Name: A History of the Sikhs Volume 1 1469-1839
Author: Khushwant Singh
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Edition / Impression / Year of Publication: Second Edition / Twenty-five impression / 2017
Cover Visual: Wellcome Library, London
It would not be an exaggeration to say that A History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh is the most authoritative work available in the market that despite enriching the reader of the historical roots of the recently born religion, also delves into its cultural, social and political aspects.
Singh, a prolific writer, and a well-known journalist have done a remarkable job by writing such an elaborate account of the Sikh History in his two Volume master research work, A History of the Sikhs. Alternative scholarly works on Sikhism were also available like Captain Joseph Davey Cunningham‘s History of the Sikhs published in 1849 but time necessitated a more updated and contemporary version for the modern reader since much has become the part of Sikh History since then and the whole Sikh community has gone through a reformatory phase.
A History Of The Sikhs, despite its immense scholarship and research, is written with such lucidity that it becomes approachable and readable even to the nonscholarly public. The combined work of Volume 1 and Volume 2 is an effort put in by the author to introduce the reader to the inception of Sikh community to the present day scenario of the Sikhs.
A History Of The Sikhs Volume 1 starts off with the religious movement initiated by Guru Nanak, that stressed upon the commonalities between the Hindu and Muslim religious views. The teachings of Nanak and the succeeding Guru‘s paved the way for the religious movement to transform itself into an independent religious community.
The Adi Granth is the compilation of all the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, from its founder Nanak to Gobind Singh, the last Sikh Guru. The teachings that one finds in the Adi Granth is not limited to the sayings and writings of the Sikh Gurus alone but also within it are located the beautiful and mesmerizing sutras of Hindu and Muslim saints and mystics that makes the Sikh community a unique blend of different religious viewpoints and otherwise independent spiritual flavors.
Singh introduces the reader to the reformatory phase where the whole of Sikh community whose foundation is kept upon the peaceful teachings of Nanak ended up giving birth to the new community, which was later to be called Khalsa, the pure one. Gobind Rai, now popularly known as Gobind Singh has written in Zafarnama, a letter sent to Aurangzeb after the Battle of Chamkaur, ‘When all avenues have been explored, all means tried, it is rightful to draw the sword out of the scabbard and wield it with your hand.’
The taking up of the sword must not be misinterpreted as the becoming of a pacifist religion into a militant one. Gobind Rai was well aware of the peaceful missions of Nanak and his successors but also upon him was the responsibility towards his whole community. It was not just the Sikh community he was representing, but he was also there against the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who was using his force to impose his religion upon the Hindus.
Gobind Singh was nine when he cremated his father’s severed head. Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, was approached by a group of Hindus who were being forced by the Mughal forces to convert their religion to Islam. Teg Bahadur asked them to convey the message to the Mughals that if they succeeded in converting him, the whole community would follow. To this, they agreed, and Teg Bahadur soon went to Delhi where he denied renouncing his faith and as a consequence of which he was tortured brutally and inhumanely to the point of his eventual death by beheading.
Guru Gobind wrote in his autobiography, a part of Bichitra Natak, ‘I came into the world charged with the duty to uphold the right in every place, to destroy sin and evil. O ye holy men, know it well in your hearts that the only reason I took birth was to see that righteousness may flourish; that the good may live and tyrants be torn out by their roots.’
The book also tells of the rise and the fall of Banda Singh Bahadur, a pacifist peaceful renunciant, born of Rajput parents who later changed his religion and formed one of the most devastating armies that stood against the Mughal Empire and destroyed its very foundations that it never could recover. In a separate episode, Singh introduces the reader to the other most prominent figure of the Sikh History, Ranjit Singh, his struggles, conquests, and his establishment of an independent and secular Sikh state.
Volume 1 The History Of The Sikhs begins with the birth of Guru Nanak, in 1469 and ends with the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839. Another distinctive attribute of the book that the reader might find appealing is the section of Appendices at the end of the book where one would find a compilation of the excerpts from The Adi Granth of all the ten Sikh Gurus.