The Bhagats of the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Self-Definition and the Bhagat Bani)

Item Code: NAG427
Author: Pashaura Singh
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 9780195662696
Pages: 228
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 430 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Sikh Self-Definition and the Bhagat Bani

In this insightful new study, Pashaura Singh explores the interaction between early Sikhism and other religious movements in the Punjab, focusing in particular on those saints from the devotional tradition who find a place in the Guru Granth Sahib.


Pashaura Singh examines the impact of Sufi tradition in the Punjab by studying the Sikh Gurus' responses to the work of Shaikh Farid. He considers Kabir and the Sant tradition of northern India and also focuses on the Vaishnava Bhakti tradition as represented by various bhagats ('devotees'). Finally, the author discusses the status of the Bhagat Bani ('Utterances of the Bhagats') within the Sikh tradition and its tremendous influence on the people of Punjab.


The Bhagat Bani provides an excellent example of scriptural adaptation in a cross-cultural spirit, offering a deeper understanding of religious pluralism and new answers to the basic question of who we are and what we do as a faith community. This lucid and engaging volume will be read with great interest by scholars and students of religious, scriptural, and Sikh studies, as well as general readers interested in Sikhism.


About the Author


Pashaura Singh is Assistant Professor of Sikh Studies and Punjabi Language at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA. He is the author of The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning and Authority (OUP, 2000) and has co-edited Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change (1999)




It is a particular pleasure to be invited to write a foreword to Professor Pashaura Singh's The Bhagats of the Guru Granth Sahib. Two reasons account for this. The first is that Pashaura Singh has established himself as the leading scholar in the field of Adi Granth studies. This is no idle comment. Pashaura Singh brought to his work a background of thorough training in Adi Granth studies from Gurmat College, Patiala, and from 1973 until 1980 he was Head of the Divinity Department of the Guru Harkrishan Public School in New Delhi. From there he was invited to Calgary as Granthi of the gurdwara and journeyed there in 1980. While in Calgary he returned to university to pursue an MA. He then joined the University of Toronto where I had the privilege of supervising his Ph.D. studies. From there he proceeded to his first academic appointment at the University of Michigan, and after co-editing and contributing to two valuable collections on Sikh Studies, his first major work appeared in 2000.


It was this work which propelled him to the front rank of Adi Granth scholars. Entitled The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning and Authority, it was a major work, covering with great knowledge and skill all important aspects of the sacred scripture of the Sikhs. In it Pashaura Singh brought together his years of training, both traditional and strictly academic, and complemented them with a genuine faith as a loyal member of the Khalsa. He now adds to The Guru Granth Sahib this second publication, based upon the extensively-revised work which he undertook for his MA studies. This work takes one component of the Adi Granth and deals with it in much greater detail than was possible in the earlier more comprehensive book.


The second reason for the pleasure of writing this foreword is that it provides me with an opportunity to say publicly how much I admire Pashaura Singh for the courage he has shown while confronting the extreme opposition that greeted the completion of his Ph.D. studies and the illegal circulation of numerous copies of his thesis. As was proper for a Ph.D. thesis Pashaura Singh had followed strictly academic criteria in his study of the Adi Granth. His approach greatly alarmed many conservative members of his own community and serious attempts were made to compel him to withdraw certain features of the thesis. In spite of the vehemence and hostility of these attacks Pashaura Singh did not give way, and stood by his courage and a firm conviction that his approach had very sound underpinnings. He agreed to appear before Akal Takhat in Amritsar and apologized for any distress that his scholarship may have caused, but he did not agree to amend any part of that scholarship other than what was proven to be incorrect. The pressure to renounce his views was exceedingly intense, but Pashaura Singh refused to buckle under it.


The Bhagats of the Guru Grantli Sahib is a very useful supplement to his previous book. It has my warm approval and I wish it every success.


Preface and Acknowledgements


This study seeks to address three questions closely related to the process of scriptural adaptation in the Adi Granth: How was the Bhagat Bani collected and canonized in the Adi Granth? Why did certain hymns of the poet-saints of Sant, Sufi and Bhakti origin receive direct comments from the Sikh Gurus? What is the status of the Bhagat Bani in the Sikh scriptural tradition?


I first encountered the issues related to the Bhagat Bani in the Sikh scripture at Guru Nanak Institute, Gurmat College, Patiala, where I had the privilege of attending the late Dr Sahib Sahib Singh's lectures on these issues during my training for the Master's degree in Religious Studies. Those years (1971-3) constituted the most productive period of my graduate work since we had the unique opportunity to listen to the views of such distinguished scholars as DrTaran Singh, Professor Harbans Singh, Dr Ganda Singh, Principal Satbir Singh, Giani Lal Singh, Professor Piara Singh Padam, Dr Avtar Singh, Professor Gurbachan Singh Talib, Dr L.M. Joshi (Buddhism), Dr M.P. Christan and (Christianity) and some others. Frequently, we had visiting scholars from other universities. One such visitor was Professor W.H. McLeod who gave us a talk on the historical approach he adopted in his work Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (1968) in 1973. At that time we were more fascinated by his interest in the area of Sikh studies than by his critique of the hagiographical janam-sakhis ('birth narratives').

After completing my degree I joined Guru Harkrishan Public School, New Delhi as the Head of Divinity Department. This school was the most prestigious Sikh institution in the capital of India. It was here that I met a Canadian Sikh visitor, Dr Gurcharanjit Singh Attariwala, Board of Trustees of Sikh Society, Calgary, in December 1979. The Calgary Sikh community had built their first beautiful gurdwara, the Guru Nanak Centre, by that time. The Sikh Society invited Professor W.H. McLeod to inaugurate the gurdwara on the Baisakhi of 1979. Their aim in inviting a Western scholar of Sikh Studies from New Zealand was to build a positive image of the Sikhs in the host society. Dr McLeod inspired the Sikh community to work for the establishment of a Chair of Sikh Studies at a Canadian university. He assured them that this kind of programme would give academic respectability to the Sikh tradition within the academy and remove the prevailing ignorance about the Sikhs in a larger social context.


The Sikh community of Calgary was looking for an educated Sikh Granthi ('Reader') and teacher. Dr Attariwala approached me through a personal friend and made the following proposal: 'We need an educated Granthi who is well versed in Sikh scriptures. We will help him study at the University of Calgary in addition to his priestly responsibilities at the Guru Nanak Centre. As part of his duties he will teach the Punjabi language and Sikh religion at the Guru Nanak school, organize Sikh Youth camps in summer to pass on Sikh heritage to the new generation of Canadian-born Sikhs, visit hospitals to meet Sikh patients and participate in inter-faith dialogues. Occasionally, he will also visit the Police Academy in Calgary to teach the Police officers about Sikh traditions and culture.' I accepted the position and laid down my own conditions. The Sikh Society, Calgary, invited me on the Baisakhi of 1980 with my wife and two children. I had multifarious duties and activities at the Guru Nanak Centre. Mrs Gurdev K Attariwala took me to the University of Calgary and introduced me to Dr Harold G. Coward, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies. Dr Coward immediately encouraged me to start taking up courses in religious studies on a part-time basis. I was exposed to both Eastern and Western religious traditions, including various methodologies of studying religion. Eventually, I was accepted in the graduate programme of the department and schooled in the application of modern historical and literary critical methodologies.


The initial project of the study of the issues related to the Bhagat Bani was taken up as a Master's thesis under the supervision of Dr Ronald W. Neufeldt. Indeed, it was a great privilege to have him as my first mentor at the University of Calgary. Being a superb teacher he, carefully and with great sensitivity, guided me through every phase of that project. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to him, I acknowledge it with warmest thanks. I am also grateful to Dr Harold Coward and Dr Inder Nath Kher for their interest in the original project and their willingness to serve on my thesis committee. In fact, Professor Harbans Singh, the then Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Sikh ism, read the thesis proposal very carefully and provided great encouragement in the initial stage of the project: 'As far as I know, the Bhagat Bani has not been studied by anyone in the frame you have set yourself. Relating the study to the issue of Sikh self-definition was, I thought, a very original idea. I am quite convinced that this should prove a very interesting piece of work and an original contribution to Sikh learning' (Personal communication, 3 December 1985).


The present work is, however, much extended and a highly revised version of the two original chapters on Shaikh Farid and Kabir. During the interim years my thinking has become much more crystallized on the subject. I have also added three entirely new chapters to update the research in the field, and cast the enquiry within the theoretical framework of pluralism.


It was a rare privilege to have Professor W.H. McLeod as the supervisor of my doctoral work at the University of Toronto. Since then I have worked with him closely on a number of research projects. He went through the manuscript of The Bhagats of the Guru Granth Sahib very carefully and provided me with valuable feedback. In addition, he very generously agreed to write a foreword to the book. I am profoundly grateful to him for his time and effort, and the words of encouragement. Special thanks are due to Professor . Gerald Barrier who read the final draft of this study and agreed to write the blurb for the jacket. Professors Joseph T. O'Connell and Himadri Banerjee read the earlier drafts of Chapter 4 on Jaidev and offered their stimulating feedback. I am obliged to them for their comments that helped me improve the critical appraisal of Jaidev's work. I am also grateful to the two anonymous referees of this study for offering their critical comments and encouragement.


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