The word ‘Academic’ comes from the word ‘academy’, which has been defined in Encyclopedia Britannica like this: “An academy is a society of learned individuals, organized to advance art, science, literature, music and some other cultural or intellectual areas of endeavor.” While trying to understand Gurbani, it becomes evident that though spiritual and moral development of man is the main concern in the compositions of Guru Granth Sahib, the intellectual, academic and aesthetic aspects of a man’s personality have not been overlooked. While talking about social, political, economic and spiritual dimensions of man, the principal aspects of academics like music, science and literature too find adequate space in the compositions of Guru Granth Sahib ji.
That a ‘Granth’- the written word- the sabad- has been accorded the status of the Guru in Sikh philosophy and tradition, goes on to prove that academics form a core feature of Sikh thought. No doubt some other schools of thought too, recognize the importance of the ‘word’-[And God said ‘let there be light and there was light’], but in Sikhism the ‘word’ or the ‘sabad’ forms the core of Sikh thought. Apart from rababi Mardana, who sang the compositions of the Guru in accompaniment with rabab, the only other companion of Guru Nanak during his travels was a ‘kitab’-a book. ‘ਆਸਾ ਹਥਿ ਕਿਤਾਬ ਕਛਿ’, says Bhai Gurdas, thereby conveying that wherever he went during the course of his journeys, the Guru would always carry with him a stick, a staff in his hand and a book in his armpit. A rabab and a book- a musical instrument and a book- rabab stands for music for the food of the soul and a book for the food for mind – were his constant companions, signifying the importance he gave to the academic development of man, of which intellectual and emotional development form is an important part. The soulful cry of his compositions in Guru Granth Sahib could find expression only in music, in specific ragas- musical measures. Sikhs are conscious of this rich heritage and vigorous efforts are being made to revive the tradition of singing Gurbani in the specified musical measures. However this paper mainly concerns itself with the importance of written literature in Sikh tradition.
‘ਪਰਚਾ ਸਬਦ ਕਾ’ is one of the fundamental concepts in Sikh thought. The word ਪਰਚਾ comes from the word ਪਰੀਚਯ which means ‘to be introduced’. Thus ‘ਪਰਚਾ ਸਬਦ ਕਾ’ means ‘to be introduced to the sabad or to contemplate on the sabad. To regularly contemplate on the sabad is one of the fundamental duties of a Sikh.
In Sikhism it is the sabad-the Gyan- the knowledge, the ultimate and True Knowledge, the spiritual wisdom is the Guru, and not the physical body of the person imparting that knowledge. The Sikh principle of ਦਸ ਗੁਰੁ ਇਕ ਜੋਤ, (the same spirit abides the ten Gurus)too means that all the ten Gurus had the sabad – one principle, one spirit, the spirit of the sabad- as the basis of their thought, their teachings as contained in Gurbani. Even during the life time of the Gurus, it was the sabad that had a place of prominence more than the physical self of the Guru. Guru Nanak himself declared the sabad to be his Guru. When asked by the Siddhas who his Guru was, Guru Nanak replied that the sabad was his Guru. The Guru says that the unfathomable and profound word is his Guru and that without the Sabad the world will lose all balance; it will go insane:/p>
ਸਬਦੁ ਗੁਰ ਪੀਰਾ ਗਹਿਰ ਗੰਭੀਰਾ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਬਦੈ ਜਗੁ ਬਉਰਾਨੰ॥
(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, pg. 634.)
Sikh history stands witness to the fact that after the installation of the Adi Granth in Sri Harmandar Sahib, the fifth Guru himself would sit at a level lower than Guru Granth Sahib, thus according his own physical body a status lower than the status of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the written word, of which he himself was one of the composers. The author of Gurbilas Patshahi 6, states that at the time of his demise, the 10th Guru, was asked by the Sikhs as to who they should talk to when they had a longing to meet the Guru in person. The Guru is known to have said that if they had a deep yearning to talk to the Guru, they should read Guru Granth Sahib with full devotion and concentration:
ਬਾਤ ਕਰਨ ਗੁਰ ਸੋ ਚਹੈ ਪੜੈ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਮਨ ਲਾਇ॥
By according Guru Granth Sahib, a literary composition of the highest order, the status of the Guru, the Sikh Gurus set upon to create a society of the people who had literary and academic interests and as such possessed a highly awakened intellect. Sikhs pray for a sublime intellect in their collective prayer at the end of every congregation- ਸਿਖਾਂ ਦਾ ਮਨ ਨੀਵਾਂ ਮਤ ਉਚੀ- Let the Sikhs possess humility of mind even while having a sharp intellect of the highest order.
Apart from compiling his own compositions and the compositions of his predecessors, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev ji, an editor par excellence, decided to include the compositions of the enlightened ones of all the faiths too, thus giving recognition to the merit rather than the sect of the composer. Even the compositions of some of his own disciples found a place in the revered Granth, which later was to be formally installed as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs. The poetry of Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal, the two highly revered Sikhs who were contemporaries of the Gurus, though not included in Guru Granth Sahib, is traditionally recited in all Sikh congregations. This speaks of the highly esteemed status given to these compositions and is indicative of high academic standards of the Sikhs at that time.
When Guru Nanak appeared on the scene in 1469, he keenly observed the state of affairs of the time and felt sad to notice whatever was happening around. He observed that the scenario was that of tyranny and injustice, of chaos and confusion. Social and political inequalities were blatant. The poor and the weak were groaning under the weight of the injustice being heaped upon them.
The Guru analyzed the whole situation to find out the root cause behind the problem. He came to the conclusion that the whole population was suffering and burning in the fire of tyranny, because the common man in his ignorance had accepted to live under the tyrannous rule and that there was no real religious leader, no real guru to guide him through the difficult situation, where he could learn to live a life of dignity. He was aware that without the guidance of a true teacher, it was not possible to get rid of the prevailing ignorance. So he decided to fill the gap himself so as to create a society of the enlightened and awakened people who could bail the whole population out of the tyranny of the unjust rulers. For this, the people had to be intelligent enough to analyze the situation and to find out the ways and means to get out of the wretched state they were in. To achieve his aim of guiding the common man to the True path, the Guru undertook four long journeys around the world, telling the people the true path. Bhai Gurdas sums up the whole situation in the following lines:
ਬਾਬਾ ਦੇਖੈ ਧਿਆਨ ਧਰ ਜਲਤੀ ਸਭ ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮੀ ਦਿਸ ਆਈ।
ਬਾਝੁਹ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੁਬਾਰ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਹੈ ਕਰਦੀ ਸੁਣੀ ਲੁਕਾਈ।
ਬਾਬੇ ਭੇਖ ਬਣਾਇਆ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਦੀ ਰੀਤ ਚਲਾਈ।
ਚੜਿਆ ਸੋਧਣ ਧਰਤ ਲੁਕਾਈ।
(Bhai Gurdas Varan)
Guru Nanak undertook the tours with the mission to root out the ignorance and superstition so that the common man being intelligent and aware could become the master of his own destiny. Quality education of the masses was the only answer to the problem. So the Guru set about his mission of educating the masses.
Guru Nanak was of the firm view, that only the mother tongue could be the medium of instruction, if a man was to develop himself to the highest level. Since in those days there was no text available in the mother tongue of the masses, Guru Nanak decided to create one himself. So the first thing he took up in hand was the composition of a religious text, the only source of knowledge in those days, in the vernacular, so as to make all knowledge available to the masses. He composed Gurbani in the mother tongue of the people to whom he addressed. His own compositions, the compositions of his successors along with the compositions of other great men collected by him during his journeys were to be compiled in one volume. The task was accomplished by Guru Arjan Dev ji, the fifth Guru, exceedingly well. Thus Guru Granth Sahib became a highly informative source of learning in every branch of knowledge. The intensity of feeling with which it was composed makes it not only a food for intellect and thought, but also nourishment for the starved soul of man. The musical measures (ragas) were the vehicle of innermost feelings of the Gurus for the Supreme. /p>
The second Nanak (Guru Angad) carried on the work started by the first Guru, when he settled at Khadoor Sahib. He made it a point to regularly take classes of young children, boys and girls, every day after the morning congregation. Dr. Littner is of the view that Guru Angad prepared the preliminary text books for small children and also rearranged the Gurmukhi alphabet organizing and serializing it in a scientific way.
The third Guru, Guru Amardas, divided the whole area under his influence into a number of zones and put these under the charge of capable teachers who spread the light of knowledge far and wide. By the time of the tenth Nanak, the light of knowledge imparted by the Gurus through these teachers had spread in all the four corners of the country. The fact that four of the five beloveds who had surrendered themselves to the Guru by offering their heads on his asking on Vaisakhi day of 1699, came from far off places like Maharashtra, Nanded, Hastinapur and Dwarka; proves that the light of knowledge had reached every nook and corner of the country, with the efforts of the Gurus who often undertook tours of distant places with this mission in mind.
The practice of starting informal schools attached to dharamsalas had started right from the time of Guru Nanak. According to Dr. Littner, this practice continued till the early decades of twentieth century when the formal educational institutions under the British education system started being opened.
The efforts put in by the Gurus bore fruit and slowly and gradually a kind of wave for the spread of education started, which produced some very enlightened individuals. Principal Teja Singh records, “Guru Nanak Sahib was the pioneer of the new education system, who motivated his followers to start preparatory schools. Wherever there was a Gurudwara, there existed a school for girls with it.”
Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru himself was a great scholar and poet who hugely contributed to Guru Granth Sahib. An editor par excellence, he set new standards in editing when he compiled Guru Granth Sahib in a very scientific manner leaving no scope for any spurious additions later on. He also took care to preserve the whole of Gurbani in a beautifully bound volume, which was respectfully installed in Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.
Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib, was a scholar of a very high caliber. The ‘vars’, ‘Kabit’, and ‘swayyas’ composed by him are a repertoire of his deep understanding of the whole of ancient classic literature composed in this part of the globe. The metaphors and similes used by him and other references made by him to the ancient Indian literature leave us with no doubt about his scholarship and deep knowledge of all the available literature of the time and also his deep understanding of the Sikh principles. He frequently refers to the ancient Hindu mythology by way of comparison to bring home to the common man, the gist of the Sikh thought. A much revered personality, his compositions were declared to be the key to the understanding of Gurbani by Guru Arjan himself. His compositions are frequently recited in Sikh congregations along with Gurbani.
The tenth Guru was a literary giant. He studied the whole of Indian classical literature and made frequent references to it in his compositions. He himself produced voluminous literature of his own. A great scholar of all the Indian classical languages, he makes liberal use of the words from all these languages in his compositions. Macauliffe says, “The poetic intuition and energy of Guru Gobind Singh found exuberant expression in his poetry which is incomparable for sublimity and style, mystical ardor and vitality of content.”
Guru Gobind Singh not only himself produced a bulk of literature, but was also a patron to poets and scholars of his time and so encouraged them that a large number of them flocked to him. Sikh tradition says that at least fifty two of them made their permanent abode at Paonta Sahib, where, every evening, the poet scholars would gather in the presence of the Guru and would recite to him their poetic compositions. The Guru would reward them handsomely and provided them an environment conducive for the creation of high quality literature. Realizing this need of the poet scholars for the peaceful environs, the Guru shifted his base to Bhangani, located eight miles away from Paonta Sahib, when he saw the possibility of the impending battle with Fateh Shah of Garhwal. He did not want the literary activity to be disrupted because of the battle forced upon him. He ensured to provide to the authors an environment that was conducive to the creative literary work. It is popularly believed that weight of the whole mass of manuscripts produced during this time was nine maunds which came to be approximately 350 kilograms. Sadly, the treasure was lost upon the evacuation of Anandpur in December 1705, most of it while passing through the flooded Sirsa stream. Only small fragments and copies of some of the manuscripts survived.
According to Mehma Prakash, written by Sarup Das Bhalla, the tenth Guru sent out Sikhs to different parts of the country to invite and bring to him scholars of repute. His instruction was: “Let them bring with them works pertaining to the fields they specialize in.” When they came, the True Guru bestowed great respect and honor upon them and provided for them without discrimination.
Bhai Nand Lal and Kavi Sainapati were the most prominent among the Court poets at Paonta Sahib. Sri Guru Sobha was written by Kavi Sainapati, who is also known to have translated into Braj Bhasha two other well known books namely; Chankya Neeti Shastra and Sukhsain Rama Binod. The most popular work of Kavi Sainapati that has been handed down to posterity is ‘Sri Guru Sobha’.
Bhai Nand Lal was a very well known scholar of Persian who is believed to have been a poet in the court of Emperor Aurangzeb, but had to flee from there because of the emperor’s policy of conversions. He was received very warmly in the court of Guru Gobind Singh. His poetry, like the poetry of Bhai Gurdas, can be very aptly called the exposition of Gurmat principles as enunciated in Gurbani. Dewan-e-Goya, ZIndagi nama, Jot Vigas, Tankhah Nama and Rehatnama are among the most well known compositions of Bhai Nand Lal ji.
Bhai Mani Singh ji, though more popularly known as a martyr whose body was dismembered joint by joint, was a great scholar of the Guru’s time. Apart from being the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib dictated by Guru Gobind Singh at Damdama Sahib, he also wrote Gyan Ratnavali and Bhagat Ratnavali popularly called Sikhan di Bhagatmala. He also transcribed copies of Guru Granth Sahib to be sent to different preaching centres. Baba Deep Singh is also credited with transcribing a number of the copies of Guru Granth Sahib.
With the efforts of the ninth and the tenth Guru , Anandpur Sahib and Damdama Sahib had become established centers of literary activity. Damdama Sahib came to be known as ‘Guru ki Kashi’. The name came from Kashi, the famous old city, known for its learned pundits. This name was given because of the intense literary activities going on there, the foremost of which being the final compilation of Guru Granth Sahib, when the compositions of the ninth Guru too were included. The tradition says that once Guru Gobind Singh flung a handful of reed pens over the heads of the congregation (‘Sangat’), saying: “Here I will create a pool of literature. No one of my Sikhs should remain illiterate.”
Guru Gobind Singh aspired to turn his Sikhs into excellent embodiments of humanity, who were equally brave; were serene and composed with a huge reservoir of patience and possessed a very sharp intellect. He believed only a person with pure and sharp intellect could be brave in the real sense of the term. The Guru presents his ideal of a Sikh in the following lines:
ਧੀਰਜ ਧਾਮ ਬਨਾਇ ਇਹੈ ਤਨ ਬੁਧਿ ਸੁ ਦੀਪਕ ਜਿਉਂ ਉਜੀਆਰੇ।
ਗਿਆਨਹਿ ਕੀ ਬਢਨੀ ਮਨੋ ਹਾਥਿ ਲੈ ਕਾਤਰਤਾ ਕੁਤਵਾਰ ਬੁਹਾਰੈ।
Let your body be the abode of serenity and your intellect sparkle like a burning candle of knowledge. Let the knowledge thus received become your broom with which to shovel out all the cowardice.
With the ideal of removing the feeling of fear and cowardice from the minds of the populace, the Sikh Gurus decided to make the illumined mind the tool, the broom with which to remove all dirt of ignorance from the mind.
With this goal in mind, the Guru set about making his followers the scholars of the highest caliber. He wanted the Sikhs to be fully aware of the literary heritage of the Indian subcontinent, so he encouraged them to learn as many languages as possible. Tradition says that Guru Gobind Singh invited a learned pandit to teach Sanskrit to the Sikhs so that they could study all the Indian classical literature available in the language. The pandit taught for some time, but left when he came to know that many of the Sikhs he was teaching were Sudras, considered outcast in those days. The pandit too, like others, believed that Sanskrit could only be taught to the high castes.
Firm as he was in his resolve to make the Sikhs great scholars, the Guru would not give in. He decided to send five of his Sikhs to Kashi, a center of great learning in those days, so that they could learn the language and then teach it to the rest of them. These learned Sikhs contributed a lot to the academic development of the community. They later came to be called ‘Nirmalas’. In the eighteenth century, after the martyrdom of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, when the Sikhs were being hounded, and they had to hide in the jungles to save themselves from being persecuted, the nirmalas, udasis and sevapanthis took upon themselves the responsibility of keeping the flame of knowledge ablaze. They would go to the places of pilgrimage where people assembled in large numbers, and would impart knowledge to the common man. They would also go from village to village with the same mission. Their knowledge of Ayurveda and Indian system of medicine, together with their sense of dedication for the welfare of society helped them get a ready acceptance with the people and they spread the message of the Guru far and wide. They would also take classes in the Bungas around the parikarma of Darbar Sahib. Thus Amritsar was turned into a big educational centre for the Sikhs. It is a different matter that finally the Sikh community had to launch a struggle to free the Gurudwaras from the Mahants because of the corrupt practices that crept in the system.
Even though eighteenth century was a very difficult time for the Sikhs when they faced physical extermination from the rulers of the land, a lot of literature was produced during this period. Apart from the Janamsakhi literature which expanded on the ballad(var) written by Bhai Gurdas; detailing the significant episodes of the life of Guru Nanak, a sizable literature on Sikh history too was produced during this period, the most well known writers of the time being Kesar Singh Chhiber, who wrote Bansawalinama, Sarup Das Bhalla of Mehma Prakash, Guru kian Sakhian was written by Sarup Singh Kaushish, Gurbilas patshahi dasvin by Kuir Singh and Gurbilas parshahi chhevin by an anonymous writer. A number of Rehatnames and Tankhahnama too were written during this period./>
Prachin Panth Parkash by Rattan Singh Bhangu, Sri Gurpartap Suraj Granth by Mahakavi Santokh Singh, Nanak Surajode Janam Sakhi by Ganesha Singh Bedi and Tawarikh Guru Khalsa by Giani Gian Singh are other prominent works composed in the first half of nineteenth century.
Though this literature, written in the form of a narrative based on the evidence based mainly on oral tradition held in sanctity by the local population, may not pass the test of modern historiography, and has been criticized by many for lack of analytic way of writing history; it does convey a lot about the life times of the Gurus, and the Khalsa.
With the East India Company ruling major part of India, and the rulers feeling the need to know more about their subjects, of whom Sikh came to be of special interest to them, some English authors either because they themselves grew curious about the Sikhs or because they were deputed to write about the Sikhs. The first one of these to write the ‘History of the Sikhs’ was J.D. Cunningham which appeared in print in 1849. Earnest Trump too translated part of the Sikh Scripture and also Puratan Janam Sakhi and Bhai Bala Janam Sakhi.
However the most popular book on Sikhism considered to be most authentic written by any British author has been written by M.A. Macaulliffe who wrote a history of Sikhs under the title ‘Sikh Religion’. Four volumes of the book also contain English translation of selected compositions from Guru Granth Sahib.
After this, many English translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib have been written, the most well known of these being that of Dr. Gopal Singh, G.S. Talib and Dr. Manmohan Singh.
In the second half of nineteenth century, with the onset of Singh Sabha movement, there was a new resurgence in the academic activity. Though earlier, Mahakavi Santokh Singh, Giani Gian Singh, Rattan Singh Bhangu, and Kesar Singh Chhiber, had created voluminous literature on Sikh history and Sikh thought, the literature produced during the Singh Sabha movement was more on scientific and modern lines.
During this period, Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha hugely contributed to the academic development of the community by singlehandedly writing a voluminous work like ‘ Gursabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh’ which is the first encyclopedia on Sikhism. Gurmat Prabhakar, Gurmat Sudhakar, and Gurmat Martand are the other reference books of great value written by him. Prof Gurmukh Singh and Giani Dit Singh are other known writers of the time.
Giani Dit Singh, a leader and a reformer during Singh Sabha Movement, equally adept at writing prose and poetry. He wrote around forty books on Sikh theology and Sikh history and on current issues.
Bhai Vir Singh, another prominent author of the time who set new trends in Sikh literature, wrote in all forms of literature. Though he is more popularly known as the father of modern Punjabi poetry, he also wrote beautiful prose. Guru Nanak Chamatkar, Ashat Guru Chamatkar, and Kalgidhar Chamatkar, the books on the life history and the message of ten Gurus are popular even today among the Sikh devotees. He also edited Gurpartap Suraj Granth written by Mahakavi Santokh Singh. Bijay Singh, Sundari, and Satwant Kaur and Baba Naudh Singh are the popular novels written by Bhai Vir Singh. Baba Naudh Singh is an authentic exposition of Sikh principles. Raja Lakhdata Singh is the title of a play written by him about which, not many people know. Bhai Vir Singh is also the author of detailed translation of about 700 pages of Guru Granth Sahib. The title given is ‘Santhya Guru Granth Sahib’. No doubt Bhai Vir Singh is the most prolific writer of twentieth century.
Prof Sahib Singh who brought to the fore the importance of Gurbani grammer, wrote Guru Granth Sahib Darpan in ten volumes paraphrasing each sabad in Guru Granth Sahib, while giving the meanings of difficult words also. He also wrote many books on Sikh philosophy. His autobiography entitled Meri Jivan Kahani, detailing his arduous journey to success is quite an inspiring book.
Dr. Bhai Jodh Singh who has the unique honor of becoming the first Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala at the ripe age of eighty four also contributed a lot to the Sikh scholarship in the first half of twentieth century.
Professor Gurmukh singh, Principal Teja Singh, Bawa Harkrishan Singh, Dharmanant Singh, Bhai Randhir Singh are other writers who significantly contributed to the Sikh literature during the period of Sikh Renaissance.
Prof Puran Singh, Principal Teja Singh, S. Kapur Singh ICS, Giani Sher Singh, Principal Satbir Singh, Dr. Sher Singh Sher, Dr. Taran Singh, S. Narain Singh, Piara Singh Padam, S. Raghbir Singh Bir, S. Niranjan Singh, S. Daljit Singh IAS, and Dr Kaharak Singh are some of the prominent scholars of twentieth century who contributed hugely to the exposition of the Sikh thought.
Among the reference books written during this period are Tuk Tatkara by Dr. Gurcharan Singh, wherein each line of Guru Granth Sahib finds a mention with page number given alongside. Encyclopedia of Sikhism by Harbans Singh, published by Punjabi university is another landmark in the Sikh scholarship.
Dr. Ganda Singh, Principal Ganga Singh, Dr. Tarlochan Singh, Dr. Gopal Singh and Karam Singh historian are some of the scholars who wrote on Sikh history. Dr. Kirpal Singh is busy writing about Sikh history at the age of ninety.
An emphasis on women education is another hallmark of Sikh academics. Khalsa Dewan Bhadaur opened schools for girls. Ludhiana and Ferozepur were centers for the propagation of women education. A school for girls Sikh Kanya Vidyala was started at Ferozepur by Bhai Takhat Singh and his wife Bibi Harnam Kaur in the year 1892, making them the pioneers of women education in the region.
Establishment of Khalsa College Amritsar in the year 1892 with a mission to impart education as per the Sikh ideals of education was another milestone in Sikh Academics. Though it could not become a Khalsa University as was initially planned, the college contributed a lot to Sikh academics and produced many eminent personalities contributing hugely to all facets of life. The names of eminent Sikh scholars like Dr. Bhai Jodh Singh, Bawa Harkrishan Singh, Dr Sahib Singh, Principal Teja singh and many more are associated with the college.
Chief Khalsa Dewan was founded in 1903 with the objective of promoting the spiritual, intellectual, moral, social, educational and economic welfare of the Sikhs. It was felt that spread of education based on sound, moral and spiritual values was necessary for the progress of the masses. For this purpose, Sikh Educational Committee was formed in 1908 which started its work in right earnestness, and by 1920, it was running more than 200 educational institutions.
The Dewan hugely contributed in the field not only by opening schools, but also by organizing annual Sikh Educational conferences. This brought about an awakening among the Sikh masses about the importance of education for the development of society and in 1947 at the time of partition there were 340 Khalsa schools being run by various organizations. The Dewan also took up the publication of good quality literature with the mission of bringing about awakening among the Sikhs about their rich heritage. ‘Nirguniara’ and ‘Khalsa Advocate’ were regularly published.
In 1907, a magazine for women ‘Punjabi Bhain’ was started. Though voices in favor of women education were already being raised by individuals, this was perhaps the first magazine dedicated to the development of women as educated and enlightened beings. The magazine immensely contributed towards the spread of women education. Other topics dealing with family and domestic issues which are special interest to women too were regularly published.
Apart from many prominent writers, there are others who propagated the message of Sikhism in their respective areas. In 1924, S. Dharam Singh started Guru Nanak Vidya Bhandar Trust. The trust opened many schools and libraries and also awarded scholarships to the students. Guru Nanak Vidya Society Bombay started around two dozen schools and made successful efforts in getting Punjabi language the status of optional language in state schools.
Another milestone in the spread of literary activity was the contribution of Sikh journalism in meeting the challenges of the time. By 1912, around thirty journals were already being published. ‘Khalsa Samachar’ and ‘Nirguniara’ brought out by Khalsa Tract Society Amritsar, brought about an awakening among the Sikh masses about their rich literary, ideological and spiritual heritage. ‘Vidya Pracharak’, Gurmukhi Akhbar, Khalsa Sewak, Khalsa Akhbar, Mauji, Phulwari, and Quami Ekta were among the prominent journals of the time. S. Kartar Singh Hitkari, father of the well known poetess Amrita Pritam, started Gurmat Tract Society in 1925. Prominent among the journals being brought out today are Gurmat Prakash, Sikh Phulwari, Sada Virsa Sada Gaurav, Gurmat Sedhan, Seva Lehar, Sikh Lehar, Sis Ganj, Gurbani Is Jag Meh Chanan, Gurmat virsa etc. In English, there are, Sikh Review, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Journal of Sikh Studies etc.
Dharam Prachar Committee of the Shiromini Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee publishes its monthly journal ‘Gurmat Prakash’ which carries good quality research articles by scholars. Hundreds of good quality books and tracts for free distribution have been published till date. SGPC is also running schools and colleges along with opening new professional colleges. Guru Granth Sahib World University at Fatehgarh Sahib is the latest contribution of SGPC in the field of higher education. Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee also regularly publishes literature on Sikhism.
Many NGOs like Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, and missionary Colleges are regularly publishing Sikh Literature.
Establishment of Punjabi University in 1962 and of Guru Nanak Dev University in 1969 on the occasion of quincentenary celebrations of Guru Nanak’s birthday. Departments of religious studies and Sikh studies were started in different universities. This gave further boost to the studies in Sikhism. As a result seminars on the theme of Sikhism became a regular feature. Many academicians were motivated into writing about Sikhism. Many new books and Sikh history and Sikh theology came to be written on the occasions of the Shatabadi celebrations of different events dotting the Sikh history. All this gave another leap to the Sikh academics.
Migration of a large number of Sikhs to the English speaking western world took with itself the study of Sikhism to these countries. Many scholars from the West took up the Sikh Studies as a serious subject and eventually teaching of Sikhism was introduced at many universities in the west, including Toronto University, University of British Columbia, University of Michigan, University of California at Santa Barbara and Riverside, Columbia University and Hofstra University, New York. Today many Sikhs settled in other countries are engaged in the study of Sikhism in these universities. Many interfaith events including Parliament of World Religions every four years are conducted where Sikh scholars participate regularly. At present the universities the world over have the departments of religious studies and Sikh studies, where research is being undertaken into all aspects of Sikh religion, including philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology.
Academic study of religion arises out of a broad curiosity about the nature of religion and religious traditions crossing boundaries and breaking new ground. Curiosity to learn more about Sikhs and their religion compelled scholars from different countries to take to the study of Sikh religion.
Coming to Punjab of a Christian missionary from New Zealand, Dr. W.H. Macleod, in 1950s, with the mission of converting the people of this area to Christianity, was an event that added a new dimension to the Sikh studies. In order to be able to communicate with the local population, Macloed had to learn Punjabi, during the course of which he got introduced to Sikh literature. He was so fascinated with the study of Sikhism that it became a passion with him and he decided to do his PhD from the University of London on Sikh History. He obtained the degree in 1965, which perhaps was the first PhD on Sikh religion. He also wrote a number of books on Sikhism.
But an agnostic as Macloed was, he forgot that the components of faith and tradition form an important part in the study of any religion. A deep and affirming faith in the Almighty with a feeling of equally deep Love for the Supreme, are integral to the Sikh Faith. It is this faith and deep Love that made the five Beloved ones to offer their heads on the asking of the Guru without any question or doubt in their mind. It is the deep Love of the Guru for the Supreme and His creation, the humanity that made the Guru sacrifice his whole family on the altar of human rights.
It is this faith and unquestioned love for the Guru and of the Guru for the humanity of which Khalsa forms a very dear part that lies at the foundation of the unique Sikh history that fascinated Macloed so much that he forgot the study of Christianity and took to the study of Sikhism. By ignoring this important component, Macloed unwittingly came to be the cause behind many controversies and debates that persist till date.
However, one positive fall out of the whole situation was that the Sikh scholars, with deep faith in the message of the Sikh Gurus, woke up to the situation and started writing good quality literature to counter the controversies generated by the ideas expressed by Macleod in more than twenty books written by him. S. Daljit Singh IAS and Dr. Kharak Singh were prominent among them. They successfully propagated the idea that the Sikh thought, even while standing the test of rationality, an outcome of scientific temper as a result of the Age of Enlighenment, still gave primacy to the deep faith and Love for the Supreme. Thus there were significant developments in the later part of twentieth century when an environment was created where a good number of quality books were produced in English as well as in Punjabi. No doubt a lot of good quality well-researched, comprehensive and authentic literature had earlier been produced disseminating authentic message of the Gurus in English as well as in Punjabi, but this literature remains relatively unknown to the western readers. An effort must be made to bring before the reading public interested in the study of Sikhism, the writings of these authors, translated as well as original. Only that way, the controversies and debates generated by the literature created by the authors whose source of information for research on Sikh thought is not the unbiased study of the primary resource i.e., Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but the available secondary sources. For their research they mainly rely on the secondary sources i.e., the books on Sikhism written by other authors. Secondary sources are certainly not a good research tool for any authentic research to be undertaken on any topic.
The need of the hour is to study the literature produced by the writers who have studied the original primary sources of study on Sikhism, and are familiar with the idiom and the mythological references used therein. Only such a scholar can reach the depth of the feeling with which Gurbani was written.
It may be noted that it is important to decode the references from mythology used in Gurbani, as these have been used as metaphors. Metaphors are important to any literary writing, not only because they make it more artistic, but also because they lend greater understanding to the concepts meant to be explained. Moreover we must understand that the popular myths are not about gods and goddesses, but about human consciousness explained through images that are most close to the human mind. They are clues to the nature and dynamics of human consciousness, human psyche.
The Gurus addressed the human consciousness of the common man inhabiting the Indian sub continent. To make the concepts clear to the common man, they made liberal use of the prevalent myths. This way they could make inroads to the inner consciousness of the people of this area. They gave new meanings to the prevalent symbols of faith and demolished all superstition. That was how they made permanent mark on their psyches and established a belief system which was based on rational thought with a feeling of deep devotion for the True One.
On the contrary, taken literally, a metaphor can play havoc with the real content of a literary creation. Metaphor should be taken as a metaphor only, if the authentic message is to be understood and conveyed. It is required of the scholars engaged in the study of Sikhism to be careful in this regard, if authentic message is to be propagated among the masses. The Gurus meant Gurbani to be heritage of the whole mankind. It is the duty of Sikh scholars to expound it for the seekers in the right perspective without creating any confusions or contradictions. Only in such an event, the truth of the following line from Guru Granth Sahib will become explicit and realized in the true sense:
ਦੇਖੌ ਭਾਈ ਗ੍ਯ੍ਯਾਨ ਕੀ ਆਈ ਆਂਧੀ॥
ਸਭੈ ਉਡਾਨੀ ਭ੍ਰਮ ਕੀ ਟਾਟੀ ਰਹੈ ਨ ਮਾਇਆ ਬਾਂਧੀ॥
Behold, O my spiritual brothers the storm of spiritual wisdom is blowing. It has totally blown away the thatched huts of doubt, and torn apart the bonds of Maya. Look, O my companions on the spiritual journey, the storm of spiritual wisdom has totally blown away the thatched huts of doubt, and torn apart the bonds of Maya. The two pillars of double-mindedness and doubt have fallen, and the beams of emotional attachment have come crashing down. The thatched roof of greed has caved in, and the pitcher of evil-mindedness has been broken.