa, and instead we shall have the recently constructed Gurdwaras with abundance of marble and some modem amenities for the management and visitors.

The Panja or the open palm impression on the rock at Panja Sahib can be called a miracle but the fact that it is there cannot be denied. Besides the photographs taken by various persons after the partition of the country, the present writer has in his possession a photograph taken prior to the reconstruction of the Gurdwara in 1932. It is interesting to note that dealing with Panja Sahib in his Guru Nanak and the Sikh Relgion, McLeod, while rejecting the ]anam-sakhi account, could not but concede:

“There is of course, a hand-shaped depression in a rock at Hassan Abdal and the Gurdwara that has been built at the site is regarded as one of the most important of all Sikh temples. “35 It has a foot-note which tells us:

“The present ‘hand-mark’ is unmistakably recessed into the rock, not projecting in relief It has been worn smooth by touch of innumerable hands.”36

Dealing with it later in his Early Sikh Tradition, while sticking to his rejection of the Sikh tradition, he refers to the description of the palm-marks given by G.B. Scott in 1930 and says:

“It was evidently during the course of 1940 that the original representation in relief was eventually replaced by a crude intaglio cut into the rock. The edges which were at first sharp have now been worn smooth.”37

This conjectural conclusion is sought to be supported by the following foot-note:

“This information was supplied to the writer by three informants who visited the shrine at Panja Sahib. According to the first informant the carving in relief was still there in early 1940. The second, who visited the site later in the same year stated that the hand-mark had been incised but the edges were sharp. The third, whose visit took place in 1964, reported that the edges were smooth.”38

For proper appreciation of the matter it is here necessary to remember that the Gurdwara building at Panja Sahib was reconstructed in 1932 and completed within two years. As the present writer has stated he had been visiting this shrine every year till 1942, both before and after its reconstruction. The palm impression on every occasion looked the same. Millions of persons, including a large number of Hindus and other non-Sikhs, had gone there but not a single out of them ever complained or even voiced a suspicion that the original palm impression had been replaced in 1940. Even the local population, which was predominently Muslim, made no such allegation despite the Muslim League agitation against the Sikhs leading to the communal holocaust of the year 1947.

One thing is, however, clear. There is no allegation even uptil this day that the Panja was replaced during the reconstruction of the Gurdwara in the year 1932. McLeod says it was much later in 1940. It is pertinent to ask why such a substitution became necessary; and could it be made without protest from the devotees who had been regularly visiting the shrine, and that too in the year 1940? The Gurdwara Management could never have even thought of such a replacement as the Panja is the most sacred relic for the preservation of which no Sikh would have hesitated to lay down his life.

Again if the edges of palm impression were not worn smooth during hundred of years, when millions and millions must have visited this shrine, how could they wear off after 1940, especially in view of the fact that the Shrine was closed for quite a number of years on the partition of the country in 1947. Even when it was reopened to the devotees for a few years before 1964, only once in a year on the Baisakhi festival could a few hundred congregate there for a couple of days.

It is unfortunate that a scholar like McLeod should have sought support from such flimsy props to reject the Sakhi.

1. McLeod, Guru Nanak & Sikh Religion, P. vii.
2. Ibid.
3 . McLeod, Evolution of Sikh Community, p. 25.
4. McLeod, Guru Nanak & Sikh Religion, p. 146
5. Tewari, Indians in New Zealand, p. 128.
6. McLeod, Evolution of Sikh Community, p. 5.
7. Ibid., p. 8.
8. Ibid., p. 12
9. Ibid., p. 16
10. Ibid., p. 18
11. Ibid., p. 88
12. Ibid., p. 17
13. Ibid., p. 61, 63
14. McLeod, Guru Nanak & Sikh Religion, p. vii.
15. Infra
16. Infra
17. Hutchinson, Paths of Faith
18. McLeod, Evolution of Sikh Community, p. 16.
19. Ibid., p. 18
20. Infra
21. McLeod,
22. Evolution of Sikh Community, p. 6.
22. Perspectives on Gum Nanak, p. 110.
23. Harbans Singh, Berkley Lectures, p. 7.
24. Ibid., p. 10
25. Juergensmeyer, Sikh Studies, p. 75, 76.
26 Ibid., p. 86.
27. Cunnigham, A History of the Sikhs,p. 34.
28. Studies in Sikhism journal of Gum Nanak Foundation, Vol. I, No. I, Oct. 1982, p. 20
29. Ibid., p. 24
30. Harbans Singh, Heritage of Sikhs, p. 98.
31. Khushwant Singh, History of Sikhs, Vol. I, p. 89.
32. Harbans Singh, Heritage of Sikhs, p. 111.
33. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 722.
34. Harbans Singh, Berkley Lectures, p. 32.
35. McLeod, Guru Nanak & His Religion, p. 79.
36. Ibid., f.n 37
37. McLeod, Early Sikh Tradition, p. 93
38. Ibid., f.



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