Teja Singh.

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Gurdwara Reform Movement







I consider it an honour to be asked to
introduce this book to the public with a few
r ords of my own. In the rapid march of
ivents all over the country during the past
Iwo years, nowhere has Mahatma Gandhi's
Lon-violent non-co-operation been so com-
pletely vindicated as at Tarn Taran, Nankana
Sahib and Gum-ka-bagh by the calm and cool
courage, and the patient, and even cheerful,
sufferings of the Akalis in the face of cruelties,
inhumanities and death. The story of the
•ecent remarkable awakening among the
likhs, their struggles for the freedom and
)urification of their historical places of wor-
ship, their disappointments and triumphs, will,
I am Bure, be read everywhere with absorbing
interest. As an eye-witness of some of the
thrilling, if tragic, incidents narrated by the
author, I cannot help remarking that the
simple rustics, who mainly composed the
Akali Jathas, appeared to us as the heroes of
a twentieth century Epic which was being
enacted before our very eyes. I hope it will
not be long before the story of their heroism,
inspired by a sublime idealism, is immortal-
ised in verse by a poet of eminence. It



certainly deserves to be enshrined in our
memories with the same love, regard and
admiration as the ancient Epics are treasured

In understanding the Akali movement,
three facts, all connected with the early Sikh
history, should clearly be borne in mind —

(1). The democratic character of the
Sikh faith.

I doubt very much if any other religion
enjoins upon its adherents equality between
man and man more persistently and with
greater strictness than Sikhism. It is well
known that Maharaja Eanjit Singh was once
arraigned before the Akal Takht on a charge
of 'associating with an evil woman' and, as
the author mentions, Guru Gobind Singh him-
self was, on a certain occasion, fined for a
slight deviation from the rules of conduct laid
down by himself. The Panth is considered to
be supreme in all matters and none may defy
its behests with impunity, whatever his rank
and position in life may be.

Sacrifice and service are the sole tests
for the faithful. The first five men who came
forward to offer themselves, one after the
other, to be literally sacrificed, as they believed,
for the sake of the Panth, are the 'Beloved
Ones' (Panj Piyare) of the community for
all time to come. In the daily prayer of the


Sikhs, they ate remembered along with the
name of the last Guru. They were the first
men to be initiated into the Panth by Guru
Gobind Singh, and it was they who, in their
turn, were considered fit to initiate the Guru
himself. The initiation ceremony requires
the Sikhs to consider themselves as belonging
to the same race (Sodhbans) as the Guru
himself. And, as some of the Beloved Ones
happened to belong to low castes, all distinc-
tions arising from caste, rank and profession
are completely obliterated.

(2). The Gurdwaras as centres of the
religious, social and political life of the

In the mind of the Sikhs, the question
of the purification and freedom of the Gur-
dwaras has always been associated with their
national destiny, and no sacrifices have been
considered too great to make for bringing
them under the control of the Panth. The fact
is that the important Gurdwaras are either
connected with one or another striking inci-
dent in the lives of the Gurus themselves, or
they have been erected in memory of the
numerous martyrs who gave up their lives,
under very trying circumstances, in defence of
their faith, during the long period of persecu-
tion to which the Sikhs were subjected. Many
of these martyrs are also remembered in the

daily prayer of the Sikhs along with the ten
Gurus. All religious and social ceremonies of
the Sikhs, from birth to death, must be per-
formed in the presence of the Holy Book and
often within the precincts of the Gurdwaras.
Wherever the Sikhs have gone, they have
carried with them a passionate longing for
the freedom of their Gurdwaras, and, it is no
exaggeration to say that, the control of the
Golden Temple and other principal places of
worship by the Panth as a whole has always
been looked upon as a measure of their
religious, social and even political liberties.

(3). The Gurdwaras as Seats of Autho-

Four Gurdwaras, namely, the Akal Takht,
Anandpur Sahib, Patna Sahib and Hazoor
Sahib (Nander in Hyderabad Deccan) are
looked as the " Four Thrones " of authority,
from which commandments for the guidance
of the community are issued every now and
again. Of these, the authority of the Akal
Takht, which is situated opposite the entrance
to the Golden Temple at Amritsar, is regard-
ed as supreme, and all orders issued there-
from, are considered as binding upon the
whole Panth. The Akal Takht was founded
by the sixth Guru, Guru Har Gobind, in 1609.
It wafe here that he put on the sword which
marked an important point in the develop-

ment of the Sikhs as a martial race. All
classes of men and women have, from time
to time, approached those in charge of the
Akal Takht to seek for help and protection
against the tyranny of the strong and the
wicked. On the other hand, the award of a
robe of honour by the authorities of the
Golden Temple or the Akal Takht has ever
been regarded as a mark of very special
favour, which is only conferred on those who
may have rendered distinguished services
either to the Panth or the public at large.
The possession of these two historical
places of worship obviously meanB, for the
Sikhs, vastly more than their care-taking.
Those entrusted with the sacred charge are
regarded as the Interpreters of the inner-most
longings and aspirations of the Panth. But
in the hands of men unacceptable to the
community, the control may degenerate into
tyranny over the mind and conscience of the
worshippers. A couple of illustrations
will make this clear- The story of Baba
Gurdit Singh's patriotic enterprise in charter-
ing the ' Komagata Maru ' and its aftermath
is well known. A commandment issuing
from the Akal Takht in 1915 condemned the
Komagata Maru Sikhs. This gave rise to
widespread "indignation among the Sikhs.
It was felt that the authority of the Akal
Takht had been used for purposes for


which it was never intended. Again, in
1919, immediately after the Jallianwala
Bagh massacre, General Dyer had the
audacity to present himself before the
Golden Temple and was actually awarded a
robe of honour by the Government-appointed
Manager of the Gurdwara. It was on the
strength of this mark of favour that General
Dyer and his friends in the House of Lords
boasted that the Sikhs had not only placed
their seal of approval on his exploits, but that
they had gone to the length of admitting
him to their fraternity. The whole Khalsa
Panth was scandalised and numerous meet-
ings were held to condemn the action of the
Golden Temple authorities.

It was in circumstances like these that
the Gurdwara Eeform Movement entered on
its latest phase a couple of years back. A
representative committee, now well known
all over the country as the Shromani Gur-
dwara Prabandhak Committee, was formed.
An active and well organised propaganda for
securing the control of all the historical
Gurdwaras was started. For a detailed ac-
count of the struggles, sufferings and achieve-
ments of the Committee, I cannot do better
than refer the reader to the pages of this

LAitoRE : 1

15th Decemier 1922. )


Chapter. Page.

I. Sikhs and Organization ... 1

II. Sikhs and Temples ... 11

III. The Need of Reform ... 19

IV. The Genesis of Reform ... 35
V. Iron Enters the Soul ... 53

VI. Political Awakening among

the Sikhs ... ... 74

VII. Gurdwara Reform ... 85

VIII. Gurdwara Babe di Ber ... 121

IX. The Golden Temple ... 137
X. The Shromani Gurdwara

Parbandhak Committee 163

XL Gurdwara Pan ja Sahib ... 173

XII. Some More Cases ... 181

XIII. Tarn Taran Tragedy ... 197

XIV. Nankana Sahib Tragedy ... 212

XV. After Nankana ... 250

XVI. Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh 284

XVII. Kamalia, Satlani, Teje,


Faridkot ... ... 293

XVIII. The Gurdwara Bill ... 307
XIX. The Keys Affair ... 342
XX. The Third Wave of Re-
pression ... ... 368

XXI. Guru ka Bagh .. ... 395

XXII. The Akalis ... ... 443

XXIII. The Kirpan ... ... 462

XXIV. Conclusion ... ... 477


Page. Line.
1 2 Bead his for this.

„ 12 Read Bedar for Behar.
57 24 Eead agricultural for a#ri-

69 16 Read requested for request.

72 3 of the After arrested add : on 7tfft
footnote March, when he came to

Amritsar to pay his respects.

73 4 Read on for ^^^07^.

79 20 Read provided for provide.
81 1 Read intelligentsia for intelli-


134 5 Read picA for ptcft n#-

170 32 Insert of after Committee.

192 24 Read remains for remained.

195 1 Read 15M for 1 7* A.

254 last Insert are after Sttft*.

261 21 After w# insert : the grave or
pull it down. Near by we
found some of the mud
graves pressed low.

342 7 Before Ahal Tahht insert :

and took away the bunch of
53 keys belonging to the
Golden Temple,

450 23 Go-operat should be co-oper a te.



When Yogis asked Guru Nanak to work
a miracle, he replied that in carrying on this
mission he relied on nothing but the Word
and the Assembly.* Wherever he went,
he left behind him a sangat or association of
his followers, with an injunction to build a
Gurdwara or temple for the purpose of meet-
ing and singing his hymns together. So that
in a short while there sprang up a network
of Sikh temples all over the country. There
were centres of his mission in Junagarh,
Kamrup, Surat, Cuttack, Behar, Johar
(Sbathu), Nanakmata (Kumaon Hills), Khat-
mandu, Persian Gulf,t Kabul, Jalalabad
and other places. Many of these temples,
such as the Nanakbara at Surat, Nanakmata
in Kumaon, inspite of long isolation, are

*Bhai Gurdas, Var 1. 42.

tWhile returning from Arabia Guru Nanak
left a sangat of Mohamedan converts to Sikhism in
Mesopotamia. Descendants of these people, more or
less still retaining some traces of conversion, were
found by the Sikh regiments that went to fight in the
last Great War. One of the Sikh commanders, writ-
ing to the "Loyal Gazette" of Lahore in January 1918
says that he saw the place commemorating the visit
of Guru Nanak to Baghdad. Outside the city to the

still intact, although most of the incum-
bents of these places are not conversant with
the Sikh scriptures or Sikh thought. Eem-
nants of old sangats still exist in Colombo,
Madras, Satur Kanjliban, Adilabad in Hyder-
abad Deccan, Mirzapur Deccan, Chittagong,
rjhubri in Assam, and other places in the
East founded by Guru Teg Bahadur or Diwan
Mahan Singh of Patna. Very old copies of
Guru Granth Sahib and autograph letters of
Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh,
addressed to different sangats, are found in
the latter places. From the* Yar XI of Bhai
Gurdas we get a list of prominent Sikhs whO:
lived in Kabul, Kashmir, Sarhind, Thanesar*
Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Gwalior, Ujjain

South-west, beside a grave-yard, there is an open
room situated within an enclosure wall. In one cor-
ner of the room is a platform on which Guru Nanab
is said to have sat, while he was conversing with
Shan Bahloi who sat on another platform in the
opposite corner.

The present priest named Sayad Usaf, who is in
charge of the place, described himself as the tenth in
succession to the first incumbent of the place. The
following words in Turkish dated 927 A. H.' are
inscribed on the wall behind the platform : —

jxbs ^iU (jIj i>>»*) )v; «>;^^ ^j. *>^l) ^l/" %iy!\

A n*. qpy *>}**» ^Ij" <^y) *^) r a>| ?-)£ Jf.t^i

The same account was sent to the Khalsa Advo-
cate, Amritsar, by Subedar Major, Saidar Fateh Singh-
Assistant Censor in Baghdad in May 1918.

Burhanpur, Gujrat, Suhand, Lucknow,
Piragraj, Jaunpur, Patna, Eajmahal, Dacca and
other places. In an old manuscript copy of
Guru Granth Sahib, written in 1675, is found
the story of a Sikh's travels in the Deccan,
called Hakikat Bah Mukam, from which we
gather something about the Sikh sangats and
temples scattered over Southern India and

Each sangat was in charge of a leader
appointed by the Guru. The position of this
leader, as we learn from the Life of Guru
Nanak written by Sewa Das in about 1588,
was called manji, as he sat on a manji or cot
when preaching to the people. Bhai Lallowas
preaching in the North and Sheikh Sajjan in the
South-west of the Punjab. Gopal Das was in
Benares, Jhanda Badi in Bushair, Budhan
Shah in Kiratpur, Mahi in Mahisar, Kaljug
priest's son in Jaggannath, Devlut in
Lushai (Tibet), Salis Bai in Patna and Behar,
Baja Shivnabh in Ceylon, and a host of other
workers were scattered over the whole terri-
tory visited by Guru Nanak. Connection
with the centre was kept up by the constant
visits of Sikhs to the Guru.

After Guru Nanak, through the creation
of twenty- two man j is or diocese and fifty- two
pirahs or parishes, the mission work became
more regular, but the sphere of its activity
became narrow, as the forces it had created

in the Punjab required the constant presence
of the Guru there. The organization of the
Sikhs had gradually progressed unmarked,
until under Guru Arjan it became a power to
be counted with.* Each district was under
a masand,t whose duty was to preach re-
ligion and be responsible to the Guru for the
Sikh organizations in his diocese. At the end
of the year, on the Baisakhi day,' he was to
come to the Guru with a company of Sikhs to
render account of the offerings received and
to report on the progress of Sikhism. Amrit-
sar, with the Golden Temple and the sacred
Book installed in it, became the central place
for the Sikhs. The Guru was the central uni-
fying personality and, in spite of the changes
in succession, was held to be one and the

*The Sikhs in those days used to pray : "May
there be hundreds and thousands of Sikhs in every
city and hundreds of thousands in every country.' *
" May the Guru's Sikhs become hundreds of thou-
sands, yea, countless in the world, and may a Sikh

temple decorate every place." Bhai Gurdas : Vars

XIII. 19. and XXIII. 2. Khan Khan says about the
Sikhs : " Their Guru lived like a faqir near
Lahore. Even from the beginning he had estab-
lished sangats and temples in every city and town
of note under a saint."

tThat these masands were not tax-gatherers,
as is often alleged, will appear from the Dabtstan-i~
Mazahiby which says that they propagated religion,
and the money they brought yearly to the Guru was
& voluntary offering of the Sikhs who brought it
themselves to a masand according to their means.

same as his predecessors.* The love exist-
ing between the Guru and the Sikhs was more

*From the V -sinning it was held as a patent
fact that each succeeding Guru had the same spirit as
his predecessor. In the Coronation Ode written by
Satta and Balwand, two bards who lived from the
Second Guru's tirre upto the time of the Fifth Guru,
the,fol lowing verses occur :

11 Guru Nanak proclaimed the accession of
I^ehna as the reward of service.

He had the same light, the same method : the
Master merely changed his body."

" A scion of Guru Nanak exchanged bodies with
him and took possession of his throne."

" The wise being, Guru Nanak, descended in the
form of Amardas."

11 Guru Amardas obtained the same mark, the
same throne and the same court."

" Thou, Ramdas, art Nanak ; thou art Lehna ;
thou art Amardas ; so I deem thee.''

" The human race comes and goes ; but thou,
O Arjan. art ever new and whole."

Sundar, the great-grandson of Guru Amar
Das, while describing the death- scene of the 3rd
Guru, says :

" All fell at the feet of the true Guru, into whom
Guru Amar Das had iufused his spirit."

Mohsin Fani in his Dabista?i says about the Sikhs :
" Their belief is that all the Gurus are identical
with Nanak."

Guru Gobind Singh says about the Guius in his
Vachittra Natak :

11 All take them as different from one another ;
very few recognise them as one in spirit. But only
those realise perfection who do recognise tbem as


intense than has ever existed between
most romantic lovers of the world.* But
the homage paid to the Guru was made
impersonal by creating a mystic unity be-
tween the Sikh and the Guru on the one
hand and the Guru and the Word on the
otherf. Greatest respect began to be paid
to the incorporated Word, even the Guru
choosing for himself a seat lower than that
of the ScriptureJ. The Sikh Assemblies
also acquired great sanctity,§ owing to the

See Bbai Gurdas : Vars 1. 45, III. 12, XX 1,
XXVI. 31, and 34.

See also the Swayyas at the end of the Adi

The Gurus always signed themselves as Nanak.

* Bhai Gurdas, Var XXVII. Sujan Rai of
Batala in his Khulasatul-Tawarikh says about the
Sikhs : '/ Tbe faith that these people have in their
Guru is not to be met with among any other people."

t"Tbe Guru lives within his Sikhs and is
pleased with whatever they like."— Gauri Ki Var y

" Guru is the Word and the Word is Guru."—
Kanra IV.

+ E.g., Guru Arjan in the Golden Temple
Amritsar. Guru Har Rai was once lying on his
couch, when somebody began to recite hymns from
the Holy Granth. The Guru at once fell down from
his couch in his anxiety to avoid irreverence. See
Suraj Prakask, X. 21.

§ Bhai Gurdas says: "One disciple is a
single Sikh ; two form a holy gathering; but where
there are five, there is God Himself" Guru Arjan
was never tired of praising the manifold spiritual

belief that the spirit of the Guru lived and
moved in them. They began to assume*
higher and higher authority, until collectively
the whole body called the Panth came to be
considered as an embodiment of the Guru.
Guru Gobind Singh himself received baptism
from the Sikhs initiated by himself. After him
the Sikhs ceased to have any personal Guru.
They could name Guru Nanak and Guru
Panth in the same breath. The * Sarbat
Khalsa ' or the whole Sikh people met once
at least at Amritsar on the occasion of the
Diwali and felt that they were one. All
questions of public interest were determined
by the resolutions or gurmattas of assemblies
which existed everywhere ; and these gurmat-
tas, when passed, were supposed to have
received Guru's sanction. Even ordinary
breaches of the rules of conduct were punished
in such representative meetings and no
person, however high-placed, was above the
jurisdiction of such conclaves. Even Guru
Gobind Singh was once fined Ks. 125.

advantages of attending the congregational meetings,
and the people, too, resorted to them as well for the
sake of getting their wishes granted as for getting
devotional merit. (See Dabistan-i-Mazahib and
Bhai Gurdas, Var V). Guru Gobind Singh also
enjoined upon his followers to elect five Beloved
Ones from among themselves for any executive work,
and be promised that he would be present in them
<See Suraj Prakash: VI, 41).


It was the organization of the Sikhs that
turned the Mogul Government against them,
and it was their organization that saved them
in times of persecution, when prices were laid
on their heads, when to grow long hair was
held a crime their* presence in cities was
banned and they had to roam about in jathas
in the deserts of Rajputana or in the forests
of Northern Punjab. The daily Prayer of
the Sikhs with the words, " May God's
protection and grace extend to all the bodies
of the Khalsa, wherever they are," still
pathetically reminds them of the time when
their sacred places were in the hands of
others or were desecrated by the foreigner,
arid their associations were cut off from the
centre with no link of union except this

It was their peculiar democratic organi-
zation that in the days of the missals
developed a federal form of government
among them. Every Sikh was free and was
a substantive member of the Khalsa. But
their positions and their abilities were

* See Malcolm's A Sketch oi the Sikhs. An
army was seat round the country to hunt out the
Sikhs who wore long hair. It was at that time that
some people, who believed inSikhism but had not the
courage to face the troubles consequent on the
adoption of Sikhism, began to go about without
keshas as a disguise. Such people were called


different and unequal. Therefore, feeling
that all could not lead, they unconsciously-
developed a confederate system in which
different groups of people elected willingly to
serve under a leader.

It was the destruction of this democratic
spirit under the imperialistic Maharaja Kan jit
Singh that undermined the Panthic strength
and missionary activity of the Sikhs. It was
there, and not during Farrukh Siyer's days
of wholesale persecution, that Sikhism suf-
fered the greatest harm. For Sikhism can
work best through associations, when different
equal individualities are gathered up into
one. Even the Sikh prayer is not individu-
alistic. It is from all and for all. There is no
word for which other communities can rally
themselves as a whole. The Catholics have
got the word ' Church, ' but it cannot include
all the functions of a nation, its history, its
military, worldly and religious units into one.
But the word ' Khalsa ' includes all* the
institutions and activities of the Sikhs into
one whole. There are all possibilities for the
Sikhs as long as they can feel that they are
the Khalsa. Even Maharaja Eanjit Singh,
in order to succeed with the Sikhs, had to
keep up the forms and conventions of the
Khalsa. When after him there came con-
fusion and no stable head was allowed to rule
for a long time, it was the regimental puncha-


yats, formed of country representatives, that
maintained some form of government.*

Look at the activities of the Sikhs even
outside India, in Malaya, China, or Canada,
and you will find an ample proof of the Sikhs'
love for organization. They are a meeting
people; and even when they are only two or
three individuals, they will seek occasion to
meet and please themselves by singing a few
hymns together. If they find themselves
larger in number, they will surely found a
temple and an association to meet therein.
With this instinct in them and the tradition
behind them, whenever they have found
freedom to think about themselves, they have
sought to form themselves into jathas or
diwans in order to carry out the required

* Cunningham's History of the Sihhs> p. 239.



To Sikhs even more important than the
asscoiations are their temples, which have play-
ed a great part in their history. So much of
their history is taken up with either founding
of temples or their protection against different
kinds of aggressors. The Sikh Prayer, in
which the most stirring events of Sikh
history are daily recounted, grows most
eloquent when reference is made to the brave
heroes who suffered martyrdom for the
sake of the temples. Much of the daily
religious discourse turns on the labours of
the devout Sikhs, like Bhai Buddha, Bhai
Bhagtu, Bhai Bahlo, Bhai Kalyana and
thousands of others, in connection with the
excavation of sacred tanks or the collection
of material for the raising of temples ; or
it expatiates on the sufferings borne by
the Sikhs, like Bhai Mehtab Singh* and

* After the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh,
Granthi of the Golden Temple in 1738, the temple was
turned into a nautch-house and its precincts into a
stable by Massa Ranghar, the Mohammedan taluq-
dar. The Sikhs, who had been declared outlaws,


Baba Dip Singht in their attempts to rescue
their temples from the rulers or the immoral
priests. Sometimes it is a Massa Eangarh
and sometimes a Sarbrah, but the story is-
always the same. To tell the truth, the
freedom of their temples has always been
the measure of the Sikhs' freedom or pros-

During the days of persecution when the
Sikhs were living in a forced exile outside the
Punjab, their temples had oome into the
charge of certain monastic orders or those
who professed Sikhism but did not conform
to its outward symbols. The prominent
Grurdwaras were made the chief mark of
hostility by the enemy. When Taimur, the

Online LibraryTeja SinghThe Gurdwara Reform Movement and the Sikh awakening → online text (page 1 of 25)