Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Historical Process Of Institutionalisation In Sikhism

Sikh (Khanda) USVA emblem 36
Sikh (Khanda) USVA emblem 36 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Beattie explains that if an original religious teaching is to survive, it must be formalised through sacred spaces, teachings, rituals and myths, and that it must have some formal structure, an institution which can carry on these teachings and pass them on to later generations.

The process of institutionalisation began with Guru Nanak, who proclaimed “there is no Hindu, no Muslim” and spoke against image worship, both things that differentiated Sikhs from their Hindu neighbours.

Within Sikhism we can see the process of institutionalisation happening with the Sikh Gurus 2-5.  Guru Amar Das instituted both formal places and times of worship, and encouraged pilgrimage to Sikh sacred sites. This latter innovation might be seen as going against some of the precepts that Guru Nanak spoke of.  It may also be seen that the organisation of Sikhs into 20 manji or preaching offices began the political process which has led to many, but by no means all, Sikhs regarding themselves not only as a religion but as a nation.

Sikh pilgrim at the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Te...
Sikh pilgrim at the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar, India. The man has just had a ritual bath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Guru Amar Das, the third living Guru,  also encouraged Sikhs to use hymns written by the Gurus in life cycle rituals – births and funerals. Guru Amar Das also had the pool at Amritsar excavated, Guru Ram Das, his successor, founded a settlement there and Guru Arjan built a temple on the same site and installed a copy of the Adi Granth within it.  In this process of construction and consecration we see the formalising of a sacred space, the most important sacred space to contemporary Sikhi.  Those that controlled the most important sacred space would themselves be influential within the developing Sikh institutions.

Another important institution brought in by Guru Amar Das was the langar, the communal kitchen and food service in every gurdwara.  Within the langar, every Sikh or guest must abandon all caste, political or social office and sit side by side with no deference to gender or rank.  Outside the langar, these divides still exist despite the teachings of Guru Nanak which speak against gender and caste distinctions.

The group of Sikh intellectuals known as Tat Khalsa who arose after the death of Guru Gobind Singh spoke against sanatan, or inclusiveness towards Hindu tradition. The Tat Khalsa vision of Sikhism differentiated the Sikhs from Hindus and in a period of competing Sikh reform movements came to prominence, but not overall mastery of the Sikhi. The Akali political party built on the merging Sikh tradition and sense of identity to campaign for control of sacred sites and a Punjabi state within India as well as pressing for an independent Sikh nation.

The inauguration of the Khalsa, celebrated on Vaisakhi day, the ritual of amrit sanskar and the introduction of the outward, visible signs of the 5 Ks further cemented the Tat Khlasa orthodoxy.

Without a process of institutionalisation then Sikhism would not have prospered. It is the process of institutionalisation that formed a set of teachings into a religion, and in the minds of some Sikhs, into a nation. Not all Sikhs though hold to the rituals and expressions dictated by groups such as Tat Khalsa.  Many modern Sikhs, especially those in the diaspora, reject some or all of the 5 Ks but still regard themselves as true Sikhs.  The internet also has brought another challenge to orthodox Sikhism with the virtual sangat being able to influence the Panth in a far reaching manner that traditional teachers could not.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment