"Encyclopaedias do not grow on trees," I had read somewhere as I was browsing among materials in the library. My object was to delve deeper into the mystique of the genre preparatory to drawing up my own plan of work on an Encyclopaedia of Sikhism I had been assigned to by the Syndicate of the Punjabi University. But I was not daunted by the dictum. I let it pass up. However, the admonishment it contained was not entirely lost upon me. I knew it would by no means be an easy task. It would be hard, arduous labour all the way up, demanding unceasing search and toil. I was not totally unaware of it, nor unprepared for it.

            The Sikh Encyclopaedia was the brainchild of Professor Kirpāl Singh Nāraṅg who was then the vice-chancellor of the Punjabi University. He had worked overtime to draw up for the University an elaborate programme in honour of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Gurū or prophet-mentor of the Sikhs, which came off in 1966-67. The celebrations bequeathed to Paṭiālā two permanent monuments; one, Guru Gobind Singh Bhavan, an intriguing, modern-looking structure, planted as if it were in the heart of the University campus and, second, a department of Religion, embracing the study of five world traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, with the sixth, Jainism, diving in from the side a little later. Prior to putting down his plans on paper the vice-chancellor had taken a special trip out to Harvard University to seek the advice of the famous Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Director, Center for the Study of World Religions. The department at Paṭiālā was going to be the first academic set-up of its kind in India where Religion in the academe had been considered a highly combustible substance and where everyone seemed to have a hush-hush attitude towards it. Professor Kirpal Singh Nāraṅg, with the weight of his argument and with a dash of prescience had his way. He linked up the academic programme with the Gurū Gobind Singh celebrations and made it look generally as acceptable as the latter. When working out the courses of study and syllabi for the various traditions it soon became obvious that Sikhism among them was the least well-served by existing literary and historical materials. The suggestion emerged that the creation of a comprehensive reference work would be the first thing to do. The vice-chancellor promptly spelt out the title - the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism - and simultaneously nominated the chairman of the Gurū Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies to take charge of the matter.

            How simplistic were the notions I had been nurturing in my mind began soon to dawn upon me. Also readily began to show up the shortcomings in the scheme I had devised. I had planned that, since it would not be practicable to collect under one roof specialists in different fields, most of the articles of the Encyclopaedia would be written by "outside" experts and that we would have a small editorial unit at the University to shepherd the manuscripts, fact-check them, and revise them to ensure some kind of a literary discipline and symmetry. It seems I was not above exaggerating my own editorial experience and capacities. Three or four of the scholars whose names were on the top of my list were too busy and were chary of putting anything additional on their plate. They declined our invitations. This in fact turned out to be the principal pitfall. The number of contributors we could call upon fell dismally short of our needs. Scholars with experience of research in Sikh studies and of specialized writing were few and far between. Our choice was thus severely limited. In some cases our invitations for articles got accumulated in a few pairs of hands and our files were soon bursting at the seams with copies of reminders we had had to send out chasing after our contributors. We had to wait for long periods of time before securing manuscripts from them.

            Still we had no choice except to adhere to the plan we had originally prepared.

            Then we had no precedents to go by. On Sikh doctrine no concisely argued work existed. Even historical fact was far from well sifted. To this may be added the paucity of reliable and firm documentation. Authorities of whatever vintage hopelessly contradicted one another. This, despite the fact that most of the Sikh enterprise had occurred within the full view of history! It seems the focus has been woefully warped at some point. Efforts at rectification have remained tentative. It is not easy to restate and repack the entire range of information and knowledge of a people. An attempt has been made here precisely to define the ideas and terms of Sikhism. The writing is intended to be simple and tight, shunning the purple and the loose alike. The aim throughout has been clarity and precision.

            Bypassing Amritsar, religious headquarters of Sikhism, as well as Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khālsā, Paṭiālā became the focus of the world-wide Gurū Gobind Singh celebrations in 1966-67. It is not on record if any other anniversary on the Sikh calendar had been observed with similar zeal and eclat. M.A. Macauliffe (1841-1913), British historian of the Sikhs, did draw their attention to the 200th birth anniversary of the Khālsā, due in 1899, but the event did not draw much popular attention. However, the tercentenary of Guru Gobind Singh's birth, 67 years later, was an event celebrated round the globe with unprecedented fervour. Festive and academic programmes to mark the occasion were set up in many parts of the world. The largest share of the responsibility was claimed by Paṭiālā where Gurū Gobind Singh Foundation was formed to direct and guide the celebrations.

            The chief minister of the Punjab, Rām Kishan, called on 8 August 1965, a convention representative of the religious, literary and lay elements in the life of the country. This gathering was the precursor of the permanent body called the Gurū Gobind Singh Foundation. Mahārājā Yādavinder Singh (1913-1974) of Patiala was chosen to be the president of the Foundation and a sum of Rs 12 lakhs was set apart for the celebrations by the State government in its annual budget which amount was, happily through an oversight, most unusual for a financial set-up anywhere in the world, repeated in the following year's budget. The Foundation was thus born with a "silver spoon" in its mouth.

            The next meeting of the Foundation took place in the chandeliered hall of the palace of the Maharaja of Paṭiālā, with a large portrait of Mahārājā Ālā Singh, 18th century Sikh hero and founder of the Paṭiālā dynasty, overlooking the assembly from one side and the Hungarian painter August Schoeftt's famous canvas depicting Mahārājā Raṇjīt Singh's court with a replica in gold of the Amritsar Golden Temple underneath it, from the other. Past and present thus converged at the time of that small Sikh assembly on 30 November 1965, refracting history into the current moment. Chaṇḍīgaṛh, the State capital, was named the headquarters of the Foundation with Giānī Zail Siṅgh as the general secretary. One of the several committees appointed was charged with planning and bringing out literature appropriate to the occasion. From the offices of the Foundation soon began to flow a steady stream of literature comprising a commemoration volume, illustrated books for young readers, annotated editions of Gurū Gobind Singh 's works, and a biography of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh in English which was simultaneously translated into all major Indian languages such as Saṅskrit, Hindī, Punjabi, Beṅgālī, Assamese, Marāṭhī, Gujarātī, Oṛiyā, Sindhī, Tamil, Telugū, Malayālam, Kannaḍa, Kashmīrī and Maithīlī.

            In this spontaneous enthusiasm for anniversary celebration is reflected the Sikhs' response to the historical memory of the Gurūs and to the important events of their history. Visible here is also their deep commitment to their faith, their joyous and urgent participation in their historical tradition, their cohesion and their love of the spectacular.

            The burgeoning of interest in the study of Sikhism brought to light the grave paucity of materials on Sikhism, highlighting at the same time the need for serious academic research and study. The present publication aims at supplying the gap. The purpose of the undertaking was to prepare in English and Punjabi a general reference work about Sikh religion. The work was to be comprehensive in scope and was to cover topics such as Sikh theology, philosophy, history, ethics, literature, art, ceremonies, customs, personalities, shrines, sects, etc. The details of the scheme were worked out under the aegis of an advisory committee consisting of leading scholars of the day — Dr Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh, Professor Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib, Dr Faujā Siṅgh, Dr Tāran Siṅgh and Professor Gulwant Siṅgh. The staff originally provided consisted of the Editor (Professor Harbaṅs Siṅgh), two Assistant Editors (Dr Harkīrat Siṅgh and Professor Harminder Siṅgh Kohlī; the former was on his retirement replaced by Dr Jodh Siṅgh), two Senior Research Fellows (Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā and G.S. Nayyar), one Research Associate (Dharam Siṅgh), two Research Assistants (Gurnek Siṅgh and Major Gurmukh Siṅgh), and Research Scholar (Giānī Gurcharan Siṅgh). Some initial explo­ration was made by Himat Siṅgh.

            The first task was to compile a list of subject-titles to be included in the Encyclopaedia. To this end, the staff, in the first instance, rummaged through libraries — on the campus, the University Library, Bhāī Mohan Siṅgh Vaid collection and Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh collection, and off the campus, the Motībāgh Palace library, and the State Archives, and compiled a list of likely topics. A list of nearly 4,000 titles thus emerged. At the same time a roster of likely authors was prepared. This comprised lists in Punjabi and in English. Those who did not write in English were free to write in Punjabi. We had their work translated into English.

            Having to work on a long-term project has its own hazards. I passed through several health crises. At one point, I was incapacitated following an eye-surgery, but was, thanks to the skill and devoted care of the surgeon, Dr Robert M. Johnston, Leeburg, U.S.A., rescued from a hopeless situation recovering the full use of the eye. In 1989 I was felled by a stroke which led to serious physical decrepity but, fortunately, left my mental faculties generally intact. This was all the Guru's own mercy and I was able to continue my work on the Encyclopaedia. A tragedy hit me on the eve of the release of this volume. My beloved wife, Kailāsh Kaur, who had waited for a long time for the consummation of my life's work and who had nursed me most lovingly throughout this period, passed away suddenly on 12 November 1992, leaving me utterly forlorn and shaken.

            I must record here my gratitude to the Punjabi University for providing me with the necessary facilities and help. Successive vice-chancellors after Professor Kirpāl Siṅgh Nāraṅg, namely, Mrs. Inderjit Kaur Sandhū, Dr Amrīk Siṅgh, Dr S. S. Johl, Dr Bhagat Siṅgh and Dr. H. K. Manmohan Siṅgh nursed the project with all their heart, and treated me personally with much courtesy and affection. Dr. H.K. Manmohan Siṅgh has especially been alive to its scholarly needs and I am very happy that the first volume is being issued during his time. The first thing the newly arrived Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Dr J.S. Puār, did upon stepping on the campus was graciously to call upon the ailing editor-in-chief. On that occasion and subsequently he had many a positive word to say about the Encyclopaedia project. I need scarcely say how delighted I am to see the Encyclopaedia in print. I trust it will fulfil the hopes with which it was launched and help fertilize Sikh learning. I feel especially gratified fulfilling the promise I made to the academic fraternity several years ago. To my colleagues I render my heart-felt, affectionate thanks for the solid manner in which they stood by me, through thick and thin. Dr. Hazārā Siṅgh, Head, Publication Bureau, who has earned wide acclaim for himself in this part of the country by his contribution to the art of printing, had reserved his special love for this publication. I must thank him for the attention and care he gave it. I must not omit the name of Santosh Kumar, my P.A., who very cheerfully gave this work many of his Sundays and holidays especially after I had been struck down and spent many a long hour when taking down notes trying to come to terms with my speech somewhat lisped by the malady. I thank him and all the rest of my colleagues for bearing with me so sportingly.



A-l, Punjabi University


12 December 1992