Monday, 25 January 2016

The Guru’s warrior scripture by Kamalroop Singh and Gurinder Singh Mann

The scripture known as the Dasam Granth Sahib or the ‘Scripture of the Tenth King,’ has traditionally been attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. It was composed in a volatile period to inspire the Sikh warriors in the battle against the Moghuls, and many of the compositions were written for the rituals related to the preparation for war (Shastra puja) and for the battlefield. The verses generally consist of battle scenes and equate weapons with God, where the sword symbolises the victory of good over evil. War, according to the Tenth Guru, should only be a righteous war or dharam yudh, and it is true that the Sikhs throughout their history have been noted for their exemplary ethics in warfare. Guru Gobind Singh writes in his epic letter known as the Zafarnama that it is only justified to ‘raise the sword once all means have been exhausted.’ The compositions were written in mostly Braj Bhasha, and some smaller compositions are composed in Persian and Punjabi. In contrast to the primary Sikh scripture, the Adi Guru Granth Sahib, which is written in Shanti ras or verses that inspire peace, the Dasam Granth has a heroic strain of expression or Vir ras.

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A portrait of the Tenth Guru hunting from the ‘Anandpuri’ recension of Dasam Granth from 1696 AD by Joginder Singh Ahluwalia. Used with permission.
In recent times, the Dasam Granth has been of much interest and volatile debate. This debate has its roots during colonialism in the Sikh reformist movement, known as the Singh Sabha. The most controversial and volatile discussion is that of the authorship, which is the most polemic and opinionated argu­ment that one could ever experience. Rather than being concerned with this issue of authorship, it is better that discussions are based on primary sources, like manuscripts and relics.
There is an intrinsic relationship of the scripture to the maryada (traditions), which includes the shastras (weapons), the Takhts (thrones of polity), and the warriors known as the Akali Nihangs. It is important to consider the historical context that the scripture was written in, and its link with battlefield sciences of the period. Whilst the primary scripture is now predominantly seen in Gurdwaras or Sikh temples across the world, during colonialism the Dasam Granth was removed from its ceremonial role, and it actual contents have been overshadowed by the rhetoric of reformist movements.

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Illuminated frontispiece of the Dasam Granth, a scripture of Sikhism containing many of the texts attributed to tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666­1708). (Image credit: “Dasam Granth” from Or. 6298. © The British Library Board, used with permission.)
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