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Recommended Reading

The Sikh Times Top Ten - Sikh Affairs

The following three books, written by W. Hew McLeod, the foremost contemporary historian of the Sikhs, comprise an essential four-step introduction to Sikh affairs.

  1. McLEOD, W.H., The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society (New York: Columbia University Press); April 15, 1989; 160 pages
    Beginner. This 160-page book might be a bit hard to find but the effort will be well worth it. Written in the form of five short essays, this stimulating work is the best short introduction for the absolute beginner.

  2. McLEOD, Hew, Sikhism (New York: Penguin Books); 1998; 334 pages
    Intermediate. This wonderful little book covers immense ground offering brief sketches on a vast number of topics relevant to studying the Sikhs. Included are translations of some of the most popular shabads (hymns) including Japji, Jap, Ten Saviyyas, Sodar Rahiras, Benati Chaupai, Kirtan Sohila, and Ardas. Finally, a masterful 9-page bibliographical note points readers to the best sources for further study.

  3. McLEOD, W.H., Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press); November 1, 1990; 166 pages
    Advanced. For those who are familiar with the Sikhs and wish to take the next step toward actually exploring Sikh theology. The author presents short, digestible translations from the Adi Granth (or the Guru Granth), the primary Sikh scripture, as well as several secondary sources.

  4. McLEOD, W.H., Historical Dictionary of Sikhism (Second Edition) (Oxford University Press); 2002; 349 pages
    Advanced. Provides quick answers to many topics, which can then be researched further with the help of a 126-page bibliography, the largest I have seen in any book to date (barring a book focussed exclusively on bibliography, such as the one by Rajwant Singh Chilana). For alternative viewpoints, see 'Dictionary of Sikh Philosophy' by Harjinder Singh Dilgeer.

To the extent that McLeod's authoritative and rigorous work has upset traditionalists and believers, the works of J.S. Grewal have been most able and willing to explore and explain the divide between Western-style scholarship and traditional sentiments without any of the shrillness that typically seems to accompany such responses.

  1. GREWAL, J.S., The Sikhs of the Punjab (Cambridge University Press); 1998; 277 pages
    As far as general introductions go, this title is top shelf material. Especially useful is the bibliographical essay at the end of the book.

  2. GREWAL, J.S., Guru Nanak in Western Scholarship (Delhi: Manohar); 1992; 64 pages
    Based on three lectures delivered at the Indian Institute for Advanced Study in Shimla, this book both summarizes and brings up to date Grewal's earlier 'Guru Nanak in History' (1969). Grewal contrasts and compares the works of James Browne, John Malcolm, J.D. Cunningham, Lepel Griffin, Ernest Trumpp, Max Arthur Macauliffe, W.H. McLeod, W. Owen Cole, Christopher Shackle, and many others.

  3. GREWAL, J.S., Historical Perspectives on Sikh Identity (Patiala: Punjabi University); 1997; 101 pages
    Grewal reviews the interpretations of W.H. McLeod, Harjot Oberoi, Daljeet Singh and G.S. Dhillon. Additionally, Grewal review two documents: the Dabistan-i-Mazahib (for its account of the Nanak-Panthis) and Ham Hindu Nahin (for its influential role in distinguishing Sikhs from Hindus).

  4. GREWAL, J.S., Contesting Interpretations of the Sikh Tradition (Delhi: Manohar); 1998; 315 pages

  5. GREWAL, J.S., Recent Debates in Sikh Studies: An Assessment (Delhi: Manohar); 2010; 324 pages
    Having faced criticism for unjustly defending McLeod's viewpoints and for not having spelled out his own points of view on controversial matters, Grewal (following McLeod's passing away in 2009) has come out with a hard-hitting volume that takes on McLeod, Oberoi, and others head on.

Anyone possessing more than a cursory familiarity with the Sikhs is well aware of their ongoing struggle for self-determination. With the proliferation of literature on the subject, it is far from easy to know what to read. The following books represent the cream of the crop.

  1. MAHMOOD, Cynthia Keppley, Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1996, 314 pages
    This fascinating study of the anthropology of violence is based on the author's extensive interviews with former Sikh militants now living in North America.

  2. PETTIGREW, Joyce, The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of the State and Guerrilla Violence (U.K.: Zed Books, Limited), 1995, 256 pages
    Similar to the previous book in its anthropological angle, this remarkable book is the product of the author's courageous interactions with Sikh militants who were studied not after the fact but while they were actually active in the Punjab.

  3. TULLY, Mark, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle, (Delhi: Rupa), 1984
    This rare book is the last word on the historic 1984 battle between Sikh fundamentalists and Indian security forces. The skirmish, which took place at Sikhism's holiest shrine, forever damaged India's relations with the Sikhs and precipitated a decade-long movement for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan. Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the attack in her capacity as prime minister, was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards.

  4. SANDHU, Ranbir Singh, Struggle For Justice: Speeches and Conversations of . . . Bhindranwale (Dublin, Ohio: Sikh Educational & Religious Foundation), 1999, 500 pages
    Reasonably well executed translations (from Punjabi to English) of forty-seven of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's speeches and conversations. Bhindranwale, a radical Sikh preacher propped up by India's ruling Congress party in the late 1970s to discredit the main Sikh political party, the Akali Dal, was killed by the Indian army when it invaded the Darbar Sahib (Amritsar, Punjab) in June 1984. The book also contains a useful seventy-page introductory essay by the author. This is a treasure in part because it is the only document of its kind. Those who continue to believe the fallacies that Bhindranwale did not advocate violent separatism or have political ambitions will find plenty of food for thought in Bhindranwale's very own speeches and interviews ably translated here.

  5. KASHMERI, Zuhair and Brian McAndrew, Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company); 1989; 162 pages
    Rounding out this section of the list is this controversial work by journalists from Canada's two leading newspapers (The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail) who put forth a fascinating thesis accusing India of meddling in Sikh diaspora affairs in order to malign the Sikhs internationally.

This final section highlights two important works of introspection.

  1. SINGH, I.J., Sikhs and Sikhism: A View with a Bias (Delhi: Manohar), January 1, 1997
    A superbly balanced set of short introspective essays on topics of current relevancy.

  2. McLEOD, Hew, Discovering the Sikhs: Autobiography of a Historian (New Delhi: Permanent Black); 2003; 245 pages
    McLeod expounds on his own religious beliefs, the work of an historian, and how his scholarship and that of his students has impacted relations between the Sikhs and scholars, especially during the highly politically charged 1980s and 1990s.