Friday, November 24, 2017
Gateway to Sikhism

 

Sri Akal Takht Sahib- Amritsar

 

 

Adjacent to the Golden Temple, is the marble paved square facing the Darshni­ Deorhi. On the opposite side of the marble square stands the Akal Takht, which is regarded as the supreme seat of Sikh religious authority. It was constructed by the sixth Guru Sri Hargobind in 1609. It is also called as Akal Bunga, the house of the Lord. The place is repository of the various weapons used by Sikh Gurus and heroes. These weapons are ceremoniously displayed every. evening to the congregation of devotees. The Akal Takht being the holiest of holy seats of the Sikhs, was used for a special purpose which considerably changed the Sikh character and organization. The sixth Guru himself sat here and held a court of justice. Many Sikhs gathered here for the redressal of their grievances. Offerings were made to the Guru.  

At the place where Akal Takht is situated was a playground, and the Guru used to play here during his childhood. Here he was ceremoniously installed as the Guru in 1606 after the death of his father Guru Arjun Dev. The sixth Guru Hargobind watched the Sikhs performing exercises in the art of warfare. He was imparting them training for the coming struggle against the Mughal authoritarianism. 

The Akal Takht is a massive five story building standing on a marble paved platform. The ground floor was ready in 1774 and four stores were added later by Maharaja Ran] it Singh. The Golden dome was constructed by famous Sikh General Han Singh Nalwa.  

The Hukamnama issued by Jathedar of Akal Takht is binding on all Sikhs. Even Maharaja Ranjit Singh had to bow before the orders of the Jathedar of the Akal Takht. During the Misal period after the death of Guru Gobind Singh and before the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Gurmata used to be passed by Sarbat Khalsa at Akal Takht for the protection of the country from the invaders. During British period, volunteers took vow of non-violence at Akal Takht before participating in the mochas launched by the Sikhs for the improvement of management of their holy shrines. A Saropa (robe of honor) conferred at Akal Takht is a distinction of a high order. It is given for extraordinary service rendered to the Sikh community.  

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Guru Hargobind, the only son of Guru Arjun Dev, was born in 1595. His path was beset with difficulties and hazards from the very outset. At the age of eleven his father was martyred on the altar of deep religious bigotry of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his most fanatic advisers. Guru Arjun had not done or said anything either against the Government or against Islam. In continuation of the development projects of Sikhism by his predecessors, Guru Arjun had chalked out wide programmes for the progress of Guru Nanak's religion and the Sikh community. But the steps taken were not at all with a view to humbling any other religion or community. The excavations of the tanks of Amritsar and Santokhsar were completed to provide the much-wanted places of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. By founding Tarn Taran in the heart of the Majha and Kartarpur in the Doaba, the Guru only wanted to provide the people with some rallying centres for religious purposes in their respective areas. The Masand system was organised and placed on a strong footing to finance the various projects undertaken by the Guru. Guru Arjun encouraged the Sikhs to foster trade and industry and adopt lucrative professions to be economically well-off. The compilation of the Adi Granth was undertaken to meet the long-standing need of the Sikh community for the Holy Scriptures. All these measures gave a fillip to the Sikh movement in the Punjab. The non-Sikhs were not seeing all this with a kindly eye.

The opposition of the detractors of the Guru ultimately led to Guru Arjun's martyrdom in 1606. And in the words of Mohammad Latif: The death of Guru Arjun was a great turning point in the history of the Sikh nation, for it inflamed the religious passions of the Sikhs and it was at this time that those seeds of hatred of the Musalman power were sown which took such deep root in the minds of all the faithful followers ofNanak. With this execution the whole Sikh community was stunned. It aroused very serious resentment in the minds of the Sikhs but they were yet not in a position to register their protest by raising arms against the Government.

Sikhism was a socio-religious movement aiming at peaceful emancipation of the people from invidious distinctions and prejudices. It wanted to divert them to the path of godliness, honest living and goodwill towards all. The Sikhs did not interfere with the current politics of the country. They were law-abiding citizens without any means to protect themselves against the mighty Mughal empire. The only alternative now left to the new Guru and his followers, if the church of Guru Nanak was to be kept alive, was to so mould their outlook as to give due attention to the development of their physical strength along with spiritual attainments. Thus, he planned to transform his people into new warrior-type saints capable of defending themselves against aggression without being aggressive themselves. The followers of the Guru would not accept things lying down. 

The Jats of Majha who formed the bulk of the Guru's followers were characteristically so disposed as not to choose to bow before aggression. Rather they would face the tyrant manfully.

Guru Hargobind's followers told him clearly as to what action they would propose in the event of the repetition of such a situation as had resulted in the martyrdom of their beloved spiritual leader. According to Macauliffe, a little before his death, Guru Arjan sent a message to his son through his followers, saying Let him sit fully armed on his throne and maintain an army to the best of his ability. This message seems to be a later concoction as it does not agree with the tenor of Guru Arjun's life. He is known to history and tradition to be an apostle of peace and a staunch and unstinted follower of non-violence. Under no circumstances he could change his faith in the peaceful demeanour. And also Guru Arjun would not recommend such a hazardous course to his young son of eleven. There can be no doubt about the fact that the decision to arm the community was taken by Guru Hargobind and his followers collectively after Guru Arjun Dcv had been martyred. This decision sowed the seeds of a revolution which transformed the character of the Sikhs from mere saints to saint soldiers. Guru Hargobind gave a martial trend to his followers who besides keeping rosary buckled on the sword in order to defend their faith and their persons.

Since Guru Hargobind took over the office of the Guru under the shadow of a changed situation, he was obliged to bring about a change in the ceremony of the installation of the Guru. Guru ifargobind told Bhai Budha that the Seli a woollen cord worn as a necklace or twisted round the head by the former Gurus was not to be used in future and his Seli would be the sword-belt, and he would wear his turban with an emblem of royalty. The young Guru took the seat of his father with two swords girded round his waist, one to symbolise temporal power and the other, spiritual power i.e., Miri and Pin. The Guru had to play the dual role of a Mir (an army leader) and a Fir (a Guru). The combining of Miri and Pin in his person introduced a new development in the Sikh movement by Guru Hargobind and it was fraught with great possibilities for the future.

The Guru desired the Sikhs to bring arms and horses as part of their offerings. This was readily done and some of them personallyjoined the Guru's retinue. According to Dabistan : The Guru had seven hundred horses in his stables, three hundred cavaliers and sixty artillery men were always in his service.2 This was the first corps of Sikh volunteers raised by the Guru at Amritsar. The first five hundred enlisted by the Guru were divided into five troops of one hundred each. These troops were captained by Bidhi Chand, Pirana, Jetha, Piara and Langaha.3 The establishment of the Guru increased gradually and the number of volunteers rose to 2,500. They were always ready to lay down their lives for the Guru's cause. The Guru had also a regiment of Pathans under the command of Painde Khan. It may be correct that the bulk Of the personnel of the Guru's Pathan regiment consisted of those people who had deserted the Mughal army for not getting their salaries regularly. But it is incorrect to say that the Guru had recruited the worst criminals and high-waymen, 'and the free booters and dacoits had entered freely into his ranks and made him the centre of a turbulent and dangerous crowd.4 Indubhusan Banerjee and Gokal Chand Narang wrongly believe that the prospects of booty and plunder had attracted the roughs of the society to join Guru Hargobind's forces, Excepting Bidhi Chand no other man is known to history with questionable antecedents. But Bidhi Chand too had come into the fold of Sikhism during the period of Guru Arjun. He had completely renounced his old practices and under the teachings of the Gurus had become a very responsible citizen and ended his days as a devout and saintly follower of the Guru.

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Two Masands of Kabul; Bakht Ma! and Tara Chand, were bringing two horses of surprassing beauty and fleetness' for the Guru. But they were seized by the Mughal officials at Lahore and sent to the Emperor's stable there. Bidhi Chand was able to deliver the horses to their rightful owner to whose stable they were being brought. If this action ofBidhi Chand has led some writers to remark that the Guru had recruited robbers in his army, the very approach of such writers is not historical and they suffer from some prejudiced outlook.

In order to give a martial disposition to his followers Guru Hargobind, accompanied by a large number of forest beaters, hounds and tamed leopards spent quite some time in the chase of the game. The Sikhs of the old school had in the beginning some misgivings about the Guru's new programmes and practices. But later when the Guru enlightened them about the usefulness of such exercises for inspiring the Sikhs with courage and intrepidity, they submitted to$he Guru's way of thinking. Some writers wrongly believe that the Guru recommended animal diet to his followers. Had it been so, meat would have been introduced in the langar, the free community mess of the Sikhs. It has never been there right from Guru Nanak's time to the present day. The Guru started hunting wild animals not with a view to procuring meat for eating purposes but exclusively with a view to instilling and provoking the fighting spirit in them.

The Guru is said to have constructed a wall around the city of Amritsar. A fort named Lohgarh was built in the town as a measure of security in the event of an attack on the Sikhs. The Guru also built the Akal Bunga (Akal Takht) where he used to discuss secular matters with his Sikhs. The detailed account of the Akal Takht would follow in the following pages.

All these measures of Guru Hargobind found disfavour with the Government. The Guru was not exclusively a militarist. He was primarily a man of God, a Guru, a teacher and a missionary of his faith. For adopting new practices the Guru gave a very convincing explanation to the Maratha saint Samrath Ram Das at Srinagar in Garhwal. Guru Hargobind was on his way to Nanakmata when the saint Ram Das met him at Srinagar in Garhwal during his pilgrimage rambles towards Badri Narayan, etc. Ram Das was surprised to see Guru Hargobind armed and riding a horse accompanied by a large number of followers. The old traditionalist Sadhu could not reconcile the two seemingly opposite aspects of Guru Hargobind's life-a saint and a soldier. He asked the Guru : I had heard that you occupy the Gaddi of Guru Nanak. Nanak was a tyagi Sadhu-a saint who had renounced the world. You are wearing arms and keeping an army and horses. You allow yourself to be called Sacha Pads hah-a True King. What  sort of a Sadhu are you? Guru Hargobind replied: (I am) internally a hermit and exiernally a prince. Arms mean protection for the poor and the helpless and destruction for the tyrant. Guru Nanak had not renounced the world but had renounced maya, the self and ego. Samrath Ram Das was pleased to hear this and said : This appeals to my mind.5 It is said that Saint Ram Das told Guru Hargobind in his parting words that the Guru already had got the right type of instruction and advice from the great master Nanak and that he needed none from him. In fact Saint Ram Das himself seems to have been inspired by what he saw in the Sikh camp of Guru Hargobind and this was helpful in initiating the great Maratha leader Shiva Ji into a life of national upliftment. On his departure Ram Das presented to the Guru a piece of ochre-coloured cloth and a rosary as parting gifts.

The earlier practice of charan-pahul (touching the baptismal water with the toe of the Guru's foot) continued up to Guru Arjun's time. The Masands had also been authorised to prepare charan-pahul and administer the same to the Sikhs. Thus the Masands continued enjoying the privilege of baptising the new Sikhs. Through this privilege the Masands established their authority and superiority over other Sikhs. Guru Hargobirid made an improvement on this practice by authorising a body of five Sikhs to preparepahul (baptism) by touching the water with their right hand thumbs and sanctifiing the same by recitation of the scriptures. This new practice continued up to AD. 1699 when the baptism of the double-edged sword was prepared by Guru Gobind Singh and administered to the Sikhs.6 This improvement introduced by Guru Hargobind weakened, to a certain extent, the Masand's authority which they were liable to misuse.

According to Maubid (Mohsin Fani) the Sikhs called the Guru Sacha Padshah, the True King,7 as against the temporal king who ruled only by the force of arms and concerned himself with the worldly actions of the people. The use of the term Sacha Padshah for the Guru was exploited by the detractors of the Guru. They conveyed to the Emperor that the title of Padshah was the exclusive privilege of the Mughal King and by allowing the Sikhs to use the same for him Guru Hargobind had assumed the royal title. But actually the Guru was not undertaking any imperial authority or royal powers and was not at all interfering with the state affairs. The Guru never asked the Sikhs to withdraw their allegiance from the state or to show disregard to the authority and the law of the Mughal Government.

According to Cunningham Sacha Padshah or True King is the spiritual king or the Guru who rules the eternal soul or guides it to salvation, while a temporal monarch controls our finite faculties only or puts restraints upon the play of our passions and the enjoyment of our senses. The Muhammadans have the same idea and a corresponding term viz. Malik Hakiki.8

Guru Hargobind introduced congregational prayers which added fervour in the minds of the Sikhs and strengthened feelings of unity and cooperation among them. Under him was also established the custom, which still continues, of choirs moving nightly round the Golden Temple and, with the blare of trumpets and flare of torches, singing hymns in stirring tunes. All these programmes put  a new life into the drooping hearts of the Sikhs.9

The Sikh Sangats took upon themselves the financial and defence requirements of the Guru. Undoubtedly the Guru had no political objectives to achieve and the militant character added to the Sikh movements was purely a measure of self-defence.

Evidently the Mughal Emperor was a little alarmed at these measures of the Guru and summoned him to his ppesence. The Guru went and he was made a state prisoner ai~d sent to Gwalior. For the detention of the Guru different re~asons have been advanced by the writers. According to Dab istan, after Guru Hargobind sat on the Gurugaddi in place of his father, he was confronted with many hardships, '4One of them is this that he adopted the form of a soldier, against the practice of his father, kept servants and took to hunting. The late Emperor (Jahangir) sent Hargobind to the fort of Gwalior on account of the balance of the dues of the fine that he had imposed on Arjun Mal. He remained for twelve years in that place, where they did not allow that he might eat salty food. During this time the Masands and the Sikhs used to go and bow down before the walls of the fort. At last the Emperor, by way of kindness, gave freedom to the Guru.° No doubt the author of Dabistan was contemporaneous with Guru Hargobind and he also claims to have been in correspondence with the Guru, but he has committed many mistakes in this small paragraph, may be unintentionally and due to the inconect~ and inadequate source of information on which he based his writing. The Guru is said to have been detained in Gwalior because he failed to pay the fine imposed on his father. It is not acceptable on the ground that no such fine was ever imposed  on Guru Arjun. Even if we accept that Guru Arjun suffered death because he could not pay the fine, there can be no legal justification for transferring to the son the father's punishment that the latter had already undergone and had cost him his life.

The period of the Guru's stay at Gwalior in the prison is stated by Dabistan to be twelve years which is impossible on the very face of it as during these years several children of the Guru were born. The Guru could not have been in jail for more than two years. It is said that on the intercession of a renowned Muslim Saint, Mian Mir and a prominent courtier, Wazir Khan the Guru was released from the jail with 52 other detenues as the Guru refused to come along out of the jail until they were also released. For this, the Guru is remembered as Bandichhor or Deliverer. The very fact that the Guru was released from thejail shows that the Mughal Emperor and his government were convinced that the Guru had no territorial ambitions or aggressive designs against the Mughal Government. The Guru might have been in detention from 1610 to 1612. So Jahangir, who died in 1627, had nothing to complain against Guru Hargobind between 1612 and 1627 and the Guru and the Emperor remained on very cordial terms during this period. It is absurd to say that the Guru accepted an office under Jahangir.

The Guru then busied himself in the work of preaching. He went as far as Kashmir in the north and Nanakmata near Pilibhit, in the east. He converted many people to his faith from among Hindus as well as Muslims. The Guru met Shah Daula at Gujrat, who asked the Guru, How can a Hindu be a faqir? How can you be a religious man, when  you have a wife and children and possess worldly wealth? The Guru replied, A wife is her man's conscience, his children continue his memoi5' and wealth gives him his sustenance. As for a faqir, he is neither a Hindu nor a Mussalman.4

After Jahangir's death in 1627, Shah Jehan succeeded him. The new Emperor of Delhi changed his policy towards the non-Muslims and under his orders many temples were pulled down. He also prohibited conversions. The Baoli at Lahore got dug up by Guru Arjun was filled up. The relations between the Sikhs and the government got strained and only a slight cause could spark off a clash.

In 1628 just over a hawk a clash took place between the Sikhs and the royal contingent. Some believe that the hawk affair was a mere pretext. The point of self-respect and the new surging spirit were involved in it. Then a detachment of troops under Mukhlis Khan came from Lahore to take action against the Guru. Mukhlis Khan was killed and his troops were beaten back by the Sikhs. The Guru thought it proper to leave Amritsar and he came to Lahira in the Malwa region. A battle was fought at Lahira in 1631 between the Government forces and the Guru's followers because of a couple of horses. The Guru's men emerged victorious. Another skirmish was fought between the rival parties at Kartarpur in 1634. The imperial contingent was led against the Guru by Painde Khan, an old protege of the Guru. Painde Khan was killed at the hands of the Guru and his followers went back to Lahore without achieving anything against the Guru. According to Teja Singh and Gand~ Singh Guru Hargobind had won four battles, but as his purpose had always been only defensive, he did not acquire even an inch of territory as a result of these. There was something for greater involved in this warfare than a mere dispute over hawk or a horse. A new heroism was rising in the land, of which the object, then dimly seen, was to create the will to resist the mighty power of the foreign aggressors called the 'Toorks')'

To keep fighting against the Mughal government was not of the Guru's liking. Shortly after the battle of Kartarpur he retired to Kiratpur. He spent the last ten years of his life in peace there and completely devoted himself to the work of his religious ministry.

Besides Gurdwaras and temples, Guru Hargobind also built a mosque for the Muslims at Kiratpur. Many Muslims were very close to the Guru. They included Mian Mir, a Muslim Fir and Wazir Khan, a Muslim noble. Wazir Khan was a strong advocate of the Guru's cause. According to Macauliffe, Emperor Shah Jehan was astonished and inquired why the Guru had constructed a mosque. Wazir Khan promptly answered, Sire, Gurus and Pirs are all men's property. They feel neither love nor hate. The Guru sitteth on Guru Nanak's throne. His is the abode of miracles. He looketh on Hindu and Muhammadans with an equal eye.2

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Guru Hargobind's death on March 3, 1644 was considered to be a great national calamity. The love of his followers could be judged from the fact that many of them offered to burn themselves on his pyre. Two of them flung themselves on the flames and died at the Guru's feet. Others who were ready to follow the example were forbidden by Guru Har Rai.'3 

Before Guru Hargobind's accession to the gaddi, the Harimandir at Amritsar was the place where the Guru used to sit and give spiritual guidance to the Sikhs. At Harimandir, the Sikhs sang hymns in praise of God and.the True Name was worshipped there. But with Guru Arjun's martyrdom and under the changed circumstances the dire need of such a place was felt where the Sikhs should assemble in the presence of the Guru and discuss their secular affairs. Since they were faced with an intolerant and oppressive government they required a place where they should be able to hold deliberations for their self-preservation. The Harimandir could not be used for that purpose. So, the Guru ordered, in AD. 1609, the construction of a place at a distance of about one hundred yards from the Harimandir. The place was named Akal Bunga (the House of the Lord). According to Gun Bilas Padshahi Chhevin the foundation laying~ceremony of Akal Takht was performed by Bhai Budha and Bhai Gurdas, two most revered Sikhs at the Guru's Durbar.

It seems that at the time of the excavation ofHarimandir a big heap of earth had piled on one side. That earth was levelled from above and a pacca floor was laid. A big raised plateform of bricks was constructed to serve as a seat for the Guru. And later a big hall was constructed on that site.

In the 18th century, the Sikh Sardars gave it a better shape. And Ranjit Singh contributed largely to its present edifice.

There Guru Hargobind used to discuss the social and military problems of the Sikh community. Sitting on this 'throne', he would watch the wrestling bouts and military feats of his disciples performed in the open courtyard in front of the Akal Takht. It was here that the Guru also used  to receive the presents and offerings of weapons and horses from his followers and particularly from Masands who brought the same from their respective San gats for the Guru. It was also here that the Sikhs presented their personal disputes before the Guru and got them settled. Thus the Sifts were encouraged to have their disputes decided among themselves.

At Akal Takht the Guru held symposiums of martial music and the heroic deeds of historical personalities were narrated and the same were also sung to the people assembled there.

According to Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, Jahangir paid a visit to Arnritsar and offered to complete the building of Akal Takht at his own expense. The Guru however, declined the offer, saying, Let me and my Sifts raise this Throne of God with the labour of our own little resources. I wish to make it a symbol of my Sift's service and sacrifice and not a monument to a King's generosity.4

Some people believe that there is great significance in Akal Takht being constructed a few paces away from Harimandir. Akal Takht symbolised Sikh politics while Harimandir signified religion. Each of the two is visible from the other end so that people sitting in Harimandir would remember their involvement in politics and vice versa. Religion and politics were thus blended into one by Guru Hargobind. They were considered limbs of the same body.5 It is also said that the Guru told his Sikhs that as long as he was in Harimandir, he should be treated as a saint, and when in the Akal Takht he should be looked upon as a temporal leader of the community.

The Muslim forces of the foreign invaders and of the Mughal Government ruined Akal Takht many a time as in the case of Harimandir Sahib. The first storey of the present building was constructed in A.D. 1774 during the period of the Sikh Misals. The three upper storeys were constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the domes covered with gilded plates were also built by Ranjit Singh.

During the 18th century, particularly during the

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