By Professor Sarjit Singh (University Putra Malaysia)
The Hijacking of Sikhi (Revised Edition) 2022
Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston)
450 pages. Hard Cover. Full color.
It is not often that one comes across a book that is so deeply thought provoking, powerful and riveting as is The Hijacking of Sikhi. The author presents a narrative of a spirituality that is systematically distorted and corrupted over a period of two centuries by weaving together compelling facts, persuasive argument and gripping observations of his own.
The primary thesis of the book is as shocking as it is distressing: Sikhi as it is practiced today, is no longer the Sikhi that was taught to us by our Gurus. It is a spirituality that stands distorted, corrupted and tainted. The messages of its scripture – Gurbani – have been distorted through vedic, yogic and puranic slants in interpretations and translations; its history muddled in unbelievable tales of miracles called sakhis, it’s general conduct dictated by an institutionalized clergy – a group that was soundly critiqued by our Gurus, and its religious practices have come to consist of those smuggled in from rejected and discarded rituals of pre-1469 faiths. The thesis is shocking because it evokes the most powerful reaction in the reader as to “how did we allow such to happen.” It is distressing because the supporting evidence of the thesis is overwhelming.
Prof. Sarjit Singh
The author begins with the notion that the uniqueness of Sikhi was total and complete in that every aspect of Sikh spirituality was uniquely different from the then existing ones. The summary list of the distinctiveness of Sikhi provided by the author in his preface alone is enough to make his point. He writes:
“The concept of a One Omnipresent God that is manifest in His creation and realized within us; the Shabd as Guru; the spirituality’s focus on the HERE and NOW; a philosophy that rejected ritual and advocated obtaining salvation while still alive; a scripture that gave space to adherents of different faiths; and Gurbani’s emphasis on humanity, gender equality and the need to elevate one’s mind to Godly levels are but just some of the defining features of Sikhi in its original and authentic sense.”
All of these truths have, however, become stranger than fiction within the Sikh world, according to the author. The primary thesis of the author relating to how it happened is captured in this paragraph from the preface:
“To the greatest detriment of Sikhi’s uniqueness, three powerful groups – all of which were fake, deviant and or anti Sikhi – would control our literature, historical narratives, and institutions, including gurdwaras (and by extension the psyche and fate of Sikhi) for a long period of 207 years (1718 till 1925) following the Guru period of 239 years (1469 – 1708). “
The outcome of such long control and subjugation, as argued by the author is the hijacking of Sikhi. He provides a poignant snapshot of the hijacking in the following words:
“The Sikh of today looks up to the heavens for a praise-thirsty clergy-concocted god sitting up there; prays to that god for miracles to resolve his worldly affairs; makes offerings to please that god; remains obsessed with the notion of rewards after death; considers the 1429 page Gurbani as a mantra to be chanted by the self or by hired hands to obtain material wealth, cures for disease as well as other askings. He makes deals with his god to undertake Akhand Paths, Sehej Paths and Sukhmani if god would solve his problems. The SGGS is to him an object of worship – fit only for offering items and money. Understanding the SGGS is of no concern to him, consequently, Gurbani ideals such as a spirituality of virtues, humanity and equality holds no importance to him. He considers spirituality as being located within external symbols and outer garb. He believes his vices can be cleansed by a variety of rituals, offerings and deals such as pilgrimages, fixed number of paths, or dipping in pools of historic gurdwaras in India. It’s a faith that has been hijacked from its unique path and equally distinct goals. It is a Godly spirituality that has been corrupted into a clergy- concocted and clergy dominated religious dogma.”
This book tells the story of how, when and why this happened. To provide thematic continuity, it is divided into four parts. PART ONE – The Introduction – deals with the what, when, who and why of the notion of Sikhi being hijacked. Chapters One to Five are devoted to this part.
PART TWO deals with pertinent Gurbani issues that are related to the hijacking. This part discusses three main ways in which the hijackers of Sikhi tried to rob Sikhs of the authentic spirituality of Gurbani. Method one relates to distorted translations. Three chapters titled “Lost in Translation,” “Taking Sikhi Back to 1468,”and “Getting to the Messages of Gurbani” respectively are devoted towards shed light on this first method. Method two relates to creating fake “life narratives” of the 15 Bhagats whose writings are contained in the SGGS. These narratives compete with the messages of the Bhagats as contained within the SGGS. Two chapters titled “The Bhagat Maal Debacle” and “The Hijacking of Bhagat Dhanna” respectively exemplify this second method. Method three relates to willful distorting of particular banis to serve clergy interests and them popularizing them with fake claims. Sukhmani has suffered this fate at the hand of the self-proclaimed sants and babas of deras and taksals. This is explained in Chapter Ten of this book titled “Hijacking of Sukhmani.”
PART THREE evaluates the dysfunctionality of our Gurdwaras as centers of clergy practices; and appraises a number of Sikhi practices, beliefs and celebrations against the benchmark of Gurbani with the aim of empowering practicing Sikhs to decide if they wish to discard these practices – imposed upon us or distorted by the hijackers, bring them in line with Gurmat, and adopt only those sanctioned by Gurbani.
PART FOUR narrates the efforts undertaken by awakened and enlightened Sikhs to free our spirituality from the shackles of the hijackers and to revert Sikhi to its original authentic mode. Such efforts began in the late 1800s, by which time Sikhi had endured almost two centuries of adulteration, corruption and deviation. This 120-year battle is still ongoing, and is expected to dominate the Sikhi discourse throughout the 21st Century.
The book ends with the question: “Are we going to adopt the Sikhi of our Gurus or continue practicing the “Sikhi” of the hijackers? The choice, according to the author, is stark but ours to make.
This compelling, riveting, powerful and thought provoking book is a must have for every Sikh home and a must read for every Sikh. It is not, however, for the faint hearted and those who are comfortable with the hijacked status quo of Sikhi.
The author is eminently qualified in writing on the issue. He has been speaking and writing on Gurbani and Sikhi matters as well as conducting Gurbani classes for the past 30 years. He has authored 10 books on Gurbani and Sikhi matters, produced more than 100 videos on the same matters, sits as the Editor in Chief of The Sikh Bulletin, USA and heads the Committee for Religious Affairs of the Global Sikh Council.
The book was first published in 2020. It is printed as a revised edition in 2022. The revised edition contains updated material in parts one and four relating to efforts in freeing Sikhi from the hijackers. Sources and references have also been updated. The revised edition also comes with a complete index that facilitates easy search for issues.
The Hijacking of Sikhi (Revised Edition) is published and distributed jointly by Sikhi Vichar Forum and The Sikh Bulletin. It is available for purchase at https://sikhivicharforum.org/store/. The author has said that the book is made available at cost price with zero profit and zero royalty. Selling price: USD 5 (plus courier costs to your location).