OFF the shelf
Five rivers, five centuries
V. N. Datta

Pre-colonial and Colonial Punjab: Society, Economy, Politics and Culture:
Essays for Indu Banga.

Five Centuries of Sikh Tradition
ed. Reeta Grewal and Sheena Pal, Manohar, New Delhi.
Pages 498 and 394. Rs 1195, 975, respectively.

Pre-colonial and Colonial Punjab: Society, Economy, Politics and Culture: Essays for Indu BangaThese two felicitation volumes are presented to Dr Indu Banga as a bouquet de fleurs by her pupils, colleagues, social scientists, and eminent historians, Irfan Habib, J. S. Grewal, John C. B. Webster, Harish K. Puri, K. L. Tuteja and others in recognition of her contribution to historical knowledge, especially regarding Punjab. Dr Banga has carried on the tradition sustained by J. D. Cunningham, Sita Ram Kohli, Hari Ram Gupta and Ganda Singh.

A fairly large part of her published work has been edited in collaboration with J. S. Grewal, who kindled her interest in history when she was a post-graduate student. The first volume, Pre-colonial and Colonial Punjab, contains 21 essays dealing with the social, cultural, economic and political history of what was then the Punjab, through its successive stages of development.

The editorís succinct introduction sums up the contributorsí presentations with candour. In his Reflections on Geographical Perspective, B. D. Chattopadhyaya shows on the basis of archaeological and literary evidence that the regional history of Punjab and the general factors of Indian history were not mutually exclusive. These are better understood in terms of diversities as well as vitality of linkages rather than the notions of centre and periphery.

Five Centuries of Sikh TraditionIn his unpretentious presentation, Haresh K. Puri traces the various influences that acted as an impulse to Punjabi immigrants, who were to imbibe revolutionary ideas and challenge the British authority. In A Nightmare of Two Cities in 1947, Sukhdev Singh Sahalís study of the Partition literature is impressive. It would have been more fruitful, if the scope of investigation had been set before plunging into enormous source material.

Irfan Habibís illuminating article on Jatts in Medieval India, needs to be commented upon on just one point. Habib maintains that the Jatts took to militancy in the 17th century due to their economic oppression by the Mughal state. I think that the persecution of Sikh Gurus and their kindred cannot be ignored for the rise of the Sikhs, which Iqtidar Alam Khan brings out clearly in his essay, Martial and Political Culture of the Khalsa.

J. S. Grewal reconstructs the administrative, social and economic profile of Batala. In The State and Agrarian Society in the Early 19th Century Punjab, Radha Sharma says that the Ranjit Singh state was beneficent to the well-being of peasantry. On issues like policy matters, there always falls a shadow between intentions and execution.

Disenchanted the nationalist writings on Jallianwala Bagh episode, K.L. Tuteja states that his object is to "understand the precise nature of the phenomenon of which the massacre formed a part". The 1857 Mutiny mind of the British bureaucracy got scared at the demonstration of Hindu-Muslim unity and triggered off events resulting in the massacre.

It is hard to understand how this perspective explains the precise nature of Dyerís action. Winston Churchill called the "Amritsar tragedy" an aberration and un-British. How can we overlook the events of April 10, 1919, or the rebelsí conduct on May 11, 1857, in Delhi?

Jean-Maric Lafant equates the reign of Ranjit Singh with that of Akbarís. Indeed, both Akbar and Ranjit Singh were large-hearted, sagacious and catholic in outlook. Both built palaces, laid gardens, and promoted arts and letters. In these activities, Ranjit Singh had set before himself the example of Timur , which is generally ignored.

The volume Five Centuries of Sikh Tradition focuses on the crystallisation of Sikh identity and its political, social and cultural manifestations. In The Foundation of Faith Grewal says that Guru Nanak was a questioner of extant contemporary beliefs and customs and conceived his own system of ideas which embodied "the creative response, not to religious strife, but to the total social and religious situation of the day".

Karmjit K. Malhotra in The Earliest Manuel, states that the Nasihatnama dated 1718-19 was actually composed in the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh between 1699 and 1708, which is contrary to the findings of most scholars.

Using extensive Persian sources, Iqtidar Alam Khan brings out that the Khalsa were determined to demarcate themselves clearly both from the Hindu and the Islamic beliefs and practices. There has persisted a tendency among historians to examine how the British missionaries perceived Indian society and how they viewed the natives.

John C. B. Webster, using the study of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, identifies the missionís aim with regard to the Women of Amritsar and explains that the mission hospitals attracted them the most when in distress.

In Sikh Patronage of Painting, B. N. Goswami, starting from the traveller William Finchís vivid and sensitive description of Mughal paintings in Jahangirís reign and Pahari Paintings, focuses on Ranjit Singhís promotion of arts.

The Majithia and Dogra chiefs were also the patrons of arts. The artistic activity reflected a catholicity of approach and liberality of outlook, free from sectarianism. Goswamiís title is rather irritating when applied to the fine arts. A detailed article on The Nabha Affair needs a wider perspective in the light of Gandhi Collection and K. M. Panikkar papers; otherwise these are two elegantly produced volumes.

HOME