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The Heritage Of The Sikhs - Book By Harbans Singh
Introduction To 'The Heritage Of The Sikhs' By Harbans Singh
The word sikh goes back to Sanskrit shishya, meaning a disciple or learner. In Pali, shishya became sissa. The Pali word sekha (also sekkha) means a pupil or one under training in a religious doctrine (sikkha, shiksha). This was the Pali form of Punjabi sikh. The term Sikh, in the Punjab, came to be used for the disciples of Guru Nanak and his nine spiritual successors.
The Sikhs-today a well-knit community of nearly twenty million--are a unique people in the religious civilization of the world. Practical and progressive in their outlook, they are deeply attached to their faith. Religious belief is their living impulse and the mainspring of their national characteristics and history.
Sikhism had its birth in the Punjab and most of its followers live in this state: yet many have migrated to other parts of India and to countries abroad. Wherever they may live, Sikhs are easily recognized by their beards and turbans. They value these as the signs of their religious faith. As their history reveals, their religious forms and symbols have been of supreme importance to them. They give them a sense of identity and are an essential part of their way of life.
The Sikhs are widely known as good soldiers and farmers. In a foreign land a Sikh may be hailed as a representative of the oriental princely order-such is his physical mien and stature. Tribute has not been lacking for Sikhs' handsome beards and headgear and for their qualities of courage and adventure, but appreciation of the underlying sources of their inspiration and tradition has generally been rather limited.
The Sikhs are a deeply devoted people and faith is an essential trait of their nature. An immense reserve of spiritual energy has been their strong asset in many a crisis during their 500-year-old history. In the latest, when at the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 nearly one-third of the community was reduced to a homeless and landless refugee population, they exhibited great recuperative power. The Radcliffe line, which marked off the two sovereign States of India and Pakistan, from each other, ran through the middle of the Sikh population. Migrating en masse from what then bcame the West Punjab province of Pakistan, the uprooted sections of the community reestablished themselves gradually, but securely in their new homeland. A firm and unflinching faith was their sole support in that most trying situation.
Rather than produce any truculent or fanatical spirit, the Sikhs' religious zeal has resulted in some shining deeds of heroism and sacrifice. For, at the root of their history lie simple virtues such as tolerance, compassion and service, so sedulously inculcated by their Gurus, or prophet-teachers.
The foundation of the Sikhs' central shrine-the Golden Temple at Amritsar-was laid at the request of their Fifth Guru by a Muslim Sufi. In the Sikhs' holy book are hymns composed by pious men, Hindus as well as Muslims. It also contains verses by the outcaste Shudras. The Fifth Guru, who compiled the Sikh Scripture, broke through these divisions and gave an honoured place to the compositions of holy men from other traditions beside his own and those of his four spiritual predecessors. The resultant Adi Guru Granth, the Original Book, is unique among the world's religious scriptures for its mystical ardour and catholicity of design.
When, after a long period of desperate and bold struggle against religious persecution, the Sikhs succeeded, towards the end of the eighteenth century, in establishing their own rule in the Punjab, they readily made friends with their Muslim persecutors and treated them with utmost tolerance. Ranjit Singh, the Sikh sovereign of the Punjab, was a ruler of liberal vision and maintained a cosmopolitan court. His most trusted minister was a Muslim, Faqir Aziz-ud-Din, who was also his personal physician and tested his master's food every day before it was served to him. Raja Dina Nath, a Hindu, was the finance minister. Among Ranjit Singh' s army officers were Frenchmen, Italians, Americans, Poles, Greeks, Russians and Englishmen, besides, of course, Hindus, Gurkhas and Muslims.
Heirs to such liberal traditions, the Sikhs are bound by no strict dogma or ritual. They recognize no caste divisions. They must not, of course, smoke, nor cut or trim their beards and hair. These are the inviolable injunctions of Sikh discipline as laid down by the Guru and are followed by the faithful with the reverence due the Master's command.