The tercentenary of the birth of the Khalsa Panth in 1999 provides us with an opportunity to have a fresh look at our heritage, reflect on what the Gurus had said with a view to relating it to the present, and make a reappraisal of what the Gurus did so as to appreciate it in the modern day context. In this respect, the Punjabi University has decided to publish new titles and reprint some old classics having a bearing, directly or indirectly, on the theme of Khalsa which Guru Gobind Singh had created as a microscopic form of the ideal socio-political structure of his vision.
Professor Gurbachan Singh Talib’s The impact of Guru Gobind Singh on Indian society is an incisive and perceptive study of the evolution and orientation of certain socio-ethical ideals. According to the author, Sikhism redefined and applied these ideals to mundane human life with such sincerity and fervor as had inspired thousands upon thousands to lay down their lives to uphold them. The author contends that Sikhism gave to this land, for the first time perhaps, the sense of such great values without which individual and corporate life would become vulnerable to moral and social degeneration.
The book was first published, in 1966, by Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Chandigarh. The University expresses its deep sense if gratitude to the Foundation for permitting it to bring out this reprint of the book which has contemporary relevance and will be of immense interest and use to the students of Sikh Studies.
This small book does not profess to be a historical study. I must disavow at the outset any claim to an intimate or original acquaintance with history. The historical facts lying in the background of the discussions in this book are such as I believe are generally accepted and considered more or less to be authentic by historians who have worked in the field of medieval, and particularly Mughal history, with which the story of Sikhism is intertwined. The scope of this book is further limited by its not being an exposition of what may be called the philosophy’ of Sikhism or of the Indian religious tradition in general. Such a philosophical approach would require much more detailed knowledge of sources, particularly in Sanskrit, and an infinitely more abstruse presentation, than is here attempted. With these main limitations, and with the further proviso, that the details of Guru Gobind Singh’s life, and of the preceding Gurus are here accepted as they are current among scholars, and have not been investigated afresh. As a matter of fact, biography of the Gurus enters only occasionally and indirectly into these pages, as bearing on their teachings and actions.
Properly speaking, these chapters are to be considered as discussions (they are so also in their manner of presentation) of certain ideas and ideals which Sikhism, and Guru Gobind Singh as the Preceptor who bought them to perfection and culmination, may be said to have emphasized and applied to individual and corporate life. These ideas and ideals, treated here, are not intended to be taken as an exhaustive or definitive statement of the great work of Sikhism. They are presented here as a segment of the totality of Sikhism in a spirit of tentative formulation of their precise nature, direction and significance. As said earlier, the philosophical, metaphysical and the spiritual are outside the scope of these discussions. These concern themselves mainly with the evolution and orientation of certain socio-ethical ideals, which it is the glory of Sikhism to have restated and to have applied with such sincerity and fervor, leading to the martyrdom of thousands upon thousands to uphold them. It is claimed here for Sikhism that has given to this land, for the first time perhaps, the sense of certain great values, without which individual and corporate life become corrupt and subject to all manners of moral and social evils. It is in the light of such an objective, therefore, that this book may be studied.
In view of the nature of its contents, the book may present to the reader the character of something like a thesis. Such it is not in the formal academic sense perhaps, but in the general sense of a point of view, supported by accumulated evidence and close argument. Here and there, the reader may also feel there is a little overlapping, but there is not overmuch of it. In view of the character of the book as it grew, and of the time-span within which it had to be prepared, to be ready before the great event—the tercentenary of Guru’s birth—perhaps such imperfections could not be avoided.
The book is not documented, as a scholarly thesis would be. The references are few, and much of the historical information is given in impressionistic and digested form. Quotations form Sikh religious literature ( in translation ) are generally referred to their source. As a matter of fact, such references are the most valuable props of the argument.
‘Guru is an ancient Indian concept, meaning generally ‘teacher’. Literally also, it would not be inappropriate to render it as ‘Enlightener’, as has been done in the English translation of the Holy Granth by Dr. Gopal Singh. In this book it is variously rendered as “Teacher as well as Apostle (Messenger of the Lord), something like the sense in which in the Semitic faiths the equivalents of ‘Prophet’ are use. But ‘Guru’ in no sense is avatar or incarnation of God. Such an idea is most vehemently repudiated in Sikh teaching.
The translations of the hymns and other pieces and phrases from the Adi Grath, Dasam Granth, Vars of Bhai Gurdas and other work are my own. Although a number of translations into English, particularly of portions of Adi Granth have been made, it cannot be claimed for any one of these versions that finality or perfection of expressiveness or definitiveness belongs to it. A translation, for which something like the finality of the Authorised Version of the Bible in English may be claimed, does not yet exist. I have, therefore, thought it more useful to make such renderings as I thought would more closely convey the meaning, and particularly the power of the original. Obviously, I do not claim finally for my own renderings either. Transliteration of the names drawn from Sikh, mythological and Muslim sources is that familiar to the average English-Knowing Indian. Ultra-meticulous rendering of the various consonant sounds of Arabic along with elaborate diacritical marks has been avoided so as not to confuse the general reader.
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