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The Sikhs and Their Way Of Life
The Sikhs and Their Way of Life

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: The Sikhs and Their Way of Life:


Some prominent Sikhs of the 20th Century

Bhagat Puran Singh

Bhai Vir Singh

Master Tara Singh

Sardar Kapur Singh

Sardar Sobha Singh

General Bikram Singh

Sardar Karnail Singh

Sikh Gurus on Environment

The Singh Sabha Movement

The Akali Movement

Sat Sri Akal - Status and significance

The Rehat Maryada (The Sikh Code of Conduct & Conventions)

Bhagat Puran Singh (1904-1992)

Bhagat Puran Singh

(The bearded Mother Teresa of Amritsar)

Bhagat or ‘Bhakt’ usually refers to a devotee of God. Love, devotion and faith are usually regarded as important elements, which constitute as well as add to the spiritual strength of a devotee. However, Puran Singh was a Bhagat of a different kind. Initially at the age of 19, he became a Bhagat of a ‘cause’ when he came across a crippled child outside the Gurdwara Dehra Sahib in Lahore. As this child was an abandoned orphan he chose to take him in to his voluntary care. Soon his faithful love and devotional care for the disabled orphan further ignited his spirit of service for disadvantaged people. Although generally the love of God generates love for living beings, with Puran Singh it was probably the love of humankind which led him to the love of God and hence to become a Bhagat. No doubt this love in turn, became a perpetual source of energy for him, enabling him to devote his entire life to the service of the sick and suffering.

Thus, starting with the care of one crippled child, Bhagat Puran Singh’s ‘cause’ spread to the creation of a whole institution called PINGALWARA (literary, a refuge for the cripple) in Amritsar. Today, this ‘refuge’ has four branches at Amritsar, Goindwal, Pandori and Jalandhar, which provide a permanent home, care and treatment for over 650 patients abandoned by society, irrespective of their age, gender and creed. These patients include the physically disabled, mentally sick or retarded, epileptics and sufferers of other diseases.

For nearly seventy years Bhagat Puran Singh remained in the service of his ‘cause’ selflessly and single-mindedly. Rather than detailing all his efforts and achievements it is probably best to illustrate how some influential people in India have commented on Bhagat Ji.

V. N. NARAYANAN: Chief Editor in the Tribune, Chandigarh.

“He looks like the Rishis of old and the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh - a veritable combination of courage and compassion, a total embodiment of unselfishness and service. Bhagat Puran Singh is what India’s distilled wisdom and rich heritage are all about.”........“To him, all of God’s creations are sacred, be they animal, vegetable or mineral or whatever. He collects, as he walks along the streets of Amritsar, pebbles, horse-shoes, peculiarly shaped stones, and a lot else”

“The picking of pebbles on the street is very symbolic. After all, for close to seven decades Bhagat Ji had been picking up human pebbles cast away on the street by a cruel destiny or an uncaring society. God helps those who help themselves; Bhagat Puran Singh has vowed to help those who can’t help themselves.”

“He is the saint of our times. Contemporary history has few names (I have Mother Teresa in my mind when I write this) which can boast of such relentless service to humanity as that of Bhagat Puran Singh.” ................“Pingalwara is no posh hospital with modern clinical facilities. It contains children of “lesser gods” than those who bless the rest of us. A visit to it can be depressing. But Bhagatji has no inhibitions; he is the spiritual father to the mentally retarded and the society-abandoned creatures in human form.”

“This sage of Amritsar is to the unattended here what Mother Teresa is to the poor orphans in Calcutta. The difference is resources and exposure.”
The Tribune, March 30, 1991.

KHUSHWANT SINGH: Eminent writer, journalist, and historian

“Bhagat Puran Singh was no ordinary mortal but undoubtedly the most loved and revered man in northern India! I once described him as the bearded Mother Teresa of Panjab. Mother Teresa had the backing of the Powerful Roman Catholic Church, the English press and innumerable foundations to give her money. Bhagatji had nothing except his single minded dedication to serve the poor and the needy. And yet he was able to help thousands of lepers, mentally and physically handicapped and the dying.”
The Indian Express August 15, 1992

British High Commissioner, Bob Young Planting a sapling at the Pingalwara complex during his visit.
British High Commissioner, Bob Young Planting a sapling at the Pingalwara complex during his visit.

Bhagat Puran Singh Bal Vidya Mandar
Bhagat Puran Singh Bal Vidya Mandar, in a slum area on the outskirts of Amritsar city.

Children of Pingalwara performing Keertan
Children of Pingalwara
performing Keertan.

Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957)

Bhai Vir Singh

Bhai Vir Singh is probably one of the most respected and noble Sikhs of the 20th century. He was born in 1872 and died at the age of 85 in 1957. Vir Singh’s contribution to Panjabi Language and Literature can be easily and aptly compared to Shakespeare’s work in English. Not only was he an outstanding writer, poet, novelist and critic, but also a great theologian who dedicated himself to the task of expounding Sikh history and philosophy for more than fifty years. Because of the nature of his services in various fields, he was awarded:

The title of ‘Bhai’ by the supreme religious authority of the Sikhs at Amritsar;

Padma Bhushan’ (one of the highest honours in literature) by the Government of India, and the ‘SAHITYA ACADAMY’ award;

An honorary Doctorate by the University of Panjab. A commentator once called him the sixth river, in the land of the five rivers.”

Master Tara Singh (1885-1967)

Master Tara Singh
Master Tara Singh was the dominating figure in Sikh politics for nearly half a century. For most of this time he was at the helm of affairs concerning the two major institutions of the Sikhs, i.e. the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Shiromani Akali Dal-the political party of the Sikhs. Unfortunately, he was out manoeuvred by more clever Politicians, mainly by Nehru and Gandhi, at the time of ‘transfer of power’ from the British Rule in 1947, resulting in the surrendering of the Sikh demand for an autonomous Sikh homeland.

Sardar Kapur Singh (1909-1985)

Sardar Kapur Singh

Sardar Kapur Singh was a distinguished scholar and thinker among the 20th century Sikhs. He started his career as a high-ranking officer in the Indian Civil Service. While working as a Deputy Commissioner, he soon became disillusioned by the Central Government’s step-motherly treatment of the Sikhs after independence. He resigned from his job to lead the Sikh political thinkers, giving them a new direction in the Sikh struggle for an autonomous homeland. Later he was honoured at the Akal Takhat with the distinction of the National Professor of Sikhism.

Sardar Sobha Singh (1901-1986)

Sardar Sobha Singh

Sardar Sobha Singh was a distinguished artist among a handful of Sikh painters of his time. The most important characteristic of his paintings is the impression of serenity and tranquillity, which they convey. His paintings of Sikh Gurus reflect the calmness of his mind and the solitude of the area (The Shivalik foot-hills of the Himalayas), in which he chose to live and work. His portrait of Guru Nanak’s remains a masterpiece forever.

General Bikram Singh

General Bikram Singh

Soon after the independence of India in 1947 General Bikram Singh became a household name for his bravery and organisational qualities among the high-ranking officers of the armed forces. Under his astute command, Indian troops were able to crush Pakistan backed tribal insurgency in Kashmir, thus saving the capital Siri Nagar from falling into enemy hands. Unfortunately, this ‘Savour of Kashmir’ later died in an air crash.

Sardar Karnail Singh

Sardar Karnail Singh

Sardar Karnail Singh was renowned for his extra ordinary engineering skills, as well as for his endurance to challenges in his field of work. It was he who accomplished the most arduous task of laying rail track in the eastern foothills of the Himalayas in Assam. Nevertheless, he was a devout Sikh whose passion was Gurbaani Keertan. He retired as chairman of the Indian Railway Board.

Sikh Gurus on Environment


Environment“The quintessence of the Sikh religion is its cosmopolitanism derived from a vision, which is so cosmic that it transcends the boundaries of the country to encompass the whole of humanity. The core source of its omniscient precepts from which stems a belief in the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind is the omnific and ever-pervading Nature. Its tenets instil inspiration to remember the Omnipresent, observe scruples while earning a livelihood and to share the surplus with the have-nots. The teachings are relevant for all times and for human society. The world is envisioned as a garden and God as its gardener nurturing all inhabitants by providing sufficient material for existence without neglecting anyone. Nature’s resources are plentiful for life to exist on this planet. Unfortunately misuse of the resources or their despoliation for narrow sectoral or selfish interests has disturbed the ecological balance. Pollution of air and water and denudation of forests has caused environmental degradation. The world has thus been pushed to the precipice of a catastrophe. Now is the time for atonement to avert calamities that may be unleashed by nature’s fury if we continue to fiddle with it.”

Environment“Nights, days, seasons, Air, water, fire, the nether regions: In their midst, He has established the earth as a home for Dharma.”

“The onus for restoring to this planet its primordial glory of clean rivers and luxuriant verdure to ensure a salubrious environment lies on us. It is incumbent upon us to create such congenial conditions for the succeeding generations to live a contented comfortable and happy life.”

It is pertinent to relate this to Guru Nanak’s words:

“Air the Guru, Water the Father Great earth the Mother: Nurses-night and day in whose lap the world doth play.”

Courtesy, Panjab & Sind Bank

Calender 2000

Guru Amardass commissioned the construction of a well At Goindwal, realising that the water of the near by river was not fit for human consumption, Guru Amardass commissioned the construction of a Baoli (a large well accessed by steps). He then asked his followers to plant the entire area with trees to create an eco-friendly environment.
To mitigate the suffering of drought-affected people, Guru Arjan Dev sponsored the digging up of well. At one place six Persian-wheels could operate around a large well, after which village Chheharta was named. Plentiful water brought greenery to the area and relief to the people and cattle alike. Guru Arjan sponsored the digging up of a well.
Guru Har Rai Developing Kiratput Sahib.
Guru Har Rai developed Kiratpur Sahib as a town of parks and gardens. He commissioned the planting of flowers and fruit trees all over the area. This created a new environment attracting beautiful birds, animals and a better place to live.
A group of peasants were smoking pipes near the fields as Guru Teg Bahadur approached them. He told them about the bad effects of smoking on their health and the pollution it caused. The peasants vowed to give up smoking forever. Guru Tegh Bahadur Warns of the Dangers of Smoking.
Guru Gobind Singh warns farmer about the dangers of smoking.
On reaching a tobacco field, Guru Gobind Singh’s horse balked. The Guru told the farmer that even the horse has found the tobacco plant repulsive. The peasant then resolved to cultivate grains instead of tobacco.
Blessed by Guru Nanak, Baba Budda had the unique distinction of anointing five succeeding Gurus. He eventually retired to a Beerr (forest reserve) to develop it as a sanctuary for all types of birds and animals to live in harmony. Baba Budda Developing a Forest Reserve

The Singh Sabha Movement

The Singh Sabha Movement was indeed a popular campaign to create awareness and awakening among the Sikh intelligentsia with two major aims -

(i) to stop the erosion in Sikh values caused by the re-emerging old Brahminical practices;

(ii) to counter-act the new threat of proselytisation of some Sikhs by the Christian missionaries.

The movement was formally launched on 1st October 1873 in a meeting held at the Manji Sahib, near the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Originally, it started as an action group of some very prominent and dedicated Sikhs who felt concerned about the evangelising activities of the Christian missionaries and Arya Smaji Hindus

As this action group formed itself into an organisation called the Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Amritsar, its main objectives included:

(I) to inculcate among the Sikhs, love and respect for their faith and the Khalsa brotherhood;

(ii) to preach the basic principles of Sikhism and restore Khalsa to its past purity and glory;

(iii) to challenge more vigorously such practices as caste and untouchability, as well as to conduct such ceremonies, as birth, marriage and death in keeping with the Sikh rites;

(iv) to gain their support in other educational programmes of the Sikhs. (Therefore, co-operation with the Government was recognised as important for the good of the community);

(v) to start newspapers and magazines in Panjabi and encourage the learning of Panjabi in the community.

For nearly two years the programmes of the Singh Sabha were carried out with a great deal of enthusiasm, but, unfortunately the pace slackened, almost to a stand still, because of usual ‘personality differences’ among its leaders. Few years later, in 1879 another Singh Sabha was formed at Lahore, and it became affiliated to the Singh Sabha of Amritsar. However, the major difference between the two was that while the Amritsar Singh Sabha was dominated by some Sikh aristocrats, the Lahore Singh Sabha was more democratic, and its members included the so called low-caste as well. Therefore, the Lahore Singh Sabha served as a model for many other Singh Sabhas, which began to emerge in various towns. Because, the usual meetings of these Sabhas were held mainly in the historical Gurdwaras, the Mahants and Pujaris (priests) saw a danger to their own power and supremacy. Therefore, they did not allow the use of Gurdwaras for the purpose of promoting the ideology and programmes of the new reformists. As a result, Singh Sabhas began to construct their own buildings or Gurdwaras, where popular priests and preachers carried out the duties according to the Sikh tenets.

Khalsa Diwans:

II the beginning the Singh Sabhas of Amritsar and Lahore had worked in unison, but soon differences began to crop up because of the personalities and approach, resulting in rivalry and recriminations. The other Sabhas were also divided, backing either the Amritsar or the Lahore group. Accordingly, after some initial failures a new central organisation called the ‘Khalsa Diwan’ was agreed in 1883 to supervise, co-ordinate and control the work of all the Singh Sabhas with its head office in Amritsar. This was achieved with the full co-operation of the Akal Takhat authorities, which also issued Hukamnamas in favour of the reformers.

Originally, there were 36 Singh Sabhas affiliated to the Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar. Its work was judiciously divided into several sub-committees e.g. religious, literary, and educational and press matters. However, within a few years the same old differences of personalities and policies came to the surface with in its executive members, splitting the Khalsa Diwan into two, the Amritsar Diwan and the Lahore Diwan. In the meantime, new Singh Sabhas were being set up in many towns and large villages, which began to function autonomously. Therefore, once again the Sikhs began to feel the need for a new central organisation.

The Chief Khalsa Diwan:

Eventually, in a meeting held at Amritsar on October 30, 1902 a new organisation called the ‘Chief Khalsa Diwan’ was set up, with Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia as secretary and Bhai Arjan Singh of Bagarian as its president. There were about 150 Singh Sabhas functioning at that time all over the country, not all became affiliated to the newly formed Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar, straight away. However, representatives of all such local organisations were invited to form the General Body of the Diwan, which in turn became the ‘spokesman’ of the Sikhs in almost all social and political matters, as well as having much influence in religious and spiritual fields.

Although the Chief Khalsa Diwan came into being as a strong central body to represent and co-ordinate the activities of many other Sikh organisations, its main objectives fall into two areas:

(a) To reform and renovate debased religious practices according to the true tenets of the Sikh faith, as well as uplift the Sikh community in all spheres of life through education, both religious and secular.

(b) To advise and awaken the Sikh organisations to the social needs, and the political rights of the Sikhs and endeavour to achieve them through constitutional or democratic means.

As a result some of the achievements, which can be attributed to the Diwan, were:

(i) Rejuvenation and re-organisation of the management of the first Sikh Khalsa College at Amritsar founded in 1892 and saving it from bankruptcy.

(ii) Creation of a new institution called the Sikh Educational Conference in 1908, with a view to generating fresh momentum in starting new schools and colleges, especially elementary schools, in towns and villages. These Khalsa schools were not only equally open to Hindu and Muslim students, but they also employed Hindu and Muslim teachers, liberally, setting a good example of community coexistence.

(iii) Establishing a new religious training institute at Tarn Tarn in 1908, called the Khalsa Parcharak Vidyala, to train much needed professional Parcharaks (priests).

(iv) Working tirelessly for the recognition of political and democratic rights of the Sikhs, by using the method of ’representation’ rather than ‘agitation’. However, because of the overwhelming majority of Hindus and Muslims in the then Panjab, no significant achievement was made in seeking special rights for the Sikhs.

In 1914-1915 a feeling of discontent among the Sikh community was aggravated by the Kamagata Maru and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj affairs, and the position taken by the Diwan made it unpopular among the Sikhs. Again, the Sikhs, under the leadership of the Diwan, failed to obtain their desired representation of 1/3 of the seats in the Panjab Assembly, under Montagu-Chelmsford Reform Scheme. Their share was fixed at 8 out of 54 seats. Therefore, some more politically minded Sikhs formed their own new political party called the Central Sikh League, which held its first session at Amritsar in 1919.

The Akali Movement

The Akali movement owes its origin to the success of the Singh Sabha Movement, which had brought new awakening among the Sikhs. They were now more conscious about their religious practices, social needs and political rights. The movement started with the reform of Gurdwaras, which in due course acquired a more popular name as the Akali Movement, being spearheaded by the Akalis. (The word Akali was originally applied to the attendants or Sewadars of the Akal Bunga later to be known as Akal Takhat. They usually wore deep blue robes and turbans and were regarded as the self-sacrificing keepers of the Akal Takhat and Guardians of the Sikh way of life. Literally, Akali is one who is committed to Akal, meaning the Timeless, God.) It was their determined campaign to reform the management of the Sikh historical places of worship and free these Gurdwaras from the individual ownership of malpractising Mahants or Masands.

It is to be remembered that during the time of Mughal persecution of Sikhs in the 18th century, the Khalsa were forced to take refuge in hills and jungles. Their places of worship were then looked after by members of the Udasi sect, who believed in the Sikh Gurus, but did not conform to the external Form of the Khalsa. Later, when the Sikhs regained power under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 1st half of the 19th century, almost all the historical Sikh shrines were given liberal grants and land estates, where ever possible. Thus these ‘caretakers’ and priests of the Gurdwaras became well off even without the contributions from the local Sangats (congregations). In due course they began to act more independently and autocratically with a diminishing regard for the wishes of the sangat and the Sikh values.

Unfortunately, with the establishment of the British Rule, the funds and properties attached to the historical Gurdwaras were entered against the names of these ‘caretakers’ who had acquired the status of Mahants (chief priests) and had begun to live like prodigal princes rather than postulant priests. Indeed some of these places had become dens of gamblers, drunkards and thieves, where virtue had given way to vice. Thus, with the advent of Singh Sabha Movement, as the local Sangats became more aware of their rights and strengths, they turned their attention to get rid of these corrupt Mahants and gain control over these Gurdwaras. Two incidents, which gave an extra impetus to the start of Gurdwara Reform Movement, were:

(i) The issuing of a Hukamnama (commandment) from the Akal Takhat in 1915 wrongly condemning the Sikh passengers of the Komagata Maru ship, who had earlier travelled to Canada to seek immigration unsuccessfully, thus misusing the authority of this sacred place inappropriately.

(ii) The awarding of Saropa (rob of honour) from the Golden Temple in 1919 to the perpetrator of the Jallianwala Massacre, General Dyer, thus insulting the whole of Sikh community.

Similarly in an earlier incident in Delhi, the Mahant of Gurdwara Rekab Ganj had acted in an irresponsible manner by agreeing to the acquisition of Gurdwara land and the demolition of its outer boundary wall for the purpose of building a new Viceregal Lodge by the Government of India. Thus these incidents became too much to be overlooked by the Sikh reformists. There was a wave of anger and protests even among the ordinary Sikhs who were already suffering from the corrupt practices of the priests and managers at the places of their worship.

It was the Jalliawala Bagh incident in 1919, which finally saw the formation of the Central Sikh League as the first political party of the Sikhs. Its immediate objectives were to liberate all Sikh Gurdwaras from the corrupt Mahants and henchmen of the British and regain control of the Khalsa College Amritsar. Its ultimate objective was to gain independence of India from the British by working alongside other political parties. The name given to the official organ of the League was AKALI, symbolising selflessness and fearlessness in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality. The Sikhs who were at the forefront in leading peaceful processions and protests for the purpose, came mainly from the die-hard peasantry and were committed Akalis. They were ready to lay down their lives, as they did, at the time of Taran Taran Tragedy in January 1921 and soon after at the Nankana Sahib Massacre in February 1921 where they were mercilessly gunned down by the armed agents and mercenaries of the Mahant. Mahatma Gandhi visited Nankana Sahib on 3rd March 1921 to express his sympathy for the martyrs. Though shocked to see and hear the tragedy, he praised the heroic and non-violent manner in which the Sikhs had laid down their lives without offering resistance, saying, Everything points to a second edition of ‘Dyerism’, more barbarous and fiendish than the barbarism at Jallianwala Bagh.”

Eventually, as the Sikh protests became more persistent and more powerful the Akal Takhat and the Harmander Sahib were passed on to the Akali control in 1920. Soon after the Government agreed to form a

Committee of 175 members to manage the Gurdwaras in the Panjab. This in turn led to the birth of two new Sikh institutions, namely (i) The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)

(ii) The Shiromani Akali Dal

In the meantime, the Mahants at some Gurdwaras did not give up easily. Being the caretakers, and for the purpose of records, the land and property belonging to the Gurdwaras were registered in their names, they would find one reason or the other to deny the Sikh representatives full control for the smooth running of the Gurdwaras. Of the various conflicts and disputes the one which stands out as most horrifying was at a Gurdwara called Guru Ka Bagh, about twenty kilometres from Amritsar, where the Mahant had denied access to the land attached to the Gurdwara. The dispute took a bad turn when the police authorities backed the Mahant and beat off the Sikh Sevadars who had gone there to collect firewood for the Gurdwara Langar. The Akalis took a stand in the form of a Morcha or agitation.

Every day a Jatha (group) of one hundred Akali volunteers, would take a vow of non-violence at the Akal Takhat and then proceed to Guru Ka Bagh. Everyday, before they reached the land belonging to the Gurdwara, they were stopped by a body of policemen often led by one or more British officers of senior ranks. The silent, but moving forward Sikhs were then beaten mercilessly with regulation ‘Latthis’, until they became unconscious or so badly injured that they were incapable of moving forward. They were then left to be removed by their fellow Sikh volunteers for private treatment. There were no charges and no arrests. This continue every day from 31st August 1921 to 12th September 1921, until an English clergy Rev. C.F. Andrews was able to persuade the Lieutenant Governor of Panjab, Sir Edward Maclagen to order a stop to the brutal beating in favour of arrests and imprisonments. Some extracts from his diary revealed the resolve of the Akalis, as he wrote --

“ I had opportunities of witnessing the scene at the Golden Temple itself, as they (Akalis) came out with religious joys written on their faces and a tiny wreath of white flowers placed on their black turbans which dedicated them to the sacrifice. . . . . . When I reached the Gurdwara itself . . . . . . and reached a spot from where I could see the beating itself. . . . . .What was happening to them was truly, in some dim way, a crucifixion. . . . . . until now I had not seen the suffering itself, except it was reflected on the faces of the spectators. . . . . . . It was a sight which I never wish to see again. . . . . . . . The brutality and inhumanity of the whole scene was indescribably increased by the fact that the man who were hit, were praying to God and had already taken a vow that they remain silent and peaceful in word and deed. . . . . . . The vow they had made to God was kept to the letter. I saw no act look of defiance. . . . . . . .A new heroism, learnt through suffering, has arisen in land. A new lesson in moral warfare has been taught to the world. . . . . It was rarely that I witnessed any Akali Sikh, who went forward to suffer, flinch from a blow when it was struck. . . . . . . The blows were received, one by one, without resistance and without a sign of fear.”

It may also be noted that the Indian National Congress, at its annual session (December - January 1922-23), passed a resolution recording with pride and admiration for the new kind of bravery shown by the Akalis, who had set a noble example for the benefit of the whole nation seeking independence under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

From 13th August 1922 to 17th November 1922 the Akali Jathas continued with their daily ritual of marching to the Guru Ka Bagh, to court arrests and convictions, which had gone into thousands, overflowing the prisons. The Government had failed to subdue the Sikhs. It was looking for an excuse to wriggle out of its untenable position, which was soon provided by a prominent Hindu, Sir Ganga Ram, who bought the land from the Mahant on lease and wrote to the Government that he had no objection in its use by the Sikhs for the needs of the Gurdwara. The Government withdrew the police the same day, and the arrested Akalis were released there after.

Later, in a similar show down incident called ‘The Jaito Morcha’. Both the Shriomani Akali Dal and the SGPC were declared illegal organisations by the Government of India, on October 13, 1923. For nearly two years the arrests and convictions continued unabated. Eventually, the Government gave in with the passing of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act on July 9, 1925 which was accepted by all Sikhs. By July 27, 1925 all prisoners were set free and the ban lifted from the Shiromani Akali Dal and the SGPC.

After July 1925, the Shiromani Akali Dal became recognised as a political party in its own right and began to challenge the role of both the Central Sikh League and the Chief Khalsa Diwan and eventually took over the political leadership of the Sikh Panth. Since the independence of India in 1947, the Shiromani Akali Dal has dominated the politics of the Panjab and has successfully formed a Government a number of times, though not for full terms due to internal disputes and external interference.

Sat Sri Akal - status and significance

The utterance of SAT SRI AKAL is undoubtedly the most commonly used greeting throughout the Sikh Community. What is the literal meaning of Sat Sri Akal? What does this phrase really imply? What message does it convey? Is it a Jaikara or a Namskara? These are some of the questions, which are addressed below.

Before explaining the status and significance of Sat Sri Akal, it is important to remember that the most common greeting used by Guru Nanak was Sat Kartar, and throughout the period of the Sikh Gurus this remained a popular greeting among the Sikhs. However, it was with the advent of the Khalsa and the use of Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh as a new greeting by the Amritdhari Sikhs (Khalsa) and the subsequent popularity of Sat Sri Akal as a Jaikara, that the use of Sat Kartar became almost obsolete among the Sikhs. But, it is also important to know that both the phrases Sat Kartar and Sat Sri Akal mean exactly the same.

Further more, it should be noted that the word ‘greeting’ might be taken in its broader sense, covering both the Panjabi terms of Namskar or Namskara, and Jaikar or Jaikara as often used in the holy Guru Granth. Therefore, before giving an essential explanation of the Sikh greeting Sat Sri Akal as a Namskara or a Jaikara, the meanings of both these terms need to be fully understood.

NAMASKAR is a compound word made up from ‘Namas’ and ‘Kar’. Namas means to bend or bow to show humility and Kar means an act of doing something, or an action. Therefore, Namaskar (Namskara) is an act of humility, or a gesture of goodwill, which may or may not contain an utterance, a word or a phrase.

JAIKAR is also a compound word; ‘Jai’ meaning success or victory and ‘Kar’ as explained above. Therefore, Jaikara is an act or an utterance, expressing a symbolic show of strength and achievement.

Now, let us start with Sat Sri Akal and be absolutely clear about the literal as well as the implied meaning behind this phrase. It can be divided into two parts; namely ‘SAT’ and ‘SRI AKAL’. Both the words ‘Sat and ‘Akal’ appear in the opening sentence of the Holy Guru Granth. This sentence is popularly known as the Mool Mantar (the Basic Belief).

First take SAT. Literally, Sat means truth. However, Guru Nanak has made it very clear in the Mool Mantar that by ‘truth’ he means One and only One, the God, who is the Creator, who is beyond birth and death and who is Self Existent. He then starts the next sentence: ਆਦਿ ਸਚੁ ਜੁਗਾਦਿ ਸਚੁ ॥ ਹੈ ਭੀ ਸਚੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਹੋਸੀ ਭੀ ਸਚੁ ॥1॥ (SGGS-1) Thus asking every Sikh to remember and recite God’s name - the Truth; Who was there, ever in the beginning and throughout the ages, prevailing now and forever. This concept of ‘God as the Truth’ is repeated throughout the holy Guru Granth emphasising that God pervades everywhere like ether. ਆਪਿ ਸਤਿ ਕੀਆ ਸਭੁ ਸਤਿ ॥ or ਮੂਲੁ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਉਤਪਤਿ ॥ (SGGS - 294) Therefore, blessed are those who follow the True One:

ਜੋ ਸਤਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸਰਣਾਗਤੀ ਹਉ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਬਲਿ ਜਾਉ ॥
ਦਰਿ ਸਚੈ ਸਚੀ ਵਡਿਆਈ ਸਹਜੇ ਸਚਿ ਸਮਾਉ ॥
(SGGS - 31)

Although this word ‘Sat’ has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Satya’, a more popular Panjabi form of the same word is ‘Sach’. As the Gurus were more keen to communicate in the language of the common people, they preferred to use this word Sach more often with a variety of inflexions, e.g. ਸਚੁ, ਸਾਚਿ, ਸਚਾ, ਸਚੈ, ਸਚੜਾ ਆਦਿ ।

Indeed this word (concept) ‘Sat’ or ‘Sach’ has been used in more than twenty forms in the holy Guru Granth Sahib Ji. A thorough study of the Holy Granth reveals that no other word or concept has been repeated so often; appearing almost on every page, and occasionally more than twenty times on the same page. Undoubtedly, the word ‘Truth’ is the most important and indispensable word in the Sikh Faith.

Now take SRI AKAL. The word Akal literally means timeless, not bound by past, present or future. However, by prefixing another word SRI (a title) from the holy Granth, it becomes a proper noun - SRI AKAL, The Timeless One, the WAHEGURU, the God. The whole of this phrase Sat Sri Akal can best be translated as, TRUTH IS GOD or GOD IS TRUTH. Therefore, to emphasise these meanings, the Guru has asked every Sikh to remember that God and Truth is one and the same thing ---

ਸਸਾ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਸੋਊ ॥ ਸਤਿ ਪੁਰਖ ਤੇ ਭਿੰਨ ਨ ਕੋਊ ॥
(SGGS - 250)

After establishing the correct meaning of ‘Sat Sri Akal’ we can address ourselves to the question of how both the terms Namskara and Jakara are valid for this utterance. In doing so we must understand the situation and circumstances, which prompt a person to act or react by using the phrase Sat Sri Akal either as a ‘ polite heartfelt greeting ‘ or as a ‘ propelling enthusiastic slogan’.

Scenario A – NAMASKARA: (polite heartfelt greeting)

When we meet or depart a friend or a relative or even a stranger and we wish to show our goodwill, love or respect it is very apt to use the sweet sounding words of SAT SRI AKAL. This is Sikh Namaskar. It helps to remind ourselves and the other person of the existence of the True Lord who is the Creator and Custodian of the whole universe and in whose name we dedicate this act. ਨਉ ਖੰਡ ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮੀ ਇਸੁ ਤਨ ਮਹਿ ਰਵਿਆ ਨਿਮਖ ਨਿਮਖ ਨਮਸਕਾਰਾ ॥ (SGGS - 208). This humble act of Namaskar, the noble thought of greeting with the words of SAT SRI AKAL, the message of keeping God’s name in mind surely pleases the Guru. ਸਦ ਬਲਿਹਾਰੇ ਕਰਿ ਨਮਸਕਾਰੇ ਜਿਨ ਭੇਟਤ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਜਾਤਾ ॥ (SGGS - 453). In simple words the utterance of Sat Sri Akal’ is like saying to the other person- hey fellow! (friend, brother, sister, son etc.) ‘Remember God, Remember Truth.’

The Namaskar of SAT SRI AKAL is not only dedicated to the memory of God the Truth, but also directs us towards good actions and to follow nothing but the Truth which saves us from all evils.

ਸਚੁ ਸਭਨਾ ਹੋਇ ਦਾਰੂ ਪਾਪ ਕਢੈ ਧੋਇ ॥
SGGS - 468)

Thus by exchanging and sharing SAT SRI AKAL with its inherent appeal we are also adding to the followers of the Truth ( ਸਚੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਸਚੁ ਊਪਜੈ ਸਚ ਮਹਿ ਸਾਚਿ ਸਮਾਇ ॥ ) as well as helping ourselves towards a goal which is much higher and more noble than just a customary greeting.

ਸਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਜਿਨਿ ਮਾਨਿਆ ॥ ਕਰਨ ਕਰਾਵਨ ਤਿਨਿ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਨਿਆ ॥
(SGGS - 285)

Scenario B- JAIKARA: (propelling enthusiastic slogan)

As already stated a Jaikara is an announcement or a loud declaration invoking or rejoicing success in an action. Therefore, when Sikhs wish to pursue a common cause, or acknowledge its success, then their vibrant concordant voice, seeking or celebrating victory, is most appropriately contained in the sounding of a Jaikara, and in the words of Sat Sri Akal. But here, this action is preceded by a loud and leeding call of boley so nihal (who ever responds will be blessed), inviting everyone around to say the jaikara of Sat Sri Akal. Thus by helping ourselves to remember God, the Supreme Truth, we can be more sure of keeping ourselves on course in our action. Because the action we have taken or are about to take is all in the name of the True One, the Waheguru, therefore, the key to its success is in the strength of our belief in the concept of Sat Sri Akal.

It is most regrettable to note that some Sikh academics and religious leaders have not been able to fully appreciate the universality of the concept of Sat Sri Akal. They are perhaps influenced by the earlier traditions of the ‘Nihang Singhs’ who were generally simple minded but earnestly dedicated to their religious rituals. This has led to a false belief that Sat Sri Akal is associated with the Jaikara only, thereby undermining and diminishing the role and realm of this remarkable and a wholly divine concept. Because of this apparently innocent mistake the honoured place of this highest Sikh Salutation was further down graded to a limited meaning after the period of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, i.e. on the arrival of the British in the Panjab.

During the Anglo-Sikh wars the Sikh regiments were engaged in battles against the British, and later during the First and Second World Wars the Sikhs joined the British armies as a friendly side. During all these battles and enemy encounters the British military personnel were very impressed by the Sikh courage and bravery arising from the Spirit of Sat Sri Akal with the sounding of a jaikara. However, and perhaps unwittingly, the British gave a new but rather derogatory meaning to the Sikh Jaikara of Sat Sri Akal. It was called a ‘War Cry’. The sad thing is that the Sikh community as a whole seem to have accepted this interpretation of the British as a compliment. Not only does this term ‘War Cry’ smack of uncivilised behaviour, usually attributed to a jungle tribe, it is also a humiliating interpretation of the Sikh Jaikara. This diversionary meaning seems to disfranchise a Sikh of his/her pledge or priority to Righteous Acts ( ਸੁਭ ਕਰਮਨ ਤੇ ਕਬਹੂੰ ਨ ਟਰੋਂ ॥ ) for which s/he would not shirk fighting to the finish and Victory. ( ਨਿਸਚੈ ਕਰਿ ਅਪੁਨੀ ਜੀਤ ਕਰੋਂ ॥ )

There is no doubt that the Sikhs are reputed for their courage and gallantry in the battlefield, but it is no honour to the community if this bravery is attributed to some form of violence or ‘War Cry’. Courage and bravery are indeed initiated by the spirit of service and sacrifice among Sikhs.

It is to be noted that the booklet ‘Sikh Rehat Maryada’ mentions that a Sikh should utter Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh when meeting or greeting other Sikh/s. But this directive applies primarily to a Sikh as defined in its chapter on ‘Gurmat Di Rehni’. Therefore, it is more appropriate to greet and welcome a Pattit Sikh or a non-Sikh with the noble utterance of Sat Sri Akal, which qualifies to be a greeting of a universal religion by reciting and sharing the sublime thought that God is the Truth and the Truth alone, to be remembered in all our actions.

The Rehat Maryada

(The Sikh Code of Conduct & Conventions)

The Rehat Maryada is a very comprehensive and respected document regarding the basic principles and practices of the Sikh faith. It was drawn up under the auspices of the SHROMANI GURDWARA PARBANDHAK COMMITTEE (regarded as the Supreme Religious Parliament of Sikhs, constituted under the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925) by a dedicated group of renowned Sikh scholars and high priests, including the Jathedars of the five Takhats and the head Granthi of Sri Harmander Sahib. The first English version of the Rehat Maryada was released by the SGPC on 20.11.1978, which missed certain parts of the original document. Therefore, in 1994 a more faithful translation of the complete original Panjabi document was produced by the SGPC. Of this authentic English version, some important sections are given here for the interest of readers and researchers.

Section one

Article i

The definition of a Sikh

Any human being who faithfully believe in (i) one Immortal Being, (ii) Ten Gurus (from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh), (iii) The Guru Granth Sahib, (iv) the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus,(v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru; and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.

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