The Religion of the Sikhs, by Dorothy Field, , at sacred-texts.com
The Religion of the Sikhs is one of the most interesting at present existing in India, possibly indeed in the whole world. Being of comparatively late origin, it has not, until lately, received the attention of students, but both in its history and its theology it will well repay study. It is a pure, lofty monotheism, which sprang out of an attempt to reform and to simplify Muhammadanism and Hinduism, and which, though failing in this attempt, succeeded in binding together, like Judaism of old, a whole race in a new bond of religious zeal. The Sikhs 1 became a nation by reason of their faith,—and a fine nation of stalwart soldiers.
There is a tendency at the present day to reckon the Sikhs as a reformed sect of the Hindus; and this has become a matter for controversy among the Indians themselves. The word Hinduism is undoubtedly capable of a very wide application., but it is questionable whether it should be held to include the Sikhs in view of the fact that the pure teaching of the Gurus 1 assumed a critical attitude towards the three cardinal pillars of Hinduism, the priesthood, the caste system, 2 and the Vedas. 3 A reading of the Granth strongly suggests that Sikhism should be regarded as a new and separate world-religion, rather than as a reformed sect of the Hindus. The founder of the religion, Nānak, was on the one hand the spiritual descendant of monotheistic reformers within Hinduism, but on the other, Muhammadan influences caused him to break away very much more from the older faith, and to admit much that might be directly traced to the followers of the Prophet. The subsequent enmity of the
[paragraph continues] Muhammadans, and the consequent development of martial tendencies on the part of the Sikhs, can only be understood in the light of history, and for that reason we will consider briefly the lives of the Sikh Gurus, before going further into the question of doctrine.
The Gurus: Nānak.—Bāba—or Father—Nānak, as he is usually called by pious Sikhs, was born in the year 1460 at Talwandi, in the present Lahore district of the Punjab. It is said that his birth was attended by miracles, and that an astrologer predicted his future greatness. Very early the boy displayed a great interest in religious matters. At the village school to which he went he astonished his teacher by making an acrostic on the alphabet, in which he emphasised the need for true religion. After this Nānak took to private study, and spent much time in meditation and in association with religious men. He wandered in the dense forests around his home, and there doubtless met the religious teachers and reformers of his day, ascetics and wanderers of every kind. From them he must have learned the subtleties associated with religious controversy, and for the first time the principles of Muhammadan doctrine. Nānak's parents were strict Hindus of the Khatri caste, and in due time the Brahman priest came to invest the boy with the sacred thread. 1 Nānak was only nine years old, but he protested against
the formality involved in such a ceremony by means of an improvised hymn:
"Make mercy thy cotton, contentment thy thread, continence its knot, truth its twist.
"That would make a janeu 1 for the soul; if thou have it, O Brahman, then put it on me.
"It will not break, or become soiled, or be burned, or lost.
"Blest the man, O Nānak, 2 who goeth with such a thread on his neck."
This hymn is typical of the manner in which Nānak afterwards conveyed most of his teaching. From that day onward he protested against the tyranny of caste, and the authority of the Brahman priesthood. He proceeded to learn Persian, in which language he was able to read many of the great Muhammadan writings, whose influence is shown so clearly in these early years. An acrostic composed on the letters of the Persian alphabet is entirely Muhammadan in tone, as, for example, the following sentence, which shows how far Nānak's mind had travelled in this direction:
"Renounce heresy, and walk according to the Shariat" (Muhammadan law).
For a long while all attempts on the part of Nānak's parents to induce him to enter some trade in accordance with the tradition of his caste proved fruitless. The lad was continually engrossed in meditation, and had no care for the things of this world. Finally, however, he consented to enter the service of a Muhammadan governor, whom after a time he converted to his reformative doctrine. On the occasion of this conversion Nānak showed a power of mind-reading, and such profound religious insight that, before he left the city, both Hindus and Mussulmans came to do him honour. After this it is said that Nānak went into the wilderness, where he was severely tempted by Kaljug, the devil. He resisted every attack, however, and afterwards was granted a, special vision of God, during which he held converse with Him, and received instruction for his mission. During this experience he composed an important part of the Jāpji, 1 which has since become the key-note of Sikh doctrine. Nānak then donned a religious costume, and definitely set forth on his life-work as teacher, or Guru. He took with him his minstrel Mardana, who accompanied his hymns upon the rebook. 2 The greater part of the new
teaching was conveyed by means of these hymns, improvised and chanted to well-known musical measures. 1 In this way Nānak discoursed with men of every caste and creed, but mostly with Brahmans, among whom he made many converts. He pointed out the inefficacy of caste and of the priesthood, protesting against formalism, whether Muhammadan or Hindu. He taught the existence of an all-powerful and loving Creator, who must be approached with simplicity and sincerity and by the loving repetition of the Sacred Name. Any one, of whatever caste or creed, who followed the Guru's teaching was held to have found salvation, even though he continued to live the ordinary life of the world. Much of Nānak's time was spent wandering and preaching in great simplicity of life—but he was married, as were all the Gurus after him. He discouraged ascetic practices, and taught that true religion was in the heart, whatever might be the walk in life. Whereas the Brahmans forbade either women or Sudras 2 to read the Vedas, Nānak held that all human beings were on an equality in the
sight of God. The Guru travelled all over India spreading his doctrines; to the Himalayas, to Ceylon, and it is said that he even went as far westward as Mecca, the pole-star of Muhammadan religion. A story told of him on this occasion is interesting, as showing the manner in which he conveyed his teaching. When outside the holy city an Arab priest reproached him for turning his feet in the direction of God.
"Turn my feet," answered Nānak, "in a direction in which God is not."
Upon this, it is said, the priest seized the Guru's feet and dragged them round, whereupon the temple turned, following the revolution of his body. This is usually understood in a spiritual sense, moaning that all Mecca turned to his teaching. During the Guru's wanderings he wore a strange mixture of Hindu and Mussulman costumes. This is supposed to show that he did not regard the two religions as essentially opposed in their pure forms, and that his own doctrines might be acceptable to both. Before Nānak died in 1538 he appointed his disciple, Angad, as his successor, whom he had previously subjected to severe tests.
An event which occurred at Nānak's death shows that his teaching had not been altogether
unfavourably received. Hindus and Muhammadans disputed as to which should have the disposal of his body. He himself, before dying, commanded the Hindus to place flowers on his right and the Mussulmans on his left; they whose flowers were found fresh in the morning should have the disposal of the body. The next day the flowers on both sides were found fresh, but the body had disappeared. 1 The Sikhs erected a shrine, and the Muhammadans a tomb, in his honour, on the banks of the Ravi; but both buildings have been washed away by the river.
Angad.—Nine Gurus followed Nānak, and the first of these was Angad. Guru Angad's chief contribution to the religion was the invention of a special alphabet to be used for the writing of the Guru's hymns. Among the Hindus all sacred literature was composed in Sanscrit, even then a dead language—and it was entirely in keeping with the teaching of Nānak that this custom should be disregarded and the simple language of the people employed. Angad, however, modified. the Punjābi alphabet, in order that a special written character should be used. This modification of Punjābi was called Guru-Mukhi, and was thenceforth specially employed for all Sikh sacred literature. The new alphabet contained but thirty-five letters, whereas Sanscrit had fifty-two.
[paragraph continues] Guru Angad held the Guruship for fourteen years, and died in 1552.
Amar Dās.—Amar Dās, his servant, succeeded him, This Guru made his head-quarters at Goindwal on the Bias, where he built a well with eighty-four steps, which is still regarded as sacred by the Sikhs. When he died, in 1574, he appointed his son-in-law as his successor, after subjecting him to very severe tests. He gave him the name of Rām Dās. The second Guru is specially remembered by the Sikhs for his intense humility.
Rām Dās.—Guru Rām Dās instituted the system of Masands. These men were appointed to collect the offerings of the faithful for the support and spread of the Sikh religion. After a while they became dishonest, and the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, abolished them. Rām Dās continued the excavation of Amritsar (lake of nectar), which he had begun during the lifetime of Amar Dās. This work was completed by his son, Guru Arjan, who succeeded him. Whereas the first three Gurus had passed over their sons when appointing successors, the office of Guru now became hereditary.
Arjan.—Guru Arjan entered upon the Guruship in 1581, and with his reign a change came in the fortunes of the Sikhs. Arjan was perhaps, the most notable of all the Gurus. He was possessed of remarkably handsome appearance and was a fine poet as well as a man of great practical
ability. When he had completed the tank of Amritsar he set about the construction of the Har Mandar—or Golden Temple—which was to stand in the middle of the lake. He then proceeded to compile a volume of hymns, half of which were of his own composition, while the remaining half contained those of the previous Gurus, and of the earlier reformers, by whom they were influenced. 1 The editing of this volume was a very important matter, upon which no time or trouble was spared. When completed it was called the Granth Sāhib—or noble book—and later the Adi (or first) Granth, in contradistinction to the Granth which was compiled in the name of the tenth Guru.
With the vigour and initiative of Arjan's leadership the Sikhs were rising in importance, and since they now possessed both a sacred volume and a sacred city, the attention of the Emperor Akbar was directed towards them. Complaints were made to him of impiety in the Granth Sāhib, and of contempt shown to Muhammadan and Hindu deities. Upon examining the hymns, however, Akbar declared that he found no impiety in them, and he paid the Guru a reverential visit, asking for his prayers. Before long, however, the
tolerant Emperor died, and was succeeded by his fanatical and suspicious son, Jahāngīr. This ruler, believing Guru Arjan to be involved in political rebellion against him, summoned him to his court. There the complaints against the sacred volume were renewed, and Arjan was ordered to erase all passages that were supposed to reflect on Muhammadan or Hindu doctrine. This Arjan refused to do, declaring that his object was the spread of truth, and that:
"If in pursuance of this object this perishable body must depart, I shall account it great good fortune."
His wishes were realised; for, on refusing to submit, the Guru was handed over to his enemies, who subjected him to terrible tortures. To the last he remained firm. He died in 1606 as the result of this treatment.
Har Gobind.—The sixth Guru, Har Gobind, obeyed the injunctions of his father to "sit fully armed on his throne, and maintain an army to the best of his ability." He was the first Sikh Guru to take up arms, and to surround himself with a body-guard. He found his followers well prepared for the new rôle which they had to assume. The martyrdom of the Guru brought to a bead certain tendencies that had always existed among the Sikhs. Though not hitherto bearers of arms, they had always valued fine physique and healthiness, both of mind and
of body. Their teaching had warned them to avoid morbid asceticism on the one hand and worldly excess on the other. They took a clear, sane view of life, having a simple trust in God and living natural human lives. They bathed daily in cold water—sang the Guru's hymns before dawn, ate meat, but abjured wine and tobacco, They took no part in pilgrimages—so prolific a cause of the spread of disease in India. A soldier who came to the second Guru for advice was told not to lay down his arms, but rather to fight loyally for his master: Thus the murder of Arjan by a Muhammadan emperor brought out in the Sikhs what was already latent ability.
Har Rāi.—Har Gobind upheld the soot against oppression during thirty-seven years, and his grandson, Har Rāi, who succeeded him, for sixteen. Neither of these Gurus left any hymns. They relied on the Granth Sāhib for the moans of conveying their instruction, quoting suitable hymns from it on various occasions. Their history is secular rather than religious, but the teaching of Nānak was faithfully adhered to, and the sect remained a religious body. When Aurangzeb became emperor Har Rāi got into difficulties with him, and was obliged to send his eldest son as hostage to the Emperor's court.
Har Krishan.—This son appears to have been false to his religion, and therefore, his younger
brother, Har Krishan, was made eighth Guru by his father, although he was but five years and three months old. Har Rāi had refused to look the tyrant Aurangzeb in the face, and Har Krishan adopted the same course. The false brother—Rām Rāi—who wished the young Guru to come to Delhi in order that he might seize the Guruship, thought of a trick and persuaded him that the Sikhs of Delhi were suffering from the absence of a Guru. This scheme had its due effect, and the boy Guru started out for Delhi. He was still on his way to the court, preaching and discoursing as he went, when he was seized with small-pox and died, being at the time of his death but seven years old. Before his death the difficult question of a successor arose. Har Krishan indicated that the new Guru would be found in a distant village, and uttering Baba Bakāle—that is, Father Bakāle (the name of the village)—he offered the usual offerings, 1 and bowed to his absent successor. This mysterious appointment caused a certain amount of trouble. Twenty-two religious men in the village claimed the Guru-ship, and began to appropriate the offerings of Sikhs.
Teg Bahādur.—But at last an old man of the
name of Teg Bahādur was found, dwelling in silence and retirement. He was the great-uncle of Har Krishan and brother to the fifth Guru. When offered the Guruship he steadily refused it, but finally, upon the earnest representation of Sikhs, he came forth from retirement. He was made head of the sect in 1664. He was a man of gentle and rather melancholy disposition, with a reserve force of moral courage, which stood him in good stead later on. He spoke strongly against the use of tobacco, saying that when people were saved from the vile drug, when they abandoned the degrading smoke and cultivated their lands, their wealth and prosperity should greatly increase, but "when they inhale the vile vegetable they must grow poor and lose their wealth." About this time Aurangzeb was carrying on a bitter persecution of the Hindus, and owing to Moslem enmity the Sikhs were now much more friendly with them than with the Muhammadans. The Hindus, therefore, complained to the Guru. They pointed out that Aurangzeb was destroying their religion by force, burning down temples, breaking images, and ill-treating the worshippers. Teg Bahādur listened to their complaints and thought of a plan. He determined to offer himself as a martyr to the cause of true religion and freedom of thought. He, therefore, deliberately embroiled himself with the Emperor, pleading for the persecuted Hindus, and taking the opportunity of
declaring the new and purer doctrine of Sikhism. He said that a third religion had arisen which contained all that was best in Hinduism and Muhammadanism, and he besought the Emperor to adopt this. He knew well that such interference might mean death and that he would attract the attention of the infuriated Emperor to himself. His anticipations were realised, and he was ordered to court. Of his prison life in Delhi an interesting story is told. "It is said that one day, as he was on the top story of his prison, the Emperor saw him looking towards the south in the direction of the imperial zenana. Next day, he was sent for anti charged with this grave breach of Oriental etiquette and propriety. The Guru replied:
"Emperor Aurangzeb, I was on the top story of my prison, but I was not looking at thy private apartments or at thy queens; I was looking in the direction of the Europeans, who are coming from beyond the seas to tear down thy pardas and destroy thy Empire."
A Sikh writer states that certain of these words became the battle-cry of the Sikhs in the assault on Delhi in 1857 under General John Nicholson, and that thus the prophecy of the ninth Guru was gloriously fulfilled, 1"
The Emperor offered Teg Bahādur his freedom and great honour if he would accept Islām—
death being the alternative. But the Guru remained firm, warning Aurangzeb that his empire must perish. He was accordingly put to death in 1675. After the deed was carried out it is said that the Emperor was much distressed, and that he never wholly regained his peace of mind. While in prison Teg Bahādur sent for the copper coins and the cocoa-nut, 1 bowed in front of them and meditated on his absent son, Gobind Rāi. 2 Whatever the effect may have been of the martyrdom of Arjan—the fifth Guru—in bringing out the warlike tendencies of the Sikhs, this effect was redoubled in the case of the death of Teg Bahādur.
Gobind Singh.—His son Gobind Rāi immediately surrounded himself with a great army, and made himself so noble a warrior that it is said by the chronicler that "his splendour shone like the sun." Every disciple who came to him was enrolled as a soldier; instruction in the use of weapons was given daily. Many promises were made as to rewards for bravery in warfare. At the same time religious fervour grew, fostered by the singing of hymns, open-air preaching, meditation, and the repeating of the sacred Name. Opportunities for the display of military zeal soon
arose; the jealousy of the Muhammadans increased and the Sikh army was frequently embroiled with the Emperor's men. There were small skirmishes followed by bigger battles, and these were fought with varying success. Sometimes the Sikhs were badly beaten; but whether vanquished or victorious they won renown for their bravery. They were men drawn from every caste or none, and their extraordinary fearlessness and loyalty to one another soon became proverbial.
But the great work of Gobind Singh's life was the institution of the Khanda-di-Pāhul or Baptism of the Sword. 1 This ceremony became so important, and its effects so vital and far-reaching, that it will not be out of place to give a detailed account of its institution.
At a critical moment in the fortunes of the Sikhs the Guru called his disciples together and asked if any were ready to die for him. Five professed their willingness to do so. In order to test their sincerity the Guru took each in turn into an enclosure, from whence he reappeared alone, exhibiting a dripping sword. None of the five, however, shrank from the ordeal. Only after
the fifth had gone to apparent martyrdom was it discovered that the blood was that of a goat, and that all the Sikhs were still alive. The Guru then declared that Sikhism could now only he maintained by force of arms. He then poured water into an iron vessel and stirred it with a two-edged sword, repeating Guru Nānak's Jāpji, his own Jāpji, Guru Amār Dās’ Anand, and some hymns of his own composition. It is said that as he was performing this ceremony his wife arrived carrying some Indian sweetmeats. She came out of curiosity, but the Guru asked her to throw the sweets into the holy water. He said that he had begun to establish the Khālsa as his sons, and that a mother was necessary at all times for sons. He also said that the sweets poured into the water typified the affection which was to exist between Sikhs. The Guru then gave five palmsfu1 of the water to each of the chosen five. He sprinkled it five times on their hair and eyes and caused them to repeat Wāhguru ji ka Khālsa, Wāhguru ji ki fatah,—"The Khālsa of God, victory to God."
These words became the new war cry of the Sikhs. The Guru also gave them the name of Singh, or lion, which was to be added to the name of each baptized disciple. The following instructions were then added.
Sikhs were to wear five articles whose names begin with a K. Kes, long hair, Kangha, a comb,
[paragraph continues] Kripan, a sword, Kachh, short drawers, and Kara, a steel bracelet. They wore to be loyal to their masters, and never to turn their backs on a foe. A belief in the equality of all men was to take the place of all distinctions of caste. They were to rise at dawn, bathe, read the hymns of the Gurus, meditate on the Creator, and share a common meal. They were to abstain from all the superstitious practices of the Hindus—such as pilgrimages and idol-worship, suttee and infanticide. Meat might be eaten, provided the animal were slain by one blow from the hand of a Sikh. Tobacco, wine, and all stimulants wore forbidden. Any breach of these rules would bring excommunication, reconciliation being through a fine and re-baptism. After giving these instructions the Guru desired the neophytes to baptize him in return. They at first protested, but he pointed out that the baptism put them all on a footing of equality, and the Khālsa, 1 as the sect was now called, was equal to the Guru. They yielded; and after this many thousands were baptized. Gobind Singh then sent to the Hill Rajahs, beseeching them to receive this baptism as a means of protecting themselves against the Turks. The Rajahs replied: "Each Turk can eat a whole goat. How can we, who only eat rice, cope with such strong men? Can sparrows kill hawks, or jackals tigers?" The
[paragraph continues] Guru replied that his baptismal nectar could make one Sikh equal to many Turks, and that he could kill hawks with sparrows, On this, many Hindus, both of high and of low caste, accepted the baptism. Its results on the pariah were little short of miraculous. By its power men who had hitherto been regarded as unclean and polluted from their birth, were changed into exceptionally fine warriors. Before the time of the Sikh Gurus no general could have dreamed of raising an army from such outcastes; and this metamorphosis was accomplished despite the hidebound prejudice and innate conservatism of the Hindus.
The success of this famous institution brought thousands to the Guru's standard, and his army increased daily. Nevertheless it was a hard struggle to keep the sect alive, for there were enemies on all sides. Gobind Singh kept up the courage of his army by the singing of martial hymns, and by the force of his exceptional and brilliant personality. On one occasion he was questioned about the prophecies of his father. The Sikhs asked what their condition should be when the English arrived, The Guru replied:
"The English shall come with a great army. The Sikhs too, shall be very powerful, and their army shall engage that of the English. Sometimes victory shall incline to my Sikhs, sometimes to the English. As long as the religion of the
[paragraph continues] Sikhs remaineth distinct, so long shall the glory of those who profess it increase."
He went on to say that when the Sikhs become selfish and tangled in worldly affairs, corrupt and forgetful of their religion; when they relapse into Hinduism, "then the English shall rule and their glory increase." He then prophesied the fall of the Muhammadan empire and said:
"At the end of the Sambat year 1800 (A.D. 1743) the Sikhs shall take possession of many countries. Three years after that Sikhs shall spring out of every bush, and there shall subsequently be terrible warfare between the Sikhs and the Muhammadans. A powerful monarch shall come from Kandhar 1 and destroy countless Sikhs. He shall continue his progress of destruction to Mathura in Hindustan, and alarm many lands. None shall be able to withstand him. As prophesied by Guru Arjan, he shall raze the temple of Amritsar to the ground, but the Sikhs shall plunder his camp on his retreat from India. In the Sambat year 1900 (A.D. 1843) the Turks who survive shall lose their empire. A Christian army shall come from Calcutta. The Sikhs who are at variance with one another will join them. There shall be great destruction of life, and men and women shall be expelled from their homes. The
[paragraph continues] Sikhs who abandon their arms and join the Brahmans against the English, shall have great sufferings. The real Sikhs shall hold their ground and survive."
On another occasion it was pointed out to Gobind Singh that the Sikhs were much less numerous than the Hindus and Muhammadans. Upon this he made the following reply, which has a special interest to-day:
"What God willeth shall take place. When the army of the Turks cometh, my Sikhs shall strike steel on steel. The Khālsa shall then awake, and know the play of battle. Amid the clash of arms the Khālsa shall be partners in present and future bliss, tranquillity, meditation, virtue, and divine knowledge. Then shall the English come, and, joined by the Khālsa, rule as well in the East as in the West. The holy Baba Nānak shall bestow all wealth on them. The English shall possess great power, and by force of arms take possession of many principalities. The combined armies of the English and the Sikhs shall be very powerful as long as they rule with united councils. The empire of the English shall vastly increase, and they shall in every way attain prosperity. Wherever they take their armies they shall conquer, and bestow thrones on those who assist them. Then in every house shall be wealth, in every house happiness, in every house rejoicing, in every house religion, in every
house learning, and in every house a woman. The English shall rule for a long time." 1
Guru Gobind Singh repeated the teaching of his father against tobacco. One day when hunting, he came upon a field where the plant grew. He reined in his horse, and inveighed against it. He said that it burned the chest, induced nervousness, palpitation, bronchitis, and other diseases, finally causing death. He, therefore, begged Sikhs to abstain, concluding: "Wine is bad, bhang destroyeth one generation, but tobacco destroyeth all generations."
After the death of Aurangzeb the Guru became on personally good terms With the new Emperor, Bahādur Shāh. They went hunting together, and the Emperor appears to have had a wholesome fear of the Guru. Nevertheless, the enmity between the Sikhs and the Muhammadans continued. Gobind Singh was on his way to Southern India after a battle when he was stabbed by a Muhammadan, and received a wound which afterwards, reopening, resulted in his death. Before he died, he told his Sikhs that the Khālsa was now thoroughly established, both its religious teaching and the laws for everyday life having become sufficiently definite. There was, therefore, no need to establish a new Guru. The Khālsa and the Granth Sāhib were for the future to be revered as Guru, and the spirit of Gobind
[paragraph continues] Singh might be met by "diligently searching the hymns of the sacred volume." Wherever five faithful Sikhs were assembled, Gobind Singh himself would be in the midst of them. They should be considered "priests of all priests," and should have power to absolve sins. The Guru bowed before the Granth Sāhib as his successor, and gave final directions as to charity before he died in 1708, having been Guru for thirty-three years.
It will be seen that the work of Gobind Singh was somewhat different to that of the other Gurus. His special task was to protect the sect at a moment when it might have perished, and for this work he is worthy to stand by Nānak, the founder of the whole movement. But it must not be imagined that because he was a fine warrior he was less spiritual or less religious than his predecessors. He made religious fervour the backbone of all his warlike doctrines. He united practical skill with mystical meditation; and the results speak for themselves. He wrote very many hymns; which, setting aside those in praise of the sword, contain a stronger vein of pantheistic mysticism than do those of the other Gurus. He also made greater claims for himself as prophet.
Among the writings that he has left us there is a curious account of his own spiritual history, in which he tells how God sent him into the world
to help the world when it was going astray. When he desired his Sikhs to baptize him he said: "I am the son of the immortal God, who has sent me into the world to exalt religion." He says that he did not desire to come, but that God "remonstrated earnestly" with him.
From the foregoing history of the Sikh Gurus it will be seen how greatly the development of their religion was influenced by the turn of events. At first, as we have noticed, Nānak's religious teaching was more favourable to the Muhammadans than to the Hindus, for with the latter he was constantly in difficulties over questions of caste. The nervous superstition and the tyranny of the Moghul rulers, however, soon changed the state of affairs. Easily crediting any story against the Gurus, these emperors brought about the death of two of the most prominent of them. From the time of Gobind Singh onward the bitterest enmity existed between Sikhs and Muhammadans. In their refuge among the hills in Northern India the Khālsa, continued to develop their splendid physique—to keep alive the flame of religious zeal, and to maintain themselves as a separate nation. They marched against the British in the Sikh wars of 1845 and 1847; but, once defeated, they remembered the prophecies of the ninth Guru and became passionately loyal to their English masters. The finest and most staunch native soldiery, they saved the
[paragraph continues] Empire in 1857; and they have stood by the British nation on countless occasions since.
The position of present day Sikhs 1 is a curious one. Where the baptism of Gobind Singh is persisted in they are likely to remain a separate nation; but when this falls into disuse they show a tendency to reabsorb into Hinduism. They employ Brahman priests at marriages, deaths, and at all important domestic events. In reality the pure teaching of Nānak discredits the formalities of Hindu religion, and, therefore, in so far as Sikhs submit to these they are failing back from the highest teaching of the Granth. Pure Sikhism is far above dependence on Hindu ritual, and is capable of a distinct position as a world-religion, so long as Sikhs maintain their distinctiveness.
The religion is also one which should appeal to the Occidental mind. It is essentially a practical religion. If judged from the pragmatical standpoint—which is a favourite point of view in some quarters—it would rank almost first in the world. Of no other religion can it be said that it has made a nation in so short a time. That it should have transformed the out-caste Indian—a notoriously indolent and unstable
person—into a fine and loyal warrior, is little short of a miracle. This practical and political side to the question should have a special interest for the West; and above all, for Englishmen, who have so largely reaped the benefits of this grand faith. But apart from political considerations, the religious aspect is one which deserves special attention, Sikhism stands for a great body of religious thought in India, hitherto insufficiently recognised as an inherent factor, Through various nihilistic, pantheistic, or atheistic phases of Hinduism, and despite a vast number of elaborate observances, the ideals of pure monotheism have prevailed; from the time of their foreshadowing in the Vedas, through the work of such men as Rāmānuj and Rāmānand to their final epitome in the Sikh Gurus. There they gained new fervour from Islāmic influence, and, developing warlike ideals as the result of oppression, produced one of the great world-religions, the latest to obtain recognition in Europe. The history of this development of monotheistic ideals within Hinduism, and of the religious influence of Islām, will be examined in the next chapter.
9:1 Sikh, literally "disciple."
10:1 Guru (literally great) signifies "teacher."
10:2 The Hindus recognise four great castes: Brahmans, or priests; Kshatriyas, or warriors; Vaisayes, or traders; and Sudras, or serfs. These castes were mapped out in rigid demarcation, and were supposed to have been created separately, the Brahmans having sprung from the head of Brahma and the other castes from other parts of his body. It will be seen that this belief in a fundamental distinction between various human beings must have a strong effect on religious and social life.
10:3 Veda (lit, knowledge.) is a term given to the ancient Indian Scriptures, of which thorn were four sections.
11:1 This ceremony initiates a boy into his caste.
12:1 The sacred thread.
12:2 In oriental poetry it was the custom for the poet to address himself in the last line or lines. The subsequent Gurus of the Sikhs used "Nānak" as their pseudonym, thereby emphasising their belief that the spirit of Nānak entered successively into each of the teachers who followed him.
13:1 A collection of hymns, from which extracts will be given later.
13:2 The rebeck, or rabab, is an instrument of Arabian origin, having from four to six strings of goat-gut, with steel strings for resonance. It has fallen into disuse in Northern India.
14:1 Indian writers enumerate six principal rāgs or musical measures. To these are allotted "wives" and "sons," which are modifications of the principal airs, and are often sung differently in different provinces of India. The hymns of the sacred book of the Sikhs were composed to thirty-one such musical measures.
14:2 Women and Sudras were held to be beyond the pale of religion. In the Institutes of Gautam it is ordered that, if a p. 16 Sudra hear the Vedas, his ears must be stopped with war or molten lead; if he read the Vedas, his tongue must be cut out; if he possess the Vedas, the penalty is death.
16:1 A similar story is told of the renowned Indian saint, Kabīr.
18:1 Fifteen reformers are represented altogether. They are: Jaidev, Nāmdev, Trilochan, Parmānand, Sadhna, Beni, Rāmānand, Dhanna, Pīpa, Sāīn, Kabīr, Rāv Dās, Sûr Dās, Farid, and Bhīkan. The two last are Muhammadan saints.
21:1 It was the custom of each Guru, when appointing his successor, to send for five paise, or farthings, and a cocoanut. and offer these, afterwards doing homage and circumambulating the new Guru.
23:1 The Sikh Religion, Max A. Macauliffe, vol. IV.
24:1 See note page 21.
24:2 Gobind Rāi—afterwards Gobind Singh—sent his father a couplet while in prison, which was afterwards included with the hymns of the ninth Guru in the Granth Sāhib.
25:1 Many Sikhs do not take this baptism. Those who adopt Gobind Singh's system in full are known as Singhs (lions), those who reject it as Sahijdharis (livers at ease). The former are all warriors, the latter traders or agriculturists.
27:1 From the Arabia Khālis, "pure."
29:1 This prophecy was fulfilled in 1762, when Ahmad Shah marched against the Sikhs, and blew up the Golden Temple.
31:1 The Sikh Religion, Max A. Macauliffe, vol. v.
34:1 See note, page 25. Besides the two main Envisions of Sikhs there are certain minor sects which include several orders of ascetics. Very many shades of opinion are held among the members of these various bodies, some of their views being almost indistinguishable from ordinary Hinduism.