Was born on 10 September 1841 at Newcastle
West, County Limerick, Ireland. He was educated at Newcastle School,
Limerick, and at Springfield College and Queen's College, Galway.
He received a broad humanistic education that allowed him to read
the Greek and Latin classics in the original. He could also read French
and Italian. In 1862, he was appointed to the Indian Civil Service
and was assigned to the Punjab. He arrived in the Punjab in February
1864. After eighteen years of service, he was appointed a Deputy Commissioner
in 1882. Two years later, he became a Divisional judge. Throughout
his life Macauliffe maintained a personal reserve that made him reluctant
to speak of himself or his own aspirations and struggles save in a
few scattered places in his writings. His career in the Indian Civil
Service has received no special historical note. Although his deep
understanding and sympathy for the people of the Punjab and their
religious traditions doubtless made him an able and just civil servant,
it also brought him into conflict with his fellow Englishmen in India.
The focus of his life is in his work as a translator
and interpreter of Sikhism to the English-speaking world. His interest
in Sikhism was sparked by attending a Mali celebration in Amritsar
shortly after arriving in the Punjab. In order to understand ceremonies
and the importance of the Golden Temple, he undertook a study of
Sikhism and especially of the hymns of the Gurus. He found himself
deeply engaged by what he studied because, in his words, "the
sublimity of their style and the high standard of ethics which they
inculcated were unmatched."
His studies of Sikhism first appeared in the
Calcutta Review in articles published between 1875 and 1881. It
became increasingly evident to Macauliffe that the massive work
of translating the Guru Granth Sahib and writing a definitive history
of Sikhism could not be combined with his responsibilities as a
full-time civil servant. When, in 1893, the Khalsa Diwan offered
him financial assistance to carry on his work, he retired from the
Indian Civil Service. However, long before his retirement, he had
established deep and continuing contact with leading Sikh scholars
and had mastered the necessary linguistic tools. He studied a number
of Indian and related languages in order to master the linguistic
complexities of the Guru Granth Sahib; among these he mentions Sanskrit,
Prakrit, Arabic, Persian, Turki, Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi in
its various dialects.
While in India, Macauliffe made his home at
Amritsar on Cantonment Road. He also lived in Nabha, where he was
assisted in his work by Bhai Kahn Singh whose services were made
available by Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha. Macauliffe spent
time in Mussoorie and Dehra Dun as well. His extensive works of
translation and historical research were brought together in his
magnum opus, The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacret Writings and Authors
in 1909. In order to make this work ready for the press, he returned
to England with Bhai Kahn Singh. The work was published in six volumes
by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. After this Macauliffe contributed
the articles on Sikhism to the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia
Britannica and continued to interpret Sikhism to both popular and
scholarly audiences by lectures and articles. He died on 15 March
1913 in his London home, Sinclair Gardens, West Kensington. He was
attended to the end of his life by a Punjabi servant, called Muhammad,
who reported that Macauliffe recited the Japu(ji), the Sikh morning
prayer, shortly before he died.
The antagonism of Anglo-Indian officialdom towards
Macauliffe grew, particularly after his retirement. This was a major
factor in denying him the official government patronage he needed
to support his work. It is estimated that he spent two lakhs of
rupees out of his personal funds for the work of preparing The Sikh
Religion. Financial assistance came from a number of Indians, including
H.H. Sir Hira Singh, Malvendar Bahadur, the Raja of Nabha; H.H.
Sir Rajinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala; H.H. Raja Ranbir Singh,
Raja of Jind; the Tikka Sahib of Nabha; Sardar Ranjit Singh of Chhachhrauli
and H.H. the Gaekwar, of Baroda. Leading scholars and statesmen
recommended The Sikh Religion for the patronage of the Indian government.
In addition, a special committee of learned Sikhs, called together
by Col. Jawala Singh, Superintendent of the Golden Temple, carefully
examined Macauliffe's translations of the hymns of the Guru Granth
Sahib and commended them as accurate and faithful to the Sikh religion.
The Punjab Government recommended a grant of Rs 15,000 as advance
payment for copies of the translation. Some in the government, following
the lead of Sir Mackworth Young, opposed the grant on the grounds
of government's religious neutrality.
Finally, Lord Morley, the Secretary of State, ordered the sum reduced
to Rs 5,000. Macauliffe felt slighted by the insignificance of the
grant and declined it.
The coolness of the British government towards
Macauliffe's work ultimately influenced even some Sikhs. In 1911,
the Sikh Educational Conference in Rawalpindi rejected a resolution
commending his work. However, after his death, a resolution of condolence
was passed by this group. The Sikhs of Rawalpindi established a
Macauliffe Memorial Society and tried to raise money for a library.
Their efforts brought only Rs 3,245. This money was to be used for
a Macauliffe Medal to be awarded by the University of the Punjab
in Lahore. Because the competition was limited to Sikhs, the University
rejected the offer. Finally, the fund went to the Khalsa College
in Amritsar where a medal is awarded each year for the best essay
on an historical topic. However, this meagre outcome is an inadequate
measure of the high esteem in which Macauliffe is held by the Sikh
Macauliffe undertook his work of translating
the Guru Granth Sahib and writing the history of Sikhism with a
sense of urgency. He believed that the moral and religious purity
of original Sikhism was in danger of being lost. The Punjabi language
was going through extensive change that was rapidly rendering the
language of the original hymns unintelligible to many people. The
older gianis, the professional interpreters of the Scriptures, were
dying out and not being replaced by younger men able to keep the
voice of tradition alive. Educated Sikhs were losing not only the
linguistic skills, but also the religious motivation to understand
their own traditions. Sikhism was threatened, in Macauliffe's estimation,
by religious syncretism that drained it of its unique moral and
spiritual power. He believed that by rendering a competent translation
the history of Sikhism could be preserved not only for the historian,
but also as a creative religious force. No adequate dictionary existed,
at that time, of the language of the Guru Granth Sahib, although
the foundations for one had been laid in the work of Pandit Tara
Singh Narotam. Macauliffe wanted to catch the living tradition as
the guide through the linguistic complexities of the Scriptures
before it was lost. The availability of the Guru Granth Sahib to
modern understanding is in no small part due to his work.
Macauliffe's work built upon over a century
of modern Indological studies by western scholars. The footnotes
of his writings reveal his discerning use of such earlier students
of Sikhism as Henry Colebrooke, John Malcolm and Joseph Davey Cunningham.
He utilized the linguistic and historical studies of Horace Hayman
Wilson, Monier Williams, and Friedrich Max Muller. But in all his
work, Macauliffe had the linguistic skills to come to independent
judgements rather than simply to repeat others' research. No matter
how important modern Indological studies were, Macauliffe realized
that by themselves they could mislead if not related to the learning
of the religious community being studied. This realization came
to Macauliffe early in his work on Sikhism when he sought help from
the translation of the Guru Granth Sahib and some of the Janam Sakhis
made by Ernest Trumpp.
Trumpp, a German missionary linguist, had been
retained by the India Office to translate the Sikh Scriptures. His
work, which appeared in 1877, was widely repudiated by the Sikh
community as inaccurate and misleading. In part, this repudiation
stemmed from Trumpp's slanders of the Sikh tradition. But the problem
with Trumpp's translation, as Macauliffe and later Max Muffler and
other scholars realized, was basically linguistic. Trumpp disregarded
the traditional interpretations. Instead, he read the Punjabi of
the Scriptures in the light of its relation to Sanskrit. This tended
to obscure the complex interplay of languages and dialects that
characterize the sacred writings of the Sikhs. Trumpp's translation
was further impaired because its English was awkward. Macauliffe's
basic decision was to seek a fresh approach to the language of the
Scriptures through the assistance of professional interpreters of
the Sikh community.
Macauliffe's approach was fraught with great
difficulties. He had to retain a number of Gianis. The chief one
was Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha along with Bhais Nihal Singh and Sant
Singh of Sialkot; Bhais Ditt Singh, Gurmukh Singh, Rajindar Singh
and Nihal Singh of Lahore; Bhais Sardul Singh Giani, Prem Singh,
Fateh Singh and Darbard Singh of Amritsar; Bhai Sant Singh of Kapurthala;
Bhai Bhagvan Singh of Patiala and Bhal Dasaundha Singh of Firozpur.
While Macauliffe took care to find pious and learned men for the
work, he found their opinions often widely at odds with one another.
At times, he felt himself driven to vexation. He had to make difficult
decisions among various translations and often placed second and
third interpretations in footnotes when differences were irresolvable.
Yet even after his work had been widely acclaimed by the Sikh community,
he realized that there were other gianis who could call the whole
thing into question. "I have met so-called gianis who could
perform tours de force with their sacred work, and give different
interpretations of almost every line of it." Finally he was
guided by how an interpretation was related to its context and whether
it was harmonious with the whole of Sikh doctrine.
The work of translation was not ended with consultations
with the gianis. They communicated with Macauliffe in various Punjabi
dialects. The task of rendering their interpretation into English
still remained. Yet even in this, he sought the counsel of the Sikh
community. After completing a part of his translation, he would
circulate it in proof-sheets to Sikh scholars for correction. From
1901 to 1903, his proofs were read by Bhai Kahn Singh, Diwdn Lila
Ram, Bhai Shankar Daydl, Bhai Hazard Singh, Bhai Sardul Singh, Bhai
Ditt Singh, Bhai Bhagvan Singh and others. As the work of translation
neared completion, Macauliffe faced the question of how to present
it to the English-speaking world.
To print the translation of the Guru Granth
Sahib in its original order would make it difficult to understand
for those who were unfamiliar with its historical setting. Also
some of Macauliffe's older, orthodox Sikh friends feared that the
Scripture would not be shown the reverence due it when placed in
the hands of those unfamiliar with Sikh piety. Macauliffe found
a happy alternative that dealt with both these problems in the final
form of The Sikh Religion. He interspersed the history of the Gurus
with passages of Scripture. The unfolding life of the Gurus and
the Sikh community became the context for understanding the Scriptures.
Vol. I deals with Guru Nanak and the originating events of the Sikh
religion. Vol. II deals with Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru
Ram Das. Vol. III is given over to Guru Arjan, while Vol. IV tells
of Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan and Guru Tegh
Bahddur. Vol. V is devoted to Guru Gobind Singh. Vol. VI departs
from this chronological order to present the earlier Bhagats (Bhaktas)
whose hymns help make up the Guru Granth Sahib.
Macauliffe undertook his work with the realization
that Sikhism was virtually an unknown religion. The measure of his
success is that this is no longer true. The Sikh Religion placed
before the world a comprehensive picture of Sikhism and its Scriptures.
Macauliffe not only gathered together but went beyond what had been
done before. His work made possible the modern scholarship that
has followed. He correctly identified the linguistic context within
which the Guru Granth Sahib was formed. Later scholars have gone
beyond him and corrected his work at points as knowledge of the
ancient language has increased.
The literary style of his translations has been
much debated. Macauliffe wrote in a simple, direct style. He did
this not only in the interest of clarity but also because he believed
it reflected more accurately the style of the hymns themselves.
They were not high-blown literary creations built on classical models
but expressions of a piety for the common man. The complexities
of the problems of translation have yet to be finally solved. Until
a work of equal comprehensiveness integrates the results of more
recent scholarship, Macauliffe's translation will remain a basic
witness to the meaning of the Guru Granth Sahib.