"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.
Encyclopaedias are not easy to make. They are generally a long time in preparation. This
is a fact commonly known. That they vanish into thin air as quickly as did this first volume
of the Sikh Encyclopaedia was nowhere within our calculations. Maybe, we had erred when
putting down our initial arithmetic on paper. This was the first publication of its kind under
Sikh auspices. So it may not be allowed to lapse. It must be kept alive. Hence, this hurried
reprint. The volume presents Sikh life and letters on a wide spectrum. All entries, over
800 of them, have been very carefully chosen, covering major aspects of Sikh life and culture.
There are detailed, well-researched essays in it on Sikh philosophy, history and scriptural
texts. Also, on important Sikh shrines and locales. And, on important names. Professor
Harbans Singh has laboured hard and created a work of high literary excellence. The writing
aims at clarity, shunning all artifice and rhetoric. Easy intelligibility has been the principal
focus. The work will be as useful to the lay reader as to the specialist. Its direct style of
writing, its precision of language, and its well-attuned and orchestrated phrase are notable
inputs of this composition. The venture seems to have been under the protection of some
good angel. Five years ago, the Editor-in-Chief was felled by a stroke. He has been able
to carry on despite the severe disability.
"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 unceasing 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 Gurt or prophet-mentor of the Sikhs, which came off in 1966-67.
The celebrations bequeathed to Patiala two permanent monuments; one, Gurt 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 the 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 Gura 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 Gura 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 I had 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 ofa 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 hist 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 in a 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 them.
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 Amritsar, religious headquarters of Sikhism, as well as Anandpur Sahib, the
birthplace of the Khalsa, Patiala became the focus of the world-wide Guru Gobind Singh
celebrations in 1966-67. It is not on record if any other anniversary on the Sikh calendar had
been observed with similar zeal and eclat. M.A. 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 Gura 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 Gur: 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 body called the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation.
Maharaja Yadavinder Singh (1913-1974) of Patiala was chosen to be the president of the
Foundation and asum 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 Giani 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 Foundation 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 Gura Gobind Singh in English which was
simultaneously translated into all major Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi,
Bengali, Assamese, Marathi, Gujarati, Oriya, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada,
Kashmiri and Maithill.
In this spontaneous enthusiasm for anniversary celebration is reflected the Sikhs’ response
to the historical memory of the Gurus and to the 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
Major Gurmukh Singh), and Research Scholar (Giani Gurcharan Singh). Some initial explo-
ration 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 surgeon, Dr Robert M. Johnston, Leesburg, 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 Gura'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 along 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 and shaken. :
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 along 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 sportingly.
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