Jump to content

Are samprdais islamophobic?


Recommended Posts

I recently came across the view from a practicing Shia that the various Sikh samprdais are inherently anti-Islamic, which I thought strange.

The first thing to say on this is that one should be very wary of generalised statements about samprdais (my own included), particularly nowadays when each akhara or dera is driven by the personality of its Mahant. I cannot speak about the Nihangs since I don't know much on that one, and while I can only talk from my own experience, it is quite possible some Sevapanthis, Udasin and Nirmalay who are islamophobic.

However, it is misleading to suggest that there is an active bias here. To start with, Nirmalay and Udasis have always been oriented toward propagating Sikh dharam in the broader 'Indic' world. The study of shaastra in both cases was instigated by our Guru Sahiban. The fact that few have generally studied arabic and persian is in my opnion more a product of the traditional understanding of the roots of Sikhi rather than a deliberate bias.

Secondly, politics. Nirmalay have generally been Congressi. Udasis I know less of, but scouting about in the past issues of papers it seems they were generally hesitant embracing the lucrative saffronisation of the 90s, even though they have become part of the hindu mainstream.

Thirdly, a couple of examples.

An item came on the (fantastic!) Doordarshan Jalandhar channel this afternoon. They have that daily roundup of the days events which inevitably includes loads of samprdai sant smagams. You get a real feel for what actually goes on in villages by tuning in. Well, today was the salana mela at a Sufi dargah. the gadi nashin is one 'Bibi Shareef' an elderly Sufi wearing all black. The channel then listed the attendees at her 'Sant Smagam'...and all were Udasis, Sevapanthis and Nirmalay, bhagva, some panj kakkar, etc. The sangat had as many Sikhs as Muslims as Hindus including a few amritdharis too. it was great to watch, particularly in light of that crap in the SGPC rehit maryada about not visiting Sufi shrines.....a sant smagam is a sant smagam regardless of what religious tradition it takes place in, during which a pavittar sant will recognise only brahm in those around regardless. I once went to a zikhar in london by a very interesting (tiny) shaykh who claimed to also be a bektashi. After the zikhr he came over and was so happy to have us attend that he gave us big hugs...and I know there is more to religion than big hugs, but it conveyed the essence of what was going in that moment.

The second example is that the Nirmal Panchayti Akhara have been featured in the indian national press in the past because of the example they have set by historically staying at a particular Sufi dagrah at the time of one of the Ardh Kumbhs. In the article the Nirmalay, referring to themselves as Hindus, made a statement about the oneness of God and Dharm.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

very good article

In the article the Nirmalay, referring to themselves as Hindus, made a statement about the oneness of God and Dharm.

I dont get it why nirmale refer themselves as hindus?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

nirmal refer to themselves as hindus so as not to fall under the category of sikhism which would place them and their places or worship under the jurisdiction of the sgpc. When i vivsited the udasi ashram of Sant Ishar Dass, his folowersa were adamant that they were NOT sikhs.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

No, Nirmalay don't have any problems with SGPC and have no need to fear them. They do not describe themselves as hindu because of this. Nirmal Panchayti Akhara say it because Nirmalay see Sikhs as a independent tradition within the larger world of Hindu (i.e. Indic traditions). Sikhi being a form of Vedanta is thus in keeping with the purport with the Vedas (although not relying upon it directly). The essence of the mahavakyas is contained in Guru Granth Sahib (hence the view of Gurbani being sruti), plus the Gurus being avatar of parmatma is an inherently Indic concept. Nirmalay don't rely on pandits, don't have any other ishtadev other than Parmatma, don't have murtis or propagate murti puja, or uphold varnaashramdharma as a model.

BTW Chatanga, by Sant Ishar Das, do you mean Gopal Nagar Udasin ashram in Jalandhar?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another example while I'm here. I'm really grey on the details since I half read it a couple of months ago and I can't find it through google, but there was an article in an indian national paper on this year's kumbh and how one akhara even had local muslims as part of its procession, which turned out to be an Udasin akhara.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks tsingh for your response, so if i understood it correctly, nirmala's refer themselves as hindu in the context of sharing same indic concepts not necessarily belong to hindu dharam or mat itself.

Here is my genuine concern, I do beleive this can be easily misinterpertated/taken out of context by other sikh bodies and mainstream sikhs. In that case, whats been done from nirmale to clear up any misunderstanding rising from the comment - refer them as hindus? Does Nirmale openly in their books distinguish between sharing same indic traditions and dharam/mat itself when they refer themselves as Hindus?

sorry about going off topic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All seems a bit confusing, I always thought Nirmalai were created and blessed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and took Guru Ji's amrit ?

This aside, would Nirmalay not consider themselves to fall under Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji's description of Sikh (rahter than the SGPC version)?

Surely the likes of Bhai Santokh Singh considered themselves Sikhs?

I can't help but think this thinking is linked to the refacing of Sikh in the 1920's...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Neo first.

1) Be careful not to generalise! From my experience Nirmalas do not actively declare themselves Hindu, since unlike videsis they don't have to define themselves as much. Plus this quote was from a specific context.

2) Secondly, I was referring specifically to Nirmal Panchayti Akhara who are not necessarily holding to the same as those Sants descending from Nirmalay in Punjab.

3) Generally speaking, Panchayti Akhara Nirmalay and their affiliates don't have the neurotic hang-up and fear of anything that could be labelled as hindu, since they don't see Sikhi as something that is seperate from the larger hindu context. In this sense its important to recall Bahadur Singh's references to modern post-colonial studies by the likes of Richard King. The idea of a unified 'Hinduism' as a definable religion is clearly a colonial construct, that even now includes tantrics who are arguably naastiks (those who do not accept the Vedas)...the same category as Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Jainism, etc.

4) So what was in India before was a whole host of independent traditions drawing on similar ideas and practices. Only of this sense are Sikhs a form of 'hindus' according to the Nirmalay. Now that is a subtle point easily distorted by fools...but should fools hinder you from holding that opinion?

5) Surely its this endless narcisstic hang-up about how 'others will percieve us' that drove Dr. Vir Singh to edit out bits of history from original source materials, for him and his ilk to approach Sikh sidhant with a perspective of 'how can I emphasise all the distinctive aspects, and play down anything that could link to this modern understanding of hinduism?'. Surely thats an inherently dishonest way of going about understanding your own tradition. In this sense, the claims of the Singh Sabha to interpret scripture on its own terms are laughable...any student of literature knows there is no such thing! If you wish to understand the Nirmala perspective on this consider why Bhai Santokh Singh wrote Garab Ganjni Tika, and at the same time how he himself interprets Japuji Sahib.

6) What have Nirmalas (or at least Panchayti Akhara) done to counter misinterpretation? Nothing, why should they? This is what was there before the Lahore Singh Sabha, why pander to that way of thinking. Also its important to remember that a) cyber world and india are different places B) in all honesty, this incessant need for self-definition and patrolling identity was originally driven by the presence of the 'other' with the British and their censuses, and continues as a predicament mainly overseas where Sikhs are a distinct 'world religion'* to be understood by other non-Sikh people.

(*I'm not saying Sikhi isn't 'universal' in its implications, only that it was recontextualised back when into someone else's definition of what is should be)

Shaheediyan, you seem to have misunderstood what I wrote.

1) There are no 'us and them' with Sikhs here moving into a seperate identity thing of 'them' Hindus, by which I mean no denial of the distinct independence of the Sikh doctrine and tradition.

2) I stated that nirmalay (specifically panchayti akhara in this example) refer to themselves (who are Sikhs) as 'hindu' in the sense of being a distinctive component of the broad indian religious context. This is made more clear when considering that it was at the Kumbh Mela which epitomises this traditional sense of a 'Hindu world' not united in doctrine or practice but in a sense of sadhu sangam and pan-Indian representation).

3) Such Nirmalay do not generally hold that Sikhi is nastik. That does not by proxy mean they are brahminical for they reject varnashramdharma, murti pooja, etc.

4) This isn't a recent thing. If you read any literature prior to the 1920s, you'll be hard pushed to find anything close to the Singh Sabha perspective. The only texts (maybe two) that have were clearly spurious based on modern punjabi terms being present (thanks drawrof!). In old texts the term Sikh is used in its literal meaning referring to followers of the Gurus, not in the particular modern politicised identity that we have today.

5) If you add all the components you mention together...Sikh doctrine understood at its most profound level through the study of traditional indian philosophy and linguistics, instigated by the Guru way before the Singh Sabha, upholding and propogating the Khalsa model, then I hold that you would get the Nirmalay exactly as they are.


I mean no disrespect, but I sincerely believe this is very hard to fathom for people who are outside of Punjab. The more time I spend here, the more you see this everywhere. The innumerable permutations in each village of sadhus (regardless of background and tradition) being revered as sadhus first and foremost, and the idea of sadh sangat. Within the diaspora post-80s context, its just millions of miles away from this. Simple things, like the fact that nearly every other village will have some Sikh Sant who wears bhagva (pagh or chola), or has an Udasi or a Bedi link or Nihang chauni. None of this ever enters the diaspora.

As always, these are my own experiences and views, not necessarily representative of all Nirmalay.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No, on getting home I realised it was my fault for not being clearer in the original post, not yours.

Admittedly this touches on a complex political issue. When the Akalis were rampaging around the punjab in armed bands claiming anything that wasn't under their control numerous insights came out in the various reports. Points to note are that numerous attempts were stopped by local sangat..I have seen the records of cases where the Akalis went for a sehajdhari run Gurdwaray on the grounds that they were not amritdhari and nearly caused a riot by the local sangat, which was averted by the police stepping in. They were stopped from taking over one ashram run by a saadhvi mahant. Their grounds for taking it over were that she was of 'dubious moral character', which again caused a big stir against them among the local community. The reality was that the ashram had a huge amount of land attached. Even impartial commentators noted that their motivation seemed more to do with money and attached land than the principles of the Singh Sabha*. I digress.

It was at this point that a statement from Kankhal was published signed by all the major samprdai akharas stating that the Akalis and their predecessors were akin to the Arya Samaj of the Hindus. This is the ideological shift...and in this statement they have recognised EXACTLY what Harjot Oberoi explains 60 years later, which is the ideological underpinning of the Singh Sabha and Akalis being a clear break from those traditions and traditional indian models of thought.

Yet on the other hand you had Nirmalay like Mahant Mul Singh and more interestingly Sant Tehil Singh of Tarn Taran who took part in the initial Akali morchas specifically in the Nankana incident. Sant Tehil Singh writes in one of his granths a long list of the various numerous sikh samprdais, bhakti movement, Sufi, Sanyasi, even Sikh sects and Singh Sabha all having gyan in various forms...and yet the Akalis have no clue! He was shocked not only at their total ignorance of Gurmat, but their arrogance in rejecting essential components of it. He bases this on the fact that he spent a long time as the granthi on that Nankana Sahib Akali morcha that I forget the name of. Based on this he is driven to write a granth exlaining the various components of Gurmat sidhant using Gurbani taks.

* its also worth mentioning that the bolshevik revolution in russia was a big source of inspiration for the early akalis, enough for the British to suspect they would have a hand in the rumoured russian invasion in the later 1920s. the early akalis had formed close links with the punjab communist party, to the extent that Bhai Santokh Singh (is that his name, I forget) who having returned from Soviet russia at this time to set up the punjab communist party was invited to stay at Khalsa College where he raised a red communist flag! In his communist journal Master Tara Singh contributed an article on Bolshevik propoganda in India that was warmly appreciated by Punjabi communists. Later they split when the no God thing came through strongly from the communists. The point here is that their must have been a partly political interpretation to the need for Akalis to take over various shrines and ashrams...a removal of the prevailing ideology and culture upheld by the religious establishment as taken from the soviet mold.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...