Introduction to Sikhism
Professor Manjit Singh
Life Style Practices of Sikhs during the
18th and 19th centuries based on their ethics and values
Paper Written By:
Word count: 2759 words
Date: December 19, 2006
According to the history of Punjab, the 18th Century was full of battles, foreign invasions and internal conflict. The Sikhs were put to the test to see if they could act according to the Guru’s teachings. This period of history is marked by incomparable sacrifice, courage and the power of endurance. (Course Pack, pg. 393) The great qualities of humble service, forgiveness, spiritual values and regard for women, all according to the Guru’s teachings, were demonstrated by the Sikhs. The Sikh chiefs pointed to the Khalsa ideals as a beacon light and attributed their success to the Guru, because they believed that he was the real master and founder of their commonwealth. The Sikhs considered the Khalsa Commonwealth as a sacred creation by the Gurus. All the Sikhs considered themselves equal. The Sikh chiefs declared themselves as humble servants of the Khalsa Panth, working for the welfare and pleasure of the Khalsa Commonwealth. (Course Pack, pg. 407) This time tested the Sikhs to the utmost, and they showed their true character. The 19th Century historical reports mostly describe the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The lifestyle practices of Sikhs in the 18th and 19th Centuries, along with the Guru’s teachings, are critically examined in this paper.
Gurmata is described as a resolution in the name of the Guru which took place at annual meetings called Sarbat Khalsa. This was a counsel adopted by the Sikhs in the name of the Guru concerning any religious, social or political issue. This counsel began in the days of Guru Gobind Singh and the practice grew through the troublesome Eighteenth Century to represent the consensus of the community on matters affecting its solidarity and survival. In those days, Sikhs assembled at the Akal Takhat at Amritsar on Baisakhi and Diwali days and took counsel together, in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, to plan a course of action in the face of a threat or in pursuit of a common objective. At this meeting every man expressed his opinion. The basic ideals held at the Sarbat Khalsa were those of equality and responsibility. The final decision emerging from the deliberations was known as the gurmata. This represented the general will of the Khalsa Panth and it carried the sanction of the Guru, the assembly having acted by the authority of the holy book. Thus no Sikh would ever go against any decisions taken at the Sarbat Khalsa. (Course Pack, pg. 411-414 and Lecture 24)
The Sikh rulers of this era performed their duties according to the Sikh code of conduct, the law of the land and the customs of the society. They promised to fulfill their duties in the presence of their holy book. The Sikhs also adhered to a high moral standard at war, which was indicated by the Guru. (Course Pack, pg. 411-412)
At that point in time, a Sikh leader from Nander, Banda Singh Bahadur attained success with the blessings of Guru Gobind Singh. He triumphantly entered Sirhind in May of 1710 and subsequently laid out a foundation of Sikh sovereignty in Punjab. His rule led to many positive changes concerning the social order in Punjab, but this was all very short lived. In response, the Mughal emperor and governor of Delhi, Bahadur Shah, marched towards Punjab with the intention of punishing the Sikhs. He first issued orders to the governor to pass prohibitory laws, and then on December 10, 1710, he issued a warrant to have all Sikhs killed (Course Pack, 394-395).
Banda Singh did not retreat from the principles of his faith and fought against the Mughals. The Sikhs fought with all their strength and struck terror into the hearts of Bahadur Shah’s troops. The virtuous Banda Singh showed great courage to preserve the Sikh faith. However, the massive imperial forces of Bahadur Shah eventually drove the Sikhs out, and so they took shelter in the fort of Lohgarh. This battle can be compared to the spiritual battle that Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikhs fought for spiritual survival, justice and freedom. (Course Pack, pg. 395-396)
The Sikhs faced a greater crisis when further reinforcements arrived to help Bahadur Shah. Finally in 1710 Banda Singh was captured and executed, in Delhi. Banda Singh bravely accepted his execution as the will of the Guru. (Course Pack, pg. 397)
Further severe action was followed up against the Sikhs. Kapur Singh, the founder of Dal Khalsa, led the Sikhs through this dark period. He stood as a bold example, welded the Sikhs into a strong fighting force and implanted his vision of political sovereignty. Nawab Kapur Singh’s first request was to serve in langar without any form of deprivation. This illustrates one of Guru Nanak’s preaching of sewa; to serve without expecting anything in return. He further formed two sections of the Dal Khalsa. This can be compared to the times of Guru Hargobind Singh, who prepared his people and warned them against the Mughal ruling authorities. (Course Pack, pg. 397-398)