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Collective Authority of the Panj Pyare


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Collective Authority of Panj-Piaras

Brig. Hardit Singh, (Retd.)*

* H. No. 1380, Sector 33-C, Chandigarh.

Our universe is dynamic, in constant motion and change. The human society is not what it looked like a thousand years ago. The modern technology and system of communication have undergone tremendous change during the span of 20th Century alone. The only fact of life that does not change is the TRUTH, i.e. God. Sikhism the sixth largest and newest religion of the world, a product of spiritual evolution and comprehensive sociology, offers modern man an opportunity to achieve self-realisation. Prof. H. L. Bradshaw has said: "Sikhism is a universal world faith with a message for all men. This is amply illustrated in the writings of the Gurus. Sikhs must cease to think of their faith as just another good religion and must begin to think in terms of Sikhism being the religion for the New Age."

Sikhism is different from the other world religions in its identity, in its code of conduct, in its method of worship and in its concept of leadership. In saying so, no disrespect or belittling of other religions is implied. The basic truths are common to all religions; in Sikhism the stress and approach have changed. The essential difference are:

Oneness of God and Humanity: Sikhism does not recognise caste, creed on colour distinction. All are equal in this world and beyond. Well being and welfare of the entire creation is the Sikh motto - "Sarbat do bhalla".

Mode of Worship: Sikhs worship one formless God through the medium of shabad and not through any object. The shabad, the Sikh scripture (Sri Guru Granth Sahib), unlike the other scriptures, has been written and anointed by the Sikh Gurus themselves. It also contains writings of other religious saints, like Kabir, Farid, Bhikan Shah, Nam Dev and Ravi Das. This is an unparalleled feature. It is the only scripture which enjoys status of the Guru - personified guide, venerated and addressed as the True King (Sacha Patshah)

Whole Life Living: Sikhs are enjoined to live a purposeful house-hold life. Renunciation or asceticism is decried. The guiding principle is to earn one’s bread by honest means (Dharam di kirt karni), sharing it with the needy (Wand chhakna) and to Remember Him (Nam Japna). Not to be deterred from doing noble deed at any cost is their beau ideal - "subh karman te kabhu na taron".

Spirit of Sacrifice: The sacrifices made in this regard are colossal and numerous in relation to Sikh population. The chain of martyrdoms started by the Fifth Guru continues till today. The martyrdom of the Ninth Guru to protect beliefs of others is history. Rescue of thousand of Hindu women prisoners being carried away by Abdali in the eighteenth century and returning them to their families at the cost of heavy casualties speaks high of their courage, determination and commitment to humanitarianism. Sikh history is replete with such incidents. The Sikhs sealed the North - West Frontier of India against repeated foreign invasions, for all time to come, during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Institution of Five Piaras: This Institution is peculiar to Sikhism. It is based on Guru Nanak’s maxim "Panch Parwan Panch Pardhan" - the five blessed and approved persons form the presidium. Whilst Guru Gobind Singh brought out this institution openly at the point of sword on the Baisakhi day in 1699, the earlier Gurus had also practiced this concept. For instance Guru Arjun Dev’s five advisors were Bhai Bidhi Chand, Bhai Jetha, Bhai Langah, Bhai Purana and Bhai Paira, and Guru Teg Bahadur’s advisors were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Dyala, Bhai Gurdita and Bhai Jaita. The Panj Piara concept is thus ingrained in Sikhism.

Guru Gobind Singh demonstrated the role of Panj - Piaras in his life time. After baptising the Panj Piaras into the newly formed Khalsa Panth, he begged them to baptise him as well in the same manner to become a member of the fraternity. In doing so, he conferred superior status on them. The Khalsa was thus elevated to the position of Guru and was called Guru-Panth and the Panj- Piaras became their representatives.

During the battle of Chamkaur, when Guru Gobind Singh, alongwith his two elder sons and 40 Sikhs, was encircled by overwhelming Moghul forces, he complied with the order of the Panj- Piaras to quit the mud-fort to continue his mission from outside. In another incident he paid a fine imposed by the Panj-Piaras for bowing to Pir Dadu’s grave, which is against the tenets of Sikhism. When Guru Gobind Singh appointed Baba Banda Singh Bahadur as general of the Khalsa contingent to chastise cruel rulers of Punjab in 1708, before his demise, he detailed Five Piaras with Baba Vinod Singh, to accompany him as his counselors. We know Baba Banda Singh Bahadur was very successful in capturing and occupying most of the Punjab till he ignored the ‘Five Piaras’ advise at Gurdaspur Nangal. This led to his capture alongwith 700 Sikhs who were executed in Delhi in 1716. True to their tradition of martyrdom, no Sikh abjured his faith to save his life.

The above events clearly show that Guru Gobind Singh had indicated definite guidelines regarding future leadership of the Sikhs. It was also brought out that when it becomes necessary to have an individual to handle an assignment, he is to be guided by the Panj-Piaras approved by the Panth.

In the reign of the Gurus, i.e. from 1469 to 1708, both the spiritual (Jot) and the temporal (Jugat) power were in their hands. These two functions were bifurcated by Guru Gobind Singh in 1708 and were vested with Guru Granth and the Khalsa Panth, respectively, with the proviso that Guru Granth being the Divine Light is supreme and any decision made by the Panth according to the situation and circumstances is to be in tune with the teaching of Gurbani. Guru Gobind Singh did not confer any glorified status on any individual, like the present day jathedars, nor appointed anyone to head the Panth.

During the Misl period of the eighteenth century the institution of Five Piaras was successfully used despite the fact that there were very capable, courageous and selfless leaders, like Baba Deep Singh, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Nawab Kapur Singh and Sardar Baghel Singh. Sikhs are independent by nature, but are amenable to spiritual leadership like that of Baba Deep Singh Shahid when they regained control of the Golden Temple from the Moghuls in 1760. This religious bent is being exploited at present by many pseudo-saints who are advocating cult of living guru against the basic tenet of Sikhism.

Gurbani warns us of four vices (kapts) that can corrupt a person. These are Power and pelf (Raj); Vanity (Roop); wealth (Dhan) and caste and clan (Kul). These vices can inflict a person, but not a collective body. The plight and behaviour of our present day leaders bear witness to this affliction when we see mushroom growth of Akali parties with their self-seeking leaders. The idea behind this republic of five is collective leadership. Power thus remains in the hands of the people, i.e. the Panth, and not any individual.

The Sikhs leadership is in disarray. The remedy lies in following the Guru’s direction. It is not an easy matter but a beginning could be made in having a top echelon of Panj- Piaras based at the Akal Takht, to guide the global Sikh affairs. Panthic parliament under the aegis of the Akal Takht, select Panj- Piaras to form the presidium. The Panj- Piaras presidium should be assisted by a secretariat under able and proficient secretaries to handle the various branches.

Once it is implemented, organisations like S.G.P.C. and D.G.P.C. - plagued by the political voting system and government control - can be dispensed with.

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