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Gur Panth Parkash

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



History of Sikh Scripture's Translation: Idea upto Trumpp*

Nazer Singh

When did the Sikh Scripture enter the British intelligence network that gradually came to be called Sikh Studies?1 What was the nature and purpose of this network? How did it shape Sikhism and its Historiography? These are the basic questions which confront us the moment we think of India Office's Translation of Sikh Scriputres Project (1857-77) and Earnest Trumpp's English translation of The Adi Granth (1869-77).2 Though it may not be possible to answer these questions perfectly in an article like this yet more than one thing about each of them can be said with certainty for there is not dearth of evidence to enlighten our way.3 The archival material alone is sufficient to show the ideological nature of British interest in Sikh past and literature both before and after 1849. By archival material we mean not only unpublished matter but also the official history writing/ books produces by the British administrators.'4 This article is largely based upon the archival sources produced by the British regime and available in the National Archives of India, New Delhi.

At the out-set of nineteenth century John Malcolm reported the availability of Sikh Scripture with the British scholarship of Calcutta.5 This scholarship was comprised of company's civil service that had its intellectual forums like the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Fort William College.6 He himself had the true copies of them that he consulted for making a lengthy report on the Punjab Sikhs entitled as Sketch of the Sikhs (1805-10). Leyden, and orientalist, helped him in this use of Sikh literature for explaining Sikh movement.

Malcolm also reported that H.T. Colebrooke, a leading Sanskritist of Calcutta to had acquired at his own the authentic versions of Sikh Scripture.7 Soon another Sanskritist coming from the ranks of Evangelicals in that city took a notice of Sikh literature and its language, Gurmukhi, by making an English abstract based upon Gurbani for the purpose of enlightening the members of the Council of Fort William College.8 He was William Carey, a Missionary Professor of 'Sanskrit and Hindoo languages' in the College of Fort William.
Obviously, the first British armed aggression against the Punjab in 1805 led to the entry of Sikh Scripture into Sikh Studies through John Malcolm. He consciously employed Gurbani to explain Sikhism including the political history of Punjab.9 Doing so he gave a new meaning to Sikh past as well as a different direction to British Sikh Studies. The transformation brought about by Malcolm can be appreciated by making a brief reference to British investigations into Sikh past before 1805.

Beginning with the Delhi or Lucknow based Agents of he East India Company under Warren Hastigns (1772-84) the Sikh Studies were practically diplomatic and military in their scope and concern.10 Even the entry of vaqanavises of News writer in this field by the ties of Wellesley (1798-1805) did not make much change in the nature of these studies. In fact, the news writers were primarily supposed to inform Calcutta or Poona of the military or diplomatic moves of the Sikh misaldars against the Afghans, Mughals and Marathas till 1799 and against one another after Ranjit Singh's rise in Lahore.11 In short, the British knowledge of the Sikhs upto 1805 was a matter of military-political intelligence or Akhbars and Agency Reports.

It will be useful to keep in mind that the Akhbars and Reports (Trevelogues and newsletters) were mostly dependent for information upon Indian informers. The latter normally conducted this business of giving information orally. Even when some of them did otherwise, they did so on the basis of oral tradition.12 Interview and direct observation were the chief mode of information informing early Sikh Studies. Consequently, the British writings on the Sikhs before Malcolm were practically oral histories of the Sikhs.

The British intelligence tended to reduce Sikh tradition either into a tale of militarism said to begin with Guru Gobind Singh (Hargobind and culminating into Sikh forays (especially across Jamuna) or anti- Afghan Khalsa patriotism of the Punjab cultivators (Jats) grounded in class oppression and hatred bordering on religio-racial fanaticism especially in the post Nadir Shah period.13 The year 1739, personality of Guru Gobind Singh and sectarian policy of Aurengzeb, explained Sikh political history for the early European till writers. The eighteenth century which made Sikh Studies. In turn, the Sikh Studies made 18th century as the story of Sikh rise against the Mughals and the Afghans. Pre-eighteenth century Sikhism and British imperialism were outside the scope of early European Sikh historiography.

However, the Holkar episode (1805) changed everything.14 The Khalsa and the British came face to face in the Jullandhar doab. But the Company found the Khalsa quite a friendly power ready to cooperate against the Marathas and Afghans. Not only this, the Sikhs were more friendly to the British than to one another. The Sarbat Khalsa was no longer a military/ political reality. The doctrine of Guru Khasla took a back seat. It was time for the Sikhs to be guided in all matters, stately or otherwise, by the Guru Scripture which Ranjit Singh maintained retrospectively.15 The British wished him all success by leaving Punjab to its won fate.

The increasing political importance of the institution of Guru Granth by the dawn of the 19th century was also evident from the chiefly patronage that it received for the Sikh priestly classes especially that of the Golden Temple.16 The readers of the Scriptures were given various kinds of the gifts and grants including the revenue free land grants by the Sikh Sardars ever since 1973 when the House of Sukercahk made its first dharamrth to the Temple.17 The emergence of Head Granthi as the 'high priest' of the Sikhs by the end of Lohore Kingdom showed only the soci-political rise of Sikh Scripture under Ranjit's rule.

With the Adi Granth at its centre. Golden Temple attracted the attention of every British diplomat who visited Amritsar between 1806 and 1 809. Johan Malcolm18, Captain Mathew19 and Charles Matcalfs20 suggest that the Company regime should learn to appreciate the political significance of Sikh institutions and religious classes for its future dealings with the Punjab. Malcolm himself gave the lead in this direction by appreciating Gurbani and other, 'original Sikh authors' in his work on Sikh movement.21 It had a great politico-ideological import for Sikhism and its future growth.

For one thing, to talk of Gurbani and Vars of Bhai Gurdas along with the Bachitar Natak was to talk of Adi Granth and Guru Nanak before Guru Gobind Singh. Without denying the significance of creation of Khalsa for he social progress (including the political rise) of Sikhs, Malcom projected Guru Nanak as the original founder of Sikh progress as well as the author of he most appropriate method of Reformation for (19th century) India.22 By implicitly juxtaposing the path of Guru Nanak to the mission of Guru Gobind Singh, the British diplomat refused to recognize Sikh history simply as the story of activities of 18th century Khalsa. In fact, Malcolm proclaimed that the founder of the Sikh movement had a promise to keep with humanity too. Sketch of the Sikhs delineated Guru Nanak's mission thus:23 'His wish was to recall both Muhammadans and Hindus to an exclusive attention to that sublimest of al principles which inculcates devotion to God and peace towards man'

By recognizing the usefulness of 'recall' as a subversive but legitimate subtle technique of reformation to undermine Islam and Hinduism, Malcolm actually showed that Guru Nanak could be recalled to serve the Company and the Sikhs with 'peace' and 'reconciliation'. He emphatically declared that Sikh history could be a means of reconciliation between the Sikh and the British.24 His report anecdotically suggested that the 'old' Khalsa, a soldier and Zamindar-head of Punjab village-and European military officers of the company could feel in each other's meetings as if they were 'brothers' equally concerned with the security and prosperity of Punjab.25

As the Treaty of Amritsar (1809) made 'Sikh independence' of Ranjit Singh a British cause, so Malcolm thought it proper to make Sikh history as a British Indian public concern. He refused to judge Guru Nanak and Sikhism by Sikh political rise alone. In fact, he advised others too not to do it so.26 More positively speaking, he suggested that a final judgment on the genesis of Sikh movement should be passed only after deciphering Guru Nanak's bani. He recommended that the Adi Granth should be partially translated to compile an authentic biography of the founder of Sikhism.27

Malcolm was sure that such a biography of Guru Nanak would enlighten (the Evangelical and Benthamite radical) reformers to see the need indigenize their reform techniques by transforming them in the light of the experience of Guru Nanak of the Adi Granth. In short, he made authenticated its originality or Indianness and also established Gurbani as a historical literature to reconstruct a new reformation for 19th century India.

Cunningham upheld Malcolm's judgement on the character of Guru Nanak's message and its contemporary relevance.28 More than once, he quoted the Adi Granth to show how the Guru conceived God as Truth beyond rituals and sectarian worship of 'the Moolla, and the Pandits, the Darvesh and the Soonyassee.29 For Cunningham, Guru Nanak was the only one among the medieval reformers of India 'to perceive the true principles of reform'.30 In fact, the Guru's search for truth was the same as that of 'Plato, Bacon, Descartes and Alghazali'.31 Yet the essence of his teachings was not different from 'the philosophy of his countrymen'.32 For Cunningham, Sikhism was the consummation of Islam and Hinduism. On this very account, its political growth towards nationality was remarkably unique but Indian event for it was an indigenous development in the first instance.

Secondly, Cunningham emphatically declared that Sikhism was a living religion. By it he implied that there was no need for Punjab to import reformation either from Europe or British India. He did not see much difference between Christianity, Sikhism and the teachings of Ram Mohan Roy.

By projecting Guru Nanak as an ally of the modem reforms, Malcolm and Cunningham led the British administrators, especially those who were under the impact of Orientalism and Evangelicalisms, to be attentive to Sikh tradition. H.H. Wilson, the leading Sanskritist, translated some passages in the Adi Granth to show the Hindu civilizational background of the Sikh worship at Banaras.33 But more than Wilson, it was Robert Needham Cust who under-lined the Indian character of Guru Nanak's reformation.34 However, Cust denied Cunningham's claim that Sikhism was the living religion any more.35

It simply meant that Guru Nanak's message could not be a principle of Indian reformation under the British. Yet Cust was all for making a proper understanding of Sikhism for British political and religious interests.

Cust was an important Punjab administrator known for his Evangelical ideas.36 He was a strong supporter of John Lawrence's Christian Policy, which was in the making by 1857.37 One of the essentials of this policy was the use of religion, Christianity, to enhance the moral legitimacy of British rule by giving it a 'religious look' for the Indian eye. For this, it interpreted the state principle of religious neutrality to mean that Christianity be given a free hand to grow in India so that the Empire could be saved form the Hindu and Muslim fanaticism - which was supposed to flourish on the mistaken Indian belief that the British were irreligious rulers.

That the conversion to Christianity was in no way impolitic was clear from Dalip Singh's Change of religion soon after the Punjab's annexation. So when the Evangelical quarter raised the slogan 'Christianity best consolidates the empire' in badly shaken India of 1857, the Punjab regime appreciated it by suggesting that lower caste men, especially the Mazahbis, might be recruited to the British army with a view and intention of possibly making them soldiers of the Cross. John Lawrence recommended the raising of Mazahbi and Christian regiments'.38 Some such regiments were actually raised. This entry of lower caste and Sikhs (or Hindus) in the army during 1 857-58 led the Evangelicals to hope that Sikh tradition could be subverted for British military/political and Christain religious purposes.

The year 1857 definitely threw up the question of definition of Sikhism. Cust conceived the idea of translation of Sikh scriptures.39 He was in London when the uprising broke out. Back in India, he consulted D.F. McLeod, an other pro-Evangelist Punjab official, in this connection.40 The two together agreed that Sikh Scriptures should be translated into a European language of Hindostani41 to bridge the gap between the Sikhs and administration. Cust himself volunteered to undertake this job provided he was given permission and necessary funds for it.42

It is important to note that it was also a time (1859) when Cust practically opposed the British policy of patronizing Golden Temple.43 As a Commissioner of Amritsar, he unsuccessfrilly disassociated the British administration from the management of Amritsar Temple on the ground that the principle of religious neutrality did not permit the state officials to preserve the heathen religious institutions. In the case of Golden Temple, the official disassociation was more desirable because to maintain this Temple was to save the fast dying Khalsa polity, wrote he.44

The preservation of traditional Sikhism was not the purpose of Cust when he recommended translation of Sikh Scriptures in the same way as John Lawrence's objective in creating Mazahabi regiments was not to strengthen Sikh martial tradition for the sake of Khalsa. The lower caste and partial Sikhs were enlisted in the British army to undermine the social base of Khalsa polity. The translation of the scripture was expected to undermine the ideological base of Khalsa.

Cust was aware of the significance of translation as a mode of recreating a tradition. The translation of Bible had led to a revolution in Christianity, he reminded the world.45 In order to demonstrate it in the case of Sikhism, the Amritsar Commissioner composed a life sketch of Guru Nanak in 1859. Later on, it was entitled 'Guru Nanak the Indian Reformer'46 Cust's account of Guru Nanak was the one 'form which all the marvelous has been excluded, and which Hindu, Mohamedan, and Christian can take credit".47

Cust's Guru Nanak was for the non-Sikh. The Guru laboured "to break through the tyranny of priest crafts, rituals and caste."48 Moreover, he "tried to amalgamate the Hindu and Mohametan religions, and convince all, that they were really brothers, descended from one father."49 Above all, Cust did not see Guru Nanak as a Sodhi or Bedi for his message "gave no authority to his descendants to practise the wicked custom of killing their daughters."50

The British reform of Sikh people and religion had begun with Cust who found the 19th Century Sikhs much deviated from the original percepts of their religion. They did not fulfill the intentions of Guru Nanak, Cust declared. In fact, the Guru stood betrayed both by the Sikhs and other 'thousands of his countrymen',51 Cust noted how the Punjabis lived the memory of Guru Nanak but 'do not attend to his words.52 Cust, the Amritsar Commissioner reported in 1859 that Sikhism had no future.53 By denying a future to Sikhism, Cust raised the question of fiillfillment of Guru Nanak's mission through British rule and Christianity. He assigned the West the task of appropriating the Guru's word, Gurbani. Translation was a means of this appropriation.

But translation was only the beginning of the process of appropriation.54 The process itself was to be a long drawn one. Moreover, it was to be completed without much controversy. Further, it was never to be a one man show. The Western scholarship was to be associated with it. The translation was to induce them to come forward of this undertaking. As the debate and controversy was to be avoided for tactical reasons, so there was no need for the translator to raise any theological issues55 He was only to help in arming the scholar-reformers by placing at their proposal the first hand information in shape of translated Gurbani to make the Sikhs "see how much they have deviated from the example and percepts of their great Teacher."56 Unfortunately for the British, the project failed at the take-off stage. Trumpp is said to be individually responsible for this failure. His missionary background/ methodology and ill-health are enlisted as factors to explain it by his critics.57 All this may be true, but what is more significant is the fact that the first critics of Trumpp were the British themselves, and these critics were none other than the original authors of the idea of translation of Sikh Scriptures, namely, Cust58 and McLeod.59

Both Cust and McLeod found Trumpp's method faulty. They said that he killed the project by pre-maturally exposing Sikh tradition to unnecessary theological condemnation. In this way, the translator confused means with the ends. His job was to make a plain translation. Instead, he passed theological judgemetns against Sikhism.60

Surprisingly, the Sikh critics of Trumpp also see his missionary spirit as largely responsible for producing an anti-Sikh translation. It is a fact that he did not conceal the true i.e. Evangelical nature of either his own being or of his work. He approached Sikh tradition in the most traditional missionary way. He did not know as to how the Evangelical objectives could be achieved in a non-missionary way — as it was being demanded from him. But one must realize the translation project would have been in no way less Evangelical without Trumpp or with a different Trumpp.

It will be equally superfluous to emphasize his Gerrtian background or linguistic approach while determining the objectives of the Project.61 The project was a state undertaking. Its destiny was not be determined by Trumpp alone. Equally important is the fact that the nature of British interest in the project underwent an important modification by a decade after its origin.

In 1872, Cust and McLeod told London authorities that the translation project had missed its real aim.62 But Trumpp alone was not responsible for this disorientation. The Punjab administration had also gone astray from the original scheme.63

Cust reminded the British that the translator was never supposed to show the theological, linguistic or political value of Sikh Scripture. He expressed doubt about Trumpp's linguistic competence by pointing out the German Doctor's notion of the language of Adi Granth as old and absolete Gurmukhi was philologically hardly tenable.64 There was nothing like old Gurmukhi or new Gurmukhi, wrote Cust.

Cust and McLeod also did not concur in Trumpp's view that their was no one in India to help the translator by making the Scripture intelligible to him through commentaries. Both Sikhs and non-Sikhs understood the Scripture well and Trumpp could have their assistance, asserted McLeod.65

But these arguments of Cust and McLeod were comprehended neither by Trumpp nor by the Punjab regime. Trumpp said that he was unable to draw a line between a translator and interpreter as demanded by McLeod.66 The Lahore authorities could not appreciate McLeod's notion of 'popularized translation' because it wanted Trumpp's translation to be of some use for its policy towards the Narndharies i.e. Kukas. The Punjab officials during 1871-73 were interested in knowing the Scriptural basis of Sikh policy which the Kukas were determined to revive. Trumpp had to demonstrate the political worth of his project. He did so by denying of ignoring the Dasam Granth.67 To ignore Dasam Granth was to ignore Sikh policy or war culture. It made Kukaism more artificial. Trumpp's translation to Adi Granth raised the question: who were the Kukas?

References :

1. Dr. Ganda Singh was one of the first scholars to take notice of Western writers on the Sikh past in his booV. Early European Accounts of the Sikhs. However, it was with the publication of J.S. Grewal's booklet. The Present State of Sikh Studies (Batala, 1973) that the term Sikh Studies acquired historiographical meaning. For an early understanding of this historiographical tradition, see, Fauja Sing, (ed.). Historian and Historiography of the Sikhs (New Delhi, 1978).
Apart from Dr. Ganda Singh's book. The Early European Writings on the Sikhs, especially Guru Nanak, are available in parts in Guru Nanak's Birth Quincentenary Volume of the Panjab Past and Present, Vol. 11. 1969, pp. 101-02, 105. 112, 115-17, 130, 140-41. 151-55 and 158-68. For a more handy reference, one can also have them in Darshan Singh, Western Perspectives on the Sikh Religion (New Delhi, 1991), Chapter II.
2. The idea of translation of Sikh Scripture came from R.N. Cust by August 1857. In all, probably, the idea in 1857 originated while Cust was in London. The idea took the shape of translation project in April 1859. But the actual work on translation began only after May 1869. When was Trumpp employed for this work? The British record does not disclose it. See Proceedings Home-Public, A, February 1881, nos. 65-71 (N.A.I.) and Progds.. For. Gen., A, 1873 nos. 34-37 (N.A.I.)
3. Besides the works of Grewal, Fauja Singh and Darshan Singh, see, Leohlin, The Sikhs and Their Scriptures (Luckhnow, 1974) and M.A., Macauliffe, TheS/Wi Religion (New Delhi, 1978) Vols. I- VI. Also Ernest Trumpp, The Adi Granth or Holy Scriptures of The Sikhs (New Delhi, 1970)
4. Hari Ram Gupta, G. Khurana and J.C. Dua had already exposed this material. See, Gupta, History of the Sikhs (New Delhi, 1980), vol. Ill, pp. 173-309; Khurana, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in Punjab (New Delhi, 1985) Chp. 2 , and Dua, Eighteenth Century Punjab (New Delhi, 1992) Chp. 2.
5. See, The Panjab Past and Present, op. cit., p. 104, f,n. 1
6. See, David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Ranaissance (Calcutta, 1969), pp. 29, 31, 68-71.
7. The Panjab Past and Present, op.cit.
8. History of Fort William College' in Bengal Past and Present, Vol. XXI, July-Dec., 1920, p. 184.
9. John Malcolm, Sketch of the Sikhs (London, 1812), pp. 3-6.
10. See, J.S. Grewal, op. cit.
11. For the significance of Ranjit Singh's occupation of Lahore and British reaction to its, see. Records of the Ludhaina Agency, P.G.R., Vol. II, Lahore, 1911, pp. 31, 136-42-145-48.
12. The company Agents had their own way of writing history. They would 'employ' the Indians as their local but secret informers to collect information for them. The informers were equipped with the questions the Agent was interested in knowing, and they were to supply information in order to find out the answer to Agent's queries. The informer was usually asked to write down his account in Persian language, and his narrative was used by the Agent to construct Indian past in his own language and way. The oral questionnaire supplied by the Agent formed an essential and basic part of his enquiry. The dialogue between the Agent and the informer made it more, oral, though it was documented.
13. See, R.N. Cust, 'The Countries between the Rivers Satlej and Jamuna', in Linguistic and Oriental Essays (London, 1880), Chapter 1.
14. See, Nazer Singh, 'John Malcolm - A Diplomat Historian', The Panjab Past and Present, Vol. XXVI-H, 1992 pp. 20-35.
15. Sohan Lai Suri, Umdat-Tawarikh, Daftar II (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1985), pp. 69, 452.
16. Political Proceedings, 10th June, 1853, nos. 217-220 (N.A.I.)
17. Ibid.
18. See, Malcolm, op. cit,., pp. 84-87, 118-20
19. M.L. Ahluwalia (ed.), Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Negotiations with the British Envoy C.T. Metccd Nevi Delhi, 1982), pp. 94-101.
20. Ibid. p. 412
21. Malcolm, op. ci., pp. 3-5.
22. Ibid., pp. 152-73, 187-88.
23. Ibid., p. 23
24. Ibid, pp. 5-6-232, 144-45.
25. Nazer Singh, More on Malcolm in Proceedings Punjab History Conference, (1994),
26. Malcolm, op. cit., pp. 23-24
27. Ibid. p. 22,
28. The Punjab Past and Present, op. cit. pp. 151-153-54.
29. Ibid., p. 152.
30. Ibid., p. 151
31. Ibid., p. 152.
32. Ibid., p. 153.
33. H.H. Wilson, 'A Sketch of the Religious S»cts of the Hindus', Asiatic Researches, Vol. XVE, 1832, pp. 231-39.
34. Cust took a note of Guru Nanak as early as 1846 when he wrote an article on the countries between Satlej and Jamna. But it was in 1859 that he compiled what may be called the first truly historical life sketch of the Guru.
A copy of this 'pamphlet' was sent to the Secretary of State for India. The 'Pamphlet' was reprinted in 1857 and 1881. In the version of 1881, it was entitled 'Guru Nanak The Indian Reformer'. For this version. See, The Panjab Past and Present, op cit., pp. 158-68.
35. Ibid., p. 166.
36. R.N. Cust, Memories of Past Years of a Septuagenarian (London, 1899) passim.
37. See, Charles Aitcheson, Lord Lawrence and the Reconstruction of India Under the British (Oxford, 1916), p. 119-20.
38. See. George Macmunn, The History of Sikh Pioneers (London, n.d.) Appendix III.
39. See note. 2.
40. Proceedings Foreign Deptt., 8th April, 1859, nos. . 141-42 (N.A.I)
41. R.N. Cust "The Adi Granth, or The Sacred Book of The Sikhs. By Dr. Ernest Trumpp, Linguistic and Oriental Essays (London, 1891), p. 262.
42. Proceedings, 8 April, 1859, op. cit.
43. See Nazer Singh, 'Early British Attitude Towards the Golden Temple', Journal of Regional History, Vol. Ill, 1982, pp. 90-91.
44. Ibid.
45. R.N. Cust's letter dated 2nd May, 1872, in Proceedings Foreign, General, A, Feb., 1873, no. 64 (N.A.I.)
46. See. note. 34.
47. The Panjab Past and Present, op.cit.., pp. 167-68.
48. Ibid.. p.l58.
49. Ibid.
50. Ibid,, p. 162
51. Ibid. p. 167.
52. Ibid.
53. Ibid., p. 166
54. See. R.N Cust's letter dated 2nd May, 1972, op. cit.
55. Ibid.
56. The Panjab Past and Present, p. 168.
57. R.N. Cust, "Dr. Trumpp', Linguistic and Oriental Essays, Vol. I (London, 1898, pp. 143-45.
58. Cust's Letter dt. 2nd May, 1872, op. cit.
59. McLeod's Letter in Proceedings Foreign Gieneral, A. Feb. 1873, nos. 58-67.
60. See. N.G. Barriers, Article in Fauja Singh, op. cit., pp. 166-185.
61. Ibid.
62. Cust's Letter and McLeod's letter dt. 3rd May, 1 872, in Proceedings Forg. Gen., A, Feb., 1873. nos. 58-67.
63. Ibid.
64. Cust's Letter, op. cit.
65. McLeod's Letter, o.p. cit.
66. See, "Office Note' made by Punjab Govt., dt. 8 Feb., 1972, in Proceeding Foreign General, A, April 1870, nos. 110-114 (N.A.I.).
Trumpp's, Letter dated 12th April, 1872 to Under Secretary of State for India in Proceedings Foreign General, A, Feb. 1873, no. 59 (N.A.I.)
67. Trumpp's Letter dated 12 April 1872 to under Secretary of State for India in Proceedings Foreign General, A, Feb 1873, no., 59 (N.A.I.)

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