Wednesday, May 30

Community of differences

Historically, there has been conflict between mainstream Sikhism and its breakaway groups. Politics of the day heightens the tensions, writes eminent historian Dr. J.S.Grewal
Historically, a number of groups emerged from time to time in opposition to the mainstream Sikhs. The first was headed by Sri Chand, the elder son of Guru Nanak. He did not acknowledge Guru Angad as the only successor of Guru Nanak, and his followers, known as Udasis, were renunciants. They remained on the periphery of the Sikh community which consisted of householders.The sons of Guru Angad, who did not recognise Guru Amar Das, and the sons of Guru Amar Das, who did not recognise Guru Ram Das, did not succeed in forming any important group. The eldest son of Guru Ram Das, Prithi Chand, offered a protracted opposition to his younger brother Guru Arjan; he refused to acknowledge Guru Hargobind, claimed to be the sixth Guru, starting a new line. His successors remained in occupation of Ramdaspur (Amritsar) in the 17th century. They were denounced by Bhai Gurdas as minas, or dissemblers, who stood in opposition to the true Guru.Similarly Dhir Mal refused to acknowledge his younger brother Guru Har Rai and started a new line at Kartarpur in the Jalandhar Doab. Ram Rai refused to acknowledge his younger brother Guru Har Krishan and established his own gaddi at Dehra Dun. These dissenting groups acquired added importance because of the politicisation of the Sikh community after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan in 1606.Birth of the KhalsaGuru Gobind Singh instituted the Khalsa in 1699 as a political community and excommunicated all the dissenting groups. The Khalsa were not to have any association with the followers of Prithi Chand, Dhir Mal and Ram Rai. The Khalsa alone were the true Sikhs for Guru Gobind Singh. They believed in the ten Gurus. A day before his demise in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh declared that Guruship henceforth was vested in the Khalsa and Gurbani. The Guruship of the Panth and the Granth became the established doctrines of the Khalsa.The keshdhari Singhs, who represented the central stream of the Khalsa, were also the most numerous among the Sikhs by the early 19th century. However, there were also the sahajdharis who believed in the ten Gurus and the Guruship of the Granth. They were not keshdhari, but they were seen as an integral part of the Khalsa in the 18th century. Then there were several categories of Udasis, and the descendants or successors of Prithi Chand, Dhir Mal and Ram Rai, and their followers. They were all patronised by the Sikh rulers.Some new groups had appeared on the scene, the Nirankaris, Namdharis and Nirmalas. The first two were sahajdhari and they subscribed to the doctrine of Guru Granth. The Adi Granth served as the basis of their beliefs and practices. The Nirmalas were Singhs who subscribed to doctrines of Guru Panth and Guru Granth, but gave Vedantic interpretation of Gurbani, like the Udasis. Like them, again, they set up deras and remained celibate.Sharpening of identitiesUnder colonial rule there was an overall sharpening of identities. The Singh Sabha Movement stood for Singh identity, the doctrines of Guru Granth and Guru Panth, the Khalsa rahit, and the gurdwara as the Sikh sacred space. Sikh scholars tried to give a systematic exposition of Sikh faith and the Sikh tradition, and Singh reformers accepted western science and technology and western education. The Singh leaders demanded that the management of the historic Sikh gurdwaras should be vested with the representatives of the Singhs. The Akali Movement resulted in the formation of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee as a statutory body. The SGPC defined Sikh beliefs and practices and appointed the Jathedar of the Akal Takht as symbolic of Panthic authority.Not merely the existence but also the demonstration of 'unorthodoxy' or 'heterodoxy' among other groups owing allegiance to, or using elements of the Sikh tradition for their own purposes, informed the attitude of the SGPC towards them.SGPC and othersThe Udasis were no longer within the pale of Sikh society. The original Nirankaris were tolerated or even appreciated even though they are sahajdharis and did not subscribe to the doctrine of Guru Panth. The Namdharis, on the other hand, were seldom appreciated because of their belief in a personal Guru which infringed the doctrines of Guru Granth and Guru Panth. The Sant Nirankaris came into conflict with the Damdami Taksal and were eventually excommunicated by the SGPC because of the public disrespect they showed to Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh Gurus. The Radha Soamis make use of some elements of the Sikh tradition but without any disrespect for Sikh belief or practice. They are seldom criticised by the Sikhs or the SGPC. Thus, it is not the differences in religious beliefs and practices alone which lead to conflict but the demonstration of disrespect for cherished Singh beliefs, practices or institutions. The perceived political necessities play a part in heightening tensions.The importance the Singh orthodoxy attach to external forms tends to circumscribe its appeal. Sikhs and non-Sikhs, especially the disprivileged, tend to seek solace in what appears to be a meaningful religious life offered by a personal guide.

No comments: