Prof. Kanwaljit Singh Sethi, Amritsar

When the lamp of wisdom is lit, the darkness of ignorance and self-interest vanishes. When learning is truly contemplated, the individual turns into a benefactor of all. The ego is not killed, or eradicated, it is examined and scrutinized and molded, so that it loosens its grip over the human personality and opens up the possibility of one’s identification with the common self of humanity, postulated by the Indian philosophical tradition. This ‘reminds one of Socrates dictum that an unexamined life is not worth living.

This doctrine of the essence of man furnishes us with the metaphysical outlook of Guru Nanak on the status and being of man as a spark of the Light Divine. Man is an embodiment of this light. Guru Nanak’s exhortation to him is to live and act in the illumination of such light. That is the Guru’s formula of authentic living. Life led on this principle guarantees a sound cultural foundation for a life of the community without strife, without malice, and without passionate pursuit of egoistic ends.

One merit of the Guru’s concept of man is the awakening it entails awakening about the common lot of mankind. The unity of self, when realized, convinces a man of the common source of light raising sparks in all living beings. He comes to think about matters larger than his own gains and losses, and is inspired to reflect on the universal life. Guru Nanak’s formula of contemplation cum service (simrin and seva) caters for the enlightenment of one’s soul as well as for the wellbeing of the community. It seems to go beyond Spinoza’s intellectual love of God; it contains the potentiality of motivating man to inculcate spirit of dedication to and service of mankind, viewing humanity as God’s manifestation.

Guru Nanak’s view of the ideal man, thus, presents a picture of the balanced man, who on the one hand reflects the highest truth of the universe, and, on the other, participates in the life of the community in the role of an active member and a productive agent. His quest for the real man directs him to look for and discover the essence of a universal being concealed within the human frame. The discovery and vision of the spiritual spark, then, informs the entire temporal existence of this regenerate man, both in the personal and the corporate aspects of his life.

At the time of Ranjit Singh’s birth in November, 1780 his father Sardar Mahan Singh Sukarchakya was away to Resul Nagar to chastise Pir Muhammad Chatha who abjectly oppressed and maltreated his Hindu subjects.

When the news of the birth of the son reached him, Sardar Mahan Singh had just won a decisive victory over the Chathas. Overjoyed beyond measure at this happy news he named the child Ranjit Victor of the battlefield. He predicted that the child would grow up into a gallant soldier and a great victor. His prediction proved prophetic as by virtue of his foresight, wisdom and gallantry, Ranjit Singh meteor like rose from a small Misldar to be the noble Maharaja of the Punjab.

It was under Ranjit Singh that the tide of hordes of Afghans, who had been plundering and ransacking our motherland for the last so many centuries, was rolled back once for all and the triumphant saffron flag of Guru Gobind Singh fluttered proudly over Jamraud Fort. The terror striking Pathans were cowed down into submission and their women folk to this day frightens their children by simply mentioning the arrival of Haria (Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa), the daring and redoubtable general of the Maharaja.

“Secularism” is a well-known term in India of today yet even our present rulers can learn a lot from the Maharaja as to how he welded warring creeds into a united whole. His was a truly Sikh Raj. He had deep seated respect for all religions. If he doled out huge amounts for Sikh Shrines he did not lag behind in spending good round sums on Muslim Mosques and Hindu Temples.

The Maharaja rises much higher in our estimation when we study his benevolent attitude towards the Muslims in the background of unspeakable tortures, unprecedented atrocities and inconceivable persecution that the Sikhs had been subjected to under the Muslim rulers. Can any single instance be quoted that anyone was denied freedom of worship during his glorious reign of four decades?

Forgiveness is as much a cardinal principle of Guru Nanak’s teaching as vindictiveness is foreign to it. Merit and loyalty were the sole criteria in the selection of his officers. Key positions in the administration were shared by Dogras like Raja Dhyan Singh, and Gulab Singh, Hindu Khatris like Diwan Sawan Mal and Muhkam Chand; Muslims like Faqir AzizudDin and Kazi Nur Muhammad; Europeans like Ventura and Allard; Sikhs like Hari Singh Nalwa and Fateh Singh Ahluwalia.

Can secularism go further? Notwithstanding his equal regard for all religions, he himself was a devout Sikh. He had towering faith in God and the Guru. He always considered himself the servant of the Panth. He took pride in being called Singh Sahib.

While minting a coin; he named it Nanak Shahi and his Royal seal bore the names of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. Whenever he received a very precious present he made it a point to present it to the Darbar of Guru Ram Dass at Amritsar. How our hearts leap with excitement when we see that he refused to step under a priceless canopy sent by Nizam of Hyderabad and at once ordered the same to be sent to Golden Temple Amritsar. He would never go on any military expedition without invoking grace from the Lord Almighty and the Guru. When once he violated a rule of Sikh ethic, he was ordered by Akali Phoola Singh to be flogged for this gross violation. He thought occupying the exalted office of Maharaja bowed his head in humility before Akali Ji and bared his back for the punishment. What a wonderful instance of humility!

The Maharaja was always anxious to dispense evenhanded justice to all. His standing commands were that the army while on the march was never to harm standing crops. His officials were strictly ordered never to punish anyone without sufficient justification and anyone violating the norm was invariably brought to book even if he happened to be his own son. In meeting out justice, consideration of caste, creed, position, social status carried no weight.

He never believed in “Divine Right of Kings” or that “The King Can Do No Wrong.” In his views only God and the Gurus were infallible. In one of his orders to Faqir NurudDin, he observed if ever his Highness himself should issue an inappropriate order against any resident of Lahore, it should be clearly brought to the notice of his Highness so that it might be amended. Whenever he detected his mistake he did not stand on prestige, rather he hastily retraced his step.

At the marriage of Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh the English were represented by General Octharlony. A day after the marriage, the general expressed a desire to see Lahore Port to which the Maharaja agreed. Next day accompanied by Ochtarlony, he drove to the Fort and ordered Diwan Muhkam Chand, the in charge of the Fort, that the gate of the Fort might be opened as the General wanted to witness it. The farsighted Diwan at once saw through the game of the Englishman. With all humility, the Diwan submitted, “I shall never let this Wily Frangi inspect the fort, so long as I am alive. Here is my sword, kindly dispatch me to the other world before you enter the fort with Ochtarlony.” The Maharaja at once realized his mistake. He gave up the idea and addressed Ochtarlony thus, “Friend I am not the absolute ruler of this land. It is the united rule of all the Punjabis. Let us go back.” Is there even slightest trace of despotism in him?

It will not be out of place to quote the beautiful words of WLM Gregor regarding the great Maharaja “It is evident that he is no common character but possessed the powers of mind rarely met with either in the eastern or western world.”

Article extracted from this publication >>  August 23, 1985