Ten Books on Sikhism:
The following includes notes
on ten main books on Sikhism.
These notes are not complete summaries
but highlights of the material covered.
- Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Tradition edited by Juergensmeyer and Barrier
- The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India edited by Schomer and McLeod
- The Evolution of the Sikh Religion by McLeod
- Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion by McLeod
- Who is a Sikh? By McLeod
- The Lord as Guru: Hindu Sants in North Indian Tradition by Gold
- The History of Sikhs by Singh
- Kabir by Vaudeville
- The Sikhs by McLeod
- Early Sikh Tradition: A Study of the Janam-sakhis by McLeod
Text: Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Tradition
By Mark Juergensmeyer and N. Gerald Barrier, editors.
- The Sikhs originated from Sant sects of medieval Hinduism.
- There is no clear consensus on who are Sikhs since there exist much diversity -- from keshadhari (long hair) to sahajadhari (clean shaven).
- Early scholars (e.g., Malcolm, Cunningham, Trump) either wrote offensive writings on the Sikhs or gave a Sikh Sabha neo-Sikh interpretation.
- There is much scholarship needed on Sikhism. Recent scholars such as McLeod and Barrier have contributed a great deal already.
The Forgotten Tradition in World Religions (by Juergensmeyer)
- Sikhism is an accessible case study how traditions emerge and evolve. Sikh studies illustrates how religion is a product of historical forces.
- Sikhism unfortunately has been overlooked in world religion textbooks. It is either dismissed as syncretistic (a hybrid of Islam and Hinduism) or avoided altogether.
- Sikhism is a victim of two prejudices: a preference for ancient religions and non-regional ones.
- We need to revise our impression of India; it is not just about meditation, the caste system and the Laws of Manu, but India’s cultural history is much more complex. And Sikhism is a significant part of it.
Sikh Studies in the Punjab (by Webster)
- Most scholars today on Sikhism are Sikh and affiliated with the Punjabi University. This can result in "orthodox" scholarship. Objective researchers ("outsiders") are then seen as attacking the tradition.
Early Sikh History (by Grewal)
- History of Sikhs (1849) by Cunningham sees continuity from Nanak to Gobind Singh and does not take into account the evolution of the tradition and the complexity of the historical process.
- Sikhism is a synthesis of bhakti, nath and sufi ideas from the Sant tradition.
- 16th century Sikhism was mainly a socio-religious community interested in congregational worship. Later there was a decision to take up arms and Sikhs were portrayed as anti-establishment. But not all Sikhs at this time fit this category. Several pro-establishment splinter groups (e.g., Minas) existed.
- 17th century Jat preponderance influenced the Khalsa organization.
- Sikh rise against Mughal government under Banda Bahadur a few years after Gobind Singh’s death. The Nadir Shah invaded next and the Khalsa united for defense.
- There is a form of equality in the Khalsa at time of congregational worship. But this equality is not maintained outside of that. (Note: this fits with Victor Turner’s analysis of the liminal experience that takes place in rituals).
Role of Ideology in Modern Sikhism (by Barrier)
- The important slogan "hum Hindu nahin" (we are not Hindu) became popular when the British annexed the Punjab. Sikhs were going through an identity crisis at this time.
- From 1870-1920 the orthodoxy guidelines were formalized as organizations like the Chief Khalsa Diwan and Singh Sabhas emerged. Sikh editorials and journals were written and educational programs were implemented at this time.
- While there were many Sikh factions in the late 19th to early 20th century the Chief Khalsa Diwan was accepted as the correct or authentic version.
- Sikhism only became a religious "ism" in the 19th century with the assertion "hum Hindu nahin." This gave them personal identity outside of the Hindu matrix.
Kabir in Guru Granth Sahib (by Schomer)
- The Kabir depicted in the Granth Sahib is different than the Kabir of the Kabir Granthvali of the Dadu Panthi tradition (an esoteric nirguna bhakti sect). The former Kabir is congenial to the Sikh Panth concentrating on moral and social considerations , whereas the later paints a more esoteric Kabir interested in asceticism and mysticism. Perhaps Arjan and others edited out the esoteric ideas of Kabir in order to buttress their world view.
Texts in the Sikh Tradition
- Gobind Singh allegedly wrote a text called Dasam Granth but it received scant attention and is not recognized as canonical. It deals with legendary narrative borrowed from Puranic lore.
- There is a great need for textual analysis of Sikh scriptures.
Sikhs Abroad (by Chan)
- There is also a need to anthropologically investigate Sikh oversees communities
- Diaspora Sikhs migrated to US in two phases: as Sikh farmers at the turn of the 20th century and as professionals in the post 1950 era with the relaxation of immigration laws.
- In America Sikhs inherited anti-Asian prejudices and legally sanctioned discrimination.
- The peak period of Sikh immigration to the US and Canada was from 1907-1910 when Sikhs fled the Punjab which was full of anti-British riots, plagues and monsoons. Unskilled, rural Sikh laborers ventured to the West Coast.
- Three comparative studies are needed: 1) a look at the community at different times; 2) an investigation of Sikhs at different areas in the world; 3) a comparison of Sikhs with other immigration communities.
- Two organizations developed for Sikhs abroad: Pacific Coast Diwan Society (a religious association) and the Ghadar Party (a militant national movement). Members of the Ghadar Party related to the struggles of their relations back home as they faced their own discrimination in the US. As Sikhs encountered oppression in America they seemed to transfer their hostility to the British. The hope was to spur a mass rebellion in India and free Indians from British control and in turn liberate all Indians.
Text: The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India by Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod, editors.
- Bhakti tradition of medieval Hinduism started in the 7th century and spread to North India in the 15th century. It reached its zenith in the 15th -17th century. The movement is analogous to the Protestant Reformation in that it is equally diverse and the concern is the layperson.
- The idea that there is a sant parampara only conceptionalized in the mid19th century by Tulsi Sahib.
- There are two distinct lineages of the Sants: 1) the 13th-18th century non-sectarian Vaishnava poet sants of Maharashtra (devotees of Vitthala or Vithoba god at Pandharpur) and 2) the nirguna bhakti lineage that spans the Punjab and Rajasthan active from the15th century onward.
- For the northern sants hagiography links their lineage to Swami Ramanand ( a descent from Ramanuja), though scholarship questions this. Connecting to Ramanand may have simply been a way to gain Brahmanical respectability.
- Kabir, Nanak and Dadu are important figures for the northern Sants. All three have separate panths today.
- There are similarities between Sants and Vaishnavas. Both deal with the pain of separation, seek the company of devotees and the focus on the idea of a Divine Name. Also, Sants have used Vaishnava names for the nirguna deity. But unlike the Vaishnavas the Sants do not worship Vishnu, reject Vaishnava practice and deny the authority of the Vedas. Hence, the core of it is heterodox.
- The Sant tradition is a synthesis of Vaishnava bhakti, Nath Yogi ideas and Sufi influence.
- A Sufi outlook is apparent: a rejection of ceremonies and scriptural authority; an acceptance of interior visions of an ineffable God; an emphasis on the pains of separation, etc.
Background by Vaudeville
- The northern group is more heterodox (anti-Brhamanical) than the southern one. While in the north the sants rejects the Vedas, idols and various rituals, in the south there is more of an indifference to them.
- The Nirguna idea of God or Ultimate Reality of the Northern sants is similar to the Tantric Buddhist ideas as Sunya (the Void). There is still a great sense of "viraha" (the idea of love and a longing to be reunited).
- The Southern sants pride themselves on being the "true" Vaishanavas, as devotees of God Vitthala/Vithoba of Pandharpur (similar to lord Krishna). Their saguna concept of God allows for intense bhakti.
- There is also an early Shaivite influence on the southern sants. The fountainhead Jnaneshvar was even traced back to the Adinath (considered Shiva himself). There was shift later from Shaivite to Vashnava ideas. The popular God Vitthala fit both Shiva and Vishna/Krishna. In fact, some sants (e.g., Sur Das) proclaimed Shiva and Vishnu to be one in the same.
- All sants agree on the three pillars to achieve mukti: satguru, satsang and satnam.
- The Sant tradition overall blends several main traditions: Vaishnava bhakti, Shaivite elements, Sufi, and esoteric Tantric tradition of the Nath Yogis.
The Development of the Sikh Panth by McLeod
- The Sant tradition consists of three main panths: Kabir, Dadu and Nanak. Nanak’s Sikh tradition was the largest. While the sant tradition starts off ridiculing institutions as it grows it inevitably become more institutionalized.
- Jats were attracted to the Sikh tradition since it rejected the caste system.
- Nanak’s son Sri Chand started his own ascetic movement, the Udasi panth.
- Following Nanak the leadership was passed to Angad and then Amar Das. The latter implemented significant structural changes when he appointed territorial deputies (masands) to oversee Sikh ritual. Next Ram Das established the new village Amritsar. The fifth guru Arjan compiled the Adi Granth and constructed the Golden Temple. He died while in custody of the Mughal administration and was seen by Sikhs as a martyr.
- The formalization of the Sikhs combined with the external attack by the Mughals led to a more cohesive group. Gobind Singh’s warfare led to a stronger Panth.
- One explanation for the establishing of the Khalsa on Baisakhi Day in 1699 may have been Gobind Singh’s repudiation of the masand system. He may have feared their sense of independence. So the khalsa was probably implemented in response to both the military threat of outsiders and to the masand strength.
- Early on there were only a few Jats but three centuries later most Sikhs were Jats (66% according to the 1881 British census). Jats have a martial tradition (use of arms) and their social mores influence the Sikh tradition. The British later recognized the Sikhs as a ‘martial race."
- The Sikhs owe much of their self-awareness to the 19th century Singh Sabha movement and also the 20th century Akali Party.
- The Sant tradition is alive today in the Radhasoami movement. It was founded in 1861 by Shiv Dayal Singh. The tradition inherited ideas for the medieval sants: bhakti, nirguna ideas, satsang, its anti-brahmanical position, mysticism, the satguru concept, etc. There is possibly a historical connection between Radhasoami and the Sant tradition via Shiv Dayal Singh’s guru Tulsi Sahib. He can be linked to the Kabir panth (writings mention Phual Das , a Kabir representative) and his writings resemble a Kabir text Anurag Sagar (author unknown).
- There is some debate whether there is a direct historical link between the sufi and sants but the parallels are obvious. According to Vaudeville and Lawerence , the sants refer to Sufis in their literature, they use sufi technical terms and, most importantly, they utilize sufi themes. An example of sufi terms used are: viraha for love and waralwara for ineffable being. Moreover, both sants and Sufis reject ceremonies and scriptural authority and both embrace interior mystical ascent. Yet, McLeod argues the sufi influence is actually minimal; he attributes these ideas to the Naths and Vaishnava bhakti.
- Other potential related traditions may be the Tamil Siddhas and the Baul poets (writings are filled with guru bhakti rhetoric, nirguna ideas, mysticism, etc.)
Text: Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion by W.H. McLeod
- The three key events of Sikhism are: Nanak and his appointing a successor, Arjan’s canonical scriptures, and Gobind Singh’s establishing of the Khalsa. But this three-fold account is a bit too simplistic. This book concerns the quest for the historical Nanak.
- The sources to understand Nanak are: the Adi Granth and Janam Sakhis. The Adi Granth , complied by Arjan in 1603-4, offers negligible biographical details but some conclusions can be made from it: Nanak had contact with the Nath yogis and he witnessed the devastating effect of Babur’s Mughal army. The Janam Sakhis are traditional oral biographies (later copied and modified) filled with hagiography, legend and miracle stories. It gives us an understanding of how Sikhs in the 17th century perceived Nanak. It reflects their beliefs and current needs 100 years after the death of Nanak.
- The life of Nanak: he was born to Kalu and Tripata in April in 1469 and had a sister named Nanaki. Nanak married Sulakhani and had two sons, Lakhmi Das and Siri Chand. Nanak traveled with Mardana and visited Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage sites. A wealthy follower donated land on the bank of the Ravi and built Kartarpur. Nanak settled here at 50 but often traveled to nearby villages to debate with the Nath yogis. At Kartarpur activities consisted of: disciplined devotion (meditation and kirtan), instructions imparted by the guru (satsang about the importance of the Divine Name, the immorality of the caste system, and the superficiality of performing rituals), and daily labor (disciplined worldliness; a rejection of asceticism).The local disciple Lahina succeeded him as guru in 1539.
- The teachings of Nanak: Nanak's ideas are much more coherent than Kabir’s. He taught that God is a Formless One who is found within. God was both nirguna and saguna, immanent and transcendent. One can ascend to God via meditation and nam simran, namely, the practice of shabd yoga. He acknowledged five higher realms and sach khand was the final stage. The guru serves as spiritual guide. Nanak’s guru may have been shabd or a human figure. He argued that Hukam, divine order or will, exists as well as grace.
- There is no doubt he was primarily influenced by the Sant tradition (a synthesis of three movements: Vaisnava bhakti’s concept of love, the Nath Yogis emphasis on mystical union, and a marginal contribution from the Sufis).
- Nanak did not combine or harmonize Hindu and Muslim but rejected both! He taught the Sant tradition but with his own nuances.
- Kabir ideas relate to Nanak but they probably did not meet.
- There are many affinities between Sufi and Sikh ideas but still there is only a marginal Sufi influence. The resemblance to Sufi though can actually be traced back to native Indian sources. Some ideas like karma and transmigration are in direct conflict with the Sufis.
- While Nanak’s ideas are the basis of Sikhism the tradition evolves in history. So Nanak’s teachings are not equal to modern Sikh teachings.
Text: The Evolution of the Sikh Religion by W.H. McLeod
- In the four and a half centuries of the Sikh Panth it goes through many transformations. It is superficial to speak of three stages: the founding of Sikhism by Nanak, Hargobind’s military response to oppression, and Gobind Singh’s establishing the Khalsa. This three fold history is too simplified since there are many more vital elements at play.
- While Nanak is described as the founder he was actually part of a well-defined tradition, the nirguna tradition of the Sants who synthesize Vaishnava bhakti (devotion, love) and Nath ideas (mystical ascent) with marginal Sufi influence. Nanak did not synthesize Hindu and Muslim ideas but re-worked the Sant tradition with his own genius.
- As personal commitment may have weakened the third guru set up pilgrimage centers and festival days to unify the community. At this time the Jats (rural peasants) increased as the largest caste over the khatris (urban industry workers) and the panth begins to reflect the Jat cultural patterns of rural and martial tradition. In the early 17th century in response to the conflict with the Mughal authorities the Sikhs arm themselves. This may have been more of the Jats decision than Hargobind’s. This guru leaves the plains to the Sivalik Hills in 1634, where there was a strong Devi or Shakti cult (Mother Goddess). Instead of Akal Purakh, Gobind Singh sometimes called God Sarab-Loh, meaning all-steel or all-powerful, a Shakti notion.
- Tradition tells a story of what happened on Baisakha Day but we should be skeptical of it.
- The message of Nanak is soteriological whereas Gobind Singh's concern is more social.
- After the death of Gobind Singh the new leader Banda revolts against the Mughals. He is crushed and executed. The Mughals lose to the Afghan leaders Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali. The Afghans then fight the Marathas and they destroy each other opening a way for the Sikhs. The mobile bands (misls) fought the Afghans and then each other until one misl, Ranjit Singh, secured control. He ruled with a strong central administration for four decades.
- There are three main sources to learn about the Sikhs: the Persian chronicles, British accounts of late 18th to early 19th century, and the devotional literature of the Sikhs (Adi Granth, Dasam Granth, Janam Sakhis). The value of the Jaman Sakhis (birth testimonies, hagiography of Nanak) is that it gives us insight into the evolution of the Sikh Panth and insight into pre-khalsa history. In the 17th – 18th century there is an obvious need to reconcile the Hindus and the Muslims and this appears in the Jaman Sakhis. Also, Nanak is described as a meat eater and one who respects asceticism, both acts the historical Nanak would oppose. In the Janam Sakhas Nanak seems to respect the Naths and Gorakhnath. Gorakhnath even recognizes Nanak’s greatness. There must have been better relations with the Naths at the time of the Jaman Sakhis and a need to show superiority over them. We witness the same thing with the Sufis in the Janam Sakhis. There is a need to emphasize Sufi relations and the Sikh superiority over them. In this literature god is depicted as anthropomorphic and not nirguna. Thus, the Jaman Sakhis does not focus on the historical Nanak but illustrates the 17th-18th century myth of Nanak and the distinctive needs of the pre-Khalsa community.
- The other gurus are seen as a manifestation of Nanak, as the torch is carried to the next torch. When the tenth guru dies there is a crisis of cohesion. Cohesion is experienced with pilgrimages to Amristar.
- Prithi Chand, the eldest son of Ram Das, wants to focus more on the religious aspect of Nanak’s ideas while Arjan lineage seems to reflect more of Jat culture.
- After the death Banda, the small mobile bands organized and constituted the Sarbat Khalsa. It later regrouped into twelve larger bands (misls). As military concerns increase there is a move away from the sangat to the jathra to the misl. When decisions were made as joint action they were seen as the will of the guru (Gurumata). When the Afghan threat was over warfare between them until Ranjit Singh took over. The Guru Panth lapsed into disuse and the Guru Granth was seen as the sole religious authority.
- There is an obvious evolution of the rahit. The five ks were not in full form until the late 18th century. They reflect the Jat cultural patterns. (e.g., uncut hair, bearing of arms, comb and bangle all fit with the Jats). The prohibitions (no Muslim meat or no tobacco) was a result of the struggle with the Mughals in the late 18th century (not in 1699). Thus, the khalsa evolved due to influence of the Jats and contemporary events.
- When the British take over the Punjab there are signs of the total dissolution of Sikhism into Hinduism. Interestingly, the British army insisted on Sikh recruits following the five ks. Also, the 19th century Singh Sabhas set up Sikh orthodoxy and gave the Panth cohesion.
- The fifth guru Arjan compiled the Granth in reaction to his enemies the Minas led by Prithi Chand. The primary source of the Granth was the collection of Amar Das, two volumes called the Goindval pothis.
- While Sikhs claim to be egalitarian some form of caste still persists. All ten gurus were from the khatri caste (mercantile caste) and marriage within the Sikh communities occurred within clans. But Sikhs taught that spiritual salvation was not dependent on caste. There is a heterogeneous constituency among Sikhs since there are khalsa and non-khalsa Sikhs, rural and urban Sikhs.
Text: Who is a Sikh? By W.H. McLeod
- This text looks at the beginning of the Sikh panth, the founding of the Khalsa, the evolution of the rahit, the Sikh Sabha and Akali movements, and Sikhism in a modern context.
- Amar Das was responsible for setting up the administration and Sikh rituals. He organized deputies to act on his behalf, referred to as the manji system or the masand system of supervision. (This was later abolished by Gobind Singh.) This guru also implemented the langar (caste free dining) and set up rituals and pilgrimages.
- Major changes occur after the death of Arjan in 1606 as the Sikh face difficulties with Mughal authorities.
- While the caste system was not dominant there were still some caste distinctions.
- In the early 17th century oppression continued and Hargobind utilized two swords as symbols of spiritual and temporal power. The number of Jats increased and they had a strong military tradition. The ascendancy of the Jats definitely influences the Sikh military image. Hargobind withdraws to the Sivalik Hills in 1634 and peace ensued until the 9th guru.
- In the middle of this century the threat receded a bit until Tegh Bahadur was arrested and executed by Emperor Aurangzeb. Following the Mughal tyranny came the Afghan invaders (Ahmad Shah Abdali) and the Sikhs felt a moral duty (dharma) to fight.
- The three reasons for the founding of the khalsa were: the execution of the ninth guru, the general tyranny at the time, and the manji system became too powerful. Rahit refers to the khalsa way of life and there were manuals (rahit-namas) on Sikh orthodox behavior. While most of the Sikh religious doctrines were accepted by khalsa and non-khalsa Sikhs the outward forms were debated. The outward forms were the panch kakke (5 ks): kes, kangha, kara, kirpan, kaach. Also, Sikhs should not smoke (since the Muslims used a hookah) or eat Muslim hala meat. The kesh tradition was probably from the Jat presence. If a Sikh violates the rahit one was called a tanakhaha, meaning an offender, and were expected to do penance. The khalsa rahit was not static though; there is evidence it evolved over three centuries. The rahit-nama are not really from the lifetime of Gobind Singh by are a 18th – 19th century product. It crystallized the 18th century and became fully developed in the 19th century. The Singh Sabha finalized it.
- Sikhs assume that the khalsa was enforced by Gobind Singh on Baisakha Day in 1699 but this is not so. It was still in process of formulating in the 18th – 19th century. The early rahit-nama sometimes mentions kes but not the other four ks. Some material omits them all while others may mention three out of five. The Jat presence had an enormous influence on the rahit. Thus, Gobind Singh’s rahit was not the same as it is today. And we still witness the evolution of the rahit as oversees Sikhs often cut their hair.
- There is no evidence to suggest a choice between the khalsa or expulsion. If one rejected the pahul (initiation) one was known as a sahaj-dhari Sikh (a slow adapter) but still recognized as a loyal Sikh. There are also Udasis Sikhs, ascetics with Nath ideas who claim descent from Nanak’s eldest son Siri Chand. Though the most prominent Sikhs of the 18th century are the khalsa Sikhs.
- The Dasam Granth attributed to Gobind Singh was considered canon. It contained more militant ideas.
- As the Afghan threat receded and the misls (armed Sikh bands) secured more power there developed disunity in the khalsa. But Ranjit Singh then gained control and claimed Maharaj title of Punjab in 1801. The two Anglo-Sikh wars resulted in the final annexation of the Punjab in 1849.
- The khalsa ideas expressed in the state administration of Ranjit Singh were beginning to wane and so the Singh Sabha movement was established in 1873 to regenerate the khalsa. But not all the Sikhs supported the military and political successes. Two reform movement during Ranjit Singh’s period emerged: the Nirankaris and the Namdharis,. The former recognize a line of gurus back to Baba Dayal Das and emphasize the formless quality of Akal Purakh (Nirankar) and the importance of interior discipline (nam-simran) and no external signs, and the later (Kukas) was founded by Balak Singh and they accept Khalsa identity.
- From the Singh Sabha emerged the Tat Khalsa (true khalsa) orthodox position which tried to purge Sikhism from Hindu ritual and distinguish Sikhs. Tat Khalsa gained ascendancy in the panth through education and journals.
- The British helped crystallize the identity of a Sikh since they encouraged the khalsa standards in the military and accepted the title of Singh. A definition of a Sikh as enforced during the census.
- The gurdwaras were in the hands of non-khalsa mahants (non-ascetic Udais) and this offended the Singh Sabha. The Tat Khalsa formed a new organization called the Akalis who sought to force the British to accept their claim of identity and pass the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925. The large incomes from the gurdwaras allowed them to be primary centers for political activity (Akali Dal). The Tat Khalsa rahit set the standard of what is Sikh.
- The question "who is Sikh?" is a complex one since many Sikhs do not follow the khalsa. Besides the Nirankaris and the Namdharis there are the Beas satsangis who recognize a living guru and the Sikh Dharam (3HO) movement founded by Yogi Bhajan focussing on kundalini yoga and moral absolutes. One thing is clear: most Sikhs reject the claim that they are Hindu. In 1897 Kahn Singh Nabha, a Sikh scholar, proclaimed Hum Hindu Nahin.
Text: The Lord as Guru: Hindu Sants in North Indian Tradition by Daniel Gold
- The sants have roots in Indic heterodoxy before the Indo-Muslim culture under the Mughals.
- Gold contends that Sant tradition is a hybrid of Vaishnava and Sufi influence. The Sufi elements are certainly found in Dadu and Kabir.
- The central focus of the Sant tradition is the guru. It is the immanent foci of the Divine.
- The Sants can be seen as a clan since all sants see their peers are part of a whole tradition. Sant quotes are compiled in the Adi Granth (including Namdev and Kabir).
- Paltu Sahib is seen as the second Kabir, but more of a hinduized form since he uses Hindu images in his poetry. Charandas is also a hinduized type sant who respects the Vedic heritage.
- Three phases in life of the sant lineage: 1) it starts with a charismatic figure; 2) then a parampara/lineage follows; and finally 3) a sectarian institution that focuses on a past sant develops (now a panth). Smaller panths often assimilate into the Hindu heritage.
- There are different forms of the guru: 1) the panths the guru is a past figure and the revered saying of the guru; 2) and for a parampara the guru is a living master.
- Did Kabir have a guru? Gold says he had a human guru, while others like McLeod say that his guru was probably the inner voice of shabd.
- According to Beas Soamiji’ guru was Tulsi Sahib (and the lineage continued back to Nanak), but the Agra branch denies this. They want to portray his as unique and as the highest truth. Following Soamiji’s death there are numerous factions that develop, each with doctrinal differences.
- Gold’s text goes into the Radhasoami lineages in great depth. These details, however, will not be the focus of the Sikh monograph.
Text: Kabir by Charlotte Vaudeville
Chapter One: Discovery of Kabir:
- Kabir is viewed as a bold social reformer, since he challenges brahmanical ways (idol worship, elaborate rituals, the caste system, asceticism, etc.). Some see him as an Indian Luther who seeks to liberate India from superstitions, polytheism, and idolatry.
- Kabir’s ideas are found in: Bijak, Adi Granth and Kabir-Granthvali. Scholars question whether these writings are from his own hand. Many may have attempted to annex Kabir to support their own convictions.
- Kabir definitely fits in the Sant tradition; he is opposed to the caste system and worships a nirguna god in Vaishnava bhakti fashion.
Chapter Two: Kabir’s Bio.
- Kabir’s name is Islamic meaning the "Great." He is often seen as Muslim born who converts to Vaishnava bhakti. A later bio. Hinduizes him by having him born of a Brahmin widow and blessed by Ramanand. His date are controversial since Hindu biographers have tried to link him to this Hindu religious figure. Sikhs have also tried to ling him to their religious head, Nanak. Most likely, however, he pre-date Nanak by a few decades.
- Kabir refers to himself as a Muslim weaver (julaha) and does not speak of a birthplace. He may have been married and have children.
- In the 17th century when anti-Muslim sentiment ran high due to persecution he is depicted as much more Hindu than before. There is a great deal of ambiguity concerning the life of Kabir.
Chapter Three: Sayings of Kabir:
- Kabir was probably illiterate and passed his ideas through oral tradition.. His utterances (banis) are short and pithy, terse and obscure. He often wrote in rhymed couplets (dohas).
- The language of Kabir’s writings seems to be a mixture of native dialect, a non-brahmanical language.
- Many of the writings attributed to Kabir, such as the verses in the Adi Granth, are not free of alterations. Redaction occurred to fit Kabir into the themes of the times.
- The three main sources of Kabir are: Bijak, Adi Granth, and Panchvanis (sayings of five gurus).
Chapter Four: Kabir and His Times:
- In Kabir’s time there were many Muslim missionaries active in the region with an anti-brahmanical disposition. Low caste Hindus often converted to Islam. Also popular were the Siddhas and Naths who propagated tantric yoga. The illiterate seemed to enjoy the vernacular banis of the Nath yogis. Kabir is more conversant with the tradition of the Naths than his own Islamic orthodox tradition.
- Sufi practice was strong in the region. One passage in Granth Sahib mentions that Kabir went on a pilgrimage to see Taqqi of the Sufi Chisthi order. Sufi mysticism impregnated the religious sensibilities at that time. The Sufi tradition was very tolerant.
- Kabir seems to reject traditional beliefs of other traditions (Hindu, nath yogic, Islamic) but is influenced by them at the same time.
- The sants are mystical poets who have much in common with Vedantic monism. Their interest is Nirguna bhakti . While there is no historical founder certain sants are honored: Ramanand in the North and Jnanesvar in the South. Other outstanding ancestors are Namdev, Nanak and, of course, Kabir. The diversity of the sant tradition is apparent: some sants (Namdev) have Vaishnava bhakti, some (the poetess Lalla) have Saiva bhakti, and others (Kabir) have neither of these.
- Many have claimed that Kabir is a disciple of Ramaanand, but this may simply be an attempt to Hinduize Kabir. In truth Kabir may be an independent teacher.
Chapter Five: Tantric Concepts
- Kabir is heavily indebted to the tantric ideas in the teachings of Gorakhnathi and the nath yogis. They provided him Vedantic and Buddhist metaphysical concepts and vocabulary mixed with yogic practice.
- The goal was to reach sahaja samadhi, an ineffable transcendental state free of samsara. The method was to practice shabd yoga. Nam simran was an interior practice similar to the Sufi dhikr.
- Kabir also speaks of the painful feeling of separation (viraha) from the Divine and this resembles the Sufi ‘isq’ concept.
Text: The History of the Sikhs Vol. 1-2 by Kushwant Singh
Volume One: 1469 - 1839
- Sikhism is a bhakti movement. The bhakti approach was popularized in Northern India by Ramananda. There is also a great Sufi influence on the Sikh panth.
- Nanak’s bio.: born April 15, 1469. He married, traveled and set up a spiritual community called Kartarpur. The Sikh greeting became sat kartar (true creator). His successor was the disciple Lehna (referred to as Angad meaning "of my limb"). Angad compiled hymns of Nanak (gurmukhi)
- Nanak did not choose his son Sri Chand to succeed him. Chand started his own movement, the Udasis, interested in asceticism.
- Angad also did not chose his son to succeed him but a 73 year old disciple named Amar Das. Set up the masand system, 22 agents with distinct parishes. Sikhism took on an institutionalized form. Amar Das introduced certain ceremonies of birth and death and forbade sati.
- Ram Das, the son in law of Amar Dar, succeeded. He had three sons but chose the youngest Arjan to follow him. The eldest Prithi Chand was upset and started his own lineage. There was obvious hostility between these two brothers.
- Each guru collected the sacred writings and added to them their ideas.
- Arjan is known for his many contributions. For instance, he completed the temple called the Harimandir Amritsar, a major pilgrimage site.
- Prithi Chand began to compile his own sacred writings and Arjan reacts by gathering together his own authentic writings. He gets the son of Amar Das to give the writings of the first three gurus and includes Hindu and Muslim writings as well. Gurdas wrote the Adi Granth at the dictation of Arjan. Akbar was impressed with the work.
- When Akbar dies the new emperor Jehangir dislikes the Sikhs. When the emperor’s son rebelled against his father and sought the help of Arjan this presented a problem.. He arrests Arjan in revenge and Arjan dies while in prison. His ministry lasted 25 years.
- The six successor was his eleven year old son Hargobind. He wore two swords around his waist, a sign of temporal and spiritual strength. The miri-piri (swords) signals the Panth shift toward militancy. Martial exercises are now a part of Sikhism. Jehangir orders the disbandment of the Sikh army and places the guru in prison for one year. The next Muslim ruler Shah Jahan was even worst and tried to capture Hargobind. The group had to relocate seeking refuge in the Himalayan foothills.
- Before Hargobind died he appointed his second grandson Har Rai to succeed as guru. He retired in the mountains for seclusion and peace. His five-year old son, Hai Krishan, succeeded him.
- Tegh Bahadur, the granduncle of Har Krishan, became the next guru. He traveled throughout the Punjab but was arrested by Mughal officers and is sentenced to death. His son Gobind Singh succeeded him at the age of nine.
- Gobind Singh allows for martial exercises and accepts arms to defend themselves from the Mughal oppressors. He allegedly implemented the Khalsa in 1699. The Khalsa may have been established to combat the corruption of the masands. The holy text succeeded him as guru when he died in 1708.
- The first 100 years of Sikh history concern the temple, the langar, and the Granth. The next 100 years consists of oppression and appeal to arms.
- Banda Bahudur, a Sikh military commander, seeks to destroy the Mughal forces in Northern India. He develops coins with the names of Nanak and Gobind Singh. Banda is eventually captured and offered a pardon if he agrees to convert to Islam. When he refused he was killed.
- The Mughal Empire disintegrates due to two factors: the rise of the Sikhs and the rise of the Marathas.
- After the Mughals the next invaders were the Afghans. Nine invasions occurred but they failed to gain control in Northern India. However, the Afghans were successful in destroying the Mughal power. There was now room for Sikh power and misls, warrior bands, were set up in a loose confederation. Warfare among the misls ensued and one chieftain, Ranjit Singh, gained control of them all.
- The Sikhs met at Amritsar on Baisakh Day and the meetings were called Sarbat Khalsa. If a resolution was passed it became gurmata (the decree of the guru). Jathedars (group leaders) were appointed to decide important issues. Also an army, Das Khalsa, was organized.
- Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan claimed control of India as successor of Nadir Shah of Persia. The Marathas fought against the Afghans. This show down left them both weary. After nine attempts to capture the Punjab Abdali succeeded. He was the biggest antagonist to the Sikhs but ironically his wars with others created a political vacuum in the Punjab the Sikhs would fill.
- When the Punjab was in the hands of the Sikhs there was a loose central power. Misls ruled the Punjab and this was a problem when they turned on each other. The factionalism was put to an end when the misl Ranjit Singh united them. Ranjit Singh was the chieftain in the Punjab and received the title as Maharaj in 1801. He modernized the army with discipline and artillery. Ranjit Singh prevented the Marthathas from entering the Punjab from Delhi and also pushed the Afghans out of the Punjab. He served as a mediator between the Anglo and Martha dispute. When the English eliminated the Maratha they entered the Punjab since with the victory over the Afghans the Sikhs were becoming too powerful up there. Ranjit Singh died in 1839.
Volume Two: 1839 – 1964
- Six years after Ranjit Singh died the English invaded the Punjab. It was annexed by 1849. Since there was no central power after Ranjit Singh died the British take over went fairly smooth except for two Anglo-Sikh wars. The kingdom of the Sikh rule comes to an official end. The improvements the British made (such as the building of roads, canals, hospitals, and schools, the rise of employment, the planting of new crops) won many Sikh over to the British.
- There is now a Sikh – Hindu division. For years prior to Sikh rule Sikhs worshipped Hindu gods, went on Hindu pilgrimages and engaged in Hindu customs.
- There is a great anti-British sentiment in India in the 1850s led to sporadic acts of violence culminating with the Mutiny of 1857. The Sikhs sided with the British since they appreciated the improvements being made in the Punjab and also their right to observe the Khalsa with no interference. (The Hindus felt their religious rights were threatened). Sikhs ere recruited to the army and referred to as a strong martial race. Since there was an advantage to being a Sikh it kept Sikhs from lapsing into Hinduism. Since there was an advantage to being a Sikh it kept Sikhs from lapsing into Hinduism.
- Post in the army will filled only by keshdhari Khalsa Sikhs and so this form of Sikhism grew. The keshdhari Jats who were landowners during Ranjit Singh’s rule were allowed to continue in their aristocratic position by the British with the Land Alienation Act.
- The Singh Sabha Movement revived interest and preserved identity in the Sikh religion over against Christianity and the Hindu Aryan Samaj and Brahm Samaj. There was an obvious fear of Sikhs being reabsorbed into Hinduism and the being influenced by Christian missionaries and schools. The Singh Sabha was organized in order to revive the teachings of the gurus and educate the people of Sikh religious literature. There were actually two movements: one easy going and one more radical. The Chief Khalsa Diwan in 1902 formed to safeguard Sikh rights. The phrase "hum Hindu nahin" became popular at this time. The Singh Sabha Movement petered out in the 1920s.
- There are other Sikh movements at this time besides Khalsa Singh's. For instance, the Nirankaris founded by Dyal Das in the 19th century did not recognize just ten gurus and was against the Khalsa’s interest in the military. The Namdhari or Kuka Movement was founded by Balak Singh and followers wore while, emitted loud shrieks (kuks) in religious excitement, and promoted a simply live free of wealth and rituals.
- Enthusiasm for the British Raj lessened and three political parties emerged: Communist, Nationalist and Akali. The Akalis formed as a non-cooperative passive resistance movement. One of their objectives was to regain control of the gurdwaras controlled by mahants (Hindu and Udais Sikh priests). During Mughal persecution the granthi job was given to the Udais Sikhs since they were not part of the Khalsa. When the British came in they gave the ownership to the mahants. Some of the owners installed Hindu images to attract Hindus to the sites. The Akali Dal arose to take over the gurdwaras. The Akali movement gave Sikhs identity and captured some seats in the Punjab Legislature in 1923. The Sikh Gurdwara Act was passed in 1925.
- When the Sikhs fought for the British in WW1 many expected to be seen as heros but were not. Other problems developed in the region: plagues, famine, debt. This all lead to a Sikh uprising and in 1919 there was a massacre in Amritsar. In response many Sikhs migrated to the US and Canada but faced racial discrimination there as well. They were referred to as ragheads. The Ghadar Party developed in San Francisco but did not succeed in the Punjab. Some members of the party turned to communism.
- In the 1940s with the liberation of India the political parties were fighting for land rights. The Muslim League was given Pakistan and the Indian National Congress was awarded the rest of India. The Sikhs, however, were left out and are still today seeking the independent state of Khalistan.
Texts: Early Sikh Tradition by W.H. McLeod
And The Sikhs by W.H. McLeod
- Sikh break off groups include: the Udasis founded by Nanak’s son Sri Chand; the Minas founded by Arjan’s son Prithi Chand; Dhir Mal’s group founded by Hargobind’s grandson who did not recognize his younger brother, Har Rai; and Ram Rai’s group founded by Har Rai’s son who did not recognize his younger brother, Har Krishan. These divisions fit under sahajdhari Sikhism (non-Khalsa).
- Sikh sects include: sahaj-dhari (non-Khalsa) Sikhs; amrit-dhari (Khalsa) Sikhs; kesh-dhari Sikhs who do not cut their hair but are not baptized; and mona Sikhs who cut their hair and shave but are connected in the Khalsa and take the name Singh and Kaur. The problem with the later is there similarities in appearance to Hindus. Sikhism is not an "ism."
- The idea that Nanak syncretized Hinduism and Islam is an erroneous idea. It was found in the Jaman Sakhis at a time when this was a social need.
- The Sikh tradition comes from the Sant tradition, concerned with both sadhana (method to moksha) and social protest (a rejection of the caste system). These ideas were prevalent at the time of Nanak and he absorbed them. While influenced by the Naths the Sant criticize them for hatha-yoga.
- The traditional understanding of the Sikhs comes from Macauliffe’s The Sikh Religion (1909). He drew his material from the Singh Sabha Movement. Unlike many 19th century books, his work was non-offensive to Sikhs. The Singh Sabha ideas conflict with academic understandings.
- The history of the Adi Granth is interesting. Bhai Gurdas, a disciple of Arjan, recorded it in 1603-1604. It consisted of an earlier collection of Armar Das called the Goindval Pothis. Tradition says it was stolen from Dhir Mal (the grandson of Hargobind). Gobind Singh supposedly asked for it back and added his father’s work and his own. The Adi Granth also contains Sant literature from Kabir and others.
- The Sikhs were encompassed by the Hindu society and shared similar rituals of marriage, burials, birth, etc. In the late 19th century many the Tat Khalsa introduced many rituals changes to give the Sikhs identity and communal solidarity. But the four fundamental reasons why the Sikhs sought separation from Hindus were: competition between Sikhs and Hindus for jobs and economic resources; the founding of socio-religious movements like the Singh Sabhas and the Aryan Samaj; efforts to gain legislative representation; and the relationship with the British administrators.
- The Chief Khalsa Diwan began in 1902 and was replaced by the Akali Dal.. The Chief Khalsa Diwan institutionalized the Singh Sabha view of Sikhism as a separate religion with distinct rituals; it linked disparate Sikh organizations into communication with each other through conferences, journals and newspapers; and it worked favorably with the British to build education and toleration.
- Today 10% of the fifteen million Sikhs live in the Diaspora. In North America there are American converts called Gora (white) Sikhs involved in the Healthy, Happy and Holy organization (3HO). It is also referred the Sikh Dharma. This group emphasizes radical egalitarianism, unlike the diversity (heterogeneous constituency) that exists among Punjabi Sikhs. In India there exists unity in diversity but in North America there is a tendency to see a person as a whole and impartible social unit. Sikh Dharma was founded by Yogi Bhajan in 1968. These Gora Sikhs take Khalsa form and discipline and are embraced by North American Punjabi Sikhs. Gora Sikhs are religious absolutists.
- McLeod argues that there still exists a form of a caste system in Sikhism. It is not a soteriological caste (vertical) but one concerned with social connections (horizontal).