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The Sikhs and Their Literature (A Guide to Tracts, Books and Periodicals, 1849-1919)

The Sikhs and Their Literature (A Guide to Tracts, Books and Periodicals, 1849-1919)
Item Code: NAZ284
Author: N. Gerald Barrier
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2020
ISBN: 9789388540728
Pages: 202
Other Details: 9.50 X 6.50 inch
weight of the book: 0.4 kg

The most important problem that has faced the Sikhs since their inception is that of identity and survival as a distinct community separate from the Hindus. Most Sikhs were converts from Hinduism, governed by Hindu law, inter-married with the Hindus, observed Hindu fasts and festivals, and when they abandoned the external symbols of the Khalsa tradition (the unshaven hair and beards) did in fact become Hindus believing in Sikhism.

Arjun, the fifth Guru, proclaimed : ‘We are neither Hindus nor Mussal- mans". Gobind Singh, the last Guru, gave them a distinct look, a community name and started traditions which would make his following into a distinct people with an ethos of their own. The gurus had perhaps not reckoned with Hinduism’s remarkable capacity to accept all variations of the religious theme. Hindus acclaimed Sikhism as a militant aspect of their own faith. Within a few years of the death of Guru Gobind, leadership of the Sikhs was in the hands of a Hindu bairagi, Banda Singh Bahadur. And by the time the Sikhs came to dominate the Punjab, Sikh ruling class had been thoroughly brain-washed by their mentors; they wore sacred threads, were married to the chanting of Vedic mantras, went on pilgrimage to Hardwar and Banaras, forced their widows to perform sati. Such was the state of affairs during the reign of the superstitious Brahmin- ridden Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839).

With the collapse of the Sikh Kingdom in 1849, it seemed to many that Sikhism had run its course and would soon become an episodic chapter in the history of Hinduism. Lord Dalhousie, The Governor-General, who annexed the Punjab was of the opinion that within a few years the Sikhs would cease to be. However, it was he more than anyone else who took measures to prevent a whole-sale sliding back of Sikhs into Hinduism. He made the observance of Khalsa traditions (long hair and beard) compulsory for Sikh soldiery. Every unit had a granthi (scripture reader) attached to it and attendance at gurdwara was made obligatory.

The Sikh intelligentsia responded to the government gestures. Literature extolling the teachings of the Gurus and the heroism of the Khalsa began to be published in Gurumukhi, a script which came to be almost entirely used by the Sikhs. Separate ritual for birth, baptism, marriage and death was established. ‘Ham Hindu nahin hain-We are not Hindus" became the slogan. The Sikh separatist movement was helped by the resurgence of Hinduism under the Arya Samaj. In order to reclaim Sikhs as Hindus, Samajists had to emphasise the superiority of Hinduism over the teachings of the Gurus. Sikhs retaliated by denigrating the Arya Samaj. In the battle for survival two more fronts were opened-one against Christian missions who had begun to gain converts from the lower castes of Sikhs and the other against the Muslims who began to question the Sikhs over representation in services and grants of land. Out of this maelstorm were generated the Singh Sabha and its more aggressive successor the Akali Movement. And these two movements moulded the Sikhs’ separate identity.

Of all periods the most neglected by scholars are the years between the fall of the Sikh Kingdom (1849) and introduction of democratic reforms (1909). N. Gerald Barrier fills this gap. His work is pioneering, painstaking and thorough. He has compiled a most valuable catalogue of source material for those who wish to fill the blank pages of Sikh history.

**Sample Pages**

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