Khalsa : Akal Purakh ki Fauj
by Verpal Singh
[Paper presented at Annual Seminar of Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh held in 1998. It was later published in the compilation under title “Khalsa & the Twenty-first Century”, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 1999, Pp. 65-72]
According to the definitions prevalent, there are two types of Sikhs — those who are initiated and those who are not. The former are called amritdhari and the latter sehajdhari. But some say there are three types of Sikhs — amritdhari, keshadhari and sehajdhari. A keshadhari Sikh is described by them as a Sikh who sports a turban and a beard (whether the beard is trimmed or untrimmed is not important) but is not initiated through amrit, and hence is not bound to observe the sanctity and discipline of the five Ks. The sehajdhari is described as that Sikh who bows to Guru Granth Sahib, and that is all he is required to do to be called a Sikh, though he might be with a clean-shaven face and depilated head, a chain smoker even and bowing to the idols of mythical gods etc., etc., but if he bows to Guru Granth Sahib, then, according to these people, he should be considered a Sikh.
The question is which of these two categorisations is right ? The one which divides the Sikhs into three types is obviously too irrational to be accepted and the reasons for this rejection are listed in Guru Granth Sahib. But it is the categorisation which divides the Sikhs into two types that needs to be debated. Compare this classification with the theme of this seminar — Khalsa : Fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s Mission. If this classification is true, then there are two types of Sikhs — the Khalsa and the non-Khalsa. And if this be so, then there are Sikhs of Guru Nanak (the non-Khalsa) and the Sikhs of Guru Gobind Singh (the Khalsa), which means that Khalsa is not the fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission. And if Khalsa is the fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission, then there has to be only one class of Sikhs — the Khalsa; which means that all those who are not amrit-initiated cannot be considered Sikhs at all (just as those who are not turbaned and bearded cannot be considered Sikhs according to the first classification). So now we have three classifications of Sikhs — the first one describes three types of Sikhs and this classification has already been rejected; the second describes two types of Sikhs which divides Sikhs into Guru Nanak’s and Guru Gobind’s Sikhs without any grounds for such division; and the third describes only one type of Sikhs — the Khalsa.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, we may cite the fact that if a follower of another religion (Christian, or Muslim or Hindu, etc.) wishes to become a Sikh, the only way they can do so is by undergoing amrit-initiation. However, before they take that step, there is a time period where they learn about Sikh worldview, the do’s and don’t’s of a Sikh’s life and which beliefs from their previous belief system (Hindu, Muslim Christian, etc.) they would need to give up. They also learn about other aspects of a Sikh’s daily life, which are guided by Gurbani. During this period, they cannot be termed as “Sikhs” but they are also not Muslim or Christian or Hindu or followers of any other religion. It is to describe this state that the term “Sehajdhari” came into being. Thus Sehajdhari is not a static category, but comprises those who have not formally declared themselves to be Sikhs, and are on their way to doing so.
It shall be the endeavour of this paper to prove beyond any doubt that in reality there is only one type of Sikhs — the Khalsa — and none else. And my approach will not be based solely on Gurbani’s evidence (which is there for everyone to see), but also on evidence of logical deduction. I shall start with a principle listed in Gurbani.
Guru Nanak in his bani has emphasised again and again that there is only one teacher (he calls Him the True Teacher) in this whole creation — God Himself. And he says that one can learn from Him through observing and pondering. He describes what is happening around us as the lessons created by Him to teach us how this creation of His is working and thus to give us an idea of what is His Hukam which we must obey to become sachiar. Gurbani also tells us (as does history) that Guru Nanak did not have another man as his Guru. His Guru was God Himself.
So the question arises — if Guru Nanak had no human as his Guru, then who was he answerable to ? He had already proved that he was not answerable to any religion when he had refused to follow the religious practices of Hindus and Muslims. Obviously, Guru Nanak was answerable only to God whose Hukam he followed. He neither accepted the authority of the Brahmin nor of the Qazi. He was neither bound by the rules of the government of the day nor by the society’s. He obeyed only the Hukam of God and to do so he was ready to die, which he clearly proclaimed in his bani. He says that if someone wants to play the game of God’s love, then it must be played with readiness to die in one’s heart, because once one starts obeying His Hukam, dying in defence of that right (to obey His Hukam only and none else’s) brooks no two thoughts (and no place for dithering).
Thus, it becomes clear that Guru Nanak obeyed no one but God’s Hukam, and was answerable only to Him.
Now, what is the definition of Khalsa ? A person who is answerable to no one but God : A person who obeys only His Hukam and no one else’s ! And thus it can now be stated unequivocally that Guru Nanak was a Khalsa. Furthermore, whenever an heir took over, the previous Guru bowed to the new Guru. When Guru Angad was given the Guruship, Guru Nanak bowed to him and this practice was followed by all the Gurus (even the tenth Guru bowed to the Panj Piarey). This practice was not without significance. Though Guru Nanak learnt only from God, he taught his disciples what he learnt from Him and he also taught them to directly learn from Him. (wzB? so? sko/ r[o[ f;y ..). So when Guru Nanak annointed Bhai Lehna as Guru Angad Dev, he gave all that he had learnt from Him and had written down as Bani, to Guru Angad Dev and by bowing to him declared that he had nothing more to teach him. Whatever he wanted to learn, he (Guru Angad) would, then onwards, do so directly from Him. Thus, Guru Angad was to obey no one but God. This turned him into a Khalsa. The same practice (of the previous Guru bowing to the next Guru) having been followed by all the succeeding Gurus, gives us indisputable proof that all the Sikh Gurus were Khalsa.
This begs the question — Why was it that the tenth Guru institutionalised Khalsa on Visakhi of 1699, and not Guru Nanak himself ? We will find the answer to this question presently, but first let us answer another question — Why did Guru Nanak designate an heir ?
If we take a close look, we find that both these questions address the same thing. If there had been no heir, then Guru Nanak could himself have institutionalised the Khalsa. Why was it that Guru Nanak declared only one person (Guru Angad) as the Khalsa after him and not all his disciples, as Guru Gobind Singh did in 1699 ? The answers to these questions are to be found in the social structure and the history of those times.
We start with the fact that if the bani of Bhagats had not been included in Guru Granth Sahib, then almost all of it would have been lost to humanity. The reasons for this are not far to seek. All the Bhagats advocated a life which envisaged no one between man and God. But this directly threatened the position of the Brahmin. To safeguard his position, the Brahmin did everything to make people forget about the existence of these Bhagats or tried to claim them for Hinduism. (Even today the efforts to declare Bhagat Kabir a Hindu continue. The Brahmin cannot accept that these Bhagats had another, or no religion, because that would mean that their followers would not be called Hindu. And this would mean that the sphere of influence of the Brahmin would be reduced). Many of the Bhagats lived before Guru Nanak’s journey into Tibet where he met the Buddhists and must have compared their lot with Buddhism in India. Again he must have clearly seen the role which Brahmins played in destroying Buddhism which did not recognise their self-proclaimed supremacy in the social hierarchy. Furthermore, being born into a Hindu family, he had first-hand experience of the hold which Brahmin exercised on the common man. And having defied the Brahmin at every step of his life, he saw the consequences of his defiance for his family members against whom the Brahmin arrayed the whole community. (That the disciples of Guru Nanak were obeying him only to an extent is evident from the fact that some of them went to Birbal in the time of the third Guru to complain against the order that everyone who wished to meet the Guru must first partake of langar which meant ignoring caste distinctions.) Thus, it is obvious that though there were thousands who listened to what Guru Nanak had to say, yet they were not all obeying him about removing caste distinctions, about sporting unshorn hair, about not following the rituals which brought them under the vice-like control of the Brahmin, about not believing in mythical gods and goddesses, but in Waheguru.
When we compare this to the situation in Guru Gobind Singh’s time, then we realise the difference. People were afraid to ignore the caste distinctions in Guru Nanak’s time because this meant excommunication of their whole clan. But by the time of Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs had established themselves into a separate community which removed the danger of excommunication for not obeying the Brahminic rules. Excommunication in the time of Guru Nanak meant that the children of those excommunicated would find it difficult to get married and to beat the social ostracisation. But this problem had been solved by the time of Guru Gobind Singh as there were enough Sikhs to enable marriages taking place within the community and Sikhs being a separate community, ostracisation had lost all meaning. Also, to be a Khalsa, it was required that one should have enough erudition, enough scholarship to ponder His Reality and to compare it with the logic (if any) of the rituals advocated by the Brahmins (or the clergy in general) so as to defeat their designs at a scholarly level. This too needed time and by the time of Guru Gobind Singh, such a level of scholarship and erudition had been achieved amongst the Sikhs.
Lastly, Guru Nanak saw that the common man was too frightened of the government authority. As long as man feared the authority of another man, he could not be made to disobey any order which went against His Hukam. Add to this the fear in the common man’s mind, of the consequences of disobeying the dictates of the clergy and we see that it was nearly impossible for Guru Nanak to bring out the Khalsa in the common man in his own life time. But by the time of Guru Gobind Singh, a Sikh had learnt to stand up to the Government’s authority (and win, as was done under the command of Guru Hargobind by defeating the Government forces in armed combat), and thus could refuse to obey any order of the Government which went against God’s Hukam. Furthermore, they (the Sikhs) had enough erudition to realise that by disobeying the Brahmin (or the clergy in general) and by refusing to accept the existence of mythical gods (or concepts like sin or heaven and hell), they were in fact doing something right, not wrong.
Thus, it was in Guru Gobind Singh’s time that Khalsa was institutionalised and not in the time of Guru Nanak himself. The reasons behind the endeavour of Guru Nanak to bring out the Khalsa in everyone are not far to seek. In his bani, Guru Nanak says that man can communicate with God through the language of love, that is by loving His creation. But he saw that love and compassion are not mere feelings, these have to be borne out by actions. And he saw that love and compassion demanded that the lot of the common man be improved. This could be done only by removing the influence of the clergy (Brahmin/Qazi).
Furthermore, he saw that disobeyance of His Hukam over centuries had wrought nothing but misery for man. He saw that the only way to remove man’s misery was to bring him back to the way of life which moves by obeying His Hukam. This could be done by removing the influence of the clergy and by removing the fear of human authority. All this had been achieved by the time of Guru Gobind Singh. Let me illustrate how these aims were achieved by the successor Gurus after Guru Nanak.
The second Guru popularised the Gurmukhi script. The reasons behind it seem to have been two. One, anything written in the script of devas (devnagari) could be claimed by the Brahmin as his domain, and anything written in the Arabic script could be associated with the Muslims. But the second reason is the more important one. We need to keep in mind that the devnagari script could be learnt only from the Brahmin, (Guru Nanak himself learnt it from his Brahmin teacher, and the Sudras could never have hoped to learn it, as the Brahmin was the pillar on which the edifice of untouchability stood) which meant that Sudras could never have been able to read Gurbani written in devnagari script. Also the contact language of the common man was not Sanskrit or Hindi, but Punjabi, and Punjabi written in devnagari script and read in the same script would have gradually acquired a different colour. And thus, every subsequent copy of bani would have been more and more Hindi-ised (and perhaps Brahminised). (In the same way, anything written in the Arabic script would have made the Sikhs dependent on Qazis to learn to read that and this would have meant that the Qazis could refuse to teach the Sikhs the knowledge of the script on the pretext that Gurbani spoke against Islamic tenets.) This would have taken the bani away from the common people who were refused the knowledge of the script by the Brahmin. To overcome this problem, the second Guru propagated the Gurmukhi script, propagation of which the Sikhs controlled.
Now the Sikhs could learn to read and write Punjabi language independent of the clergy. This brought bani within reach of even the so-called Sudras. Furthermore, if the Brahmin (or the clergy in general) now wanted to tinker with Gurbani, they had to first learn the script from the Sikhs themselves thus bringing them to the attention of the Sikhs. (When kachi bani was sought to be passed off as Gurbani, this fact must have helped a great deal).
The third Guru, by making it compulsory for every Sikh to first partake of langar and only then meet him, destroyed the caste distinction from the eating habits of the Sikhs. It was only after this that upper-caste Hindus who thought themselves to be Sikhs (as also those who were masquerading as Sikhs to destroy Sikhism from within — another method used by Brahmin to destroy Buddhism or to control Islamic rulers) approached well-placed Brahmins like Birbal to sabotage the institution of langar. Thus, Guru Amar Das, by making partaking of langar compulsory, culled out those elements who acted like Sikhs outwardly, but observed all the Hindu rituals at home. (This became possible because once the upper-caste Hindu had shared his food with a Sudra, he could no longer hope to ‘purify’ himself by a bath in the holy water. This left him no option but either to truly become a Sikh or leave). Guru Amar Das by warning the Sikhs about the dangers of kachi bani pre-empted the designs of the Brahmin to destroy the sanctity of Gurbani, and thus foiled the Brahminic designs.
The fourth Guru took the concept of baoli, brought forth by the third Guru, still further and laid the foundation of the pool at Amritsar where it was made necessary for Sikhs to share their bath with the Sudras thus destroying the caste distinction in the use of water (along with the langar destroying this distinction in eating habits). It seems that the custom of taking a palm full of water out of the pool and drinking it was meant to make Sikhs share the village well with all, without any distinction of caste. The fourth Guru, by devising the ceremony of Anand Karaj for the marriage of Sikhs, took the marriage out of the influence of the clergy thus further reducing its role.
The fifth Guru, by compiling Adi Granth took the bani forever out of the reach of the clergy (the Pandits and the Mullahs, and later the Christian missionaries like Trumpp & McLeod). By building Harmandar Sahib, he stopped the Sikhs from going to Hindu temples and Muslim mosques and instead gave them a place of their own, where they could listen to Gurbani and participate in prayers. In temples, Sudras could not hope to enter, nor could a non-Hindu. In mosques, no non-Muslim was allowed. But at Harmandar Sahib everyone was welcome without any distinction of caste and creed, thus removing one more area of caste and creed distinction from the life of a Sikh. By refusing to accept the authority of any so-called Emperor and preferring to embrace death, the fifth Nanak proved that a Khalsa accepts only the authority of God and none else, even if he has to die for it.
The sixth Guru took on the armed might of the government authority for the first time. Till then, armed fighting was thought to be the domain of the Mughals (who thought that there were no greater warriors than themselves) and the Khatris (who were the traditional Hindu warriors thinking no one their equal). But Guru Hargobind took on these warriors with the army of common people (which included men of every caste) and won. This removed any fear of the government authority and any illusion of no one being able to equal the Khatri or Mughal in fighting. Thus, the Sikhs learnt that they could fight against the tyranny of anyone. Furthermore, they learnt that if anyone tries to force them into obeying an order which went against His Hukam they could confront such a person (or authority) through armed means. If someone could use might to make people act against His Hukam, then the Sikhs were ready to use might to stop such a person. But this left it to the individual to decide whether he wanted to work according to the Hukam or against it.
Who could have imagined it in Guru Nanak’s time that the artisans, the farmers, the Sudras, would pick up weapons and defeat an army of Mughal and Khatri warriors ?
The seventh Guru showed that the loyalty of the Sikhs was to the Hukam. If one did not show this loyalty, then he was to be scorned and excommunicated (meaning he could no longer be considered a Sikh). Thus, when the eldest son of the Guru went to the court of the Mughal emperor and fearing the displeasure of the emperor lied about the debunkment of a Muslim ritual in Gurbani, the seventh Guru banished him for life, never to see him again. By refusing to obey the summons of Aurangzeb, he again asserted his Khalsa status — that he was not answerable to any worldly patshah, only Sacha Patshah.
The eighth Guru illustrated the truth of Guru Nanak’s statement that there is no minimum age for starting to obey His Hukam, that God ordains everyone to obey the Hukam the moment a being comes into existence (j[efw oikJh ubDk BkBe fbfynk Bkfb ..). Thus, though the eighth Guru died at the age of eight years, he lived and acted according to his Hukam, setting an example for young Sikh children, which was later emulated by the younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh.
The ninth Guru, by sacrificing his life, confirmed that a Sikh was meant to oppose an injustice because it is an injustice and not because of who it is being perpetrated against. And by sacrificing his life for persecuted Brahmins, he also made it clear that the Sikh opposition to them was not based on their caste, but was limited only to what Brahmins propagated. Otherwise a Brahmin was as much a creature of God as, say, a Sudra.
By the time the tenth Guru arrived on the scene, the stage was set for the proclamation of the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh further tested the fighting skills of the Sikhs and their disregard of any caste-distinction in the battlefield [except two battles, all the battles the Sikhs fought took place before 1699], and then on Visakhi of 1699, chose the five Beloved Ones and bowed to them, thus making the Hukam the only authority to which a Sikh was answerable.
Thus Khalsa, an ideal human, came into being. Khalsa did not depend upon the Brahmins for his scholarship and could meet them at their own level. Khalsa did not depend on the Khatri for his warrior skills, Khalsa did not depend on the business skills of the Vaish or the artistic skills of the artisan, or farmer to earn his livelihood. He could deal with a businessman, had the skills of the artisan, could farm the lands and thus depended on no one. (We have the example of Makhann Shah as a businessman, Guru Nanak as a farmer in his later years, and Guru Hargobind as an artisan in building the Akal Takht to illustrate this point.) The humility which Khalsa sought by choice was thought to be the domain of the Sudras. But Sudras thought the humbleness of their position was a result of their sins of previous birth (another lie propagated by the Brahmin) while the Khalsa sought humility so as never to forget the reality of God in the enjoyment of material wealth or temporal power. Similarly, Khalsa was outside the pale of the Qazis’ influence as well.
Khalsa, the ideal human being, thus was the result of Guru Nanak’s philosophy. According to Colonel Amrik Singh, “The creation of the Khalsa is in fact only one part of Guru Nanak’s mission. The other part of the mission is described in the line, Khalsa Akal Purakh ki Fauj, Khalsa is the army of God. And like any other army, Khalsa serves its Master — Waheguru. So Khalsa came into being to defend the Hukam of God. First and foremost part of the duties of the Khalsa is sarbat da bhala.”
Khalsa works for the betterment of the whole of God’s creation. And this is also an unquestionable fact that if one works in harmony with His Hukam the consequences of these harmonious actions will be in the direction of sarbat da bhala. Defending God’s Hukam and working for the betterment of humanity are the two faces of the same coin. And this, according to Colonel Amrik Singh, makes us understand the mission of Guru Nanak. He created the instrument through which the goal of sarbat da bhala is to be achieved.
On Vaisakhi day of 1699, the instrument came into being. It took more than two hundred years to achieve this. It will now be three hundred years on April 14, 1999, that this instrument has been in operation, and it is time that we reviewed our progress regarding the fulfilment of the mission for which we came into being.
To sum up, it seems that it is time we corrected our course and speeded up the pace of our progress in fulfilling the mission which the Gurus set for us. Let us begin with keeping the mission in sight and graduate to acting for its achievement. Only then will there really be the fulfilment of Guru Nanak’s mission.