Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Minas and Their Literature

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Minas and Their Literature

Article excerpt

SODHI MIHARBAN AND THE MINAS

In the sikh panth, the term Mina was originally applied to a group who recognized a different line of gurus after the fourth Guru Ramdas: instead of the orthodox line proceeding from Ramdas to his youngest son Arjan and subsequently to Arjan's only son Hargobind, the Minas recognized Ramdas' eldest son Prithi Chand as Arjan's successor.(5) Because of this allegiance, the Minas were spurned by the mainstream Sikh panth and given their collective epithet, which was originally the name of a "criminal tribe" that inhabited southwestern Punjab.(6) (It is worth noting that the Minas reject the epithet and refer to themselves merely as "Sikhs" in surviving documents.) Partially due to the strength of their following, the Minas were stigmatized by the mainstream Sikh panth fight up to the middle of the nineteenth century and are invariably numbered among the panj mel, or five groups with which relations are forbidden, in the earliest Khalsa rahitnamas (codes of conduct). Indeed, although the Minas had all but ceased to exist by about the beginning of the twentieth century, formal sanctions against them still form a part of modern-day rahitnamas. Despite these prohibitions, the Mina following seems to have remained relatively strong until sometime in the nineteenth century, particularly in the Malva region of southwestern Punjab. The Minas' literary output was formidable, including scriptural exegesis, hagiography, and devotional poetry. The Minas even spawned an ascetic sub-group, the Divanas, who enjoyed a particularly strong following in Malva until very recent times. Although mainstream Sikh opposition to the Minas seems largely to have arisen from the Minas' adherence to a different line of gurus, it is unclear what other factors may have influenced the conflict.

The strength of orthodox Sikh reaction against the Minas is quite clear from the time of Guru Arjan right up to the middle of the eighteenth century. In his thirty-sixth var,(7) Guru Arjan's maternal uncle Bhai Gurdas portrays the Minas as irredeemable wretches who will be punished in God's court, false claimants to guruship who lack the qualities necessary for spiritual leadership (36:11). Associating with the Minas is the path to pain and suffering in this world and hell in the next (36:5-6), and those who choose a false guru - the Mina guru - are condemned to repeated rebirth (36:13-16). The Minas, Bhai Gurdas tells us, "are false coins from a false mint" (36:8). A century and a half later, the Khalsa tradition evinced a more institutionalized and intense antipathy toward the Minas than did the early Sikh panth. The Chaupa Singh Rahitnama, a mid-eighteenth-century Khalsa manual of conduct, warns Sikhs not to contract marriage alliances with the Minas, while nineteenth-century codes forbid Sikhs (including Sahajdharis) from any dealings at all with the Minas or their followers - even warning that those who show sympathy for the Minas are to be excluded from the Sikh sangat (congregation).(8) A major component of the discourse of stigmatization and marginalization that was applied to the Minas was the orthodox contention that the Minas had broken faith with the panth by composing and disseminating heterodox literature, particularly spurious writings attributed to the Gurus. As early as the beginning of the eighteenth century, mainstream Sikh tradition began to contend that the existence of Mina bani(9) composed in the name of Guru Nanak had caused Guru Arjan to compile the Adi Granth in order to safeguard the sanctity of the Gurus' authentic compositions.(10) Other texts of the period claim that the Minas interpolated the janamsakhis(11) portraying Guru Nanak's life with stories that denigrated him by claiming that Nanak had been the disciple of a Hindu raja in a past life or that he had exercised the droit de seigneur with a landowner's daughter in his present incarnation. Thus, tradition explains, Sikhs petitioned Guru Gobind Singh's contemporary Bhai Mani Singh to write a proper, uninterpolated janamsakhi for the panth:

The Sikhs said, "The chhote mel [Minas] put whatever they wanted in the gostis [discourses] they wrote. …

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