IMPACT OF SIKH GURU’S ON SOCIETY
The Sikh Gurus had an extraordinary influence on the various strata of society. They provided vital leadership to the down-trodden and suppressed people. Their contribution in spiritual, moral, social, economic, cultural and political fields was striking and remarkable. They placed simple but high ideals before the people at a time when superstition, fanaticism and despair reigned supreme everywhere. They removed false beliefs and fear from the minds of men and women and held out before them the prospects of hope, confidence, peace and salvation.
During the Guru period there were only two religions in the PanjabHinduism and Islam. Buddhism had disappeared long ago. Only a few followers of Jainism could be seen in Haryana. The rulers of the country were Muslims and Hindus were the subject people. Deep hatred and bitter antagonism existed between the two religions. The Hindus suffered from triple oppression-by foreign rulers, by invaders, and by alien settlers. The Hindus and Muslims were completely separated from each other-religiously, socially, economically, culturally and politically.
1. IMPACT ON RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
(a) Reformation of Hindu society
Nanak’s religion was for all. He wanted to root out the hatred existing between the rulers and the ruled. As the Muslims persecuted Hindus on account of idolatry and caste system, Nanak preached against both these institutions. He declared there was only one God, and all human beings were His children. Thus he preached the principle of fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. The Gurus addressed their followers as Bhai, Bhai Mardana, Bhai-Bala, Bhai Budha, Bhai Lahna. Guru Tegh Bahadur, while writing to a sangat, mentioned every member by name even when the number was 50, 60 or 70, calling every male member Bhai and every woman as Bebe.
The Gurus asserted it did not matter if God was called Allah or Khuda by Muslims, and Ram or Parmeshwar by Hindus. Father, daddy and papa meant the same person. The real test lay not in belief but in action. Both Quran and Puran taught love of humanity. He emphasized that in the eyes of God there was no person high or low superior or inferior, big or small, rich or poor. Nanak admitted lower caste Hindus along with men of upper classes in his congregations. He preached in Panjabi, the language of the common people, in witty prose and pithy poetry. He insisted on singing sacred songs or hymns in the sincerest devotion and love for God. The spirit of self-surrender to the Lord and exercising no will of one’s own was prescribed for all seekers of peace of mind. All useless formalities and rituals were completely discarded. He roamed all over the country preaching to the people at village well, under a shady tree where people rested in the afternoon, at fairs and festivals, at places of pilgrimage, and on occasions of marriages and mournings.
Nanak stimulated the people to get rid of priesthood, polytheism and caste system. He offered consolation by preaching that their misfortunes were due to their misdeeds in the past life, and assured them that a good life would bring them salvation hereafter.
(b) Fraternity with Muslims
The Sikh Gurus attempted to remove bitterness prevailing between Hinduism and Islam both by precept and practice. Guru Nanak’s life-companion was Mardana. He died at Baghdad and the Guru performed his obsequies with his own hands, and erected a memorial over his grave. Then Mardana’s son Shahzada was employed to sing holy songs. Guru Angad recruited Satta and Balwand, two Muslim minstrels, to sing sacred hymns at the time of worship. Guru Arjan got the foundation-stone of Hari Mandar laid at Amritsar by the celebrated Muslim saint, Mian Mir of Lahore. He included in the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, hymns of Muslim saints and minstrels as follows:
Kabir 541, Farid 134, Mardana 3, Satta and Balwand who sang jointly 3.
Guru Hargobind employed in his service a large number of Pathans under command of Paindab Khan. Pir Budhu Shah of Sadhaura gave to Guru Gobind Singh 700 of his disciples in command of his four sons, two of whom were killed in the battle of Bhangani in 1688. In the battle of Anandpur in 1702 Mir Beg and Mamun Khan commanded Guru’s forces. Again at the same place in 1704 General Sayyid Beg did not like to fight an unholy war against the Guru and went over to his side. Nabi Khan and Ghani Khan of Machhiwara helped Guru Gobind Singh in escaping towards Malwa desert. Qazi Pir Muhammad saved Guru’s life by falsely declaring that he was a Muslim saint known to him. Rae Kalha, a Muslim chief of Raekot entertained him generously during the flight. Thus it is clear Gurus reduced communal tension in thePanjab.
(c) Salvation through repetition of God’s Name
God of the Sikh Gurus is nirgun or absolute as well as sagun or personal.
As absolute, He is present in everything and everywhere. As personal, He listens to one’s grievances and helps him:
"He lives in everything. He dwells in every heart. Yet he is no blended with anything. He is separate."1
Salvation could be obtained by one and all by constantly and attentively repeating the Name of God. Guru Ram Das said:
"Let anybody repeat Han Mantra worthy to be repeated, be he a Kshatriya, a Brahman, a Shudra or a Vaish."
Guru Arjan declared: "Through one Name all will be saved-the Kshatriya, the Brahman, the Shudra and the Vaish."3
The mode of the worship of the Sikhs consists in singing hymns from the Adi Granth to the accompaniment of musical instruments. This manner of worship has remained unchanged through centuries. Sujan Rae Bhandari of Batala, a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh, wrote in 1697:
"The mode of,worship of this sect is to recite hymns composed by their Gurus and sing them softly and sweetly in a fascinating manner."4
Hinduism was based on individualism. It did not develop spirit of unity. It was for this reason that Muslim invaders easily overpowered 14indu armies, which had no unified command. The Bhakti leaders insisted on congregational system. The Sikh Gurus adopted the same practice.
Sangats or congregations were religious assemblies. Every Sjkhman, woman and child was a member of one sangat or the other. The sangats served as a link between the common people and the Gurus. Guru Nanak established a dharamsal or a Sikh place of worship wherever he went.’
Guru Angad maintained the purity of the sangat by declining to associate Udasis with the Sikhs. Guru Amar Das organised them into twenty~two dioceses under Sangatias. Their status was raised by Guru Arjan to that of Masands. In the Sangat all the four castes were blended like the betel leaf, Bhai Gurdas said:
Char varan satsang Gurmukh melya
Jdn tambol rang Gurmukh chelya.2
Guru Hargobind introduced congregational prayers. Mohsin Fani says when a Sikh desired for something, he would request the sangat to pray for him. Even the Guru himself asked the Sikh congregation (Sangat or Anjuman-e-Sikhan) to pray for him.3
2. IMPACT ON SOCIAL LIFE
(a) Caste system
The Hindu society was based on caste and was divided into countless water tight compartments. Hinduism consisted of four castes. About one-third of the total number included Shudras. The three-upper classes considered Shudras inferior. They were required to perform menial jobs for them. Men were considered high and low on account of their birth and not according to their deeds. Equality of human beings was a dream. The Gurus preached that a man’s love of God should be the criterion to judge whether be was good or bad, high or low. As the caste system was not based on divine love, they condemned it. They aimed at creating a casteless and classless society. Guru Ram Das stated:
"There are four castes-Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Shudras and Vaishasand there are four Ashrams. Of all these the foremost is one which meditates on the Lord. As a castor tree growing near a sandalwood tree absorbs its perfume, so does a degraded person become acceptable by attending religious congregations. The highest and purest of all is he whose mind dwells in the Lord. Nanak! I wash the feet of that devotee of God who serves the low castes."
Guru Arjan gave four gates to Han Mandar at Amritsar indicating that the Sikh temples were open to all the four castes.
Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of the Adi Granth, testifies to the effect produced by the Guru’s teachings on caste system:
Char varan ik varan hoe, Gur Sikh waryan Gurmukh gote.
[All four castes have become one. All disciples of the Guru belong to the Gurmukh caste.’]
(b) The Langar
The Sikh Gurus denounced the practice of dining within a square (chauka) in the kitchen by the three upper castes. It developed spirit of exclusiveness and isolation which could not make the people a nation. Guru Nanak started the langar system which was rigidly enforced by his successors. All the visitors belonging to any caste had to dine in the community mess or langar. There a Brabman sat by the side of a barber or washerman, and ate the same food prepared and served even by Shudras. This led to the amalgamation of all the castes into one class.
(c) The sacred thread
The sacred thread created superior and inferior classes as Shudras were debarred from itS use. Guru Nanak opposed it vehemently. The Gurus and their Sikhs discarded it.
(d) Spirit of fellow-feeling
Guru Amar Das invited all his followers with their families to gather in a general body twice a year on the days of Baisakhi and Diwali in March-April and October-November. It enabled them to fraternise with one another, and greatly developed the spirit of fellowfeeling. This practice was continued under the later Gurus. It is still followed with the same enthusiasm.
(e) Spirit of service
The Gurus placed before their Sikhs the ideal of service and sacrifice. Guru Nanak in Sri Rag says: "The service of mankind is a warrant to heaven." The Gurus developed spirit of service among the Sikhs who rendered free labour in digging wells and tanks and contributed money and material. Guru Amar Das constructed at Goindwal a well (baoli) in which water was approached by 84 steps. Guru Ram Das dug a tank called Amritsar. He started construction of another tank known as Santokhsar. Guru Arjan completed it in 1588. In 1590 he laid out another big tank., 24 kms south of Amritsar, and named it Taran Taran. Sixty-six kms to the east of Amritsar he dug another tank called Gangasar, where a new township called Kartarpur developed. He built a (baoli) at Lahore. At Wadali, 7 kms from Amritsar the Guru dug a big well which was worked by six Persian wheels. The place came to be known as Chheharta.
(f) The dignity of manual labour
The dignity of manual labour was raised to a high pedestal. Nanak worked as a cultivator at Kartarpur. Angad carried heavy loads of grass on his head while in attendance upon Guru Nanak. Amar Das at Khadur daily brought a pitch~r of water from river Beas, 5 kms distant, for Guru Angad’s bath. Ram Das carried baskets of earth on his head when the (baoli) at Goindwal was under construction. Guru Arjan’s Sikhs gave free labour in digging various tanks. The Sikhs worked gratis in the langar in fetching fuelwood and water, cooking, cleansing utensils, sweeping floor and in serving food.1
Giving away something in the service of others was a necessary part of a Sikh’s life. He was expected to make offerings to the local langar, Guru-ka-langar at the headquarters, for construction of a gurdwara or a tank and to help the needy. The Gurus insisted that one should earn one’s living by the sweat of one’s brow. Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru, instructed the Sikhs to serve other Sikhs wherever p05sible with money and material. He specially asked them to serve travellers with food and drink.2 The fifth Guru, Arjan, made it a rule that every Sikh must contribute one-tenth of his earnings in the service of the community. This practice continued under the later Gurus. It still exists to a certain extent purely on a voluntary basis
During the Muslim rule Hindu women suffered the most. Beautiful girls were not safe from the lust of the rulers and their officials. The’ Hindus resorted to infanticide, child marriage, purdah and sati. Girls were denied good living conditions so that they should not develop youthfulness and beauty. They occupied almost a degraded position in the home. The birth of a girl was considered a misfortune.
The Sikh Gurus tried to uplift them to a status even higher than in Christianity and Islam. In Christianity a woman could not be a preacher from the pulpit. In Islam a woman could not invite the faithful to prayers in a mosque by Ba~ng or AzAn, nor could she lead a congregation in ‘prayer, Guru Nanak allowed them to attend sermons along with men. As they kept their heads covered with a piece of cloth, it was made obligatory for men also to attend a congreation with covered heads. They could sing the hymns along with men and were to sit with faces uncovered like men. The third Guru, Amar’ Das, appointed women in charge of manjis and pirhis or heads of sangats, big or small. He condemned the practice of Sati or self immolation of widows on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. He declared : She is the true sati whom grief, not fire consumes. He also denounced purdah or covering their faces in the presence of older members of the family. The sixth Guru, Hargobind, declared that the’ woman was the conscience of man. Women cooked food in the langar, and served meals with men to the pangat.
They received baptism in the same way as men and enjoyed equal rights. Mai Bhago, a brave Sikh woman, raised a body of men, including the forty deserters from Anandpur, and fought bravely in the battle of Khidrana (Muktsar) on the side of Guru Gobind Singh.
3. IMPACT ON ECONOMIC LIFE
Before Guru Arjan, the Sikhs chiefly consisted of poor agriculturists, artisans, and petty village shopkeepers. Guru Arjan realised that his disciples should not be an unthinking and unadventurous class of people. He encouraged them to take to trade, particularly in horses, in addition to agriculture.
Guru Nanak had defied the traditional restriction of not crossing river Indus and stopping at Attock to save the purity of caste and creed from pollution, by travelling in Muslim countries. He journeyed in Arabia, Iraq, Khorasan, Iran and Afghanistan. Guru Arjan advised his Sikhs to imbibe the spirit of adventure by travelling abroad in Central Asia and West Asia, and bring horses of the finest breed for sale in India. This made the Sikhs enterprising, fearless, free from caste prejudices and rich. They became good horsemen and formed the nucleus of the Guru’s military power. The contemporary author of the Dabistan-e-Mazahib writes
"Some of the Sikh Gurus take to agriculture and others to trade."1 There were numerous obstacles in the way of commerce during the Mughal period which coincided with the age of Sikh Gurus. The roads were very unsafe, and thieves and robbers infested them. William Finch, an English traveller during the time of Guru Arjan, described the road from Delhi to Karnal as "thievish". The Dutch traveller De Laet wrote in 1631, the time of the sixth Guru, Har Gobind, that the road from Lahore to Kabul was infested by Pathan brigands and the travellers were frequently robbed by them.2 Hawkins wrote in Jahangir’s time or the period of the sixth Guru : "The country is so full of thieves and outlaws that almost a man cannot stir out of doors."3
4. IMPACT ON POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS
For about five hundred years upto the advent of Guru Nanak, successive hordes of invaders frotu across the north-west frontier had poured into India. About sixty foreign invasions had taken place till then. Besides, a continuous stream of Turks and Afghans came throughout the year in tens and twenties. They came here in search of bread and settled down as permanent inhabitants in the rich and fertile parts of this country by ousting the original owners. There was no check at the ingress on the frontier. The rulers governed mercilessly through fear and force alone.
The Sikh Gurus provided leadership to the down-trodden Hindus of Panjab. They offered physical resistance to injustice and tyranny. Guru Nanak cried out against their oppression. Guru Hargobind was involved in a number of engagements with the imperial troops. He
tried to change the old mentality of Hindus of offering only passive resistance to the oppressor. After six hundred years of slavery he attempted to awaken his fellow-countrymen to the realisation that irrespective of consequences, the people should rise against a cruel government to get their wrongs redressed.
Aurangzeb had resolved to establish a purely Islamic state in india and to eliminate Hinduism altogether. Guru Tegh Bahadur was at this time in Assam. On hearing this news he immediately rushed to Panjab. In order to hearten Hindus and his disciples he undertook a couple of tours of East Panjab telling them to keep up their spirits.
Guru Gobind Singh declared that the emperor who endeavoured to control the mind of the people was a tyrant, and who tamely submitted were slaves. In 1699 the Guru created Khalsa, the unpaid national army consisting of his devoted followers. It marked the beginning of a new class of fighters for free lom. Under the guidance of the Guru the Khalsa took up the profession of arms and the results were surprising. These people, the lowliest of the low, who had lived for centuries under complete servility, now turned into valiant warriors, reckless of danger.
The Guru taught the people to look upon misfortunes as a part of the game and laugh at threat, danger, defeat and adversity. In consequence his followers maintained a fine spirit of hurnour and optimism in times of trials and tribulations. For example, death was termed an expedition to the next world. An iron vessel was called the golden cup. To be punished at Akal Takht was named as getting one’s reward and salary. A blind man was an argus-eyed hero. A deaf person was a resident of the upper storey. A hungry man was mad with prosperity. Parched grams were almonds, and onions were silver pieces. A rupee was damra or a piece of copper or a paisa. One person declared himself a host of one lakh and a quarter. A sword was the goddess of wisdom and heroism. A thick stick was a lawyer.
The Sikh Gurus tried to create national unity. They rejected caste system which was a great obstacle in the way of making Hindus a united people. They awakened womanhood and encouraged them to work side by side with men. It not only doubled the strength of the nation but also added sweetness and colour to the life of both men and women. Guru Gobind Siugh created national literature. Most of his characters in literature appeared before readers as soldiers and generals. The battles exhibited nothing but bravery and glory of the virtuous fighters. In the national wars women and children fought spin
tedly side by side with men. People of all castes and classes participated in the struggle. The spirit of self~sacrifice and single-minded devotion pervaded the whole literature. Guru Gobind Singh was the real originator of nationalism in the Land of Five Rivers.
5. IMPACT ON INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER
(a) Four fold process
The Sikh Gurus taught that the individual progress was a four fold.process: by developing body, mind, social consciousness and spirituality. (i) The body must be kept in good health. Guru Amar Das laid great emphasis on physical fitness of his disciples. He declared that human beings were created in the image of God. The human body was Lord’s temple. It was the duty of his Sikhs to keep body quite fit to the last. It was a precious gift of God and must not be spoilt by bad habits. He condemned torturing of the body. (ii) Mind was to be kept healthy by banishing selfish thoughts, feelings ofjealousy and vindictiveness, and by cherishing ideas of hope, confidence, faith, happiness and service of others.
In Sri Rag Guru Nanak says:
Nanak! life becomes most useful when we are in the company of great men who behave with humility and gentleness.
(iii) The Sikhs called one another bhai or brother, and tried their level best to be useful to others. This is how social consciousness was developed. (iv) Spiritual development implied unison with the Divine. Meet the Master Architect within, and get hold of unlimited treasures for a better, higher and nobler living.
(b) Mastery overseif
Another lesson imparted by Gurus was that the real triumph lay in man’s mastery over self. We must know that we have a certain purpose in life, and it must be fulfilled. This belief in purpose and action would work miracles. Our faith would hammer out our destiny on the anvil of courage and persistence, and the will to plan and to do. There was no limit to our progress. The limitation lay in our mind alone. Guru Tegh Bahadur said.
Man ke hdre har hai Ba~ba~
Man ke jite jit.
(It is the mind alone which brings about victory or defeat).
The Gurus declared that human failure resulted not from material
disadvantages, but from the defects of character. It was explained that fate and destiny were in our own hands. We could transform our lives by our own efforts.
(c) Creative dreaming
The first five Gurus laid stress on obtaining spiritual liberty. The following five Gurus held that spiritual freedom was not possible without political liberty. Their creative dreaming broke the bondage of tyranny and led men from autocracy to democracy. It was pointed out that creative dreaming was a divine force, and was responsible for all human progress and evolution. Dig through the stony rock of despair, disaster and defeat, and you would find the gold of gladness lying underneath. God would judge us not by our riches, rank or renown, but by our scars sustained in the struggle for securing happiness for ourselves as well as of others.
Why Jats became followers of Khatri Gurus
Several factors were responsible for making Hindu Jats embrace Sikhism.
1. Petty traders in Cis-Satluj region were Agitrwals, in Shivalik Hills Mahajans, in southern Panjab Aroras, and in Central and West Panjab Khatris. Sir George Campbell who served as a deputy commissioner in the Panjab in forties of the nineteenth century calls Khatris "a very superior people." They were fair in dealings and sympathetic to their customers. The Jats of Majha liked them.
2. The Khatris were the roving teachers going from village to village and teaching in a village for sometime free of charge only for free board and lodging. Jat boys were their pupils.
3. The first five Gurus concentrated on Majha, the real homeland of Jats. Nanak lived at Kartarpur, Angad at Khadur, Amar Das at Goindwal, Ram Das at Amritsar, Arjan at Amritsar and Taran Ta ran; while Hargobind lived in Majha and Malwa both. The last four Gurus focussed their attention on Malwa, another native land of Jats. They won the hearts of Majhail and Malwai Jat peasantry.
4. The Gurus emphasized equality for all. The equality of Jats, the lower class Vaish, with the two upper classes of Khatris and Brahmans, considerably raised their social status. Mobsin Fani says that Brabmans and Khatris served under Jats as the senior masands of Gurus were Jats. Therefore the Jats of Majha and Malwa joined Sikhism.
5. The building of tanks and wells in places where scarcity ~f water prevailed made the Gurus popular with peasantry most of whom were Jats. Guru Tegh Bahadur supplied much cattle to the poor and needy cultivators.
6. Emperor Akbar’s policy of religious toleration and liberalism was one of the main causes of conversion of Jats to Sikhism. Akbar visited Guru Amar Das at Goindwal, dined in the langar, listened to the Guru’s sermon and granted land where now stands Amritsar. This led to the popularity of Sikh religion.
Emperor Akbar visited Goindwal a second time to meet Guru Arjan. At Guru’s request he remitted land revenue for a year fro~. Majha zamindars. As Jats were the small landholders in Majha, they joined Sikhism in large numbers.
7. Guru Hargobind’s supervisory powers in Majha and Malwa, granted by Jahangir, raised the prestige of Sikh Gurus greatly. The Guru’s formation of a small Sikh army and his battles against the Mughals filled the Jats of Majha and Malwa~with warlike enthusiasm and they joined its ranks with great joy and cheer.
8. Their simple philosophy of repetition of God’s Name for the solution of the people’s daily problems and salvation after death had a great appeal to the plain, homely Jats.
9. According to the contemporary Mobsin Fani, the majority of Guru Arjan’s masands were Jats. Their office became hereditary. The Jat peasantry took to Sikhism under their influence and persuasion.
10. It is a well-known fact that the virile Jats had a larger number
of boys than girls. So a fairly large number of Jat young men remain
ed without a wife. The Sikh Gurus abolished caste system and per
mitted their followers to marry a girl or a widow of any caste or class.
This offered a great temptation to the Jats, mainly of poor families.
Having married a low caste woman, may be a cobbler or a sweeper
or of a wandering tribe, they retained their social status in the Sikh I
religion. Marrying a brother’s widow became an established custom
with them, which the higher classes of Hinduism did not permit.
11. By nature and temperament a Jat is aggressive. The reason is
F that be earned his living by forcing soil to yield through aggression.
This factor was fully realised by Guru Gobind Siagh. He directed
their energy into military field. There the Jats sli one at their best. As
soldiers they were as happy as a fish in water. In this new profession
they gave up the role of a Bhai and assumed the title of a Sardar
This dignified status mightily drew them towards Sikh religion.
12. During their war of independence, first under Banda Bahadur and later under the misls, the Sikhs displayed great stamina and perseverance. Their spirit of adventure and bravery won them p~f and power in abundance. This inspired the Village Hindu young men to follow their example. They could join the misls after getting baptism. Hence every village in Majha, Doaba and Maiwa made its contribution to the Sikh ranks as best as it could.