Three Hundred Year of the Khalsa
The Khalsa was the end product of the mission of Guru Nanak (1469-1539 A.D.) carried through nine successor Gurus, the last being Guru Gobind Singh (1661-1708 A.D.). What Guru Gobind Singh launched on the 30th March, 1699 A.D. on Baisakhi, the Bikrami New year day, confounded his contemporaries and has continued the world till date. He brought into being a new man, with new appearance, new idiom and new outlook though still rooted in the teachings of Guru Nanak and of his successor Gurus. This comes out very clearly from the verse of Bhai Gurdas II. In ‘Sarab Loh’ the eulogy of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh not only makes the Khalsa the very being of the Guru but the Guru considered. His creation as worthy of worship and veneration.
The birth of the Khalsa is attributed to Guru Gobind Singh who had asked for five Sikhs one by one to offer their heads for sacrifice to him. They are called the five beloved ones (Panj Piaras) of Guru Gobind Singh. This version is the popularly accepted legend about the birth of the Khalsa although in the available contemporary of near contemporary writings we have certain variations of the popular version. Most of the earlier scholar accepted the story that really Guru Gobind Sing had slaughtered five goats when he had called for volunteers from among the Sikhs to offer their heads one by one. This version association Guru Gobind Singh with playing tricks and, therefore, can not be accepted, All available accounts agree that there were five beloved ones of Guru Gobind Singh belonging to five different castes who physically were always with him till the last and two of the original ‘piaras’ out lived Guru Gobind Singh and they were with him at Nanded when he breathed his last, Logically the five ‘piaras’ could not have been selected in any other manner than what has come to us in the popular version.
It seems that in a very short period the supremacy and legitimacy of the Khalsa as the successor guru was accepted among the Sikh Sangats although every Sikh did not get baptized as the Khalsa While individual salvation and succour could be sought by a non baptized Nanakpanthi from Gurbani and the Sikh congregation but the temporal and spiritual swords of Guru Gobind Singh got passed on to the Khalsa.
Guru Gobind Singh had baptized the Khalsa with a double edged sword but soon after the birth, Khalsa had to have a baptism of fire as the Khalsa had to face the armed onslaught of the hill chieftains who were later joined by the mighty Mughal empire. The saga of the bravery of the Khalsa at Chamkaur and Muktsar was such of which there can be few parallels in the history of warfare in the world.
Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa at Anandpur Saheb were forced to evacuate Anandpur Saheb on the basis of false promises made in the name of Emperor Aurangzeb. The treacherous attack on Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa accompanying him, when they were hardly out of the precincts of Kiratpur Saheb, took the toll of three of the panj piaras, two elder sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh, hundreds of his Khalsa Guru Gobind Singh’s younger sahibzadas and his mother fell in to the hands of the Sirhind governor who held a mock trial and beheaded the sahibzadas which resulted in his mother Mata Gujri leaving her mortal coil. All this happened in December 1704 A.D. The battle of Muktsar took place in early 1705 A.D. Guru Gobind Singh took time in this turmoil to address a letter known as Zafarnamah to the Emperor Aurangzeb. The letter showing all respect to the Emperor in the beginning, goes on to show that real victory in the whole affair belonged to Guru Gobind singh and Khalsa and Aurangzeb with his going back on his oath taken on sacred Quran was the one who got vanquished. The letter served to move Aurangzeb. He ordered all operations against the Guru and the Khalsa to cease. He invited Guru Gobind Singh to meet him in the Deccan where he was camping. It can be a conjecture that the letters that Aurangzeb wrote to his sons around this period full of remorse and self-pity were inspired by the feeling of guilt generated after reading Zafarnamah. Guru Gobind Singh decided to leave Panjab for Deccan to meet Aurangzeb died while Guru Gobind Singh was on his way. A war of succession ensued between the two sons of Aurangzeb. The elder prince approached Guru Gobind Singh for help. Guru Gobind Singh agreed to help prince Muazzam and sent a contingent of the Khalsa. The prince was victorious and he held a royal Darbar as Emperor Bahadur Shah at Agra in which a robe of honour was presented to Guru Gobind singh. Guru Gobind Singh later moved with Bahadur Shah in a separate camp of his own and he was with him till he got a call from the Almighty in October 1708 A.D. This has led some historians to assert that Guru Gobind Singh had accepted an employment from the Mughal Emperor. However, his hukumnamhas of this period indicate that there were certain issues that he wanted to settle with the Emperor before the moved to Kahloor or Anandpur Saheb. There can be no question of Guru Gobind Singh accepting any employment from the Emperor. We can not definitely say anything about the issues that Guru Gobind Singh had taken up with the Emperor . Meanwhile the Khalsa in Punjab and elsewhere remained peaceful and law-abiding.
We have Banda Bahadur appearing with a band of Khalsa from Nanded towards the end of 1709 A.D. around Kaithal in Haryana and with him a storm broke loose in Punjab. The Khalsa flocked to Banda Bahadur to mete out punishment to the sirhind Governor and others guilty of atrocities against Guru Gobind Singh and his family. Banda Bahadur and his hordes along with the Khalsa extirpated the Mughals from sirhind and the Mughal authority in Punjab, for a time seemed to have lapsed Bahadur Shah came to Punjab and he was able to drive away Banda Bahadur into the hills. Meanwhile the Tatt Khalsa came to dissociate from Banda Bahadur and he was taken prisoner by the Mughals in 1716 A.D. The author has reservations in accepting that Banda Bahadur had been sent as leader of the khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh to oust the Mughals from Punjab or Punish those who had perpetrated atrocities against the Guru. The followers of Banda Bahadur after his death and after losing to the Tatt Khalsa in the tussle to take control of the Golden Temple complex at Amritsar, ceased to have any identity or importance in public affairs.
We have the testimony of Ratan Singh Bhangoo to say that the Khalsa was like a bird in the sky with hawks hovering over them or like a deer in a jungle having lions in it. He says that many had been taken in by the allurements offered by the Mughals but the real Tatt Khalsa remained alert, unafraid and always prepared to die.
The Mughal administration after dealing with Banda Bahadur to their satisfaction sought to settle score with the Khalsa particularly in the Manjha area their depredations against the Mughals. After about a decade, the Mughals were forced to due for peace with the Khalsa carrying with them a ‘Khillat’ for the Khalsa. The Khalsa ascendance in the rural areas of Manjha, and some areas of Malwa became a fact of life. We have evidence of Jai Singh Ghanahia issuing land sanads by 1750.
The khalsa uprising in Manjha area after Banda Bahadur is a subject needing an in depth study by scholars. The Sikh uprising elsewhere was directed against the governor of sirhind and others who had perpetrated atrocities against the Gurus. Manjha Sikhs also had come out to join Banda Bahadur in the sack of Sirhind but simultaneously there was a general uprising of the Khalsa in Manjha area independently of Banda Bahadur. This uprising caused the Governor of Lahore to instigate Muslims of Lahore to declare a Jehad against the Khalsa and surprisingly the young Khalsa succeeded in turning the ghazis of Islam back. Their discomfiture finds a mention in the writings of Sain Bulle Shah. The Khalsa ascendancy and struggle finds mention in Banswali Nama of Keser Singh Chhiber. The author seems to be disturbed by the rise of what he calls as the Maiki Khalsa among the Khalsa. There is another description given to the Khalsa of these times comparing the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh with a speck of stone lodged in the eye which could neither be taken out nor would it permit a person to sleep. Ratan Singh Bhangoo, a direct descendent of a first generation Khalsa, again and again emphasizes that Guru Gobind Singh had blessed his Khalsa with Patshahi and ‘hane hane miri’ or every horsemen being ruler is his constant refrain. This patshahi by the Khalsa has to be achieved by ‘danga’ ,i.e. turbulence and disorder. The popular saving about the Khalsa "Jat got Sikhan ki Danga, Danga hi in Guru to manga" is fully endorsed in his writing. In the episode relating to Tara Singh he makes him say "dangion ham kim tarain, dango hamari jat. Danga Khatir hum kie satguru ji ap. Danga hi te paeg patshahi. Danga he to hog sis lai. Bin dangai kou puchhai na bat. Ham dango machavin yon lakh ghat." meaning that he could not abstain from being turbulent. Our Satguru himself has created them for turbulence. He will receive patashahi (Kingship) from turbulence and he would lay down his life for it. No one brothers about anyone unless one is turbulent. He therefore, created turbulence wherever he found it opportune.
It is well known that under the leadership of Manjha area, the Khalsa undertook expeditions in Haryana area and even across Yamuna to chastise Jagirdars and Nawabs oppressing their subjects who were mostly Hindus. The Manjha Khalsa was distinguished by another characteristic. It was their fierce sense of independence. On the Malwa side Maharaja Ala Singh considered it appropriate to accept suzerainty of Ahmed Shah Abdali but the Manjha Khalsa could neither accept the props offered by the Mughals Khalsa that brought about ascendancy of Khalsa in Panjab culminating in the empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. We can say that first 150 years of Khalsa were the years of ascendancy of the Khalsa. The confidence in the victory of the Khalsa got reflected in the reality prevailing around the Khalsa.
The following quotations bear out fact that the Khalsa was seen by the contemporaries of eighteenth and early nineteenth century as something of a phenomena worthy of wonder and awe.
The event that shook India when Guru Gobind Singh was no more, was the uprising of the ‘Khalsa’ and the sack of Sirhind in 1710 A. D. We have some description of the ‘Khalsa’ valour in a recently discovered contemporary manuscript called ‘Israri-Samadi’ written in praise of Abdul Samed Khan, the then Governor of Punjab who had been assigned the task of restoring order after suppressing the Sikh uprising. The next most important writing again coming from the pen of a writer retained by the enemy is Qzai Nur Mohammed. It is worth quoting:
"Do not call the dogs ( the Sikhs) dogs’, because they are lions and are courageous like lions in the field of battle. How can roars like a lion in the field of battle, be called a dog? If you wish to learn the art of war, come face to face with them in the field. They will demonstrate it to you in such a way that one and all will praise them for it. If you wish to learn and to get safely out of an action. ‘Singh’ is a title ( a form of address for them ). It is not justice to call them dogs. If you do not know the Hindustani language ( I tell you that) the word ‘Singh’ means a lion. Truly they are lions in battle, and at the time of peace they surpass Hatim".
"You may yourself judge, O brave man, how a single battalion of theirs rushed upon Multan, entered the city and devastated it and carried away an immense booty. I am not sufficiently strong in mind to be able to express what the dogs did there. Since the creation of world nobody remembers to have seen Multan devastated in this way at the hands of any-body. But because God so willed it, every one of us has to submit to His will."
"Leaving aside their mode of fighting hear you another point in which they excel all other fighting people. In no case would they slay a coward nor would they put an obstacle in the way of fugitive. They do not plunder the wealth and ornaments of a woman, be she a well-to-do lady or a maid servant. There is no adultery amongst these dogs, nor are these mischievous people given to thieving. Whether a woman is young or old, they call her a ‘buddhiya’ and ask her to get out of their way. The word ‘buddiya’ in the Indian language means ‘an old lady’. There do not make friends with adulterers and house-breakers though their behaviour on the whole is not commendable."
" If you are not conversant with their religion, I tell you that the ‘Sikhs’ are disciples of the ‘Guru’ and that august ‘Guru’ lived at ‘Chak’ (Amritsar). The ways and manners of these people received their impetus from Nanak who showed these ‘Sikhs’ a separate path (taught them a distinct religion). He was succeeded by Gobind Singh. From him they received the title of ‘Singh’. They are not from amongst the Hindu. These miscreants have a separate religion of their own."
We have observation on the Sikhs by George Forster in a letter written in 1785 to the Governor General of the East India Company :
"In the defence and recovery of their country the Sicques (Sikhs) displayed a courage of the most obstinate kind manifested a perservence, under the pressure of calamities when the common danger roused them to action, and gave out one impulse to their spirit, should any future cause call forth the combined efforts of the Sicques (Sikhs) to maintain the existence of empire and religion, we may see some ambitious chief led on by his genius and success, and absorbing the power of his associates display, from the ruins of their commonwealth, the standard of monarchy. The pages of history are filled with like effects, springing from like causes. Under such a form of Government, I have little hesitation in saying that the Seiques (Sikhs) would be soon advanced to first rank among the native princes of Hindostan; and would become a terror to the surrounding states."
"From the observations which have made of the Seiques (Sikhs) they would appear to be a haughty and a high spirited people. Once I travelled in the company of a ‘seick’ (Sikh) horseman for some days and though I made to him several tenders of my acquaintance, he treated them all with great reserve, and a covert sort of disdain. There was no reason to be particularly offended in his hauteur towards me, for he regarded every person in the same manner, His answer, when I asked him very respectfully in whose service he was retained, seemed strikingly in characteristic of what I conceive to be the disposition of the nation. He said, in a tone of voice and with a countenance which glowed with and was keenly animated by the warm spirit of liberty and independence, that he disclaimed an earthly master, and that he was the servant only of his prophet."
‘Panth Parkash’ of Ratan Singh Bhangu is an account of the ‘Khalsa’ written after the British had established themselves as the power challenging the ‘Khalsa’ and J.D. Cunningham wrote the "History of the Sikhs’ at the time when the ‘Khalsa’ went under before the British. Yet his observations and under-standing of the ‘Khalsa’ are perceptive:
"The last apostle of the Sikhs did not live to see his own ends accomplished, but he effectually roused the dormant energies of a vanquished people, and filled them with a lofty although fitful longing for social freedom and national ascendancy, the proper adjuncts of that purity of worship which had been preached by Nanak, Gobind saw what was yet vital, and he resumed it with Promenthean fire. A living spirit possesses the whole Sikh people, and the impress of Gobind has not only elevated and altered the constitution of their minds, but has operated materially and given amplitude to their physical frames. The features and external form of a whole people frames. The features and external form of a whole people have been modified, and a Sikh chief is not free and manly bearing, than a minister of look, which marks the fervour of his soul and his persuasion of the near presence of the Divinity."
Shah Mohammed was a Muslim who saw the ‘Khalsa’ army being defeated. The tears he has shed over this defeat makes one cry even now but the confidence he has in the valour and the ultimate victory of the ‘Khalsa’ comes out in words like that
"ultimately what will prevail is that as will be dictated by ‘Khalsa Panth’.
The British had established themselves in the rest India almost at the same time when Northern India came under the Khalsa ascendancy. The Khalsa valour was there for all to see. The source of this valour intrigued them. They could muster courage to annex Panjab only after they had seen for themselves the conditions prevailing in Panjab after the first Sikh war when they were invited for peace keeping in Lahore and Panjab by Maharani Jindan. They saw that the Khalsa had been ruling a state populated mostly by Muslims and the earlier turbulence of the Khalsa had lost its ideological underpinning. Therefore, they handled the Mulraj episode of Multan in a manner which made the Khalsa empire fall into their hands.
The Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh responded to the new environment in a manner that showed that the earlier elan, optimism, and the firm faith in the victory of the Khalsa had got lost during the period Maharaja Ranjit Singh and other Sikh chiefs ruled Panjab in the name of the Khalsa. There was a revolt of Sant Maharaj Singh which was for bringing back the old order. It caused some headache to the British but it could not generate a general uprising. The Muslim population was successfully neutralised through measures like permitting slaughter of cows in Panjab. The Namadhari movement under their Guru Ram Singh had a world view and their arm was restoration of the Khalsa ascendancy along with social reform among the Sikhs but the over-enthusiasm of some Kukas for chastising Muslim butchers of cows brought about the wrath of the British administration against them and the movement got smothered before it could flower. The other movement known as the Nirankari movement was only a movement for social reform among the Sikhs.
The Singh Sabha movement came on the scene in 1873 A.D. The leaders of the Singh Sabha movement took particular care to avoid setting any political objectives for the Khalsa and it was a period when leading Sikh sardars vied with each other to display to loyalty to the British masters. The Maharaja of Nabha, Hira Singh, while leading a Sikh procession on the occasion of the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur at Delhi, thought it proper that the band accompanying the procession should also play ‘God save the King’ tune.
British accounts of the Sikhs in the 19th century and early twentieth century are full of admiration and approval of what the baptised Khalsa soldiery achieved for the British. They called the Khalsa loyalty as an excellent subordinate patriotism and loyalty.
The Gurdwara reform movement and the influence of Mahatma Gandhi introduced a strong anti-British sentiment among the Sikhs. The sentiment waxed and waned between 1920 to 1947. Sometimes the British seriously considered stopping recruitment of the Sikhs to the army but every time, good sense came to prevail or the situation took a favourable turn. The British had become concerned about the Sikh soldiers’ loyalty during the 2nd world war due to the close alliance of Shiromani Akali Dal with the Congress Party. However, the situation got saved with the active involvement of Major Short an ex-Indian Army Sikhs Regiment officer and other British well wishers of the Sikhs. Therefore, the contingency of the Khalsa confronting the British did not materials. The British safely left Panjab leaving the Khalsa at the mercy of the Muslim hordes and in a short period of two to three months the Sikhs who could escape genocide had moved to the East Panjab and other parts of India.
The Shiromani Akali Dal that came into being along with the S. G. P. C. from the Gurdwara reform movements, for all practical purpose had assumed the role of articulating Khalsa aspirations which has continued to be like that till date. The Shiromani Akali Dal has spear headed the Sikh Movement after 1947 too. The first confrontation with the Central Government was for securing reservations for the Sikhs converted from the Hindu scheduled castes, It was followed by agitation for securing the position of Panjabi in Gurmukhi script culminating in the present Unilingual Panjab with a 60 : 40 divided between the Sikhs and others has been presenting problems of governance for the Shiromani Akali Dal. We had the phase of Dharam Yudh Morcha and terrorism and extremism between 1982 to 1992. We had a Congress Government in Panjab till 1997 and the Akali BJP coalition government thereafter.
The baptism of the double edged sword given by Guru Gobind Singh carried with it values and the world view of Gurbani. If the Sacha Patshah was the Guru, then the political authority wielded by mortals could be a convenience of even a necessity but it could not command allegiance from the Khalsa unless it permitted the Khalsa freedom and autonomy. The baptised Khalsa acquired some characters that made the Khalsa ‘niara’ or unique among the people. Outside observers like Qazi Nur Mohammad, George Forster or Cunningham have testified to this fact.
The value and the world view of the Khalsa acquired from Guru Gobind Singh was passed on through the example of the first generation Sikhs to their descendants and the new converts. It seems that some part of the heritage got lost in transmission. It becomes obvious when one reads the accounts contained in Rahitnama of Chaupa Singh, Bansavalinama, Gur Bilas or Panth Prakash. Ratan Singh Bhangu, for example thought it fit to ascribe to Guru Gobind Singh a consideration for ascertaining an auspicious time for the administration of Amrit to Panj piaras.
The Khalsa everywhere acquired the strength associated with the Amrit but the Khalsa of Manjha, Doaba and Malwa and elsewhere did not seem to share the same perspective about the ascendance of the Khalsa. Doaha Khalsa could accept the leadership of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia who become a mercenary adventurer serving Adina Beg. The Malwa Khalsa either joined Tatt Khalsa from Manjha playing a subsidiary role or they were content with serving in the forces of Ala Singh and other Phulkian states. There were others who were in the service of the Mughal state whom Panth Parkash describes as ‘Chakrail’. History of the Khalsa was really made by the Manjha Khalsa. The Manjha Khalsa, however, could not keep their ‘danga’ spirit alive once the Khalsa became the rulers and instead of the ‘hane hane miri’ the Khalsa accepted to bask in the glory of the empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled in the name of the Khalsa but having mostly the non Khalsa elements as councillors in his Darbar.
The Khalsa was quite clear about what to do when they had no power and possessions but when the ‘miri’ brought power and possessions, the Khalsa allowed it to be appropriated by their leaders as their personal property to be passed on to their descendants. The British had appeared on the scene at that time and they were acquiring possessions in the name of their king in London but the Khalsa could establish no communication with the British and allowed the independence of the Khalsa to be undermined by the Sikh misldars and sardars .
The King Chiefs and Sardars who came to rule Panjab could not be held as an example or ideal for the Khalsa. The order of Nihangs therefore came to be accepted as the true Khalsa. Their control of the Akal Takht signified to an ordinary Sikh the fact that the Khalsa was the ruler de jure if not de facto. Every one invoked Khalsa jio for his cause. In the interencine war of succession after Maharaja Ranjit Singh we have some-one like Hira Singh Dogra successfully haranguing the soldiers in the name of the Khalsa against Sandhwalia sardars and later even Henry Lawrence acknowledging that a lot of things could be done in Punjab by invoking the concept of the Khalsa.
The Khalsa without the ‘Danga’ tradition could easily serve the British as they had served either the chiefs from among the Sikhs or others like Adina Beg, the Doaba governor or the Nizam of Hyderabad who had in his service a brigade of the Sikhs. The British made baptism as Khalsa compulsory for the Sikh soldiers as they came to realise that the excellence of the Khalsa soldiers was connected with their baptism or Amrit.
Just as the Khalsa soldiers had a glorious record in warfare under the British, the Khalsa had a glorious record in the freedom movement of the country. It was role of ‘subordinate patriotism under the British in the British in the words of A. H. Bingley and in the national freedom struggle we can say that the Khalsa role under the Shiromani Akali Dal was a role of ‘subordinate nationalism.’
There are many who are of the view that the leadership of the Khalsa has not come up to the expectations and aspirations of the Khalsa, sant Bhindranwale’s charisma and following was generated by the underlying frustration in the Sikh masses who felt that all their sacrifices their leaders had failed them. I think our misguided Khadkus thought of achieving a rightful position for the Khalsa by going back to the ‘danga’ days but they forget that the strategy that had won laurels for the Khalsa in the early 18th century could not be applied as such as to the situation prevailing after a lapse of 250 years one never can step into the same river twice.
The Khalsa is a brotherhood of the Gurmukhs, i.e. the Guru centred ones. The perception of the manmukhs i.e. the self centred ones, whatever wisdom and far-sightedness they may claim or display . A glimpse of perception of the reality can be had from Babarvani verses in the Guru Granth Sahib, Bachittar Natak or Zafarnamah. All these and Gurbani makes it clear that the world around us reflects the will and order of the Almighty. Gurmukh is some one who can perceive the order and will of God. He does not waste his energy in remorse or blaming others for what came to prevail. The author is not aware of any one who has been or who is being perceived as the leader of the Khalsa, speaking the language of a Gurmukh . One can grant that the leaders of the Khalsa like Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra or Parkash Singh Badal have done their best in the circumstances prevailing but if in the biography of Master Tara Singh complied by his sons, one misses even a single reference to the guidance having been sought from the Guru and in dialogues with the personalities concerned the justification for the decisions taken is the wordly wisdom and cleverness of mind, one has to conclude that in public affairs the Khalsa allowed themselves to be led by Manmukhs. Unless the situation changes, the greatness of the Khalsa will remain something that has happened in the past but not likely to be repeated in the 21st century.