“Babania kahania put saput kareni”
(ramkali mahala 3, 385)
"Stories of the wise turn progenies into able inheritors”
In the global context of religious, spiritual and political history, Sikhi is a very recent phenomenon. Starting from the time of Guru Nanak in the late 15th century, scriptures, stories and records of Sikh history have only needed to survive a few hundred years for us to be able to access them today. This relatively brief time span, when compared to religious texts of most other belief systems, adds a level of accuracy, legitimacy and literary accuracy when assessing and analyzing Sikh history. Having an important level of confidence in the integrity of any piece of history is a prerequisite to be able to effectively deduce value from it. The quote above highlights the transformatory capabilities that history can have upon ‘progenies’ thereby showing us that according to the Guru Granth Sahib, history is very important. This power to influence combined with authentic records of the growth of the Sikh faith can serve as very powerful tools to empower and educate the future of the religion.
The Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh Ji is a ‘niara panth’ and independent of all other dominant theo-political notions of the time. However, we must not forget that the birth of the Sikh thought was in part a response to the contemporary realities; a result of the political, economic, cultural, spiritual and social shortfalls of the existing systems that prevailed in society. To better understand Sikh thought today, analyzing these diverse types of histories is integral in painting a well-balanced picture of the stories behind the emergence of this belief system. The history of north western- India, the birthplace of Sikhi, is steeped in religious and societal atrocities which were executed through a rigid system of casteism, discrimination, and Semitic exclusivism. Political, religious, spiritual and economic mobility was restricted and controlled by a select segment of society, the membership of which was determined by birth. This societal segregation is the primary driving force behind the emergence of Sikh thought. Although the history of this ethnographic abuse is vast and complicated, the responses from Guru Nanak and his followers were all centered around the principles of equality and inclusion. Another important piece of religious history to focus on to better understand Sikh thought is the root behind Ik Onkar. Within the existing segregation in India and within many other global belief systems of the time, hundreds of different versions of a Divine Power were being observed, and those in power were using a plethora of narratives to garner support, build boundaries or simply manipulate populations. All in all, this pitted people against one another leading to a heavily divided, immobile and disenfranchised society. With the proposition of the Ik Onkar, Guru Nanak established an ever-growing group of followers to cement the values of one omniscient and all-pervasive Divine Power across faith systems along with defending religious freedom.
Sikhi as we know it today has grown over time. However, there are some values right at the core of the religion, its narratives, the teachings of its Gurus and within its codes of conduct that have pervaded through time and space. These values, and their defence and practice have molded the Sikh framework we live within today. Understanding their origins and practices over time are imperative to understand their importance in our lives as we are faced with very different circumstances than those during the time of Guru Nanak. This understanding can come from nowhere else but the study and analysis of history.
Ikram Singh Kohli recently participated in Sidak 2017 and wrote this piece as part of the Sikhi 101 track.
He currently lives in New Delhi, India.