Tuesday, 2 April 2013



Edited by: Madanjit Kaur and Piar Singh, Amritsar, Guru Nanak Dev University. 1991, 200pp

The fragrance 

Ravinder Singh & I.J. Singh

When the Indian government hounded Kapur Singh (1909-1984) out of the prestigious Indian Civil Service in the mid fifties, it turned out to be a boon for the Sikhs. The embittered Kapur Singh, who could not be shackled and tamed by the bureaucracy, turned his ferocious energy and formidable intellect to the study of Sikhs and Sikhism. Steeped in both the Indian Vedic heritage and the Semitic Judeo-Christian-Islamic philosophic tradition, the Cambridge educated Kapur Singh was uniquely qualified to explore the roots of Sikhism, which has been called a synthesis of those two great systems by the historian Arnold Toynbee.
Kapur Singh traveled widely, spoke and wrote extensively. He was deservedly honored by Sikhs everywhere and a grateful Sikh nation bestowed upon him the honorific "National Professor of Sikhism" in
1973. His writings span the gamut from translations of the Sikh scriptures and exposition of Sikh theology to matters affecting the political life of the Sikhs; he was the author of the 1973 "Anandpur Sahib Resolution" which defines the political aspirations of the Sikhs, and has become the document which lies at the core of the present Sikh struggle in India.
But Kapur Singh was not shaped by a lifetime of discipline and rigor in academia; therefore, he did not always keep full or copious notes of what he wrote, nor did he document everything as painstakingly
as an academician would. Madanjit Kaur and Piar Singh have posthumously collected most of Kapur Singh's writings on Guru Nanak and edited them in this volume. Kapur Singh wrote in both Punjabi and English, all of his writings on Guru Nanak in English have been included. Sixteen essays are presented here. Many had been previously published; references to earlier publication dates have been provided, although it appears that he continually revised and tinkered with his manuscripts, even after their publication.
The editors have checked bibliographic references, and provided complete ones where necessary. One essay on Guru Nanak and Martin Luther had previously appeared only in Punjabi, the editors have rendered an English translation while retaining the robust but focused spirit of Kapur Singh's style.
In the lead essay on Guru Nanak's life, Kapur Singh melds the historical Nanak with the Nanak who was the
Guru and the founder of a nation. Not only Nanak's philosophy but also his iconoclastic personality is
vividly brought out. He categorically rejects attempts to paint Nanak as another God conscious spirit in the
Bhakti movement.
Kapur Singh finds that Guru Nanak's concept of nature rejected Hindu formulations and is closer to that of
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327). As Al Biruni (973-1048) said "The Hindus think there is no science or
knowledge which exists or has originated beyond the frontiers of the sacred land of India." Guru Nanak, on the other hand, in the words of Kapur Singh "opened the windows of the mind to all four quarters of space.
"Guru Nanak taught not just a life of surrender to God but suggested that for a properly developed and
integrated person, intellectual and scientific pursuits are imperative." How did Guru Nanak approach
the age-old philosophic problem of conflict between mind and matter, life and nature? There is an inspired
essay on that though it is heavy on Vedantic theory.
Kapur Singh successfully relates the message of Nanak to the needs of modern man. In Nanak's teaching the integrated person, the liberated man, the deified individual must return to the world and society. The
point is that the individual matters; justice, human dignity and freedom are important. There is a sensitive, brief segment on the Second World War, which was just starting at that time. Another thoroughly relevant piece concerns Guru Nanak's teaching as applied to the modern civil servant: an honest job, honestly done; not blind obedience to higher authority (immoral decisions by authority are a form of tyranny, says Nanak), but guided by thoughtful judgement and morality with no room for bribes or
other corrupt practices. If only modern India would heed!
There are useful essays on Sikhism and Islam and on Guru Nanak's meeting with the yogis of the day. Guru
Nanak was the first to use the word 'Hindustan' to denote the land. Finally there is a fine piece on Guru Nanak as the progenitor of Punjabi poetry. Kapur Singh clearly demonstrates that Guru Nanak was
not a reformer in the strict sense of the word because he did not set out to reform the established order of Hinduism, as Martin Luther did with Christianity. A particularly good essay starts by comparing Guru Nanak and Martin Luther and concludes by finding that Nanak was much more than a reformer. Guru Nanak founded the new religion of Sikhism based on revelation, and established the new nation of Sikhs.
Kapur Singh's view of Nanak is clear when he says, "In a sense Guru Nanak was all these (a saint, a reformer, a rishi, a prophet) but he was primarily and essentially the Guru. The Guru is that attribute and
power of God through which He dispels darkness of human mind and illumines it to see the Reality, when
the veil is lifted from its face.
In the Bhagvadgita the term 'Guru' is described as follows: Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu and Guru is
also Maheshwar." At times, it seems that Kapur Singh is too anxious to place Nanak within the framework and mainstream of Indian spiritualism by his excessive reliance on ancient Hindu scriptures, particularly in
his piece on the Japu; yet, he has very perceptively analyzed Sikh cosmography from the Japu and delineated it successfully from others such as Sufi, Hindu and Buddhist.
In one context Kapur Singh casts Guru Nanak's achievement and revolution in India in terms that are
liable to be misunderstood. Primarily because he is addressing Indian, largely Hindu audiences, Kapur
Singh uses references and citations from the Hindu scriptures liberally to buttress the unique position of Guru Nanak's life as spent at God's behest. In these writings and also elsewhere, he looks at India as Hindu civilization and the Indian people as the Hindu race. (Anthropologists would not agree to any such racial designation.) Clearly, he does not mean the Hindu religion as we know it. He is harking back to the concept in which the residents of the Indus valley were called Hindus, in fact that is how the moniker 'Hindu' arose. His use of the term 'Hindu race' has no connection with the Brahminical, caste-ridden Hindu religion based loosely and amorphously on the Vedas and Puranas. Kapur Singh unequivocally asserts that but it is liable to be missed by the casual reader. He emphasizes that Guru Nanak clearly rejected Hinduism, the religion. 

Kapur Singh's prose is a little obscure and his writing not the easiest to follow. At times, he gets so involved in some fine point of ancient Indian Vedantic philosophy that the reader is apt to get lost. Editorial comments on some of these points would have been helpful. Reading him requires concentrated
patience but is always well worth the time and effort. 

To me Kapur Singh's writings always illustrate the point that religions are best examined through the double lenses of faith and history, neither one alone is sufficient. It follows then that the best analysts
of a religion are those who, like Kapur Singh, are deeply touched by its inner reality but are also historians, not others who are content to look at it as outsiders for they would be like those who, being anosmic, can judge the fragrance of a flower only by a chemical analysis.
A fine book with an eclectic collection that not only brings out the multifaceted mind of Kapur Singh but
presents Guru Nanak as a three-dimensional figure, larger than life. The editors have done well and
deserve our appreciation.
Dr. Inder Jit Singh is Professor & Co-ordinator in Anatomy, New York University. Among other
publications, he is the author of two books: 'Sikhs and Sikhism: A View With a Bias' and 'The Sikhs Way: A
Pilgrims Progress'.

I.J. Singh is on the editorial advisory board of 'The Sikh Review', Calcutta and 'The Encyclopedia of
Sikhism', Punjabi University, Patiala.

book available at: http://www.vidhia.com/Sikhism_For_Modern_Man_-_Kapur_Singh.pdf

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