How the British Sabotaged Sikhism #380

How did Sikhism go from Nanak to Bhindranwale? It is a story of how the British sabotaged Sikhism while destroying its keepers. A fascinating tale.

How the British Sabotaged Sikhism #380
Photo by Sarbjit Singh / Unsplash
Maharaja Ranjit Singh with wives / Wikicommons
“Luck, you see, brings bitter friends.” ― John Steinbeck, The Pearl

For a spiritual seeker, it is a matter of great amusement to see words and sharings of beings like Krishnamurti, Osho, and Ramana Maharishi being sold via copyrights.

Those who pushed humanity for the ultimate liberation have their own words caged behind the bars of profit-making enterprises by over-zealous "followers".

And, these are the lazy folks in the world of profit-making from spiritual work.

The masters are the ones who spawn an entire belief system.

A cut here, a dissection there, with interpretations galore. A narrative is crafted and fashioned.

It has no relation to the original master. But who cares?

The spiritual masters whose words have to be caged to weaponize one's power ambitions were a convenient mascot to start with.

So retain him and his carefully created avatar. Quite like the ones you see AI apps churn out these days.

Once the structures are in place, then the powerful can exercise their hate lawfully.

With a divine veil to go with it.

That is the story of how humanity went from Nanak to Bhindranwale.

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The History of Khalistan Part 1: #377
Khalistan terror was a perfect storm created by the US administration, Pakistan, and the Congress Party. It engulfed India and the world in many ways. It is raising its head again. This is the first of the two-part series on the history and impact of Khalistan.
The History of Khalistan Part 2: Neo-Sikhism to Terror #378
The path, Panth, of the Gurus, was fashioned into a rigid belief system called Sikhhism of today in 19th and the 20th century. Khalistani terror and extremism is its natural offspring. A detailed treatise on the history of Khalistan

Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the end of Sikh Royalty

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born on Tuesday, November 13th, 1780 at Gujranwala. He was named Budh Singh. His father Maha Singh was returning from a battle he had won against the Chatthas on Jhelum. When he heard of his newborn son, he changed his name to Ranjit Singh. The winner of battles.

He succeeded his father at age 12 when he died.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh became the ruler of Punjab at age 21. He had lost his eye to smallpox during infancy but that did not stop him from displaying his valor. Punjab was divided into 13 confederacies or misls. 12 were ruled by Sikhs and one by Muslims.

Ranjit Singh from the Sukerchakia misl rose above all to become the most famous ruler that Punjab was to see.

While the Sikh and Hindu historians have eulogized him as some kind of Saint, virtuous and patriotic, the Muslims have been very critical and run him down. British, as is their wont, have used the works of Muslim historians and then added their colonial lens to portray him as some kind of a scheming and cunning person. “Wily Oriental” as they would say.

Who was Maharaja Ranjit Singh really?

Khushwant Singh described the Maharaja of Punjab in his book "Ranjit Singh" this way.

Source: Ranjit Singh by Khushwant Singh

His rule saw the rise of the Sikh army which included even Europeans. Investments were made in rebuilding the Gurudwaras - Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Takht Sri Patna Sahib, and Hazur Saheb in Nanded (Maharashtra).

He had 9 sons - three of them were of slave girls.

The last Maharaja was Duleep Singh (also spelled as Dalip Singh).

Duleep Singh took the throne at age of 5 in September 1843. Actually, it was his mother, Maharani Jind Kaur who was really ruling on his behalf.

The first Anglo-Sikh War was fought in December 1845 and after the British won, Maharaja Duleep Singh was retained as a nominal ruler.

After the second Anglo-Sikh War where the British annexed Punjab, Duleep Singh, then 10, was deposed. He was sent from Lahore to Fatehgarh and no Indians were allowed to meet him.

The British wanted to anglicize him in every way. Thus breaking him away from his very roots.

In 1853, Duleep Singh converted to Christianity at the age of 15. This was done via Bhajan Lal, himself a convert. Governor General Lord Dalhousie orchestrated it.

In May 1854, he was later sent into exile in Britain. In Britain, he was in the British court with Queen Victoria showering her love. She called him the "Black Prince".

He had 6 kids with Bamba Müller, born to a German father and Ethiopian mother, and brought up by Christian missionaries.

  • Prince Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh (10 Jan 1866-7 Jun 1918)
  • Prince Frederick Victor Duleep Singh (23 Jan 1868-15 Aug 1926)
  • Princess Bamba Sofia Jindan Duleep Singh (29 Sep 1869-10 Mar 1957)
  • Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh[35] (27 Oct 1871-8 Nov 1942)
  • Princess Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh (8 Aug 1876-22 Aug 1948)
  • Prince Albert Edward Alexander Duleep Singh (1879-1 May 1893)

He married Ada Douglas Wetherill in 1889 and had two kids.

  • Princess Pauline Alexandra Duleep Singh (26 Dec 1887-10 Apr 1941)
  • Princess Ada Irene Beryl Duleep Singh (25 Oct 1889-14 Sep 1926)

All eight kids of Maharaja Duleep Singh died without legitimate children. Thus ended the lineage of Sikh Royalty.

The clan of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was completely finished.

Revival of Sikhism

After the second Anglo-Sikh War victory, the British started aggressively using missionaries to convert Punjab. In a short span of time, the Christian population in Pujab grew from 4000 in 1881 to over 300,000 in 1921.

Source: The Sikhs of the Punjab / JS Grewal

Not only did Maharaja Ranjit Singh's son convert to Christianity, but even Harnam Singh, a member of the Kapurthala royal family and direct descendant of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (reportedly born via blessings of Guru Gobind Singh to his parents). In fact, Harnam Singh was the first president of the All India Conference of Indian Christians.

Source: Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair 

The British bureaucracy in Punjab included English-speaking Bengalis, who were members of the Brahmo Samaj sect. They had set up branches in Punjab in the 1860s. Also at the same time, the Muslims had created Anjuman-i-Islamia and started proselytizing amongst the Sikhs. Similarly, the Ahmadiyah movement also started expanding and tried to convert the Sikhs.

It was in this background, that Sikhs wanted to create a revival of Sikhism.

The Gurudwaras were controlled by the British via Mahants who had been gifted lands and wealth. The British had banned the carrying of weapons in order to disarm the Sikhs.

So, disarming the warrior Sikhs, control of the Gurudwaras, and rising challenges from religious conversions - served as the biggest factors that contributed to the fears amongst Sikhs.

But this was not the only concern. In those days, the Nirankari movement had also started with Baba Dyal Das. as had the Namdhari movement. Namdhari group - or Kukas - was part of the Sikh group but had different practices and beliefs.

Now Namdharis under Baba Ram Singh were seen as loyal to the armies that fought the first war of India's independence in 1857 against the British.

The Sikhs on the other hand showed loyalty to the British.

Source: Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair 

So, one of the concerns amongst the Sikhs was to undo the damage that Namdharis were doing in terms of perception by the British.

On October 1st, 1873, Thakur Singh Sandhawalia, Khem Singh Bedi, Avtar Singh Vahiria, and Giani Gian Singh founded the Singh Sabha of Amritsar as a response to these challenges. They were considered to be traditionalist elites. In fact, they were even considered to be the descendants of the early Sikh Gurus.

In opposition, another model of Singh Sabha emerged in the form of Lahore Singh Sabha. This model was known as the Tat Khalsa. This model took over the Singh Sabhas everywhere. Finally, both models were merged together as Chief Khalsa Diwan (CKD).

Source: Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair 

But were these the only concerns?

Waning Sikhism and the reasons

Not only were there challenges from different quarters to Sikhs, but these challenges manifested in the rapid decline in the numbers as well. The "General report on the administration of the Punjab territories, comprising the Punjab proper and the Cis- and Trans-Sutlej states, for the years 1851-52 and 1852-53" shared information on this.

Source: The General Report on the administration of Punjab Territories (use this link to download the pdf doc)

This decline was also observed in the next General Report from the administration for Punjab in 1854-55.

Source: General Report on the Administration of the Punjab Territories, from 1854-55 to 1855-56

Looking at the language and the overall explanations, one can sense not just the reporting of the numbers but almost a concerted attempt to dissolve Sikhism by the British.

Largely, the confusion amongst the Sikhs came in because of two reasons:

  1. Attempt to divorce Sikhism from its Dharmic spiritual substratum
  2. Forced overlay of Islamic theology and "influence" on Sikh spiritual thought

Both were artificial attempts and in the end, have contributed to a deep spiritual vacuum within Sikhism that is playing havoc with the Sikhs.

Dr. E. Trumpp was a missionary "Indologist" who translated the Adi Granth. His views, though coming from a strict Christian ideology, are quite fascinating. Please read his book here.

About Guru Nanak Dev, for example, Trumpp rejects the notion that Nanak was promoting an independent religious faith. He calls Nanak a "thorough Hindu".

But what about the ideas that people say "came from Islam"?

Per Trumpp, this could have been the work of the Islamists working to carefully put in those ideas within the Sikh thought.

This seems very interesting.

What was essentially a path within the larger Hindu spiritual landscape may have been sabotaged by first the Muslims. And, then later on by the British.

All to serve their own purpose.

Customizing the use of Sikhs

After the Anglo-Sikh wars, the British attempted to curate the Sikh population, thought, and leadership.

In that sense, the Sikh community became allied with British leadership and intelligence.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tens of thousands of Sikhs emigrated from Punjab to Southeast and East Asia to purse a better livelihood. At the same time, the Singh Sabha Movement was gradually gaining momentum in Punjab, strengthening the Sikh identity. Furthermore, Sikh soldiers and policemen were deployed widely in Asia to safeguard the interests of the British Empire. This chapter argues that the three seemingly irrelevant historical events (the modern Sikh diaspora, the Singh Sabha Movement, and the Indian expedition during the Boxer Uprising in China) were essentially interrelated. The convergent point of these moments was the erection of a Sikh temple (gurdwara) on Queen’s Road East, Wanchai, Hong Kong Island, in 1902. Taking this event as a case study, this chapter seeks to explore the Singh Sabha Movement through the lens of the Sikh diasporic network and the imperial network. It also unveils the Indian face of the British Empire by the turn of the twentieth century, when Indians, rather than the British, were the protagonists and engineers. (Source: Erecting a Gurdwara on Queen’s Road East: The Singh Sabha Movement, the Boxer Uprising, and the Sikh Community in Hong Kong)

Sikhs were to be used for the wars that Britain was to fight - in China for the Opium wars, for example.

The British dispatched Sikh regiments to China leading up towards the Opium War, which ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the opening up of Chinese ports to the British. After China's defeat at the hands of the British in the First Opium War (1839-42), the Treaty of Nanking, signed on 29th August 1842, formed the basis for the country's relations with the West for almost a century. As imperial powers carved out the history of Shanghai after the Opium Wars of China in the 1850s, a sizeable part of that history was played out by the Sikh community here. By 1851, another rebellion called the 'Taiping Rebellion' stated against the British and other Europeans and to quell this, the British brought in The Sikh Regiment. The Taiping rebellion was the world's bloodiest civil war. Lasting for 13 years from 1851 to 1864, it nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty and resulted in the death of 20 million people more than the entire population of England at that time. It was also viewed by many historians as a precursor to the Long March and the Cultural Revolution. (Source: Sikhnet)

This was the time when the British had laid the foundation for a Sikh Regiment.

A regiment, that they would use going forward in their endeavor to rule India. Specifically during the first war of India's independence in 1857. The Sikh regiment was instrumental in fighting the Indian side by the British.

The Sikh Regiment came into existence on August 1, 1846, with the raising of Regiment of Ferozepore Sikhs and Regiment of Ludhiana Sikhs by Captain G. Tebbs and Lieutenant Colonel P. Gordon respectively and were used in great effect in the 1857 Indian Rebellion. The outcomes were extremely beneficial for the Sikhs, as their loyalty and fighting tenacity made them the backbone of recruitment for the British Indian Army, which were previously recruited from South Indian regions. In this campaign the Sikhs were awarded their first two battle honours for operations conducted at the siege of Lucknow and the defence of Arrah. In addition the Sikh Regiment were awarded a one rank seniority over other Indian Sepoys and awarded the authorisation to wear the converted red turban (which is still worn by the regiment today) opposed to the standard blue head dress worn by British Indian Army Units at the time. (Source: Sikhs in British Armed Forces / All AboutSikhs)

This is the reason why British intelligence had a special interest in the Sikhs.

SOurce: Secret C.I.D. Memorandum on Recent Developments in Sikh Politics 1911 - Mr. D. Petrie (Annotated by Dr. Ganda Singh)

This ability to use Sikhs while keeping their loyalty, to fighting battles and wars, was in all probability, the reason for the destruction of the entire Sikh royalty and religious heritage.

But there was another game being played here.

Using the Military for the Sikh Extremist Identity

We have seen in the last newsletter about the way Lahore Singh Sabha - or Tat Khalsa - was backed by the British and then two laws were passed to harden the Sikh identity.

  1. Anand Marriage Act of 1909
  2. Sikh Gurudwaras Act of 1925

The latter act was used to define who a Sikh was. Along with the declaration of what it meant to be a Sikh, the baptism ritual of Amrit Sanchar was also added.

The baptism ceremony was to start the disintegration of the Sikhs from Hindus.

And where was this institutionalized?

The British Army.

Not only were the Sikhs being hired into the British Army, but after the complete destruction of Sikh royalty along with Maharaja Ranjit Singh's heritage and the creation of the Lahore and other extremist Singh Sabhas, Sikhs were left with a strong sense of identity crisis.

That is what the writers like Max Macauliffe in association with the British establishment like the Army sought to shape in a way that benefitted British rule.

As Max Macauliffe alludes to in his preface to the first volume, The Sikh Religion Vol I (1909) on page XXV, that the British Army officers commanded the new Sikh recruits to go through a mandatory baptism ceremony as created by the Tat Khalsa.

Another thing these British officers wanted Sikh recruits to do was to keep away from the "contagion of idolatry".

Source: The Sikh Religion Vol I 

Do you see how Sikhs were being radicalized while Sikhism they were being initiated into was being fashioned as a replica of the Abrahamic beliefs?

What we see happening around the world within Sikhism has its background in the British policies and steps taken to create social and spiritual fissures.

More importantly, these gaps were created just as every power that could have challenged British rule and machinations were destroyed (Sikh royalty).

Destroying the credible Sikh powers, collating individuals who were "curated" and developed for a certain narrative, and bribing new generations of Sikhs with careers that took them in the direction of social disintegration is what has manifested in the cult of Khalistan that we see today.

Video Corner: How to Get Killed

Some of the videos from the past are extremely interesting. If not hilarious!

This black & white film military training film titled "How to Get Killed in One Easy Lesson" was created by the Americans and shown to infantry recruits during WWII.

It was part of a series of "Fighting Men" films, designed to reinforce principles taught in field training. In this case, the film focuses on how careless behavior -- leads to death.

Fascinating stuff!

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