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Political Control Of Sikh Institutions In Punjab


Jun 1, 2004
By Gurmukh Singh

- The highest Sikh institutions now take “direction” from Punjab politicians.

- Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has abandoned some of its main objectives and failed to promote Guru Nanak’s egalitarian mission.

Nanakshahi Calendar episode has shown that the central Sikh Institutions are now under political control. The Calendar issue has highlighted the general state of Sikh affairs in Punjab today.

About the “changes” in the Nanakshahi Calendar (i.e. return to the old Brahmanic lunar-Bikrami calendar), S Avatar Singh Makar, President of the SGPC ( who himself is a political appointee) has been quoted as saying, “All of us have no option but to follow the direction of party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal.” (Hindustan Times of Monday, January 4, 2010 report, ”SGPC says yes to changes”). That is a frank admission that office holders like him regard Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal, as their boss and they are bound to follow his direction regardless of Panthic views. In their view, open consultation with Panthic representatives, or seeking Gurmat direction from the Guru Jote, Guru Granth Sahib, is of secondary importance.

The Nanakshahi Calendar issue may be the proverbial “last straw” for millions in the Sikh world. The real issue is if the two linked apex Sikh bodies of the Sikhs operate independently of any outside direction and in accordance with Sikh religious principles. If they do not, then they automatically lose mainstream Sikh support.

The highest Sikh institution established by the Sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind Sahib, is the Akal Takht (takhat), the “Throne of the Timeless (Being)” which symbolizes the “indivisibility of spiritual and social life, and the sovereignty of Truth over all”*. That is the Akal Takht enshrined in every Sikh heart. It has a very special place in the Sikh psyche. Physically, it is represented by the Panj Pyaray (the Five Beloved Ones) who assemble at the Akal Takht building facing Harmandar Sahib (the Golden Temple). The Panj Pyaray who meet at Akal Takht, are meant to represent the collective (sarbatt) Khalsa Panth seeking guidance from Guru Granth Sahib ji on various spiritual and temporal issues which affect the Sikhs. They are usually selected from the senior-most religious personnel at Darbar Sahib and the other four Takhts (Sikh thrones) in India.

The Sikh institution of Akal Takht is sovereign and supreme. No earthly power can take control of it.

Akal Takht building has been pulled down many times and the caretaker and religious position holders may have allowed themselves to be influenced by outside pressure, but the sovereign position of Akal Takht as a Sikh institution cannot be compromised or subjected to any other authority except to the Guiding Authority of the Guru Light (Jote) which now resides in Guru Granth Sahib. The collective Khalsa Panth, is the guardian of this institution. Pretence to Akal Takht authority by anyone but the collective representation of Khalsa, will be exposed and challenged by the “Khalsa” as defined by Guru Nanak Sahib (“Je tao prem khelan ka chaao…”) and Guru Gobind Singh (Composition starting “Jagat Jote jappay nis bassar…..”)

This is not a numbers game as the Sikh tradition has shown time and again.

The next in importance is the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, an administrative body set up to manage gurdwaras in Punjab. It is sometimes, misleadingly, referred to as the “mini parliament of the Sikhs”. In addition, it also has wider objectives to promote “Panth di chardhi kala” (advancement) through education, general non-discriminatory welfare and social activity, cultural development and heritage preservation projects from its huge multi-million Rupees income from donations received through the gurdwaras (including the “collection points” at the Golden Temple complex).

These two apex bodies are meant to operate in a complementary manner so that the Akal Takht authority remains supreme. The ground reality, as the Nanakshahi Calendar issue has shown, is that the “jathedar” (head of a “jatha” i.e group or faction) appointee of Akal Takht Sahib has followed SGPC lead on some vital issues in recent years. Gone are the days of Jathedar Akali Phula Singh who, according to Sikh tradition, whipped the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his lapses. That is the level of independence required of the steward of Akal Takht, and such is the respect which is then accorded to him.

In fact, appointees to this high office in recent years have allowed themselves to be intimidated by factional pressure and internal Sikh politics, so that they have turned a blind eye to many anti-Sikh ideology trends amongst the Sikhs e.g. caste-based exclusive “gurdwaras” or the ritualism (manmat and karamkands) which goes on in gurdwaras attached to hundreds of sant-deras, and numerous other anti-Sikhi(sm) practices going on in the name of religion, and even within the premises of Darbar Sahib itself. (I pointed this out to a “jathedar” (now ex) and he just shrugged his shoulders with an understanding resignation!)

It will take up too much space and distract from the main issue to describe how these bodies are meant to operate in accordance with Gurmat (Guru’s) guidance and how decisions should be taken in accordance with Sikh religious tradition. There has been much discussion about those aspects in writings and on cyber forums.

Needless to say, if these bodies are no longer seen to be working independently of political influence, and no longer remain accountable to the “Khalsa Panth” – the “spiritual fellowship which channels the living energy of the Sikhs”** - then their authority automatically reverts to the Spiritual Eternal Guide of the Sikhs, the Sikh Holy Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Khalsa Panth “wherever and everywhere” (“jahan jahan Khalsa Panth” ). The Sikhs, the Khalsa, turn directly to the Etarnal Word Guru for guidance and, as necessary, refer matters to their own Panj Pyaray – Gursikhs nominated by the local sangat.

That has happened before in Sikhs history. The mainstream Khalsa Panth, guided by the Guru’s Jote (Eternal Light) in the Word Guru, Guru Granth Sahib, has always triumphed as the true guardian of Sikh ideology and institutions. Office holders have come and gone but the Immortal Throne, Akal Takht, is in every Sikh heart.

That is the position of mainstream Sikhism. If these institutions continue to be besieged by political stooges, then the latter i.e. the political stooges, lose all authority to give any guidance on Sikh religio-national affairs.

The SGPC set up in 1925 after numerous sacrifices, has lost its credibility. It has deviated from its main objectives of managing gurdwaras in accordance with Sikh teachings. It should have used the massive Sikh resources i.e. the huge donations made by congregations at Darbar Sahib and other gurdwaras, to promote non-discriminatory services in areas of education and training and general welfare i.e. to serve the public at large through the institution of sewa (social actvism) . Instead, it has used these for political purposes, or for destroying Sikh heritage and buildings to erect expensive marble gurdwaras for promoting Brahmanic type of pilgrimage (tirath yatra) and ritualism.

Such has been the neglect shown by a politicized SGPC in the last few decades, that the return of many important gurdwaras in Punjab and India to Bipran ki reets under the strong influence of Sant Samaj cults is now almost complete. Many Sant Samaj “gurdwaras”, practise a Brahmanic form of “Sikhism” (rejected by Sikh teachings), and, therefore, feel the need for a lunar-Bikrami “ astrological jantri, which shows the anti-Gurmat “thhitha(n) varan, sangrand, barsis” good, bad days, unclean months etc. Only the ignorant (mughad gavaar) observe such days and omens according to Gurbani.

Such a jantri, prepared by pundits, with changing dates every year, would be most damaging for distinct Sikh theological independence and identity. It would be of no practical application in the Sikh diaspora.

As events in recent years have shown, the “Sant Samaj” – a sort of a trade union of fake preachers in Sikh religious garbs with own (not the Gurus!) followers - hold the political sway in Punjab. They have massive increase in their following through the activism of their “chelas” (brainwashed disciples) and in their income, which runs into crores of Rupees. This trend is on the increase because central Sikh institutions like the SGPC are in political hands and are no longer following their original aims and objectives.

The Sant Samaj has vast resources accumulated through spread of superstitious anti-Sikhi(sm) practices and ritualism. The “Sant Samaj” club looks after own vested interests by playing politics in Punjab. It follows the Brahmanic (Hindutva) agenda, which aims to treat Sikhism as a Hindu sect. Sant Samaj has political clout due to the increasing headcount attracted by generous handouts. The Samaj deras fill the social welfare needs neglected for decades by the SGPC. Even non Sikh religions like Christianity actively seeking converts as a religious target, are attracting large number of people from the villages of Punjab because they provide good educational, medical and welfare services and target the so called “lower” castes – precisely the areas neglected by the SGPC, despite its massive annual budget.

Some mainstream Sikh volunteer groups, despite shortage of funds are struggling to provide services in the villages (see earlier article about Gurmat Gian Missionary College work, “Gurmat Gian Response to Punjab’s Socio-economic Challenges” at http://{censored}/news.php?news=8487 ).

Yet, the need for spreading the Guru’s whole-life guidance in every sphere of life, is the greatest need of today’s Punjab. It is a sad reflection that Guru Nanak Sahib’s description of the society of his time in Asa ki Vaar, applies fully to today’s Panjab also e.g. Saloks preceding Pauri 11 starting, “Sach kaal koor vartia kal kalakh betaal….” and the next Salok, “Lab paap doay raja mehta koor hoa sikdaar….”. So remarkable is the similarity of the times, that one can be forgiven for thinking that the Jote (Guiding Light) of Guru Nanak in ten human forms and now residing in Guru Granth Sahib, never shone in this land! The evil nexus between those in religious garbs, the politicians, the administrators, the police and the judges makes daily headlines.

Much could have been done and achieved by Guru Nanak’s mission in Punjab and the rest of the Indian sub-continent, to wean the “gian vehooni” (un-enlightened) public away from oppressive practices and customs. That the position is the same today as in the days when the Guru’s Divine Light manifested itself in this land, is a sad testimony to the failure of those in charge of Sikh institutions and vast resources.

The trend towards total politicization of Sikh religious affairs in Punjab can be challenged by responsible mainstream Sikh jathebandis (organsiations) in India and abroad.

The start can be made with the Nanakshahi Calendar, by continuing with it and agreeing through Khalsa networking the transfer of the remaining three historical dates - Guru Nanak Sahib’s Parkaash (birthday) which should be in April, Bandi Chhor Divas and Hola Mahala - onto this calendar.

Nanakshahi Calendar symbolizes independence of Sikh thought and tradition. It was prepared in the light of Gurmat guidance and scholarly transfer of important Sikh dates to the CE calendar used worldwide. This return to the Bipran’s (Brahmanic) lunar-Bikrami jantri is also symbolic of submission to Bipran ki reets forbidden by the Guru, and is yet another attempt to return Sikhi back into the Hindutva fold. Such an attempt should be resisted by diaspora Sikhs who are not under any political pressure.

There is no reason why, the British Sikhs should not continue to observe the Nanakshahi Calendar dates of the most important Sikh events, which are now fixed on the world CE calendar also. Surrendering the independence of Sikh theo-national ideology represented by Akal Takht, to political stooges, may be too high a price to pay this time for the sake of Sikh unity.

In the Sikh tradition, when it came to preserving mainstream Sikh ideals, the Khalsa left the company of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, who had deviated from the Guru’s way. That he died the death of a true Khalsa martyr after repenting for his mistakes, is another story which will be told as we celebrate the 3rd centennial anniversary of the Khalsa victory at Sirhind this year.

The global Khalsa Sikh community is facing a similar situation today.

Future solutions to the interpretation of mainstream Sikh ideology in the context of 21st century challenges could involve the setting up religious panels of Sikh scholars in the diaspora countries. Global networking between these panels can harmonize interpretation of Gurbani guidance and the Sikh Reht Maryada. Sikh institutions have been under siege before and these are the progressive solutions offered by 21st century communications technology.

The response of the global Khalsa Panth to the political take-over of the central Sikh institutions should be certain and based on Gurmat tradition.

( Note: Below this item are given some bullet points about the main features of the Nanakshahi Calendar which has triggered this wider discussion. The idea is to inform discussion. There is much ignorance about what is meant by a solar or tropical year and how dates are calculated on different types of calendars. Few understand, for example, why even before the introduction of the solar-based Nanakshahi Calendar, the Khalsa Vaisakhi was celebrated on 13 or 14 April and not on 29 March 1699, the original date.)

* Quote from Dr Kanwar Ranvir Singh’s introduction to a collection of Sikh essays presented at the Parliament of World Religions, Capetown 1999.
** Ibid

Gurmukh Singh

Nanakshahi Calendar – Main features

• The Calendar is based on Gurbani “Bara Maha” seasons i.e the solar or tropical year.

(Note: Many “santwadi” types fail to understand that “seasons” result from sun-earth relative movements i.e the solar or tropical year on which is also based the international CE calendar. Seasons have nothing to do with lunar-Bikrami (sidereal i.e. star based) calendars.)
• Year 1 is the year of Guru Nanak Sahib’s birth 1469 CE. The calendar begins on 1 Chet Nanakshahi which is on 14th March.
• It is based on the time length of a tropical year used by the international CE calendar, of 365days 5 hours 48 minutes 45 seconds.
• First five months from Chet have 31 days each, the remaining seven months have 30 days each. The last month will have 31 days in a leap year. The Sikh historical dates fixed on the Nanakshahi Calendar will also remain fixed on the international CE calendar (that is biggest gain for the Sikh diaspora.)
• It will continue to have permanent month/season relationship and will accord to Gurbani “Bara Maha” (two Banis) and “Ruti Saloks”.
• With three exceptions, Gurpurbs and others Sikh events will be on fixed dates in both Nanakshahi and the Common Era calendars. The exceptions are Guru Nanak Sahib’s birthday, Bandi Chhor Divas and Hola Mahala, which have yet to be transferred to the Nanakshahi Calendar until there is further decision to fix these Sikh events to solar Nanakshahi dates also.
Nanakshahi calendar has promoted research by scholars into many historical dates where there has been confusion to arrive at agreed dates.

(Above main points are based on notes by S. Pal Singh Purewal, who devised the Nanakshahi Calendar in consultation with other experts in this field.)


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