Reflecting on the Power of 1699

You have probably heard about the Sikh Coalition’s 16.99 Vaisakhi Campaign.  But what is the historical significance of 1699?  Consider the following extracts from the writings of historians Gopal Singh, Nikki-Guninder Kaur, and J.D. Cunningham:

“1699. It was on the first day of Vaisakh, mid-spring … that Guru Gobind Singh [the Tenth Sikh Guru] … decided finally to evolve a new order. Upto now, everyone, Hindu or Muslim, was welcome to the portals of the new faith, if he pledged to forego his caste exclusiveness, interdine, serve man irrespective of his creed and to believe only in one God, and discard all cant, superstition, and ritual. It was a society of the peaceful and the holy.” [GS]

“But it was the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur (the Ninth Guru) in Delhi that finally consolidated the martial aspect of Sikhism.  [Guru Teg Bahadur] challenged the policy of the Muslim rulers of converting Hindus by force, and for this defence of religious freedom he was executed in 1675. His son and successor … though only nine years of age then, provided vigorous leadership to the Sikhs. His first task was to infuse a new spirit among his people.” [NGK]

“The Guru, therefore, decided to evolve an order which would keep as its ideal of life nothing but sacrifice for the cause of [righteousness], and would not accept slavery, either political, or social or economic. And, if for this they had to fight their way through, they wouldn’t shirk the use of arms.” [GS]

“Guru Gobind Singh fulfilled his aspiration for religious freedom in 1699 by inaugurating the Khalsa, the Order of the Pure. It was a casteless and self-abnegating body of Sikhs ready to take up arms to fight against oppression[.] Chanting verses from the Guru Granth [Sahib], Guru Gobind Singh began the initiation into the Khalsa by churning water, poured into a steel bowl, with a double-edged sword. His wife, Mata Sahib Kaur, came forward and dropped sugar crystals into the vessel. Sweetness through the feminine hand was thus mingled with the alchemy of iron.” [NGK]

“The occasion marked a dramatic departure from the past. The five to whom the rites of initiation were administered by Guru Gobind Singh were given the surname of Singh, meaning ‘lion’ and were ever after to wear the emblems of the Khalsa, popularly known [today] as the Five Ks. These were Kesha or uncut hair; Kangha, a comb tucked into the Kesha to keep it tidy; Kara, a steel bracelet symbolizing strength and unity; Kachha, short breeches; and Kirpaan, a sword. Their rebirth into the new order represented the annihilation of their family (caste) lineage, of their confinement to a hereditary occupation, of all their earlier beliefs and creeds, and of the rituals they had so far observed. They were enjoined to help the weak and fight the oppressor. Guru Gobind Singh reiterated [the First Guru, Guru Nanak’s] message to have faith in the One, and consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and religion.” [NGK]

“This done, [the Guru] now stood before [his disciples] with folded hands, entreating them to administer the Amrit to him … [and] the Guru was administered Amrit the same way, much to the wonder of his devoted followers. It electrified the atmosphere as nothing else could. It is said many thousand persons were baptized thus on that day at their request[.]” [GS]

“Women were also to wear the five emblems of the Khalsa. As men received the surname Singh, women received the surname Kaur, signifying “princess,” and they retained the name whether single or married. Thus the patriarchal structure of society was modified. Men and women no longer traced their lineage or occupation to the ‘father'; as ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ both became equal partners in the new family of Sikhism.” [NGK]

“A living spirit possesses the whole Sikh people, and the impress of [Guru Gobind Singh] has not only elevated and altered the constitution of their minds but has operated materially and given amplitude to their physical frames. The features and external form of a whole people have been modified and a Sikh chief is not more distinguishable by his stately person and free and manly bearing than a minister of his faith is by a lofty thoughtfulness of look which marks the fervour of his soul and his persuasion of the near presence of the Divinity.” [JDC]

Sources: Gopal Singh, Guru Gobind Singh (1966); Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh, The Name of My Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus (1995); J.D. Cunningham, History of the Sikhs (1849)

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One Response to Reflecting on the Power of 1699

  1. […] was immediately reminded of a recent post on the Sikh Coalition’s blog, in which the author discussed the significance of Vaisakhi in 1699.  In this post, excerpts of […]

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