MISINTERPRETATION OF GURBANI AND MISREPRESENTATION OF SIKHISM: HOW TO HANDLE THIS PROBLEM?
Prof Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD
Institute for Understanding Sikhism
4418 Martin Plouffe, Laval, Quebec, Canada H7W 5L9
Guru Nanak (1469-1539) laid the foundation of Sikhi (Sikhism) during the 15th century, the Period of Renaissance (between 14th and 17th century) when the scientists were challenging some of the concepts of the Church in Europe. During this period Guru Nanak was busy in challenging the ancient mythology and rituals in which the peoples of South Asia were shackled for centuries. I am proud to claim that it was Guru Nanak who promulgated a scientific and logical philosophy during the 15th century for the world to create a sense of morality to establish peace on this earth. The irony is that after five centuries if we examine the effect of teachings of Guru Nanak on humanity in general and on the Sikhs in particular, it will not be difficult to come to the conclusion that what the Sikhs are doing today is exactly contrary to the Nanakian Philosophy .
It happened so because of the absence of preaching of Gurbani and Sikhism in their real perspective by the so-called custodians of Sikhism after the end of era of the Sikh Gurus in 1708. After the time of Banda Bahadur majority of the Sikhs were living in the forests and during this period preaching of Gurbani and Sikhism, and control of the Sikh institutions fell into the hands of the Biprans (Who work against the Nanakian Philosophy). This situation continued to be in the same state even during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and thereafter. During the Singh Sabha Movement some attempts were made to interpret Gurbani and represent Sikhism in their real perspective by some dedicated Sikh scholars. Soon this movement was taken over by the Sikh scholars who were heavily burdened with the ancient philosophy, mythology and Bipreet (Ritualism or practices which are contrary to the Nanakian Philosophy). During this period the use of discriminating intellect (Babaek Budhi) to find the truth was discouraged and was declared as sin by the Biprans. It is still happening so during the Age of Science.
During the early 1900s Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) came into existence with main objective to manage the Gurdwaras and preaching of Gurbani and Sikhism in their real perspective. The SGPC did very commendable work by establishing educational institutions, hospitals and improving managements of Gurdwaras. It was holding very prestigious position in the hearts of the Sikh masses and national political leaders of India, like, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and others during the struggle of independence of India. Prof Harbans Singh declared SGPC as a “Unique Ecclesiastical Institution” of the Sikhs and Dr Khushwant Singh entitled it as “Parliament of the Sikhs” and “A government within the government.”
Soon after the independence of India in 1947 the SGPC started to show decline in its administration and further improvement in the management of Gurdwaras and educational institutions. Rifts started among the members of the SGPC and with those of the Shiromani Akali Party (SAD). These rifts reached at their peak during the celebration of Tercentenary of Khalsa in 1999. This situation is still worsening every day; consequently, there are many SGPCs, Alkali Dals, many Sikh student Federations, many Sikh Youth Federations, many Sikh Councils, and many claimants of Akal Takht. Now recently a Khalsa Panchayat has come into existence that is after certain corrupt Jathedars of certain Takhts.
Recent struggle on the election of the President of the SGPC during October-November 2002 became a news of the world and many state governments as well as Central Government were involved in it seriously. It had once again confirmed that the Sikhs are so much divided that they spend most of their time and money on fighting with each other rather than on proper management of Gurdwaras, dissemination of Sikhism and welfare of the Sikhs.
The Institute of Sikh Studies (IOSS), Chandigarh has also reached to the conclusion in 2001 Conference that almost all the Sikh institutions, e.g. The Akal Takht, SGPC, Amritsar, Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Chief Khalsa Diwan, Sikh Educational Conference and the recently formed World Sikh Council failed badly to represent Gurbani and Sikhism in their real perspective and to look after the interest of the Sikhs.
Taking the advantage of the internal feud between Sikh religious and political authorities the Biprans (includes Sikhs as well as non-Sikhs) have joined their hands and started to propagate Sikhism in their own way and some are trying to amalgamate it with Hinduism. Currently a lot of misinformation about Sikhism is being reported in all types of media by Biprans. Since the Sikh history and literature published during the 18th and 19th century is full of misinterpretations of Nanakian Philosophy and misrepresentations of Sikhism, therefore, these sources are being exploited to their maximum extent to achieve their above objectives. The notable writings from the old literature on Sikhism, which carry a lot misinformation about Gurbani and Sikhism, are as follows:
Dasam Granth, ~1721 CE. Supposed to be compiled by Bhai Mani Singh after collecting various Banis ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh;
Sri Gur Subha, 1711 CE, by Sainapat;
Gur Bilas Patshahi 6, 1751 CE, Anonymous;
Bansavelinama, 1769 CE, by Kesar Singh Chibber;
Gur Bilas Patshahi 10, 1797 CE, by Sukha Singh;
Parchia Pathshayan Das, early 18th century;
Panth Parkash, 1809 CE, by Rattan Singh;
Sarbloh Granth, by Sukha Singh?;
Janam Sakhis and Chamatkars of Sikh Gurus by various authors,
Rehit Namae by various authors;
Hukmnamae issued by the Sikh Gurus at various times; and many more such writings.
In these days Dasam Granth is being portrayed as religious and literary work of highest quality composed entirely by Guru Gobind Singh. Just a simple example, based on the information given in the Dasam Granth Guru Gobind has been declared as a devotee of Goddess Chandi in the NCERT syllabus book “Medieval India” prescribed for class XI. Lot of misrepresentations of Sikhism are appearing in the current media and many of such misrepresentations are based on the misinformation given in the above books.
Although these old writings contain some useful historical data, a lot of information is contrary to the Nanakian Philosophy, incorporated in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS). The contradictory information given in such books is used to misinterpret Gurbani and misrepresent Sikhism by the Biprans, which includes many Sikh scholars. I would like to report some views about this situation as follows:
1. According to Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha  the old Sikh literature (of the 18th and 19th centuries) has been written according to the level of intelligence and beliefs of the writers. From this old literature we are getting a lot of useful information as well as that is contrary to the Gurmat. He has also emphasized that the most important thing is that there is a dearth of research scholars but on the other hand there are many who are deadly against the research scholars and would declare them as atheists or the enemies of Gurmat.
2. Piara Singh Padam  says about Rehit Namae that: “It is a mistake to accept every information given in every Rehit Nama is according to Gurmat. Many authors have written according to their own level of intelligence or under the influence of manmat (under the influence of ancient philosophy, ritualism, etc.), that are not right.”
3. Similarly, Harinder Singh Mehboob  has reported that 85 out of 87 Hukmnamae recorded in the book, Hukmnamae, of Ganda Singh , are fake Hukmnamae.
4. Now more and more such Rehit Namae and Hukmnamae are being discovered which support the already misinterpreted Gurbani and misrepresented Sikhism. For example, Hukmnama issued by Guru Gobind Singh to the Sangat of Kabul is the recent ‘discovery’, which is not found in Ganda Singh’s book, Hukmnamae.
Any genuine effort taken by any scrupulous Sikh scholar, who tried to preach Nanakian Philosophy and Sikhism in their real perspective, has been treated very badly by the so-called authorities on Sikhism. Many such scholars were excommunicated. For example, Prof Gurmukh Singh was excommunicated in 1887 CE by Maan Singh, the Manager of Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar due to the pressure put by the opposition members (Arya Samajists), especially, Baba Khem Singh Bedi, Raja Bikram Singh, and Avtar Singh Vahiria, of the Singh Sabha. The opposition members were also trying to keep ancient mythology and rituals in Sikhism and to continue Guru-ship in living persons. Baba Khem Singh Bedi of this group was acclaimed as the 13th position in Guru Nanak’s lineage by his associates and followers. Similarly, the press of Ditt Singh, an excellent orator, writer, and a colleague of Prof Gurmukh Singh, was put out of business because of litigation by the opposing group (Arya Samajists) in Singh Sabha [Inferred from the data given in ref. # 4].
About a century ago, it was Karam Singh, a famous Sikh historian, who took courage to analyze the Janam Sakhi (biography) of Guru Nanak written by Bhai Bala. He proved in his book, Katik kae Vaisakh , that the stories recorded in it cannot pass the test of Gurbani, science, and logic, the touchstones of truth. Guru Nanak has been portrayed as a great Hindu but lower in spirituality than Bhagat Kabir and Hundal. His book was removed from the sale list by the Khalsa Diwan most probably by Giani Gian Singh soon after its publication [inferred from the letter of Giani Gian Singh published in the new edition. Ref. # 7].
Moreover, especially in the West some Sikh individuals, some Gurdwara’s Executives, and some Sikh Organizations have become self styled authorities on Sikhism and are issuing directives to some Sikh scholars to teach Sikhism of their ideology rather than in its real perspective. They are also creating problems for researchers who are challenging misinterpretation of Gurbani and misrepresentation of Sikhism, and unscientific codes and rituals found in the old literature. This is becoming a greatest hurdle in dissemination of Gurbani and Sikhism in their real perspective to the humanity.
In addition to the above direct actions they also force the Jathedar of the Akal Takht to excommunicate some Sikh researchers and writers without proper evaluation of their work. My analysis of this situation is that most of the Sikh scholars cannot dare to speak the truth because of Draconian sword of excommunication is always hanging on their heads.
In the recent past Sikh religious authorities have excommunicated Sikhs of almost all levels of social and political strata and academicians during the period of Bhai Ranjit Singh as the Jathedar of Akal Takht. Unfortunately excommunications continued by Giani Puran Singh, who was appointed to replace Bhai Ranjit Singh, till he was also removed by the SGPC. The newly appointed Jathedar, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, set another bad precedent in the Sikh history when all the closely associated religious and political personnel, who were excommunicate by the previous Jathedar of the Akal Takht, were exonerated while all the five Sikhs of British Columbia, Canada, who challenged the unscientific and illogical Hukmnama of Langar, remained excommunicated.
On the other hand, Recently Gur Bilas Patshahi 6 has been reprinted by the Dharam Parchar Committee of the SGPC, Amritsar. It was edited by two scholars, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, the then Head Granthi of the Harmandar Sahib and now the Jathedar of Akal Takht, and Dr Amarjit Singh, Professor of Shaheed Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar .
Gur Bilas Patshahi 6 has regularly been recited in many Gurdwaras in the past and is still being recited in many and also being used by many scholars to construct Sikhism. Its publication has been praised as ‘a unique service, an authentic biography of the Guru, a matchless gift’, etc. by the following religious authorities without analyzing its contents that how much the information given in it is worth and how much goes against the originality and uniqueness of the Gurbani and Sikhism: Bhai Ranjit Singh, the then Jathedar of Akal Takht, Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the then President of the SGPC, Bhai Manjit Singh, Jathedar of Takht Kes Garh, Bhai Kewal Singh, Jathedar Takht Damdama Sahib, Bhai Sukhdev Singh Bhaur, the then Acting President of the SGPC, Manjit Singh Calcutta, the then Minister of Higher Education, Punjab, Giani Sant Singh Maskeen, an approved Dharam Parcharak of the SGCP, Bhai Jaswant Singh, Katha Vachak of Gurdwara Manji Sahib, Dalip Singh Maloonagar, the Senior President of SGPC, Joginder Singh Talwara, Narinder Singh Soch, Gianai Balwant Singh ‘Kotha Guru’.
Although Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti and Prof Amarjit Singh have admitted that it contains some denigrating information, even then they have not tried to distinguish that how much is true and how much goes against the Gurbani and Sikhism leaving the readers in confusion. Recently it has come to my notice that the Dharam Parchar Committee of Shrimoni Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Amritsar has published the first issue (July 2002) of Gurmat Gian in Hindi for Hindi-speaking people. On the title page they have misconstrued < , the unique logo of Guru Nanak, into Ik Om Kaar in Hindi by representing OM in Hindi and by adding one before it and an extra line at the top of OM. They have not only misconstrued the Logo of Guru Nanak but have mutilated the OM of Hindus also.
If such type of publications are being produced by the so-called authorities (with the blessings of the Jathedars, SGPC President and Education Minister of SAD Government and by the Dharam Parchar Committee) then what intellectual power they have to evaluate blasphemous work in the publications of other Sikh and non-Sikh researchers and writers.
Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana has been summoned at Akal Takht by its Jathedar to clarify the blasphemous work reported in his series of books. It is the same Jathedar, Bhai Sahib Bhai Joginder Singh Vedanti, who has reprinted Gurbilas Patshahi 6  without criticizing the misinformation and unscientific and illogical stories, which go against the Nanakian Philosophy and basic principles of Sikhism. It were critical writings of Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana that lead the SGPC recalling that book. We understand that someone has reprinted it without laudatory comments by the scholars mentioned above.
The Institute For Understanding Sikhism (IUS) stresses the need of an Advisory Committee comprising of Sikhs expert in various fields of Natural and Physical Sciences, Astronomy/Cosmology, Medicine, Philosophy, Psychology, History, Languages, Administration, Laws, etc. and each expert of these fields should be well-versed in Gurbani. They are not necessarily to be eminent Sikhs or Sikh theologians since all of them have been tested already. These experts should be unbiased, having open-mind and scientific temper, and free from allegiance to any political organization; and should be representing various countries of the world since the Sikhs are living all over the world now.
The IUS is already working on these lines and has an Editorial Board having members, expert in some of the above disciplines. The IUS also considers that Nanakian Philosophy, incorporated in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib after authentication by Guru Arjan and Guru Gobind Singh, is original and unique, and has universal acceptability. Therefore Nanakian Philosophy, science and logic should be taken as the touchstones to find out the truth in the publication of Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana along with all the publications printed and reproduced by the SGPC by this new Advisory Committee yet to be formulated but not by any already existing Dharam Parchar Committee or any other Advisory Committee. After this task they should turn towards all those writings published during 18th and 19th centuries listed above. After this a big task of writing of integrated and comprehensive theology of Sikhism for the humanity is waiting for them.