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The Sikh Reht Maryada Needs Revision


The Sikh Times, Jan. 1, 2018

Photo: Mr Parkash Singh Badal honours Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. October 27, 2003. Photo by Rajiv Sharma

Photo: Denied in 2002, Captain Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab, given Siropa inside Harmandir Sahib. May 8, 2017.

The Sikh Reht Maryada (SRM) needs a second look. Some of its clauses could use revision. Now that seems like a heavily loaded statement. Before you take umbrage, allow me to share my reasoning.

Historians have not found any SRM written by Guru Gobind Singh himself. After his death, many attempts were made in the 18th century to develop a SRM, but most drafts turned to be contradictory and inconsistent in parts with the teachings of our Gurus. The SGPC, when formed, in 1925 started a formal process to construct the SRM in 1927 at the suggestion of the Akal Takht Jathedar, Teja Singh Akarpuri. Actual work was started in 1931 when a committee was appointed with Professor Teja Singh as its convenor. Members widely differed on its provisions, often leading to arguments, protests and even walk-outs. Some meetings were extremely poorly attended. Fourteen years later (1931-45) a compromise -- final draft –-- was achieved. No doubt the SRM was created by Amritdhari (baptized) Sikhs to reflect the Khalsa spirit. However now, after seven decades, it is a new world and a new reality. 85% of Sikhs are not Amritdari (many are not even Kesdhari, i.e. with unshorn hair).

SRM needs a second look. It needs to be retouched in Sikh spirit so that it can provide guidance to all 100%, the whole panth. Keep in mind that economic, political and cultural circumstances keep on changing from generation to generation and so does the constitution of nations. The Indian constitution has been amended more than 100 times in the last 65 years. Dynamic religious communities ought to demonstrate similar evolution in their faith as well. In fact, I would argue that each generation should look critically, sincerely and lovingly at their old and out of date rituals, ceremonies, conventions and traditions to keep their religion attractive to current and future generations.

Let us take a look at a few of the clauses/articles of the SRM which Sikhs now may find deserving of a second look. I suggest that they need to be re-examined, edited, reworded, revised or even omitted.

Article 4 (1). A Sikh should wake up in the ambrosial hours (three hours before dawn) and take a bath... (2). He should recite the following scriptural compositions every day: (a) Japu, Jaapu, Ten Sawayyas, Sodar Rehras, Benti Chaupai, Dohra, Anand Sahib, Madhawani, with Sohila to be recited at bedtime. And Ardas in the morning and evening.

This is actually meant for Amritdharis. Why do I say that? Because we find that the same are repeated in the Amrit Chhakna ceremony for initiation in the Order of the Khalsa (Article 24j).

I wonder if all Amritdharis have the time to follow so many rituals when they are shift workers especially in Western countries. Yogi Bhajan's Sikhs, however, follow such a regimen more or less. We should admire their devotion and commitment, but be very careful when making it a requirement for every Sikh.

Article 5 (b). The Guru Granth should be opened in the Gurdwara every day without fail.

In the diaspora some, if not most, gurdwaras open once a week, only on Sundays, particularly in towns with small populations of Sikhs. I know of several such gurdwaras in Canada and the USA.

Article 5 (n). You may not sit on chair or stool in the presence of the Guru Granth.

Disabled people should be allowed to sit on chairs. They need gurdwaras more than others do. Some gurdwaras have now introduced chairs for the old people both in the diwan halls and langar halls.

Article 5 (q). Only Amritdhari Sikhs can enter the hallowed enclosures of takhts.

Guru Gobind Singh did meet non-Amritdharis and non-Sikhs in his life. The enclosures of takhts are not more sacred than the Dasam Patshah.

Article 5 (q). Ardas for and on behalf of any Sikh or non-Sikh except a patit or punished (tankha) can be offered at the takhats.

Awarding punishment or tankha is a medieval practice. Ours is a progressive religion. Any Sikh guilty of violation can be be summoned to the Akal Takht to be advised and persuaded.

Article 5 (s). There should be a nagara (drum) in the gurdwara for beating on appropriate occasions.

Our non-Sikh neighbors may not appreciate the noise. Some gurdwaras in the Western world do not have access to nagaras.

Article 6 (a). Only a Sikh may perform kirtan at a congregation.

This means the descendants of Bhai Mardana and Sindhi Sikhs are not allowed. A Muslim girl, Tasleema, regularly performs kirtan at a Srinagar gurdwara. She also performed once at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.

Article 16 œ(k). Piercing nose or ears for wearing ornaments is forbidden for Sikh men and women.

Most Sikh women would be in violation. They are fond of ornaments.

Article 16 œ(t). A Sikh must wear a kachhera and a turban.

Sikh sportsmen (swimmers, wrestlers, boxers, etc.) should be exempted. Kachhera should be replaced with underwear for non-Amritdharis.

Article 18 œ(b). A Sikh's daughter must be married to a Sikh.

If she does not marry a Sikh, no action is suggested. This provision only covers daughters. What about the son? Can he marry a non-Sikh girl?

Article 18 (k). Any persons professing faiths other than the Sikh faith cannot be joined in a wedlock by the Anand Karaj ceremony.

This clause has disturbed many wedding ceremonies in the UK recently.

Article 18 (q). A baptized Sikh ought to get his wife baptized.

If he does not, then what? No action is prescribed.

Article 24. Taboos for Amritdhari Sikhs (taboo practices must be avoided).

Article 24 (1). Dishonoring the hair.

How do we that? It is not explained. Some Sikhs wear a woollen head cover in the winter or a baseball cap in the summer in place of a turban. Is that a dishonor?

Article 24 (4). You must not associate with a Sikh who had uncut hair earlier but has cut it or a Sikh who smokes.

We often see Amritdhari Sikhs associate with patits. They attend their functions, perform Akhand Paths and wedding ceremonies etc. Patits, if holding a high office, are often given siropas (honorary scarfs) at gurdwaras. [1]

US Congressman Dalip Singh Saund; Ujjal Dosanjh, Chief Minister of British Columbia, Canada; and Canadian Federal Minister Herb Dhaliwal were all given siropas when they visited Darbar Sahib. Herb Dhaliwal also brought Canadian PM Jean Chretien to Darbar Sahib and presented a kara (Sikh bracelet) to Chretien and joked, "Now we can call you Jean Singh Chretien." [2]

When Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti visited Canada, he was interviewed by Joginder Singh Bassi, host of a Canadian TV program, "Gaunda Punjab". Joginder Singh Bassi is a non-turbaned Sikh. Vedanti did not decline the interview. However in a similar situation Yogi Bhajan did follow the SRM. He refused to accept a siropa from a Sikh leader at Toronto's Pape Gurdwara in 1973, because the Sikh leader had trimmed his beard.

Article 24 (q). The following individuals shall be liable to chastisement involving automatic boycott: 1. Any one maintaining relations or communion with followers of Dhir Mal.

Many Sikh scholars approach Sodhis of Kartarpur, descendants of Dhir Mal, to examine the Kartarpur Bir. And Sodhis put the Bir on display occasionally and thus collect lot of charhawa (offerings) from simple Sikhs.

Article 24 (3). Boycott the one who dyes his beard.

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia were denied a siropa when they visited the Golden Temple because they dye their beards. However, the junior vice-president of the SGPC, Kewal Singh Badal, also colours his beard. Giani Zail Singh, Buta Singh, Avtar Singh Hit, President, Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee, who dyed their beards were honored with €˜siropas€™ from time to time. [3]


This clause says nothing about women who might dye their hair. Similarly there is no guidance for women to drive scooters with or without helmets. Please note that in many of the above examples here, we have a widely inconsistent understanding of the provision. There are two issues here: The provision of the SRM and/or its arbitrary application. The SRM should reflect the spirit of our scriptures and the belief of Tenth Master "Manas ki jaat sabhai ekai pehchano". The Sikh religion must march with the times to keep its universal appeal intact. There is a provision for amendment in all of he world's constitutions. Only scriptures cannot be changed, but man made rules can be suitably amended.

A Committee to have second look at SRM must include legal luminaries. I conclude with a few suggestions:

  • Dr Kashmir Singh (former Professor & Head, Department of Law, GNDU)
  • Dr Balkar Singh (former head of Sri Guru Granth Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala)
  • Tarlochan Singh (former Chairman of the Minority Commission)
  • Guruka Singh Khalsa (to represent Gora Sikhs)
  • Dr I J Singh (noted author and commentator)
  • Dr Gurinder Singh Mann (to represent Chairs of Sikh Studies in the US)
  • Saran Singh (of The Sikh Review, to represent Sikh publications)
  • Ishwinder Singh (noted commentator)
  • Professor Nirmal Singh (to represent internet discussion groups)
  • Nikki Guninder Kaur Singh (to represent women, from a scholarly prespective)
  • Kiranjot Kaur (to represent women, from a political perspective)