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Janamsakhi Tradition - An Analytical Study - Book By Dr. Kirpal Singh

Preface To Book 'Janamsakhi Tradition - An Analytical Study' By Dr Kirpal Singh

The Janamsakhi literature as such relates exclusively to the life and teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The Spectrum of this genre of literature has several strands. It elucidates mystic concepts of spiritual elevation, provides the earliest exegesis of the hymns of Guru Nanak and illustra-tes the techings of Guru Nanak by narrating interesting anecdotes. The most significant aspect of the Janamsakhi literature is that has preserved the tradition of Guru Nanak's life that became the primary source of information for all the writings on Guru Nanak. Of late the historical validity of this material has been called to question in the name of methodology. I, therefore, propose to dilate on this aspect in the first instance.

According to R.G. Collingwood, the author of The Idea of History, "the historian must in two ways go beyond what his authorities tell him. One is critical way and this is what Bradley has attempted to analyse. The other is the constructive way. Of this he has said nothing, and to this now, I propose to return. I described constructive history as interpolating, between the statements borrowed from our authorities tell us that on one day Caesar was in Rome and a later day in Gaul, they tell us nothing about the journey from one place to other, but we interpolate this with a perfect good conscience."

"This act of interpolation has two significant characteristics. First, it is in no way arbitrary or merely fanciful; it is necessary in Kantian language a priori..But if our construction involves nothing that is not necessitated by the evidence, it is legitimate historical construction of a kind without which there can be no history at all."

"Secondly what is in this way inferred, is essentially something imagined.. That is already an example of historical thinking and it is not otherwise that we find ourselves obliged to imagine Caesar as having travelled from Rome to Gaul when we are told that he was in these different places at these successive times...."

"..That the Historian must use his imagination in a common place, to quote Macaulay's Essay on History, a perfect historian must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative effective and picturesque." Commenting on it Collingwood writes,"but this is to underestimate the part played by the historical imagination which is properly not ornamental but structural. Without it the historian would have no narrative to adorn." "The imagination that 'blind but indispensable faculty', without which, as Kant has shown, we could never perceive the world around us, is indispensable in the same way to history: it is this which operating not capriciously or fancy but in a priori form, does the entire work of historical construction."

At another place Collingwood states, "here and equally in all other kinds of art, a priori imagination is at work. Its other familiar functions what may be called the perceptual imagination supplementing and consolidating the data of perception."

But historically imagination is different. For this; following three conditions are essential:

1. Historian's picture must be localized in space and time.
2. "All history must be consistent with itself ... there is only one historical world, and
everything in it must stand in some relation to everything else, even if relation is only
topographical and chronological
3. "It is of utmost importance that historian's picture stands in a peculiar relation to
something called evidence."
It has been accepted that history is a science as well as an art, 'no more no less'.

In every work of art some kind of imagination is always involved. So is the case with the Janamsakhis. The Janamsakhi writers were men of faith with desire for spiritual pursuits. About Guru Nanak's life, they had before them authentic data in two forms. One was the Bani of Guru Nanak as enshrined in the Adi Granth, the Sikh Scripture, compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Guru. Guru Arjan had rejected works attributed to Guru Nanak like Nasihat Nama, Pransangli etc. It is an established fact that all the extant janamsakhis came to be written after the compilation of the Adi Granth in 1604 AD. A large number of verses of Guru Nanak quoted in the Janamsakhis could not be available before 1604 AD. As a source, these verses of the Guru, found in Adi Granth in the form of dialogues with the persons of different denominations like Muslim divines, Hindu men of learning (Pandits), Sidhas, Yogis, Brahmins, Qazis, Shaikhs, traders, peasants etc. became basic to the compilation of the Janamsakhis.

The second important datum available to the Janamsakhi writers was the tradition of Guru Nanak as incorporated in the first Var of Bhai Gurdas. Bhai Gurdas was a very close companion of Baba Buddha who had lived during the life-time of Guru Nanak, had embraced Sikh faith and was witness to the making of the traditions regarding the founder of Sikhism. Moreover, his close association with the Guru's family enabled him to know more about the anecdotes relating to the Guru's travels within India and abroad. Bhai Gurdas was the nephew of Guru Amardas, the third Sikh Guru, he served the fourth Guru as a missionary and was honoured by Guru Arjan when he was asked to act as scribe for the compilation of the Adi Granth. As a matter of fact, he possessed unimpeachable credentials to record the traditions of Guru Nanak. His first Var delineating the life of Guru Nanak can be called anchor sheet of most of the Janamsakhi which more or less remain elucidation, illustration and explanation of the first Var of Bhai Gurdas.

The Janamsakhi writers were not content with the pithy and sketchy material as available in the first Var. They wanted more details for the life of the founder of Sikhism. Consequently, they used this material to elucidate the narration as much as they could.  For instance Bhai Gurdas has stated, "Baba Gaya Tirathin Tirath Purb Sabe Phir Dekhey" viz Guru Nanak visited all the places of Hindu pilgrimages. This line was expanded to include several Sakhis like Guru Nanak's visit to Kurukshetra, Haridwar, Prayag, Benaras, Jagannath Puri etc. The details were filled from the verses of Guru Nanak which were taken as dialogues with the learned Pandas of Benaras, the priests performing Aarti at Jagannath Puri, Guru's hymns on death ceremonies of Hindus at Budh Gaya etc. Some Janamsakhi writers who ventured to visit the places associated with Guru Nanak added in their own accounts of local traditions as well. Miharban appears to have visited some such places as his description of a few places is very lucid. The Sakhis of the Guru's visit to Sumer and his dialogue with Siddhas, his visit to Mecca and Baghdad and his discussions with Muslim divines etc. are based on the first Var of Bhai Gurdas. Almost all the Sakhis with the exception of a few have been constructed on the basis of historical data as referred to above and with historical imagination of one form or the other. Therefore, most of the anecdotes recorded in the Janamsakhis fall within the orbit of history. In my opinion it will be fallacious to call them by any other name.

It is a very pertinent question as to why western scholars could not appreciate the Sikh tradition and properly assess the Janamsakhis. Unfortunately, for them; Ernest Trump became the sole guide for the study of entire Sikh literature. The most popular Bhai Bala's Janamsakhi which was compiled by a follower of Baba Hindal, a dissenter, was translated into English by Dr.Trump. It claimed to be an eye-witness account which it was not. Bhai Bala's name does not appear in any of the other Janamsakhis. Dr. Trump also translated the Puratan or Vilayatwali janamsakhi. Most of the Western scholars base their studies on both Puratan and Bala traditions. But they could not reach the originals as they were not proficient in Gurumukhi script and could hardly delve deep into the entire text of Janamsakhis  or verses of Guru Nanak. Secondly these scholars did not care to study the contemporary conditions and travel routes of those times by applying historical imagination which is so essential for the construction of every historical narrative. It is in this context that Dr. McLeod hastened to conclude that there is no record of the Guru's visit to Ceylon or Mecca. He does not seem to have cast a critical look at the conditions prevalent in Ceylon and South India during 14th and 15th centuries. Tamil Kings from South India had been ruling Ceylon uptil 13th century. Thousands of Tamils travelled from Nagapatnam to Madakulapa modern Batticoloa district on the eastern coast of Ceylon which is associated with the Ramayana. I toured the whole district and found there overwhelming influence of Indian culture visible. When Guru Nanak visited South India it was not unlikely for him to visit Ceylon. Only balanced analysis could help arrive at such a conclusion.

A source of medieval history may not be rejected because it contains miracles. Miracles have remained an integral part of all types of spiritual exercises. Religious books like Vedas, Budhist texts, Bible, Quran, all contain miraculous accounts. Miracles also find mention in the Adi Granth, but only as references. The people in medieval ages believed in miracles and considered them as an index of spiritual elevation. Therefore, the miracles in the Janamsakhis should not be rejected or decried outright, rather their historical settings need to be studied.

I started the study of Janamsakhi tradition in 1966 AD at the Punjabi University, Patiala as a major project. I travelled to various places from Nanakmatta to Colombo in Ceylon in pursuit of my researches tracing the old memorial Gurdwaras built in the memory of Guru Nanak's visit and old routes prevalent during the early sixteenth century. All this material was verified and compared with the written tradition of Guru Nanak viz the Janamsakhis in order to decipher the historicity of the tradition of Guru Nanak. Attempts were also made to collect material through knowledgeable persons who were interested in such studies.

My studies lead me to conclude that the Janamsakhis shall ever remain the most important source of information on Guru Nanak if we study them carefully and intensively. Most of the Muslim saints whom Guru Nanak is said to have met and find mention in Janamsakhi Miharban PartII were contem-poraries of Guru Nanak. Their names are found in Tazkara-i-Sufia-i-Punjab, recently published in Karachi. I have tried to decipher some proper names mentioned in the Janamsakhis. A glossary of such names has been given in Appendix I.

For the translation of hymns of Guru Nanak quoted in this book, I have mostly depended on G.S. Talib's translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib published by Punjabi University, Patiala.

It is my pleasant duty to acknowledge the active help and support that I received; during the course of my researches on this project, from Professor Prithipal Singh Kapur, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, who is my nephew as well as student. Since the publication of my work Janamsakhi Parampara, but could not go ahead. When Professor Prithipal Singh Kapur undertook an assignment as Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism with the Punjabi University, Patiala, he persuaded his colleague in the Deptt., Dr. Dharm Singh to undertake the arduous task of translation of some of the important portions of Janamsakhi Parampara. Dr. Dharm Singh did this task with devotion and comperence. This became the basic draft on which I re-worked to carry forward my studies on the Janamsakhis. Professor Prithipal Singh Kapur remained associated with the progress of the work at every stage. He edited it very minutely and diligently, and has also appended a scholarly introduction. I express my profound sense of gratitude to both of them.

Dr.S.P. Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar has been taking keen interest in this project since the day I mentioned it to him. As the things started taking shape, he wanted me to expedite it. I owe him my sincere thanks. My thanks are also due to my teacher late Sardar Kirpal Singh Narang, Vice-Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala, who initially entrusted me this arduous job with full faith and confidence.

Last but not the least, I am thankful to my wife, Joginder Kaur who has always been a great source of help to me during my lifetime pursuit of researches on Sikh history. Thanks are also due to Mr. Gursagar Singh of Singh Brothers, Amritsar who readily agreed to bring out the work without any delay and in a befitting form.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Kirpal Singh                                                                                                            

About The Author Of Book 'Janamsakhi Tradition - An Analytical Study'

Dr. Kirpal Singh (born 1924) is an internationally acclaimed scholar of Sikh History. He succeeded Dr.Ganda Singh at the much coveted seat of Sikh Historical Research at Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1950 A.D.During his fifteen year long dedicated work at this place, he brought national recognition to this institute by getting nomination as member of the Indian Historical Records Commission. His proficiency in Persian language enabled him to handle source material on Sikh History with competence. In this area he earned the gratitude of researcher on Sikh History by editing and publishing Ganesh Das Vadehra's voluminous work Char-Bagh-i-Punjab. He lent new dimension to the study of Janamsakhi literature by editing and bringing out two volumes of Miharban's Janamsakhi. A little over two decades period that he spent  at the Punjabi University, Patiala proved to be more productive. He wrote over a hundred research papers and brought forth monumental works on the entire canvas of Sikh history from Janamsakhi to the partition of the Punjab. The eminence that came his way brought him an enviable association with the Asiatic Society, Kolkata as member of its Governing Council (1992-79) and as Secretary, History and Archeology (1995-97). He remains engaged in serious research even after his retirement. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee honoured him in 1992 for his outstanding work on Sikh History.


Table Of Contents For 'Janamsakhi Tradition - An Analytical Study' By Dr Kirpal Singh

Page No

  Preface 7
  Introduction 13
1. Genesis of the Janamsakhi Tradition 25
2. Analytical Study of the Janamsakhi Tradition - I 55
3. Analytical Study of the Janamsakhi Tradition - II 204
4. Light Merges with the Divine Light 223


(i) Glossary of Historical Names in the Janamsakhi 233
(ii) Bibliography 235




Author Dr Kirpal Singh
Pages 254
Cover Hardbound
Language English

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Janamsakhi Tradition - An Analytical Study - Book By Dr. Kirpal Singh

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