Guru Granth-Guru Panth & the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib

Guru Granth-Guru Panth & the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib

Gurmukh Singh OBE
Note: The background to the present discussion is the episode of 'saadh' Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who runs the so called "Dera Sacha Sauda". Recent related events in Panjab have started much controversy about the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib itself. Some even deny the historical background of the Institution going back to Guru Hargobind ji, as the miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) seat of authority in the Sikh tradition.

The Doctrine of Double Sovereignty:

"We hereby place our impress of sovereignty upon both worlds, the seen and the unseen"
(Sikkeh zad bar har alam)
- State seal of the Khalsa led by Banda Singh Bahadur.
"A man of religion must always owe his primary allegiance to Truth and morality, and he must never submit to the exclusive claim of the secular state to govern the bodies and minds of men...
(Sirdar Kapur Singh, "The Golden Temple: Its Theo-Political Status", published by Dharam Parchar Committee, 1998.)

A government dealing with the Sikhs and seeking their allegiance, must accept own limitations. Sirdar Kapur Singh has stated two pre-conditions for dealing with the Sikhs:

  1. Sikhs must be approached and dealt with at state level as a collective group and entity.
  2. They must be governed impersonally, that is through the rule of law and not by arbitrary will. ...The State, in practice, is the government, and the government is no more than a group in control of the government machinery.

That group must accept and respect the rights of other groups, including the Sikhs.

The underlying principle of Double Sovereignty is derived from Guru Nanak Sahib's egalitarian, freedom loving and asserting, revolutionary ideology. It needs to be understood in the context of Guru Granth - Guru Panth twin track approach to Sikh theo-political affairs and, why and how the position of the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib is supreme in the Sikh tradition and psyche.

The background to the present discussion is the episode of "saadh" Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who runs the so called "Dera Sacha Sauda". It has started much controversy about the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib itself. The saadh impersonated Guru Gobind Singh. Some Sikhs lost their lives in the clashes which followed. Like other dera heads in India, the saadh has political clout and backing. Five jathedars, led by Jathedar, Sri Akal Takht Sahib, exonerated him without his personal appearance at the Takht to seek forgiveness and to accept "tankhah" (punishment). Some argue that he is not a Sikh and his appearance was not necessary. Either way, the decision by the jathedars makes little sense.

Some see this as an opportunity to challenge the authority of the Institution itself; while, others have been active setting up splinter groups denying the authority of the Takht as an institution altogether.

Perhaps a review of the underlying concept and principle behind the original establishment of Sri Akal Takht Sahib by Guru Hargobind Sahib, would help.

According to the Doctrine of Double Sovereignty, men and women of religion, cannot be unconditional slaves of an unjust regime. They will resist such a regime.

Founded on Guru Nanak Sahib's revolutionary ideology by the 6th Nanak, Guru Hargobind, the Sikh Institution of Akal Takht Sahib is also an expression of Double Sovereignty. It stands for the miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) sovereignty of the Khalsa Panth.

Guru Gobind Singh instituted the Guru Granth- Guru Khalsa Panth tradition replacing the Guru-in-Person with the collective Guru Khalsa Panth as in the Guru's image ("Khalsa Mero Roop hai khaas").

The Five Takhts, including Sri Akal Takht Sahib, recognised by the Khalsa Panth, represent the Throne of the Guru Khalsa Panth.

Geographically, and perhaps strategically during periods of conflict, these seats of miri-piri focus of the Khalsa, are located in different parts of the country; but they all represent the supreme authority of the Guru Khalsa Panth for the Sikhs worldwide. By Khalsa tradition and the Sikh Reht Maryada, Sri Akal Takht Sahib located at Amritsar is accepted as the main Takht, as the first amongst equals.

So, why are the "spokesmen" at the Takhts, the "Jathedars", being confused with the "Authority" of the Takhts which should be in the hands of Guru Khalsa Panth ? The reason behind this confusion is political, and its background needs to be understood.

Let me start with a simple local level illustration. The Granthi of a Gurdwara is a highly respected person. Nevertheless, he or she, is not the same as the institution of the Gurdwara. Guru Granth Sahib and the "Gur Sangat" (referred to as such in the Sikh Reht Maryada) represent the twin Institution of the Gurdwara. Neither the Granthi, nor the parbandhaks (Gurdwara managers) can claim that authority. Only the Gur Sangat has the authority to collectively interpret and apply the Guru's Word. The Sangat can select 5 Gursikhs, as the Panj Piaray to interpret and apply the Gurmat as per Sri Guru Granth Sahib i.e. Gurbani. The Granthi Singh, or the parbandhaks, may or may not be one of the Panj Piaray, who then represent the twin institution of Gur Sangat before Guru Granth Sahib.

A Jathedar of a Takht is not the same as the Institution of the Takht.

"He can not issue Hukamnamas as per his whims of his will. He can issue the Gurmattas of the Sarbat Khalsa as the Hukamnamas of Akal Takht Sahib."
(Dr H S Dilgeer).

There can be no doubt about that when we look at the background of the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib.

Our focus is the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, traditionally regarded as, "the highest seat of earthly authority of the Khalsa (the collective body of the Sikhs) and the place of the jathedar, the highest spokesman of the Sikhs." where a "spokesperson" seeks instruction from the Khalsa Panth, and represents not his own will or choice, but the Will and wishes of the Guru Khalsa Panth. Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha's Mahan Kosh, published in 1930, does not mention "Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib".

Dr H S Dilgeer writes,

"Akal Takht Sahib was revealed by Guru Hargobind Sahib on June 15,1606... Akal Takht Sahib belonged to Waheguru and it was the Almighty who could have created Akal Takht Sahib". The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib is not a monarch, nor is he like the President (as in the USA), nor is the Pontiff (like Catholic Pope). He is just a speaker, a spokesman, an attendant. He is not a dictator. He can not issue Hukamnamas as per his whims of his will. He can issue the Gurmattas of the Sarbat Khalsa as the Hukamnamas of Akal Takht Sahib."
(Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer"s essay "The so-called Jathedar of Akal Takhat Sahib" )>

From Bhai Gurdas and later Bhai Mani Singh, the early "caretakers" of Akal Takht Sahib, none were referred to as "Jathedar"

"There were Sarbat Khalsa gatherings at Akal Takht Sahib, at least since 1726, but no reference is available as to who convened these gatherings. It is presumed that Jathedars of the Sikh army used to call these gatherings. Later, Budha Dal (the Sikh veterans) took over the charge of the shrines."

Dr Dilgeer mentions an interesting episode,

"On October 12, 1920, when some initiated Sikhs, belonging to so-called low castes, went to Akal Takht Sahib to offer an Ardas (prayer), the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib and the Granthis slipped away. The gathering found the Takht Sahib unattended. A Jatha (band) of 25 Sikhs was selected to take care of Takht Sahib. Bhai Teja Singh Bhucher was appointed as the Jathedar of the Jatha. Bhai Teja Singh was to be the chief of the Jatha and not Akal Takht Sahib."

And so, it seems the title "Jathedar" came in vogue and was later exploited for political purposes. The Jathedar became the means for asserting outside political influence on Sikh affairs. "It was only on September 26, 1979, when Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra approached Akal Takht Sahib for settlement of the internal affairs of the Akali Dal, that the so called Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib came to be known as some 'extra special' entity." One can only but agree with Dr Dilgeer that such a post is "in contradiction to the Sikh ideology... the term Jathedar is a misnomer."

When the so called "Jathedars" of the Takhts of the Guru Khalsa, allow themselves to be influenced by the State or deras and cults, they forfeit their right to hold their positions as "spokesmen" of the Khalsa Panth.

Only Guru Khalsa Panth has the final authority to interpret the Guru's Word in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, to seek and give guidance. Some, who say that we should be guided only by Guru Granth Sahib according to own interpretation, ignore the practical need for consistent interpretation and application of Gurbani to a changing world and new circumstances.

Such a free for all will immensely damage the corporate (Panthic Jathebandi) aspect of Sikh living.

We need to look at ways for ensuring that the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib "revealed" by Guru Hargobind ji on 15 June, 1609, remains independent of vested interests and State influence.

Let me start with my own simple bias, most probably shared by millions of ordinary Sikhs around the word. My personal belief in the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib as a medium for the Sarbat Khalsa (Guru Panth), as well as the location of "Sri Akal Bunga Sahib" (the official name for Sri Akal Takht Sahib) at Amritsar, is spiritual, and remains firm.

We reflect on the numerous sacrifices made for the location when we say in Ardaas,

"Sri Amritsar ji de ishnaan, chaunkian jhanday, bungay jugo jug attal, Dharam ka jaikar, bolo ji Waheguru."
(The bath in the holy tank at Amritsar, the hymn singing parties, the flags and the hostels, abide from age to age, may righteous conduct reign supreme. Say 'Wondrous Destroyer of Darkness'!)

From time to time the bungay will be occupied by political touts or even demolished, but they will be taken over and erected again. The Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib is accepted as supreme; but only when it is the Will and the Voice of Guru Khalsa Panth, not the will of some political office holders. How do we make it so, is the challenge before us. Scholars have suggested possible next steps.

Present conflict between the will of the Khalsa Panth and the political appointees, has its own significance in that it provides an opportunity for urgently needed reforms. Not surprisingly, in today's age of a shrinking global village, some sort of consensus is emerging about the selection process for appointing the office holders or sewadars at the Takhts. They can be given some suitable title, so far it is not misleading regarding their position as the speakers who convey the collective wishes of the Guru Khalsa Panth through consultation, including the calling of the Sarbat Khalsa on the most important issues.

For Sarbat Khalsa, an upwards representational approach from local Sangat through, regional and national to international levels, is possible. Periodical assemblies of Sarbat Khalsa can be held. Dr Dilgeer suggests that the Sarbat Khalsa, "should be a gathering of representatives of all Sikh organizations and Sikh intellectuals who consider themselves as the subjects of, and owe their loyalty solely to, Akal Takht Sahib." That is a thought which can be developed.

Electronic technology and information systems can make regular networking possible. The means are there, and, where there is a will, there is a way.

Footnote: The withdrawal on 16 October, 2015, of the Hukmnama exonerating the "asaadh" of Sirsa Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, of blasphemy over wearing of attire similar to Guru Gobind Singh Ji, issued earlier by the Akal Takhat Jathedar and four "High Priests", though placing the Jathedar and his august 'team' in very poor light, also highlights the persuasive power of the Guru Panth, represented by Sri Akal Takhat Sahib.

© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.)
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