This month’s book was Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji by Lala Daulat Rai. The book can be found here.
- Why did Lala Daulat Rai write this book?
- Discussion of context in 1901, author’s background and whether this influenced his views
- Recognition that the book was originally written in Farsi and has subsequently been translated by an unknown author
- The state of the Hindu people of India in the 1600s is similar to the state of the Sikh people today e.g. without the strength or unity to repel threats
- Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s qualities and what we can learn from them
- Educational background & knowledge
- Mental and physical preparedness
- Propagating a message in a local language
- The challenges faced by the Guru from a young age
- Evidence from the Guru’s writings regarding the meaning of true Dharam
- What are the pros and cons of highlighting life-events which are not backed up by historical references?
- A discussion on the process of religious and social reform which was taking place in India at the time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji
- A discussion on shastar vidhya and its key principles
- Overall reflection on the inspiration provided by this book and its unique way of presenting the life of Guru Gobind Singh Ji
The discussion began with the information given in the prologue by the author regarding the reasons for writing the book, namely the fact that there was no comprehensive book on Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s mission. The author also alludes to the fact that many people know very little about Guru Ji, so-called Khalsa Sikhs included. The author aims to write the book from a factual perspective, using the Guru’s own writings, and moving away from writing as an overzealous devotee. The members recognised the fact that this book was written in 1901 and many of the social issues described still ring true when looking at the problems faced by the Sikh community today e.g. the caste system, disunity and lack of worthy political power.
A lengthy discussion ensued about the background of the author, which is not clearly provided in the foreword of the book. Members felt that it was important to know this as it could have influenced the author’s views and portrayal of the Guru. On the other hand, the purpose of reading the book (and the book club overall) is to draw upon learning points from whichever text we read, regardless of the background of the author.
Some members felt that the book didn’t do justice to Guru Gobind Singh Ji, as the first third of the book spoke mainly about the Hindus and their plight, which in turn made it sound like Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s purpose was solely to save the Hindu Dharam. However, other members felt that the author clearly highlighted the Guru’s message of Oneness in all humanity regardless of faith and that this provided balance to the book.
The background context of the Islamic invasion of India highlighted how the word victory and its concept was slowly eliminated from the psyche of the common people of the time. This is comparable to the ISIS of today which attempts to enforce radical law upon the public. In the book the author describes how the Hill Rajas try to give their daughters’ hands in marriage as bargaining chips to the Mughals. The members reflected upon the irony of this; on one hand the Hindus were converting to Islam to escape the caste system which kept the common people downtrodden, but on the other hand were moving towards a system where religious identity was traded with land and titles.
One of the unique aspects of the book were the direct quotations of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s writings which highlighted the views and thoughts of the Guru regarding the hypocrisy of society at the time. The translation of the writings make reference to ‘Akaal’ rather than God which was a surprisingly accurate representation of Sikh philosophy. The Guru had a very clear message that the religious deals that the Brahmins were engaged in were nowhere near the true concept of spirituality. The author also emphasised that Guru Gobind Singh Ji wanted to propagate the message of truth in the local language, and recognised that failure to do this would be disastrous. In today’s world, Gurudwaras are reluctant to utilise English as a method of doing parchar and see this as a threat to the status quo, rather than embracing this as an opportunity like Guru Sahib did.
It was similarly interesting to hear more about Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s early life as we often assume that Guru Harkrishan Sahib Ji was the only ‘child’ Guru, but the reality is that Guru Gobind Singh was the head of the Sikh Panth at the age of nine. The author was honest about the fact that some stories surrounding the childhood of the Guru were not validated and therefore should be repeated only with caution. Certainly there were very few solid historical references in the book and no reference list as such.
The members generally found the section describing the difficulties faced by Guru Gobind Singh Ji particularly inspiring. There were multiple attacks on the Guru with many other factions vying for the title of Guru. Guru Sahib had very few resources to utilise in his strategy against the Mughals and this was described in depth to highlight the uphill battle which faced the Sikhs. There was an emphasis on the importance of study and preparation; the author describes Guru Gobind Singh spending many years becoming a scholar and being schooled in the art of warfare. This was contrasted to our attitudes today e.g. many young Sikhs feel that education comes at the cost of their Sikhi and fail to see the two go hand in hand. Similarly Guru Gobind Singh Ji was very fond of sports, mock battles and hunting. Again today the emphasis on physical activity has been lost from our Gurudwaras. In fact the court of the Guru described in the book seems very different to the court that our Gurudwaras have made on a Sunday. The Guru utilised stories and battles to inspire his Sikhs, and drew upon ancient sagas which influenced His own poetry to make it more relatable to the masses. There was no need to invent new warriors when the myths of old provided them.
The latter third of the book was dedicated to describing the several battles fought by Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s army. The army is initially described as ill-prepared, and makes it sound like this was the first time that the Sikhs had engaged in combat. However obviously we know that Guru Hargobind Sahib had prepared the Sikhs for battle many years previously and so the author’s description seems unlikely. This led to a discussion about the true art of Shastar Vidhya and how this form of discipline has been forgotten by the mainstream Sikh community and reduced to the Iranian influenced ‘Gatka’ demonstrations rather than maintaining its traditional Sikh values.
We completed the discussion with the recognition of the Guru’s true embodiment of the Chardikala concept and the fact that this was integrated into a message of religious, political and social reform.