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Where do the Sikhs position the Akal Takht Jathedar?

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Archived_Member16, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. Archived_Member16

    Archived_Member16
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    source: South Asia Post

    Where do the Sikhs position the Akal Takht Jathedar?



    Analysis by Jagpal Singh Tiwana


    JATHEDAR Joginder Singh Vedanti resigned from his position as Jathedar of Akal Takht on August 5, 2008. According to Jathedar Vedanti, he was forced to quit by Akali Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's men who are running Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.). The un-ceremonial exit of the Jathedar Vedanti has upset many Sikh bodies and organizations since the position is held in high esteem by Sikhs all over the world. Sometime the Jathedar of the Akal Takht is compared to Pope in Christianity.

    The institution of Akal Takht was started by Guru Hargobind as a political wing of Sikh religion to defend his followers from the tyranny of the rulers of the time. Since its inception in 1606, it has a glorious history and its Jathedar has guided the Sikhs during critical times in the past.

    The position of the Jathedar has evolved since the first quarter of the 17th century when Bhai Gurdas was appointed as the first custodian of Akal Takht called Akal Bunga. Guru Hrgobind used this to take political decisions, issue Hukmanamas and invite his followers to come to the place with arms and horses .The first Hukamnama was issued by the Guru on June 12, 1606 in this context. However, Guru Hargobind had to leave the place in 1634 due to the hostilities of the Mughal rulers and it came in the possession of the Minas, descendants of Prithi Chand. In 1721 Bhai Mani Singh took Harmandir Sahib and Akal Takhat under his control at the behest of Mata Sundri. During the misl period, Sarbat Khalsa used to meet at Akal Takht twice a year on Baisakhi and Diwali days. Historic decisions were taken and strategy was discussed to fight against the Mughal forces and invaders from North-West. Nawab Kapur Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and later Akali Phula Singh were the Jathedars of Akal Takht and guided the panth in the critical times.

    According to H S Dilgeer, "In April 1759 a Hukamnama was issued in the name of the Sarbat Khalsa to all Sikhs to make generous offering for the rebuilding of Darbar Sahib. The seal of Akal Takht was used on the Hukamnama."

    By 1799 Ranjit Singh had captured Lahore and established his rule over central Punjab, yet he was not free from the authority of Akal Takhat. In 1800, Akali Phula Singh took charge of Akal Takhat and conducted its affairs according to Sikh traditions. He even summoned the powerful Maharaja at Akal Takht for having an affair with Moran, a Muslim nautch girl. Ranjit Singh was again punished by Akal Takht Jathedar when he donated a beautiful canopy to Akal Takht after himself using it for some time. In 1805, when Maratha chief Jaswant Rao Holkar came to Punjab to get Ranjit Singh's support against the British, the Sikh Maharaja summoned a meeting of Sarbat Khalsa at the Akal Takht to take a collective decision. This was perhaps the last time when he sought the advice of Sarbat Khalsa. After that he started making his own decisions by consulting his Sikh, Hindu and Muslim ministers and advisors. We don't find much activity at Akal Takht till British took over Punjab in mid 19th century.

    Under the British, Akal Takht Jathedar or custodian gradually started asserting his authority. To start with, Sanatani Sikhs who believed that Sikhism was part of Hinduism were in control of Darbar Sahib. They, however, came in clash with radical reformers of Lahore Singh Sabha who were determined to free Sikhism from Hindu influence. Since the Sanatani Sikhs had control of Akal Takht and other Takhts, they issued a Hukamnama on 14 March, 1887 excommunicating Prof. Gurmukh Singh, Secretary of Lahore Singh Sabha. Though it was issued by pro Hindu Sanatani Sikhs, it still had some force and sanctity and it affected Gurmukh Singh’s standing in Sikh community. Despite this Gurmukh Singh did not look back or apologized. However, after 108 years, the hukamnama against Prof. Gurmukh Singh was specifically withdrawn by the World Sikh Convention held in Amritsar in 1995, presided over by acting Akal Takht Jathedar, Manjit Singh.

    Role of Jathedat Akal Takht after 1920

    Strictly a manager or a custodian in charge of Akal Takht was not called Jathedar before 20th century. Actually, the title of Jathedar of Akal Takht came into being in 1920. The Khalsa Biradari of lower caste Sikhs held a conference at Jalianwala Bagh on October 10- 12, 1920 where they resolved to offer Parshad at Harimandir Sahib. When they went there the priests refused to accept their Parshad. At this Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar reacted sharply and threatened to throw them out if they did not accept their Parshad, did not offer ardas and took the Vaak. The priests acquiesced and with Guru’s grace Vaak came in favor of the lower caste Sikhs. After this Sangat led by Jathedar Jhabbar marched to Akal Takht to do the same. Priests in charge of Akal Takht slipped away leaving the holy place vacant. Sangat took over Akal Takht at Jathedar Jhabbar’s command. He then advised Sangat to appoint Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchar in charge of Akal Takht. A jatha of 25 Sikhs was put at his command to help him to look after Akal Takht. After that he was called Jathedar Akal Takht.

    SGPC founded

    On November 15, 1920 Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchar called a meeting of all Sikh bodies and organizations at Akal Takhat. Here Sikhs decided to oust the pro-Government priests from other Gurdwaras and formed a committee of 175 members to run their management. This is how S.G.P.C. was formed. Next month on December 14, 1920 Shiromani Akali Dal, a political wing of the SGPC was launched. Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchar was elected secretary of the new Akali Dal. This further added strength to his position and standing in the community.

    Jathedar Buhchar did not just sit there as a custodian of the place; he provided strong and sterling leadership to the community. He led a jatha to Taran Taran Gurdwara to oust the priests forcefully. He succeeded in his mission after some clashes with the government agents. He appointed a committee of 15 members to look after the Gurdwara management. He also led jathas to take control of Gurdwara Panja Sahib and a Gurdwara in Pashawar. Since such actions were contrary to law, he was arrested and put in jail for quite for sometime.

    During the Jaito Morcha (1923-25), three Jathedars of Akal Takhat- Teja Singh Akarpuri on 13 October, 1923, Udham Singh Nagoke on 8 Februrary 1924, Achhar Singh on 7 May, 1924- courted arrests. After his release in 1926, Jathedar Akarpuri was elected as member of SGPC and was also appointed as Jathedar of Akal Takht for the second time and remained in this position till 1931.

    In 1925, Jathedar Didar Singh was the Akal Takhat jathedar. Akali leaders had come into agreement with the government and the agitation was withdrawn. Sikhs started coming out of jails, but some in Nabha Jail refused to leave the prison and adopted quite an unreasonable attitude. Jathedar Didar Singh went to Nabha and advised them to come out, "since you have come here at the orders of Akal Takhat, I now in the capacity of Akal Takht jathedar order you to leave the jails and get out". This had the desired effect and they agreed to obey his order. Such was the position of the Akal Takht jathedar in the Sikh world.

    Sikh Rahit Maryada

    Teja Singh Akarpuri, Jathedar Akal Takhat, felt and stressed the need of a prescribed Rahit for the Sikhs, though unsuccessful attempts had been made earlier by Panch Khalsa Diwan and Chief Khalsa Diwan. It was on his suggestion that a committee of 28 Sikh scholars was appointed to work on the draft of Sikh Rahit Maryada on 15 March 1927. The committee with Prof. Teja Singh as its convener prepared a draft which was thoroughly discussed, amended and changed according to the wishes of the members at various meetings of the committee held at Akal Takht. In all meetings Jathedar of Akal Takht was present. Even Jathedars of Kesgarh and Patna were also invited. From 1931 to 1934 Gurmukh Singh Musafir, Jathedar of Akal Takht, attended the meetings and then from 1935 till the SRM was finally passed in 1945, Mohan Singh Nagoke, Jathedar Akal Takht, played an important role. He also served as President of SGPC from 1944 to 1948 which put him in much better position to bring the Sikh scholars to an agreement on SRM.

    Jathedar Mohan Singh Nagoke was widely respected for his character, integrity and sacrifices. He served as the Jathedar Akal Takht for 17 years(1935-52), maximum time any Jathedar held this office. His personality added much power and prestige to this august office. Many historic decisions were taken in his time. In 1936 when Govt. banned the wearing of Kirpan by Sikhs, Jathedar Mohan Singh led the first jatha of 100 Sikhs in this morcha against the ban. The ban was withdrawn by the govt.

    Ragmala

    Should Ragmala be read while reciting the whole of Guru Granth sahib at Akhand Paths ?. The issue had split the community since the beginning of the 20th century. There were well established scholars and religious leaders on both sides. In favor of Ragmala were Bhai Vir Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh, Sant Gurbachan Singh Bhinderanwale, Akali Kaur Singh and some Sants. Those opposing Ragmala were Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Bhai Randhir Singh Narangwal, Giani Gurdit Singh, Piara Singh Padam and others

    In 1945 Mohan Singh called a meeting of Sikh religious leaders and scholars at Akal Takht to resolve the issue. The anti-Ragmala group carried their point with his support. But to keep unity in the panth, Jathedar issued instructions that reading of Ragmala was optional, though he stopped its reading at Akal Takhat. This practice is still in force. Baba Gurbachan Singh Bhinderanwala was staunch supporter of Ragmala. SGPC sent Giani Lal Singh to Bhinderawala to find out if he would abide by the decree of Akal Takht Jathedar. Baba Gurbachan Singh gave in writing that he would honor the decree of Akal Takht.

    During Mohan Singh's time as Jathedar, Ardas was amended to include that Sikhs should have unhindered access to Nankana Sahib and other holy shrines which were left in Pakistan after partition of Punjab in 1947.

    Punishment to Master Tara Singh

    Master Tara Singh was the most powerful and well recognized leader of the Sikhs in mid-twentieth century. He was president of SGPC when Akal Takht Jathedar Achhar Singh punished him for breaking his fast without fulfilling the terms of his solemn pledge in 1961.

    Then there is the historic edict of the Akal Takhat Jathedar, Sadhu Singh Bhaura, against the Sant Nirankaris in June 1978. Nirankaris had killed 13 Sikhs on the Baisakhi day of 1978. This edict was widely welcomed by Sikhs all over the world.

    Such has been the authority, moral force and veneration of Akal Takht that powerful men like Maharaja Ranjt Singh, President Zial Singh and Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala had to appear before it when summoned by its Jathedar. Even Bhim Sen Sachar, a Hindu Chief Minister, appeared before Akal Takht and apologized for sending police in Darbar Sahib in 1955. Among the important people who were excommunicated from Panth were Teja Singh Bhasur (1928), Buta Singh (1984), Nihang Santa Singh (1984). Buta Singh and Santa Singh later apologized and underwent punishment.

    1984 developments damaged the institution

    Akal Takhat Jathedars became controversial after the turbulent developments of 1984.
    So many Jathedars - Jasbir Singh Rode, Ragi Darshan Singh, acting Jathedar Manjit Singh, Bhai Ranjit Singh, Giani Puran Singh- were appointed and removed before the turn of Jathedar Vedanti came this year. All this has affected the credibility and prestige of the Jathedar. One Jathedar would issue an edict, his successor would cancel that. So many edicts were issued that they lost their sanctity and force. One such edict ex-communicating Joginder Singh, editor Spokesman, was even challenged in high court.

    Sikhs need a strong central authority

    That, however, does not mean that the institution of Akal Takht Jathedar is beyond repair and redemption. Sikhs need a strong central authority to resolve so many contentious issues that keep dogging and dividing the community. There should be a procedure to elect a non-partisan Jathedar of Akal Takht. He should be a man of high integrity and character, deeply knowledgeable about Sikh religion, history and its traditions and could not be easily removed from his position. He should be able to communicate in English. All India Gurdwara Act as demanded by Akalis should have such provisions.

    References:

    H. S. Dilgeer : Akal Takht Sahib, 1986

    Harbans Singh: The Heritage of the Sikhs, 1994

    J. S. Grewal : The Akalis, a Short History, 1996

    Kartar Singh Jhabbar : Akali Morche te Jhabbar, 1998

    Kirpal Singh (Jathedar): Sri Akal Takht Sahib ate Jathedar Sahiba, 1999

    [The writer Mr. Jagpal S Tiwana lives at , 134 Greenwich Dr., Dartmouth, NS, Canada, B2V 2N5 tiwana@eastlink.ca]
     
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  3. spnadmin

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    This is good reading. JS Tiwana has been collecting historical accounts it appears from his comments on Sikh Diaspora and has published some of them. This article seems to be a complete summary of all that he has gathered. Very useful.

    IMHO the Federal Judiciary of the US is the better model for jathedar and Akal Takht than the Pope. The Pope has a political agenda of his own, and Vatican City is a political entity, a country in fact, separate from Italy, issuing passports and having a seat at the UN. The federal judges can be appointed from any political party, the party in power or its adversaries, by a sitting president. However, once appointed, there may be no meddling with the independence of the federal judges. The judges may be guided only by law and past legal precedents in order to avoid the rule of "man" and to stress the rule of "law". The Sikh religion has guidelines to follow, than can function as lawful principles. Jathedars should be free to say that issue X does not fall within their jurisdiction as it is not a matter affecting the entire panth, and they should only address questions that are sent to them through formal channels (as opposed to envelopes containing CD's and letters containing unverified signatures from hopelessly divided sangats).

    I seem to remember that I.J. Singh wrote an article making a similar point.
     
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