Martyrdom and the Sikh Tradition

By Fenech, Louis E. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, October-December 1997 | Go to article overview

Martyrdom and the Sikh Tradition


Fenech, Louis E., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


In the early days of my life I heard much about Shahid Bhagat Singh and Baba Dip Singh in dhadhi gatherings. Wherever there were such gatherings I used to attend. I've always listened to [dhadhi] songs. Listening to them gave me a lot of strength. Listening to our people's history is important to us.(1)

In 1739 Nadir Shah, the emperor of Persia, was returning to Iran after having sacked Delhi. According to Rattan Singh Bhangu's mid-nineteenth-century Gur-panth Prakas (The History of the Guru's Community), the shah, during his brief stop in Punjab, was greatly annoyed at the losses Punjabi highwaymen were inflicting upon his booty-laden baggage trains. Incensed at their audacity, the shah asked Zakariya Khan, the governor of Lahore, to describe the perpetrators of these dating raids. The governor's answer, according to Bhangu, noted the endurance and rare courage of these bandits; their ability to bear all the punishment he could muster and yet, in spite of this, continue to increase in number; and their extraordinary altruism, despite such hardship. He closed with the following enthusiastic statement:

ek hoi tam sau sau laraim(2) marane te vai mul na daraim rahai chau un maran ko din mazhab kai bhai ham marat ul thak gae ui ghatat na kitahum dai(3)

One [of them] battles like a hundred warriors. Death is something of which they are not afraid. Their [fondest] desire remains to die for their faith. We are tired of killing them, but their numbers do not decrease.

It is the Sikhs about whom the khan is speaking. And although this exchange appears in an account with a proSikh bias, Zakariya Khan's opinion regarding the character of the adherents of gurmat (the Guru's teaching), especially their contempt for death, is a generalization we also find in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Persian manuscripts - albeit with a strong pro-Muslim bias(4) - and early European accounts dealing with the Sikhs. Meeting with Sikhs for the first time in 1805, for example, John Malcolm quotes from a "contemporary Muhammedan author":

. . . the Sikh horsemen were seen riding, at full gallop, towards "their favourite shrine of devotion. They were often slain in making this attempt, and sometimes taken prisoners; but they used, on such occasions, to seek, instead of avoiding, the crown of martyrdom:["] and the same authority states, ["]that an instance was never known of a Sikh, taken in his way to Amritsar, consenting to abjure his faith."(5)

Of course, the Sikhs to whom Malcolm alludes are those of the khalsa (pure) variety. It is well known that Sikh warriors of the eighteenth century often chose a Khalsa identity, and it was principally as soldiers that our Persian and British authors encountered these disciples of the Guru.(6) Yet despite this fact most Sikhs today would consider such descriptions of eighteenth-century Sikhs in general accurate - and which, moreover, they would extend to contemporary Sikhs. The specific characteristic with which we are concerned is both Bhangu's and Malcolm's emphasis upon the Sikh desire to don "the crown of martyrdom."

To many contemporary Khalsa and non-Khalsa (or sahaj-dhari) Sikhs the Sikh sahid or martyr is a highly revered figure, an unambiguous exemplar of virtue, truth, and moral justification. Sikh sahids give their lives in upholding righteousness (dharam) under the most painful and chilling circumstances, providing testimony (sahadat) to their faith with their blood. As with Christian and Muslim "witnesses to the truth" the unsought-for reward Sikh martyrs receive for such stalwart and courageous behavior in the face of torture and imminent death is liberation from the cycle of existence, union with God (Akal Purakh, "The One Beyond Time"). Sahids thus become the ideal Sikh athletes of piety, offering a glorious example of resistance to tyrannical authority, while paying the ultimate price for their powerful commitment to the Sikh faith, its doctrines, symbols, and Gurus. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Martyrdom and the Sikh Tradition
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.