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Gurus’ Family Feuds

INTRODUCTION

In the following two articles, Nanak’s Expendable Wife, and, Neglectful Guru Nanak, we argued how Guru Nanak, in failing to live up to his responsibilities as a husband and father figure, failed in his role as an ideal model to be followed and emulated.

His neglect of the very basic duties and rights expected of a doting father to his sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das, and a loving and caring spouse to his wife, Mata Sulakhani, left much to be desired from a so-called enlightened Satguru – let alone a conscientious, pious and God-fearing person.

We further contended that such long-term detachment and inattention towards his children, especially from the period of childhood through to the important formative years of learning, could have been a strong contributing factor towards his eldest, Sri Chand, maturing into the insubordinate, rebellious and disobedient son he later turned out to be.

This paper will seek to further explore the unruly nature of Sri Chand and the familial consequences this had after being overlooked by Nanak for the position of Guru after him.

In addition, we shall expand our discussion to encompass the lives of the nine Gurus to reveal how similar family feuds broke out over the all-important issue of Guruship. These hostilities not only ensued for generations, but were so bitter and full of intrigue that plots were even hatched to murder members of a rival family whose newly born children were considered potential heirs to the Guru’s throne.

‘BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM’

In Sikhism, the title Satguru in reference to the 10 Gurus literally means the true teacher or enlightener. It essentially implies that the Gurus were perfect humans in the absolute sense of the word and, therefore, perfect teachers who would have taught and inculcated in their followers moral and ethical principles of the highest order. At the very least, therefore, one would expect such enlightened beings, who claim to be religious saviours and direct emissaries of God, to succeed in teaching and raising disciples, particularly those closest to them including their own family, of the highest moral calibre and integrity. What we find instead, however, is quite the opposite.

When turning to the historical sources in Sikhism, we discover that the majority of the 10 Gurus were left busily contending with jealous family members driven by visions of absolute power and sovereignty in their pursuit of the coveted leadership position of Guruship. From the very first Guru, Nanak, through to the last, Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikh Panth (community) was plagued by rival gangs and movements established by resentful and envious Sikh members of the Gurus’ families who felt they had been snubbed from being chosen as the next rightful Guru.

What is more astounding, however, is not so much the reasons that motivated such reactions, which are bad enough and cannot simply be ignored given the gravity of the implications, but some of the extreme measures taken to usurp the mantle of Sikh leadership.

The old proverb: “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is most apt in this respect. Given how entrenched the scale and intensity of the confrontation along with the extent of hostility and violence was towards the Gurus should, in effect, raise serious doubts against any claims of them being true and perfect teachers. What the evidence points to instead is that these Gurus were grossly incompetent in raising a community of followers who exemplified those noble and upright qualities of goodness, patience, obedience, and loyalty known to be a priori characteristics of those who are truly God-conscious and enlightened.

NANAK’S STUBBORN SON, SRI CHAND

The schism created by Sri Chand had assumed alarming proportions which was a matter of serious concern for Guru Amar Das.

In the aforementioned article, the Neglectful Guru Nanak, we collated the various durational stints undertaken by Nanak, which began with his first missionary journey that lasted “twelve years” [1] before embarking on his Middle Eastern tour of “11 years”. [2] In all, “Nanak’s travels lasted twenty-eight years”, [3] with approximately five of those accounting for the sum total that would also include two other journeys: one “towards the South” [4] and a “third towards the North. Penetrating the Himalayas, [where] he went up to Tibet. [5]

We also cited Teja Singh and Diwan Chand Sharma as stating that “Sri Chand was only three years old, when his father left home and went away to preach in distant countries”. [6] (bold ours) This means that since Nanak spent 12 years away from home on his first trip, Sri Chand only got to see his father next when he was an adult of 15 years. In other words, he did not have the important influence of a fatherly figure during those important formative years of learning and development.

On the basis that “Sri Chand from the very beginning loved solitude and, as he grew up, he developed indifference to worldly affairs [7] (bold ours) to the point that “he became an ascetic, never married and ultimately founded the ascetic order of Udasis”, [8] we questioned whether this reclusive attitude was really there “from the very beginning” or a character trait that slowly developed as a consequence of his father’s similar indifference to worldly affairs, i.e. his family, through his extended periods of absences. We, nevertheless, acknowledged, given the dearth of historical evidence, that it was difficult to draw such a conclusion with any degree of certainty. Whatever the case, what is certain is that Sri Chand was certainly not the ideal and obedient son Nanak would have desired; quite the contrary in fact.

B.S. Dhillon divulges:

It is well-known in the Sikh tradition that after putting his son, Sri Chand, to a series of trials, Guru Nanak had decided in favour of Guru Angad …. Though, Sri Chand was a deeply religious person, yet it seems plausible that Guru Nanak had not found him worthy for guruship simply because of his ascetic inclinations.

One wonders whether, at any stage of his life, Nanak ever felt a sense of self-reproach over the possibility that his neglectful absences might have been the cause for his son’s reclusiveness and ascetic inclinations.

Dhillon continues:

On the other hand, Sri Chand instead of reconciling himself to the succession of Guru Angad, went ahead to lay his claim on guruship, subsequently establishing a separate sect known as the Udasis. He had started preaching the teachings of Guru Nanak in his own way which contrary to the ideals of Guru Nanak, laid stress on celibacy and asceticism.

Guru Amar Das was quick in response to warn the Sikhs to be aware of the pseudo-guru and his ‘false’ writings. He vehemently opposed the circulation of Kachibani which had been most probably composed by Sri Chand to establish his own seat of gurudom.

Notwithstanding Sri Chand’s personal grievances and motivations, the more important problem Sikhs need to confront is how Nanak the Satguru – this so-called paragon of virtue and morality – failed so comprehensively vis-á-vis nurturing his family that his son went so far as to publicly dispute his father’s decision by having the temerity of laying claim on Guruship while establishing an heterodox sect, preaching a false message in his father’s name, and composing his own Banis (sacred hymns).

It is arguably the most extraordinary yet often downplayed part of Nanak’s legacy when one takes into consideration two points: the damning nature of such turn of events vis-á-vis Nanak’s personal reputation as the “perfect teacher” (Satguru); how formidable and influential Sri Chand and his Udasi order became as time went by. In the latter case, Dhillon elaborates on how the third Guru, Amar Das, was forced to take drastic action against Sri Chand’s growing influence:

Besides controlling the Sikh centre at Kartarpur, he has been successful to attract a sizeable following to his fold. The schism created by Sri Chand had assumed alarming proportions which was a matter of serious concern for Guru Amar Das. To wean away the Sikhs from the influence of the Udasis, Guru Amar Das exhorted the Sikhs not to follow the Udasi way of life. Instead he encouraged them to lead a house holder’s life. It seems Sri Chand had also started composing Bani like hymns. Guru Amar Das was quick in response to warn the Sikhs to be aware of the pseudo-guru and his ‘false’ writings. He vehemently opposed the circulation of Kachibani which had been most probably composed by Sri Chand to establish his own seat of gurudom. [9]

Returning to the point in history when Sri Chand first announced he “was not happy at his supersession in favour of Angad” – the second Guru appointed by Nanak, then the renowned historian, H.R. Gupta, reveals:

The new Guru did not like to give any offence to Nanak’s family. He shut himself up in the house of an old woman named Bhirari at village Sanghar, and told her not to disclose his identity. The Guru spent his time in meditation, and for a year and six months [10] Sikhs could not trace him. They approached Bhai Budha who led them first to Khadur and then to Sanghar. He prevailed upon the Guru to give up seclusion and resume his duties. [11]

GURU ANGAD’S TROUBLESOME TWOSOME

Guru Amar Das shifted his headquarters from Khadur to Goindwal in order to avoid any conflict over the issue of succession with Guru Angad’s sons.

The same power struggles also plagued the household of Angad who, unlike his predecessor, had to contend against not one, but both his sons’ visions of grandeur. According to Surjit Hans, Angad’s sons “Datu and Dasu”, perhaps motivated by the success of Sri Chand and his flourishing camp in Kartarpur, “established their own centres” in the region. [12] Yet, although “Datu … declared himself as the Guru”, says Surjit Singh Gandhi, Dhillon nevertheless confirms that “Guru Angad’s sons, though unhappy over the succession of Guru Amar Das, had not been able to attract a sizeable following to their side”. [13], [14]

In spite of this lack of success, however, their rebellion was still significant enough to force a strategic retreat on the part of the third Guru who, on the onset of trouble, decided, like Angad, to go into hiding before being persuaded out of it. Gupta notes in this regard:

Guru Amar Das shifted his headquarters from Khadur to Goindwal in order to avoid any conflict over the issue of succession with Guru Angad’s sons. Even there the new Guru was not left in peace. Following the example of Guru Angad, he left Goindwal and hid himself up in a hut in the jungle near Basarke village, with instructions that he should not be disturbed. Bhai Budha jumped over the back wall and persuaded the Guru to attend the Sikhs who were regularly calling at Goindwal. [15]

GURU AMAR DAS’ SON MOHAN’S MAYHEM

We have the testimony of Bhai Gurdas that after Guru Amardas passed away, his oldest son, Baba Mohan, established his own seat of authority at Goindval.

As briefly mentioned above, Guru Amar Das’ problems were not just restricted to the increasing power and influence of Sri Chand’s centre at Kartarpur, Hans states that by the end of his tenure moral corruption had become so widespread that “[e]ven the individual succession of Guru Ram Das [the fourth Guru] had to be justified” because, as Amar Das records in SGGS, “[h]e found his sons, nephews, son-in-law, collaterals and blood relations wanting because of their pride”. [16],[17]

As for his sons, then Rattan Singh Jaggi says of them:

Guru Amar Dass’s decision to hand over the charge of the Gurudom to his son-in-law, Ram Dass, angered both of his sons, Baba Mohan and Baba Mohri. Baba Mohri later reconciled to the situation but Baba Mohan remained adamant, and to establish his position he kept these volumes in his personal custody. [18] (bold ours)

The Sikh scriptural sources confirm that though Guru Amar Das had prevailed upon his sons to accept the spiritual authority of Guru Ram Das but it seems they had submitted to him hesitatingly and temporarily.

The “volumes” spoken of here are in reference to the Baba Mohan Pothis, better known as the Goindwal Pothis, which are said to be early codices containing the utterances of the first three Gurus along with those of some of the Bhagats.

As for Mohan’s refusal to accept the appointment of the fourth Guru, then Dhillon provides the following more detailed account:

Another rival tradition, which competed with the main Sikh tradition, belongs to Baba Mohan and has its origin at Goindwal. … The main factor for its out-growth was that Guru Amar Das’ descendants, especially his son Mohan, had not liked the nomination of Guru Ram Das to guruship. The Sikh scriptural sources confirm that though Guru Amar Das had prevailed upon his sons to accept the spiritual authority of Guru Ram Das but it seems they had submitted to him hesitatingly and temporarily. … Obviously, Baba Mohan and his close relatives were not reconciled to part with the possession of such a vibrant centre to any one. Very rightly loss of at Goindwal which was unbearable for them. According to Bhai Gurdas, the nomination of Guru Ram Das to guruship was such a terrible shock for Baba Mohan that he had lost his mental balance. [19] On the basis of evidence at our disposal we can very safely state that Baba Mohan was not only a rival contender but had actually established a parallel line of guruship at Goindwal. [20] (bold ours)

Hans even makes mention of Amar Das’ rivals competing with the Sikh community by producing scriptural compositions in competition with SGGS:

Guru Amar Das voices a warning against compositions written in the vein of Guru Nanak, possibly by the rival claimants to Guru Nanak’s gaddi. These compositions were ‘unripe’. Those who used these pseudo-compositions were ‘unripe’. Both the makers and the users were the victims of maya. [21], [22]

Hans further discloses the desperate plight of Amar Das by revealing that “[a]t one place [in SGGS], the conflict between the rivals and the institution of Guruship is stated with succinct clarity. The source of danger, too, is located there”. [23] The verse in reference reads:

Those who separate themselves from the Guru, in spite of His Constant Presence – they find no place of rest in the Court of the Lord.
If someone goes to meet with those dull-faced slanderers, he will find their faces covered with spit.
Those who are cursed by the True Guru, are cursed by all the world. They wander around endlessly.
Those who do not publicly affirm their Guru wander around, moaning and groaning.
Their hunger shall never depart; afflicted by constant hunger, they cry out in pain.
No one hears what they have to say; they live in constant fear and terror, until they finally die.
They cannot bear the glorious greatness of the True Guru, and they find no place of rest, here or hereafter.
Those who go out to meet with those who have been cursed by the True Guru, lose all remnants of their honor. [24]

In the end, another Satguru’s son turns out to be a rotten apple whose exploits, as summed up by Prof Gurinder Singh Mann below, leave little to be desired:

We have the testimony of Bhai Gurdas that after Guru Amardas passed away, his oldest son, Baba Mohan, established his own seat of authority at Goindval. [25] It is not surprising that Baba Mohan would have taken possession of the sacred manuscripts that were in his home and not given them to Guru Ramdas, the nominated successor to his father, Guru Amardas. [26] (bold ours)

PRITHI CHAND, PRETENDER TO GURU RAM DAS’ THRONE

He [Prithi Mal] became a lifelong enemy of Guru Arjan. He insulted and ill-treated his father who could not bear his humiliation and died young at the age of 47.

These rotten apples that crave after political power and leadership not only continue to regularly sprout on the Gurus’ family tree, but are far worse in taste and character by the time we reach the reign of the fifth Guru. Dhillon confirms that “Sikh sources are unanimous in their view that even during the life of Guru Ram Das, the issue of succession had become highly debatable”. [27]

The word ‘debatable’, however, is too euphemistic when one looks at arguably the most politically aggressive and power hungry of the Gurus’ sons, Prithi Chand. Dhillon states that “[t]he scriptural as well as historical sources provide enough insights into the nature of hostility that Guru Arjan Dev had to face at the hands of his rival, Prithi Chand” [28] while Gupta says of this man:

Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru, had three sons, Prithi Mal, Maha Dev and Arjan Mal. … He [Prithi Mal] became a lifelong enemy of Guru Arjan. He insulted and ill-treated his father who could not bear his humiliation and died young at the age of 47. [29] (bold ours)

On ascendance of Guru Arjan to gurgaddi, Pirthi Chand, who himself wanted to be the Guru, entered into collusive arrangement with the masands [Sikh Provinces], and pretended that he was the real Guru.

Dhillon too identifies how, in his quest to “usurp the guruship, he not only schemed to outwit his younger brother (Guru) Arjan Dev but had also cast his net to manipulate the position in his favour”. This began with him making “his stand publically known that he desired to succeed his father” before reaching a stage where “he had become so impatient and rowdy” in terms of “picking up feuds with his father” and “had stooped to such a level that Guru Ram Das had to declare him a Mina (crooked)” [30] – a term that would, henceforth, be applied indefinitely as a derogative title for his sect.

But, when he realised that his trouble-making had not had the desired results, “[i]nstead of reconciling to Guru Arjan Dev’s succession over guruship in September 1581, Prithi Chand carried on to contest his claim for guruship. Firstly, he conspired desertions and had won over some of the leading Masands to his camp. [31] He was also successful in getting a share in the income from the city of Ramdaspur”. [32], [33]

Gandhi records more fully:

On ascendance of Guru Arjan to gurgaddi, Pirthi Chand, who himself wanted to be the Guru, entered into collusive arrangement with the masands [Sikh Provinces], and pretended that he was the real Guru. Baba Budha was one of those disciples who with resoluteness denounced Pirthi Chand, and foiled his cunning attempts to usurp the gurgaddi. [34] (bold ours)

To note, this would not be the only time when the Masand (Sikh Provinces) system, ironically established by Guru Ram Das to help spread the Sikh faith and consolidate the ecclesiastical structure, is exploited in this way and for such a purpose.

It does not stop here. Dhillon notes that “Prithi Chand had conspired with the Mughal officials who out of jealousy were not found unwanting to promote his interest”. [35] Fauja Singh says that “Prithi Chand … indulged in all sorts of intrigues to damage the position of Guru Arjan Dev …. Through his machinations he even succeeded in inducing a government official, Sulhi Khan, to attempt an attack upon the Guru”, [36] which was not carried out following the Khan’s untimely death.

Dhillon continues:

In collusion with the provincial level Mughal officials he incited the royal court against the mission of Guru. Even a petition drawn against Guru Arjan Dev was put before Emperor Akbar but Prithi Chand and his associates had to face discomfiture because their allegations were unfounded and uncalled for. [37] (bold ours)

However, these plots pale in comparison to the next one. Dhillon explains that “[a]n examination of the Mina literature leaves no room for any doubt that Prithi Chand from the very beginning had embarked on a systematic plan to groom his son, Miharban, as the future guru of the Sikh Panth. To make him a perfect and legitimate candidate for guruship, Miharban was encouraged to compose poetry in the vein of the Sikh Gurus”. [38], [39] Given that “Guru Arjan Dev was issueless for quite a time”, these preparations might have seemed promising until “the birth of (Guru) Hargobind in June 1595 C.E., totally upset the Mina apple cart, which subsequently proved to be a turning point in the take off [sic] Mina tradition. Afterwards he thought of an aggressive and relentless campaign against the Guru. To eliminate the child Hargobind, was one of the earliest options which he had exercised clandestinely”. [40] (bold ours)

In other words, if it wasn’t bad enough that the son of a Guru was pursuing the murder of his own blood brother, Prithi Chand also sought to commit infanticide (or infant homicide, i.e. the intentional killing of an infant) of his very own newly born nephew and soon-to-be sixth Guru, Har Gobind.

Kartar Singh Duggal’s account brings to light the more chilling details of this attempt:

The only hope left to them [Prithi Chand and his wife Karmo] was to have the newborn killed somehow. Accordingly, they took an old family nurse into confidence and, promising her a rich reward, sent her to Wadali. She had her nipples smeared with poison. Obviously she was looking for an opportunity to suckle the newborn and poison him to death. However, the moment this woman took the child in her lap, she fainted. The poison applied on her nipples seemed to have affected her. The Guru had her immediately attended to and her life was saved. (bold ours)

When this failed, Prithi Chand, both the eldest son of Guru Ram Das and the oldest brother of Guru Arjan, hatched another harrowing plot:

Prithi Chand was still undeterred. After some time, he got a snake charmer to release a poisonous serpent in Guru Arjan’s courtyard where the child normally played. The toddler, it is said, picked up the snake and started playing with it. [41]

The only hope left to them [Prithi Chand and his wife ] was to have the newborn killed somehow. Accordingly, they took an old family nurse into confidence and, promising her a rich reward, sent her to Wadali. She had her nipples smeared with poison.

Following this third failure and “[h]aving failed to dislodge Guru Arjan Dev from Ramdaspur, Prithi Chand moved to Hehar, a village near Lahore, where he founded a parallel centre to that of Guru Arjan Dev. [42] However, after the departure of Guru Hargobind, the descendants of Prithi Chand had full control of Amritsar almost for a century where they carried on their literary pursuits without any disturbance. The volume and variety of literature produced by the Mina line of guruship speak loudly and clearly of their motives”. [43]

If the Mina’s volume and variety of literature is considered by Dhillon as speaking loudly and clearly of their motives, then Prithi Chand’s plotting and scheming should sound deafening to him. Somewhere down the line (assuming, of course, there was one to begin with) there must have been a complete breakdown in this father-son relationship. Guru Ram Das seems to have repeated the same mistakes committed by his predecessors. These perpetual mistakes are not like the incidental mistakes that might be committed by an ordinary father with the weaknesses of an ordinary man. In such a case, the excuse of negligence might be plausible if it was found, for example, that Prithi Chand’s siblings were given greater attention than him; or if the fault was found to be with the mother or someone else instead of the father. However, Prithi Chand, like his two siblings, was presumably brought up under the tutelage and close eye of a father who would have been well aware of the shortcomings of the previous Gurus’ families. How then did this ‘perfect teacher’ manage to perpetuate said mistakes and what reasonable explanation could account for such abject failure on the part of not one, but two Satgurus – the other being Prithi Chand’s younger brother, Guru Arjan Dev?

GURU HAR GOBIND’S GRANDSON, THE DEFIANT DHIRMAL

Dhir Mal felt infuriated. In the evening meal he administered poison to the Guru, and immediately disappeared to Kartarpur with the original copy of the Adi Granth.

It seems as though this covetousness for Guruship is an obsession that mainly struck the eldest child. Nanak’s eldest Sri Chand, Angad’s eldest Datu, Amar Das’ eldest Mohan, and Ram Das’ eldest Prithi Chand all turned out to be problem children. And since this seems to be generational, it is not surprising to learn that the sixth Guru Har Gobind’s eldest son’s eldest son, i.e. Har Gobind’s grandson, Dhirmal, was afflicted by this disease.

Gupta explicates:

His [Har Gobind’s] elders [sic] son Gurditta had died in 1638, leaving behind two sons, Dhir Mal was the elder and Har Rae was the younger. … Dhir Mal considered that it was his right to succeed. The Guru did not consider him a suitable candidate. He nominated his younger brother Har Rae who was 14 years old. Dhir Mal felt infuriated. In the evening meal he administered poison to the Guru, and immediately disappeared to Kartarpur with the original copy of the Adi Granth. [44], [45]

He [Dhirmal] even made an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Guru Tegh Bahadur at Baba Bakala.

Perhaps it is the consistent historical precedence set for the children and grandchildren of the Gurus to learn from that best explains Dhirmal’s swift and callous decision at attempting to poison his brother before making his hasty get away. It seems as though it only took a few hours for Dhirmal to make up his mind in this respect.

Although he failed on his brother’s life, Dhirmal “continued his opposition”, says H.S. Singha, “to Guru Harkrishan and Guru Tegh Bahadur as well and conspired with Mughals against them. He even made an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Guru Tegh Bahadur at Baba Bakala”. [46] Gupta expands on this attempt by stating that “Dhirmal employed one of his masands to kill Tegh Bahadur. The masand shot a bullet at Guru and wounded him. He also carried off Tegh Bahadur’s property”. [47]

Hence, Dhirmal was a thorn in the side of his brother, Guru Har Rai; his nephew, the eighth Guru, Har Krishan; and his uncle, the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur. But, as we have come to learn, relations meant very little for the family members of the Gurus when faced with the corrupting power of Guruship.

GURU HAR RAI’S ELDEST, THE REBELLIOUS RAM RAI

Ram Rai declared himself a Guru and established his own movement that later came to be called the Ramraiya.

Unfortunately for Guru Har Rai, the seventh Guru, his brother Dhirmal was not the only thorn paining him. Gupta chronicles that while “[h]is elder brother, Dhir Mal, had set himself up as the seventh Guru at Kartarpu, and he was a deadly enemy of the Guru … Prithi Mal’s son Meharban had taken possession of Hari Mandar and had declared himself the seventh Guru”. [48] But, that is not all. The corruption of power had, like his predecessors before him, also struck down his eldest son, Ram Rai.

In this regard Fauja Singh details:

Guru Har Rai … selected his younger son, Har Krishan [“who succeeded his father Guru Har Rai in 1661, [and] was just an infant of five years at the time of his succession” [49]], in preference to Ram Rai, his elder son. …

Ram Rai was very sore over his supersession in the matter of succession. Being at the Imperial Court and having good relations with the Emperor at the time, he thought that he could turn the tables upon his younger brother, who, he believed, had usurped his right of becoming the Guru, through the support of Aurangzeb, and thus made an appeal for the Emperor’s intervention. The Emperor was willing to help Ram Rai because he, for his own reason, preferred a man of his own choice and thought that a puppet Guru would most suit his interests.

Guru Har Krishan was them summoned to Delhi. The Guru obeyed the orders of the Emperor, went to Delhi and there put up at the house of Mirza Raja Jai Singh (situated at the present site of Bangla Sahib.) Probably, the Emperor received good reports about him through Jai Singh, and may be from some other sources as well, he hesitated to take any decision in haste. It is also possible that this hesitation on the part of Aurangzeb was due to his realization of the futility of imposing an unwanted Guru on the Sikhs. Shortly afterwards Guru Har Krishan was stricken with small-pox and died. [50]

When he [Guru Tegh Bahadur] arrived in the vicinity of Delhi, Ram Rai, who was still in attendance at the Mughal Court, had him arrested as a [sic] imposter and a disturber of the peace. [51]

After being excommunicated by his father for deliberately misreading a verse from SGGS in the presence of the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, to assuage his concerns over the growing power of the Sikhs, Ram Rai declared himself a Guru and established his own movement that later came to be called the Ramraiya.

CONCLUSION

Baba Mohan had the Goindval Pothis; Prithi Chand had the Guru Harsahai Pothi; and … Dhirmal acquired the Kartarpur Pothi. These documents played an important role in claims for authority within the early Sikh community.

Even the healthiest of apple trees are not free from producing a few bad apples. However, the general rule is that a healthy tree will, in the main, produce healthy fruits. On the other hand, if a tree consistently produces bad ones, it is immediately diagnosed as unhealthy and efforts made to determine the underlying cause in order to decide whether to try for a cure or discard of it altogether.

gurus_chart

In the case of the 10 Gurus, we have an entire family tree blighted by rotten fruits, as depicted in the above diagram, which appear to get worse with every passing generation, as Hans partially details below:

Sri Chand remained celibate and established a dehura of Baba Nanak. Lakhmi Chand’s son Dharam Chand, though a grandson of Baba Nanak, thought more of himself. Datu and Dasu the sons of Guru Angad, established their own centres. Mohan went mad and Mohri made his own residence a place of sanctity. They were the heirs of Guru Amar Das. Prithia, the eldest son of Guru Ram Das became crooked (mina) and spread falsehood through his deviopus [sic] ways. … Prithi Chand is especially called mina. [52]

As for the more detailed account covered by this paper, then we have: Nanak’s eldest son, Sri Chand; Angad’s eldest son, Datu, and youngest, Dasu; Amar Das’ eldest son, Mohan; Ram Das’ eldest son, Prithi Chand; Har Gobind’s eldest grandson, Dhirmal; and Har Rai’s eldest son, Ram Rai.

Of these, Prithi Chand tried to poison his baby nephew Har Gobind twice. The first was through the use of Har Gobind’s wet nurse; the second a poisonous snake. Poison was also preferred by Prithi Chand’s great-great-nephew, Dhirmal, in his attempt to murder his grandfather Har Gobind. And though poison seems to be a popular method of assassination, more traditional ways were still employed. Prithi Chand, for instance, succeeded in persuading the Mughal official, Sulhi Khan, to attack Guru Arjan, while Dhirmal employed one of his masands to try and kill Guru Tegh Bahadur at Baba Bakala.

Violence and assassination plots were not the only extremes these ambitious sons went to. Holy Scriptures were also used, or misused as the case may be, in a way to undermine the influence and credibility of the Gurus by enticing and persuading people to join their particular camp. In this respect, Gurinder Singh Mann summarises:

Baba Mohan had the Goindval Pothis; Prithi Chand had the Guru Harsahai Pothi; and … Dhirmal acquired the Kartarpur Pothi. These documents played an important role in claims for authority within the early Sikh community. [53]

The most serious early challenges to the newly evolving Sikh faith and its identity were posed by the progeny or the direct descendants of the Sikh Gurus themselves, who asserted their claims in the form of a dissent to grab the fundamental institutions of Guruship and the bani or the Adi-Granth, sacred scripture of the Sikhs.

What is, thus, clearly evident when one takes into consideration the extreme ends to which some of these unruly sons went to is that things did not get better as time went by, but worse. What one would expect with “perfect teachers” is that the latter would, at the very least, learn from the shortcomings of their predecessors to ensure that past mistakes vis-á-vis the nurturing of their eldest sons, would not be repeated. And yet, paradoxically, over the combined reign of the 10 Gurus, i.e. over 200 years, the situation spiralled out of control indicating not only a perpetuation of said mistakes, but more significantly a failure to put into place remedial methods in solving this problem. In short, these so-called perfect teachers failed on so many levels when it came to properly nurturing, disciplining, teaching and bringing up their own children.

The number of schisms that arose and the acrimonious sectarian rivalry that ensued also shows a more widespread problem within the Sikh body politic. Going back to the archetype heterodox leader, Sri Chand; his Udasi order attracted so many followers that one would be forgiven for questioning the strength of Guru Nanak’s message to begin with. Recall how this man succeeded in controlling the Sikh centre at Kartarpur and managed to successfully attract such a sizeable following that the then new Guru, Angad, hastily retreated into hiding and was untraceable for a year and half! The person who instead mustered enough courage to rally Angad’s followers, by firstly leading them to Khadur and then to Sanghar following Sri Chand’s unrest, was Bhai Budha who, says Gupta, “prevailed upon the Guru to give up seclusion and resume his duties”. [54]

The same pusillanimous attitude was displayed by the next Guru, Amar Das, who, as we saw, instructed no one to disturb him as he hid himself in the jungle to escape Angad’s sons, Datu and Dasu, for not leaving him in peace. Again it was Bhai Budha who came to the rescue.

All this again raises questions over the leadership qualities of these two Satgurus who, facing such formidable foes, decided to abandon their flock at the hour of need instead of courageously facing their adversaries for the sake of their community.

As for the other early sects, then Sulakhan Singh provides a brief account of these below:

Dissensions in the early Sikh Panth took the shape of several minor or major Sects during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Incidently, [sic] these first and the most serious early challenges to the newly evolving Sikh faith and its identity were posed by the progeny or the direct descendants of the Sikh Gurus themselves, who asserted their claims in the form of a dissent to grab the fundamental institutions of Guruship and the bani or the Adi-Granth, sacred scripture of the Sikhs. Of these, opposition by the Minas (the crooked followers of Prithi Chand, eldest son of Guru Ram Das; and the eldest brother of Guru Arjun), the Dhirmalias (the followers of Dhir Mal, the eldest son of Baba Gurditta (Guru Hargobind’s eldest son) and the Ramraiyas (followers of the eldest son of Guru Har Rai) caused more severe set back to the growing Sikh community. [55] (bold, underline ours)

Lastly, the worst case scenario also needs highlighting lest it be lost in all the detail: seeking the death of the Gurus themselves to usurp their throne. Usually, such violent and bloody intrigues that last for generations are associated with kingships and royal feuds where competing princes conspire to assassinate their father, the king, as well as any and all rival siblings to secure the throne. But to associate this type of perpetual barbarism to the families of the prophets of God should do nothing except caste serious doubts over the credentials of these so-called prophets, or in the case of Sikhism, these Satgurus.

In light of all the above, it is difficult to see how anyone could seriously entertain or even begin to defend the 10 Gurus as “perfect teachers” and enlightened transformers of people given how poorly they did in respect to their own loved ones. But a final question remains: why? Why was the Gurus’ family tree stricken so early on after barely a generation by such a deep rot?

The answer lies in the proverb we cited above: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

It is a parable in the Bible known as ‘The Tree and its Fruits’ which is attributed to the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, wherein he is made to say:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits ye shall know them
.
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.
Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
[56]

In short, false prophets are analogous to the unhealthy tree which inexorably produces bad fruits, and vice versa.

There is a similar analogy put forth by God Almighty in the Holy Qur’an:

Do you not see how Allaah sets forth a metaphor of a good word:
A good tree whose roots are firm and whose branches are high in the sky, yielding constant fruit by its Lord’s permission?
Allaah sets forth metaphors for people so that they may reflect.
But an evil word is like a rotten tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, with no power to endure. (Qur’an, Surah Ibraheem, 14:24-6)

While God adopts the same imagery of the fruit-bearing tree as ascribed to Jesus, He restricts its use to verbal pronouncements as opposed to actions in general.

Although the profundity and wisdom for this restriction is beyond the scope of this topic, the fundamental underlying point being made in both instances is that a true emissary of God will not act or speak in an ungodly way.

In the case of the 10 Gurus, then the doctrine they taught as sacred truth – from the contradictory theology proper of Sikhism, i.e. Nirgun-Sargun, to the idea of reincarnation-transmigration that ultimately presents God as cruel and unjust – is, simply put, false and a lie attributed to God. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the collective efforts of their labour extending over a number of generations culminated in the nurturing of such evil sons.

One last point that should be borne in mind is that at no stage are we intimating that the efforts of the true emissaries of God are guaranteed success in all that they are tasked to do. We recognise that loses are possible. But, this occurs through no fault of their own, but rather in spite of their efforts and entirely because of the obduracy and intransigence of the person in question. However, this cannot be used as an excuse in the case of the collective efforts of the 10 Gurus. A fundamental tenet of Sikhism, which according to Prof Piar Singh “lies at the root of the Sikh transformation over a long period of some two hundred years and is deeply embedded in the Sikh psyche”, [57] is the ‘Doctrine of the Same Spirit’ (ik joti). Sher Singh elucidates on this doctrine further by way of analogy:

Nanak left his body and transmitted his light to another person who became Nanak II, Angad by name. There is a classical illustration about the transmission of this light from one Guru to another. It is by way of an answer to a query: Did not the fountain of light-God-lose a portion of it, when He gave some to Nanak? The answer is an analogy from the lighting of candles. Just as we light one candle from another burning candle and in the process the burning candle without losing any light of its own, lights the other; similarly this transmission of spiritual light went on in the case of the Gurus. [58] Now when Nanak II was thus lighted by Nanak I, he was asked to carry on the training of the nation under his own supervision, not so much by precept as by his own example. He in his turn transmitted that light to a third Nanak with similar instructions. This continued for ten generations. [59]

To put it more succinctly, as Sirdar Kapur Singh does:

It is the fundamental article of Sikh faith that all the ten Nanaks were, in fact, “on light, one system which successively manifested itself in different corporeal frames.” [60], [61]

In light of this fact (no pun-intended), one would imagine that the Gurus combined tenure of two centuries would have been sufficient time for improvements and the rectification of mistakes to be implemented. As such, although one could plausibly accept one bad apple cropping up in a household of a so-called ‘perfect teacher’, it would simply be incredulous to entertain the idea that 10 Satgurus routinely and consistently failed to address a problem that got worse and not better over said time period.

In addition, consider also the stark difference between the nurturing of children and working to convert and/ or rehabilitate mature adults. The former is much easier to achieve than the latter vis-á-vis the indoctrination and moulding of a person especially given the inherent qualities possessed of a father for cultivating his son. As regards the latter, then what would make it so much more difficult would be the plethora of obstacles to scale in the form of preconceived notions and social biases. And yet, these Satgurus failed so miserably in the easiest of these tasks.

Finally, take in contrast the example of al-insaan al-kaamil (the perfect human being) and the last of the true emissaries of God, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). Although he did not have the opportunity of 10 cracks at the reign like the 10 Gurus, there is no recorded incident during his time of any of his family members or relatives intending let alone attempting to usurp his position of prophethood. Hence, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) succeeded in nurturing not only his immediate family to be sincerely obedient to Allaah and His Messenger, but also his thousands of followers; a true testimony of the truth of his claim to Prophethood.

[1] K.S. Duggal (1987), Sikh Gurus: Their Lives and Teachings, (Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A), p. 21.
[2] D.S. Chahal (20087), ‘HOW LONG WAS GURU NANAK’S TRAVEL TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST?‘, (PhD, Institute for Understanding Sikhism), p. 36.
[3] P. Singh, The Sikhs, pp. 22-3.
[4] K.S. Duggal, op. cit., p. 23.
[5] Ibid., p. 24.
[6] T. Singh, D. C. Sharma, Highroads of Sikh history, Volumes 1-3, (S. Singh), p. 8.
[7] The Sikh Encyclopedia, Sri Chand, Baba, (thesikhencyclopedia.com).
[8] H.S Singha (2005), The Encyclopedia of Sikhism (over 1000 entries), (Hemkunt Press, New Delhi), p. 188.
[9] B.S. Dhillon (1999), Early Sikh Scriptural Tradition Myth and Reality, (Singh Brothers, Amritsar), pp. 46-7.
[10] Fn. 1: Ujagar Singh Sada Anand, Khalsaji de Panj Hire, 59.
[11] H.R. Gupta (2008), History of the Sikhs – The Sikh Gurus 1469-1708, Vol. 1, (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi), p. 362.
[12] S. Hans (1988), A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature, (ABS Publications, India), p. 184.
[13] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., p. 52.
[14] S.S. Gandhi (2007), History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1469-1606 C.E. Vol.1, (Atlantic Publishers & Distributors), p. 249.
[15] H.R. Gupta, op. cit.
[16] Fn. 160: Adi Granth, 853:

The glorious greatness of the True Guru was bestowed by the True Guru; He understood this as the Insignia, the Mark of the Primal Lord’s Will.
He tested His sons, nephews, sons-in-law and relatives, and subdued the egotistical pride of them all.

[17] S. Hans, op. cit., p. 110.
[18] J. Singh (2010), Guru Granth Sahib – The Sikh Scripture, (K. K. Publications, New Delhi), p. 115.
[19] “Mohan kamla hoiya” – Var 26, Pauri 33.
[20] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., pp. 48-9.
[21] Fn. 176: Adi Granth, 920.
[22] S. Hans, op. cit., p. 69.
[23] Ibid., p. 110.
[24] SGGS, 308.
[25] Fn. 33: Bhai Gurdas, Varan, 26: 33, p. 232. Bhai Gurdas is very critical of the behaviour of the sons of the early gurus, beginning with Sri Chand.
[26] G.S. Mann (2001), The Making of Sikh Scripture, (Oxford University Press, New Delhi), pp. 41-2.
[27] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., p. 53.
[28] Ibid., p. 54.
[29] H.R. Gupta, op. cit., p. 45.
[30] Fn. 4: Bhai Santokh Singh, Suraj Parkash (ed. Bhai Vir Singh), p. 1763.
[31] Bhai Gurdas, 26.33; for more comments on the activities of the Minas by Bhai Gurdas, see also Var 36.1-8.
[32] Fn. 2: Kesar Singh Chhibbar, Bansawalinama Dasan Patshahian Ka, p. 50.
[33] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., pp. 53-4.
[34] S.S. Gandhi (2007), History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1606-1708 C.E. Vol.2, (Atlantic Publishers & Distributors), p. 1075.
[35] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., p. 54.
[36] L.M. Joshi (2000), Sikhism, (Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patiala), p. 15.
[37] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit.
[38] Fn. 2: Gosti Guru Miharvanu, pp. 174, 176, 336.
[39] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., p. 55.
[40] Ibid., p. 54.
[41] K.S. Duggal, op. cit., p. 115.
[42] Sohan, Gurbilas Chhevien Patshahi, p. 29; also see Gos_i Guru Miharvanu, pp. 191-194.
[43] B.S. Dhillon, op. cit., pp. 54-5.
[44] Fn. 1: Ramjas Diwan, Tarikh Khandan Ahluwalian, Wali-e-Kapurthala, 57; Durga Das Joshi, Sri Maharaj Singh Sahib Bahadur ke Mashhur Karname aur Panth Khalsa Ka Uruj, 40.
[45] H.R. Gupta, op. cit., p. 174.
[46] H.S. Singha, op. cit., p. 61.
[47] H.R. Gupta, op. cit., p. 400.
[48] Ibid., p. 178.
[49] L.M. Joshi, op. cit., p. 31.
[50] Ibid., pp. 26-7.
[51] Ibid., p. 28.
[52] S. Hans, op. cit.
[53] G.S. Mann, op. cit., p. 49.
[54] H.R. Gupta, op. cit., p. 362.
[55] S. Singh (2000), Heterodoxy in Sikhism: An Exposition of Some Sectarian Developments, (Global Sikh Studies, Department of History, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar), p. 2.
[56] The Bible, The Book According to [the anonymous author] Matthew, 7:15-20.
[57] P. Singh (1996), Gatha Sri Adi Granth and the Controversy, (Anant Education and Rural Development Foundation Inc, Michigan), p. 156.
[58] Fn. 2: This illustration from candles was also used by the Gurus: I Guru: G. P. 328; X Guru: G .S., p. 28.
Bhai Gurdas also made use of the same illustration; W. G., p. 437: 24-8-2.
[59] S. Singh (1986), Philosophy of Sikhism, (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar), p. 42.
[60] Fn. 6: jot soi jugat sai sahi kaya pher pallatiya. – Sikh scripture.
[61] S.K. Singh (1993), Sikhism: An Oecumenical Religion, (Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh), p. 41.

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