Sacred Literature & Sikh Studies

Give a brief survey of Sikh studies.

Sikh studies in its broadest sense means creative literature on Sikh History, Sikh Philosophy, culture and fine arts. Such studies may be divided in five headings.

Historical, Theological, Institutional, Cultural and Practical. Historical studies will cover the lives of the Ten Gurus (1469-1708) persecution of the Sikhs in the eighteenth century and the growth of the missals, Sikh rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his successors (1800-1849), Punjab under British rule (1849-1947), Post-independence period (1947 up-to-date). The recent period will also include the study of the problems of the Sikhs both in India and abroad.

Theological studies pertain to the teachings of the Gurus, the interpretations of the scriptures, and the concepts of God, Creation, Man, Maya, Ethics, The Holy Word, Meditation, Salvation etc. Institutional studies include Sangat, Pangat, Gurdwara, Khalsa Brotherhood, Takhats, Gurmatta etc.

Cultural studies will cover the study of the fine arts of the Sikhs, specially their music (both classical and folk), their architecture (specially Gurdwara architecture and town planning) their paintings (both secular and religious) etc.

Practical Sikhism includes the Sikh way of life, the family, the community, social commitment, worship, ceremonies, Sikh identity and character.

However the above categories should not be considered as watertight compartments; they are like intersecting circles cutting mutual frontiers. For example Practical Sikhism is nothing but leading family-life according to the message of the Gurus.

—– INDIA —–
Sikh studies began in right earnest after the independence in India in 1947. Principal Jodh Singh, Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Sahib Singh and Dr. Ganda Singh produced worth-while books on Sikh themes. The establishment of the new universities (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar; Punjab University, Chandigarh; Punjabi University, Patiala) initiated serious research in Sikh religion and history. The celebration of centenaries of Guru Gobind Singh (1966), Guru Nanak (1969), Guru Tegh Bahadur (1975), Guru Amardas (1979) and Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1980) gave impetus to the production of valuable research books on the Gurus and Sikh theme.

Among the recent university Scholars are Prof. Harbans Singh, Narain Singh, S.S. Kohli, G.S. Talib, B.S. Anand, J.S. Grewal, Fauja Singh, Mohinder Singh, H.S. Shan, A.C. Chatterjee, H.R. Gupta, C.H. Leohlin, S.S. Bal, P.S. Gill, Pritam Singh, Prakash Singh, Taran Singh, Mc. Leod, W.O. Cole, Juergensmyer, Shackle and others.

The non-university writers of considerable merit are Dr. Gopal Singh, Khushwant Singh, K.S. Duggal, S. Trilochan Singh, Raghbir Singh, Daljeet Singh, Jagjit Singh, G.S. Sidhu, Ishwar Singh, P.S. Sambhi, D. Greenlees, Dr. Gurmeet Singh and Dalip Singh.

The credit for pioneering work in the field of Sikh studies, as for example the preparation of the Sikh Encyclopedia in several volumes, and the translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in modern English (with footnotes) goes to the Punjabi University, Patiala. Its department of Religion and Adi Granth Studies prepares students for the M.Phil and Ph.D. Degrees.

Sikh studies in U.K. began with the introduction of Sikhism as one of the sections of the paper on “World Religions” at the GCE level. Both teachers and students needed books suited to the standards of Britain. Dr. Owen Cole deserves credit for preparing some basic books and reference material on Sikh studies. His book entitled “World Religions: A Handbook for teachers”, which he edited for the SHAP working party on World Religions in Education in 1976 prompted many writers to produce books for the school curriculum. As far as I know about twenty books have been published in U.K. by eminent writers like Dr. Cole, P.S. Sambhi, W.H. Mcleod, Terry Thomas, J.R.S. Whitting, John Prickett and others. Perhaps some more books are needed for the GCE (‘A’ level).

Sikh studies have found a place in the B.A. course of the Open University, and the first Degree at the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education, Chichester. Leeds and London Universities have provision for research degrees in Sikh studies. In view of the large number of Sikhs settled in Britian, there is a great need for a centre of Sikh studies and Research. Perhaps after collection of adequate funds, such a centre can be established either at Sally Oak College, Birmingham, or West Sussex Institute of Higher Education at Chichester. The proposed centre may also provide training facilities for teachers, teaching Sikhism at the GCE level.

—– CANADA —–
Though the first Sikh immigrants settled on the west coast of Canada in 1905, Sikh studies has not received its due place either at the school or college level. The Sikhs have been more concerned with ethnic, economic and political issues than their religion or the cultural upbringing of their children. There is a large number of Sikh in Toronto, Vancouver, and a sizeable number at Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. The Sikhs have been holding Annual Conferences since 1979, where issues like identity of the Sikhs, Sikh children and their education, the relations with other communities, Sikhs in small towns and the means of communication with their co-religionists, Sikh women and their role in the new environment are discussed. The number of books on Sikhism published in Canada is very small. Most of them deal with the problems of immigration and employment. The main reason for the neglect of Sikh studies is the indifference of the State and the preoccupation of Sikhs with Gurdwara politics. Moreover, the Sikhs are mostly working in trade and industry, and very few are in the learned professions. G.S. Pannu’s “Sikhs in Canada” is a learned treatise presented to the University of British Columbia (1970) posing the problems facing the Sikh community. Another work dealing with ethnic problems of the Sikhs written by T.J. Scanlon entitled “The Sikhs of Vancouver: a case-study of the Role of the Media on Ethnic relations” was published by UNESCO (Paris) in 1977. Till such time as Sikh studies is made a subject at the school or college level, no worth- while publications may be forth-coming in Canada.

Though Sikh Studies has not been accepted as a subject at the school level, on account of the separation of the State from Religion in the USA, perhaps a beginning can be made in Sikh Studies in cities where the Sikh are settled in large numbers. California has a rich and viable group of both Sikh farmers and professional men, and many have expressed the need of a Public school in a place like Yuba City. The Gurdwaras and Sikh Associations have hardly taken any interest in Sikh Studies. There is the Sikh Council of North America but it is suffering from factionalism and petty politics. Individuals have written some books on Sikh themes. Besides Archer’s ‘The Sikhs’ (1946), Dr. S.S. Ahluwalia’s book (God’s Free Kitchen, 1979) and Khushwant Singh’s two volumes (History of the Sikhs 1966) have been published in the States.

There is however an organized group of American-born Sikhs under the 3HO (also called the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood) managed by the Khalsa Council. Their leader Yogi Harbhajan Singh has promoted Sikhism and published a few books (The experience of consciousness, and The Saying of Yogi Bhajan, 1977). Their publications include “Sublings of Destiny”, “Japji of Guru Nanak”, “Sikh Dharma Training Manual”, “The Sun Shall rise in the West” and some others. Their books include the two notable works published in 1976, by Premka Kaur (“Peace Lagoon: Selections from the Sikh Scriptures” , and “Guru for the Aquarian Age: Life of Guru Nanak”).

There are two university centres which provide facilities for research in Sikh religion. One is the Department of Religion at the University of California, Berkley, San Francisco. The section of Sikh studies is under the charge of Dr. Juergensmyer who compiled a number of papers on various aspects of Sikhism under the title “Sikh Studies, Berkley”, in 1980. In 1982, Prof. Harbans Singh of Patiala delivered three lectures at Berkley, which were later published under the title “Berkley Lectures”, by Guru Nanak Foundation, New Delhi.

The other place is the Centre for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. The Guru Nanak Foundation of North America, Maryland, the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Maryland, The Sikh Philosophical Society, Columbia, the Research and Educational Centre, Chesterfield, St. Louis, may pool their resources in the near future and set up a joint centre for Sikh studies and Research on the East Coast.

Sikhs are settled in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong in large numbers. They have built up many Gurdwaras in major cities. Singapore has the distinction of leading the other regions in Sikh studies. Two books have been written and published by Mehervan Singh on “Sikhism” and “Sikhism in Malaysia”. The latter highlights the problems of the local Sikhs. Recently, the Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha, and the Missionary Society of Singapore got approved “Sikh Studies” as subject for the GCE Course. It is a compact course dealing with all the important aspects of Sikh History and religion. Two books “Hand Book of Sikh Studies” for students, and the other entitled, “Manual of Sikh Studies” for teachers, have been printed in Singapore, perhaps such books will set the pace for the preparation of standard text books on Sikhism in other countries.

PLEASE NOTE: The latest edition of this book was published in 1985, so the information may not be up-to-date.