Archive | November, 2008

Do Good Intentions Equal Accuracy?

18 Nov
Among the many Western writers who have written about Sikhism, Cunningham is undoubtedly considered to be one of the most creditable and venerable. And for good reason too. His historical accounts and corresponding footnotes are comprehensive and meticulous. Even more, the facts and perspectives that he presents are not based on any political agenda. So naturally, I embarked on this book with high expectations and very little knowledge of the post-Guruship era.

As expected,  I was really impressed by the extent to the details of events and references were provided. However, I began to question the reliability of the information regarding the Guruship era, an area which I am a little more familiar with. I am referring to the following sections:

Quote 1:
“Nanak had sanctioned or enjoined secular occupations, Arjun carried the injuction into practice, and the impulse thus given speedily extended and became general. The temper and the circumstances of Har Gobind both prompted him to innovation; he had his father’s death to move his feelings in surpassing the example of his parent even the jealous dogma of the Hindu law…” (pg 50)
According to my interpretation, this section could mean several different things:

1. Guru Har Gobind took Sikhism in a very different direction. Many people believe in the teachings of the first five Gurus, but not from Guru Hargobind and on due to their military approaches. Is Cunningham agreeing with them in this stage and saying that Guru Har Gobind took Sikhism in a very different direction? Does it simply mean that during Guru Har Gobind Ji’s contribution to the development of Sikhism was great?  Interestly, I have read how this military approach was in the development even with the earlier Gurus. For example, Guru Angad Dev Ji actually promoted the sport of wrestling and physical strenth amongst his Sikhs. (Please correct me if I am wrong about this. )

2. Part of his motivation was to simply do something different.

Quote 2:
“but the adventorous Har Gobind became a hunter and an eater of flesh and his disciples imitated him in these robust practices. The genial disposition of the martial apostle led him to rejoice in the companionship of a camp, in the dangers of war, and in the excitements of the chase, nor is it improbable that the policy of a temporal chief mingled with the feelings of an injured son…” (Pg 50)
To me, this seems more like he was into a military approach partly for hte wrong reasons. “An injured son”, this makes it seem personal. More like this was about the death of his father, rather than the revered Guru.  What do you think? Am I reading too much into all of this?

Quote 3:
“Har Gobind appears to have admitted criminals and fugitives among his followers, and where a principle of antagonism had already arisen they may have served him zealous without greatly reforming th practice of their lives; and, indeed, they are stated to have believed that the faithful Sikh would pass unquestioned into heaven.” (Page 50)
Is this saying that Guru Har Gobind did not reach this group of people on a deeper level?

Quote 4:
“Har Gobind became a follower of the Emperor Jahangir…On the death of Jahangir in 1628, Har Gobind continued in the employ of the Muhammadan Government”” (Page 51)
Please tell me that I am completely misunderstanding what he is saying!
So if indeed I am not misunderstanding his quotes, then this makes me question the other facts and opinions that he presents in the book, especially when he explains the motives for many Sikh, Hindu and Muslim rulers.  I searched for any online literature that refutes the accuracy and reliability of Cunningham, and have not found much. So what do you guys think..have I completely taken his statements out of context? I would love to hear from you!

Please Confirm

3 Nov

Supreet sent out the following email to those who have expressed varying degrees of interest in joining the book club. In case you are one of those visitors who have stumbled upon this blog but were not on the mailing list, you could leave your email address as a comment to this post and we will get back to you.


Hi Everyone,

Sarbjeet and I are excited by your great interest in joining this book club. As we had mentioned earlier, we are planning on reading one book each month followed by a monthly get-together to discuss each book. For our first book, we have chosen ‘History of the Sikhs‘ written by J.D. Cunningham. We will have the first meeting on December 6 at 7:00 PM, which I will host at my apartment in Norwood.

At the first meeting, apart from discussing the book, we have three other things on the agenda:
1) Finalizing the day and time for our monthly meetings.
2) Identifying the books we’d like to read.
3) Ordering the books for the entire group

Discussing these issues (convenient times to meet and interesting but manageable books to read) will address several members’ concerns regarding time commitment. There are only two things, however, that we ask for our members to commit:

1) Reading the book (Sorry, I doubt there are cliff notes.  🙂   )
2) Attending the meetings, though of course, it is OK if you are unable to attend a meeting once in a blue moon.

We intend to keep the group size to not more than 8-10 members. Please let us know if you would definitely like to join the book club as we need a final count of how many of you are planning to join.  Also, please let us know if you already have a copy of this book, since we may have a couple of extra copies on hand. Once again, thanks for your interest and we look forward to hearing from you!

Supreet and Sarbjeet