KHALSA: THE UNIVERSAL BEING
Bibi Birendra Kaur
The Khalsa did not evolve merely in response to Indian culture; its concern encompasses the entire world. The creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh was, in fact, personification of the universalism preached by Guru Nanak and nurtured by the successive Gurus. Not only did he sculpture the Khalsa by the ideology of Guru Nanak’s guidelines (Jauteupremkhelankachau, sir dhar tail galimeriaao – if you want to play elatedly theexultedgame ofardour, fervourlove of God. Then come unto my lane with the head on the palm) i.e. adopt the way of life, as propagated by Guru Nanak. He bowed i.e. surrendered to the panjpiaras (Five beloved), in his lifetime. Also significant is the fact that he coincided the day of birth of the Khalsa with Guru Nanak’s birthday.
The Khalsa is the ideal person for any society of the world, for all times to come, The Khalsa was not created to oppose any religion, as the Guru had sent out a call to all to assemble at Anandpur Sahib on Vaisakhi of 1699, irrespective of caste, colour, or gender. Its aim was to oppose oppression, injustice, etc., from whichever quarter it originated, and to liberate humanity at large, elevating it to spiritual heights. With this main objective, it had a lot to offer to rigid misconceptions that led to various complexes.
The Mughals considered it their divine right to force conversions, and the Hindus had a caste-ridden society, Amongst the latter, there being four castes, every caste has certain advantages over the lower caste (s), which only ensures that the exploited castes would never unite against the oppressors. Moreover, the oppressors never had to use the strength
of material force to keep the lower castes suppressed, as the lower castes were made to believe that as a religious obligation, they had to toil and sweat in this earthly life because of sins committed by them in their previous birth, and the upper castes were the lords of heaven and earth because of the meritorious deeds performed by them in their previous birth. Thus, there was no possibility of liberation from servitude, the only path of uplift for them being the performance of stipulated deeds of serving the higher castes dutifully and without murmur in this life. This alone would ensure a climb up on the Varna (caste) ladder and birth in a higher caste after death. Such is the theory of karma and punar-janma (of duty performed according to the laws of Chaturvarnaand its reward in the next birth).
How were the masses to revolt against this kind of exploitation and oppression? They were influenced in such a manner that they could not see the upper castes as their suppressors. They were made to feel that they were suffering a fate for which no one else but they themselves were to blame. How could one revolt against oneself ?
The theory of karma and punar-janma is a masterstroke and a remarkable ideology, unparalleled in the entire world as it achieved its aim so permanently and effectively by exploiting the fears of human nature to serve the purpose of the few. But these chosen few too were at a loss at the hands of the invading Mughals. To combat this exploitation of man by man, the Guru offered another superb and an equally remarkable ideology in the Khalsa – only the aim this time was to liberate man. Where; the lower castes needed to be encouraged to lead a respectable life, the upper castes and the Mughals needed to be checked from committing crimes in the name of religion. It is striking that such a revolution was brought about by the Gurus who themselves belonged to the (so called) ruling class.
The event enacted by Guru Gobind Singh on Vaisakhi of 1699 that brought the Khalsa into being is unique and only one of its kind in the entire history of mankind. With every action he performed and with every word he spoke, the Guru rooted out the fears and complexes from the minds of those very people who had been haunted and daunted by these for centuries, and instilled in them confidence, vigour and purpose. It was the fruition of the sapling planted by Guru Nanak, and watered and nurtured by the successive Gurus. It enabled the world to experience the heights that can be attained in love, courage, sacrifice, and dedication. It culminated in the creation of a dynamic role model in the Khalsa. Some of the unprecedented achievements of this day are:
NEW MODE OF GOVERNANCE
On this day, the Guru put forth a new mode of governance, subjecting himself to that mode too.
He invested the leadership from one into five. And the requisite qualities of those five were evident from the manner in which he selected them. They should be ready to sacrifice their all. It may be recalled here that all the Guru’s sons were alive at this time, to any one of whom he could have passed on the mantle of Guruship. But being a true Guru, his aim was to make his followers independent; he felt it was time to make Khalsa stand on its own feet. He gave the Khalsa collective leadership of its own choice, with selection of the deserving ones.
On this day, the Guru introduced an initiation ceremony (Amrit i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul), and in one stroke removed all divisions of the society on the basis of birth. Amrit (i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul) offered an opportunity to be reborn again in all streams of life religious, social, economic etcin one’s own lifetime, to start life as an equal all over again. He, thus, offered something that was unthinkable/inconceivable/even unimaginable by the people in their lifetime. And thus practically demonstrated his words-Manaskijaatsabbe eke pehchanbo (recognise all human race as one).
Rather, Khalsa is the institution to which even the Sikhs cannot lay claim by virtue of birth. Nobody can be a Khalsa by birth. Guru’s invitation is open to one and all alike, whether Sikhs or non-Sikhs.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
The Amrit (i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul) ceremony stood for the freedom to practice a religion of one’s choice. It was not to be forced on people; it was to be asked for by one’s free will. Neither was it a routine ceremony performed at a particular age to a particular people of a particular gender. It was for anyone and for any age, the only condition being one’s readiness to love the entire creation as an expression of love for Almighty.
Through the choice of the double-edged sword to prepare Amrit (i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul), the Guru conveyed the concept of Sant-Sipahi (saint-soldier) to his Khalsa. Each is to integrate the qualities of a saint as well as a soldier.
The worst form of discrimination, untouchability was eradicated root and branch, when the Guru sought Amrit (i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul) from the Panj Piaras belonging to (so called) different castes. Nothing else could have successfully erased the deep-rooted complex generated by untouchability, as did this loving gesture.
On this day, the Guru gave the title ‘Singh’ to males and ‘Kaur’ to females, which not only replaced the earlier system of naming the indicated caste, but also conveyed to the bearer his/her new status and role.
Further, this nomenclature, in addition to wiping out distinctions on the basis of caste, also took care of the patriarchal set-up of the Indian culture. In such a set-up, the child gets the father’s surname, ignoring the contribution of mother altogether, who actually gives birth to the child. Also, the woman after marriage is given the husband’s name, with no identity of her own. Thus, in the patriarchal system, or the matriarchal system for that matter as in some parts of the world, one of the genders enjoys supremacy over the other. But when all men male offspring add only ‘Singh’ to their names and all females (married/unmarried) and female offspring add only ‘Kaur’, the question of superiority of one gender over the other does not arise.
Another drawback of the nomenclature of the patriarchal set-up is that it leads to a maddening craze for a son(s), so that the family name may live on through him. Even female foeticide/infanticide is practiced to ensure this. The Guru, on the other hand, not only banned any association with people practicing female infanticide, he also did not compromise his ideals just to ensure the continuation of his own lineage; all the Sahibzadas (Guru-sons) laid down their lives for cause of Sikhi. Thereby, setting an example, he taught his Khalsa to rise above personal interests/attachments in the interest of humanity at large.
EQUALITY TO WOMEN
The Guru offered the same initiation to womenfolk as to men. As opposed to her Hindu and Muslim counterparts, who either would not be (theJaneoo ceremony is only for upper caste Hindu men) or could not be initiated (circumcision cannot be performed on women);a Khalsa woman came to be at par with the Khalsa man. She was as much a Sikh of the Guru as was he. She was freed from humiliating and disgusting labels such as a temptress, paapa-yoni (born of sin, hence impure), etc; in certain contexts, she was bracketed together, not only with the lowest caste, but even with dogs and swine.
That the Guru expected much form her and reposed confidence in her abilities; also comes clear from the fact that instead of simply calling her a lioness (following Singh for men), he specially coined the word Kaur for her, which means ‘crown prince’-on whom lies great responsibility. Neither did he call her a ‘princess’; she was not for mere kanya-daan (gifting daughter in marriage). She now had a creative and positive role to play, in bringing God’s Kingdom on earth.
Women are also referred to as Bibi (wise); its masculine gender Biba is also used for women.
In addition to the title Singh, the Guru referred to the Panj Piaras as Bhai (brother), declaring the brotherhood of all, thus implying the common parentage of all, i.e.Waheguru- God, the Creator of all.
But, today, we have replaced the humility and equality in Bhai with Sardar, which means ‘chief’. Unawares, we have let ego creep into us which has been pointed out as the main cause of our separation from the Lord.
DIRECT COMMUNION WITH GOD
To bring out equality between Guru and Chela (disciple), the Guru transferred Guruship to the people as he sought initiation for himself from the Panj Piaras. He did not wish to be worshipped, which people so easily tend to do out of ignorance. He wanted them to realize the True Lord, Waheguru——Guru Nanak’s Guru, who is Ajuni (outside birth and death). Thus, by stepping aside himself, he placed his Khalsa in God’s care, leaving no place for the exploiting classes/people that claim spiritual supremacy. He thus debunked the belief that God incarnates as mortals. And established that none is a prophet and none a disciple; all stand equal before the Lord.
SUPREMACY OF WORD
Long before he declared Granth Sahib to be Guru, he established the supremacy of the Word over physical self, as Amrit (i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul) was prepared by recitation of Bani. This was the only way in which Amrit (i.e. Khande-Baate di Pahul) could be prepared in times to come, his touch would not be available for ever. The Guru’s spirit now pervades the Khalsa, just as the Creator pervades His creation.
LIVING IN TUNE WITH NATURE
By asking his followers to refrain from cutting hair, he stressed to live in tune with nature, submitting to His Will. The fact that maintaining a nature form gives an identity, only shows how far man has gone away from nature, If the Guru’s aim in keeping unshorn hair was merely to differ from Hindus and Muslims, he would have demarcated a different a area of the head for retaining of hair, in contrast to the location of Shikha (tuft of hair on crown) of Pundits, or another style of beard/moustache to stand out from that of the Muslims. His approach being universal, he ordained to respect the human body in its natural form as created by Almighty. And, in order to obviate shaving or cutting or matting of hair, at the cost of interference with nature, the Guru prescribed Kangha (wooden comb).
RESISTANCE TO OPPRESSION
Equipping his Khalsa with a Kirpan (sword), the Guru gave divine sanction to the use of arms to fight injustice, irrespective of caste, gender, etc., and negated the concept of ahinsa (non-violence). The talwar (sword) a weapon for attack was renamed & called a Kirpan, a word which comes from kirpa (compassion) and aan (honour), so that the Guru’s Khalsa would never use it for suppression or aggression. He was neither to fear anyone, nor to frighten anyone (Bhaykahukaudetnah(i), nah(i)bhaymanataan). Khalsa was to have the attributes of God- Nirbhau (without fear) and Nirvair (without enmity). It was thus Akal Purakh kifauj (an army of the Almighty) in the real sense. The Kachhchh (drawers) was an ideal garment for the Khalsa on the Guru’s mission, and the Karha (iron bangle) was a constant reminder of one’s commitment to the Guru.
The Guru crowned his Khalsa with a Dastaar also called asKeski (turban), thus making him aware of the responsibilities that go with the crown. The Guru wanted the Khalsa to commit himself socially, and never even contemplate escaping from social duties as an alternative. The turbaned head stands out among crowds, and cannot but act as per Guru’s expectations. But, a turban and unshorn hair are not enough to be a Khalsa. It may be mentioned here that the Guru promised his courage and strength only to a Khalsa committed internally as well as externally. Mere physical identity without the Guru’s spirit, as he once demonstrated, is comparable to a donkey in a lion’s skin; sooner or later it brays!
IRRELEVANCE OF IDOL WORSHIP AND RITUALISM
The creation of the Khalsa in the absence of idol of any deity, including that of Durga or Shiva, and without performance of any yajna (sacrificial fire), very clearly indicate the status of such practices in the Guru’s views. Surely, there was no dearth of idols or pundits on the Vaisakhi of 1699. And, had the Guru asked for sacrifice in front of or in the name of a demi god/goddess, he would have made the Panj Piarasbow to that idol. On the contrary, he himself bowed (Surrendered) to Panj Piaras, projecting their supreme status.
Rather, the day of creation of the Khalsa followed the demonstration of the futility of havans or invocation ofdemi gods and goddesses (habhesaakkuravedithey tau palletaidelagee). His unswerving and undaunted faith in the One Lord also comes clear from the greeting:
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa; Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
(Khalsa belongs to God; Victory is His.)
The Guru, thus, infused the spirit of Charhdi Kala (high spirits), as Khalsa is an instrument of God to carry out His Will.
A Khalsa is, thus, a citizen of the universe, whose love for God and His creation knows no man-made boundaries, creedal, cultural or geographic.