Miri or Piri.Reclaiming Punjabi Identity

The Miri(Warrior) or the Piri(Saint), Reclaiming the Punjabi Identity:

Bradistan Calling

The Sikh religion is based on three important pillar The Guru (Teacher), The Garanth(Holy Book) and the Khalsa (Brotherhood of the Pure).It all seems so familiar because of similarity with the religion of Islam. Nowadays one cannot objectively analyse Islam, without provoking Fatwa of One kind or the other. The debate, discussion and Ijtehad (innovation and development) have effectively been killed in the Muslim world. If you make Peaceful Reformation Impossible, you make Bloody Revolution Inevitable.

The Sikh religion started as a Mystic sect in North West India, branching out of the mainstream Hindu religion. The founder Guru Nanak belonged to middle class Hindu trader caste influenced by Persian and Arabic theology of Muslim religion. The Guru saw, the hard-line tribalism and misogyny in Islam and the superstitions and the “faith healers” in Hindu religion, as the root cause of the problems of India. Sikhism was based on love and equality of all human beings. Sikh theology was based on Islamic concept of One Formless Omnipresent God. The Guru Nanak made many pilgrimages to Muslim Holy Cities (Mecca, Medina and Iraq) and Hindu Holy sites. He wrote and sang hymns (Muslim musician Mardana was his fellow traveler) in praise of God (Wahaguru-the Creator and Teacher) before his death. The Gurudwara (the House of Guru-teacher) was a multipurpose place of worship, political gathering and food kitchen for the community. Women were allowed to participate in worship and food preparation and organize themselves in female groups. All these concepts were revolutionary for 17th century India.

The succession of Gurus provided the spiritual and political guidance to an agrarian society in the fertile plains of Punjab. The Muslim culture is characterised by its tribalism and the Hindu religion is based on caste structures. While many poor Muslims and untouchable Hindus found refuge in an egalitarian community, their cultural practices were also incorporated into the Sikh tradition. Mainstream Hindus and Muslims felt threatened by emergence of a new religion in a society with scarce resources and where wealth was measured in Land, Dowry, Trade or Highway-robbery.

Successive Sikh gurus tried to increase the solidarity within the community and root-out the tribal and caste differences. The continuous warfare with the Moughal Empire (Muslim tribal elite) and the Northern Indian Hindu Rajas kept the gurus occupied in the political affairs.

The religious persecution by Muslims fuelled the flames of hatred on both sides. The more moderate Kings and Gurus tried to concentrate on the commonality of the positive aspects of Sufi mystic tradition within Islam and Sikhism. The Holy Book of the Sikhs was composed in the periods of relative peace. Unlike the Muslim Holy Book the Quran, which Muslims believe was revealed to Prophet Mohammed through Angel Gabriel. The Sikh Holy Book contains religious hymns and historical commentaries by Sikh Gurus, Hindu mystics and Muslim Sufi Poets. The multi-religious and multi-cultural aspect of the Holy Word enabled Sikhs to seek mutual respect with Sufi Muslims based on Punjabi culture and traditions.

The periods of civil wars saw more militant teachings and Gurus rising to prominence. The Sikhs were declared Infidels (non-believers) and punishable by death by the hard-line Muslim Muftis (Jurists).Guru Arjun Dev was brutally tortured and killed by an extremist Muslim General. The Gurus declared Muslims as sworn enemies and prohibited inter-faith meals, celebrations or marriages.

The tenth and the Last Human Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Sikh had a family history of suffering under Muslim persecution. He prohibited Hindu caste system based on profession and Land ownership. He declared the Guru Garanth(Holy Book) to be a Teacher of Sikh religion for eternity(like Muslim belief on Finality of Quran).

Guru Gobind declared all Sikhs as part of a Holy Brotherhood of Khalsa (pure) based on Basic principles of faith. The Sikh religion which was based on the concept of Peeri (pastoral, spiritual and egalitarian) was transformed into Meeri (temporal, political and militaristic). The Sikhism which was a religious philosophy and a spiritual lifestyle became a racial group and martial band of Brothers waging war for Faith and Pride.

Since that Baisakhi mela (harvest festival) on 13 April 1699, the balance of power has swung back and forth between the forces of Peeri and Meeri. There were periods of mutual friendship and alliances among Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus against common enemies and foreign invaders. Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his own life and his family in battle with hard-line Moughal King Arungzeb and the extremist Muslim tribes from the northern province of Sarhind.

The fall of Moughal Empire resulted in increasing freedom and power for Sikh warriors and the Northern Provinces of Punjab came under the Sikh kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh expanded the Sikh rule from the border of Afghanistan to the northern Indian territories. Ranjit Singh established Sikh religious, cultural institutions and built architectural heritage by maintaining an uneasy truce with both the British and the Muslim princes from the north.

The Sikh government collapsed after the death of Ranjit Singh due to internal fighting and the Invasion by the expansionist British East India Company. The Sikhs made new alliances with the British in 1857 war of Independence (mutiny), when the Sikh soldiers from Punjab helped to defeat the mutinous Muslim and Hindu soldiers from North India. Massive unemployment in Punjab encouraged the British to recruit Muslims and Sikhs for war effort in the First World War 1914-1918 and this campaign was repeated in the Second World War 1939-1945.

Indian nationalist Sikhs preferred immigration to Canada and America than being conscripted in the “Colonial” army. British Empire responded by imposing racist restrictions on immigration to Canada. The killing of innocent civilians in a political rally in Amritsar in 1919 fueled the anti British sentiment among the Sikhs. The Rebel Party of North American Sikhs and the Indian youth group of Bhagat Singh helped spread the patriotic and socialist ideology among the Sikhs. Bhagat Singh and his group were hanged in Lahore jail for their “Terrorist” activities. Sikhs switched their loyalties to the non-violent Indian National Congress of M.K Gandhi.

Mutual distrust, racial pride and the “soldier mentality”, fostered hatred between the Sikh religious Akali Dal (Party of God) and the Muslim League (which was working for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims). British Empire decided to divide the Indian subcontinent on religious lines, a Muslim majority Pakistan and Hindu majority India. Sikhs felt the betrayal by all the parties because most of their religious holy sites were in the area part of Muslim Pakistan. The blood stained August of 1947 saw tens of millions of refugees, million killed and a hundred thousand raped and burned by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh fanatics.

Sikhs lost their homeland Punjab and became a tiny minority in a Hindu India, this resentment boiled over on the issue of Punjabi language, division of Indian Punjab into three provinces and the attempted reforms in the Sikh charity funding by the secular congress government. Akali Dal tried portraying itself as the defender of Sikh faith. Electoral alliances with the former enemies alienated the youth from the old politicians and a young extremist preacher Saint Jarnail Singh Bhandrawala advocated the doctrine of racial and religious purity, a bit like the Saudi Arabian fanatics under Osama Bin Laden.

Khalistan was a concept of statehood for Sikh Nation based on a militant purity of the temporal power. Indian army attacked the terrorists, who had barricaded themselves in the Golden Temple (the Holiest site) in Amritsar, killing Saint Bhandrawala. Indira Gandhi the Indian Prime Minister was gunned downed by her Sikh bodyguards in a revenge attack. The “secular” Indian Congress unleashed its thugs on innocent Sikh populations in a rage of communal rioting. Pakistan’s Islamist dictatorship helped Sikh Khalistani youth to train in the military style camps for terrorist activities within India.

The policy was reversed after a meeting between the Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi. Allegedly (he denies it) Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan (then Law minister and currently a Civil Rights campaigner) supplied (the Indian government with) the list containing the names of thousands of Khalistani terrorists. Indian government crushed the Sikh rebellion with an “Iron Fist”. The current population of “United” (Indian and Pakistani) Punjab is 54% Muslim, 19% Sikhs, 3% Christians and the rest Hindus and Dalits (low caste untouchables).

In 1990s Sikh political parties started their peaceful re-engagement with Indian state and constitution. Military recruitment was used for cementing the loyalty to Indian nationalism. Punjab is considered the “Bread Basket” of India after a “Green revolution” in agriculture. Jat Sikh farmers are one of the most prosperous agrarian communities in India. Unemployment in the young graduates increases the skilled and the unskilled migration to Europe and North America. Today the youth are more concerned with the Bhangra music, universities, outsourcing and the Silicon Valley visas (of future) than the religious militancy (of yesteryears).

Across the “Berlin Wall” of Punjab, the Muslim Punjabi  youth still suffer  from the religious militancy, puritanical suffocation and tribal orthodoxy which used to be the hallmark of Sikh youth in 1980s.The expulsion of Sikh families from the North Western  Pushtun areas has heightened the ethnic tensions between Pushtuns(Afghan and tribal Pakistani) and Punjabis(Sikh  Indians  and Muslim Pakistanis).Last week the ethnic tensions between Pushtuns  and other ethnic  groups (Indian refugees, Punjabi Christians, Baloch) resulted in rioting in the Pakistani mega-polis of Karachi.

The eminent election of Hindu-Sikh fundamentalist alliance will have an effect on the peace efforts between two Punjabs. What path, will the united Punjabi culture take in a globalised world of migration, media and internet? Will it be Meeri or Peeri, Remains to be seen?


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4 responses to “Miri or Piri.Reclaiming Punjabi Identity

  1. Hayyer 48

    Miri and Piri-leaders of thesecular and the sacred respectively. The concept was first enunciated by the 6th guru, Hargobind when he donned two swords, explaining they represented his secular and religious authority over the Sikh community.
    It was the start of the problem that Sikh clergy, mainly the Akali Dal (through its control of the Akal Takht in the Golden Temple) stating that there is no division between their religious authority and their right to instruct Sikhs on matters of governance and society.
    Just a few clarifications below to a well written piece on Sikhs in general-though I am no expert in Sikhism or Sikh history.
    Sikhism is the creed laid down by Nanak, the first guru. It says that there is one god who is timeless and formless and is the creator of all. All humans are equal and god is everywhere.
    Nothing substantial was added to this creed by any of the other gurus except the last Gobind who gave some adherents of the faith an external form which now distinguishes practitioners of the faith and morphed Sikh society into its present aspect.
    All Sikhs are not Khalsa. You need not be a Singh with long hair and a turban to be a Sikh. The Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee controlled by the Akali Dal doesn’t like that and insists that only Sikhs baptized as the Khalsa with unshorn beards and hair (so called Amritdhari Sikhs) can be called Sikhs.
    Belief in one god is not necessarily borrowed from Islam. There was and is an independent trait of montheism within Hindu philosophy just as there is a an atheist school. The Bhakti movement dating from some centuries before Nanak was also monotheistic. Nanak was in the Bhakti tradition.
    It is not commonly known that there are actually two granths in Sikhism. The Adi Granth is the Sikh scripture which the Sikhs pay obeisance to as a continuing guru, and the Dasam granth. This latter granth is supposed to have been written by Gobind and is not venerated generally by Sikhs because it is not considered authentic.
    In the prevailing atmosphere in India it has become impossible to write or say anything about anything of a religious, linguistic or cultural nature without fear of provoking mobs on the streets. This applies to Islam, Hinduism and the Sikhs equally. Since the 80s the Akal Takht has become a sort of thought police for Sikhs and threatens dire punishment for any view that differs from its official stance.
    While Sikhism does not believe in caste and advocates the equality of man, in practice caste has never been eliminated, even by the Gurus themselves. The gurus never married their offspring into non khatri families.
    Gobing Singh did not die in battle. He was stabbed by an Afghan in his own camp when he was travelling to the Deccan to meet Aurangzeb, who had died in the interim.
    While Sikhs and Muslims are supposed to be historical enemies this is disputed by modern historians as a false interpretation by colonial historians. For example it is now stated that Jehangir had Arjan Dev put to death because he was trying to establish a separate state within a state. But the actual mischief is ascribed to a Hindu notable who aroused the Mughal Governor of Lahore against him because Arjan Dev had refused to marry his son the the former’s daughter. Sikh Gurus had taken sides in armed revolts by the Mughal emperor’s sons against their fathers; they thus attracted imperial wrath.
    Teg Bahadur the 9th guru died for his faith because he was executed by Aurangzed on refusing to change it; yet the complex history behind it is not generally known.
    Surprisingly even the slaying of Gobind Singh’s minor sons by the Sirhind Governor is said to have been insisted upon by the Hindu Dewan, reportedly a Kashmiri.
    This provoked the real animosity by Sikhs which led to the razing of Sirhind and the killing of all its inhabitants by Banda Bahadur, hitherto a peaceful Bairagi.
    Gobind Singh was a friend of the Aurangzebs son Bahadur Shah who became emperor after him, and they went hunting together.
    It was only when Mughal authority waned in North India that Sikhs came into open conflict with the succesive Governors of Lahore and with Abdalli himself after his nine invasions of India. This was when conflict with Muslim authority started. Banda was the first of the Sikhs to begin a campaign of revenge.
    In the 20th century Sikhs became anti British not just because of the Ghaddarite movement. Their real conflict began over control over the Gurdwaras which were run by pro British mahants and the Chief Khalsa Diwan a collection of Sikh toadies. The Akali movement began as a peaceful protest was brutally surpressed, but the Akalis eventually succeeded.
    Sikh terrorism of the 80s is a complex phenomenon with a varied history. The main culprit was the Congress under Giani Zail Singh. I used to know someone who was an eyewitness to Bhindrawale being a visitor to Indira Gandhi’s official residence in Delhi.
    Sikh separatism is dead and forgotten. It had much to do with Congress power politics and Akali shortsightedness. As for the Sikhs themselves-I think they will all migrate to Canada and elsewhere.

  2. Rashid

    Hazrat Baba Guru Nanak

    Being a Muslim, i believe Hazrat Baba Guru Nanak was a Muslim.
    On this subject founder of Ahmadiyya Movement and members of his movement held him in high respect and wrote books in this regard. Here are links to few such book:

    1)Hazrat Baba Nanak Sahib ka Mazhab:
    by Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam Lahore


    2) Sat Buchan:
    by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian


  3. Dear Hayyer 48
    Thanks for a relevant and timly addition to my piece. yes I omitted some detailed detailed analysis due to lack of time and space.

    your words are very “Prophetic” given the recent killing of a low caste Guru saint in a Vienna Gurudawara,and how it inflamed the supposedly “Peaceful” sikh Jatts and Dalits.
    I am writing another piece on religious fundamentalist in Europe, it has the Islamists,the VHP Jan Sang and the Khalistanis all included.

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