Kids Corner


Some Thoughts on The Akal Takht

GURMUKH SINGH, United Kingdom





Sometimes, the evolving role and status of the Jathedar of the Akal Takht -- in recent times, involves in controversies as well -- is confused with the institution of the Akal Takht itself. 

Some say that Guru Granth Sahib is our only guide on the path of Sikhi. Some even so far as to deny the Miri-Piri (integration of the Temporal and the Spiritual) institution that the Akal Takht represents.

Recently, someone dear to me asked, very simply, "Surely, Guru Nanak could have revealed all the gurbani himself and compiled the entire Guru Granth Sahib and himself directed the Sikhs to follow it as the Guru-Jyot after him?" (Our middle brother asks such provocative questions, and usually the answer lies in the question.)

With the current issues swirling around the Akal Takht Sahib and its Jathedar in mind, I gave this question a bit of lateral thought.

Maybe the answer can be derived from a verse in gurbani: "parthai saakhi Mahan purakh bolday / saanjhi sagal jahanay."

My understanding of this pankti is that (mahanpurakh = great souls) saintly and wise people may say something in a specific context; but the underlying teaching or general principle behind what they say is always of universal application.

Gurbani was composed in the specific context of a period of about 500 hundred years in the evolution of society (taking the period of the bhagats from Farid and Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh). The message is specific as well as universal.

It is specific to the theo-political environment and the lives of the saintly authors who lived during that period. They lived in the harsh societal conditions of the times. They did not opt out of society by renouncing public interaction, but started a movement for religious, social and political reforms.

For Sikhi tuition, our Gurus preferred to live the "saanjhi sagal jahanay" gurbani and apply its universal teachings to their own period and personal situations. Therefore, response to the challenges of the tyrannical regime of the time was
specific, and involved both peaceful and armed resistance, the martyrdoms of two of the Gurus, the Four Sahibzadas and numerous other gursikhs.

This was a way of demonstrating how the evergreen and universal gurbani can be applied to any given time, place and society.

What was revealed over a period of about 250 years was the sovereign miri-piri power of the Throne of the Timeless, as well as the Khalsa Institution of the Akal Takht - well explained by scholars like Sirdar Kapur Singh and Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer in recent times.

Thus in Sikhi, bhagti (spiritual life) and shakti (temporal duties responsibilities) must go together. The Akal Takht is a “saanjhi sagal jahanay” universal concept which applies to all humankind.

Its revelation is the manifestation of the philosophy that all the human beings are the subject of Akal (literally: The Timeless One), and only His Takht (throne) is real, permanent and supreme. God is the only force, the first and final force, that rules in both the temporal and transcendental (Miri-Piri) domains; and Man should bow before only one Patshah (emperor), God, i.e., all beings owe loyalty to The One Akal Purakh only, and none other.

Based on the same universal principle, Akal Takht is a specific Guru Granth-Panth institutional concept revealed by our Gurus for the development of the panth.

Guru Granth Sahib gives us the answers, but only when interpreted by Guru ityhaas (the lives of the Gurus), Khalsa ityhaas (history and conduct of the Khalsa following in the Guru's footsteps). The correct miri-piri answers can be asked and obtained in sangat connected to the Akal Takht.

All other interpretations by individuals, no matter how scholarly, can lead us to divisions and decay as a community; because they would have an element of misguided "haumai" (egocentricity), which will go against unity, organisation and collective decision making and panthic action.

Thus Guru Granth-Panth makes the twin track sovereign institution of the Akal Takht.

This institution is specific to the Khalsa theo-political nation.

However, the underlying principle of the Akal Takht (the principle, not the mere building bearing the name) is universal.

The same can be said of Guru Granth Sahib. Gurbani has been revealed by the Guru for His Sikhs - those who are willing to learn from Him and no other. That is the specific context of gurbani. However, it is universal because the underlying general principles are for all … saanjhi sagal jahanay.

Similary, the location of the institution of the Akal Takht is determined by Sikh history and numerous sacrifices have been made for and on that location in defiance of oppression and authoritarian rulers; but the location of the concept of the Akal Takht is universal in each person prepared to tread the righteous path.

July 29, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Jasvir Kaur (London, United Kingdom), July 29, 2014, 11:05 AM.

The Akal Takht was established by Guru Hargobind as a symbol of Sikh political sovereignty and where spiritual and temporal concerns of Sikhs should be addressed. It is incumbent on Sikhs worldwide to reassert the independence, sovereignty, supremacy and sanctity of the Akal Takht and not confuse this with the current limitations imposed on the Jathedar by the governments, the SGPC and the politicians and political parties. The Jathedar of the Akal Takht should justify his decisions to the Panth which alone should be responsible for his/her appointment or removal. He/she should not be undermined and dictated to by any political party, state government or the Government of India.

2: A. Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 30, 2014, 10:14 AM.

Why is that although this institution predates the UN by over 300 years it seems to be facing the same challenges of interference from states seeking to undermine the universal principles it was founded on?

3: Dya Singh (Melbourne, Australia), July 30, 2014, 9:40 PM.

I must admit that I am one that has grown disillusioned with the Akal Takht Jathedars of late, having met the last three personally and having seen their levels of learning and their subservience. By proxy, I have therefore grown disillusioned by the institution itself - wrongly, of course. This is a timely reminder by my Bhai Sahib, Gurmukh Singh ji, that however much the status of the Jathedar is dragged down and especially made subservient to the whims of the politicians, the august status of the institution does not change. For those who keep harping for a parallel body overseas, I will say - do not throw the baby out with the bath water. The status of the Akal Takht must be defended at all costs even if it means trying to fight the adverse forces within. I am in India presently and have seen the Jathedar flex his muscles in two recent cases - the formation of the HGPC where the Badal twosome wanted to hold morchas against it and in the case of the communal clash over a new gurdwara in Saharanpur. In both cases the Jathedars' fairly strong intervention has possibly averted further bloodshed. Maybe the Jathedar has long last woken from his regal slumber! Nevertheless, the effect of the Akal Takht and its acceptance by the Sikhs in India, as the undisputed supreme body was on display.

4: Kaala Singh (Punjab), August 09, 2014, 11:56 PM.

The Akal Takht as an institution seems to have lost its relevance. The Akal Takht is supposed be a parliament of Sikhs which guides and leads the community in the right direction. Unfortunately, this institution is now, indirectly, controlled by the Indian state and does not represent the interests of Sikhs. The disillusionment of diaspora Sikhs and even Sikhs in India is understandable. Sikhs should look into the possibility of building a similar institution in the diaspora which would be truly independent and represent the interests of Sikhs worldwide.

5: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), August 12, 2014, 3:53 AM.

First, we have to understand and agree on the meaning and purpose of the institution. Diaspora Sikhs are now in a position to play an important role in bringing about reforms by re-interpreting panthic decision-making needs today. However, another institution in the diaspora, as suggested by some, would be divisive and defeat the original purpose of the Akal Takht ... which was to bring the entire panth within one tent. We see the effects of divisiveness when we break away and open up a new gurdwara each time there is disagreement within a gurdwara's management -- instead of doing it for the right reasons. Local, regional and national Sikh councils can form a global network to link up with the Akal Takht in a bottom upwards approach. The need is for two-way communication and management. We have to take ground realities into account and the fact that most Sikhs do believe in the efficacy of the Akal Takht as the central Sikh miri-piri institution, and abide by its decisions.

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