Sikh Culture . Khalsa

The Order of the Khalsa-Significance in World History and Civilization:  From the archives of the Punjab Government

A unique event of great world historical significance occurred at Sri Anandpur Sahib in India in the year 1699 when the tenth and last Prophet of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh created the order of the Khalsa through the sacrament of baptismal 'amrit'. The Guru thereby institutionalized the universal, humanistic teachings of Guru Nanak who in the medieval age had envisioned a new civilization characterized by a new value pattern based on the primacy of t he human spirit.

Here was a unique message : the humanity of God and the divinity of man - a concept from which emanate, in a sense, the ideals enshrined in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, which, interalia, reaffirms "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."

We are approaching in 1999 the 300th anniversary of that divine moment in the flux of time that changed the very course of history, particularly in the Indian subcontinent.

This would be a historic occasion for the Sikh community all over the world not only for introspection and retrospection but also for foreseeing and fore thinking.

More than that, this would be an occasion for the people of the world to renew their commitment, on the threshold of the coming century, to the unfettered and uninhibited self-expression of the human spirit realizable in a new pluralistic world order.

This historic event - a unique cosmic play, the 300th anniversary which falls in 1999 - unfolded itself at Sri Anandpur Sahib, the city of bliss. Located in hilly surroundings Anandpur was founded by the ninth Prophet of Sikhism, Guru Teg Bahadur in 1644, in this historic town, is situated one of the five Sikh Takhts (the symbolic seats of temporal and spiritual authority of Sikhism).

For unfolding the Bachittar Natak (cosmic event) at the mound (where now stand s Takht Sri Keshgarh) at Sri Anandpur Sahib, Guru Gobind chose the first day of solar month of Baisakh ( the Baisakhi day) that fell on March 30 in 1699 AD-now celebrated on April 13. The beginning of the month of Baisakh symbolizes renewal and regeneration, ripening and fruition. Earlier, it was on this day that Gautam realized enlightenment and became the Buddha, heralding a new era in Indian civilization qualitatively different from the prevalent Hindu civilization and culture. Guru Gobind Singh purposely chose this day for ushering in a new dawn, a new chapter in world history, a new phase of world civilization, envisioned by the first Prophet of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. The Guru had asked the faith-followers from all over India to assemble at Sri Anandpur Sahib on the chosen day. The huge congregation became mysteriously innervated when the Guru with a divine glow in his eyes and a naked sword in his hand, gave a thundering call for a devout Sikh to come forward to offer his head then and there for the sake of dharma. Guru Gobind Singh was putting to test his followers readiness for sacrifice of life - a sacrifice of the mundane life sibilated into the Life Divine. Guru Nanak himself had laid down the test :

(If you seek to play (the game) of Love, then, enter upon the Path with your head upon your palm)

At the third call of the Guru, according to the tradition, Daya Ram ( a Khatri by caste) from Lahore (now in Pakistan) arose to offer his head to the Guru who took him into an adjoining enclosure. At the subsequent calls of the Guru, came forward Dharam Dass (a Jat) from Delhi in northern India, Mohkam Chand (a washer man) from Dwarika in Gujrat; Himmat Rai (a cook from Jheevar Caste) belonging to Jagan Nath Puri in Orissa in eastern India, and Sahib Chand (a low caste barber) from Bidar in southern India; they were also taken into the enclosure. The five self-sacrificing Sikhs had undergone a sacramental 'passage', a death-like experience for their celestial vision of and interface with the Spirit-Destroyer and Creator at the same time.

Salutation to the Destroyer of all, Salutation to the Creator of all
Guru Gobind Singh, Jap Sahib

Clad in new yellow garments with blue turbans, radiating dynamism and determination, they were brought back before the congregation that burst into resounding words of Sat Sri Akal (immortal and ever-present is the time-transcendent Spirit). The Guru, then, amidst recitation of the Divine Word, embodied in the sacred hymns, stirred, with a double-edged sword, the water, in a steel vessel, sweetened by sugar plums, and thus prepared the Baptismal nectar (amrit) - the elixir of courage and compassion - that was administered to the five Sikhs who came to be known as the Beloved Five (Punj Pyare). They, with appellation of 'Singh' added to their names, became the first five initiates of the order of the Khalsa created by the Guru through the sacramental nectar. Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh when he got baptized by the Beloved Five. The act of the Guru seeking baptism from his baptized followers, apart from revealing the democratic ethos of Sikhism shows that God, the Guru and the follower become one in spirit; the moment of baptismal transformation becomes the moment of trans-animation. This was a sacrament of resurrection, of spiritual ascent of man. The cosmic play at Sri Anandpur Sahib also pointed to the process of descent of the God (qua immanent Spirit) in time. The spiritual ascent of man and the historical descent of the spirit, in a sense, mark, under the generic category of the Khalsa, the evolution of sovereign man in direct communion and unison with the Divine Sovereign (Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa).

In the world's speculative thought, Sikh philosophy, in the medieval age, introduced a new revolutionary idea of far-reaching implication and futuristic significance. God in Sikhism is not merely indeterminate Being, but also Creator who created material world as well as time. Metaphysically this implied acceptance of the Vedantic eternity of time, which meant the continuation of a thing in its original self-same state of being (sat) eternally, without change, development or evolution, further, God is also envisioned in Sikh metaphysics as the creative, dynamic Spirit (Karta Purakh), becoming determinate (Sat nam) in time, in history. The spirit, through the Guru Medium, descends in history to become its operative principle, its dynamic teleology. The spiritual aspect of the Spirit (the spiritual sovereignty) becomes determinate in the Divine Word revealed to the Gurus; the Adi Granth, thus, becomes Guru Granth (the Sikh Scripture). The temporal aspect of the Spirit (the temporal sovereignty of the Divine) becomes manifest and diffused in the generic category of the Khalsa. Guru Nanak's Panth becomes the Guru Panth, the Khalsa Panth :

  • This verily is the phenomenal form of the timeless Who manifests Himself in the corporate body of the Khalsa) - Prehlad Rai, author of a Sikh Rehatnama

  • The Khalsa is my determinate form I am immanent in the Khalsa- Guru Gobind Singh

Much later, Hegel described the modern State (identified with the Prussian Military State) as the highest expressional form of the spirit. The democratic import of the Sikh concept stands in sharp contrast to the tendency towards autocracy and totalitarianism inherent in the Hegelian notion.

The traditional modes of revelation of God known to religion and metaphysics are immanence or reflection in space (nature); indwelling in soul and manifestation in the World. With Sikh philosophy appears for the first time in religious and speculative thought of the world, a new revelatory mode : the concept of descent of God in time, that is, the spirit-in-history. The cosmic event (Bachittar Natak) at Sri Anandpur Sahib in 1699 A.D. marks the sacrament of the Divine descent qua the dynamic Spirit immanent and operative in history - the Khalsa, in its generic sense, being the vehicle of the Spirit.

The baptismal sacrament at Sri Anandpur Sahib was also a cosmic act of regeneration, an experience of sublimation through subilition. What was annihilated by the double-edged sword-symbolising the destructive and the creative aspect of God Almightly-was the past Karma (deeds done under self-delusion_ and its effects and imprints on the psyche that, seeping down into the sub-conscious and unconscious layers of mind, solidify into stereotypes (Sanskars) for the present and future deeds. What was created, though subilation of the past Karma was a liberated state of mind, no more under siege of the spirit-less customs and conventions, of empty ceremonies and rituals, of degenerating dogma and obsolescent orthodoxy. The partaking of the baptismal nectar awakened the dormant, slumbering spirit of man who rediscovered his divinity, his sovereignty, his humanity. Realization of the primacy of innate humanity-oneness of all humanity \ proclaimed by Guru Gobind Singh at the creation of the Khalsa, meant obliteration of all caste-based differentiations; all hierarchic disparities; all gender-related discriminations, all creed-centered differences.

On another (empirical) level, the baptismal sacrament institutionalized the evolution, the endogenous development, of the faith-followers into a political community with a corporate identity, besides the individual identity predicated by the five baptismal symbols. Through this institutionalized corporate identity, the Guru wanted to create a mighty force in world history - as a temporal vehicle of the Spirit - for introducing a new societal order, free from evil, injustice and inequity; free from political discriminations and economic disparities; free from creedal exclusiveness. What was aimed at through the founding of the Khalsa, through the motor force of a new dispensation with a distinctive corporate identity, was the creation of a new world order characterized by pluralism-religious, cultural, economic and political.

Though the five baptismal symbols define the individual identity of a baptized Sikh yet their connotations are universal in nature. The five baptismal symbols are known as the five Kakkars (the five K's) uncut hair; comb; steel bracelet; short drawers and sword. These five Kakkars, marking the visible individual identity; are symbols and not rituals or totems; their ritualistic wearing, without realizing and imbibing the underlying spirit is homologous to Brahminical tradition of putting on Tilak (sacred mark on the forehead) and Janeu (sacred thread) rejected by Sikhism. The uncut hair symbolize the integrality of being, emphasized by the post-modern holistic view, as against the old dualistic view. The comb stresses the value of cleanliness and purity in personal and social life. The steel bracelet stands for the experiential presence of the Divine whose beginning-less and endless infinity is represented by the circular shape of the symbol. The wearing of short drawers connotes chastity as well as the Sikh rejection of the ascetic tradition that equated nudity with the natural condition of man; this symbol also stands in sharp contrast to the Brahminical practice of wearing unstitched lower garment (Dhoti). The sword is not only a combat weapon for offensive or defensive action; it is, rather, a symbol/liberated being, of sovereignty of man homologous to the right of a sovereign people to keep the arms. Being symbols, what is important is not their significance their essence, animating the attitude, the deed, the very life of the faith-followers. These are the symbols reminding their wearer that he is to be Sachiar (truthful living) in his obligation towards God; a Jujhar (fearless fighter for a righteous cause) in his obligation towards society and a rehat-dhar (imbiber of enlightened code of conduct) in his obligation towards the community. These three qualities together constitute the indivisible wholeness of the life of the Khalsa and its members; when the emphasis on the third obligation becomes accentuated-as witnessed these days - at the cost of the two other ones, the five symbols become rituals emptied of their inner sense and essence.

The five baptismal symbols have deep significance on ethical, social and political levels; they imply a new praxis for individual and social life. Sikhism visualized a revolutionary re-structuring of society, as a step towards a new civilization from the earlier Indus and the Hindu civilization in India, in particular. The Brahminical system had absolved the concept of fixity in social organization, wherein the place of each caste with predetermined role-structure, as well as of the individual in the caste, was considered to be fixed a priori in hierarchical order given by the law of Karma. This system by transforming (in the language of Marx) " a self- developing social state into a never changing natural destiny", ensured stability and passive equilibrium, but at the cost of internal dynamism and evolutionary clan. Seen in this context the role of a Hindu Avtar is that a periodical restoration of the balance, whenever the passive equilibrium of society gets disturbed. (This involves the cyclical-devolutionary view of time-a species of spatial time-in which history is seen not as an ongoing directional process, but as a series of the flow and the ebb, occurring in cyclical periodicity). The Sikh Guru is not an Avtar, not only on the ground that God is not conceived of as incarnating Himself in human form, but also for the reason that he is the initiator of a new way of life in the dimension of directional time. (Path=Panth), involving innovative structural changes in society.

Brahmin society permitted only 'positional mobility' of the lower caste in the hierarchical structure through a cultural process named 'sanskritization' by M.N. Srinivas; a lower group having circumstantially gained power or wealth would try to emulate the customs, manners, rituals and even caste-denominations of the higher caste for being accepted at a higher rung in the hierarchical ladder. As observed by M.N. Srinivas, this process of sanskritization meant only "positional change for the lower group without any structural change in the system". In fact sanskritization in a way reinforced the principle of fixed hierarchy in so far as it meant vertical mobility within the caste system. It was, further, retrogressive in that it diverted the lower stratum from self-acquisition of status and respectability in its own right, without loosing the self-identity in the borrowed feather of the higher class.

Sikhism played a revolutionary role on the sociological level in re-structuring society on equalitarian basis by rejecting the concept of hierarchical fixity as the tradition-honored principle of social organization which had received its axiological legitimating from the caste-system, which in turn had the law of Karma as its metaphysical basis.

The sociological significance of the baptismal ceremony of Amrit lies in its being a revolutionary alternative to sanskritization. The baptismal Amrit provided a new normative principle, process and channel to the lower classes for vertical mobility in their own right, without any sense of guilt about their respective selidentities, which, as such, were no more required to be sibilated into simulated behavior-patterns of the higher caste groups.

(The lowest of the low castes, The lowliest of the lowly,  I seek their kinship -Why emulate the (so-called) higher ones.  Thy elevating Grace is Where the down-trodden are looked after).

The lower castes and classes were, as such, provided an opportunity of vertical mobility up to the highest level. The new normative principle of social organization introduced by the baptismal amrit made people realize their essential humanistic identity with a sense of horizontal solidarity as co-equal members in the Order of the Khalsa which does not admit of fixed, stratified role-performance, nor the caste-based differentiation of connubial and ritual functions. Consequently this revolutionary normative principle provides for a new kind of vertical mobility that ipso facto involves an ongoing process of re-structuring of open society on equalitarian basis-a process that stands in sharp contrast to sanskritization that permitted selective vertical movement, while ensuring the foundation of the hierarchy, closed system of caste-based society and the concomitant caste-system.

The teleological goal of the Khalsa, for which it was created under the Divine Will qua a community if the sachiar, the jujhar, the rehat-dhar, was not simply, individual salvation in the world hereafter; or even individual redemption in the world here and now. The universal societal concerns of Sikhism-as distinct from the existential concerns of the Sikhs at any given point of time and place constitute the teleological goal of the Khalsa pre-saged by Guru Arjun, the fifth Prophet, in the following words :

  • All are equal partners in Thy common-wealth, with-none treated as alien or outsider)

Here was a message for ushering in a new value-pattern, a new dispensation, based on the fundamental principles of equality, justice and compassion, liberty and fraternity.  This was a divine manifesto for a new civilization on the pillars of humanism, liberalism, universalism and pluralism. Ontological dualism of mind and matter, and epistemic dichotomy of the subject and the object-that have characterized the Western civilization of the past few centuries are both sibilated into the unifying life of the "Spirit-in-history" - a concept that provides a new normative basis for the emergence of the post-modern civilization, the first intimations of which, appearing in the Sikh thought over 500 years ago, became phenomenally manifest in and through the creation of the Khalsa about 300 years ago at Sri Anandpur Sahib.


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