Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bhai Jaitas Epic Sri Gur Katha -Hofstra


It is one of the strange ironies of the Sikh tradition that its otherwise vibrant scholarship has hardly taken note of a magnificent text by Bhai Jaita (c.1657-1704), viz. Sri Gur Katha, even when it has been in the public domain in print for the past two decades.i This irony gets a sharper relief with the appearance of the latest comprehensive, brilliant and insightful essay on the sources pertaining to Guru Gobind Singh and his times by Gurinder Singh Mann.ii It is quite dismaying that Bhai Jaita‟s composition available in at least 6 books by then should have escaped the attention of Mann, a meticulous researcher and indefatigable fieldworker of Sikh studies. Sri Gur Katha is a powerful and evocative epic, a „story‟ of Guru Gobind Singh‟s life which has potential of settling a few important controversies generated by contentious interpretations of the Sikh tradition. Produced by a Khalsa Sikh unlike most of the early poets and writers, it lends a ring of proximity and authenticity to the central events of the tradition. It emerges as the first contemporary source to talk explicitly about the 5Ks (panj kakkars), a detailed description of „amrit bidhi‟ (khande di pahul), the initiation rite, and the „rahit’ (code of conduct) as enunciated by the Tenth Master. Being a record by the closest of witnesses, it does not mention any devi puja by the Guru while narrating the Khalsa event. Coming from a dalit Sikh (rechristened by Guru Gobind Singh as Jeevan Singh) in the lifetime of the Guru, it offers an unpolluted version of some of the central concerns to the Sikh tradition in general and the Khalsa tradition in particular as compared to the later brahmanical or brahmanised-Sikh interpolations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Written in the prevalent old Punjabi (sadh bhasha) of the Sikh tradition, Sri Gur Katha is a testimony of Bhai Jaita as a master poet besides an accomplished warrior. Rather than exploring all nuances of the long poem the paper has a limited purpose: to analyze Sri Gur Katha to suggest correction of dates respecting Guru Gobind‟s birth and the creation of the Khalsa. While highlighting the details about amrit-bidhi and rahit the paper also argues that it turns out to be the first unambiguous source on the innovative measures introduced by Guru Gobind Singh including the five symbols of the Khalsa.

Bhai Jaitas Epic Sri Gur Katha -Hofstra

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