Sikh Controversy: Panthik Arguments, Conflicts, Debates and Distortions

11 Sikhism Controversial Issues and Resolutions FAQ

Sikhism is rife with controversial subjects and panthik arguments often due to obscure historical information. Vigorous debate, discussion and discourse about interpretation of scripture, or vichar abounds. Although Gurmat is outlined by the code of conduct, where there are two Sikhs, there may be three opinions, and discussion rampant, with disagreements about policies, edicts, ethics and historic distortion sometimes leading to excommunication, or internal violence among conflicting factions. While spiritually minded discussion is encouraged argument, conflict is discouraged. The scripture of Gurbani advises Sikhs:

"Giaan giaan kathai sabh koee ||
Everyone speaks about spiritual wisdom and divine knowledge.

Kath kath baad karae dukh hoee ||
Talking, they prattle arguing, and suffer controversy.

Kath kehanai tae rehai na koee ||
No one can leave conversing and discussing.

Bin ras raatae mukat na hoee ||2||
Without the essence of nectar imbued, spiritual emancipation is not obtained. ||2||" SGGS 831

01
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Historic Distortion

Hard to find 1963 publication of
Hard to find 1963 publication of "The Sikh Religion" by Max Arthur Macauliffe. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Question: Is there a campaign to rewrite and distort Sikh history?

Answer: Obscurities and distortions of Sikh history have occurred in many historical and modern day documents based on fancy, opinion, misinterpretation, or malice. Modern authors bent on rewriting history to fit with their point of view have stirred major controversies and some faced excommunication. Fanatical organizations exist which perpetuate myth.

Historical Accounts:

  • Legendary tales both written and oral of the Gurus and miracles.
  • Eye witness scribes of other cultures who recorded events may be subject to misinterpretation or cultural bias.

Controversial Modern Day Authors and Historians:

  • Gurbaksh Singh Kala Afghana
  • Prof. W.Hew McLeod
  • Pashaura Singh
  • Dr. Gurbaksh Singh
  • Professor Sahib Singh

Political Agenda Organizations Agents and Propaganda:

  • RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)

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Is There a Conspiracy to Rewrite Sikh History?

02
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Guru Nanak's Birthday

The Infant Guru Nanak
The Infant Guru Nanak. Artistic Impression © Angel Originals

Question: When is Guru Nanak's actual birthday?

Answer: Guru Nanak's Birth is celebrated by many in fall during the full moon, although history indicates his birth to have taken place in the spring.

Don't Miss:
All About Guru Nanak's Birth and Celebration including:

  • Story of Birth
  • Birthplace and Events
  • Historic Date and Calendar Conversions
  • Nankana Gurpurab Celebrations Illustrated
03
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Nanakshahi Calendar

Sikhism Calendar April 2011 - Nanakshahi Calendar 543
April 2011 Free Desktop Calendar With Gurbani Quote Featuring Angel Originals. Calendar Art © [Angel Originals] Licensed to Sikhism.About.com

Question: Why does the Nanakshahi fixed calendar keep changing?

Answer: Sikhism historic dates have traditionally been observed according to a fluctuating calendar. While this system works for those living in the East it is very difficult to follow in the West. Based on scripture, the Nanakshahi calendar, an attempt to fix dates so that celebrations occur at the same time each year, has met with opposition and much controversy. Amendments seem to occur every few years and tend to create a split between those who follow them and those who do not.

Don't Miss:
Nanakshahi Sikhism Calendar includes:
Months according to Guru Granth Sahib with fixed, historic and traditional dates.

04
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Sikh Gurus and Polygamy

Wedding Lavan
Wedding Lavan. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

Question: Was polygamy commonly practiced by the Gurus?

Answer: Oral tradition and written historical documents indicate that at least four of the 10 Guru's and Sikh had more than one wife, either consecutively, or concurrently. However some modern historians such as Professor Sahib Singh, Dr. Gurbaksh Singh, and their followers, rebuff historical evidence in favor of opinion. Their hypothesizes suggest their historical accounts documented by ancient scribes of other cultures have misinterpreted ceremonial traditions regarding engagement, wedding and consummation regarding the marriages of the tenth guru. Citing supposed customs, their theories disregard historic tradition:

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Did Guru Gobind Singh Have More Than One Wife?
Readers Respond: Did Sikh Gurus Practice Polygamy?

05
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Authenticity of Scriptures

Zafar Nama
Zafar Nama. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Dasam Granth

Question: Is the entire Dasam Granth really the written works of Guru Gobind Singh?

Answer: Dasam Granth is generally purported and accepted as being scripture authored by Tenth Guru Gobind Singh. Various scholars, historians, and religious sects have, however, challenged the authenticity of controversial portions considered literature not in keeping with Sikh theology including but not limited to:

  • Descriptive narrations thought to be fanciful Hindu based mythology:
    Chand di Var a battle featuring Kali Durga a Hindu goddess with ten arms. Bachitra Natak and the ballad of Dusht Daman a also known as Rishi Parbat, or the austere yogi of Hemkunt Parbat, thought to be a previous incarnation of the 10th guru.
  • Charitropakhian a composition questioned due to its pornographic nature.

Related Compositions of Guru Gobind Singh:
Khalsa da Martaba The Status of Khalsa
Letters From Guru Gobind Singh To Aurangzeb (1705)
What Are the 52 Hukams of Guru Gobind Singh?
Guru Gobind Singh's Hukam Letter To Kabul Sikh Sangat

Ragmala

Question: Does Ragmala really belong in Guru Granth Sahib?

Answer: Ragmala is the final composition of Sikhism's holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib originally discovered as a loose addendum to a bound handwritten copy of the Granth. Various scholars, and religious sects, who consider the composition, which likens raag and it's declinations to multiple wives and sons, to have been authored by a courtesan, and object that the meter and inherent nature of its wording does not follow the standard of the divine scripture's 31 raagas, nor its religious philosophy. The Sikhism code of conduct states that Ragmala is not mandatory reading but that no copy of Guru Granth Sahib may be published excluding Ragmala until such time that there is a Panthic consensus, and a resolution passed decreeing that it be deleted from the scripture altogether.

Don't Miss:
Raag - Melodious Hue
What is the Significance of Raag in Gurbani?
Who are the Authors of Sikhism's Holy Scripture, The Guru Granth?

06
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Gurdwara Marriage Restrictions

Bride and Groom
Bride and Groom. Photo © [Hari]

Question: Who Can Be Married in the Gurdwara?

Answer: The code of conduct says that only a Sikh may be married in the gurdwara with the Anand Karaj ceremony, and describes the ceremony in detail between girl and boy. This is subject to various interpretations including:

  • Both partners must be Sikh
  • At least one partner must be Sikh and the other not affiliated with any other specific religion.
  • Marriage takes place only between male and female partners, and does not allow for same gender unions.

The ceremony which features kirtan and reading of holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib, may only be conducted in a gurdwara, or hall where no alcohol or meat is served, no smoking, and no dancing takes place. Weddings which ignore, or dismiss, protocol have been interrupted, and Guru Granth Sahib removed.

Don't Miss:
Sikh Marriage Ceremony Program Guide
Sikh Wedding Ceremony Rites Illustrated
All About Anand Karaj Wedding Customs

07
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Tables and Chairs in Gurdwara

Disabled Only Langar Table
Disabled Only Langar Table. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Question: What is the controversy regarding chairs in the gurdwara and tables in the langar hall?

Answer: An edict issued by Akal Takhat in 1998 forbid the use of tables and chair in the langar hall for any other than the disabled, citing that the tradition of eating together while sitting on the floor emphasizes equality and humility. A heated controversy arose between complying and non complying gurdwaras. Ross street gurdwara in British Columbia had to be closed down by police because of warring factions, and resulting disturbances. The controversy continues. One resolution has been that in locations where gurdwaras do not comply and tables remain, devout Sikh have opened new gurdwaras which do comply where no tables, or chairs, are permitted other than for the disabled who are unable to sit on the floor.

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All About Langar and the Guru's Free Kitchen
Eight Guidelines For Langar Unwritten Rules and Decrees
Tables and Chair In Langar Debated

08
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Dietary Law and Meat

Langar and Sangat
Langar and Sangat. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Question: If no meat is allowed in gurdwara langar, then why do some Sikhs eat meat? Does scripture say anything about eating meat?

Answer: No meat has ever been served as part of the langar menu, and is not permitted on gurdwara premises. The Sikh code of conduct specifically forbids halal meaning the flesh of animals which has been slaughtered by the slow sacrificial method permitted in Islam. Moderate Sikhs generally interpret this to mean that meat of animals slaughtered by a single stroke of sword is acceptable, while very devout Sikhs interpret the rahit to mean that no animal killed by any method is permitted for food. The scripture of Gurbani has a number of passages which address the subject of meat eating in regards to spirituality.

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Sikhism Dietary Law: What Does Gurbani Say About Eating Meat?

09
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Yoga and Sikhism

Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yoga. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Question:Is yoga a part of Sikhism's history, or is doing yoga actually an anti-Sikh practice?

Answer: Main stream Sikhism does not acknowledge yoga practices to be part of the Sikh faith. Many Sikhs consider yoga to be "anti-gurmat" and citing history and scripture. Other Sikhs however believe that traditional Khalsa warrior training incorporated aspects of yogic exercises to maintain mental clarity and a sound body.

  • Guru Nanak did not select his son Baba Siri Chand, an aesthetic yogi to succeed him as guru.
  • References in to Yoga in the scripture of Guru Granth Sahib include the multi-page Sidh Gosht written by Guru Nanak based on conversations between the first guru and a yogi sect.
    "Jogee gur sabad pachhaanai antar kamal pragaas theeaa ||
    He alone is a Yogi who realizes and understands the Guru's hymns, as the heart lotus blossoms within." SGGS|| 940
  • Banda Singh Bahadar a yogic master conquered the guru's enemies, broke the Moghul strangle hold in the East, and established the Khalsa Raj.
  • Yoga was performed primarily by the Udasi sect founded by Baba Siri Chand who maintained ties with Sikh gurus and Sikhism until the late Yogi Bhajan began teaching Kundalini Yoga in the United states during the late 1960s, and encouraged his students to embrace Sikhism while continuing their yoga practices.
10
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Khalistan and Khalsa Raj

Peaceful Rally
Peaceful Rally. Photo © [Jasleen Kaur]

Question: The British Raj, dismantled the Khalsa Raj and the Sikh homeland of Punjab was divided during partition, ought its two halves be reunited again as Khalistan?

Answer: Many Sikhs feel that because of partition, Khalistan is an unfulfilled dream of a unified Punjab whose time has passed. Only a small segment of the Sikh population concern themselves in any way with Khalistan. There is no across the board unified Panthik movement, or general consensus of feeling, for a future Khalistan.

  • The majority of Sikhs who dream of a re-united Punjab, rally and lobby for a Khalistan homeland by peaceful political means, hopeful that the creation Khalsa Raj (rulership) should occur again in the unforeseeable future.
  • Khalistan Zindabad is rumored to be a militant organization with unknown numbers and unsubstantiated arms capability, which seeks to break Brahmanistic rule and regain partitioned Punjab by force if necessary.

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Khalistan Defined: Movement for Independent Sovereign Sikh State
Khalistan Banner and Youth at 34th Annual Yuba City Sikh Parade

11
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Takhats, Seats of Relgious Authority

Akal Takhat, the Seat of Religious Authority for Sikhs
Akal Takhat, the Supreme Seat of Religious Authority for Sikhs. Photo © Jasleen Kaur

Question: How many Takhats, or seats of Sikh religious authority are in existence? What are their names and where are they located?

Answer: There are five Takhats, or supreme seats of religious authority in Sikhism:

  1. Sri Akal Thakhat - Amritsar, Punjab, India
  2. Takhat Sri Kes Ghar Sahib - Anandpur Sahib, District Roop Nagar, Punjab, India
  3. Takhat Sri Sach Khand Hazoor Sahib - Abchal Nagar, Nanded, Maharashtra, India
  4. Takhat Sri Harmandar Sahib - Patna, Bihar, India
  5. Takhat Sri Damdama Sahib - Talwandi, Sabo, District Bathinda, Punjab, India

The five Takhats are mentioned in the Sikh prayer of Ardas which is included in the nitnem daily prayer book gutka. All Gurmukhi language gutkas state five Takhats, however an English interpretation of daily prayers titled Peace Lagoon, authored by Premka Kaur, the former self avowed mistress of the late Yogi Bhajan contains the mistaken entry of "four Takhats" (page 168). The error has been perpetuated in subsequent editions, and by its readers, as fact since 1971.