Sikhs comprise more than 60 percent of the population of Punjab.
But Sikh scholar Chiranjiv Singh speaks on the question of Sikhs born and bred amongst cultures distant from the Punjab region, the home of Sikhism. From a Punjabi Sikh family, Chiranjiv served as a senior Indian Administrative Service officer of the Karnataka cadre. Steeped in Kannada culture, he has made Bangalore his home.
Chiranjiv is of the view that non-Punjabi Sikhs and Sikh tribes, whose numbers together are said to be larger than Sikhs in the Punjab, “should be left free to chart their own future, independent of the lead of Punjabi Sikhs.”
The relations of Sikhs of Punjab vis-a-vis other Sikhs is one complex part of this process, especially in the context of the depressed social and economic situation of the latter.
“They should be liberated, so to speak, from the hold of the Punjabi Sikhs,” says Chiranjiv adding, “Sikhism, which was a movement … for freedom from the inequities imposed by the social system, would thus be returning to its origins.”
Sikligars Sikhs were the lohars (ironsmiths/blacksmiths) who once specialized in the craft of making and polishing weapons. Once more commonly known as Gaddilohars the term Sikligar was bestowed on these men who fashioned iron by Guru Gobind Singh who turned Lohgarh (the Iron fort at Anandpur Sahib) into the Sikh Armoury. The word is derived from the Persian – saqi/sakli, lit. polishing, furnishing, making bright (a sword), the term saqlgar means a polisher of swords. In medieval India, Sikligars were in great demand for manufacturing spears, swords, shields and arrows. What the world knows as Damascus steel, used in making some of the finest swords known to man, was manufactured by Indian lohars and shipped to Damacus as layered iron pellets.
Recently a piece of Gold embellished steel armour decorated with Sikh Bani (Hinted to be posibly once owned by Guru Gobind Singh) was made of this type of steel, which in India was called watered steel as its surface reminds one of flowing water. A lohar by the name of Ram Chand, initiated as a Sikh by Guru Gobind Singh, became Ram Singh the first Sikligar Sikh. Though not one of the Panj Piares he was with the Panj Piaras and Guru Gobind Singh fighting in the battle of Chamkaur and accompanied the Guru out of the fort in the night.
Traditionally held to be of a low caste (working with iron can make one appear very dirty) the gaddilohars first came in contact with Sikhi during the time of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) who had, after the Martrydom of his father Guru Arjan initiated the ‘practice of arms’ and ‘statehood’ among Sikhs with his donning of ‘Miri and Piri’ (his two swords which sybolized spiritual and wordly power). They seem to have been Rajputs of Mewar who came to the aid of Guru Hargobind who percieved the need for his Sikhs to begin to learn and master the martial arts to insure their growing community’s survival.
Only 1% of Sikligars use surnames
PATIALA: Contrary to Punjab, where nearly every youth has started adding surname and even the songs are being released glorifying certain castes, not even 1% of Sikhs settled in north-eastern and southern states identify themselves with their gotras.
This interesting fact came to light in a study conducted for National Commission for Minorities (NCM) by Punjabi University, Patiala, which interviewed 1,011 Sikhs, living in southern and north-eastern states, to determine their social, cultural, economic and religious practices. A report based on the study was submitted to vice-chancellor (VC) Jaspal Singh on Wednesday.
Titled “Socio-economic conditions of Dakhani Sikhs in particular and other Sikh minorities in south and north-east India”, the 200-page report also revealed that more than half of total Sikhs of south India didn’t class themselves in castes.
The Dakhani, Sikligar and Banjara Sikhs, scattered over numerous districts in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka and Axomiya Sikhs in Assam and the Mazhabi Sikhs of Meghalaya were included in the survey.
“Interestingly, they are not aware of their ‘gotras’ (sub-castes), but do believe in the caste system. Out of total 1,011 respondents in the survey, I have come across only one Sikh businessman, who was using the ‘gotra’ with his name. The practice is contrary to what we are following here in Punjab. Gotras are not important for them,” said Prof Birinder Pal Singh of the department of sociology and social anthropology, who interviewed the respondents.
Prof Birinder said that the reason behind the trend was that majority of them have never visited Punjab and harbour no memories of their ancestors’ land. “They migrated 100-200 years ago and are still committed to carrying the classical traditions prevalent in the Sikh society of that period. A very positive aspect is that, of the total surveyed Sikhs of south India, around 55% said they didn’t classify themselves in any particular caste. There were only 2-2.5% Sikhs who identify themselves with their caste. About 38% said they were Sikligars and indentify themselves as tribals,” said the professor.
The survey found that the living conditions of majority were not good though 25% of respondents earn more than Rs 14,000 per month. A total of 74% respondents live in pucca houses while 13% neither have toilets nor bathrooms and 19% of them do without kitchen.