When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799

When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799

When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799

When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799

Synopsis

Challenging the commonly accepted belief that the distinctive rituals, ceremonies, and cultural practices associated with the Khalsa were formed during the lifetime of the Tenth and last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, Purnima Dhavan reveals how such markers of Khalsa identity evolved slowly over thecourse of the eighteenth century. By focusing on the long-overlooked experiences of peasant communities, she traces the multiple perspectives and debates that eventually coalesced to create a composite Khalsa culture by 1799. When Sparrows Became Hawks incorporates and analyzes Sikh normative religious literature created during this period by reading it in the larger context of sources such as news reports, court histories, and other primary sources that show how actual practices were shaped in response to religiousreforms. Recovering the agency of the peasants who dominated this community, Dhavan demonstrates how a dynamic process of debates, collaboration, and conflict among Sikh peasants, scholars, and chiefs transformed Sikh practices and shaped a new martial community.

Excerpt

The Creation of the Khalsa—Baisakhi, c.1699?

Late in the seventeenth century, a large group of Sikhs gathered in the town of Anandpur to pay respects to their religious leader, Guru Gobind Singh, during the annual Baisakhi festival. The Sikhs (literally disciples) were a community that venerated the compositions of ten Gurus who had emphasized meditation on the divine name (nam) as a path to salvation. Sikhs believed that one could become attuned to the divine order of a formless, transcendent God through community worship, charity, and, most important, through a study of the Sikh scripture or Adi Granth. The community consisted mainly of merchants and traders of the Khatri caste and peasants and rural landholders of the Jat caste. It is believed that during the Baisakhi festival of 1699 the tenth and last spiritual leader of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, created a warrior community called the Khalsa. Khalsa Sikhs would aid the Guru in preserving his territories and authority from attacks by the local rulers of the Panjab hills and the Mughal forces. In transforming Sikhs into a self-governing warrior group, Guru Gobind Singh would set in motion a profound change in the political and cultural fabric of the Mughal province of Panjab. Within a few decades, this small warrior community would establish political control over Panjab by mobilizing peasants from throughout that province, overthrowing an empire that in 1699 ruled much of South Asia.

The creation of the Khalsa is important for many reasons. Its foundational texts questioned every facet of the social and political hierarchies that dominated peasant life in the seventeenth century. Other than challenging the moral right of the Mughal emperor to rule, Khalsa Sikhs, who were among the first to describe appropriate Khalsa practices, also questioned the hierarchies of caste and inherited privilege that dominated their world. Yet our understanding of the ways in which these new . . .

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