DR. HARJINDER SINGH DILGEER
Akal Takht Sahib was revealed by Guru Hargobind Sahib on June 15,1606. The foundation stone of the building of Akal Takht Sahib was laid down by Guru Hargobind Sahib himself. (Guru Hargobind Sahib did not built or create Akal Takht Sahib, he revealed it. Akal Takht Sahib belonged to Waheguru and it was the Almighty who could have created Akal Takht Sahib). The rest of the structure was completed by Baba Buddha (the veteran Sikh servant) and by Bhai Gurdas (Sikh scholar) only. No mason or any other person was permitted to participate in the construction of the structure. Guru Hargobind Sahib himself was the Custodian of the Takht of Waheguru. According to a source, when Guru Hargobind Sahib remained in Gwalior Fort prison, he had asked Baba Buddha to perform the services of Darbar Sahib (HARIMANDAR SAHIB) and Bhai Gurdas to take care of Akal Takht Sahib. It was not the appointment of Bhai Gurdas as the Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib. It is ignorance to say that Bhai Gurdas was the Jathedar or the Custodian of Akal Takht Sahib. He was just the caretaker. Guru Hargobind Sahib left Amritsar in 1635. Between 1635 and 1696 (until the death of Harji), Amritsar was under the control of the descendants of Pirthi Chand (elder brother of Guru Arjan Sahib). In April 1698, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib appointed Bhai Mani Singh as Granthi of Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib. On December 30, 1711, Bahadur Shah, the Mogul emperor, "assigned" the Jagir of Chakk Ram Das (Amritsar) to Ajit Singh Palit (He had been adopted by Mata Sunder Kaur. Later, she discarded him). Bahadur Shah wanted to use Ajit Singh Palit against Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, the Sikh General. Ajit Singh returned to Delhi after the death of Bahadur Shah (February 27, 1712). After this Baba Kahan Singh of the so-called Tat Khalsa, who looked after Akal Takht Sahib and Mahant Amar Singh of the so-called Bandai Khalsa, who had the control of Jhanda Bunga. Bhai Mani Singh is not referred as so-called Jathedar in any Sikh work. Bhai Ratan Singh Bhangu calls him "Pujaran sion vado pujari" (chief priest among the priests).
After the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh (June 24,1734), there was no one to take care of the shrines at Amritsar during the dark period of the Sikh history. There were Sarbat Khalsa gatherings at Akal Takht Sahib, at least since 1726, but no reference is available as to who convened these gatherings. It is presumed that Jathedars of the Sikh army used to call these gatherings. Later, Budha Dal (the Sikh veterans) took over the charge of the shrines. As the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib, he introduced authentic Sikh practices at Akal Takht Sahib and Darbar Sahib. Baba Prem Singh Hoti wrote a book about Akali Phula Singh in 1912. Baba Prem Singh did not use the term Jathedar even once.
On October 12,1920, when some initiated Sikhs, belonging to so-called low castes, went to Akal Takht Sahib to offer an Ardas (prayer), to caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib and the Granthis slipped away. The gathering found the Takht Sahib unattended. A Jatha (band) of 25 Sikhs was selected to take care of Takht Sahib. Bahi Teja Singh Bhucher was appointed as the Jathedar of the Jatha. Bhai Teja Singh was to be the chief of the Jatha and not Akal Takht Sahib.
On October 13,1920, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar called a meeting of the (former) priests and the Sikh leaders. The priests abstained from the meeting. This meeting selected an ad-hoc Committee to look after the affairs of Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib. The Committee comprised Sundar Singh Ramgarhia (the manager of Akal Takht Sahib and Darbar Sahib). Professor Teja Singh, Bawa Harkishan Singh, Bhai Deva Singh, Bhai Bahadur Singh Hakim, Bhai Chanda Singh, Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Jathedar Teja Singh Bhucher and Doctor Gurbakhash Singh. This Committee, later, called a Sarbat Khalsa gathering for November 15-16, 1920. A Hukamnama, signed by Dr. Gurbakhash Singh, a member of the ad-hoc Committee, was issued. (This Hudamnama wa not issued by Jathedar Teja Singh Bhucher, the Jathedar of the Jahta appointed to take care of Akal Takht Sahib on October 12, 1920). Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha published his encyclopedic work, Mahan Kosh in 1930. He did not even mention anything such as the Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib.
Even after 1920 or 1925 of even 1947, the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib, (though the term Jathedar was being used by the leaders of the SGPC and the other officials) was not known to be any specific entity. When on November 29, 1961, the Panj Piaray gave their verdict from Akal Takht Sahib against Master Tara Singh, Fateh Singh ect., the so-called Jathedar came to be known as something extraordinary. When on October 2, 1962, the Fateh Singh group wrested the control of the S.G.P.C. from the Master Tara Singh, Jathedar Achchhar Singh, the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib resigned his position to protest against the mismanagement of the affairs of Darbar Sahib and the other shrines. No one bothered about the institution of the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib. No one reacted when Sadhu Singh Bhaura, who had been defeated in the S.G.P.C. elections, was appointed as so called Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib. It was not only on September 26, 1979, when Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra approached Akal Takht Sahib for settlement of the internal affairs of the Akali Dal, that the so called Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib came to be known as some "extra special" entity. Since then the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib has been considered as an officer, who is a sort of object of fear (like a Mafia boss or even a monster) for every Sikh. It was the promotion of fascism. It was and it is utterly in contradiction to the Sikh ideology.
Akal Takht Sahib is the Throne of the Almighty. It is supreme-most seat of the Sikh nation and all those who choose to owe their allegiance to this Throne. Akal Takht Sahib is not an ordinary shrine. It is not an organization. A Jathedar means the chief of the President of the leader of a Jatha (band) of an organization. Hence the term Jathedar is a misnomer. There can be a "caretaker" of Akal Takht Sahib of there can be a Jathedar of Sarbat Khalsa (the Sikh Commonwealth). He must represent the whole of the Sikh nation. He must have the confidence of the whole of the Sikh nation. It implies that he should be SELECTED through the consensus of the whole of the Sikh nation. The proper course to SELECT the Jathedar of the Sarbat Khalsa or the "caretaker" of Akal Takht Sahib, is to convene a Sarbat Khalsa. It should be a gathering of representatives of all Sikh organization and Sikh intellectuals (who consider themselves as the subjects of , and owe their loyalty solely to, Akal Takht Sahib). The S.G.P.C. represents the Sikh nation with regard to the management of the Sikh shrines and on this issue it is supreme. None can challenge S.G.P.C.'s jurisdiction in the case of the management of the Sikh shrines. But, the S.G.P.C. is not the Sarbat Khalsa for the purpose of the selection of the "Jathedar of the Sarbat Khalsa" or for the appointment/selection of the "caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib". This Sewadar must be selected by way of a Gumatta of the Sarbat Khalsa. The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib can be named as Mukh Sewadar (chief attendant) or Sarbrah (manager) or Nigran (custodian) or Safir (ambassador) of Bulara (spokesman) or Diwan (a sort of minister). I will suggest the term Mukh Sewadar in Punjabi and "caretaker" in English.
The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib is not a monarch, nor is he like the President (as in the USA), nor is the Pontiff (like Catholic Pope). He is just a speaker, a spokesman, an attendant. He is not a dicator. He can not issue Hukamnamas as a per his whims of his will. He can issue the Gurmattas of the Sarbat Khalsa as the Hudamnamas of Akal Takht Sahib. The issues of the petition of the persons excommunicated from the Sikh Panth, the cases of punishment must be considered by the Sarbat Khalsa. There can be a "standing committee", which should consist of the representatives of the organizations which are loyal to Akal Takht Sahib, plus a few Sikh intellectuals (to be coopted by these representatives). The members of this "standing committee" shall continue to be members of the Committee as long as they have the confidence of their organizations as well as the Sikh nation. Even these members shall not be consider themselves as some authority. They are the Sewadars of the Sikh nation. For the local issue, the petitions may be decided by Panj Piaray.
Hukamnama of Akal Takht Sahib
(History and Concept)
Hukamnama, literally means "Royal Order." As Akal Takht Sahib is the Throne of the Almighty, the orders issued by Akal Takht Sahib are called Hukamnamas. The letters written by the Sikh Gurus too were also called Hukamnamas. In the middle ages, the orders from the worldly rulers were also known as Hukamnama but the people carried out the orders under compulsion. But, the Hukamnamas of the Sikh Gurus was a matter of pride and privilege. Not only the carrying out the Guru's Order but even the Darshan (a simple look) at Guru's Hukamnama was a matter of pride for a Sikh.
The first Hukamnama from Akal Takht Sahib was issued by Guru Hargobind Sahib himself. This Hukamnama asked the Sikhs to wear arms for self defence. Since then several Hukamnamas must have been issued. Some Hukamnamas issued by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, his wife, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Sarbat Khalsa, Akal Takht Sahib etc. are still available in the original. (Two collections of Hukamnamas are available in print form, one edited by Dr. Ganda Singh and the other one by Bhai Shamsher Singh Ashok, both published in 1968 by Punjabi University and the S.G.P.C. respectively. These volumes have Hukamnamas by the following: 2 by Guru Hargobind Sahib, one by Guru Harkrishan Sahib, 22 by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, 34 by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, 2 by Banda Singh Bahadur, 2 by Thrones etc.).
During the eighteenth century, the Sarbat Khalsa issued Hukamnama-s to the Sikhs for manifold purposes. Through one Hukamnama, Akal Takht Sahib asked the Sikhs to release the wife of a Brahmin (Hindu of priestly class) whom the Afghan Chief of Kasur had carried away. In 1759, Sarbat Khalsa issued a Hukamnama to the Sikhs to send funds for the reconstruction of the Sikh shrines.
After the British annexation of the Sikh Homeland, Akal Takht Sahib was misused by the occupying managers. A Hukamnama against Professor Gurmukh Singh was issued in 1879. A Hukamnama, it has been said, was issued against the Ghadar Party workers. There is no direct evidence of the issuance of such a Hukamnama. As these two and alike Hukamnamas were not in accordance with the Sikh ideology, hence the Sikh nation rejected them.
Hukamnamas excommunicating persons or cults guilty of harming Panth or for acts of blaspheme, too, have been issued from time to time: Gurdial Sinh Nabha (1923), Teja Singh Bhasaur and his associates (1928), Nirankari cult (1978) etc. During the period of attempt at the hijacking of Akal Takht Sahib too Hukamnamas were issued to excommunicate Zail Sinh, Buta Sinh, Santa Sinh, Rachhpal Sinh, Surjit Barnala, Pashaura Sinh etc.
Hukamnama of Akal Takht Sahib is different from a verdict given from Akal Takht Sahib in some disputes. Decisions in the cases of the Sikhs who surrender at Akal Takht Sahib for their anti-Sikh activities are not Hukamnamas. These decisions had been given in the case of Kartar Singh Bedi (1924), Bhai Narain Singh (1924), Buta Singh M.L.C. (1935), Master Tara Singh, Fateh Singh and eight members of the Executive of Akali Dal (1962), Piar Singh (1993) etc. In some cases partial decisions were taken by the caretakers of Akal Takht Sahib for forgiving or for giving minor punishment due to reasons best known to them. These cases were: Zail Sinh, Surjit Barnala, Buta Sinh, Amarjit Grewal, Pashaura Sinh etc. All these persons were given concessionary treatment. The Sikhs have not accepted these decisions by the respective caretakers of Akal Takht Sahib.
This has happened due to ignorance about the concept of Akal Takht Sahib and its Hukamnama. The Hukamnama of Akal Takht Sahib is the consensus of Sarbat Khalsa. During the eighteenth century, the issues of the Sikhs were decided by way of Gurmata. The leaders of all the groups, Misls, battalions of the Sikhs used to gather at Akal Takht Sahib to finalize a particular issue. The decision was reached by way of consensus in accordance with the Sikh ideology. This was called Gurmata (the counsel of Guru Sahib). This Gurmata was issued to the Sikh nation from Akal Takht Sahib as Hukamnama of Sarbat Khalsa or Akal Takht Sahib. This represented the "will of the Sikh nation." A Hukamnama can not be issued by caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib by way of personal whims. The political monopolization and the adoption of Western political system made the Sikh intelligentsia indifferent to the institution of Akal Takht Sahib and the institution of Akal Takht Sahib was "hijacked" by ignorant but clever politicians. All the Gurmatas are not Hukamnamas. When a resolve to execute some planning is made, it is called Gurmata and it applies to the persons who participate in it. But, if this Gurmata is of national importance then it is released to the Sikh nation. In that case it becomes Hukamnama. Sarbat Khalsa made several Gurmatas in the eighteenth century. Some of the well know Gurmatas are: the issue of acceptance of Jagir (1733), construction of Sikh fort (1747), formation of Dal Khalsa (1748), to recognize Rakhi (1753 and 1758), to attack Lahore (1760), to emphasize the supremacy of Sarbat Khalsa (1765), the petition of Jaswant Rao Holkar (1805), to form the S.G.P.C. (1920), to form Gurdwara Sewak Dal, later named Akali Dal (1920) etc.
There are certain issues which can not be covered by Gurmata or Hukamnama. These include the basic principles, postulates or doctrines of Sikhism. A Gurmata, which applies to the whole of the Sikh nation (national issues) must represent the will of the whole nation and must not be a decision of an ad hoc hand-picked assembly of special invitees by a party or faction or self-styled Jathedar/Pope.
Since 1979, Akal Takht has been used by the Akali leaders for their factional activities. As a result the institution of Akal Takht Sahib has suffered a lot. The caretaker (whom they wrongly call Jathedar) of the Takht has been acting as an agent of the ruling Akali faction. Specially under the reign of Kirpal Singh Badungar, Akal Takht caretaker has acted as an ordinary Akali worker, loyal to the president of the SGPC. This is mockery of the institution. Akal Takht Sahib which is the greatest seat of the Sikh Panth has been defiled by the Akali leadership. Akal Takht is not a court of mediation between factions, groups; nor it is an industrial tribunal to decide disputes. Akal Takht Sahib should not deal with each and every case like an ordinary tribal court. It should deal with only those issues which are of national importance and the Hukamnamas should be issued only after a Gurmata has been passed by the Sarbat Khalsa. What is Sarbat Khalsa is still a moot point. In the present circumstances, a meeting of all the Sikhs is not possible. In such a situation the representatives of all those parties and institutions, which are loyal to Akal Takht Sahib plus the Sikh intelligentsia, should form the Sarbat Khalsa. This is not the final formula. The Sikh intelligentsia can discuss the procedure to for Sarbat Khalsa. But, the president of the SGPC appointing a caretaker of Akal Takht as per his political need is against Sikh philosophy. AND the caretaker issuing Hukamnamas of his personal whim in association with 4 more priests, in line with the SGPC president is still further un-Sikh like. The Sikhs should stop playing games with the Sikh fundamentals.
Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer
Guru Nanak Institute of Sikh Studies, England
Sikh History Research Board
& the Sikh Reference Library
Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer has written about 40 books on Sikh history, culture and philosophy. The SGPC Amritsar and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee too have published his books. To know more about him visit www.dilgeer.com