Idolatry in Sikhism

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The prohibition of idolatry in Sikhism, in accordance with Sikh scripture, was formalized in the 20th century after the revitalization of Sikh institutions led by the reformist Tat Khalsa of the Singh Sabha Movement of the late 19th-century,[1][2][3] accepted as having the orthodox position by the Sikhs,[1] in reaction to what was seen as Brahmanical[4] Hindu interference[5][6] in Sikh affairs, particularly of organizations like Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj,[7][8] who were proselytizing in the area along with other religious factions like Christian missionaries and Muslim groups like the Ahmediyya, following the fall of the Sikh Empire. In 1905, the Sikh manager of the Harmander Sahib ordered the removal of idols and the end of Hindu practices in the temple in accordance with Sikh scripture, an order that was subsequently[9] backed by the Tat Khalsa, upsetting the privileged, nationally hegemonic upper-caste Hindu orthodoxy.[10][11] The prohibition, state Fenech and McLeod, has also served a means to assert Sikhism differs from Hinduism.[12][1][13][14]

Sikh texts[edit]

Idol worship is mentioned as a futile and worthless practice in the Sikh texts such as the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth. In the Guru Granth Sahib, the teachings of Guru Nanak call the practice of worshipping stones as useless and ridiculous. These stones cannot answer any questions nor provide spiritual guidance as the guru can, states Nanak, and only the guidance of a guru can carry one across the "Ocean of Existence".[15] Idolatry is criticized in the Dasam Granth traditionally attributed to the tenth Guru Gobind Singh. The Dasam Granth includes idolatry along with other practices such as smearing sandal paste, offering food, visiting graves and tombs, bowing and others as futile and unhelpful in knowing God.[16]

According to the Indologist Harold Coward, the Sikh scriptures critique idolatry and Guru Nanak's words protest and condemn empty, magical worship of idols. But, states Coward, an icon treated as a symbol that does not confuse the physical with the spiritual, and with the "right motivation and understanding", the Sikh scripture does not exclude the reverence of the Guru Granth,[17] which accompanies ritual devotional singing in Sikh Gurdwaras.[18]

Historical references to idolatry[edit]

Zafarnama[edit]

The Zafarnama, or letter of victory, was written in Persian to Aurangzeb in 1705 by Guru Gobind Singh after the battle of Chamkaur. The 95th couplet, in Persian, describing his battles with the Sivalik Hills rajas, reads:

Zafarnama, couplet 95
Persian Gurmukhi transliteration Roman transliteration Translation

منم کشتہ ام کوہیاں پُرفتن
کہ آں بت پرستدو من بت شِکن[19]

ਮਨਮ ਕੁਸ਼ਤਹਅਮ ਕੋਹੀਆਂ ਪੁਰਫਿਤਨ ॥

ਕਿ ਆਂ ਬੁਤ ਪਰਸਤੰਦੋ ਮਨ ਬੁਤਸ਼ਿਕਨ ॥੯੫॥

Manam kushteham kohiān purfitan

Ki ān but-parastand o man but-shikan

I slew the deceitful (rajas) of the hills,

They are idol worshippers and I am an iconoclast[20]

Dabestan-e Mazaheb[edit]

The Dabestan-e Mazaheb, an examination and comparison of religions and sects of its time, is believed to have been written by Muhsin Fani, a Zoroastrian Persian, in 1655. The second chapter expounds upon South Asian religious traditions. Included is one of the oldest references to the Sikhs, referred to by the author as Nanak-panthis. Among the first details mentioned of the faith at the time is:

The Nanac-Panthians,who are known as composing the nation of the Sikhs, have neither idols nor temples of idols.[21]

It goes on to state that:

In short, the disciples of Nanak condemn idol-worship. Their belief is that all their Gurus are Nanak, as has been said. They do not read the Mantras of the Hindus. They do not venerate their temples or idols, nor do they esteem their Avtars. They have no regard for the Sanskrit language which, according to the Hindus, is the speech of the angels.[22]

And further on, an anecdote of Guru Hargobind popular among his followers is relayed. He had been the Guru around the time of the writing of the treatise:

In short, after the battle of Kartarpur he went to Phagwara. As his residence in places like Lahore was difficult, he hastened from there to Kiratpur, which is in the foothills of the Punjab. That land belonged to Raja Tara Chand who did not walk on the path of submission and service to Emperor Shah Jehan.

The people of that place worship idols. On the summit of a mountain, they have raised an idol to the goddess named Naina Devi. The rajahs (petty rulers of the hill states) used to go to that place and performed the rites of pilgrimage. When the Guru came to that place, one of his Sikhs, Bhairo by name, went to the temple of the idol and broke the nose of the Devi (goddess). The rajahs having received the news complained to the Guru and named him [Bhairo]. The Guru sent for Bhairo. Bhairo denied. The attendants of the rajah said: “We recognize him.” He replied: “Oh rajahs, ask the goddess, if she name me, you (may) kill me.” The rajahs said: “Oh fool, how can the goddess speak?” Bhairo answered smilingly: “It is clear who the fool is. When she cannot prevent the breaking of her own head and cannot identify her own injurer, what good can you expect from her and (why) do you worship her as divine?” The rajahs remained tongue-tied. Now most of the people of that land are disciples of the Guru.[23]

Also in the account:

Among the Sikhs there is nothing of the austerities and worship according to the religious laws of the Hindus. In eating and drinking they have no restrictions [like the Hindus].[24]

Another translation:

Among the Sikhs there is nothing of the religious rites of the Hindus; they know of no check in eating or drinking. When Pertābmal, a Jnāni, "wise," Hindu, saw that his son wished to adopt the faith of the Muselmans, he asked him: "Why dost thou" wish to become a Muselman? If thou likest to eat every thing, become a Guru of the Sikhs and "eat whatever thou, desirest."[25]

Denominational views[edit]

Mainstream (Khalsa) opposition[edit]

The orthodox Khalsa Sikhs led by the Khalsa state that idolatry is forbidden in Sikhism.[26] Mainstream Sikhism forbids idol worship, in accordance with the teachings of the Gurus. This remained the case during the time of the Gurus, until increased Mughal persecution in the eighteenth century forced the Khalsa to yield Gurdwara control to mahants, or custodians, who often belonged to Udasi, Nirmala, or other Brahmanical-influenced ascetic heterodox sects,[27] or were non-Sikh altogether.[4] The Khalsa at this time engaged in guerilla campaigns against the Mughals and the hill-rajas of the Sivalik Hills allied to them,[28] and later fought the Afghans and established themselves as local leaders, while mahant control of Gurdwaras continued into the nineteenth century. Such groups wrote exegeses while the Khalsa focused on political power at the time,[27] forming the Sikh misls and ultimately the Sikh Empire.

After the fall of the Sikh Empire, the Singh Sabha movement was begun in the 1870s to revitalize Sikh institutions that had deteriorated under the administration of the mahants, who had become increasingly corrupt and had introduced non-Sikh practices into the Gurdwaras.[4] The Singh Sabha movement eventually brought the Khalsa back to the fore of Gurdwara administration, which they achieved after expelling the mahants and their corrupt practices, which included idolatry,[4] financial malfeasance, Brahmanical privilege, and the dissemination of unsavory literature.[29][4] The Akali movement, fueled by incidents like the Nankana massacre, brought control of the Gurdwaras from the mahants back to mainstream Sikhs;[30] the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, or SGPC, now manage Gurdwaras in accordance with mainstream Khalsa norms.

Nirankari opposition[edit]

Among the earliest reform movements that opposed idol worship practices in the Sikh community was the Nirankari sect started by Baba Dyal (1783–1855).[31][32] He was not an initiated Khalsa, his movement was called Nirankari which literally derived from Nirankar or "the formless one". He was opposed to all idol worship, including the then existing practice of keeping idols and pictures of the ten Sikh Gurus and praying before them. According to Dyal, such practices were against Sikh teachings. He built a new Gurdwara in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan), but facing opposition from Sikhs to his ideas, he moved his reform movement into its suburbs. Nirankaris were a potent and active campaigners in late 19th-century and early 20th-century for the removal of all idols and images from the Golden Temple and other Gurdwaras.[31][33] After the partition of British India along religious boundaries, the Nirankaris along with the vast majority of Sikhs chose to move to predominantly Hindu-majority India rather than stay in predominantly Muslim majority Pakistan. Nirankaris moved their headquarters from Dayalsar in Rawalpindi to Chandigarh. They have continued to campaign for the abolishment of idolatry like the orthodox Khalsa, but continue to accept a living human guru beyond the ten gurus which has made them a heterodox sect of Sikhism.[32][34][35]

Namdhari opposition[edit]

The Namdhari sect, also called Kuka, was founded as one of the Sikh revivalist movements during the late rule of Ranjit Singh, by Balak Singh (1797-1862), who did not believe in any religious ritual other than the repetition of God’s name (or nam, for which reason members of the sect are called Namdharis)[36], or the worship of idols, graves, tombs, gods, or goddesses.[37] The movement was formally inaugurated by his successor Ram Singh (1816-1885) in 1857, with a ritual modelled after the Khalsa founding.[37] Balak Singh claimed to be a successor of the living Gurus[36][37] which has made the Namdharis a very heterodox sect within Sikhism. With the advent of the Tat Khalsa,[38] the sect’s emphasis on meditation was largely achieved, along with their ban on idolatry, and today the Nirankaris differ from orthodox (Khalsa) Sikhs foremost in their recognition of a continuing line of living Gurus,[38] as opposed to considering the Guru Granth Sahib the Guru, per the command of Guru Gobind Singh, who they believe secretly maintained a line of living Gurus.[36] They place special emphasis on kirtan.[38] The sect is endogamous,[36] have their own gurdwaras,[39] instead of gurdwaras, where worship is only allowed with the presence of their living guru, wear distinct white clothing and turbans, are vegetarians, and have distinct wedding rituals.[36] Both their teachings and their modern economic practices (in businesses like 3HO) are heavily questioned by mainstream Sikhs.[38]

According to Namdhari sect of Sikhism, it was Khalsa sect of Sikhism led Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandak Committee that invented phrase such as "Guru Maniyo Granth" against idol worship.[40]

Sanatan acceptance[edit]

The Sanatan Sikhs, who were most prominent in the 1800s and were chiefly Khatri[41] disciples who identified with the Brahmanical social structure and caste system, and self-identified as Hindu,[41] considered keeping idols within the temples as not harmful. In contrast to Nirankari and Tat Khalsa Sikhs, Sanatan Sikhs considered images and idols of the ten Sikh gurus, as well as others, to be an inclusive practice and acceptable means of devotional worship.[42][43] Scholars such as Eleanor Nesbitt state the Nanaksar Gurdwaras practice of offering food cooked by Sikh devotees to the Guru Granth Sahib, as well as curtaining the scripture during this ritual, as a form of idolatry. Baba Ishar Singh of this international network of Sikh temples has defended this practice because he states that the Sikh scripture is more than paper and ink.[44]

Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair considers Khalsa writings to have exegetical difficulty.[45]

Bibliolatry[edit]

The daily routine of the gurdwara includes the prakash, which involves carrying the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, in a small procession of granthis, or gurdwara religious officials, placing it on a stand, unwrapping it, and opening it to be read; and the sukhasan, when the scripture is retired at the end of the day to a designated room, or sachkhand.[46] While conceding that Sikhs did not worship idols, Swami Dayanand, the founder of the Arya Samaj Hindu reform movement of the 1800s and critic of Sikhism, attempted to link veneration of the Guru Granth Sahib with idolatrous practices, based off his understanding of the Sikh faith.[47] Similarly, English travelers to Sikh temples during the early 1900s also saw the veneration of the Granth as coming close to defeating the purpose of Guru Nanak’s reforms (away from external authority to living experience), and saw it as a warning to Christian Protestants to avoid lapsing into bibliolatry, as Hindu temple idol worship served as a warning to Catholics.[48]

However, according to Kristina Myrvold, these rituals are a daily means of "merit bestowing ministrations".[18] These daily ritual ministrations and paying of homage for the scripture by Sikhs, states Myrvold, is not unique to Sikhism. It moulds "meanings, values and ideologies" and creates a framework for congregational worship, states Myrvold, that is found in all major faiths.[46]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c W. H. McLeod (2009). The A to Z of Sikhism. Scarecrow. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-8108-6344-6.
  2. ^ Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1.
  3. ^ Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 542–543. ISBN 978-0-19-100412-4.;
    Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 322–326. ISBN 978-0-226-61592-9.; Quote: "First, they stated that the idols had been in the [Harmander] Sahib from the time of its inception. Even under the Sikh misls and during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh no one had demanded their removal. Therefore it was an established custom to house idols with the Harmander Sahib precincts. Second a vast majority of Sikhs staunchly believed in idol worship and it would have been contrary to their religious rights to take away images." (Note: see pages 322–326 for the context of late 19th-century and early 20th-century dispute between Tat Khalsa Sikhs and the Sikhs that opposed them, as well as notes on idolatry in Sikhism prior to early 20th-century).
  4. ^ a b c d e Deol, Dr. Harnik (2003). Religion and Nationalism in India: The Case of the Punjab (illustrated ed.). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge. pp. 43–44. ISBN 9781134635351.
  5. ^ Kenneth W. Jones (1976). Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th-century Punjab. University of California Press. pp. 211–212. ISBN 978-0-520-02920-0., Quote: "Brahmin priests and their idols had been associated with the Golden Temple for at least a century and had over these years received the patronage of pious Hindus and Sikhs. In the 1890s these practices came under increasing attack by reformist Sikhs."
  6. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 323–324. ISBN 978-0-226-61593-6.
  7. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 323–324. ISBN 978-0-226-61593-6., Quote: First, it was argued that it was up to Sikhs to decide what they did with their sacred shrines. Members of other religious communities had no logical, historical, or moral right to dictate to Sikhs how they should conduct their affairs. The Tat Khalsa was particularly incensed at what was generally seen as Hindu interference, and more particularly Arya Samaj meddling, in Sikh affairs."
  8. ^ Kenneth W. Jones (1976). Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th-century Punjab. University of California Press. pp. 211–212. ISBN 978-0-520-02920-0., Quote: "The customary performance of Hindu rituals in the temple compound offended the reformers who saw this both as contrary to Sikh beliefs and as an intrusion of a decadent faith. The Manager of the Temple ordered that all Hindu idols should be excluded from the Temple precincts, thus ending the performance of Hindu rituals in that area. Hindus reacted with outrage at this attack on their traditional privileges."
  9. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 323–324. ISBN 978-0-226-61593-6.
  10. ^ Kenneth W. Jones (1976). Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th-century Punjab. University of California Press. pp. 211–212. ISBN 978-0-520-02920-0., Quote: "The customary performance of Hindu rituals in the temple compound offended the reformers who saw this both as contrary to Sikh beliefs and as an intrusion of a decadent faith. The Manager of the Temple ordered that all Hindu idols should be excluded from the Temple precincts, thus ending the performance of Hindu rituals in that area. Hindus reacted with outrage at this attack on their traditional privileges."
  11. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 323–324. ISBN 978-0-226-61593-6.
  12. ^ Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1.
  13. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 320–327. ISBN 978-0-226-61593-6.
  14. ^ Khushwant Singh (2006). The Illustrated History of the Sikhs. Oxford University Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-19-567747-8.
  15. ^ W. H. McLeod (1968). Gurū Nānak and the Sikh religion. Oxford University Press. pp. 209–210.
  16. ^ W. H. McLeod (1984). Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7190-1063-7.
  17. ^ Harold G. Coward (2000). Scripture in the World Religions: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld. pp. 130–132, 209–210. ISBN 978-1-85168-244-7.
  18. ^ a b Kristina Myrvold (2017). "Guru Granth: Ceremonial Treatment". Brill's Encyclopedia of Sikhism. Brill Academic. pp. 141–145. ISBN 978-90-04-29745-6.
  19. ^ Duggal, M.A., Devindar Singh (1980). Fatehnama & Zafarnama of Guru Gobind Singh (1st ed.). 194 Udham Singh Nagar, Jullundur: Institute of Sikh Studies. p. 130. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  20. ^ Kohli, Dr. Surindar S. (2003). The Dasam Granth. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. p. 586. ISBN 978-8121510448. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  21. ^ Shea, Troyer, David, Anthony. The Dabistán or School of manners, (1843) Vol 2. p. 246. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  22. ^ Singh, Dr. Ganda (1940-08-01). Nanak Panthis or The Sikhs and Sikhism of the 17th Century (translated from Muhsin Fani’s Dabistan-i-Mazahib) Edited with Notes (The Journal of Indian History 19(2); Aug 1940: pp 195–219. ed.). Khalsa College, Amritsar: Sikh Digital Library. pp. 204–205. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  23. ^ Singh, Dr. Ganda (1940-08-01). Nanak Panthis or The Sikhs and Sikhism of the 17th Century (translated from Muhsin Fani’s Dabistan-i-Mazahib) Edited with Notes (The Journal of Indian History 19(2); Aug 1940: pp 195–219. ed.). Khalsa College, Amritsar: Sikh Digital Library. pp. 210–211. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  24. ^ Singh, Dr. Ganda (1940-08-01). Nanak Panthis or The Sikhs and Sikhism of the 17th Century (translated from Muhsin Fani’s Dabistan-i-Mazahib) Edited with Notes (The Journal of Indian History 19(2); Aug 1940: pp 195–219. ed.). Khalsa College, Amritsar: Sikh Digital Library. pp. 216–217. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  25. ^ Shea, Troyer, David, Anthony. The Dabistán or School of manners, (1843) Vol 2. pp. 285–286. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  26. ^ D.G. Singh (2002), Idolatry is impermissible in Sikhism, Sikh Review, Volume 50, Issue 5, pages 35–37
  27. ^ a b Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair (2013). Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsburg Academic. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-4411-0231-7.
  28. ^ Patwant Singh (2007). The Sikhs. Crown Publishing Group. p. 270. ISBN 9780307429339.
  29. ^ Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 542–543. ISBN 978-0-19-100412-4.
  30. ^ Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 29-30. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  31. ^ a b Roshen Dalal (2010). The Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths. Penguin Books. pp. 268–269. ISBN 978-0-14-341517-6.
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  33. ^ Surjit Singh Gandhi (1993). Perspectives on Sikh Gurdwaras Legislation. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 13–17. ISBN 978-81-7156-371-5.
  34. ^ W. H. McLeod (1984). Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester University Press. pp. 122–126. ISBN 978-0-7190-1063-7.
  35. ^ Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1.
  36. ^ a b c d e Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2019). "Namdhari (Sikh sect)". Encyclopædia Britannica.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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  38. ^ a b c d Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2019). "Sikhism/Sects and other groups". Encyclopædia Britannica.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  39. ^ Kristina Myrvold (2011). Knut A. Jacobsen (ed.). Sikhs in Europe: Migration, Identities and Representations. Routledge. p. 298. ISBN 9781409424345.
  40. ^ Knut A. Jacobsen; Kristina Myrvold (2011). Sikhs in Europe: Migration, Identities, and Representations. Ashgate. pp. 297–299. ISBN 978-1-4094-2435-2.
  41. ^ a b Mandair, Arvind-Pal Singh (2013). Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed (illustrated ed.). London, England: A&C Black. p. 83. ISBN 9781441102317. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  42. ^ Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 151, 273. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1.
  43. ^ Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 28–29, 73–76. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  44. ^ Eleanor Nesbitt (2014). Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 362–365. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  45. ^ Arvind-Pal S. Mandair (2009). Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation. Columbia University Press. pp. 231–232. ISBN 978-0-231-14724-8.
  46. ^ a b Kristina Myrvold (2008). Knut A. Jacobsen (ed.). South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora. Routledge. pp. 144–145, context: 140–154, . ISBN 978-1-134-07459-4.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  47. ^ Jacqueline Suthren Hirst; John Zavos (2013). Religious Traditions in Modern South Asia. Routledge. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-136-62668-5.
  48. ^ James Bissett Pratt (1975). India and Its Faiths: A Traveler's Record. Houghton Mifflin (Orig year: 1915). pp. 250–251.