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Do We Need a Maryada?
Basics - The Writings of Bhai Ardaman Singh of Bagrian





Maryada - literally, code of conduct
Rehat Maryada - ‘The Sikh Way of Life’

There is no special spiritual sanctity attached to maryada in Sikhism.

But it is like a Constitution of a civilised and organised government of a country, to which loyalty is sworn.

It has been formed and has been evolved from time to time by the Sikhs as a whole - the ‘Panth’.

It is the centre around which the whole organisation revolves and keeps together. Without a Constitution or rules and regulations, no society or individual can properly function. Without regulation, everything becomes a total chaos.

The Sikh ‘rehat maryada’ is a matter of strategy for the protection and advancement of the Sikhs, to co-ordinate and integrate and keep them on the path.

Our Maryada has evolved and changed according to the requirements, needs and conditions through which the Panth has been passing. It will have to adapt itself and change in future also when necessity and urgency of a situation calls.

A static constitution is always fatal to the cause. Our maryada, therefore, has to be dynamic and a living, pulsating and functioning Constitution.

But it has to conform to and be subservient to the spirit and tenets laid down in the Satguru’s Shabad incorporated in Guru Granth Sahib. If everybody begins to have a free hand at the maryada and starts ritualizing and corrupting it according to one’s individual whims and caprices, it will be very dangerous for the integrity of the Panth.

Such a liberty may bring about disruption and disintegration. Strict enforcement of the current maryada is, therefore, very necessary.

Questions sometimes are posed that the Satguru directed his tirade mainly against ritualism, formalism, institutionalized religion, regimented society, and exhibitionary symbols and forms. Then how can the imposition of strict maryada be justified amongst the Sikhs?

The question is valid and requires proper understanding.

If Sikhism were an individualistic and isolationalist concern, it would have been quite different. There would then be no need for any forms or symbols or any strict maryada.

But Sikhism, as envisaged and taught by the Guru, is to be an organised force of individuals having unswerving faith and anchor in God and Guru and dedicated to upholding and advancing righteousness, to extirpate evil and evil-doers, and to work for nobility in the world.

For enlarging the scope and effectiveness of such a work, organised effort is of foremost importance. It is beyond any individual to take up and carry such a work to the desired end. It must be a conjoint and co-operative effort of the whole body if success is to be achieved.

To bring people together and to keep them in an integrated unit to enable them to march forward and progress with enthusiasm and in spirit of joyful attachment to the cause and themselves, organised discipline is valuable and a pre-requisite.

To keep up such a zealous enthusiasm, our imagination and sentiments have to be kept worked up. To keep up the ideas and beliefs in an operative mood, some forms and external symbols are helpful necessities.

However, they must not be dead and obsolete.

To be a living index of the mission and idea, they should be vivid reminders of the personality that governs our faith and actions. They should be reflections of our inner beliefs and convictions as tears are related to grief and smiles to happiness.

But we have to guard against tears and smiles turning into a camouflage for hypocrisy. As long as their inner meaning and spirit is real and alive, they always serve a very useful purpose and make the ideal real and workable.

If such forms are imposed not for requirement of uniformity and integration, but by local and racial influences and pressure, they tend to water down the ideal and create divisions. If the spirit within is lost, such outside forms become sheer obstacles and should better be abandoned.

It was this conception which exposed the outmodedness of customs and forms then prevailing in the Hindu society.

Thus, taking food in “cooking squares”, the caste system, the distinctive features of the sacred thread, and the differentiation between high and low castes, all led to exclusiveness and became hindrances to the spiritual advancement of individuals and alienated the people from God.

The Satguru’s mission was, therefore, to remove such obstacles. The Sikh forms were not meant as an essential aid to the spiritual advancement of the soul. They were conceived and determined for preservation of the corporate life of the community.

There is no bar on an individual soul to be inspired by and to love God without adopting these forms but they become a must if the individual has to advance not only for his ownself but also for the good of others as well as progress in the company of the Guru and the sangat.

For such joint action, the Sikhs who are the embodiment of the Guru and are thus surcharged with his personality, get inspired by the uniform worn and ordained by him. This creates an everlasting association with an ever-living Personality that is itself a symbol of the Highest Personality.

As is God, so is the Guru, and as is the Guru, so must be the Sikh.

Besides keeping up the esprit de corps, maryada has to play another important role. It is like a moat and ramparts of a fort to safeguard and protect the spirit within.

This has been of special utility and importance to the Sikhs and Sikhism. They had to face struggle and opposition from two fronts.

Semitic and Aryan systems were both to be contended with.

The Semitic attack was straight and frontal. Their bigoted fanaticism and brute tyranny had to be faced. Though it was a long drawn and bloody conflict, yet the Sikhs were able to stand against it and ultimately were victorious in the struggle.

But the Aryan or the Hindu onslaught is surreptitious, veiled, and orchestrated both from within and outside. The Sikhs have had to contend with Hindu fifth columnists and traitors in their own ranks.

The Muslims openly wanted to convert the Sikhs to Islam. This the Sikhs resisted very successfully and valiantly.

But there is a section of the Hindus who want to assimilate the Sikhs and wipe out their image and identity. If the Sikhs were and are saved, it is due to their maryada which enjoined upon them to keep their kesh intact.

Kesh and beard are a spiritual and mystical link between a Sikh and the Guru. If the unshorn hair were not there to protect us, the Hindu intolerant communalist majority would have devoured us long ago.

One is astonished to see sometimes seemingly sensible people in Sikh form who are impatient and dying to see this protecting hand removed so that they are free to get rid of their beard and kesh.

But they fail to advance any cogent reason as to what will they gain by doing so, except that they will be free to go about unnoticed within their majority communities.

I have discussed this point with youngsters who have live in the diaspora. My own son Sikandar Singh was in Canada for a decade. He achieved the first position in his exams at the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario, Canada) and after obtaining his MBA, he worked in Montreal (Quebec, Canada).

So he has experienced different lives there, of a student and of a worker. He tells me that there is no difficulty that one comes across abroad at all on account of our identity as full-disciplined Sikhs.

He has moved even in the highest society there and has been visiting the Government House at Ottawa to call on the Governor-General who is a friend of our family, but he had never felt any awkwardness or sense of discomfort, nor was he ever treated differently or with discrimination anywhere on account of his beard and uncut kesh.

So if they stand as a check on our going wrong, they deserve to be thanked and cherished as our saviours.

It is on these bases that the Sikh Maryada has been formed, evolved and enforced.  


[Courtesy: “Thoughts of Bhai Ardaman Singh”, compiled by Bhai Ashok Singh. Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, Punjab. Edited for]

May 29, 2013 

Conversation about this article

1: R Singh (Canada), May 29, 2013, 6:51 PM.

Very well written! However, just to point out a couple of things, one being that it is not the highest political echelons where one encounters hostility or in corridors of institutions of higher learning. It is more on the ground, in the less economically stable communities, which a new immigrant encounters and has to contend with, where it may manifest as a symptom of someone else's frustrations or just plain bigotry. Secondly, now as a symptom of siege mentality, there is a section from within the community which is actively hostile to anything but their own version or practice of the maryada. These issues need to be addressed.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), May 29, 2013, 6:53 PM.

Absolutely! ... Today, we need a maryada or 'code of conduct' more than ever!

3: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), May 29, 2013, 9:48 PM.

He is right. The Sikh rehat maryada forms a base for an organized religion. Without an organized religion and institution of the Khalsa, Sikhs would have long ago met the fate of the Kabir-panthis -- obiliteration. There were millions of Kabir-panthis but they have vanished after assimilation. I have worked in more than dozens of countries. My identity was never a constraint in any of those. There is no real excuse for those who genuinely wish to follow the full discipline of the Sikh Faith. We are always in chardi kalaa, irrespective of the different geographical locations.

4: Inder Singh (United Kingdom), May 31, 2013, 2:53 PM.

I enjoyed reading this article. Thank you.

5: Baldev Singh Dhaliwal (South Australia), June 01, 2013, 3:41 AM.

An excellent (must read) perspective about the Sikh Rehat Maryada. Many (in the past) have questioned the need for a rehat maryada when we have Guru Granth Sahib, the ultimate authority. This may help to answer that question! For the Maryada to be a "dynamic and a living, pulsating and functioning Constitution", the Sikh Panth, as the custodian, has to have a mechanism in place to keep abreast of the ever-changing world and (with due deliberations) to keep the Maryada updated. We may be falling short in this respect. There have to be representatives (of the Sikhs worldwide) and an effective Panthic structure for a start. The present custodians of the Akal Takht (in the mire of Punjab/ Indian/ dera-vaad politics) fall far short of being such a representative body, even if they were academically qualified! In the absence of a suitable structure and mechanisms, therefore, the Maryada has not evolved as perhaps it should have. This may in fact be the reason why there is some impatience by some to modify the Maryada, very often according to their individual whims!

6: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), June 02, 2013, 12:00 AM.

Gurbani speaks to the human mind irrespective of any other consideration. The uniform and the code of conduct should be the commitment to live by gurbani and spread the word of gurbani to every household.

7: Manvinder Singh (Wilton, Connecticut, USA), June 03, 2013, 11:42 PM.

Very well written, indeed! We need the Rehat Maryada more than ever, now. The Gurus never wanted every human being to turn into a Khalsa. That is why, despite a gathering of about 80,000 at Anandpur Sahib in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh ji made such an unusual request of the Sikhs. He wanted Quality, not Quantity. So much so that he even turned down a request from Hindu Rajput princes and rajas to join the Khalsa because they wanted an Amrit Sanchar ceremony tailor made for them, separate from the one for the 'lower castes'.

8: Harinderpal Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), November 18, 2013, 4:49 AM.

First of all, I would like to thank Bhai Ardaman Singh for such a nice article. Last week I had a similar debate with my cousin, but we were confused on many points on which we were not able to draw any conclusion. Now it is pretty clear in my mind.

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Basics - The Writings of Bhai Ardaman Singh of Bagrian"

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