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Sikh clergy, scholars reject Modi’s Veer Baal Diwas — ‘10th Guru’s sons weren’t just brave kids’

Chandigarh: Sikh authorities and scholars have rejected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to begin observing 26 December as ‘Veer Bal Diwas’ in honour of the Sahibzadas, the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs.

Modi had made the announcement Sunday, on the Parkash Purab or birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body that regulates historical Sikh shrines, issued a statement Sunday evening that the move was “not acceptable” to the Sikh community because it did not do justice to the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas. 

While most experts agreed with the view taken by the SGPC, some suggested that the move is well-intentioned and should be accepted by the Sikh community, provided the name ‘Veer Baal Diwas’ is changed.

Also read: Granth Sahib is ‘living Guru’, so BJP wants attempt to murder charge in Punjab ‘sacrilege’ cases

Brief history of the Sahibzadas

The death of the four Sahibzadas is considered a significant event in Sikh history. They were killed during a conflict between the Khalsa, led by Guru Gobind Singh, and a coalition of Mughal forces in 1704-05.

The Guru’s two elder sons, Baba Ajit Singh (aged 17) and Baba Jujhar Singh (14), were killed at the Second Battle of Chamkaur, while his younger sons, Baba Zorawar Singh (9) and Baba Fateh Singh (6), were bricked alive in a wall on the instructions of the Mughal governor of Sirhind.

As these incidents took place in the last days of December, Sikhs mark these days with solemn prayers and the Shaheedi Jor Mela, a three-day annual congregation at Fatehgarh Sahib. The Chaar Sahibzade (four sons of the Guru) and their martyrdom are also remembered as part of the Ardaas or daily prayer of the Sikhs. 

Objections by SGPC and Akal Takht

SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami in a statement Sunday said, “We appreciate the sentiments of the Prime Minister, but connecting the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas to baal (child) is not fitting for their martyrdoms. In view of Sikh history, doctrines, and traditions, the incomparable sacrifices of the Sahibzadas of the Dasven Patshah (10th Guru) are like those of great warriors.”

Dhami said that in Sikh history, the Sahibzadas are honoured with the word ‘Baba’ (term of respect for holy men) while referring to them. He said the criterion for giving the Qaumi (community’s) recognition to any ideology in the Sikh world is Sikh history, Gurbani (hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib), Sikh doctrine, and beliefs.

He said paying homage to Guru Gobind Singh on the occasion of his birth anniversary, and this announcement, may have come from a sense of respect on PM Modi’s part, but it cannot be considered acceptable by the Panth (Sikh community).

Reacting to the move, Giani Harpreet Singh, jathedar (head priest) of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal body of the Sikhs, said that Sikh institutions should be consulted whenever such decisions are taken. “Not only are these institutions ready to impart this knowledge, they are duty bound to do so,” he said, adding that while it was welcome that the Prime Minister wanted the history of the Sikh Sahibzadas to be taught in schools, limiting their martyrdom to a ‘Veer Baal Diwas’ was not acceptable.

Also read: What is ‘beadbi’ or sacrilege in Sikhism, which sees Guru Granth Sahib as living Guru

Expert view 

Gurmeet Singh Sidhu, chairperson and professor at the Guru Gobind Singh department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, said the words ‘Veer Baal Diwas’ limit the significance of the martyrdom of the four Sahibzadas in more ways than one.

“To begin with, the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas should be seen not only in the context of the Sikh religion but also in the context of their extraordinary contribution upholding the right of religious freedom,” he said.

“Second, there is a need to understand that the word veer, which means ‘brave’, reduces their martyrdom to bravery alone, which is not the case. What they did was far bigger than mere bravery. A soldier who dies for his nation is brave too, but his martyrdom cannot be reduced to the word brave alone,” Sidhu said. 

“Third, the word baal, which means ‘child’, is to see them as children, which may be correct if looked upon only in terms of age. But according to Sikh traditions, they are called Baba, a term used to give respect to an elderly person. This is done to acknowledge that their contribution to the Sikh religion was not just that of children, but of persons who were far above others in terms of religious and spiritual stature,” he added.

Dr Dharam Singh, a former professor of Sikh studies and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, told ThePrint that the issue of ‘Veer Baal Diwas’ has been going on for some time now. “It is apprehended that ‘Veer Baal Diwas’ will somehow be attached to the Rashtriya Bal Puraskar that the government of India gives every year. To compare the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas to an act of bravery by a child does not do any justice to them,” he said.

“The words and the concepts used in the Sikh religion are to be understood in the context of their origin. For instance, Guru Tegh Bahadur (the ninth Guru) is called Dharam di Chadar because he gave up his life to fight for the right to freedom of religion. But to reduce his martyrdom to his having died to save the Hindu religion alone is wrong, though there is no doubt that the Hindus were the suffering community at that time. Similarly, the use of the words ‘veer baal’ for the Sahibzadas does not suffice.” he said.

“The children of the Gurus are referred to as Sahibzadas. And we refer to the four Sahibzadas of Guru Gobind Singh as Baba because what they did was not the act of a child but of somebody much older and more mature. It would have been better if the government of India had consulted some Sikh sources before taking this decision,” he added. 

Amarjit Singh, professor and director of the Centre on Studies in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, said whatever the Prime Minister has done is appreciable, but there is a need to change the words veer and baal to make it more appropriate.

“Sikhs do not look up to the Sahibzadas as baal or children but as Baba, or somebody who is really above others, not only in bravery, sagacity, spirituality, and farsightedness, but also in terms of their contribution to the Sikh religion. The word sahibzada should be a part of the words used before the word diwas,” he said.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: The 3 granths in Sikhism & the debate surrounding Sarbloh Granth & Dasam Granth

Source: The Print

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