Your editorial of May 3, 1985 on the problem of Amritdhari/non Amritdhari Sikhs has resulted in unhappy and even misdirected discussion on the subject in your esteemed paper. The latest letter from Mr. M. Singh of Canada in your issue of the 22nd of August reveals his unawareness of the basic telnets of Sikhism. In fact, this lack of knowledge seems to be the main reason for this unwarranted controversy. Our ‘ friends of Mr. M. Singh’s way of thinking have failed to grasp the true meaning of the term Amritdhari Sikhs. They think that the Amritdhari Sikhs are just one sect of Sikhism along with other sects via non Amritdhari, clean shaven and Sahajdhari Sikhs. If we go in a bit more depth, it becomes crystal clear that there is absolutely no. such sects in Sikhism. ‘There is only one class of Sikhs and that class is the SIKHS.
The Adi-Guru, Guru Nanak Devji himself Started this practice of Amrit as the initiation ceremony for his newly founded faith. It was then referred to Charan Amrit, Charan pahul or Deekhya and was initiated by Guru Nanak just on the eve of his starting the well-known four world tours called the Udasies to spread his message of Eternal Truth. Bhai Mardana was one of the first disciples to be initiated into this faith by being blessed with Amrit by Guru Nanak himself. According to various Janam Sakhies and other biographical accounts, he was given the following code of conduct on that auspicious occasion:
(1) You must not cut your hair;
(2) You must rise early in the morning and meditate on the holy Name; and
(3) You must serve hospitably the visiting godly people.
Bhai Gurdas whom Mr. M. Singh has referred to as non Amritdhari, himself says clearly that “One is a Sikh only after he has been blessed with Deekhya.” (Gur Deekhya lai Sikh, Sikh Kahaya) Thus all the succeeding Gurus after Guru Nanak and all the highly revered spiritually enlightened Sikhs e.g. Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Budha as well as all those who owed allegiance to Guru Nanak’s way of life, were Amritdharies. Up to the Baisakhi of 1699 AD even Guru Gobind Singh himself adhered to this very initiation ceremony for bringing people into the fold of Sikhism. However, it is the sole unquestionable authority of Guru Sahib to make any change in such matters. Guru Nanak, in his tenth manifestation used this authority and merely changed the mode of this baptism, probably keeping in view that he had decided to discontinue the human succession to the August office of Guru Ship from thence onwards. On the Baisakhi day of 1699 AD he, thus, substituted KhandekiPahul in place of Charan Pahul. From then onwards, it was made obligatory for everyone to get this new form of Amrit for becoming a Sikh of Guru Nanak. Guru Gobind Singh put his final seal on this point by himself bowing before the Panj Pyaras for being blessed with the same, thus, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind about its absolute necessity.
Now consider another situation. If any person belonging to some other faith chooses conversion into the Sikh faith, what will he be required to do? Will he be advised just to start coming to Gurdawara to attend the various services and he shall become a Sikh automatically? Obviously not. For becoming a Sikh, everyone has to be baptized or take Amrit or be Amritdhari. There is no other alternative. How can then one becomes a Sikh simply because of accident of birth without being baptized.
This classification of Sikhs into Amritdhari and non Amritdhari etc. is of recent origin resulting from steady erosion of the so called modern Sikhs from the true discipline of Sikhism. In order to justify their weakness and lack of will power or faith to follow the basic tenets of Sikhism, this misleading terminology was concocted. Even the so called Sahajdharies can be called Sikhs only when they become baptized according to this initiation ceremony of Amrit. Till then they are simply Sahajdharies meaning those who have set on the path to become a full-fledged Sikh in a gradual and slow pace. In other words, they are candidates who are getting ready to become Sikhs in due course. For this purpose they have to start learning Gurbani, keeping hair intact, tying turban, abstaining from tobacco and wine etc. in order to be admitted to the fold of Sikhism. Till then they remain candidates only.
It is thus clear that according to the mandate of the Guru, one can only be called a Sikh if he or she is blessed with the holy Amrit the Sikh baptism. This practice has been in vogue right from the time of Guru Nanak. Let us, therefore, not muddle the basic fundamentals of the holy Sikh faith in order to cover our own weaknesses.
Manmohan Singh Buena Park, CA
Article extracted from this publication >> September 13, 1985