The Guru gave one Amrit and one Maryada, then why are there so many different Rehats today?
(1) The Guru authorized the Panj Pyaare to give Amrit to anyone desirous of being spiritually reborn into the Guru’s Family (the Khalsa Panth). Thousands joined this brotherhood & sisterhood on Vaisakhi 1699 after the manifestation of the Khalsa Panth and the first Panj Pyaare received Amrit of the double-edged sword.
When these Singhs came to their villages they started giving Amrit to more people. They passed on the code of the Rehat Maryada verbally to the new members of the Khalsa. This procedure is still going on today. During the Amrit ceremony, the candidates for Amrit do not take paper and pen to record all what is told to them. There is a strong “Oral Tradition” in India, whereby people listen to history and facts rather than write and read. Therefore, they listen to Rehat, remember it and try to practice it in their lives. When Amritdhari Sikhs explained the Maryada to the new members, they did contribute, unintentionally of course, some variations in the instructions.
It is now a known social phenomenon that when one hears a message and passes it on to another person, it is impossible to convey the message in the same spirit. He cannot help giving his own interpretation to the message, because of which the message may sometimes be totally changed. This happens even when one takes all precautions to communicate the message correctly without adding or deleting anything from it. It is easy to imagine the changes which could take place in the Maryada when there is a desire to make the Maryada “better and holier” than the one practiced by other Sikhs. Also some may become “lax” in stating the Rehat, reflecting the individual’s own weakness in keeping discipline or due to social pressure (for example, some will state it is optional for women to wear a turban because their own wife does not wear a turban or they fear less women will come forward to take Amrit).
(2) We do not have a complete set of systematically written directions regarding Rehat from the Guru. Of course, many Sikhs, some contemporaries of the Guru and descendants of those who attended the Guru, have recorded and written their observations and instructions regarding the Rehat instructed by the Guru and practised by the Khalsa. When all these writings are put together, not only do they not agree, but some observations contradict each other. In a few cases, the instructions go against the principles of Gurmat (Gurbani in Guru Granth Sahib Ji). Sikh scholars, therefore, fear that some sections of the Reht Namas were not written by the persons whose names are associated with those writings. They must have been modified later on.
(3) During the 18th century, the Khalsa were always harassed by the government. They had to leave their Gurdwaras and move to the woods for protection from the police and army. This situation prevailed for more than half a century. During this time, the Sehajdharis (without long hair) were in charge of the Gurdwaras. Later, the Gurdwara management slipped into the hands of Mahants (Brahmanical Udasis & Nirmalas), who became hereditary custodians of the Gurdwaras. Because of the Hindu environment and Brahmanical influence, they introduced many Hindu rituals in the Gurdwaras. During the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh no effort was made to crystallize the Sikh Rehat from the mixture of Hindu rituals.
(4) It was during the British rule that Sikhs, having lost all political power, thought of their religious principles to get guidance for their future. The Gurdwara management under the Mahants had so much deteriorated during the previous 100 years that Mahants had become corrupt and started leading immoral lives. To increase their income they introduced worship of Hindu gods in the Gurdwaras, and act strictly prohibited for the Sikhs. There was no discipline, and women visiting the Gurdwaras were often harassed or even molested. This irreligious and immoral behavior of the Mahants gave birth to the Gurdwara Reform Movement.
The intellectuals, the Sikh scholars, and the Sikh saints supported the movement. They all got together to protest the anti-Sikh and non-Sikh rituals forced on them by the Mahants managing the Gurdwaras. For political reasons, the Government supported the Mahants in order to keep the Sikhs away from the control of the Gurdwaras. After enduring a long struggle and paying a heavy price in to form of blood and money, the Sikhs won control of their Gurdwaras in 1925.
The first and one of the best actions they took was to appoint a committee to decide and put in writing the Sikh Rehat Maryada (a booklet of Sikh Code of Conduct) to be followed by all Sikhs. This provided a basic minimum Rehat that should practised by all Sikhs and Gurdwaras for Panthic uniformity and in par to the basic Sikh tenets. The Panthic committee gathered at Amritsar and worked for many years and sifted through all the available scriptures & writings of the times of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. They finally presented the results of their research to the Panthic representatives at Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. After receiving comments from all sections of the Sikh community, the final form of the Sikh Rehat Marayada was approved by Sri Akaal Takht Sahib and the S.G.P.C (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar) were given the responsibility to publish and implement this Maryada.
It is this booklet which we should popularize and follow as the basic uniforming Rehat, even if we individually have different opinions. It is praiseworthy to practice and preach more Rehat than the Sikh Rehat Maryada, however as long as it doesn’t negate the Panthic Maryada. The Panthic Rehat is not a crystalised Rehat than cannot be added to or modified. There are many genuine Sikhs who want certain changes/additions in the Sikh Reht Maryada booklet. Unfortunately, due to the current climate in Sikh politics and the Panth it is probably difficult to discuss or implement any changes effectively. In theory, if a Sikh wants a change in it, the best course for him is to present his suggestions with logical arguments and authenticated evidence to the Khalsa Panth at Sri Akaal Takht Sahib for consideration.