Book Review

Title: Sikh Itihas Mein Shri Ram Janmabhoomi
Author: Rajendra Singh
Publisher: Bharat-Bharati (Voice of India)
Date: 1991

(Reviewed by M. Shreenivas Somayaji)

In his autobiography Bachitra Natak, Shri Guru Govind Singh Dev has claimed that he was a descendant of Lord Rama's younger son Lava, and that Guru Nanak Dev was a descendant of Lord Rama's elder son Kusha (2/18-34, 2/52, 4/1-10 and 5/1-10). This statement is confirmed in several other authentic source-books of Sikhism. One would thus think that the birthplace of Lord Rama is a matter of deep significance to the Sikh Panth, and that the links of the Sikh tradition to the other Vaishnava traditions are very strong.

That is indeed the case, as a perusal of the book "Sikh Itihas Mein Shri Ramjanmabhoomi" will reveal. This important book by the Sikh scholar Rajendra Singh has not been given the attention it richly deserves, because a segment of Indian scholarship, namely the Westernized elite, either does not read Hindi, or has deliberately chosen to ignore Rajendra Singh's work. The reasons behind this neglect should be clear from the following excerpt from the preface of the book, which is probably the best introduction to the book itself:

"Today the Sikh Panth is in the grips of a crisis, whose root cause is the ongoing struggle within the Sikh psyche. This struggle is between two distinct traditions. The first of these traditions is the one which was inaugurated by Shri Guru Nanak Dev and which attained great glory under Shri Guru Govind Singh. The second tradition was initiated by an English scholar McCauliffe.

"The basis of the tradition established by Shri Guru Nanak Dev is the Sanatana Dharma of India. The Guru had preached the message of Sanatana Dharma in the language of the masses, in order to raise the flagging spirits of Hindu society in a Punjab relentlessly overrun by Muslim invaders. The nectar-laden words of the nine Gurus who followed were also expressions of Sanatana Dharma. Every verse of the Shri Adi Granth is testimony to this fact.

"The stream of thought imposed on the Sikh Panth by McCauliffe is based on the psychology of prophetic faiths which have never been, and never shall be, in accord with Sanatana Dharma. If the ill-intentioned attempt to mould the Sikh Panth in accordance with the dictates of prophetic faiths will continue, the essence of the Panth will be lost, even though the externalities and peripherals may survive.

"In this book we cannot go into the reasons why Macauliffe's tradition was accepted by certain modern Sikh scholars and leaders, and why this tradition flourished. That will require a detailed work of history in itself. Suffice it to say that this new tradition was adopted and nourished by that segment of Sikh society which betrayed the Sikh kingdom established in the Punjab by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, and which went over to the side of British imperialism. In time, this segment organized Singh Sabhas and the Khalsa Diwan, and spread propaganda against Sanatana Dharma and its vehicle, Hindu society. Sustained and empowered by British imperialism, this propaganda was widely accepted, and partially successful. This propaganda is the cause of the crisis looming over the Sikh Panth today.

"The ties that bind the Sikh Panth and the rest of Hindu society are strong and deep-rooted. These ties are largely intact despite widespread and long-standing propaganda. However if this propaganda is to be foiled, now is the time for such Sikh scholars who consider Sanatana Dharma as the lifeblood of the Sikh Panth to speak up.

"There are many Sikh scholars who understand that Macauliffe's legacy has poisoned the mind of the Sikh Panth. Rajendra Singh is one such scholar. He has made a deep study of the established source-books of Sikh tradition. He has restored the image of Bhagavan Shri Ram to its proper place of veneration in the Sikh tradition. The Rama of the Shri Adi Granth is the same Rama that Valmiki introduced as the son of Dasharatha, husband of Sita and King of Ayodhya."

The book takes the reader through a large slice of medieval Indian history beginning with the life of Guru Nanak Dev ji and culminating in the liberation of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir by Guru Govind Singh ji. The life of the first, ninth and tenth Gurus is discussed in detail. The misrule of Babur (who was responsible for the destruction of the temple) and that of Aurangzeb (who thwarted numerous Hindu attempts at regaining the temple) are also closely examined.

The author Rajendra Singh has not restricted himself to the scriptural evidence from the Guru Granth, though he rightly draws upon it as his primary source. He has quoted widely from Muslim chronicles such as Maasir-i-Alamgiri, Tuzk-i-Sikandari, Tuzk-i-Babri and Tarikh-i-Daoudi. He uses the work of many Sikh poets and historians as an aid to understanding the Guru Bani.

The Pothi literature abounds with details of Guru Nanak's pilgrimages all over India (including places like Puri and Rameshwaram), the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur and the preparations made by Dashmesh Shri Guru Govind Singh for the final showdown with Aurangzeb. The author has made skillful use of these details to produce a work which is encyclopedic in its scope, and yet is eminently readable.

A work of scholarship on such a controversial subject cannot but contain many surprises. For instance, those who think of the Sikh Panth as a synthesis between Hinduism and Islam will probably be shocked to find Guru Nanak ji Himself claiming that the Kali Yuga was ushered in into India with the advent of Islam, in the poem "Makke-Madine di Goshti". In the same poem, the Guru refers to the Sufis Moinuddin Chishti (of Ajmer) and Shah Madar (of Makanpur) as imposters who were leading Hindus astray with the intention of converting them.

The Sikh Panth was largely a Vaishnava movement (as confirmed by Bhai Mani Singh, a direct disciple of the Tenth Guru, in his Pothi Janam Sakhi). That did not however prevent Guru Nanak Dev from worshiping at the Shiva temples at Kashi and Rameshwaram; nor did it prevent Guru Govind Singh ji from performing his Shakti Yajna in the temple of Naina Devi.

The deep interconnections of the Sikh Panth with other formulations of Sanatana Dharma are confirmed time and time again in the authentic source-books of Sikhism. Bhatt Kavi Kal in his "Sevaiyas" claims that Guru Nanak ji was an avatar of Vishnu. In his own autobiography entitled Bachitra Natak, the Tenth Guru claims that he entered his body (as yet unborn) during his parents' pilgrimage to the holy city of Prayag. The poet Virsingh Bal describes the rousing welcome to Ayodhya given to Guru Govind Das in his poem "Singh Sagar". Even as a boy, the Tenth Guru had been recognized as the future liberator of the holy site. Kavi Koirsingh Kalal describes the beauty of the city of Ayodhya, enhanced by the presence of Guru Gobind (here called Jagannath) in his poem Guru Bilas Patshahi. Finally, the author cites many works of the Tenth Guru himself -- Ramavatar, Krishnavatar, Chandi Charit, Var Durga Ki, to name a few. Any comments by the reviewer would be superfluous.

Rajendra Singhji discusses the Tenth Guru's famous Shakti Yajna (to invoke the grace of Goddess Bhavani in fighting with "Daityas"-the demonic invaders of that age). He provides valuable information about Guru Govind's famous poem Ugradanti. Among other things, it contains the celebrated quote: Sakal Jagat Mo Khalsa Panth Gajai, Jagai Dharam Hindu, Turuk Dund Bhajai; Haman Bairian Ka-u Pakad Ghaat Kijai, Tabhi Das Govind Kaa Man Patijai. The reviewer is forced to postpone the exact details from the chapter "Mukti-Sangram ka Samarambh" for another article.

Rajendra Singh's book offers the added advantage of an all-India perspective on Indian history. Modern historians have all too frequently painted a picture of a history of Hindu-Muslim collaborations in building regional empires. The example of the Rajputs fighting for the Mughals is often held up to attention. Rajendra Singh points out that even as Mirza Raja Jaisingh fought the Marathas under Shivaji, his wife Pushpa Devi donated the land on which Guru Tegh Bahadur would establish his base, and which later became known as Anandpur Sahib. Jaisingh's son helped Shivaji escape from Aurangzeb's clutches and fell into disfavor with the Badshah. Rajendra Singh makes interesting points which call into question the Nehruvian version of Indian history, and shows that it would be more accurate to say that in the medieval period, a Sword of Damocles hung over the heads of Hindu leaders and noblemen, exacting obedience and punishing them.

The historian at the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Gyani Gyansingh, has named the Marathas under Shivaji in the south, the Pandaras in the east, the Rajputs in the west, Chatrasal of Bundelkhand, and the Ninth Guru as warriors of the same pan-Indian War of Liberation (Sri Guru Panth Prakash, Purvardh). Finally Rajendra Singh narrates the story of Baba Vaishnavadas's appeal to Shri Guru Govind Das to liberate the birthplace of Lord Rama. Baba Vaishnavadas was a disciple of Samarth Ramdas (Shivaji's Guru) who had raised an army of Chimta-dhari Sannyasis. His repeated attempts to liberate the site had not met with success. The Guru accepted his invitation and arrived in Ayodhya via Prayag. Baba Vaishnavadas was finally successful in liberating the holy site, with the eighteen-year old Guru at the helm. This is recorded in the Alamgir-Nama.

Rajendrasingh's book "Sikh Itihas Mein Shri Ram Janmabhoomi" published in 1991, was as timely as it was educative. In spite of being packed with details, it holds the reader's attention without effort. It will certainly command a wide readership.

Copies of the book may be purchased from:
Voice of India
2/18 Ansari Road,
Daryaganj,
New Delhi 110002,
India

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