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Jathedar and Hokumnama

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Jathedar and Hokumnama

by :Charnjit Singh Bal

Recently (circa 2003/4) a group of prominent Sikh Scholars including Prof. Gurtej Singh, Gen. (Ret.) Narinder Singh, Prof. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, Spokesman-Editor Joginder Singh, Former Justice Ajit Singh Bains and Khalsa Pachayat Convener Rajinder Singh wrote an appropriate letter to the Akal Takht Jathedar challenging his authority to promulgate Hokumnamas (decrees, edicts). It is appropriate because the unsanctioned Sikh priestly Jathedars need to be told that the Sikhism is a lay religion i.e. there is no ecclesiastical hierarchy or clerical elite in Guru Nanak’s egalitarian Sikhism where everyone is a humble Sikh of the Guru. Unlike some other religions, Sikhism is not an esoteric faith controlled by few dogmatic clergy, but an open and liberal religion that encourages universal participation.

The last Guru incarnate Gobind Singh Sahib invested the spiritual Guru-ship in Granth Sahib and temporal leadership in the Sikh Panth (Nation/community). In the post Guru era, contrary to Guru Gobind Singh’s proclamation many a self-serving Sikh leaders have replicated dogmas that the Brahmins fostered to promote blind devotion in the Hindu society during the primeval and medieval times. In the past, since illiteracy and lack of spiritual awareness were more prevalent among the masses, it was lot easier for the shrewd priests to foster blind faith devotion, prejudices, taboos and superstitions. There were fewer learned and rational minded people those who rejected the dogmatic rigmarole of heaven/hell, sin/penitence, human/animal sacrifices, and charity/feasts to the self-anointed holy men of dubious credentials.

However there is lot more literacy and spiritual awareness among the contemporary International Sikh community now than Baba Khem Singh Bedi era. According to Sikh history Baba Khem Singh who was head Granthi of Akal Bunga proclaimed himself the eleventh Sikh Guru in 1885 A.D. One of the architects of Singh Sabha movement Prof. Gurmukh Singh, who denounced Baba Khem Singh’s nefarious anti-Sikh act was excommunicated on trumped up charges and hounded by Baba Khem Singh and his cohorts including Sodi/Bedi progeny, Mahants and Pujaries of Sikh Centers. The same clique drove Giani Ditt Singh to destitution and early grave because he supported his companion, Prof. Gurmukh Singh. It took a century for the Sikh leadership to annul that so-called Hukamnama and rehabilitate Prof. Gurmukh Singh to his rightful place i.e. in the vanguard of true Sikh stalwarts.

As for the Akal Takht, its Jathedar and his Hokumnamas, these names, positions and words are relatively new to Sikh vocabulary. In 1608/9 A.D. Guru Hargobind Sahib had an earthen platform called Thara Sahib built in the Harmandir Sahib premises. This platform, where Guru Sahib used to seat himself and address temporal affairs and mediate Sikhs’ mundane issues, was replaced later by a building that came to be known as Akal Bunga and remained as such till 1920 A.D.

Akal Takht Jathedar, a misnomer

Till November/December 1920 AD, that is when the S.P.G.C. and Akali Dal came into existence, the temporal center of the Sikhs was known as Akal Bunga and its functionaries were known as ministers, granthis, Mahants or pujaris and used to under the directions of the Head Granthi, Mahant or Sarbrah of the of the Harimandar Sahib complex.

The latter being manager of the primal Sikh shrine played an important role in the spiritual and temporal affairs of the Sikh community. For nearly two centuries the Mahants and Pujaries who were mostly from the Hindu fraternities assumed authoritarian roles, introduced Hindu mythology, idolatry, dogmatic rituals and socio-religious customs, into Sikh religious practice and social life that are still prevalent in the Sikh community.

During the British Raj the Government used to appoint a Sarbrah who was responsible to the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar and performed the role of the manager of the complex according to latter’s biddings. At the time the Mahants and Pujaries of Harmandir Sahib and Akal Bunga refused to recite Ardas for Krah Pershad offered by the Sikhs considered Achhute or untouchables. On October 12, 1920 a procession lead by Sikh stalwarts including Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Bawa Harkishan Singh, marched from Jallianwala Baag to the complex where they were joined by S. Teja Singh Bhucher and Kartar Singh jhabber. At first the Harmandir Sahib Pujaries refused congregation’s appeal to recite Sikh Ardaas (Sikh litany) to consecrate Krdah pershad and distribute amongst the congregation. However when confronted by the congregation relented and recited the Ardaas, but Akal Bunga Pujaries were adamant and fled from the back door.

Considering Akal Bunga deserted the congregation organized an ad hoc caretaker Jatha to protect Akal Bunga from vandalism until the old Pujaries retuned or new permanent caretakers were appointed. Teja Singh Bhucher was named Jathedar of this interim Jatha. The Sarbrah (S. Sunder Singh Ramgahia) was approached to persuade the old Pujaries to return but they refused. Since the Pujaries refused to return Teja Singh Bhucher stayed on for quite awhile. The history is not very explicit as to when the Akal Bunga came to be called Sri Akal Takht but its head caretaker came to be known as the Jathedar ever since. Hired and fired by the S. G. P. C. that came into existence on 15 November 1920, the so-called Jathedar had a low profile till nineteen sixties when San Fateh Singh and Master Tara Singh had their Sikh leadership strife referred to a five member arbitration committee headed by Akal Takht Jathedar.

In 1972 A.D. Gurcharan Singh Tohra assumed the S. G. P. Committee’s stewardship that lasted quarter of a century. Under the aegis of Tohra and his cohorts the so-called Akal Takht Jathedar has ostensibly been elevated to a prominent place in the Sikh leadership echelon. On Sept. 26, 1979 when Jathedars Tohra and Talwandi had their quarrel referred to an ad hoc committee headed by the Akal Takht Jathedar his place was further raised a few notches. Ever since, although technically still hired and fired by the S. G. P. C. every Akal Takht Jathedar has been jockeying to be the Supreme Sikh spiritual and temporal Authority. To facilitate the pursuit of their self-seeking goal they have been projecting and promoting the Akal Takht as an awe inspiring holy Sikh shrine. Their ulterior motive is to have the Akal Takht declared as the seat of supreme Sikh temporal and spiritual authority and its Jathedar installed as the Sikh Pope who would be in quasi-legitimate position to condemn as heretic and ostracize any Sikh who dared to criticize the would be Sikh Pope.

However there are some fundamental roadblocks on the way to their ultimate goal. The Sikhism is an egalitarian and lay religion in which Guru (Granth Sahib) is the sole intermediary between a Sikh and the God. No one can annul the spiritual relationship between a Guru and his Sikh. However there is an eminent place for the learned preachers, but there is no place for a priest much less a Pope in Sikhism. And Sikhism does not condone cultism nor does it glorify holy shrines or pilgrimages to such places. In fact Sikhism discourages sanctimonious pilgrimages, futile dogmatic rituals and ostentatious religious rites that spawns false sense of piety and egotism.

The word Hokum, that literally means decree, edict or command, suits the autocrats, theocrats, despots or totalitarian dictators; not the true Gurus, Saints, Apostles or religious teachers and preachers. In the vocabulary of Sikh scriptures word Hokum is used only in context to the omni-potent God’s Will. The Guru Sahibs never used word Guru’s Hokum, only Guru’s edification or Word


Feedback:- charnjit@sikhsundesh.net

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