How a pacifist religion became warrior-like
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
A gifted writer, Harish Dhillon tells us the history of the 10 Sikh gurus, bringing out succinctly how a pacifist religion created by the revered Guru Nanak in 1499 transformed itself into the Khalsa just 200 years later, mainly due to the tyranny unleashed by Mughal empires intent on forcibly converting Hindus and Sikhs into Islam. And how Sikhism has held on – in a sea of Hindus and Muslims.
In the first hundred years of its existence, Sikhism was basically a movement of social and spiritual reform. Because of its many revolutionary concepts, it appealed to many Hindus and Muslims. But as the religion found more and more takers, there was plenty of hostility and jealousy, both from Hindu kingdoms in the northern hills and from Mughal kings who were not ready to tolerate anything that would weaken the appeal of Islam.
Although Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire in India, knew Guru Nanak personally and later Akhar gifted a ‘jagir’ during the time of the third Guru (Amar Das) on which Amritsar was built, the tolerance from the Mughal side ended with them. The sadistic and totally uncalled for killing of the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev, in Lahore in 1606 marked the end of the easy, comfortable relationship that had existed between the Sikhs and Mughal rulers till then.
It was finally left to the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, to overhaul Sikhs into a well organised, highly skilled and excellently trained group of warriors. But as Dhillon underlines, Guru Gobind Singh did not take Sikhs away from the teachings of Guru Nanak. He was forced to change the contour of the young religion to protect it from extinction. And he also decided that there would be no further living Guru and the Guru Granth Sahib would be the new Guru – forever.
Dhillon admits that the Sikh history he is unveiling is not new. Yet, in re-telling a story that is known, Dhillon – who taught English for 47 long years — proves he is a great storyteller. It is a book that will appeal to all, Sikhs as well as non-Sikhs.
Ditto for Dhillon’s other book. “Janamsakhis” are a collection of 20 interesting and inspiring stories about the life and times of Guru Nanak. The earliest came to be written around 1658 – or nearly 120 years after the passing away of Guru Nanak in 1539. In that sense, none of the stories, Dhillon says, can claim to be most authentic or authoritative because each chronicler, over time, may have altered the narrative. Nevertheless, they throw a valuable insight into the thinking of Guru Nanak, founder of what is even today one of the youngest religions in the world. These are indeed inspiring spiritual stories.