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How Far Is It Possible To Establish A Reliable Assessment Of The Singh Sabha Reformation And The Sgpc Rehat Maryada?


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No idea if this article has been posted up already

The Singh Sabha movement of the late 19th century has caused widespread confusion, controversy and discontent within the Sikh community. This was partly unintentional and was simply a consequence of the pressure from the British to define who the Sikhs were. As a result the Singh Sabha created a definition, albeit an incorrect definition, of the Sikhs in order to combat the onslaught of British Christian missionaries in India. In doing so we can highlight numerous instances in today’s modern Sikhism were the public view of Sikhism and common knowledge about it is far from the truth.

In assessing the establishment of the Singh Sabha movement, illustrated by the establishment of the SGPC in 1920 and the publication of the Sikh Rehat Maryada[ii] in 1950, we can see numerous historical and philosophical inconsistencies between Tat Khalsa Sikhism[iii] and the earlier practices and understandings of the Sikh tradition.

The Singh Sabha movement has its origins during a period when western scholars such as Cunningham and Macauliffe were studying and questioning the practices, beliefs and origins of the Sikh. However, as Gadmar argues, the understanding of any individual is conditioned by their past as well as by their own present circumstances.[iv] Therefore, when these British Christians, who were all educated in the West, were studying the East, they were imposing a Western, Christian and British framework upon an Eastern, mystical tradition that was multi-faceted and had no clear definition.

If we look at the historical context of the Singh Sabha movement in further detail we will understand that it was during a time when British missionaries were common throughout India, so common that at one point they occupied an unoccupied bhunga (tower) within the vicinity of the Golden Temple inAmritsar.[v]

As a result Christian ideology passed into the framework of the Sikh. For instance, the definition of the sacred words, Ik Onkar[vi], were translated to mean ‘There is One God[vii],’ which is remarkably similar to, ‘One Lord.’[viii] Prior to British rule there was no concept of ‘God,’ in the Judo-Christian sense within the Sikh philosophy, instead creation was viewed as an eternal and supreme energy that is even beyond definition clearly illustrated by Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji in his works Jaap Sahib.[ix]

Nonetheless, as a result of the reformation movement we can clearly define two forms of Sikhi, Tat Khalsa Sikhism and Sanatan Sikhi, or old Sikhi. The former, Tat Khalsa Sikhism, is a religion, created in a response to a colonial Christian need that took place during the 19th century, a process that took the form of adding the Greek suffix “-ism” to a word used to designate the persons who are members of the religious community or followers of a given tradition.[x] This process normally created a religion that strongly emphasized belief above experience and accepted a fundamental dualism between the human world and the transcendent world of the divine, something that we can clearly see within Tat Khalsa Sikhism illustrated by the removal of Shaheedi Dheg a sacred drink said to connect one to the martyrs of the Sikh tradition. [xi] This is of course far from the true mystical essence of Sanatan Sikhi.[xii] As a result we can contrast these forms of Sikhi and therefore illustrate the controversies and contradictions that have arisen as a result.

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Nonetheless, the Singh Sabha movement was not completely detrimental to the Sikh psyche in one particular instance it defined, albeit incorrectly what a Sikh was. For instance, within mid-nineteenth century Punjab asking an individual whether they were Sikh, Muslim or Hindu was, at an epistemological level, rather absurd. For example, in the 1891 census of Punjab 1,344,862 Sikhs declared themselves as Hindus, as a result the Singh Sabha wished to create a definition of a Sikh and did so to the extent that when the British army started to enlist Indians into their army they could specifically pick Sikhs.[xiii]

However, in defining the Sikh tradition and creating a religion numerous Singh Sabha scholars created an image that mimicked the ideals and norms of the Western religious set up. Nonetheless, it still created a clear cut definition of what a Sikh was. Unfortunately, this played into the hands of the imperialistic British Raj who employed the Roman principle of divide et impera, divide and conquer,making it far easier to conquer and rule the rest of the Indian sub-continent.

The Singh Sabha movement arose out of the ashes of the fallen empire of the Sikhs, controlled by Maharaj Ranjit Singh Ji (1801-1839). An empire that was the last haven for the differing orders of the Sikhs these included the Nihangs, Nirmalas, Udhasis and Sewa Panthis, the basis on which Sanatan Sikhi stood.[xiv] The combined force of conversions to Christianity and the persistence of the British to define what a Sikh is caused the Singh Sabha movement to emerge.

For the Singh Sabha the differing orders held onto the practices of other traditions in particular the customs of the Hindus and as a result wished to create a definite framework within which the Sikh lived. This is demonstrated by Bhai Khan Singh Nabha’s article entitled Hum Hindu Nahin.[xv] A further example of the certain aspects of the Hindu religion co-existing in Sanatan Sikhi is illustrated by how the Nihangs who pay utmost respect towards the Goddess of Destruction, Chandi. However, the Singh Sabha viewed this as the deterioration of Sikhism and the likes of Bhai Vir Singh systematically editedPrancheen Panth Prakash and removed all mentions of Chandi.[xvi] This was in order to remove those concepts which are related to the Hindu tradition.

In the process of doing so an entire scripture, the Sri Dasam Granth, has been brought into disrepute. If we follow the Tat Khalsa tradition we will learn that the Sri Dasam Granth is not in fact a Granth and holds no place in the Sikh religion, illustrated clearly by there being no mention of it within the Sikh Rehat Maryada published by the SGPC in 1950.[xvii] Yet, the highest seat within the Sikh tradition, the Jathedar (leader) of the Buddha Dal (army of the old) have always declared that the Sri Dasam Granth is part and parcel of Sikhi, even the very first Jathedar, Akali Binod Singh[xviii], the seventh descendent of the second Guru, Guru Angad Dev Ji and a general in all of the battles of Bhanda Singh Bhadur, a great Sikh warrior of the 18th century.[xix]

In addition, if we take any historical account whether it is during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh or from any one of the numerous Sikh orders, they all mention and hold the Sri Dasam Granth in high regard, on par with the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.[xx] The reasoning behind this is because the Sanatan code of conduct was intertwined with the Sri Dasam Granth and within removing it they removed the traditions of most of the Sikh orders. Furthermore, the Sri Dasam Granth contained large amounts of mythology that contained references to Hindu Gods and Goddesses and as already highlighted the Singh Sabha movement was keen on removing any links with anything they deemed was not, ‘Sikh’. As a result, even up until this day, there is great debate upon the authenticity of the Sri Dasam Granth and whether it is really part of Sikhism to the extent that numerous SGPC scholars such as Professor Darshan Singh are still to this day discrediting the Sri Dasam Granth.[xxi]

The Singh Sabha did not let it stop there, from 1892 until 1897 numerous scholars assembled at the Sri Akaal Takth Sahib situated within the Golden Temple complex. This gathering was known as the, Sodhak Committee. Their purpose was to study the thirty-two hand-written Sri Dasam Granths in circulation within Punjab circa. 1890s. They concluded that the Sri Dasam Granth was the work of Guru Gobind Singh Ji but yet deleted eight compositions within the original compilation and re-published the Sri Dasam Granth in 1902. This re-publication has had such an impact that even in 1973 the SGPC issued a letter declaring that the Sri Dasam Granth composition entitled Chritropakhyan is not Sikh scripture.[xxii]

In removing and editing the Sri Dasam Granth the Singh Sabha achieved something that changed the very fundamentals of the Sikh tradition, the Rehat Maryada. The Sri Dasam Granth held numerous codes of conduct that Pratan Sikhs carried out such as the traditional of shaheedi degh and jhatka.[xxiii]However, the Singh Sabha understood that if they removed what little rules there were to Sikhi they would need to create a rahit by which all Sikhs would then have to follow.

Unfortunately, it was rather easy for the Singh Sabha to create their own rehat maryada for a number of reasons. Firstly, the number of Nihangs present during the British Raj was minute compared to the numbers present under the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji. This was mainly because numerous Nihangs were killed by the British during the Anglo-Sikh wars and the annexation of the Punjabincluding the seventh Jathedar of the Buddha Dal, Akali Baba Hanuman Singh Ji.[xxiv] This was as a result of British law allowing any individual to shoot a Nihang on sight.[xxv]

A further instance was that the numerous rahit maryadas that existed before hand were in disrepute. The four main rahit maryadas of the 18th century were the Chaupa Singh rahitnama, the Desa Singh rahitnama, the Daya Singh rahitnama and the Prem Sumarg Granth.

The reason these rahitnamas worked in the advantage of the Singh Sabha was due to their numerous discrepancies and contradictions. For instance, one of the biggest debates even to this day is based upon whether or not Sikhs should be vegetarians. The present Jathedar of the Buddha Dal comments that,

Jhatka is a distinguishable tradition of the Nihang Singhs. The Khalsa has been performing Jhatka since the time of the Gurus, it is part of our Kshatri (warrior) tradition. One is at liberty to choose for themselves whether or not they wish to eat Mahaparshad. Many oppose the tradition of Jhatka and the British tried to ban it, this means nothing to us and we will carry practising the traditions entrusted to us by our Gurus.

Furthermore, past Jathedars have supported and even practiced the tradition of jhatka including the late jathedar, Baba Kharak Singh Ji.[xxvii] In addition, texts that pre-date the Singh Sabha even mentions that, ‘upon joining the Khalsa fold go hunting, continually seeking to perfect your use of weapons and perform Jhatka and eat goats.’

Yet let if we look at the Desa Singh rahitnama it is obvious he is uneasy about the question of eating meat. Initially Desa Singh condemns eating meat, ‘fish or flesh-he should never go after these things.’[xxviii] However, Desa Singh then comments that, ‘he is permitted to eat mutton when the goat has been killed with a single blow, but he should never look at any other meat.’[xxix] Further on in the same work Desa Singh comments that those who have, ‘taken birth in a good family will never consume…meat.’[xxx] In terms of the argument over eating meat or not we can only conclude from the early rahitnamas that there is a ban onhalal meat.[xxxi]

However, one of the biggest alterations by the Singh Sabha was the creation of the 5ks, as articles of faith.[xxxii] Prior to the creation of the Singh Sabha and the Sikh Rahitnama the 5ks existed separately as articles worn by individuals but were never prescribed to individuals initiated into the Khalsa as a whole. Yet, if we look at the past rahitnamas there is never a mention of the 5ks. A hukumnama[xxxiii]dated 1702 and signed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji instructs Sikhs to wear 5 weapons.[xxxiv] The Prem Sumarag even mentions that, ‘…he should arm himself… with the five traditional weapons of the Khalsa.’[xxxv] The works Gur Sobha, which provides a general account of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s life, only ever mentions uncut hair but never once mentions any of the other 5ks.[xxxvi] In addition, the Chaupa Singh and Desa Singh rahitnamas do not mention the five ks at all. For instance, the kara is never mentioned and instead of referring to the uncut hair there is a reference to the dastar[xxxvii]within the Desa Singh rahitnama. It seems that prior to the 19th century there is no mention of the 5ks in the form that is suggested within the SGPC rahitnama. For example, prior to the 19th century Chaupa Singh mentions in his rahitnama, ‘kach dadha harah rakhan.[xxxviii] A more interesting example of the formation of the 5ks by the SGPC is that even Bhai Khan Singh Nabha a leading Singh Sabha scholar defines traimudra, as the three symbols of the Khalsa, rather than the conventional 5.[xxxix]

Hence, with the SGPC formulating their own rahitnama they could create a definitive rule book for Sikhs. Yet, in doing so any reference to anything even slightly non-Sikh was removed. However, the tradition of Sikhi was beyond the dualistic nature of religion and did not accept a dualist framework of the human world and the transcendent world of the divine but rather incorporated both into daily life through practices and traditions.

Overall, we can ascertain that the Singh Sabha movement completely changed the very essence of the Sikh tradition to the extent that even to this day there are public controversies over certain practices such as jhatka, Sri Dasam Granth and even the very articles of faith that a Sikh should wear. However, the Singh Sabha defined Sikhi and thus created a world religion, Sikhism, in doing so they ensured that Sikhi was not engulfed within the wider Hindu tradition in India in the 19th and 20th century. Furthermore, the SGPC rahitnama has created a strong division in the Sikh tradition, those who support sanatan Sikhi that accepts and advocates those practices that were removed by the Singh Sabha, and then there are those who accept Tat Khalsa Sikhi and are adamant on diluting and destroying the very essence of a great mystical tradition.

http://ramblingsofasikh.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/how-far-is-it-possible-to-establish.html

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For the Singh Sabha the differing orders held onto the practices of other traditions in particular the customs of the Hindus and as a result wished to create a definite framework within which the Sikh lived. This is demonstrated by Bhai Khan Singh Nabha’s article entitled Hum Hindu Nahin.[xv] A further example of the certain aspects of the Hindu religion co-existing in Sanatan Sikhi is illustrated by how the Nihangs who pay utmost respect towards the Goddess of Destruction, Chandi. However, the Singh Sabha viewed this as the deterioration of Sikhism and the likes of Bhai Vir Singh systematically editedPrancheen Panth Prakash and removed all mentions of Chandi.[xvi] This was in order to remove those concepts which are related to the Hindu tradition.

its quite an interesting article, and for anyone new to this they would be like gosh we never knew all this. Sri Dasam Guru Granth Sahib has told us what Goddess Chandi is in Kalyug. What is Chandi to the sanatanis?

Unfortunately, it was rather easy for the Singh Sabha to create their own rehat maryada for a number of reasons.

Did they create their own maryada? Or did they take existing maryada's and compile them into one overall maryada?

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