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Controversies in Sikhism
A review of Some Aspects of Sikh History: A Fresh Look by Hakam Singh (Sikh Welfare Foundation of North America, Duarte, CA, 2002; pp. 115).

Hakam Singh Chugh, Ph.D., is a retired polymer chemist with fifty-five worldwide patents. He is founding chairman of the Sikh Welfare Foundation of North America and director of the Sikh Center of Southern California (Covina). He has lectured on Sikhism and related topics at Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut), U.C.L.A., California State University (Fulleron), and the 1999 Parliament of World Religions (Cape Town, South Africa). He has authored/edited six books and several of his articles have been published in The Sikh Review. He lives in Bradbury, CA.

The Sikh Times, Jul. 30, 2004

Photo: 'Some Aspects of Sikh History: A Fresh Look' by Hakam Singh

This self-published volume is one of the more sober examples of the intense debate prevalent among lay Sikhs today, particularly in the diaspora. Much of the rebuttal, as always, is targeted at Western scholars, specifically W.H. McLeod and his students.

Hakam Singh's approach in this book typifies the ambivalence demonstrated by McLeod's critics. On the one hand, the author counts McLeod among 'so-called researchers' (p. 16) based on a flawed reading of McLeod's works whereby a paragraph in McLeod's book [The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society (New York: Columbia University Press), 1989, p. 16.], wherein McLeod puts forth an argument only to subsequently reject it, is used to misquote and misinterpret his work. On the other hand, the author uses McLeod's work to support his own thesis (p. 28).

Despite the above shortcomings, Hakam Singh's compact volume is a valuable discussion of several controversies along with a useful presentation of the differing viewpoints on each topic. For example, the controversy surrounding Guru Nanak's date of birth has been examined. Hakam Singh concludes that what is traditionally celebrated as Guru Nanak's birthday more likely coincides with the day he received enlightenment and that Guru Nanak's actual birthday, in fact, coincides with Vaisakhi.

With regard to the Dasam Granth controversy, the author concludes that attempts to portray the entire Dasam Granth as the work of Guru Gobind Singh are 'part of a grand scale conspiracy to undermine Sikhism' (p. 109). The author claims, 'Several Hindu zealots (R.S.S. workers) have recently undergone the Khalsa initiation (Khande-di-pahul) ceremony, thus received the passport to go to simple Sikhs in the villages and mislead them. They are openly preaching that Guru Gobind Singh was a devotee of goddess Chandi or Bhagvati. That he believed in lord Shiva and the Hindu avtars [reincarnations of God]. To substantiate their statements they quote from Chandi di Var and Chaubees Avtar chapters of the Dasam Granth.' The author provides no source for the above allegation.

In another chapter, the author questions the legitimacy of the Goindwal Pothis [religious books] (also known as the Mohan Pothis) as precursors to the Adi Granth, the primary Sikh scripture.

On a separate topic, the author makes an impassioned appeal for the book Gur-bilaas Chhevin Patshaahii to be 'banned' for portraying Guru Teg Bahadur as 'a coward (who would commit suicide) rather than a courageous martyr who gave his life for the religious freedom of a religion [i.e. Hinduism] in which he himself did not believe.'

Hakam Singh risks losing some of his audience when he makes unsubstantiated claims such as, 'It is a historical fact that Guru Gobind Singh, before leaving this world, gave the spiritual throne of Guru Nanak to Guru Granth Sahib.' The preceding is indeed well accepted. However, that doesn't make it an 'historical fact.' Historians must resist the temptation to refer to events, howsoever certain, as historical facts, of which there are almost none, especially in reference to events that occurred centuries ago.

Nevertheless, the author writes simply and gets to the point without wasting words. This book is recommended for those wishing to acquiant themselves with several of the ongoing debates.