Janamsakhi Tradition

An Analytical Study -

Janamsakhi Tradition

An Analytical Study


M.A., Ph.D

Edited by

Prithipal Singh Kapur

Singh Brothers





M.A., Ph.D.

Former Professor & Head Punjab Historical Studies Deptt. Punjabi University, Patiala

ISBN 81-7205-311-8 Firs Edition March 2004 Price : Rs 395-00


Singh Brothers

Bazar Mai Sewan, Amritsar - 143 006

S.C.O. 223-24, City Centre, Amrisar - 143 001 E-mail : singhbro@vsnl.com Website : www.singhbrothers.com

Printers :



- Preface 7

-Introduction 13

1 . Genesis of the Janamsakhi Tradition 25

2 . Analytical Study of the Janamsakhi Tradition - 1 55

3 . Analytical Study of the Janamsakhi Tradition - II 204

4. Light Merges with the Divine Light 223


(i) Glossary of Historical Names in the Janamsakhi 233

(ii) Bibliography 235

- Index 24 1



With the Guru’s Grace knowledge is analysed

Guru Nanak (GG 1329)

The Janamsakhi literature as such relates exclusively to the life and teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The spectrum of this genre of literature has several strands. It elucidates mystic concepts of spiritual elevation, provides the earliest exegesis of the hymns of Guru Nanak and illustrates the teachings of Guru Nanak by narrating interesting anecdotes. The most significant aspect of the Janamsakhi literature is that it has preserved the tradition of Guru Nanak’s life that became the primary source of information for all the writings on Guru Nanak. Of late the historical validity of this material has been called to question in the name of methodology. I, therefore, propose to dilate on this aspect in the first instance.

According to R.G. Collingwood, the author of The Idea of History (Pages 240-43), “the historian must in two ways go beyond what his authorities tell him. One is critical way and this is what Bradley has attempted to analyse. The other is the constructive way. Of this he has said nothing, and to this now, I propose to return. I described constructive history as interpolating, between the statements borrowed from our authorities; other statements simply by them. Thus, our authorities tell us that on one day Caesar was in Rome and a later day in Gaul, they tell us nothing about the journey from one place to other, but we interpolate this with a perfect good conscience.”

“This act of interpolation has two significant characteristics. First, it is in no way arbitrary or merely fanciful; it is necessary in Kantian language

a priori . But if our construction involves nothing that is not necessitated

by the evidence, it is legitimate historical construction of a kind without which there can be no history at all.”

“Secondly what is in this way inferred, is essentially something imagined... That is already an example of historical thinking; and it is not otherwise that we find ourselves obliged to imagine Caesar as having

travelled from Rome to Gaul when we are told that he was in these different places at these successive times...” -

“...That the Historian must use his imagination in a common place, to quote Macaulay’s Essay on History, a perfect historian must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative effective and picturesque.” Commenting on it Collingwood writes, “but this is to underestimate the part played by the historical imagination which is properly not ornamental but structural. Without it the historian would have no narrative to adorn.” “The imagination that ‘blind but indispensable faculty’, without which, as Kant has shown, we could never perceive the world around us, is indispensable in the same way to history: it is this which operating not capriciously or fancy but in a priori form, does the entire work of historical construction.” (p. 241)

At another place Collingwood states, “here and equally in all other kinds of art, a priori imagination is at work. Its other familiar functions what may be called the perceptual imagination supplementing and consolidating the data of perception.”

But historical imagination is different. For this; following three conditions are essential :

1 . Historian’s picture must be localized in space and time.

2 . “All history must be consistent with itself ... there is only one historical

world, and everything in it must stand in some relation to everything else, even if relation is only topographical and chronological.

3 . “It is of utmost importance that historian’s picture stands in a peculiar

relation to something called evidence.” (p. 246)

It has been accepted that history is a science as well as an art, ‘no more no less’.

In every work of art some kind of imagination is always involved. So is the case with the Janamsakhis. The Janamsakhi writers were men of faith with desire for spiritual pursuits. About Guru Nanak’s life, they had before them authentic data in two forms. One was the Bani of Guru Nanak as enshrined in the Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture, compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Guru. Guru Arjan had rejected works attributed to Guru Nanak like Nasihat Nama, Pransang/i etc. etc. It is an established fact that all the extant Janamsakhis came to be written after the compilation of the


Adi Granth in 1604 AD. A large number of verses of Guru Nanak quoted in the Janamsakhis could not be available before 1604 AD. As a source, these verses of the Guru, found in Adi Granth in the form of dialogues with the persons of different denominations like Muslim divines, Hindu men of learning (Pandits j, Sidhas, Yogis, Brahmins, Qa^is, Shaikhs, traders, peasants etc. etc. became basic to the compilation of the Janamsakhis.

The second important datum available to the Janamsakhi writers was the tradition of Guru Nanak as incorporated in the first var of Bhai Gurdas (died 1637 AD). Bhai Gurdas was a very close companion of Baba Buddha who had lived during the life-time of Guru Nanak, had embraced Sikh faith and was witness to the making of the traditions regarding the founder of Sikhism. Moreover, his close association with the Guru’s family enabled him to know more about the anecdotes relating to the Guru’s travels within India and abroad. Bhai Gurdas was the nephew of Guru Amardas, the third Sikh Guru, he served the fourth Guru as a missionary and was honoured by Guru Arjan when he was asked to act as scribe for the compilation of the Adi Granth. As a matter of fact, he possessed unimpeachable credentials to record the traditions of Guru Nanak. His first var delineating the life of Guru Nanak can be called anchor sheet of most of the Janamsakhis which more or less remain elucidation, illustration and explanation of the first var of Bhai Gurdas.

The Janamsakhi writers were not content with the pithy and sketchy material as available in the first var. They wanted more details for the life of the founder of Sikhism. Consequently, they used this material to elucidate the narration as much as they could. For instance Bhai Gurdas has stated, “Baba Gaja Tirathin Tirath Purb Sabe Phir Dekhey” viz Guru Nanak visited all the places of Hindu pilgrimages. This line was expanded to include several Sakhis like Guru Nanak’s visit to Kurukshetra, Haridwar, Prayag, Benaras, Jagannath Puri etc. etc. The details were filled from the verses of Guru Nanak which were taken as dialogues with the learned Pandas of Benaras, the priests performing Aarti at Jagannath Puri, Guru’s hymns on death ceremonies of Hindus at Budh Gaya etc. etc. Some Janamsakhi writers who ventured to visit the places associated with Guru Nanak added in their own accounts of local traditions as well. Miharban appears to have visited some such places as his description


of a few places is very lucid (see his Sakhi of Guru’s visit to Ujjain). The Sakhis of the Guru’s visit to Sumer (Kailash mountain) and his dialogue with Siddhas, his visit to Mecca and Baghdad and his discussions with Muslim divines etc. are based on the first 1 Yar of Bhai Gurdas. Almost all the Sakhis with the exception of a few have been constructed on the basis of historical data as referred to above and with historical imagination of one form or the other. Therefore, most of the anecdotes recorded in the Janamsakhis fall within the orbit of history. In my opinion it will be fallacious to call them by any other name.

It is a very pertinent question as to why western scholars could not appreciate the Sikh tradition and properly assess the Janamsakhis. Unfortunately, for them; Ernest Trump became the sole guide for the study of entire Sikh literature. The most popular Bhai Bala’s

Janamsakhi which was compiled by a follower of Baba Hindal, a dissenter, was translated into English by Dr. Trump. It claimed to be an eye-witness account which it was not. Bhai Balas name does not appear in any of the otherjanamsakhis. Dr. Trump also translated the Puratan or Vilayatwali Janamsakhi. Most of the western scholars base their studies on both Puratan and Bala traditions. But they could not reach the originals as they were not proficient in Gurumukhi script and could hardly delve deep into the entire text of Janamsakhis or verses of Guru Nanak. Secondly these scholars did not care to study the contemporary conditions and travel routes of those times by applying historical imagination which is so essential for the construction of every historical narrative. It is in this context that Dr. McLeod hastened to conclude that there is no record of the Guru’s visit to Ceylon or Mecca. He does not seem to have cast a critical look at the conditions prevalent in Ceylon and South India duting 14th and 15th centuries. Tamil Kings from South India had been ruling Ceylon uptil 13th century. Thousands of Tamils travelled from Nagapatnam to Madakulapa modern Batticoloa district on the eastern coast of Ceylon which is associated with the Ram ay an a. I toured the whole district and found there overwhelming influence of Indian culture visible. When Guru Nanak visited South India it was not unlikely for him to visit Ceylon. Only balanced analysis could help arrive at such a conclusion.

A source of medieval history may not be rejected because it contains miracles. Miracles have remained an integral part of all types


of spiritual exercises. Religious books like vedas, Budhist texts, Bible, Quran, all contain miraculous accounts. Miracles also find mention in the Adi Granth, but only as references. The people in medieval ages believed in miracles and considered them as an index of spiritual elevation. Therefore, the miracles in the Janamsakhis should not be rejected or decried outright, rather their historical settings need to be studied.

I started the study of janamsakhi tradition in 1966 AD at the Punjabi University, Patiala as a major project. I travelled to various places from Nanakmatta (Uttaranchal) to Colombo in Ceylon in putsuit of my researches tracing the old memorial Gurdwaras built in the memory of Guru Nanak’s visit and old routes prevalent during the early sixteenth century. All this material was verified and compared with the written tradition of Guru Nanak viz the janamsakhis in order to decipher the historicity of the tradition of Guru Nanak. Attempts were also made to collect material (from the places which I could not visit) through knowledgeable persons who were interested in such studies.

My studies lead me to conclude that the janamsakhis shall ever remain the most important source of information on Guru Nanak if we study them carefully and intensively. Most of the Muslim saints whom Guru Nanak is said to have met and find mention in janamsakhi Miharban Part II were contemporaries of Guru Nanak. Their names are found in Ta^kara-i- Sufia-i-Punjab, recently published in Karachi (Pakistan). I have tried to decipher some proper names mentioned in the janamsakhis. A glossary of such names has been given in Appendix I.

For the translation of hymns of Guru Nanak quoted in this book, I have mosdy depended on GS. Talib’s translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib published by Punjabi University, Patiala.

It is my pleasant duty to acknowledge the active help and support that I received; during the course of my researches on this project, from Professor Prithipal Singh Kapur, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, who is my nephew as well as student. Since the publication of my work janamsakhi Parampara; he has been persuading me to carry forward my studies on die janamsakhis and bring it out in English. Initially, I remained reticent. Later on I made up my mind and started with translation of a portion of janamsakhi Parampara, but could not go ahead.


When Professor Prithipal Singh Kapur undertook an assignment as Editor- in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism with the Punjabi University, Patiala, he persuaded his colleague in the Deptt., Dr. Dharm Singh to undertake the arduous task of translation of some of the important portions of Janamsakhi Parampara. Dr. Dharm Singh did this task with devotion and competence. This became the basic draft on which I re-worked to carry forward my studies on the Janamsakhis. Professor Prithipal Singh Kapur remained associated with the progress of the work at every stage. He edited it very minutely and diligently, and has also appended a scholarly introduction. I express my profound sense of gratitude to both of them.

Dr. S.P. Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar has been taking keen interest in this project since the day I mentioned it to him. As the things started taking shape, he wanted me to expedite it. I owe him my sincere thanks. My thanks are also due to my teacher late Sardar Kirpal Singh Narang, Vice-Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala, who initially entrusted me this arduous job with full faith and confidence.

Last but not the least, I am thankful to my wife, Joginder Kaur who has always been a great source of help to me during my life-time pursuit of researches on Sikh history. Thanks are also due to Mr. Gursagar Singh of Singh Brothers, Amritsar who readily agreed to bring out the work without any delay and in a befitting form.

1288/Sector-15B, Chandigarh May 7, 2003

Kirpil Singh



Janamsakhi literature; produced essentially to preserve the tradition of Guru Nanak, defies classification. The Janamsakhis are neither hagiographies1 nor biographies. In fact it is implicit within the word janamsakhi that these are no more than compilations of anecdotes about the life of Guru Nanak. At best they can be called “anthologies of the stories told of his life.”2 One is sometimes inclined to place them at par with the four gospels, appearing at the beginning of the New Testament. The Sikh multitude revered the janamsakhi as “good news” (Sakhisf of Guru Nanak. Like the four ‘Gospels’, the various Janamsakhis were initially not looked upon as rivals of each other but as parallel versions of the anecdotes concerning the life of Guru Nanak and were not written primarily in the interest of history in the modern sense of the word. On the other hand, literature was produced to foster the faith of the Sikhs in Guru Nanak and his teachings. But it is interesting to discern; after careful appraisal of the janamsakhis that compilers of these janamsakhis strove hard to lend authenticity and historical credibility to the anecdotes related by them by inserting quotations from the hymns of Guru Nanak (and his successors) enshrined in the Guru Granth (whose authenticity remains unimpaired) or even narrating the anecdotes as eye-witness accounts. Therefore it can be surmised that the janamsakhis are based upon facts but they were written from the standpoint of ‘faith’. Therefore any antithesis, presented between Nanak of faith4 and Nanak of history shall always remain misleading.5

The rise of the Sikh power in the Punjab in the last three decades of

1. “Life and Critical Study of Lives of Saints”, see Random House Websters College Dictionary, p.

583 (1997).

2. Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia, p. 1291 (2001).

3. “Gospel denotes primarily the ‘good news’ of Christianity,” see Encyclopaedia Britannica,

Vol. 10, p. 536 (1957 edition).

4. Some prefer to address Nanak of faith as Nanak Nirankari.

5. Who Mcleod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, p. 68, Oxford University Press, 1968.


eighteenth century aroused interest in the history of the Sikhs as people; who began to be looked upon as serious contenders for power in the north west of India. But emergence of Sikhism ‘as a new system of religion’ was hardly noticed by these writers. They only familiarised themselves with Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh faith as ‘a man of more than common genius’ who successfully contended with the furious bigotry of Muslims and the deep-rooted superstition of Hindus.”6 But the process of historical investigation of Sikh literature particularly the Janamsakhis started with the discovery and translation of Puratan Janamsakhi which Ernest Trump described as “fountain from which all the others (Janamsakhis) have been drawn largely.”7 However, Karam Singh was the first among the Sikh scholars who took to serious (sceptic in the modern terminology) historical scrutiny of Bala Janamsakhi to prove that it was a Hindali version of Guru Nanak’s tradition and boldly published his findings in his famous book Kafak Ke Visakh in 1908. He earned the ire of ‘traditionalists’ and his book was withdrawn from sale. But Karam Singh had conclusively proved that Bala Janamsakhi was full of interpolations and had been written to extol Hindal Niranjania.8 Earlier to this, in 1904 A.D., Sewa Ram Singh the first biographer of Guru Nanak had stated in preface to his book A. Critical Study of the Life and Teachings of Guru Nanak Dev: “materials at our disposal are very chaotic and misleading” and of the numerous versions of Tala Janamsakhi, “none appears to be quite authentic.”9 Thereafter, M.A. Macauliffe scanned all the then extant versions of Janamsakhis and found therein fictitious narrations. He gave preference to the Puratan version because as he put it; “it contains much less

6. J.S. Grewal, Gum Nanak in western Scholarship, p. 4, 1.I.A.S., Shimla, 1 992.

7. Ernest Trump, The Adi Granth, II, reprint, New Delhi, 1970.

8. Hindal was a devotee of Guru Amar Das who became prominent during the pontificate

of Guru Ram Das. For his devotion and dedicated service he was blessed by the Gum as Masand (a preacher, deputy). He settled in his native village Jandiala (Amritsar) and made many disciples who came to be called Hindalis or Niranjanias (the insulated ones). After his death, his son deviated from the Guru’s path and his few followers became an heretic sect. It is believed that it was during the period of Bidhi Chand that those of his followers who stuck to him compiled a Granth and a Janamsakhi with a view to extol Hindal and denigrate the foundet Sikh Guru. Macauliffe, The Sikhs, Vol. I (XXXI), Amritsar, 2000, see also Karam Singh, IVytak ke Visakh (Punjabi), 131, Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana, n.d.

9. Sewa Ram Singh, The Divine Master, edited by Prithipal Singh Kapur, XII, ABS Publications,

Jalandhar, 1988.


mythological matter than any other Gurmukhi life of the Guru and is a much more rational, consistent and satisfactory narrative... It is the product of legend and tradition which have been thought to be more trustworthy.”10 He also pointed out that the details of all the then current Janamsakhis appeared to be simply settings for the verses and sayings of Guru Nanak by the followers who devised the framework of a biography to exhibit them to the populace.11 In fact he likened them to the four Gospels; perhaps because of the fact that the early Christian church accepted the four gospels as authentic and the question of their reliability was not raised for many centuries. It is interesting to note that Gospel of John claims to be work of an eye-witness12 like the Bala Janamsakhi. Early attempts to delve deep into the Janamsakhi tradition and assess its historical authenticity have been characterised as rationalistic with a view to assert that miracles associated with the name of Guru Nanak were not miraculous at all but events misinterpreted by the devotees.13 Khazan Singh’s History and Philosophy of Sikh Religion which appeared in 1914, gave more attention to examination of source material; then available to him. Although Khazan Singh was inclined to give credence to the Bala Janamsakhi but he took full cognizance of the heretical Hindali interpolations. He comes to the conclusion that Janamsakhis that “we possess are not free from defects” and advises a careful study before their being accepted as source materials.14

The spread of western education and on-set of renaissance among the Sikhs in the early parts of twentieth century; led to the quest for what can now he termed as empirical and contemporary historical evidence. In the process, the Guru’s own compositions enshrined in the Guru Granth came to be accepted as impeccable contemporary account. Here the only question that remained was that of identifying the historical references and their interpretation. The first and the eleventh vars of Bhai Gurdas (who wrote

10. M.A. Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion, IXXXVII Vol. I, 2000 (Reprint).

11. Ibid., op.dt.

12. Humpherty Catpenter,/i?t»j-, p. 16, Oxford University Press, 1980.

13. Kanar Singh argues at length that miracles remain a pan of all religious systems and they

need to be understood in the light of available evidence. See Kanar Singh, Guru Nanak Dev-Tift and Teachings, Appendix B, Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana, n.d.

14. Khazan Singh, Histoiy and Philosopljy of the Sikh Religion, Pan I, pp. 20-21, Lahore 1914.


these only a little over sixty years after the death of Guru Nanak) contain only cryptic account of the life of Guru Nanak which some scholars like to take as authentic’s while others describe the same as “very brief and least satisfactory.”16 Bhai Gurdas’s reference to Guru Nanak’s visit to Mecca, Medina and Baghdad has been corroborated by the discovery of an inscription at Baghdad in 1918 but various versions of the translations of this inscription (original supposed be in Arabic, Turkish, Ottomon Turkish or an admixture of Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages) have come to the fore. It is interesting to note that except one, any of these translations has not excluded the mention of Baba Nanak therein.1 The discovery of another inscription in the archaeological museum, Anuradhpura (Sri Lanka) has lent new dimensions to the existence of evidence pertaining the anecdote recorded in the Janamsakhis regarding Guru Nanaks’ visit to Sri Lanka.18 All in all, the Janamsakhis remain with us the most important as well as most voluminous sources of information about Guru Nanak. There is hardly any doubt that a very strong oral tradition of Guru Nanak remained current among the people of the places visited by the Guru in and outside India. The Janamsakhi tradition provides us with numerous anecdotes that describe the travels of Guru Nanak to far off places and his discourses with the learned men of different faiths, that go to prove that of all the world prophets. Guru Nanak was the most travelled person and this speaks volumes for his zeal for dissemination of his divine doctrine within India and in countries thousands of miles away from his homeland.19 These are the factors that have kept the interest of not only the historians but the literati also, focussed on the Janamsakhis. This led to the un-earthing of numerous versions of Janamsakhis and some apocryphal literature on this pattern. The publication of Miharban’s Goshts

15. Khushwant Singh^A History of the Sikhs, Vol. I. p. 301, Oxford University Press, 1981.

16. WHo Mcleod, GuruNanakandtheSikhReligion, p. 29, Oxford University Press, 1968.

17. Dr. WL. Menage’s translation of the inscription quoted by Mcleod remains inherently

weak as Mr. Menage clearly states “I regret I am unable to suggest the correct reading, but Baba Nanak seems to me to be excluded.” (see Mcleod, G/tmNanak andThe Sikh Religion, p. 132).

18. Saddha Mangala Karuna Ratna, “Guru Nanak and Ceylone” in Harbans Singh (ed.),

Perspectives on GuruNanak, 326-27, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1975. Also see, Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History, 17 (footnote 14), Uncommon Books, New Delhi, 1996.

19. Ganda Singh (ed.), Sources on the Tift andTeachings of GuruNanak. p. 15, Punjabi University,

Patiala. 1969.


under the title: Janamsakhi Miharban (edited by Kirpal Singh) lent a new dimension to the study of Janamsakhi tradition and widened its scope. As we delve deep into the mass of this material, we are inclined to believe and correctly so, that the purpose of compilation of Janamsakhis was neither to record history of Guru Nanak nor to provide an exegesis of the Bani (hymns) of Guru Nanak. The real motive was to transmit information to the younger generations about the ‘wonderful’ personality of Guru Nanak and to tell them that Guru Nanak revealed to the world a unique and enlightened faith that preached the doctrine of unity and supremacy of God, True Name (Nam j and service (Daja Dharam).20 This will bring us to the conclusion that the Janamsakhis resent a distinct type of religio-legendary literature wherein the ingredients of historical evidence lie embedded deep underneath. This fact needs to be emphasized because the age of Guru Nanak falls within the period of historical light.

The thrust of earliest studies on the Janamsakhis was to reach— out to the earliest of the versions. A number of manuscripts were unearthed and published but search could not go beyond the Puratan tradition. The manuscript which became the basic document for most renditions that are now current as Puratan Janamsakhis was made available by India Office Library to Dr. Ernest Trump when he was working on Inis translation of the Adi Granth.21 Subsequently its copies became available in the Punjab also. Bhai Vir Singh the celebrated Sikh scholar attempted to present a standardised version of the same. The first edition of this Puratan Janamsakhi was published in 1926. However, the work on historical analysis of the Janamsakhi tradition started with Sewa Ram Singh in 1 904 (Study of the Life and Teachings of Sri Guru Nanak Dev, the Founder of Sikhism) followed by The Divine Master (1930) about which it has been rightly said that “The outline of Guru Nanaks’ life that emerges from Sewa Ram Singh’s sources is clear and plausible.”22 This will lead us to conclude that a format for historical investigation of the Janamsakhis had been prepared despite the persistence of confusion

20. W.H. Mcleod (ed). The ¥>\0 Janamsakhi, 110, GNDU, Amritsar, 1980, Early Sikh Tradition,

pp. 240-43, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980.

21. Ernest Trump, A-di Granth, II, reprint, New Delhi, 1970.

22. J,S. Grewal, Contestinglnterpretations of the Sikh Tradition, p. 62, Manohar Publishers and

Distributors, 1998.


regarding dates where external evidence could be used. As for ascertaining the efficacy of travels, there was scope for surmise based on geographical position of the places visited. The intensive study of the Janamsakhis continued along the above lines until 1966; when Dr. Kirpal Singh was entrusted with a major but challenging project, to decipher the historical content in the Janamsakhi tradition and Professor Harbans Singh was asked to undertake the arduous task of producing a perceptive biography of Guru Nanak. It is noteworthy that both of these projects were conceived before the publication of Dr. WH. McLeods’, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion which appeared in 1968. The publication of the works of Dr. Kirpal Singh and Professor Harbans Singh mark the on-set of a new era in study of Janamsakhi tradition and historiography of Guru Nanak. For the first time a three pronged approach was applied by Dr. Kirpal Singh to verify the historicity of Guru Nanak’s travels which form a major part of the Janamsakhi tradition: (a) scrutiny of tradition as per historical situations, (b) identification of shrines raised at various places to commemorate the visits of the Guru, (c) verification of the trade routes of the early sixteenth country. This was perhaps the first rigorous exercise undertaken at an historical analysis of the Janamsakhi tradition with the institutional support. The current four traditions were accordingly compared and assessed. Significantly, we find Professor Harbans Singh also applying a similar rigorous methodology while confronting the Janamsakhi’s tradition as historical sources. He came to the conclusion that “persisting contrariety on incidental details need not affect the essential veracity of Guru Nanaks’ picture which can be recreated with a fair degree of certainty.”23

Meanwhile fresh developments were taking place in the west that were to have far reaching effect on the complexion of Sikh historiography. It was the time when hordes of Sikhs were migrating to Britain. Jagrar Singh Grewal, a lecturer from Gujranwala Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Ludhiana went to Britain during this very period; not to make a fortune but to pursue studies. He chose to join the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. He stayed in Britain for about six years and completed his doctoral work on ‘Muslim Rule in

23. Harbans Singh, Guru Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith, p. 33, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1969.


India: Assessment of British Historians’. It was his grounding and assiduous work on medieval India that enabled him to bring out his monograph on ‘Guru Nanak in History’ in the quincentennial year of Guru Nanak’s birth (1969). A year earlier another student of the SOAS, Hew McLeod had brought out ‘Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion’ (a revised version of his thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy) which according to him; “raised anguish and outrage” among the “more devout and loyal members of the Panth.”24 The entry of Grewal and McLeod into the field of Sikh studies set a new trend in Sikh historiography. Grewal always remains cautious and restrained in pronouncing his judgements on matters sensitive. Nonetheless he never hesitates to lay stress on the importance of contemporary accounts, empirical evidence as also modern research methodology. McLeod, on the other hand pronounces loudly that he had to apply ‘a certain range of techniques for a scholarly analysis. His methodology has been carried forward by Pashaura Singh and Harjot Singh Oberoi. All three of them follow the same methodology deftly but with what results? While rejecting most of the anecdotes of tradition recorded in the Janamsakhis, the ‘Sceptical’ historian in McLeod remains unsure about his own conclusions e.g. about the Haridwar visit of Guru Nanak he says “the rejection of the actual incident does not however mean that the Guru was never in Haridwar.”25 Similar conclusions are drawn about the Kashmir visit of the Guru. McLeod seems to suggest that the Guru might have been to Haridwar for a pilgrimage like any other Hindu-a cotention which cannot find support from any circumstantial evidence. About visits to other Hindu pilgrim centres like Allahabad, Benaras, Jagannath Puri, Rameshwaram and Ujjain, McLeod again states “we cannot however assume that Guru Nanak did not visit any of these places.” About Nanakmatta (Gorakhmatta earlier), he also takes the same position viz; “the possibility that the area was visited by Guru Nanak cannot be ruled out completely.”26 As for Guru Nanak’s visit to Mecca, McLeod prefers to call it ‘a possibility but a remote one’.27 The inscription testifying the visit of Guru Nanak to Baghdad is rejected

24. W.H. Mcleod, HxploringSikhism, pp. 267-68, 0.4. Oxford University Press, 2000.

25. Ibid., p. 90, op.dt.

26. Ibid., pp. 85, 88, op.dt.

27. Ibid., p. 125, op.dt.


on the basis of translation of the inscription and the conclusion of analysis of this tradition provided by WL. Menage a Reader in Turkish at the School of Oriental and Mrican studies. Again it still remains a ‘possibility’ but ‘unsubstantiated’.28 To our good luck, McLeod refrains from finding fault with Guru Nanak’s eye-witness account; Babur Va ni, of devastation caused by Babur’s invasions although he remains fiddling with the evidence to relate it to either of the three different invasions of Babur in 1520, 1524 or 1 526.29 In conclusion, McLeod accepts the historical identity of Guru Nanak, his stay at Sultanpur, Inis employment with Daulat Khan Lodhi; his having received a divine call at Sultanpur and after that undertaking long travels within India and ‘perhaps beyond’. He says that it is not possible to determine the extent or pattern of the travels but he accepts that Guru Nanak visited ‘more important centres of Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage’. McLeod also examines the events of foundation of Kartarpur on the bank of river Ravi (now in Pakistan) and nomination of Lehna as successor and accepts them as historical facts. The style and methodology adopted for examination of the Janamsakhi tradition brings forth two questions: (a) whether the only job of a ‘sceptical historian’ is to pursue the task in a negative fashion; (b) whether methodology is the be all and end all of historical research. McLeod’s students, Pashaura Singh and Harjot Singh Oberoi follow him literally. The former applied McLeod’s theory of evolution to the textual study of Adi Granth and the later looked at the transformation of Sanatan (literally ancient, essentially a word used in Brahmanical terminology) Sikh tradition or what he calls ‘pluralist tradition’ into ‘an orderly, pure singular form of Sikhism’. 30 Harjot pursued his research at the Australian National University but it carries the imprint of London University School of Oriental and African Studies methodology as it was closely monitored by Hew McLeod. It is noteworthy that Harjot fails to identify and appreciate the first step with regard to demarcation of distinct ‘religious boundaries’ taken by the founder of Sikhism himself with the nomination of Guru Angad as his successor and his refusal to recognise the Hindu Pantheon in his religious scheme. On the other hand,

28. W.H. Mcleod. Exploring Sikhism, p. 132. 0.4. Oxford University Press. 2000.

29. Ibid., p. 138, op.dt.

30. Harjot Singh Oberoi. The Construction of Religious Boundaries, p. 421, Oxford University

Press, 1997.


he says, the process of demarcation of religious boundaries started with a “dramatic change that came about with the rise of the Khalsa in the eighteenth century; sections of the Sikh population now began to push for a distinct and separate religious culture.”31 The fallacy of this statement shall be well understood if a reference is made to Mobid’s observations in his Dabistan-i-Ma^ahib written in the seventeenth century. He says, “To be brief, Nanak’ followers scorn images. Their belief is that all the Gurus are Nanak as has been said above. They do not recite mantras of the Hindus and they do not pay respect to their idol temples. They do not count avtars for anything. They do not have any attachment to Sanskrit, which the Hindus call the language of angels.”32 Also, a close study of the Janamsakhis, sufficiently reveals the anxiety of the compilers to lay stress on the distinct identity and superiority of Nanak’s faith and they frequently bring in the Hindu legendary accounts only to prove their hypothesis. However, the heretical versions like that of the Hindalis played havoc to denigrate the original Janamsakhi tradition.33 This emerging school of Sikh historiographers from the School of Oriental and African studies, London University should have taken these important factors into consideration before characterising all the janamsakhis as hagiographies devoid of historical elements. No doubt Sikh history is only 500 years old, yet the critical or so to say the ‘sceptical historian’ equipped with modern methodology, needs to take into account, the earlier concepts of history as ‘accumulation of records’ and ‘story telling’ besides the dominance of Christian historiography that prevailed throughout the middle ages.

It is in this backdrop that we should define a ‘traditionist’ or a ‘sceptic’ historian, the ‘historical method’ or ‘scholarly method’ as applicable to Sikh historiography. In the early twentieth century; we come across western educated Sikh officers/lawyers and some enthusiasts like Karam Singh imbued with intrinsic zeal for historical investigation, embarking on the path of constructing a reliable but objective narrative of Sikh history. It is wrong to presume that these pioneers ‘put their trust

31. Harjot Singh Oberoi. The Construction of Religious Boundaries, p. 24, Oxford University

Press. 1997.

32. Sikhism and the Sikhs (1645-46) from Mobid, Dabistan-i-Ma^ahib (Trans, by Irfan Habib);

J . S. Grewal and Irfan Habib (ed.) Sikh History from Persian Sources, p. 66. Tulika. New

Delhi 2001.

33. Khazan Singh. History and Philosophy of the Sikh Religion, p. 13.


in tradition’ and that the material handed down by tradition was never subjected to ‘rigorous scrutiny’. Sewa Ram Singh, Khazan Singh and Karam Singh all ventured to critically analyse the Janamsakhi tradition. Karam Singh’s anxiety to insist on contemporary documentary evidence is also evident from his work on Banda Bahadur published in 1905.34 In this regard the application of methodology also comes into play to bring forth disagreements. May be, that “every fact requires believable evidence to support” is an ideal position for the ‘sceptic historian’ but here the word ‘believable’ will carry relative meaning, connotation and perception for individual historians dealing with facts and evidence. The fixation with McLeod is; ‘I cannot possibly (like the traditional historians) call them Janamsakhzs) biographies’. But here the question arises whom does McLeod brand ‘traditional historians’ and which of the ‘traditionalist historians’ (possibly he means Sikh historians) has insisted or even tried to prove that Janamsakhis are biographies of Guru Nanak in the modern sense? The only point to be noted here is that janamsakhis are looked upon as repository of early Sikh tradition that is embedded within the Panth. They are open to scrutiny and historical analysis but every component of the tradition need not be analysed and rejected only to prove a hypothesis.

Also, a scholar from the SOAS, London, J.S. Grewal has extensively worked on almost every period of Sikh history. He started by trying to place Guru Nanak in historical perspective. A glance at the contents of his book Gum Nanak in History will bear out the premise. His understanding and analysis grounded in modern methodology is more explicit. He asserts that Guru Nanak was ‘an originator and a founder’.35 His work on Contesting Interpretations of the Sikh Tradition (published in 1998) seeks to assess the entire gamut of research work on Sikh tradition. A close reading of this work reveals Grewal’s anxiety to define what he calls ‘modern methodology.’ In the process, he fails to concur with Mcleod’s theory of evolution and transformation. He finds that ‘McLeods’ interpretation (Evolution of the Sikh Community) had a serious flaw

as he made the simplistic assumption that Guru Nanak’s mission

34. For details see Prithipal Singh Kapur, Historiography of Banda Singh Bahadur, as Ediror’s

note in Sohan Singh, Lift and Exploits of Banda Singh Bahadur, Punjabi University, Patiala, 2000.

35. J.S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in History, p. 236. Panjab University, Chandigarh, 1969.


was the same as that of the Bhakt.36 But he looks at the work of Mcleod on Sikh tradition (Janamsakhis) as representing historical methodology.37 It is strange that Grewal did not come across or he preferred not to take note of Kirpal. Singh’s important work Janamsakhi Prampra (first published In 1969) which appeared almost simultaneously with his own work; Guru Nanak in History and was preceded by McLeod’s Guru Nanak and the Sikh Peligion. Perhaps, it was due to the fact that work was produced in Punjabi. Kirpal Singh did not undertake the project either to contest the interpretations of Mcleod or refute his conclusions. It was pursued independently. In his foreward to the work, Professor Kirpal Singh Narang, the then Vice-Chancellor of the Punjabi University wrote “the purpose of the project was to critically analyse the Janamsakhi tradition with a view to discover the elements of historicity contained therein and more so to present before the people a historical Janamsakhi. ’’This challenging task took Kirpal Singh to many places within India and Sri Lanka. And as stated above; Kirpal Singh evolved his own methodology to accomplish the arduous task which is decidedly analytical and is aimed at search for historical content in the Sikh tradition. But Kirpal Singh refraim; from becoming negatively ‘sceptical’. His work also takes care of the available corroboratory evidence besides ensuring that no inconvenient evidence is suppressed. Consequently, he rejects many an anecdote found in the Janamsakhis. He demonstrates full well that the scholars/historians branded as ‘traditionalists’ (by the scholars avowedly committed to modern historical methodology), are fully conscious of the demands of the modern historical methodology but they are not inclined to subscribe to the negative ‘sceptical approach’. This also explains how Jagtar Singh Grewal also a product of School of Oriental and Afro-Asian studies manages to pursue his methodology and at the same time remains conscious about the sensibilities of the faithful without in any way compromising with the results of his research. It is however regretted that Grewals’ Contesting Interpretations of the Sikh Tradition could not carry a fuller assessment of the work on Sikh tradition. It appears, he intended only to defend McLeod’s thesis in his typical style. Therefore, it was left to Dr. Kirpal Singh himself

36. J.S. Grewal, Contesting Interpretations of Sikh Tradition, p. 125. Manohar Publishers and

Distriburors, 1998.

37. Ibid, p. 18.


to present before the scholarly world, the findings of his assiduous research as Janamsakhi Tradition: An Analytical Study’. On my part, I feel honoured for having been entrusted with the onerous and