THE SIKH RELIGION
ITS GURUS, SACRED WRITINGS AND AUTHORS
BY MAX ARTHUR MACAULIFFE
INTRODUCTION : CHAPTER II
The great Pandits and Brahmans of Hinduism communicated their instructions in Sanskrit, which they deemed the language of the gods. The Gurus thought it would be of more general advantage to present their messages in the dialects of their age. When Guru Amar Das was asked the reason for this, he replied: ‘Well-water can only irrigate adjacent land, but rain-water the whole world. On this account the Guru hath composed his hymns in the language of the people, and enshrined them in the Gurumukhi characters, so that men and women of all castes and classes may read and understand them.’ A Brahman urged: That religious instruction ought not to be communicated to every one, it being forbidden to instruct Sudars and women in the sacred lore.’ The Guru thus oracularly replied:–
O father, dispel such doubts.
It is God who doeth whatever is done; all who exist shall be absorbed in Him.
The different forms, O God, which appear are ever Thine, and at the last they shall all be resolved in Thee.
He who is absorbed in the Guru’s word, shall thoroughly know Him who made this world.
Thine, O Lord, is the word; there is none but Thee; where is there room for doubt?
Guru Nanak spoke of himself as neither continent nor learned, and was in every respect the essence of humility. His advent was heralded by no prophecies, and consequently he was not obliged to make or invent incidents in
[1. It is laid down in the twelfth chapter of the Institutes of Gautam that if a Sûdar even hear the Veds his ears must be stopped either with molten lead or wax; if he read the Veds, his tongue must be cut out; and if he possess the Veds, his body must be cut in twain.
In the eighteenth slok of the ninth chapter of the Institutes of Manu it is laid down that women may not take part in any Vedic rites. Their doing so, or having any concern with Vedic texts, would be contrary to dharm. Women were therefore deemed as Sûdars, and beyond the pale of religion.
2. Gauri 51.]
his life conformable thereto. He preached against idolatry, caste distinction, and hypocrisy, and gave men a most comprehensive ethical code; but in so doing he never uttered a word which savoured of personal ambition or an arrogation of the attributes of the Creator. He appears to have been on fairly good terms with Muhammadans, but his disregard of caste prejudices and his uncompromising language led him into occasional difficulties with the Hindus, though he was never embroiled in violent scenes. On the whole he was generally beloved during his life, and at his death Hindus and Muhammadans quarrelled as to which sect should perform his obsequies.
The Granth Sahib contains the compositions of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das Guru Arjan, Guru Teg Bahadur (the ninth Guru), a couplet of Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Guru), panegyrics of bards who attended on the Gurus or admired their characters, and hymns of mediaeval Indian saints, a list of whom will subsequently be given. The cardinal principle of the Gurus and Bhagats whose writings find place in the sacred books of the Sikhs was the unity of God. This is everywhere inculcated in the Sikh sacred writings with ample and perhaps not unnecessary iteration, considering the forces Sikhism had to contend with in an age of ignorance and superstition.
The hymns of the Gurus and saints are not arranged in the holy volume according to their authors, but according to the thirty-one rags or musical measures to which they were composed. The first nine Gurus adopted the name Nanak as their nom de plume, and their compositions are distinguished by Mahallas or quarters. The Granth Sahib is likened to a city and the hymns of each Guru to a ward or division of it. Thus the compositions of Guru Nanak are styled Mahalla one, that is, the first ward; the compositions of Guru Angad the second ward, and so on. After the hymns of the Gurus are found the hymns of the Bhagats under their several musical measures.
The Granth which passes under the name of Guru
Gobind Singh, contains his Jâpji, the Akal Ustat or praise of the Creator, the Vachitar Natak or Wonderful Drama, in which the Guru gives an account of his parentage, his divine mission, and the battles in which he had been engaged. Then come three abridged translations of the Devi Mahatamya, an episode in the Markandeya Puran, in praise of Durga the goddess of war. Then follow the Gyan Parbodh, or awakening of knowledge; accounts of twenty-four incarnations of the Deity, selected because of their warlike character; the Hazare de Shabd; quatrains called sawaiyas, which are religious hymns in praise of God and reprobation of idolatry and hypocrisy; the Shastar Nam Mala, a list of offensive and defensive weapons used in the Guru’s time, with special reference to the attributes of the Creator; the Tria Charitar, or tales illustrating the qualities, but principally the deceit of women; the Zafarnama, containing the tenth Guru’s epistle to the Emperor Aurangzeb; and several metrical tales in the Persian language. This Granth was compiled by Bhai Mani Singh after the tenth Guru’s death.
There are two great divisions of Sikhs, Sahijdharis and Singhs. The latter are they who accept the baptism inaugurated by Guru Gobind Singh, which will be described in the fifth volume of this work. All other Sikhs are called Sahijdharis. The Singhs, after the time of Guru Gobind Singh, were all warriors, the Sahijdharis those who lived at ease, as the word denotes, and practised trade or agriculture. In the Singhs are included the Nirmalas and Nihangs. The Sahijdharis include the Udasis founded by Sri Chand, son of Guru Nanak; the Sewapanthis founded by a water-carrier of Guru Gobind Singh; the Ramraiyas, followers of Ram Rai, son of Guru Har Rai; the Handalis, to be subsequently described, and other sects of minor importance.
The Sikh religion differs as regards the authenticity of
[1. Some say that the Sahijdharis received their name from the promises of certain Sikhs in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, that they would not accept his baptism at the time, but that they would gradually do so.]
its dogmas from most other great theological systems. Many of the great teachers the world has known have not left a line of their own composition, and we only know what they taught through tradition or second-hand information. If Pythagoras wrote any of his tenets, his writings have not descended to us. We know the teaching of Sokrates only through the writings of Plato and Xenophon. Budha has left no written memorials of his teaching. Kung fu-tze, known to Europeans as Confucius, left no documents in which he detailed the principles of his moral and social system. The Founder of Christianity did not reduce his doctrines to writing, and for them we are obliged to trust to the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Arabian Prophet did not himself reduce to writing the chapters of the Quran. They were written or compiled by his adherents and followers. But the compositions of the Sikh Gurus are preserved, and we know at first hand what they taught. They employed the vehicle of verses which is generally unalterable by copyists, and we even become in time familiar with their different styles. No spurious compositions or extraneous dogmas can, therefore, be represented as theirs.
It is not clear, however, that this contributes to the success of the Sikh religion. It appears that the very authenticity of the sacred books of a religion may militate against its general or permanent acceptance. The teachings of which there is no authentic record, are elastic and capable of alteration and modification to suit foreign countries and the aspirations and intellectual conditions of ages long subsequent to those in which they arose. No religion in its entirety is permanently adopted by a foreign country; and no religion when it spontaneously migrates can escape the assimilation of local ideas or superstitions. The followers of all religions are prone to indulge in the luxury of eclecticism. By a universal law they adhere to the dogmas most suitable for themselves, and reject what they deem the least important or the least practicable enjoined by the founders of their faiths.
It is curious that the greatest religious reforms have been effected by the laity. The clergy, apart from their vested interests, are too wedded to ancient systems, and dare not impugn their utility or authority. Pythagoras, who founded a religio-philosophical school and taught the transmigration of souls, was the son of a gem-engraver and not a priest by early training or association. Isaiah, the Hebrew poet, who gave consistency and splendour to Jewish sentiments, was not an ecclesiastic by profession, Moses had a brother who was a high priest, but he was not himself designed for the priesthood. Sokrates was a profound thinker and moral guide, but still a member of the laity who had emerged from the schools of the sophists. Budha was a prince brought up without any sacerdotal instruction. He conceived ideas of reform by profound contemplation and introspection. Christ was by trade a carpenter, and was never intended to expound the law, or play the part of a Jewish Rabbi. Muhammad of Makka was born an idolater, herded sheep and goats in early life, and appears to have had no religious instruction whatever until he had met the Hanif Waraka, his wife’s cousin. The renowned Indian teacher Kabir was a weaver, who was so little of a professional priest that he denounced the Hindu and Muhammadan preachers of his age. And, as we shall see, Guru Nanak was not a priest either by birth or education, but a man who soared to the loftiest heights of divine emotionalism, and exalted his mental vision to an ethical ideal beyond the conception of Hindu or Muhammadan.
The illustrious author of the Vie de Jésus asks whether great originality will again arise or the world be content to follow the paths opened by the daring creators of ancient ages. Now there is here presented a religion totally unaffected by Semitic or Christian influences. Based on the concept of the unity of God, it rejected Hindu formularies and adopted an independent ethical system, ritual, and standards which were totally opposed to the theological beliefs of Guru Nanak’s age and country. As we shall see
hereafter, it would be difficult to point to a religion of greater originality or to a more comprehensive ethical system.