There is a lot to be said about the Sikh motto of ‘Guru Granth Panth‘. Guru here means the spiritual leader, Granth generally means scriptures, and Panth denotes the following or the community.
The ‘Sacred Sword’ by Hindol Sengupta, a fictionalised account of Guru Gobind Singh’s life, beautifully shows us how this motto came about. On how it became the Holy Trinity of the Sikhs. It also shows Guru Gobind Rai as the tall leader he was.
Throughout history, we have seen spiritual leaders proclaim their divine power over their strength and status in the society. Not Guru Gobind Singh. So here’s a story:
He told his bard one day, ‘I have been thinking… what is the meaning of the gaddi of the Guru?’
‘Surely the guru is the leader, the father of his people?’, said the bard.
‘But should that figure be decided only by birth? What is birth but fate?’, asked Gobind.
‘There is the wheel of karma, and birth follows that wheel. One is born according to fate and must live by that destiny,’ replied the bard.
‘You are born where you are born, bard, but your destiny you decide together with God,’ smiled the guru.
‘Why, though, are you thinking of this?’, the bard asked.
This is when Guru Gobind Rai recounts briefly their history, which is riddled with stories of the descendants of the very first guru; of sons and brothers – of men – whose hearts were filled with hate and jealousy for one of their own, which moved them to murder and join hands with the common enemy. All for this gaddi.
The bard, who had now heard it all, offers, ‘But the guru rules by divinity, not just by birth, I have heard. It is the deed that defines the guru.’
Addressing the bard directly, ‘Ram Rai Meherban, there have been many conspirators for the name of the guru. The list, I am afraid, will only grow. Not everyone understands the difference between birth and deed,’ said Gobind Rai.
So there, the bard asks, “What are you planning to do?”
‘Guru Granth Panth – this, I believe, is the holy trinity of the Sikhs,’ said the guru.
‘But what about your sons?,’ asked the bard.
‘What about them?
‘Isn’t the gaddi theirs – belongs to one of the them, that is? Surely one of them is worthy?’
‘And why should their worth – or his worth – only be determined by their inheritance? Guru Arjun gave us the Adi Granth. I am adding to it all the wisdom Guru Tegh Bahadur left for us. The Granth will be the new Guru,’ he said.
‘The masands would hate it. They would rebel,’ said the bard. ‘They believe they have the power over life, death, God…’
‘And tax,’ Gobind Rai completed the sentence.
At this point, I imagined the great guru smiling, even in this fiction.
The guru continues, “The masands have divided us into smaller and smaller parts. Each of them wants his share; many of them openly extort money from the poor farmers; they contribute little to the spread of Sikhism and its financial and military power, but they take away a lot.’
‘Will you be able to reform them?’ asked the bard.
‘Who is thinking of reform?’ smiled the guru.
And rightly enough, he did what was the least imaginable thing then: he put the masands out of business. He banished the power structure. Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa, appointed the Granth as their Guru, and declared that there would be no guru after him. He encouraged his people to unite under Sikhism and follow and support the Khalsa.
History says that Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa, which means ‘pure’, in 1699. The Khalsa comprises fully initiated devout Sikhs. Men in the Khalsa were to be known as Singh and women as Kaur. The initiated Khalsa has a behavioral code and a dress code to uphold; the behavioral code includes the duty to protect the innocent from any form of religious persecution.
This is a huge lesson in innovative leadership. Guru Gobind Singh deeply analysed the issues ailing his community. He acted to solve them without fear or favour. He did not have a power-hungry, myopic vision. He ensured the sustenance of his ideas through creation of worthy institutions such as the Khalsa. He energised his people by making them feel a part of these reforms. Most of all, he sought to unite people under a common, lofty goal. These are major issues that would take a lifetime to correct. But, with innovative ideas, Guru Gobind Singh managed to tie up all loose ends with one idea: Guru Granth Panth. In a very short time.
This is something that we, even in our world full of research scientists, policy makers, and a willing bureaucracy, advanced technology, cannot always do.
How many such leaders do we see in our society today?