INTRODUCING THE SIKH THOUGHT
The theme of our conversation today is ‘How to achieve world peace’ and the solutions that world’s major faiths offer to the ailments of our society. I am privileged to present to you what I sense as the Sikh perspective on some aspects of this very complex and difficult subject.
Let me first introduce you to some aspects of Sikh thought germane to our discussion this evening. Basically it is founded on the premise that a Sikh has to live life as a responsible householder who copes with the alluring as well as grim realities of human existence and renunciation, withdrawal, celibacy, austerities are non-options. Sikhs are prodded to look at problems confronting pursuit of virtuous living and comments on the desiderata for social order, though dispersed are clear and direct in the scripture.
Equality is an important plank of Sikh thought on social order. Sikhs do not seek equality the way economic or political theorists may do. They believe that some inequalities and differences are inherent in the Divine dispensation but we must not treat others as inferior because they are under privileged, women, poor et al.
Those in leadership role must be held accountable. Their decisions, made after thorough deliberation, should be able to withstand moral scrutiny, tests for justice and equitability.
Put simply Sikhs expect each one to be able to enjoy the gift of life and carve their own destiny. They want to achieve it without violence or intimidation and shunning revenge. At the same time they pray for the boon not to shy away from righteous action — to be determined to right the wrongs, fight to win.
Guru Arjun has talked about a vision of an ideal society and called it halemi raj – ruling through humility and modesty. In a mystical metaphor he says ‘I heard of the Guru, and so I went to him. I fell at his feet to please and appease him. The true Guru was kind to instill in me the virtues of prayer, charity and inner cleansing. This transformed me to recognize only the One Lord and who now is my dearest love, dearer than my parents, family and friends.
The Lord has assigned me the task to challenge and overcome the five evil instincts. With His grace I prepare to wrestle these five enemies. Ready, I tie a tall, plumed turban as I come to the arena where all have gathered to watch the contest. The merciful Lord also is seated there to behold it. Bugles play and drums beat. The five wrestlers enter the arena and they circle around as I engage them. I throw the five challengers to the ground, and having won, the Guru gives me a pat on the back. In the Guru’s Court, God has blessed me with the Robe of Honor.
So strengthened and with the hand of true Guru upon my forehead I proceed to establish dharamsal rooted in truth. I seek out Guru’s Sikhs, and bring them into it. I wash their feet, wave fan over them and bowing low, I prostrate before them. Drawing deep on my faith in God I beseech His acceptance and guidance. Softly and gently, droplets of divine nectar trickle down. I speak as my Lord causes me to speak. The Merciful Lord has now conveyed His command that let no one chase after and attack anyone else and let every one abide in peace. Let this – halemi raj – benevolent, humble and modest rule prevail.
Let us remember that we all who have come to be together in our lives on this earth, each of us shall return home by a different route. The God oriented gurmukhs will reap profit while the self-willed manmukhs will lose their investment and depart. For me, the Guru has cut away my bonds and I shall not have to dance in the wrestling arena of life again. Embarked upon this boat of Truth I am united with the Primal Being and liberated.”
Truth is the dharma and foundational principle of this society – its inner working clean and trustworthy; not oppressive, coercive or degrading of the dignity of the individual.
Those who lead seek guidance from a mentor of impeccable credentials – recognized as worthy of mentoring. They give up their evil propensities and demonstrate fitness by undergoing a rigorous, transparent test – like a wrestling bout.
The leader or the ruler seeks out those who can make this realm a better place and tries to persuade them to come and be a part of it. He treats them with great respect and ensures that their needs and their comforts are taken care of [Gursikhs and their treatment]. These people become the pace setters, examples, role models as well as mentors for others to be better citizens.
Humility in dealing with the populace by the ruling elite defines the way such a State is governed. With this at the core of its governance policy regulation is accomplished only through persuasion and consensus using a participative mode. Implicitly it means that people are treated as co-equals [siblings of destiny] and both sides recognize that their interests and pursuits are shared.
Humility is not to be read as a sign of weakness or lack of resolve. On the contrary it is only the strong that can really be humble without being servile or cringing. It is a choice of behavior, made and lived only through deep deliberation.
READING INTO BABARBANI
There is a group of compositions by Nanak generally referred to as Babarvani. Historical evidence supports Nanak being an eyewitness to the ravages caused during the repeated invasions by Babur. These compositions, dispersed in the Granth, reflect on the several issues that bear on what we are discussing.
In Asa, he says, ‘having brought Khurasan under His protection God dispatched terror to Hindustan. The Creator sent the Mugal as messenger of death Himself but does not take the blame. When there was so much slaughter that people screamed, did You not feel any compassion? You are the Master of all, O Creator Lord. If the powerful strike out against powerful, then it may not cause grief to any one. But if a ravenous tiger attacks a flock of sheep and kills them, then its master must answer. This priceless country has been laid to waste and defiled by dogs. — One may assume a great name, and revel in the pleasures of the mind, but in the eyes of the Lord and Master, he is just a worm, for all the corn that he eats.”
Guru Nanak has vividly described the excesses of Babar’s soldiers during the conflict at Eminabad in his third invasion; saying, “heads adorned with braided hair, their parts painted with vermilion were shaved with scissors — When they were married, they came in palanquins, decorated with ivory; water was sprinkled over their heads, and glittering fans were waved above them. They were given hundreds of thousands of coins when they sat, and hundreds of thousands of coins when they stood. They ate coconuts and dates, and rested comfortably upon their beds. But ropes were put around their necks, and their strings of pearls were broken. Their wealth, youth and beauty that gave them so much pleasure, now became their enemies. The order was given to soldiers, who dishonored them, and carried them away. If it is pleasing to God’s Will, He bestows greatness; if is pleases His Will, He bestows punishment. If someone focuses on the Lord beforehand, then why should he be punished? The kings had lost their higher consciousness, reveling in pleasure and sensuality. — Whatever pleases Him, comes to pass. O Nanak, what is the fate of mankind?”
Continuing he questions, “Where are the games, the stables, and the horses? Where are the drums and the bugles? Where are the sword-belts and chariots? Where are those scarlet uniforms? Where are the rings and the beautiful faces? — Where are the houses, the gates, the hotels and palaces? Where are those beautiful way stations? Where are those beautiful women, reclining on their beds, whose beauty would not allow one to sleep? Where are those betel leaves, their sellers, and the harem? They have vanished like shadows. The invader burned the rest houses and ancient temples; he cut princes limb from limb, and cast them into dust. For the sake of this wealth, so many were ruined; because of this wealth, so many have been disgraced. It was not gathered without sin, and it does not go along with the dead. The Creator Lord first strips of virtue those He would rather destroy. Countless religious leaders failed to halt the invader; none of the Mughals went blind nor did any miracle happen. — The Creator Himself acts, and causes others to act. Unto whom should we complain? Pleasure and pain come by Your Will; unto whom should we go and cry? The Commander issues His Command, and is pleased. O Nanak, we receive what is written in our destiny.”
Clearly Guru Nanak in all his utterances above is raising our consciousness about ills of the society. We must be watchful of corrupt and capricious governance and must not let people’s trust be violated. We must pull together if an avaricious foreign force wants to subdue us for when they violate what we hold inviolate they may not distinguish between Hindu and Muslim, Rajput or Bhatti.
Nanak’s empathy with the poor, suffering innocent men and women comes out strongly. When the powerful fall upon and kill the weak their master must be held to answer. He is condemnatory of greed and pleasure seeking ways of people and deprecates strongly the loss of higher consciousness by the ruling elite and their failure to protect the country. It must not escape our attention that Nanak has ridiculed the attempt to cast spells on and fight the invaders by using miracles. The message that one reads is that if you suffer an armed attack you must defend in a manner to match the invader. Protection of people is your responsibility. You cannot and must not shirk it.
Nanak is critical of rulers for their inaptness but seeing the rape and ravine indulged in by the invaders asks ‘Where can one go – God who attached mortals to all these allurements, sits alone and watches on’ and chides God for not showing compassion for the suffering. Even though unsaid, his answer is obvious – it is for us all individually and collectively, to resist what may ail the society. Hypocrisy and naiveté is no help. Mere self-image and vain visions of power are meaningless for in the eyes of God the mighty are no more than mere worms. Rise therefore above temptation and motivate others to do so, so that you do not invite the wrath of God.
GURU GOBIND SINGH’s PERSPECTIVE
In the course of the battle he says ‘filled with rage Hari Chand drew out his bow and shot his arrow which struck my horse. He aimed and shot the second arrow towards me but Lord protected me and his arrow only grazed my ear. Again the Lord saved his servant when his third arrow penetrated deep into the buckle of my waist-belt. Its edge touched my body, but did not cause a wound. When the edge of the arrow touched my body, it kindled my resentment. I raised the bow, aimed the arrow on a warrior, shot the arrow and killed him. When a volley of arrows was showered all the warriors fled. Hari Chand was killed and his brave soldiers were trampled. Filled with fear all the hill-men fled from the battlefield. I gained victory through the favor of the Eternal One’.
Bhim Chand called me for assistance and he went to prepare their arrows and guns and fight — Rajputs of the tribes of Nanglua and Panglu advanced along with the soldiers of Jaswar and Guler. Great warrior Dayal saved the honor of the people of Bijharwal and also joined the battle. Then this lowly person (the Guru) took his gun, aimed unerringly at one of the chiefs and fired. He reeled and fell to the ground but even then he thundered in anger. I then threw away the gun, took arrows in my hand and shot four of them. Another three I discharged with my left hand, whether they struck anybody, I do not know. Then the Lord brought end to the fight as the enemy was driven out into the river.’
About end to the conflict the Guru says ‘Alif Khan fled away leaving back his belongings. All the other warriors also did not stay and were gone. I remained there on the bank of the river for eight more days and visited the palaces of all the chiefs. Then I took leave and came home, they went there to settle the terms of peace. Both the parties made an agreement.’
He says ‘the heroes form my side thundered and the blood thirsty Khans fled away without using their weapons. —They could not touch me because of the grace of Lord and fled away. They could not do any harm here by His favor but they were filled with great anger and returning plundered and destroyed village Barwa before halting at Bhallon.’
Gopal sued for peace and asked the Guru’s help in negotiating a settlement with Hussain. The Guru sent Sangtia with an escort of seven troopers for the purpose. Hussain demanded ten thousand rupees. Sangatia asked Gopal to promise on oath but they could not reach any settlement and a battle ensued in which Hussain, Kirpal and Guru’s envoy Sangtia and his seven troopers were all killed. Raja Gopal was victorious. The Guru’s comment at the end of this conflict was ‘the victory was gained and the battle ended. All thought of their homes and went back. God protected me from the cloud of battle, which rained elsewhere.
Towards the end of Bachitar Natak the Guru offers a supplication that ‘at all times, the Lord has protected saints, exhibited His marvelous state to them and saved them from all sufferings and He has destroyed all the malevolent and malicious persons, subjecting them to great agony. Considering me as Your servant, You have helped me and protected me with Your own hands.’
We should note here that in the battle of Bhangani the Guru had to fight a group of Rajas including Bhim Chand and in the battle of Nadaun he accepted to support Bhim Chand, whereas some of that Raja’s compatriots helped Alif Khan. In both cases the Guru was on the side defending aggression and against intimidation whether it was by a Hindu or a Muslim chieftain. Bhim Chand again was an adversary of Gopal who sought Guru’s help to conciliate conflict with Hussain.
His conciliatory role and influence is clear from his staying on after the battle of Nadaun and visiting with all the chiefs that eventually helped bring them to a settlement though he does not claim credit for it. He was again asked by Gopal to help and he sent Sangatia to help negotiations with Hussain.
On reading the text one does not fail to notice that he is equally praising of valor whether it is by the enemy or defenders. Witness the lavish praise for Kirpal Chand, the Kangra Chief as a true, valiant Rajput whose bravery was praised in the nine regions of the world – he was ally of Alif Khan. Likewise the Guru praises Hussain, Jujhar Singh, Gopal and so many others for their bravery. His manner of presentation is such as if he is a witness and not a participant to the conflict.
We should also note that he say he was victorious in the battles of Bhangani and Nadaun. We may compare the victory as it is seen in two situations – one over evil instincts as in Guru Arjun’s halemi raj and the other over external threat as in these conflicts. The Guru says in the first case that his defeated adversaries can no more challenge him whereas in the second case there is no claim to an abiding harmony prevailing – only the imminent threat was removed, or contained or defused. In other words individual transformation, if achieved is a victory but at societal level eliminating, suppressing or controlling a threat is a victory too. Societal transformation is a process that takes much longer, even ages.
We will now look at Zafarnama or the Epistle of Victory, a verse in Persian, written in 1706 and addressed to Aurangzeb subsequent to the siege of Anandpur and action at Chamkaur. The composition is a severe indictment of the Emperor and his commanders who had perjured on their oath of providing safe passage to him and his followers. It is reflective and provides a deep insight into the Guru’s thoughts on the conflict, its inherent ethical dilemmas and righteous rulership. To facilitate our understanding I am presenting below the gist of his thoughts. The numbers in parenthesis refer to the verse as numbered in the original text.
One who proclaims to be a true believer and faithful to his faith must demonstrate that his belief is not merely a verbal protestation but also guides his societal behavior. He must not break a promise made in all solemnity. (47) If such a person were to make a swearing declaration on his scripture or give an assurance to another in the name of his beliefs then he must live by it. Having given a sworn solemn undertaking of safe passage he ought not to have pounced on the party assured to kill and imprison them when having left their defenses they were vulnerable. (25) That man is real who says what is in his heart. There is no gap between his speech and intent. (55)
He questions the way force was used by his Commanders and his response saying, ‘what kind of chivalry is this in war that countless hosts should pounce upon just forty of us. (41) I had perforce to join battle with your hosts at that stage and I too fought with the muskets and arrows as best as I could, (21) because when a situation is past every other remedy it is righteous to unsheathe the sword to defend and to dispel the aggressor. (22) I would have had nothing to do with this battle otherwise. (23) But even as we fought we did not hurt or molest those who had not aggressed against us. (28)
The Guru asks what could have been achieved by killing his four tender sons, when he, like a coiled snake remained behind. (78) Bravery does not consist in putting out a few sparks and in the process stir up a fire to rage all the more! (79)
The Guru makes several comments about what a king should or should not do. A king must be cognizant that God could not have wished for him to create strife but instead to promote peace, harmony and tranquility among the people. (65) Nor should the ruler use his strength, power and resources to harass, suppress or deprive the weak. This will only weaken the society, erode his ability to rule effectively and make the State unsafe. (109) He should not recklessly shed blood of others lest heaven’s rage should befall him. (69)
The Guru is unsparing in his indictment of Aurangzeb for his tyranny and lack of religiosity. He says ‘I believe that you know not God, since, from you have come only tyrannous acts. (85) The Beneficent God also will know thee not and will not welcome thee with all thy riches. (86) I will not trust you even for a moment if now you swear a hundred times on the Koran. (87) I will not enter your presence or travel on the same road even if you so ordain. (88) O Aurangzeb, king of kings, you are fortunate, an expert swordsman and a horseman too (89) — ornament of the throne, master of the world, but far from religion! (94)’
In spite of all that happened the Guru is gracious, kind and compassionate and wants the matter to be brought to close without any lingering resentment. He says ‘if only you were gracious enough to come to the village of Kangar, we could then see each other face to face. (58) Come to me so that we may converse with each other, and I may utter some kind words to thee. (60) You are bound, indeed by your word on the Koran, let, therefore, the matter come to a good end, as is your promise. (76) On the way there will be no danger to your life for the whole tribe of Brars accepts my command. (59) I will send thee a horseman like one in a thousand, who will conduct thee, safe to my home. (61)’
Guru’s faith in divine protection and inconsequentiality of human power is complete. He says ‘Beware; the world keeps not faith with any. He who rises also falls and comes to grief. (96) And look also at the miracle that is God; He may destroy a whole host through a single man! (97) He who trusts in an oath on God, God also shows him the path and is his protection in need (43) [for] He rains His mercy on those who act in good faith, (101) blinds the enemy and protects the helpless in time of need from injury and harm. (100) What harm can the enemy do if God is one’s friend? (110) Let them launch a thousand assaults yet they will not be able to touch even a hair on his head. (111) So not a hair of mine was touched nor my body suffered for God, the destroyer of my enemies pulled me out to safety. (44)’
The account of episodes at Anandpur points to intensification of open attacks on the Guru by Hindu Rajas. It also seems that what started out as use of force by Hindu Rajas against the Sikhs turned in no time into a bloody struggle that ended up directing the Sikh ire and sense of righteous indignation against the Muslim ruling elite. The Guru has mentioned in Zafarnama that he too vanquished hill Rajas and that they were idol worshippers to his being an idol breaker [verse 95]. Beyond that there is no mention of Hindus or suggestion of connivance by Hindus in the treachery of false oaths and assurances given to him. The Guru’s reference to idol worship suggests that he saw the Hindu-Sikh divide rooted in religious differences. These differences did cause Hindus to commit aggression agaist the Guru but he did not chastise them as ‘Hindus’ after the battle of Bhangani or the series of attacks launched by them later at Anandpur.
The Guru has also written about the battle of Nadaun that was caused by the enemity that Alif Khan developed against Bhim Chand. He has given account of attempt by Khanzada to attack him at Anandpur. The Guru also penned the story of extortion, plundering, and misadventure by Hussain in graphic detail. He did not approve of their actions but did not characterize their acts as ‘Muslim’ deeds.
On the other hand he characterized the act of recanting an oath on Quran as irreligious and being not a true Muslim [verse 46] and has condemned it as deceit, perjury, and sinful act. The hill Rajas are also said to have recanted on their solemn assurance in the battle of Nirmoh and also at Anandpur but the Guru did not mention anything whatever about their role in the Zafarnama. No doubt the parallel between the two is tenuous it is difficult to infer that the Sikhs developed such negative sentiment against Muslim rulers for their crippling moral failure in this conflict.
A point that may merit further reflection is persistence by the Guru to not withdraw in spite of mounting odds and pressure from his mother and Sikhs during the fifth battle of Anandpur. Later at Chamkaur after his two elder sons were martyred it is said that his ‘expression of mental composure showed glow of divinity upon the glorious end of his sons.’ Was he contemplating the irrevocable play of Divine will? Had he concluded that this was the only possible outcome of this protracted conflict? Was he thinking that this was the way that it should end?
Verses 77 – 80 perhaps offer an explanation. The Guru told Aurangzeb that thoughtless acts of tyranny might stoke fires rather than put out a spark. By their reckless treachery and killing of minor children of the Guru Muslims made the seeds of resistance spread to sprout far and wide. This was no victory for Aurangzeb. It was the beginning of defeat. Sikhs did not forget the winter of 1705. The saga of Chamkaur, Sirhind and Machhiwara became an unforgettable part of the Sikh lore and the spark lighted that cold winter soon turned into a raging fire against Muslim rulers and foreign invaders who tried to intrude into the land of their Gurus.
Sikh thought does reflect on social issues that impact the way we are able to live our lives in quiet enjoyment. There are clear markers that would define an ideal society. We have seen an example in the concept of halemi raj. The Gurus persuade Sikhs to be aware of ills that pervade our lives and work diligently to overcome them in their personal conduct and help protect the weak and vulnerable from becoming their victims. This task has to be done by the members of the society and while prayer helps, to depend on miracles and charms is futile.
Resistance must be offered to what is evil. Differences out of varying religious beliefs are not seen as evil. The uses of religion to mislead, cheat, deceive or to gain advantage by a subterfuge using pious credentials is sinful and evil. Problems must be resolved without recourse to use of force but if all else fails then force may be used as a last resort.
In resistive struggle against our personal infirmities victory is achieved when we are able to overcome our weakness [es]. This is hard but if such transformation comes about it is cause for being satisfied and should be an inspiration to motivate one toward larger social good. This struggle is bereft of violence.
At societal level it could be a victory if an imminent conflict is averted. Transformation of societies is a tenuous process. It is gradual and neither persuasion nor violent methods can assure abiding change. It may in certain situations take supreme sacrifices to arouse people’s consciousness and to shake them into recognition of their societal ills and start working to eradicate them.
There are clear and strong markers to remind us of our need to be vigilant and resist what are not righteous. Symbols, rituals and artifacts surrounding religious observances do not let Sikh sense of social responsibility easily suffer dilution and help in transmission of these underlying values.
The contours of Sikh resistance, its scriptural basis, the way Gurus responses influenced and defined it should be evident from our discussion. Further work will be needed to construct a paradigm, deconstruct it and see if it stands up to a validating enquiry. That work I hope to be able to present at a later time.
The Sikh resistance to my mind draws inspiration from resolute espousal of compassion for all. If it needs recourse to use of force to defend righteous values as a last resort when all else has failed, so be it. That is not being militant. Is it?
 Haroochand kope kamaanang sanbhaarang Pratham baajooyang taan baanang prahaarang Dutooyataak kai toor mo kau chalaayang Rakhio daoov mai kaan chhvai kai sidhaayang Tritooya baan maariyo su petoo majhaarang Bidhiang chilkatang duaal paarang padhaarang Chubhi chinch charamang kachhoo ghaae na aayang Kalang kevalang jaan daasang bachaayang Jabai baan laagyo Tabai ros jaagyo Karang lai kamaanang Hanang baan taanang Sabai boor dhaae Saroghang chalaae Tabai taak(i) baanang Hanyo ek juaanang Haroochand mare Su jodhaa lataare Su Kaaro’-raayang Vahai kaal ghaayan Ranang tiaag(i) bhaage Sabai traas page Bhaoo joot meroo Kripaa kaal keroo – Dasam Granth, p. 148
 Bahut kaal eh bhaant(i) bitaayo Mooaan Khaan janmoo kah aayo Alaf Khaan Naadaun pathaavaa Bhoomchand tan bair ba’haavaa Juddh kaaj nrip hamai bulaayo aap(i) tavan koo or sidhaayo Tin kath ga Navras par baandhyo Toor tuphang naresan saadhyo — Chale Naangloo Paangloo vedolang Jasvaare Gulere chale baandh tolang Tahaan ek baajio mahaan boor Diaalang Rakhoo laaj jaune sabhai Bijha’vaalang Tavang koot tau lau tuphangang sanbhaaro Hridai ek raavant ke takk(i) maaro Girio jhoom bhoomai kariyo judh suddhang Taoo maar(i) boliyo mahaa maan(i) kruddhang Tajiyo tupakang baan paanang sanbhaare Chatur baanyang lai su sabhiyang prahaare Triyo baan lai baam paanang chalaae Lage yaa lage na kachhoo jaan(i) paae So tau lau daoov jdh koono ujhaarang Tinai khed kai baar(i) ke booch aarang – Dasam Granth, p. 150—52
 Bhajio alaf khaanang na khaanaa sanbhaario Bhaje aur boorang na dhoorang bichaario Nadoo pai dinanaang ast koone mukaamang Bhaloo bhaant(i) dekhe sabai raaj dhaamang It ham hoe bidaa ghar aae Sulah namit vai utah(i) sidhaae sandh(i) inai un kai sang(i) kaoo – Dasam Granth, p. 153
 Ite boor gajje bhae naad bhaare Bhaje Khaan khoonoo binaa sastra jhaare — Barvaa gaaon ujaar kai kare mukaam Bhalaan Prabh bal hamai na chhue sakai bhaajat bhae nidaan Tah bal oohaa na par sakai Barvaa hanaa risaae – Dasam Granth, p. 155
 Joot bhaoo ran bhayo ujhaaraa Simrit(i) kar(i) sabh gharo sidhaaraa Raakh(i) looyo ham ko jagraaoo Loh ghataa antaoo barsaaoo – Dasam Granth, p. 166
 Sarab kaal sabh saadh ubaare Dukh(u) dai kai dokhoo sabh mare Adbhut(i) gat(i) bhagtan dikhraai Sabh sankat te lae bachaaoo Sabh sankat te sant bachaae Sabh kantak kantak jim ghaae Daas jaan muh(i) karoo sahaae aap haath dai layo bachaae – Dasam Granth, p. 174
 For full text see Dasam Granth, Chapter 14, pp. 2263-72
 Gateway to Sikhism, Life of Guru Gobind Singh, Battle of Chamkaur