Meaning of Raj Karega Khalsa



“Raj Karega Khalsa Aid Rahe Na Koe.
Khwar Hoe Sabh Milenge Bache Saran jo Hoe ?”

This couplet has been, and continues to be, a part of the Litany sung by all Sikhs at all congregational prayers for the last three centuries or so. This has worked as a slogan to remind the followers of the Great Gurus of the ultimate triumph of truth, of their destiny and of their commitment to social responsibilities and struggle to ensure genuine freedom and equality for all human beings. It has, thus, inspired the Sikhs to make sacrifices unparalleled in history, for the cause of bringing about the kingdom of God on earth. A free rendering of the couplet is as follows :

“The Khalsa shall exercise political power: No-body will challenge this resolve. Eventually every one will accept this position. And he who seeks refuge, shall be protected.”

According to tradition the couplet follows from the Tankhahnama of Bhai Nand Lal, whose Granthawali, collected or verified from the family records ofBhai Sahib, was edited by Dr. Ganda Singh. This question-answer series also records the words of the Guru, “Listen, Nand Lal to this truth; I shall cause an expression of Self-rule or sovereignty” (Suno Nand Lal eho sach; Pargat Karoon apna raj).1 On the same page after the above statement appears this couplet “Raj Karega Khalsa.” This explains how the couplet originated and became part of the Sikh prayer. Following upon this and with the blessings of Guru Gobind Singh himself, Banda Singh Bahadur undertook his mission and after the capture of Sirhind established the Khalsa Government in 1710 (AD), within two years of the demise of Guru Gobind Singh.

Bhai Rattan Singh Bhangoo testifies to the conviction of the struggling Sikhs about the righteousness of their cause and inevitability of their goal in his Panth Parkash in his description of the following two events.

i. Nawab Aslam Khan of Lahore sent his emissary, Subeg Singh, to the Khalsa for peace, offering them a Nawabship. The initial reaction of the Khalsa, when the title (Nawab) was offered to Darbara Singh, was “When did we ask for it ? The Satguru has promised us a Sovereign rule. In comparison to this, the title of Nawab appears to be a lump of clay. We claim sovereignty, which is sure to come sooner or later. What the Satguru has promised is bound to happen. The word of the Guru can never remain unfulfilled, although the Dhruva (the Pole Star) or Dhawala (the legendary Bull supporting the earth) may shift their positions. How can we exchange our sovereignty with this insignificant title of Nawab. Accursed be such servility.” Similady, others who were offered the Nawabship, refused the title saying. “How can sovereignty be had by begging?” 2

ii. Capt. Murray who was Charge-De-affairs of the East India, Company at Ludhiana, and who was obsessed with the question of legitimacy of the Sikh Rule, had It dialogue with the author of the Panth Parkash. This is recorded as follows :

Murray: Explain to me how did the Sikhs attain power? And who gave them sovereignty? Answer: Sovereignty was bestowed on the Khalsa by the True Lord.
Murray: Who is the true Lord ?
Answer: He is Satguru Nanak.3
From the above it is clear that the Sikhs during their fierce struggle with the Mugha1 Rulers had no doubt about their social goal of gaining sovereignty, which is expressed in the couplet “Raj Karega Khalsa.” Nobody, Hindus or Sikhs, objected to the singing of this couplet during that, period, or even after that upto Independent of India in 1947. During the last few decades, however, the reactiort has changed. In the words of Sardar Kapur Singh :

“This startlingly tall and audacious claim has been publici Iy proclaimed by the Sikh people during the last three centuries, firmly and defiantly and it has moved many to sheer ridicule, others to fright, still others to resentment and boiling-head anger, many Sikhs themselves to chicken-hearted craven fear of shameless apologia, and to the political Hindus of the post – 1947 euphoria, it has, almost invariably moved to greater contempt for those whom they see as already in their last death – throes.” 4

Objections to this slogan are understandable, when they come from non-Sikh quarters. However, some Sikhs have also raised their voice against this concept. Their advise is that “politics must be insulated from religion.” 5 or politics does not go well with Sikh ideology, and, therefore, it should be eschewed. It has also been argued that the Gurus preached only Naam Simran and had no socio-political directions or doctrines for their followers. Some even go to the extent of saying that any struggle for an honorable political status for the Sikhs or to ensure their identity, is against the teachings of the Gurus.

Dr. Ganda Singh wrote a brief scholarly article which appeared in the Sikh Review July 1987, on this subject and showed clearly that the slogan issued from Guru Gobind Singh himself, and that there was nothing wrong or sectarian about this couplet. He concluded that It was “a permanent and inseparable part of the Sikh prayer and should be recited as such on all occasions of prayers by all Sikhs and Sikh congregations, where-ever they might be, in all Gurdwaras, historical or other.”6

The controversy, however, is kept alive by stray views ‘expressed in some quarters every now and then. The basic question is as to what is the Sikh ideology, or what the Gurus had been aiming at, or whether it is only a church of worship or a church of social policy as well. This is the fundamental question. It is the difference on this issue that had led to misconceptions, especially in the field of historical interpretation. Sikhism is not an extension of the Bhakti movement; nor were the Gurus Bhakti Saints who started their own cult. Sikhism is a revealed religion and mission, indeed, the only whole-life or Miri-Piri religious system that appeared in India. Outside India also except Judaism and Islam, no whole-life system, combining the spiritual with the empirical, has arisen. It is not an accident that the last five of the Ten Gurus maintained an army, and the Fifth Guru had already created a “state within a state”, much to the annoyance of the political power of the day who ordered is execution. It is Guru Nanak who calls God the ‘Destroyer of the Evil’-doers’ and ‘of the Demonical’,7 Again in his Babur Vani, he unambiguously states that oppression is violative of the Order of God who is Shelter of the shelter less, and who, as the Master of the flock, is responsible to see that the weak are not oppressed.8

This further clarifies two things, namely, that the Gurmukh who carries out the Altruistic Will of God, and who, for that end, creates a society, has to see that in society, aggression, oppression and injustice are resisted. In whole-life religions, whether Sikhism, Judaism or Islam, social responsibility clearly extends to the political field as well. For, what is within the domain of God, is within godman’s domain of responsibility. Two facts are undeniable that while the rulers, in order to maintain their moral legitimacy, have to ensure justice among their subjects, it is righteous for the man of religion to confront oppression and injustice; and that when kings or rulers fail to be virtuous, and injustice and oppression are the result, such a situation invites response of the man of religion. For over hundred years the Sikh Gurus had maintained an army, and initially even employed mercenaries for that end. he point to be seen is what was the oppression to be confronted, injustice to be undone, or challenge to be met. This militarisation was progressive, until the Tenth Master created the Khalsa on the Baisakhi Day, 1699, and prescribed Kirpan as one of the five Kakars. At that time it is significant that all the sons of the Guru were alive. It is important to understand that in whole-life systems, monasticism, asceticism, celibacy, Ahimsa, pacificism and all kinds of negativism, are rejected. This is a common characteristic of the three whole-life systems mentioned above. And these fundamentals explain why this category of systems mentioned above accepts socio-political responsibility, and others do not. The Kirpan, it has to be understood, is not just a symbol. It is a Hukumnama emphasizing two things that the Sikh society is both permitted and enjoined to use force, as a last resort, for a righteous cause, and second, that Sikhism should never revert to monasticism. The Kirpan as a weapon, may not be of much public use today, but the injunction it represents, is fundamental and eternal.

Pleading against political activities a writer recently stated : “they (The Gurus) were ready to take the sword, but always in self-defence and only as a last resort. For the zulum of the Governor of Sir hind, Guru Gobind tried to seek redressal from Aurangzeb and Bahadur Shah to punish the culprits and transgressors. It is also significant that when Banda Bahadur started establishing a State with the help of Khalsa, a hukamnama was issued by Mata Sundri to disassociate themselves from the objective which did nqt have the approval of the tenth Guru, and they did so, which led to the defeat of Banda Bahadur.”9 The first point is what was the zulum that the Governor of Sirhind had done. Was it during the general course of his administration over the years he had done it, or was there any specific act that was wrong or tyrannical? So far as the general administration of the Governor is concerned, there is nothing to suggest that he did anything in violation of the orders or wishes of the Emperor in Delhi. In any case, there is nothing known to have happened to which the Emperor could have taken offence, as being contrary to his instructions, or for which only the Governor had been responsible and not the Emperor. If, however, the reference is to the martyrdom of the two younger Sahibzadas, we wonder if this could be the real or even a laudable reason, for the Guru to depute Banda Bahadur. Is it the writer’s suggestion that while there was nothing wrong with the administration of the Emperor or the Governor, it was only the execution of the two Sahibzadas that furnished a good reason to the Tenth Master to seek revenge by directing Banda and the Sikh armies to do so ? Also, can we accept the suggestion that the Gurus who were always the first to sacrifice their person, would, in this case, seek to have revenge? For, we know full well that no military reaction was made after the martyrdom of the Ninth Master or the Fifth Master, except the general preparation for confrontation with the Empire or the Establishment, as a whole, for its misrule over the decades. The Tenth Master could not be unaware that the attack on the Governor meant full-scale war involving death of thousands of Sikhs as well as of the opponents. Is it suggested that revenge, involving death and devastation on a vast scale of the people, was justifiable? And if that had really been the reason, would it serve as a good moral precedent or lesson for the Sikhs or the people? Further, even assuming that only the Governor was to be punished, the Tenth Master could not be so unaware that as to believe that the task could be accomplished without a major war about which the Emperor at Delhi could not remain unconcerned. And in the event of Banda’s victory and death of the Governor and the transgressors to whom was the rule of Sirhind to be handed over, if the Sikhs were not to accept political responsibility and power? It is known to every historian that one of the greatest revolutionary and humanitarian work the Sikh rule did, was Banda’s distribution of land among the poorest tillers. He created “The Bold Peasantry” which continues to be the backbone and the fundamental strength of the Sikh Society.

It is on the basis of this precedent and tradition that, when the British Government created canal colonies and wanted to turn-the clock of socialization back by granting only tenancy rights to the Colonists, the Sikhs and others agitated and forced the Government to confer proprietary rights on them, Here it is relevant to recall that Martin Luther, the great Christian reformer, called the peasants ‘mad dogs’ when they agitated for their rights against the princes with whom Luther sided. Equally significant is the fact that, even in the French Revolution, which took place eight decades after Banda, the peasants and the poor, the Fourth Estate, had no place in its leadership, which rested with middle classes; nor were they among its beneficiaries. Jagjit Singh in his book, ‘In the Caravan of Revolutions’ has made a detailed comparison of the work of the Sikh Gurus with the French Revolution. Its obvious conclusion is that the characteristics, ideals and achievements of the Sikh Revolution were in every respect superior to and more enduring than those of the French Revolution.10

It is relevant to state that in Bhangoo’s ‘Panth Parkash’ there is a reference to a letter said to have been written by Mata Sundri to the Khalsa. In that letter there-is nothing to suggest that the objective of the attack by Banda Singh was not to gain rule of the land, or that the Khalsa as forbidden to rule. In fact, on the contrary, there is a clear statement that the Guru had bestowed Patshahi (Rule or Sovereignty) on the Panth and not on any individual. Thus, the letter, by implication or otherwise, far from denouncing the war objective of temporal sovereignty for the Sikhs, clearly records, in the words of Mata Sundri, that Patshahi was granted to the Sikhs (Banda ko Khijmat dei, dei patshahi nahei; Dei Patshahi Panth nij, ap sache patshahei.)11

The above, we feel, explains, both the reason for the Tenth Master’s deputing Banda Singh and the letter written by Mata Sundri to clarify that objective.

The writing of Tamur Shah12 should also be revealing to every one, that Emperor conveyed it to the ‘apostle of tranquility and harmony’, the Ninth Master, that if he desisted from political activities and confined himself only to spiritual prayers and preaching, he would have no trouble, and in fact, would be given considerable grants. But the offer was spurneo, with results that are a part of history. Quoting Ghulam Hussain Khan in ‘Siyurul Mutakharin’ Sher Singh concludes that there were clear apprehensions of revolt by the Guru and that the revolt by the Guru would lead to the setting up of a Sikh State.13 Further, quoting ‘Hiqiqat-i- Banau Uruj-i-Firqa-Sikhan’, he states, that the Emperor feared that the people gathering around Guru Tegh Bahadur were emerging as a new nation (MillatNau). 14 The unfortunate part is that persons often conditioned by pacificist influences, or with pacificist inclinations, fail to understand the Saint-Soldier concept. The Ninth Guru embodied it as much as the Tenth Master. The Establishment has generally used aggression and oppression as the source of its power, and the Saint-Soldier, as the instrument of God’s Will, must inevitably come into conflict with it. This is the eternal equation. For ‘the earth belonging to the ‘saint’ is being usurped by the robber.15 Hence, the struggle for its liberation. The lesson of history is that the series of martyrdoms initiated by the Fifth Guru, the Ninth Master, the Sahibzadas, the Tenth Master, a single historical process, and it would, we feel, be a sheer distortion to reduce this glorious spiritual marvel to the level of an episode of personal revenge as we egoist humans do or conceive.

Some critics have also argued that the Gurus did not establish a political state for themselves to rule,16 and therefore the Sikhs should also not entertain any such ambition. It must be noted that no state could be established without a direct clash with the Mughals during the Guru’s time. A state could be governed either by becoming a vassal of Delhi and paying tribute to it, or by snatching a territory from the empire after an inevitable clash with it. Thus, the choice was between becoming a subordinate of Delhi and a military confrontation with the Empire. The question of the first alternative could not arise, and the second was the alternative for which the preparations were being made, the community motivated and the Khalsa created. Evidently, confrontation could not be done before Baisakhi, 1699, when was completed the epitomic work of the Sikh religion and the movement. And it was for this end that Khalsa was created; and even the Hill Rajahs were invited to join the struggle against Delhi. It is a known fact that they declined to do so. It is thereafter that the organizational and the preparatory work was completed, and the struggle started. It was in its continuity that later Banda was deputed to lead the confrontation.

Advocates of pacificism frequently argue that because in the Guru Granth Sahib it is stated at numerous places that a man of religion hankers neither after worldly power nor after personal redemption, political power could not be the objective of the Khalsa. The verse often quoted and misinterpretted, is “Raj Na Chahun Mukt no Chahun man preet charan Kamlare.”17 According to Sardar Kapur Singh, “They do not understand that these are not injunctions or commandments of Sikhism, for statements of a doctrine, but merely clues to techniques for mood-inducement, the roots of which techniques go to the ancient Yoga texts. To interpret a sacred scripture is not a job which every man who happen to be graduate from a university, a brave General or a successful lawyer can properly undertake.”18

The question never was that the Gurus wanted an empire for themselves. What they wanted was the organisation of a community with trained motivations and aspirations to live as a fraternal people with a sense of independence and the capacity to discharge complete socio- political responsibilities, including struggle against oppression of the invaders and the Establishment. We have already referred to this conflict between the forces of righteousness and those of evil, oppression and injustice. The Saints and Gurmukhs appear not to carve out empires for themselves, but to prepare the people to live as brothers and establish a kingdom of God, or a ‘dharamsal’, the land for righteous living, as envisaged by God.

Before the close, it may be proper to have a look at the couplet “Raj Karega Khalsa” again. It is simply an annoucement that the Khalsa should look after its own affairs, empirical as well as spiritual. Now, what is wrong with it? In these days all sections of the population, all political parties, openly declare their intention to provide a Government, and no body objects to that. In fact, the Government organises this exercise regularly. Why is it that the same thing is a taboo for Sikhs? Secondly, if the Sikhs are forbidden to rule in their own area, who will do, if others do not run it properly, what will they do ? It is both their responsibility and destiny to confront misrule and injustice. Can they shirk to accept or discharge the moral and historical responsibility, which is enjoined upon them by the Gurus? It will be clear that “Raj Karega Khalsa” is a couplet perfectly in consonance with the injunctions and the thesis of the Gurus. In all Miri-Piri systems this religious responsibility is natural and essential. Of course for the purpose, the cultivation of religious and spiritual strength and stamina is essential. Hence this religious reminder and resolve at the time of prayer before the living Guru is natural and necessary.

1 Ganda Singh (Ed) : Bhai Nand Lal Granthavali, Punjabi University Patiala,p. 285
2 Jit Singh Sital (Ed) : Sri Guru PanIh Parlcash,of Rattan Singh Bhangoo, SGPC Amrilsar : p. 285
3 Ibid: p. 41
4 Kapur Singh : Raj Karega Khalsa, SGPC, Amritsar (1987), p. 3
5 Ibid: p. 1
6 Ganda Singh : The True Impon of Raj Karega Khalsa; The Sikh Review, Calcutta, July, 1987 p. 7
7 Guru Graruh Sahib: p. 1208, 224
8 Ibid: p. 360, 417-18
9 Dhanoa, S.S. : The Meaning of Raj Karega Khalsa,’ The Sikh Review, Calcutta, December, 1990 pp. 24-26
10 Jagjit Singh : In the Caravan of Revolutions, 1987
11 Jit Singh Sital (Ed) : Sri Guru Panth Parkash of Rattan Singh Bhangoo, SGPC, Amritsar, p. 189
12 A. C. Banerjee : Journal of Sikh Studies, Feb., 1976, P. 61; G.N.D. University, Amritsar
13 Anonymous: Haqiqat.i.Banqau Uruj-i-Firqa.i-Sikhan 1783 AD pp. 3-6 quoted by Sher Singh; The Sikh Review, Feb. 1991
14 Ibid: p. 22
15 Guru Granth Sahib: p. 965
16 Dhanoa, S.S. : The Meaning of Raj Karega Khalsa, The Sikh Review, Calcutta, December, 1990. pp. 24-26
17 Guru Granth Sahib: p. 435
18 Kapur Singh: Sikhism and Politics; SGPC, Amritsar 1987, p. 17

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