What do you know of Bhatt-Vahees?
Bhatt Vahees were scrolls or records maintained by Bhatts, hereditary bards and genealogists. According to Nesfield as quoted in W. Crooke, The Tribes and Castes of the North Western India, 1896, Bhatts are an “offshoot from those secularised Brahmans who frequented the courts of princes and the camps of warriors, recited their praises in public, and kept records of their genealogies.”
Bardic tradition as a source of Sikh history
These bards constantly attended upon or visited their patron families reciting panegyrics to them and receiving customary rewards. They also collected information about births, deaths and marriages in the families and recorded it in their scrolls. These scrolls containing information going back to several past centuries formed the valued part of the bards` hereditary possessions. A group of Bhatts was introduced to Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru, by Bhatt Bhikha who had himself become a Sikh in the time of Guru Amar Das Ji.
According to Bhai Gurdas Ji (Var 11: Pauri 21) and Bhai Mani Singh, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala, he had once visited Guru Arjan Dev Ji with the sangat of Sultanpur Lodhi. Some of the Bhatts who came into the Sikh fold composed hymns in honour of the Gurus which were entered in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji by Guru Arjan Dev Ji. These Bhatts and their successors too maintained their vahees in which they recorded information concerning the Gurus, their families and some of the eminent Sikhs. These old vahees are still preserved in the descendant families, now scattered mostly in Haryana state. Their script is bhattakshari, a kind of family code like lande or mahajani. During the late 1950s, a researcher, Giani Garja Singh, obtained Gurmukhi transcripts of some of the entries pertaining to the Guru period, from Guru Hargobind Ji (15951644) to Guru Gobind Singh Ji (16661708) through Bhatt Maan Singh of Karsindhu village, in Jind district. Some of these were published as footnotes to Shaheed Bilaas Bhai Mani Singh, edited by Giani Garja Singh and published by Punjabi Sahitya Akademi, Ludhiana, in 1961. The rest are still in manuscript form lying in the Department of Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala. These extracts provide valuable information regarding dates, places and events of the period.
Caution in use as historical source As contemporary evidence, Bhatt Vahees have to be used with caution however, for they are not diaries of the eyewitnesses. It was customary for the Bhatts to visit their hereditary patrons usually twice a year at harvest time to sing their praises and receive rewards or customary donations as well as to collect information for record in their vahees. These records are, therefore, based on information gathered generally after the occurrence of events and, possibly, sometimes received at second hand. This may not apply to entries regarding the Gurus which were recorded by Bhatts who generally remained in attendance. For instance, an entry about the conferment of guruship upon Sri Guru Granth Sahib in 1708 is by Bhatt Narbud Singh (son of Keso Singh and grandson of Bhatt Kirat whose hymns are included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji) who had accompanied Guru Gobind Singh Ji to Nanded. On the whole, these Bhatt Vahees are a mine of information of historical and sociological value.
The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Harbans Singh
History of the Sikh gurus: a comprehensive study, Surjit Singh Gandhi