421.The Man in Blue – Shah Jahan & Aurangzeb

What changed in the Mughal empire after the death of Jahangir ? Was Jahangir like the intolerant Aurangzeb, or was there an important difference between the two ?

John F Richards in his book ‘The Mughal Empire’ writes that Guru Arjan was not made a martyr because he was not a Muslim. He was killed because he had a popular following and was seen as a potential alternative centre of power in the Panjab.

Jahangir was a follower of a quietist Vaishnava ascetic, whose teachings were further removed from mainstream Islam than the teachings of Guru.

Shah Jahan and even more Aurangzeb were not interested in learning from, or recognising the value of the Dharmic traditions of the sub-continent. How religious they really were is difficult to tell, but they clearly were ‘politically’ more Islamic than Akbar and Jahangir.

Akbar promoted intermarriage with the Rajputs and other Indian elites. Whatever his other motives were, he realised that he could not even count on the support of all ‘Indian’ Muslims, and that he needed support from the Hindu ‘upper classes’ in order to survive. Jahangir continued this policy.

When under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb this policy changed, it took away their most powerful tool to integrate new militant groups that confronted them. What you see under Aurangzeb is that members of the ruling Maratha Bhonsla family who joined the Mughals, almost always went back to their old allegiance, as they had no chance to become part of the Mughal ruling elites as the Rajputs became under Akbar.

The result was that every time the Mughals thought that they had the situation in the ‘Deccan’ under control and went back north, the insurrection in the south would flare up again. Unrest in the south created the opportunity to successfully rebel to Sikhs in the North West, Jats in what is now UP, various Nizams and Nawabs ruling as governors on behalf of the Mughal Patishah and formerly loyal Rajputs.

No government can rule if they do not have the respect of a substantial part of the population. Respect might be based on fear or on the expectation of rewards, under Aurangzeb non-Muslims lost their fear and got no rewards.

Under Aurangzeb the Mughal empire reached its greatest expansion, but he was the last of the great Mughals. After his death his successors, weakened by the constant wars, rapidly lost control over many of their territories.  Aurangzeb died in 1807 and the Mughals carried on till 1857, but their Empire was gradually taken over by the East India Company.

420.The Man in Blue – Guru Hargobind

Guru Hargobind was born in Guru Ki Wadali near Chheharta Sahib, to the west of Amritsar. He became the successor to Guru Arjan in 1606. In reaction to Guru Arjan’s martyrdom he started wearing two swords, and he erected a mount opposite Harmandr Sahib which he called the Akál Takhat, the throne of the Timeless One. He also used two Nishan Sahib’s.

All this was to symbolise that there was no separation between the worldly and the spiritual realm. In the eyes of the Mughal authorities he was challenging them and was behaving as if he was an independent nobleman.

Of course all Gurus, from Guru Nanak onwards, lived their life under one authority only, the authority of God.

According to the book ‘The Mughal Empire’ by John F Richards ‘[Guru] Hargobind adopted a new quasi-regal style. He wore two swords, held court, hunted with his retainers and built a fort at Amritsar as if he was a raja or a prince. Jahangir, apprised of this, moved to squash the young Sikh leader’s pretensions by arresting and imprisoning him in the state prison at Gwalior fort for two years (1609-1611)’.

It is a pity that the writer does not provide any reference to his source. Is the imprisonment of Guru Hargobind and his release, together with other political prisoners, mentioned in any Mughal source, or in any other document outside our own tradition ?

The SGPC website says : ‘There are divergent views regarding the detention period of Guru Sahib in the Gwalior Fort prison, but the most acceptable one seems to be three years from 1609 to 1612’.

We also have the puzzle about the connection between Guru’s release and Divali. Those desperate for an excuse to attach a Sikh meaning to Divali, claim that either Guru was set free on Divali or arrived back in Amritsar on Divali. As we do not even know the years of Guru’s imprisonment I do not think that claims about either date are very believable.

The battles of Guru with the Mughals are not mentioned in the book either, but I think I read in J D Cunningham’s ‘A History of the Sikhs’ that Teg Bahadur as a young man was described by Mughal sources as a dacoit, which points to his involvement in armed struggles with the Mughals.

Richards finishes his two paragraphs on Guru Hargobind with a mention of Guru’s move to the Himalayan foothills, where he lived like the ‘hilly rajas’ sheltered from too much interference by the Mughals. There was no further persecution of the Guru during Jahangir’s reign. There is no mention of the time Guru spent in the Kartarpur which is just west of Jalandhar.

419.The Man in Blue – Guru Arjan

While the debate on Khalsa, Khalas, Khalis and Khalisa is hotting up on the Sikh News Discussion and Man in Blue group, I am writing the second of the articles based on my reading of ‘The Mughal Empire’ by John F Richards.

On page 96 Richards writes ‘During Khusrau’s [Jahangir’s Son] ill fated coup in 1605, the rebel prince had a brief encounter with Arjun, the fifth Sikh Guru. At Goindwal … Arjun made the mistake of offering his blessing to Khusrau. Jahangir seems to have been consistently hostile to popularly venerated religious figures. In the emperor’s memoir he comments :

In Goindwal, which is on the river Biyah (Beas), there was a Hindu named Arjun, in the garments of sainthood and sanctity, so much so that he had captivated many of the simple-hearted Hindus, and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners, and they had loudly sounded the drum of his holiness. They called him Guru and from all sides stupid people crowded to worship and manifest complete faith in him. For three or four generations they had kept this shop warm. Many times it had occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or to bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.
Jahangir, Tuzuk, 1, 72     

The writer then refers to the saffron mark made on Khusrau’s forehead by Guru Arjan. From previous pages in which Khusrau’s revolt is described it is clear that Jahangir treated very severely with anybody who had in any way supported Khusrau, and on page 97 Richards writes ‘Simply by making a finger-mark of saffron on Khusrau’s brow as an auspicious sign, Arjan suffered a fate similar to most of Khusrau’s followers’.

The quote from Jahangir’s diary is very interesting. I do not know if the diary also refers to Khusrau’s ‘tilak’. Mostly the tilak story and Hindu in Goindwal story are presented as two different or rival explanations of Guru Arjan’s martyrdom, but according to one website both stories are part of Jahangir’s ‘Tuzuk’.

Richards throws new light on this part of our history where he points to Jahangir’s hostility to popularly venerated religious figures, and the fact that even minor supporters of Khusrau were treated very severely.

On page 98 Richards tells us of Jahangir’s relationship with the widely venerated Vaishnava ascetic Gosain Jadrup. It proves the point that the Emperor was not against ‘Hindus’ as such, but was very weary of people like Guru Arjan, who did not live in a hut or a grotto somewhere far away, but  lived a full life in society.

From our point of view Jahangir would have done much better to follow Guru Arjan instead of the ascetic Gosain Jadrup !

Stop use of violence !

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.

418.The Man in Blue – Khalsa

I have been reading ‘The Mughal Empire’ by John F Richards. The book turns out not just to provide background to the history of the Guru-period but it also tells the story of the clashes between the Sikhs and the Mughals and throws light on the word ‘khalsa’.

I will discuss the passages in the book on the clashes between the Sikhs and the Mughals in the next column, this week I will concentrate on the origin of the word Khalsa.

In the book there are many mentions of the word ‘khalisa’. In the glossary ( page 300) you’ll find its explanation : khalisa – lands or other entities producing revenue directly for the emperor and the central treasury.

On page 70 there is a mention of a minister of crown revenues whose title was diwan-i-khalisa, responsible for all revenues that were going directly into the central treasury. On page 76 crownlands under direct administration of the imperial finance minister are described as ‘khalisa’.

When I was in Chandigarh with the Institute of Sikh Studies I was told that Khalsa does not mean pure but that it is derived from a Persian or Farsi word meaning land that comes directly under the Crown. It is obvious that this must be the word khalisa used by the Farsi speaking Mughal court.

What is the meaning of the word in spiritual context ? The Khalsa are those that come directly under the Patishah of Patishahs, under God, just like khalisa land came directly under the emperor.

Why is the word we use Khalsa and not khalisa ? I do not know but we are faced by the same problem when we say that Khalsa means pure, as this is derived from the word khalis.

What I also do not know is how the word khalisa was pronounced. Was the first ‘a’ an ‘aa’, was the ‘i’ a sihari as in pit or a bihari which in English sounds like ‘ee’ ? Is it reasonable to assume that the end ‘a’ is an ‘aa’ ?

Assessing the proper meaning of Khalsa is important. If the Khalsa are meant to be the ‘pure’ than most of us, including your ‘man in blue’, should leave the Khalsa. I seriously try but make many mistakes and even Guru who is on a much higher level admits to making mistakes.

To add to the confusion I looked at the 33 Savaiye. In the first one there is mention of khálas and nakhálas, which is translated as Khalsa and not Khalsa. Any views on this khálas ? Does this mean pure, and were they wrong to tell me that pure is khalis ? Khalas might be a different spelling of khalis or it might be a different word with a different meaning.

Appeal to stop the use of violence

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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417.The Man in Blue – Moving to St Truiden

Since February I have been living in West London for ten years, on the 6th of May I will be 63 and on 14 July I will be a 14 year old Amritdhari Sikh.

Somewhere around June 15 I plan to move from Southall to St Truiden in the Belgian province of Limburg.

I will miss wonderful Southall, I will miss the choice of ten Gurdwaré to visit, I will miss the many people in the UK Sikh community who have become my friends and I will miss my many friends of different faiths and beliefs who I met in the course of my interfaith/multi faith work.

In Belgium and the Netherlands together there are about ten Gurdwaré. In those Gurdwaré you rarely hear the sort of kirtan that takes you to a spiritual high, the sort of kirtan that you often hear in the Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwaré.

I was born in and lived my first seventeen years in Roermond, in the Dutch province of Limburg, which is to the east of Belgian Limburg. The culture of St Truiden is similar to the culture I grew up with. St Truiden is nearer to French speaking territory and further from German speaking territory than Roermond, and that does make a difference.

I look forward to represent the Sikh community in St Truiden, in Limburg and in Belgium. I hope to be able to contribute to improving the already good relations with local government.

Hopefully the Sikhs in Belgium will be able to improve their profile in the country and to get more recognition from the Flemish regional and the Brussel based national government.

I also want very much to be part of the Sikh community in and around St Truiden and play a part in the life of the Gurdwara. But I might not stay in St Truiden for the rest of my life as I have always been a bit of a gipsy. Belgium will be my fifth country. I do not think I will match the time I spent in Amsterdam, about 25 years with an interruption of three years in Dublin.

I have thought beyond being in Belgium, but as we all know my speculations are all in vain, as I have no idea what God has in store for me. I like the idea of going to Barcelona or Valencia, an area of the world that I know quite well and feel at home in. These cities now have small Sikh communities.

Another obvious option would be to come back to the UK, with its vibrant Sikh community and its rotten climate. Financially things should be easier after I reach the magic 65 and will get small state and private pensions. But you never know what will happen, God will steer me, I will follow.

Appeal to stop the use of violence

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.

416.The Man in Blue – Elections in Southall

In case you did not know, I am a member of the Liberal Democrats. I have been actively campaigning since the beginning of this month and if you live in the Norwood Green ward of Southall you can actually vote for me for Ealing Council. But this is not what this article is about.

What I want to discuss with you is the quality of the councillors and the MPs that we have been voting for here in Southall. For years Southall has been represented by Piara Singh Khabra. We should not be nasty about those who have passed away, but even Labour supporters must admit that Piara Singh did not work very hard for Southall.

Now we have Virendra Sharma as an MP, and he follows the example of Piara Singh. Virendra Sharma wants to be re-elected and Gurcharan Singh, ex-Labour and now Conservative, is his main opponent. I know, we all know that there are much better people in the South Asian community in West London. Why are we stuck with these two poor choices ?

Regardless of party, why is there not a South Asian equivalent of for instance John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, who works hard for all communities in his constituency. Why is it that we have throughout West London so many mediocre South Asian councillors ?

It is not because there is a lack of talent. I know plenty of South Asian people in all generations who are intelligent, well educated, hard working and successful in their line of business or in a professional career.

Is politics not attractive to the doers, is it because it does not bring in the big bucks ? Why do we mostly get the people who are happy to take the seat and the respect of the community, but who do not want to work hard at representing the voters of their ward or constituency ?

To a degree the same is true for our Gurdwaré. How many inspirational and hard working Sikhs are there on prabandhak committees ?

If you are more or less a floating voter in West London you have no problem, you just vote for the most capable candidate regardless of party. But if you are a committed Conservative or Labour supporter it must be frustrating. All you can do is choose between TweedledumandTweedledee.

It is a little late now, but I very much hope that enthusiastic and honest members of Southall’s diverse communities will come forward the next time round to genuinely represent the people of our wonderful Southall. (Southall is wonderful ! I lived in Roermond, Amsterdam, Dublin, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Heston and Southall, and Southall easily is one of the best places to live in.)

Appeal to stop the use of violence

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.