"Encyclopaedias do not grow on trees."
The force in the dictum not withstanding,
the Punjabi University promised to
produce one for the scholarly world—an
Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. It was a daring:
undertaking. Happily, the first volume of
the Encyclopaedia in a four-part series is
now ready. It comprises about 850 entries,
covering different aspects of Sikh life and
letters, history and philosophy, customs
and rituals, social and _ religious
movements, art and architecture, locales
and shrines. Professor Harbans Singh has
laboured diligently and created a work of
high literary and scholarly worth. He has
devoted all his energies over the past
several years to this work of which he was
the inspiration and to which his name will
remain inseparably attached. It is not easy
to restate and repack the entire range of
information and knowledge of a people.
An attempt has been made here precisely
to define the ideas and terms of Sikhism.
The writing is direct, terse and tight and
the aim throughout has been intelligibility
and throughness. The volume will provide
the background and facts necessary for
comprehending Sikh thought and
symbolism. It should be useful both for the
expert and the general reader.
The Punjabi University has done it at last; the last leg of the long journey has since been traversed.
The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism is now complete, and it is with a sense of great satisfaction and
happiness that I issue this fourth and last volume. Preparation of an encyclopaedia is a highly
specialized and time-consuming process requiring immense patience along with assiduous
industry. In this case, however, once the matter had been laboriously collected and minutely
vetted, the progress has been quite satisfactory. The first volume was published in December
1992, the second in January 1996 and the third in April 1997 ; and here we are at the finis.
This would have been an occasion for real celebration, but, alas! the man who conceived,
planned and accomplished this stupendous task is no longer with us to share the rejoicing. The
Editor-in-Chief, Professor Harbans Singh, left for destination unknown and unknowable on 30
May 1998. A fateful paralytic stroke in 1989 had left him severely debilitated physically. He was
no longer able to write, and his speech was badly impaired. With such sudden and serious disability
after a long life of ceaseless vibrancy, aggravated by the saddest bereavement of his life three
years later, a lesser mortal could have collapsed long ago. But Professor Harbans Singh possessed
a will of steel and dedication of a truly religious man. He kept on mentally as fit and alert as ever,
and with sheer grit and determination kept death at bay until the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, an.
ambitious project that had been closest to his heart during the past two decades and more, had
reached the final stage of completion. His life-work triumphantly brought to completion, he
quietly slipped away — a rare man of destiny !
But the wheel of life: must roll on despite scintillations en route. The University is happy
that it has produced a great work answering to a great need. Sikhs and Sikhism having attracted
closer notice of learned people all over the globe, besides the Sikh diaspora itself, during the
twentieth century, a worldwide interest had arisen in the study of this youngest of the great world
religions. A comprehensive reference book like the present Encyclopaedia had become an urgent
necessity for readers of English, curious as well as genuinely interested.
I feel it my privilege to announce that the Punjabi University, Patiala, has decided to develop
the "Encyclopaedia Cell" in the Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies into a
separate full-fledged department. It has been named in honour of the late Editor-in-Chief,
"Professor Harbans Singh Department of Encyclopaedia of Sikhism." Its present assignment is
to render the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism into Punjabi.
I take this opportunity to thank all the learned men of letters who made their respective
scholarly contributions to the building up of this massive mine of knowledge and information. I
also commend the effort of the staff, editorial as well as administrative, who assisted the Editor-
in-Chief in one way or another in the preparation, printing and publication of his magnum opus.
To the memory of the late Professor Harbans Singh I hereby dedicate this monument of learning.
"Encyclopaedias do not grow on trees," I had read somewhere as I was browsing among
materials in the library. My object was to delve deeper into the mystique of the genre preparatory
to drawing up my own plan of work on an Encyclopaedia of Sikhism I had been assigned to by
the Syndicate of the Punjabi University. But I was not daunted by the dictum. I let it pass up.
However, the admonishment it contained was not entirely lost upon me. I knew it would by no
means be an easy task. It would be hard, arduous labour all the way up, demanding increasing
search and toil. I was not totally unaware of it, nor unprepared for it.
The Sikh Encyclopaedia was the brainchild of Professor Kirpal Singh Narang who was then
the vice-chancellor of the Punjabi University. He had worked overtime to draw up for the University
an elaborate programme in honour of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Guru Gobind Singh,
the tenth Guru or prophet-mentor of the Sikhs, which came off in 1966-67. The celebrations
bequeathed to Patiala two permanent monuments; one, Guru Gobind Singh Bhavan, an
intriguing, modern-looking structure, planted as if it were in the heart of the University campus
and, second, a department of Religion, embracing the study of five world traditions — Hinduism,
Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, with sixth, Jainism, diving in from the side a little
later. Prior to putting down his plans on paper the vice-chancellor had taken a special trip out to
Harvard University to seek the advice of the famous Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Director,
Center for the Study of World Religions. The department at Patiala was going to be the first
academic set-up of its kind in India where Religion in the academe had been considered a
highly combustible substance and where everyone seemed to have a hush-hush attitude towards
it. Professor Kirpal Singh Narang, with the weight of his argument and with a dash of prescience,
had his way. He linked up the academic programme with the Guru Gobind Singh celebrations .
and made it look generally as acceptable as the latter. When working out the courses of study
and syllabi for the various traditions it soon became obvious that Sikhism among them was the
least well-served by existing literary and historical materials. The suggestion emerged that the
creation of a comprehensive reference work would be the first thing to do. The vice-chancellor
promptly spelt out the title - the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism — and simultaneously nominated the
chairman of the Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies to take charge of the
How simplistic were the notions I had been nurturing in my mind began soon to dawn
upon me. Also readily began to show up the shortcomings in the scheme Ihad devised. I had
planned that, since it would not be practicable to collect under one roof specialists in different
fields, most of the articles of the Encyclopaedia would be written by "outside" experts and that
we would have a small editorial unit at the’ University to shepherd the manuscripts, fact-check
them, and revise them to ensure some kind of a literary discipline and symmetry. It seems I was
not above exaggerating my own editorial experience and capacities. Three or four of the scholars
whose names were on the top of my list were too busy and were chary of putting anything additional
on their plate. They declined our invitations. This in fact turned out to be the principal pitfall.
The number of contributors we could call upon fell dismally short of our needs. Scholars with
experience of research in Sikh studies and of specialized writing were few and far between. Our
choice was thus severely limited. In some cases our invitations for articles got accumulated ina
few pairs of hands and our files were soon bursting at the seams with copies of reminders we had
had to send out chasing after our contributors. We had to wait for long periods of time before
securing manuscripts from thei.
Still we had no choice except to adhere to the plan we had originally prepared.
Then we had no precedents to go by. On Sikh doctrine no concisely argued work existed.
Even historical fact was far from well sifted. To this may be added the paucity of reliable and firm
documentation. Authorities of whatever vintage hopelessly contradicted one another. This, despite
the fact that most of the Sikh enterprise had occurred within the full view of history ! It seems the
focus has been woefully warped at some point. Efforts at rectification have remained tentative. It
is not easy to restate and repack the entire range of information and knowledge of a people. An
attempt has been made here precisely to define the ideas and terms of Sikhism. The writing is
intended to be simple and tight, shunning the purple and the loose alike. The aim throughout
has been clarity and precision.
Bypassing Amristar, religious headquarters of Sikhism, as well as Anandpur Sahib, the
birthplace of the Khalsa, Patiala became the focus of world-wide Guru Gobind Singh celebrations
in 1966-67. [tis not on record if any other anniversary on the Sikh calendar had been observed
with similar zeal and eclat. Max Arthur Macauliffe (1841-1913), British historian of the Sikhs,
did draw their attention to the 200th birth anniversary of the Khalsa, due in 1899, but the event
did not draw much popular attention. However, the tercentenary of Guru Gobind Singh’s birth,
67 years later, was an event celebrated round the globe with unprecedented fervour. Festive and
academic programmes to mark the occasion were set up in many parts of the world. The largest
share of the responsibility was claimed by Patiala, where Guru Gobind Singh Foundation was
formed to direct and guide the celebrations.
The chief minister of the Punjab, Ram Kishan, called, on 8 August 1965, a convention
representative of the religious, literary and lay elements in the life of the country. This gathering
was the precursor of the permanent bédy called the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation. Maharaja
Yadavinder Singh (1913-1974) of Patiala was chosen to be the president of the Foundation and
asim of Rs 12 lakhs was set apart for the celebrations by the State government in its annual
budget which amount was, happily through an oversight, most unusual for a financial set-up
anywhere in the world, repeated in the following year’s budget. The Foundation was thus born
with a "silver spoon" in its mouth.
The next meeting of the Foundation took place in the chandeliered hall of the palace of
the Maharaja of Patiala with a large portrait of Maharaja Ala Singh, 18th century Sikh hero and
founder of the Patiala dynasty, overlooking the assembly from one side and the Hungarian painter
August Schoeftt’s famous canvas depicting Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court with a replica in gold
of the Amritsar Golden Temple underneath it, from the other. Past and present thus converged
at the time of that small Sikh assembly on 30 November 1965, refracting history into the current
moment. Chandigarh, the State capital, was named the headquarters of the Foundation with
Gian Zail Singh as the general secretary. One of the several committees appointed was charged
with planning and bringing out literature appropriate to the occasion. From the offices of the
Foundatiom soon began to flow a steady stream of literature comprising a commemoration
volume, illustrated books for young readers, annotated editions of Guru Gobind Singh’s works,
and a biography of Guru Gobind Singh in English which was simultaneously translated into all
major Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Assamese, Marathi, Gujarat,
Oriya, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Kashmiri and Maithil.
In this spontaneous enthusiasm for anniversay celebration is reflected the Sikhs’ response
to the historical memory of the Gurus and to important events of their history. Visible here is
also their deep commitment to their faith, their joyous and urgent participation in their historical
tradition, their cohesion and their love of the spectacular.
The burgeoning of interest in the study of Sikhism brought to light the grave paucity of
materials on Sikhism, highlighting at the same time the need for serious academic research and
study. The present publication aims at supplying the gap. The purpose of the undertaking was to
prepare in English and Punjabi a general reference work about Sikh religion. The work was to
be comprehensive in scope and was to cover topics such as Sikh theology, philosophy, history,
ethics, literature, art, ceremonies, customs, personalities, shrines, sects, etc. The details of the
scheme were worked out under the aegis of an advisory committee consisting of leading scholars
of the day - Dr Bhai Jodh Singh, Dr Ganda Singh, Professor Gurbachan Singh Talib, Dr Fauja
Singh, Dr Taran Singh and Professor Gulwant Singh. The staff originally provided consisted of
the Editor (Professor Harbans Singh), two Assistant Editors (Dr Harkirat Singh and Professor
Harminder Singh Kohli, the former was on his retirement replaced by Dr Jodh Singh), two
Senior Research Fellows (Sardar Singh Bhatia and G.S. Nayyar), one Research Associate (Dharam
Singh), two Research Assistants (Gurnek Singh.and MajokGurmukh Singh), and Research Scholar
(Giani Gurcharan Singh). Some initial exploration was made by Himat Singh.
The first task was to compile a list of subject-titles to be included in the Encyclopaedia. To
this end, the staff, in the first instance, rummaged through libraries — on the campus, the University
Library, Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid collection and Bhai Kahn Singh collection, and off the campus,
the Motibagh Palace library, and the State Archives, and compiled a list of likely topics. A list of
nearly 4,000 titles thus emerged. At the same time a roster of likely authors was prepared. This
comprised lists in Punjabi and in English. Those who did not write in English were free to write
in Punjabi. We had their work translated into English.
Having to work on a long-term project has its own hazards. I passed through several health
crises. At one point, I was incapacitated following an eye-surgery, but was, thanks to the skill and
devoted care of the surgeen, Dr. Robert M. Johnston, Leeburg, U.S.A., rescued from a hopeless
situation recovering the full use of the eye. In 1989 I was felled by a stroke which led to serious
physical decrepity but, fortunately, left my mental faculties generally intact. This was all the
Guri’s own mercy and I was able to continue my work on the Encyclopaedia. A tragedy hit me
on the eve of the release of this volume. My beloved wife, Kailash Kaur, who had waited for a
long time for the consummation of my life’s work and who had nursed me most lovingly
throughout this period, passed away suddenly on 12 November 1992, leaving me utterly forlorn
I must record here my gratitude to the Punjabi University for providing me with the necessary -
facilities and help. Successive vice-chancellors after Professor Kirpal Singh Narang, namely, Mrs.
Inderjit Kaur Sandhu, Dr Amrik Singh, Dr S.S. Johl, Dr Bhagat Singh and Dr H.K. Manmohan
Singh nursed the project with all their heart, and treated me personally with much courtesy and
affection. Dr H.K. Manmohan Singh has especially been alive to its scholarly needs and I am very
happy that the first volume is being issued during his time.The first thing the newly arrived Pro-
Vice-Chancellor, Dr J.S. Puar, did upon stepping on the campus was graciously to call upon the
ailing editor-in-chief. On that occasion and subsequently he had many a positive word to say
about the Encyclopaedia project. I need scarcely say how delighted I am to see the Encyclopaedia
in print. I trust it will fulfil the hopes with which it was launched and help fertilize Sikh learning.
I feel especially gratified fulfilling the promise I made to the academic fraternity several years
ago. To my colleagues I render my heart-felt affectionate thanks for the solid manner in which
they stood by me, through thick and thin. Dr Hazara Singh, Head, Publication Bureau, who has
earned wide acclaim for himself in this part of the country by his contribution to the art of
printing, had reserved his special love for this publication. I must thank him for the attention
and care he gave it. I must not omit the name of Santosh Kumar, my P.A., who very cheerfully
gave this work many of his Sundays and holidays especially after I had been struck down and
spent many a long hour when taking down notes trying to come to terms with my speech somewhat
lisped by the malady. I thank him and all the rest of my colleagues for bearing with me so
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