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Sikhs and Sikhism - Book By W.H. McLeod

Table Of Contents For 'Sikhs and Sikhism' Book by W H MCleod





1. The Setting
2. The sources
3. The Life of Guru Nanak according to the Janam-sakhis
4. The Life of Guru Nanak
5. The Teachings of Guru Nanak
6. The Person
  Biographical Index
  Doctrinal Index
  General Index

                                           EARLY SIKH TRADITION



1. The Historical Setting: The Panjab 1500-1800
2. The Janam-sakhis: A Definition and Summary Description
3. The Principal Janam-sakhis
4. The Language of the Janam-sakhis


5. The Origins and Growth of the Janam-sakhi Traditions
6. Constituents of the Janam-sakhis
7. Janam-sakhi Forms
8. The Assembling and Transmission of the Janam-sakhi Traditions
9. The Evolution of Sakhis
10. Sources Used by the Janam-sakhi Compilers


11. Purpose, Function, Value
12. The Purpose of the Janam-sakhis
13. The Function of the Janam-sakhis
14. The Janam-sakhis as Historical Sources
15. The Janam-sakhis in Panjabi Literature
1. The Contents of the Earliest Bala Versions
2. Contents of the Puratan Janam-sakhis
3. Contents of the Adi Sakhis
4. The Contents of LDP 194
5. English Translations of Janam-sakhis
6. Holdings of Janam-sakhi Manuscripts
7. The Adi Granth
8. Date Chart
  Select Bibliography
  Index of Janam-sakhi Anecdotes and Discourses
  General Index


1. The Evolution of the Sikh Community
2. The Janam-sakhis
3. Cohesive Ideals and Institutions in the History of the Sikh Panth
4. The Sikh Scriptures
5. Caste in the Sikh Panth


1. What is Sikhism?
2. The Nanak-panth
3. The Khalsa and its Rahit
4. The Khalsa in the Eighteenth Century
5. The Singh Sabha Reformation
6. Definition by Legislation
7. Who is a Sikh
  Select Bibliography


Introduction To Book  'Sikhs and Sikhism' by W H MCleod

This collection represents two of the major areas in Sikh history and religion which have absorbed me during the last forty years. The first two books concern the life and teachings of Guru Nanak. The second two involve my interest in the nature of the Sikh Panth (the Sikh community).

Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion is a revised version of the doctoral thesis which I submitted to the University of London in 1965. Although the thesis was originally entitled 'The life and doctrine of Guru Nanak'. I was advised that a reference to the religion of the Sikhs in the title would greatly clarify the nature of the book to potential purchasers. This was indeed the case and ever since I have usually managed to work some mention of the Sikhs or Sikhism into the title of any book which I have written.

The book is little changed from the thesis apart from a substitute for the first chapter and the addition of a short chapter at the close. This closing chapter was added at the suggestion of the Canon Slater who had also advised me to change the little, and it has produced widely differing reaction from readers. Whereas Sikh readers have strongly approved many of my western academic readers have regarded it with much more scepticism.

The reverse has been the response to the section dealing with the life of Guru Nanak. Western readers are generally satisfied; most Sikh readers are emphatically not satisfied. The conclusion to this section of the book amounts to less than one page and the ructions and reverberations concerning it can still be plainly heard. I remain convinced, however, that it stands unchallengeably firm. In contrast to the biographical section my treatment of the teachings of Guru Nanak has not suffered the same fate. This chapter of the book has actually been translated in Punjabi by Guru Nanak Dev University, thereby signifying Sikh approval of this part of the book. 

One criticism of Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion was that it did not allow for the true value of the janam-sakhis the hagiographic accounts of the Guru's life which have formed the basis and substance of the traditional 'biographies'. Analysing the janam-sakhis as historical sources of a necessary procedure for a study of Guru Nanak's life, but I recognized that there was a real value to the Janam-sakhis which my first book had not covered. This explains Early Sikh Tradition.In it attempt to show how the janam-sakhis evolved and to treat them for points of view other than the narrowly historical. This work was completed in 1971 and it is, to my mind, the best book I have ever written.

Early Sikh Tradition, however was not published until 1980.Meanwhile I had moved on to the second area which absorbed my attention for several more years. This was the nature of the Sikh Panth. In the course of the year 1969-70, which I spent at the University of Cambridge working on Early Sikh Tradition, I delivered a series of four lectures in the Faculty of Oriental Studies dealing with the Sikh community. Subsequently I added contribution on caste in the Sikh Panth, and in 1974 and 1975 these were published as five essays entitled The Evolution of the Sikh Community.

In three respects the information contained in The Evolution of the Sikh Communist has been overtaken by later research.The first is the material relating to the Adi Granth contained in chapter 4, 'The Sikh Scriptures'. This has been greatly expanded by the recent work of Pashaura Singh and Gurinder Singh Mann. Secondly, references to the Singh Sabha are inadequate in the light of Harjot Oberoi's excellent work,The Construction of religious Boundaries & And thirdly, the fresh work being done Lou Fenech or martyrdom in the Sikh tradition would lead me to enlarge some portions of the book were I to be writing it now. In all other respects, however, the substance of the book still holds firm in my opinion. This includes the theory which explains the growth of militancy in the Panth, a development which I attribute to Jat cultural patterns and to the economic circumstances confronting the early Panth. It is quite false to suggest that this theory has been proven beyond all doubt, and I am aware that it has been challenged by Jagjit Singh in The Sikh Revolution . Until a more convincing theory is produced, however, I would maintain that this one should prevail.

This leaves only Who is a Sikh? The manuscript for the book was prepared as the Radhakrishnan Lectures which were to be given in the University of Oxford in 1987, but unfortunately a stroke rendered me incapable of delivering them. Although they were never presented in Oxford, the Clarendon Press published them as Who is a Sikh?in 1989. No comment seems necessary as far as this book is concerned. In almost all respects it represents views which i still hold.

The one exception in the case of Who is a Sikh? applies to all four books in this omnibus. Readers will find that God is invariably designated by the masculine pronoun. This usage I now regret. Akal Purakh is without gender, neither male nor female. Ways of expressing this conviction can be found in passages from the Sikh scripture and if I were providing translations now, I would certainly have avoided the gender trap.

The two areas covered by the four books in this omnibus have not been the only once which have attracted me in Sikh Studies. One comprises sources of Sikh history and religion. A second is Sikh historiography, particularly the difference between history and tradition generated by the work on the janam-sakhis. A third has been the popular art of the Sikhs, a topic prompted by the discovery in the Victoria and Albert Museum of the Kipling collection of ephemera gathered from the Lahore bazar in 1870. A fourth has been migration and issues arising from the Sikh diaspora. And a fifth, still continuing and certain to persist for many more years, is the vitally important development of the Khalsa Rahit or code of belief and conduct.

Hew McLeod


Preface To Book  'Sikhs and Sikhism' by W H MCleod

For no one is the injunction to tread softly more relevant than for the historian whose study carries him into regions beyond his own society. Should his study extend to what other men hold sacred the injunction becomes a compelling necessity. For this reason the westerner who ventures upon a study of Sikh history must do so with caution and almost inevitably with a measure of trepidation. In such a field the risk of giving offence is only too obvious.

This risk may perhaps be minimized if we state at the outset the meaning which the title of the book is intended to communicate and the methodology upon which this study is based. It should not be assumed that this book is intended to be, in any direct sense, a study of the faith of modern Sikhs. The book is a study of the man Guru Nanak. A reference to the Sikh religion has been included in the title because the adherents of that religion quite rightly regard Guru Nanak as a determinative formulator of the beliefs which have ever since constituted the primary bases of the Sikh religion. For this reason a study of Guru Nanak must inevitably involve a study of the Sikh religion in its primitive form. The emphasis has, however, been laid upon the man Guru Nanak. This study is intended to discharge a three-fold task. In the first place it seeks to apply rigorous historical methodology to the traditions concerning the life of Guru Nanak; secondly, it attempts to provide a systematic statement of his teachings; and thirdly, it endeavours to fuse the glimpses provided by the traditional biographies with the personality emerging from the teachings.

The source which have been used for the first of these tasks are the hagiographic accounts called 'janam-sakhis'. A cursory reading at once reveals the unreliable nature of these works as records of the actual life of the Guru, but they constitute our only source of any importance and we are accordingly compelled to use  them as best we can. In order to do so a number of criteria have been posited. These criteria are applied to  individual sakhis, or 'incidents' and in this manner a decision is reached concerning the extent to which any such sakhi can be accepted. It should be noted that the rejection of much contained in the janam-sakhis should not imply that these works lack significance and that having rejected many of their traditions in the context of a study of Guru Nanak we can afford to ignore them altogether. For an understanding of later Sikh history they retain a vital importance which has been obscured by the failure to detach them from the person of the historical Nanak. If, however, our subject is Guru Nanak, and if our method is historical, much that they contain must inevitably be rejected.

For the section dealing with the teachings of Guru Nanak the methodology adopted is much simpler. The works attributed to Guru Nanak in the Adi Granth have been accepted as authentic and an effort has been made to gather into a systematic from the various beliefs which we find dispersed through his works. This can be done with relative ease, for it is clear that such a pattern was present in the mind of their author.

If we are to indicate a more general purpose beyond the three-fold task pursued in this study it could perhaps be expressed in terms of a quest for creative understanding. We are now beyond the stage where an understanding of one's own society can be accepted as sufficient. This study accordingly represents an initial attempt to know a people of unusual  interest and ability. It is no more than a beginning, but it is a necessary beginning. An understanding of later Sikh history or of contemporary Sikh society requires a prior understanding of the man whom Sikhs own as their first Guru.

As this study is largely based upon Panjabi sources, words which are common to punjabi and other north Indian languages have almost all been transliterated in their Panjabi foms (sabad instead of sabda, guru instead of guru etc.) The only exceptions to this rule are a few instances in which a Sanskrit or Hindi fom has secured an established place in English usage (e.q. bhakti, karma. Transliterated forms have presented the usual problem of when to retain diacritics and when to dispense with them. In almost all cases the diacritics have been retained, the  only exception being the names of modern authors and a few words which have acquired a standardized form in English usage. Except in quotations form other works the forms ch and chh have been used in preference to c and ch (chitta, not citta).

Almost all passages quoted from the Adi Granth have been given in English translation only,and this pattern has also been followed in the case of quotations from other works in Panjabi or Hindi. Many of the extracts from the Adi Granth have been translated with some freedom in an effort to bring out their meanings with greater clarity. Bracketed portions indicate words which do not occur in the original but which have been inserted in order to give continuity to a translation. The translations are my own, but in the case on  passages from the Adi Granth extensive use has been made of the modern Panjabi paraphrases provided in a number of vernacular commentaries. One of my great regrets will ever be that when dealing with the compositions of Guru Nanak I can in no measure reproduce in English translation the beauty of the original utterance. My primary concern in such cases has been to produce an accurate translation and in numerous instances I have felt compelled to sacrifice felicity of style in the interests of exactness.

Except where otherwise indicated dates are all A.D. For all quotations from the Adi Granth I have used the text printed in Sabadarath Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, a work which follows the standard Adi Granth pagination. Attention is drawn to the three indexes. In addition to the General Index a Biographical Index and a Doctrinal Index have been provided.

This book represents a revised version of my thesis The Life and Doctrine of Guru Nanak submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Uniiversity of London, 1965. To my supervisor, Professor A. L. Basham, I owe a particular debt of gratitude and I take this opportunity of acknowledging it with warmest thanks. For assistance and encouragement I should also like to thank Dr. F. R. Allchin, Dr. Jodh Carman, Dr. Ganda Singh, Dr.J.S. Grewal, Dr. Norvin Hein, Dr. John Singh, Dr. R.S. McGregor, Dr. Maqbul Ahmad, Dr. V. L.Menage, Dr. Niharranjan Ray, Professor Parkash Singh, Dr. Geoffrey Parrinder, Professor Pritam Singh, Dr R. H. L. Slater, Dr. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Dr. Charlotte Vaudeville, and Mr. John C.B. Webster. In fairness to them I must add that for opinions expressed in this book I alone  am to be held responsible. I also acknowledge with thanks help received from the principal  and staff of Baring College, Batala; from various people associated with Punjabi University, Patiala; from the office staff of the Shiromani  Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee, Amritsar; and from Messrs. Singh Brothers of Bazar Mai Sewan, Amritsar. Finally I should like to thank my wife for Batala, 1967


Author W.H. McLeod
Pages 1100
Cover Paperback
Language English

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