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Thinking Beyond Aurangzeb and the Mughal State in a Late Eighteenth-Century Punjabi Braj Source

  • ANNE MURPHY (a1)
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.

This article argues for the value of looking past the emperor Aurangzeb, in seeking to understand how he has been portrayed. The eighteenth century Braj source from Punjab examined here portrays local debates and conflicts at the centre, and the Mughal state at the periphery, of the project of communitarian self-formation. Here, the emperor operates from the outside. Internal communitarian concerns, particularly regarding caste inclusion, dominate, linking the text in question to larger questions around caste and community that emerged in early modern South Asia in a range of contexts.

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The original version of this article was published with an error in the indicated sentence on the second page. An Erratum detailing this has been published and the error rectified in the online and print PDF and HTML copies.

1 These are popularly known in Sikh circles as the choṭā ghallūghārā, or small massacre, when Sikhs were targeted in response to the killing of a Hindu government official by Sikh militia in 1746, and the vaḍḍā ghallūghārā or large slaughter of 1762, when Sikhs were killed in large numbers by the forces of Ahmad Shah, founder of the Durrani dynasty.

2 On the representation of that execution, see Fenech, Louis E., “Martyrdom and the Execution of Guru Arjan in Early Sikh Sources,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 121, 1 (2001), pp. 2031 and Fenech, Louis, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition: Playing the “Game of Love” (New York, 2000).

3 Dhavan, Purnima, When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799 (New York, 2011); Singh Syan, Hardip, Sikh Militancy in the Seventeenth Century: Religious Violence in Mughal and Early Modern India (London, 2013).

4 For discussion of the portrayal of Guru Tegh Bahadur's execution in the text by Kuir Singh discussed here, see: Murphy, Anne, “The gurbilās literature and the idea of ‘religion’” in Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice, (ed.) Malhotra, Anshu and Mir, Farina (New York and New Delhi, 2012), pp. 93115.

5 For further discussion of the significance of these millenarian parallels, see: Murphy, Anne, “A Millennial Sovereignty? Recent Works on Sikh Martial and Political Cultures in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, History of Religions, 55, 1 (August 2015), pp. 89104. The essay addresses the works of Purnima Dhavan, Louis Fenech, Robin Rinehart, and Hardip Singh Syan, which are discussed in abbreviated form here.

6 The Guru was also criticised for bringing large numbers of Hindus and Muslims into his community; Grewal, J. S. and Habib, Irfan (eds) Sikh History from Persian Sources (New Delhi, 2001), pp. 5658.

7 Faruqui, Munis D. Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719 (Cambridge, 2012), p. 9.

8 Ibid., p. 12, 254 ff.

9 There is a strong tradition of support by Akbar for the Sikh Gurus, but most are unattested in the imperial records. A meeting between Akbar and Guru Arjan is described in the Akbarnāmā (1598): Grewal and Habib, (eds.) Sikh History p. 55. On unattested support, see Anne Murphy The Materiality of the Past: History and Representation in Sikh Tradition (New York, 2012), p. 162. On the degradation of the relationship between Akbar and Salim, the future Jahangir, see Faruqui Princes of the Mughal Empire, pp. 30 ff.

10 Faruqui, Princes of the Mughal Empire, pp. 188, 197, on “complicity” and Jahangir's punishment, see p. 204, 226 ff.

11 Grewal and Habib, (eds.) Sikh History, p. 94.

12 Fenech, Louis E., The Sikh Zafar-nāmah of Guru Gobind Singh: A Discursive Blade in the Heart of the Mughal Empire (New York, 2013).

13 Ibid., p. 8; this biography of Timur is mentioned by Fenech (p. 43) but not explored. Thank you to one anonymous reviewer for emphasising this connection.

14 For quote, see Ibid., Zafarnamah, 105; on the broader Islamicate world, see p. 96.

15 Ibid., p. 97.

16 Murphy, “A Millennial Sovereignty?”

17 Fenech, Zafar-nāmah 83–84; Syan Sikh Militancy 217 ff. On the mobilisation of Mughal vocabulatires of power in the Sikh context, see Fenech, Louis, The Darbar of the Sikh Gurus: The Court of God in the World of Men (New Delhi, 2008). On parallel instances of political/religious integration, see Green, Nile, Indian Sufism since the Seventeenth Century: Saints, Books and Empires in the Muslim Deccan (London, 2006); James Hastings, “Poets, Saints and Warriors: The Dadu Panth, Religious Change, and Identity Formation in Jaipur State circa 1562–1860 ce” (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2002); Azfar Moin, A., The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam, South Asia Across the Disciplines (New York, 2012); Pinch, William, Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires (Cambridge, 2006).

18 Bachittar Nāṭak, Ch. 13, stanza 9. Fenech argues that the text contains “the Guru's recognition by the state” as well as a “recognition of Timurid sovereignty” (Fenech, Zafarnamah, p. 100).

19 Syan, Sikh Militancy, p. 250. See also Dhavan, When Sparrows.

20 That is, which define aspects of Sikh communitarian formation and/or the ideas, history and practices of the community.

21 I too have at times read such texts in such terms; they are of course useful sources in this regard. This essay however attempts to reach beyond this kind of reading. For a comprehensive reading of the text in question here, see the emerging doctoral work of Julie Vig, “Locating gurbilās in the world of Braj literature: political, religious and literary encounters in eighteenth and early nineteenth century North India”. For Talbot's parallel observations about Rajasthani historical literature, see her article in this special issue.

22 Julie Vig's forthcoming doctoral work will embrace a broad reading of the text examined here, and others like it, that I cannot accomplish here.

23 Murphy, Materiality of the Past.

24 Anne Murphy, “Punjabi in the (late) vernacular millennium”, paper delivered at the 12th International Conference on Early Modern Literatures of North India (ICEMLNI) at the Université de Lausanne, Switzerland, 15-19 July 2015. Forthcoming in conference volume.

25 Singh, Kuir, Gurbilās Patshāhi Das, (ed.) Alok, Shamsher Singh, introduction by Singh, Fauja (Patiala, Punjab, 1999), p. 277. I rely here on this published version.

26 Hans, Surjit, A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature (Jalandhar, 1988), pp. 266, 269); see Kuir Singh, p. 259. Madanjit Kaur, “Koer Singh's Gurbilas Patshahi 10: An Eighteenth Century Sikh Literature.” <> Accessed June 13, 2010.

27 See Dhavan, When Sparrows p. 153 Footnote 15, and 5, Footnote 6.

28 On the genre and the major texts associated with it, see Murphy, Materiality of the Past, Chapter 3; Fenech, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition, pp. 123ff; McLeod, W. H., “The Hagiography of the Sikhs”, in According to Tradition: Hagiographical Writing in India, (eds.) Callewaert, Winand M. and Snell, Rupert (Wiesbaden, 1994), pp. 33ff.; Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism, (ed.) W. H. McLeod (Chicago, 1984), pp. 11ff., and McLeod, Who is a Sikh?, p. 51. For discussion of the term “bilāsa,” see Murphy, “History in the Sikh Past”. For an overview of the Dasam Granth, see Robin Rinehart, Debating the Dasam Granth (New York, 2011).

29 See introduction to Kuir Singh, Gurbilās, ix and Singh, Gurtej, “Cosmpromising the Khalsa Tradition: Koer Singh's gurbilās in The Khalsa: Sikh and Non-Sikh Perspectives, (ed.) Grewal, J. S., pp. 47-58 (New Delhi, 2004), pp. 4849. Quotations from other works are given throughout Kuir Singh's work. On the parallels between Kuir Singh and Sukha Singh, see Dhavan, When Sparrows Chapter 7 and Hans Reconstruction pp. 250-253.

30 On the dating of Gur Sobhā, see Dhavan When Sparrows, p. 182 fn. 5 and 6; Mann, G. S. suggests 1701 for the initiation of the text (“Sources for the Study of Guru Gobind Singh's Life and Times,” Journal of Punjab Studies 15, 1–2 (2008), pp. 229284; see p. 252). On the text in general, see Hans, Reconstruction pp. 245ff. and Grewal, J. S., “Praising the Khalsa: Sainapat's Gursobha”, in The Khalsa: Sikh and non-Sikh Perspectives, pp. 3545, (ed.) Grewal, J. S. (New Delhi, 2004). For my argument on the text along these lines, see: Murphy, Anne, “History in the Sikh Past”, History and Theory. 46, 2 (October 2007), pp. 345365. See further discussion of this work below.

31 Murphy, “History in the Sikh Past” and Materiality of the Past, Chapter 3.

32 See also Dhavan, Purnima, “Reading the Texture of History and Memory in Early-Nineteenth-Century Punjab”, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 29, 3 (2009), pp. 515527.

33 Murphy, “History in the Sikh Past” and Materiality of the Past, Chapter 3.

34 Dhavan, When Sparrows, p. 44.

35 For discussion of the authority invested in granth and panth, see Oberoi, Harjot, “From Punjab to ‘Khalistan’: Territoriality and Metacommentary,” Pacific Affairs 60:1 (1987), pp. 2641, 33ff.

36 For Dhavan quote, see When Sparrows 44. For discussion of Anandpur and the non-statist sovereignty of the Guru, see Murphy, “History in the Sikh Past” and The Materiality of the Past, Chapter 3.

37 See Kuir Singh, Gurbilās Patshāhi Das, pp. 12 and 50, and elsewhere.

38 Murphy, “Gurbilās literature".

39 See, for instance, Talbot, Cynthia, “Inscribing the Other, Inscribing the Self: Hindu-Muslim Identities in Pre-Colonial India”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 37:4 (1995), pp. 692722. Indeed, distinctions between Muslim and non-Muslim shift in the text overall (Murphy “Gurbilās literature”). Surjit Hans — who provides an account that has provided the premier scholarly reference on the gurbilās literature for some time — positions the Kuir Singh text as relatively late, as has been noted, and one reason for this is the “conciliatory tone” of the author towards Muslims. For Hans, this likely reveals “a strong imprint of Sikh rule under Ranjit Singh for whom it was absolutely necessary to hold the three communities in some kind of balance" (Hans, Reconstruction, p. 269). Gurtej Singh describes this text as exhibiting “a deep hatred of Muslims” (Gurtej Singh, “Compromising the Khalsa Traditon”, p. 49) but Hans senses a conciliatory approach because “an impression is given that the term covered the tyrannical rulers only" (Hans, Reconstruction, p. 269). In stark contrast, Gurtej Singh notes that “the key to the author's character, and consequently to that of his work, lies in his intense hatred of Muslims. Hopes of prayers for their ruination are the most numerous to come across”, although, as he also avers, this is certainly directly related to political domination by Muslims (Gurtej Singh, “Compromising”, p. 52). Louis Fenech concurs, reading Kuir Singh's text as “perhaps the most vitriolic early nineteenth century text in regard to Muslims” (Zafar-nāmah, p. 107).

40 In previous work, I highlighted how state power is differentiated from Islam in this text, and how a sense of both identity and difference is found within the articulation of the spiritual/mystical aspect of the Sikh paṅth in relation to that of Islam, through a comparison of practices, determination of difference, and a resolution through equivalency (Murphy, “Gurbilās literature”).

41 On Vaishnava elements, see Julie Vig “The Use of Brajbhasha and Vaishnava Vignettes in Kuir Singh's Gurbilās: Power and Authority” currently unpublished paper presented at the 45th Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, 2016.

42 There is a large literature on the ways in which recent Sikh political discourse has been framed in relation to representations of the past, see Murphy, “History in the Sikh Past” for references.

43 Ashok was an important figure within the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee or SGPC, the managing body for Gurdwaras in Punjab since 1925 and then later both Punjab and Haryana after 1966, until the recent formation of the Haryana Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Ashok was responsible for the production of a remarkable range of textual work on core Sikh texts; many of the manuscripts with which he did some of his most important work were lost during the 1984 Indian army attack upon the Darbar Sahib/Golden Temple and the destruction of the Sikh Reference Library there. The emerging doctoral work of Peder Gedda, University of British Columbia, discusses this important figure and his role in recording Sikh texts.

44 Kuir, Singh Gurbilās p. 177.

45 Ibid., p. 175.

46 Ibid., p. 177.

47 Fenech, Zafar-nāmah, p. 21.

48 Murphy, “Gurbilās literature”.

49 Kuir Singh, Gurbilās, pp. 199-201.

50 Munis Faruqui, “Awrangzīb” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 64-76, see p. 66; see Kuir Singh Gurbilās, pp. 199-201.

51 cf. Fenech, Zafar-nāmah, pp. 94-95.

52 Ibid., pp. 40-41; Rinehart Debating.

53 Syan, Sikh Militancy p. 229.

54 Fenech, Zafar-nāmah, p. 5.

55 Dhavan, When Sparrows, p. 134; Fenech Darbar of the Sikh Gurus. It is striking, however, that in his later work Fenech sees the shared vocabulary between the Pahāṛī royal cultures and the Sikh darbār as articulating sameness, but argues that distance and rejection characterises a parallel mimicry of the Persianate cultural model. This distinction invites further consideration.

56 Kuir Singh, Gurbilās, pp. 123 ff, Syan notes that ultimate responsibility is seen to rest with Aurangzeb (Sikh Militancy, pp. 218-219) but while that is the case, the text gives far greater attention to the portrayal of the Rajas' treachery.

57 Chapter 5 of the Bachittar Nāṭak opens with a description of chaos as the mixing of castes and their duties (verse 2).

58 Dhavan, When Sparrows pp. 76-77.

59 Ibid., p. 79.

60 Gurtej Singh, “Compromising”, p. 51.

61 There are slight variances in spelling in Khalsa College Mss. 605, as compared with the published version referred to here. Differences with semantic impact are given here; in this line, the manuscript features cāiā instead of lāiā (Khalsa College Mss. 605). Thank you to Julie Vig for sharing her analysis of the Khalsa College manuscript with me.

62 sūdha instead of sūkha, Khalsa College Mss. 605

63 cīne instead of dīne, Khalsa College Mss. 605.

64 Kuir Singh, Gurbilās, pp. 117-118.

65 Ibid., p. 124.

66 Ibid., p. 124, verse 34.

67 Ibid., p. 124, verses 35-36.

68 Ibid., p. 115.

69 Ibid., pp. 121 -124. Kuir Singh's description of the formation of the Khalsa describes the acceptance of the Khalsa by Brahmins, Khatris, Aroras, Labanas; the saṅgat comes from caudisā or the four directions (Ibid., pp. 155; 122, verse 13.). The Panj Piare at the founding of the Khalsa are described in Kuir Singh's text in a way that emphasizes their different caste backgrounds, as well as the broad range of their geographical origins from the four directions and the centre (which is, of course, the Punjab). G. S. Mann noted the caste representative nature of later representations of the Panch Piare at a conference at Coventry University in 1999; I am not aware of this argument in writing.

See Ibid., p. 110.

70 Guha, Sumit, Beyond Caste: Identity and Power in South Asia, Past and Present (Leiden, 2013), p. 17; see also p. 38.

71 See Sainapati, Srī Gur Sobhā, (ed.) Ganda Singh. (Patiala, 1988 [1967]), p. 109, (Ch. 9 stanza 10). and Singh, Kulwant, trans., Sri Gur Sobha, Sainapati. (Chandigarh, 2014), pp. 148151 (for Punjabi text and English translation of this stanza).

72 Sainapati Gur Sobhā, Ch. 5 stanza 4, p. 78; Kulwant Singh Gur Sobha, pp. 58-59.

73 Sainapati Gur Sobhā, Ch. 6, stanza 5-6, p. 88; Kulwant Singh Gur Sobha, pp. 92-93.

74 Sainapati, Gur Sobhā, Ch. 7 stanza 30, p. 100; Kulwant Singh Gur Sobha, pp. 118-119.

75 Dhavan, When Sparrows, p.42.

76 Syan, Sikh Militancy, pp. 36-37.

77 For example, see Bachittar Nāṭak, Ch 6, lines 20-21.

78 Dhavan, When Sparrows p. 38.

79 Hardip Singh Syan “The Sodhi Kings in the Kaliyuga: The Genealogy of the Sikh Gurus in the Bachitar Natak” (Forthcoming).

80 Murphy, Materiality of the Past, p. 100. See also McLeod, W. H., The Chaupa Singh Rahit-Nama (Dunedin, New Zealand, 1987), pp. 1617.

81 Dhavan, When Sparrows, p. 162.

82 On dating and for a general overview, see Deol, JeevanSex, Social Critique, and the Female Figure in Premodern Punjabi Poetry: Vāris Shāh's ‘Hīr,’” Modern Asian Studies 36, 1 (2002), pp. 141171; see particularly his overview of manuscripts, pp. 151 ff.

83 Mir, Farina, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial India (Berkeley, 2010), p. 123.

84 Gaur, Ishwar, Society, Religion and Patriarchy: Exploring Medieval Punjab through Waris, Hir (New Delhi, 2009), p. 20. See also Mir, Social Space of Language, pp. 127-128. This theme of asking about Ranjha's caste is continued by Hir's father (Hīr Vāriṡ Śāh, ed. Śarīf Ṣābir (Lāhaur, 1986), verses 74-76, pp. 37-39). I rely here on this printed edition in the Perso-Arabic script (known in Punjabi as Shahmukhi).

85 Hīr Vāriṡ Śāh, verses 224-228, pp. 126-129.

86 Ibid., p. 162.

87 Ibid., verse 283 p. 163; verse 285, p. 164.

88 Ibid., verse 478, p. 305, where it is mocked that a Jat might become a ruler. This is fully realised in the poet's description of his period, verse 626, p. 409, where the Jats are described as Sardar and Sarkar, alongside other forms of social role transformation.

89 Mir, Social Space of Language, p. 125.

90 It is unusual in Punjab Studies to examine Sikh sources alongside those from outside the tradition; reading Wāris Shāh's Hīr in light of findings from the gurbilās to understand the period more broadly suggests the utility of such a justaposition.

91 Bayly, Susan, Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 2627, 26 for quote.

92 Ibid., pp. 26-27.

93 Patton Burchett, “Bhakti Religion and Tantric Magic in Mughal India: Kacchvāhās, Rāmānandīs, and Nāths, circa 1500-1750” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 2012); Hare, James, ‘Contested Communities and the Re-imagination of NābhādāsBhaktamāl’ in Time, History and the Religious Imaginary in South Asia, (ed.) Murphy, Anne, pp. 150166 (London, 2011); Hawley, J. S., “The four sampradays: Ordering the Religious Past in Mughal North India”, South Asian History and Culture 2, 2 (2011): pp. 160183; Horstmann, Monika, Der Zusammenhalt der Welt: Religiöse Herrschaftslegitimation und Religionspolitik Mahārājā Savāī Jaisinghs (1700-1743) (Wiesbaden, 2009); Pinch Warrior Ascetics; Pinch, William R., “History, Devotion and the Search for Nabhadas of Galta”, in Invoking the Past: The Uses of History in South Asia, (ed.) Ali, Daud, (Delhi 1999), pp. 367399.

94 Horstmann, Monika, “Theology and Statecraft,” South Asian History and Culture 2, 2 (2011), pp. 184204; p. 185.

95 See Dhavan, When Sparrows, Fenech, Zafar-nāmah and Rinehart, Dasam Granth. This was typical of the period, Susan Bayly argues, when caste-based regal ideologies and practices “spread far beyond the royal domains of Rajasthan, particularly across the Gangetic plain and deep into central India. . . . in part through the continuing out-migration of arms-bearing lineages who called themselves Rajput”, such as was the case with many peasant lineages in Punjab (Bayly, Caste, Society and Politics, p. 35).

96 Ibid., on the Chibber clan. Bayly Caste, Society and Politics pp. 39 ff. See Ch 2 on the synthesis of martial and brahmanical interests; the Sikh example seems to reflect this process, at times by replicating it and at times by countering it.

97 Ibid., p. 74; Murphy, “A Millennial Sovereignty? ”

98 Bayly, Caste, Society and Politics, p. 61.

99 Ibid., Ch. 2. On Brahmins among others in the imaginary of the Dharmarth grants of Ranjit Singh, Murphy Materiality of the Past, pp. 167-168.

100 Dhavan, When Sparrows, Chapter 7.

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