Saga of a young faith
Nirbhai Singh

History of Sikh Gurus Retold (Two Volumes)
by Surjit Singh Gandhi. Atlantic, New Delhi. Pages 1,171. Rs 2,100 (set)

THIS aptly-titled two-volume set devoutly retells the history of Sikh Gurus by garnering material from rare sources—secondary Persian, English and old primary Punjabi, etc. These sources are significant for updating missing historical gaps. Although these helped the author to authenticate prevalent traditions and legends, their historicity is not established. It doesn’t give the objective picture of the Gurus’ teachings and their lives. The Gurus had historical sense, which is the singular contribution to the Indian history. They created history and new heroic culture of the martyrs because they had sense of historicity, which is not highlighted.

The oriental Sikh scholars—Bhai Santokh Singh, Rattan Singh Bhangu, Bhai Kahan Singh, Giani Gurdit Singh, et al.—have contributed a lot to the Sikh history. It intrigues me that the author has ignored the Bhatt Vahis. He, however, has listed five "Bhatt Vahis" in the bibliography (1159), but these are not used in the volumes. These are new primary sources for restructuring and reinterpreting history of the Gurus. These manuscripts were discovered by Giani Garja Singh from the descendants of the Bhatts whose hymns (swayyas) are incorporated in the Sikh Canon. These manuscripts meticulously give details of historical persons, places and dates, which are necessary for determining historicity of the facts.

The author has put in hard labour in collecting primary sources related to the Gurus. His collection of historical facts reflects bare facts, which lack interpretation in the context of the Sikh Canon. The facts need to be infused with spiraled development of the Sikh history. Their teachings are to be interpreted at oneness of temporality and eternity. The Gurus lived in the world as promoters of righteousness and restorers of justice and harmony. They steeled will of the common folk to fight tyranny on the Indian soil. Such interpretations are missing among historians of Sikh history.

The author raised some subtle philosophical issues in the "Preface" about Sikh faith—its origination and development of the Sikh movement by Guru Nanak’s nine successors. He enquires whether Sikhism is a syncretism of Hinduism or Islam or a sui generis religion. Again, in the first chapter, Perspective, he has given some references from Hinduism and Islam.

Sikh history clearly mirrors deeds of the Gurus whose sayings and doings optimised the synthesis between theory and praxis. This is the essence of the living religions of the world. Exegetical translations and references from the Guru Granth could be avoided because they deal with subtle conceptual dimensions of the Sikh faith, though they are the perennial fount of history and affirmation of the world.

In the two volumes, this reviewer failed to find out chiseled logical and critical interpretation of the dry facts of Sikh history. It enjoins upon the historian to infuse life into the dry historical facts in the light of the coeval historical situations. It needs reconstruction of Sikh history in the light of the contemporary historiography because the dynamic undercurrent of the Gurus’ ideology has entered the era of materialism. It has lost its path of spirituality in the arid deserts of the European technology. Sikh history is at its crossroad shadowed by materialism and politics of the religion. A revival of spiritual values and heroic culture is the dire necessity of the day.

The volumes can be recommended for the devout followers because the inquisitive scholars need interpretive exposition. However, it provides an improvised material for the budding researchers and the seekers of truth.