Sikh Duties | Rehatnāmas
3. Rehatnāmas and Rehat Maryādā -
as sources of duties | background
Apart from the general principle of duties denoted by raza there are some general and organisational duties which the Sikhs are required to perform:
There are two major sources of these duties, namely Rehatnāmas and the Sikh Rehat Maryādā. These may be called the codes of conduct or life rules.
We may first discuss Rehatnāmas:
Before we examine the actual duties enjoined in Rehatnāmas a few observations about them, which may help us to avoid hasty and oversimplified generalisations, are necessary. We may, then, be in a better position to view them in their proper perspective.
First, it may be observed that these codes were formulated after the year 1699, that is, after the initiation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh.
Some of the codes are the product of the time when the Sikhs were actively involved in a strife against the opposing forces and those who were keen on putting an end to this newly emerging system which sought to transvaluate some of their traditional values. The codes, therefore, very often reflect their averse attitude towards both of them.
Second, the compilers of these codes were also faced with the problem of consolidating the forces of Sikhism:
They also display their interest for the precepts which would see the growing nation through its teething period and some of the extreme positions may, therefore, be more in the spirit of conservation and internal discipline.
Third, the codes also contain some imperatives, laying down even some minute details, which may be indicative more of love for detail of an individual compiler than of any internal necessity of the doctrine as such.
4. Origin of the Rehatnāmas
The origin and validity of some of the Rehatnāmas is claimed on the basis of their having been dictated by the 10th Guru.
Bhai Kahan Singh regards 3 formulations, namely:
1. Tankha-nāma Nand Lal,
2. Praśan Uttar Bhai Nand Lal, and
3. Rehatnāma of Bhai Desa Singh
as codes formulated by some devotees on the basis of dialogue between the 10th Guru and Bhai Nand Lal and Desa Singh.
We find that Chopa Singh’s Rehatnāma is also sometimes ascribed to the 10th Guru.
There is yet another Rehatnāma for which similar origin and validity is claimed:
It is reported to be a compilation by Prehlad Singh (also sometime referred to as Prehlad Rai).
This Rehatnāma begins with the opening “Bachan Sri mukhvāk Patśahī 10,” which may be interpreted to mean that it was uttered by the 10th Guru.
Bhai Kahan Singh has not included this Rehatnāma in his Gurmutsudhākar, though he has mentioned it in Gurmutsudhākar as one of the compilations of the life rules.
Sant Sampuran Singh has included this Rehatnāma in his anthology of Rehatnāmas but has expressed doubt about the historical accuracy of the place where this Rehatnāma is claimed to have been dictated since the 10th Guru could not have been at that place by any possible means.
Bhai Jodh Singh, while referring to the Rehatnāmas expresses his inability to establish which of them is mukhvāk (that is, dictated by the Guru).
These diverse views indicate that there is considerable difference of opinion amongst the scholars of Sikhism as to the origin and validity of the Rehatnāmas.
Bhai Jodh Singh suggests that doubtlessly these have been written by faithful devotees and leading Sikhs and they have sought to describe the Sikh way of life at its best as known to them.
We may infer from this that Bhai Jodh Singh, while not making any reference to the possibility of interpolations and subsequent additions to the compilations, is yet not very enthusiastic to defend each and every detail of the life rules current under the title of Rehatnāmas.
He, however, quotes in his book under reference, from the Rehatnāmas of Bhai Prehlad Singh, Chopa Singh, Desa Singh and Nand Lal.
Incidentally, it may be pointed out here, that he does not include the quotations from the life rules by Bhai Dayā Singh. That may be taken to mean that he did not consider this particular code as authentic or valid.
The code, in fact is unduly extremist and at times even against the spirit of toleration which is contrary to the general approach of Sikhism. The code, however, includes some altruistic imperatives as well.
It is interesting to note that the various Rehatnāmas included by Bhai Kahan Singh in Gurmutsudhākar are studded with comments mostly to soften the extremist views and injunctions laid down in them.
There is the possibility of these comments being mistaken as an apologetic attitude of the commentator towards some of the details contained in the formularies.
It is also indicative of a sort of orthodox liberalism in the sense that while the author is not willing to completely reject them, he is equally not prepared to lend credence to them in the form these were available to him.
As regards the rest of the codes or life rules the question of their being the dictation of 10th Guru does not arise since these are commonly acknowledged to be the contributions of some votaries of Sikhism.
The compilation called Premsumārag may also be included in this category. This composition, even though also prefaced with “Patśahi 10’’, is regarded to be the contribution of some devotee,
Who according to Giani Randhir Singh, the editor of the manuscript, appears to have copied it from some other composition.
The book, among various other things, also contains some commonplace culinary recipes, all of which may be difficult, if not improper, to trace to Guru Gobind Singh.
In itself the composition might have been inspired by some of the teachings of the Gurus but the whole of it cannot be traced to the Guru. Bhai Kahan Singh also does not accept it to be the mukhvāk (by the Guru).
All of these codes reflect in their contents the general spirit of the consolidation of Sikhism as was the need of post-Gobind Singh era. These votaries were perhaps convinced in themselves that their contribution would serve to colligate the Sikhs as a nation.
Ernest Trumpp (1828 – 1885), the German-British researcher of Sikhi, is quite outspoken about these life rules and rejects them as dictation from the 10th Guru. In his own words:
“these injunctions are laid down in a number of so-called Rehatnāmas or books of conduct, which all pretend to have been dictated by the Guru himself,
but none of which appear to be genuine, since they vary greatly, and were, as may be easily proven, all composed after the death of the Guru, some of them as late as the end of the last century.
They cannot, therefore, be considered a direct testimony of what Govind Singh himself ordained and introduced into Khalsa, but only as an evidence of the later development of Sikhism.”
His argument that great variance among them can be an evidence that all are not genuine is indeed very sound and logical. Ernest Trumpp, however, does not offer any proof to support the easy “possibility” as suggested by the second part of his argument.
In view of the whole of the preceding evidence the possible conclusion may be that the codes, in their present form, cannot be described to have been directly dictated by the Guru
partly because of their great variance, and partly due to the fact that many injunctions contained therein are unequivocally against the teaching of the 10th Guru.
It may be suggested that the life rules have also been interpolated and contain some of the personal views of the subsequent copyists.
The codes, however, have a core which could have been inspired by the 10th and the earlier Gurus. This core, apart from some organisational duties, also embodies the moral duties, to which we refer now.
Main moral duties
A thorough and critical examination of these Rehatnāmas reveals a predominant stress on the following 3 duties:
(1) Right belief,
(2) Right livelihood, and
(3) Chastity and fidelity, including restrictions of sexual relationship within the marital bounds.
Duties relating to Right Belief
In these injunctions duties of right belief are understood in the sense of non-observance of superstitious beliefs and ceremonials as enjoined in other communities.
Bhai Dayā Singh’s Rehatnāma is more pronounced in its denunciation of these beliefs and requires the Sikhs not to entertain them.
The superstition so indicted include the ones current both among the Muslims and the Hindus, such as, tomb worship, idol worship, sooth saying, magical formulas divining by the priests, forecast by the oracles, etc.
The same duty of right belief is also found in the compilation by Bhai Chopa Singh. Desa Singh stresses the same. The injunctions concerning the right belief are also contained in the Tankhanāma of Nand Lal and Rehatnāma of Prehlad Singh.
The prime purpose of this duty is to ensure that the teachings of the Gurus are acted upon and the new converts to Sikhism from the other communities do not import into Sikhism some of the superstitious notions and practices of the older faiths and thus corrupt the ideals of the new faith.
These duties may be understood as the application of the virtue of wisdom to everyday affairs.
Duties relating to Right Means of livelihood
In these Rehatnāmas the compilers stress that every Sikh should adopt right means of livelihood.
The compiler of Premsumārag stresses the need for taking to industry, clarifying that one should not feel ashamed of industry, whatever be its nature, and may sell produce in the market.
He even cites the hierarchy in which various professions may be followed:
With him industry comes first while trade and agriculture are second and third, respectively. In respect of the salaried services the only job he seems to hold worthwhile is that of a soldier.
Bhai Nand Lal in Tankhanāma requires a person not to depend on charity of others and also not to be dishonest in trade.
Desa Singh also requires the Sikhs to earn their livelihood, and wants even the persons looking after the Sikh temples to take from the offering not more than what is barely minimum.
In the injunctions about right livelihood, he includes imperatives against participation in dacoities. There is a similar injunction against stealing in the formulary of Chopa Singh.
These injunctions can be directly traced to the declaration of Guru Nānak, “He alone, O Nānak, knows the way, who earns with the sweat of his brow and then shares it with others.”
And to this principle, the saying of Bhai Gurdas can also be related, when he emphasises the importance of “earning rightly and sharing it with the others.”
Duties relating to chastity and fidelity
Duties relating to chastity are meant to regulate marital relations and to ensure respect for fidelity in the family and avoidance of adultery.
In order to ensure that the conflict between the Sikhs and others may not lead to disrespect and molestation of the womenfolk of the others, the compilers lay great stress on this duty.
In many codes this aspect has been clearly identified as the compilers forbid expressly any sex relations with the female members of the other communities.
But the injunctions also forbid adultery in general, whoever be the parties to it.
The author of Premsumārag advocates sex regulation as an apt substitute for the traditional fasting. Nand Lal is equally stern about this duty to avoid adultery.
Prehlad Singh forbids, within the range of this injunction, relations with the courtesans also.
Dayā Singh forbids even the entertaining of sex ideas in the mind on one’s way to the religious congregation. Desa Singh and Chopa Singh also lay down imperatives to forbid adultery and to maintain fidelity.
These duties may also be the echo of some similar expressions in the Ādi Granth:
Guru Nānak has pointed out the evil when he says, “Indra was attracted to Ahalyā, wife of Gotama, the seer, and lo, he was cursed with a thousand yonis and then he grieved.”
This is also in keeping with the general view on kām (concupiscence) as a thief of morality.
5. Organisational duties
Apart from the preceding moral duties we also come across the injunction by Prehlad Singh requiring Sikhs to wear "Kachera, Keśa, Kangha, Kirpan and Kāra” which, respectively, are a short breeches, unshorn hair, a comb, a sword and a steel bangle.
Chopa Singh also emphasises the duty of being baptised (Amrit) after which the five articles mentioned above are required to be worn.
Other miscellaneous duties
In addition to these duties we come across Dayā Singh’s injunctions to be altruists and the imperative of Desa Singh against defaming other faiths.
There are, however, in the Rehatnāmas some minute details and injunctions which have provided ground for criticism of the Rehatnāmas: Representative of these injunctions are:
to require people to bath in cold water; not to use water, a part of which has been taken out to put the fire out; to lay down the exact length of the short breeches.
In one formulation we even find the quantity of water prescribed for taking the bath.
These minute details led to this criticism from Trumpp that:
“we see from these minute ordinances that the Sikh reformatory movement soon ended again in a new bondage, which was quite as tiresome as that which they had thrown off.”