HISTORY
This section considers Important events within Anglo-Sikh history such as early European accounts of Sikhs, the role ofSikhs in the armed forces and pre British Raj accounts.


 
 


The Sikhs and their College at Patn
a 1781
By Sir Charles Wilkins


INTRODUCTORY NOTE
Sir Charles Wilkins, the writer of the following observations on The Sikhs and their College at Patna as an eminent orientalist of his times (1749 or 1750-1836). He was the son of the famous Walter Wilkins and was born in 1749 or 1750. At the age of about twenty-one he arrived in Bengal in 1770 as a writer in the East India Company's service. Like most of the Englishmen of those days, he was highly interested in the study of oriental languages. He devoted his leisure hours to the study of Sanskrit and was the first Englishman to acquire a thorough knowledge of that language and published a grammar of it in 1779. Under the patronage of the then Governor General. Warren Hastings, he translated the Hindu religio-philosophical work, the Bhagavad-Gita and deciphered many Sanskrit inscriptions. He himself prepared the first Bengali and Persian types and set up a printing-press at Calcutta for the oriental languages. He was the right hand of Sir William Jones of revered memory in founding the Asiatic Society of Bengal (later the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal), now the Asiatic Society at Calcutta and establishing the well-known series of the Asiatic Researches.

After sixteen years' stay in India he returned to England in 1786 and published his translations of the Sanskrit book of fables, the Hitopdesha, and of Kalidas's drama Shakuntala. In 1800 he was made the custodian of the vast collection of oriental manuscripts taken away from the library of Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam, and he was the first Librarian of the India House Library, London.

He was also a scholar of Islamic literature and, in 1806, he edited Richardsons' Persian and Arabic Dictionary which speaks so highly of the depth of Wilkin's learning. Two years later in 1808 he produced another Sanskrit Grammer which was a greatly an improved, or rather a re-written, edition of his first work on the subject. In addition to these works he wrote a large number of valuable papers on Indian subjects which created a good deal of interest in England about the people of this country

For his deep scholarship and services to the cause of literature, the University of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of the Doctor of Civil Law (D. C. L.), and the Royal Asiatic Society of Literature gave him their medal as "Princeps Literature Sanskrita," and he was elected as an Associate of the French Institute. He was also an LL. D. (Legum Doctor=Doctor of Laws) and an F. R. S. (Fellow of the Royal Society). King George IV was pleased to Knight him in 1833 and give him the badge of the Guelphic Order. Three years later, Sir Charles Wilkins died on May 13, 1836, laden with honours and international fame as a pioneer scholar of oriental literature.

These observations of Sir Charles on the 'Sikhs and their College at Patna' were written for the Asiatic Society from Benares on March 1. 1781, after he had paid a visit to the Sikh temple Takht-Sahib (popularly known as Harmandir Sahib), the birth-place of Guru Gobind Singh, on his way to that city, and were published in the Asiatick Researches or Transactions of the Society, 1788. This is the first known account of the Sikh institutions written by an Englishman, the only other accounts in English of any importance written before this being from the pen of a French-Swiss gentleman Major (afterwards Colonel) Antonie Louis Henri Polier (1741-1795) written in 1780 as a memoir, and in 1776 in his letter of May 22 from Delhi to Colonel Ironside at Belgram.

I consider these observations of the learned writer interesting and worthy of the attention of the students of history and religion, and this is my only apology for placing them before the readers after the lapse of over a century and a half.

It appears that like most of the other Sikh temples in the country in those days, the Patna temple also was running a flourishing Pathshala under the guidance of the priests. It is, perhaps, therefore, that he calls the temple a 'College'.

There may be another reason also. The Schools and Colleges were then called Dharamshalas or Pathshalas. The Gentleman with whom Wilkins happened to be conversing about the Sikhs might have called the temple a Sikh Dharamshala, as the Sikh temples are so often called. This might also have led Wilkins to suppose that it was a Sikh College.

It is most gratifying to find that the views of the Sikhs in respect of their temples were as modern in the eighteenth century as men of twentieth century are expected to hold. Every man of whatever caste or creed was allowed to enter them. When Wilkins asked the Sikhs present there "if I might ascend into the hall. They said it was a place of worship open to me and to all men". There were no restrictions on the admission of anyone into the Sikh brotherhood, if he were willing to be initiated into it. Wilkins tells us that they offered to admit him into it.

While editing I have made no changes whatever in the original and have also retained the old original spellings, however queer they may appear today. Wherever necessary, I have given my explanations in the footnotes.

Dr Ganda Singh
Khalsa College, Amritsar
December 31, 1939


AUTHOR'S PREFATORY LETTER

The Secretary to the Asiatick Society

Sir,

Before I left 'Calcutta', gentleman, with whom I chanced to be conversing of the sect of people who are distinguished from the worshippers of 'Brahm' and the followers of Mahommed by the
appellation Seek, informed me that there was a considerable number of them settled in the city of 'Patna', where they had a College for teaching the tenets of their philosophy. As 'Patna' was in my way to 'Banaris', I no sooner arrived there than I enquired after the College, and I was
presently conducted to it ; and I now request you will please lay before the Society the few observations and enquiries which a single visit of about two hours could admit of my making.

If such as they are they should hereafter be found useful either as a clue to guide another in his researches in the same path, or to add to some future account to render it more complete, my end in troubling you to lay it before the Society is fully answered.

I have the honour to subscribe myself,
Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,

Charles Wilkins.
Banaris, 1st March, 1781


The Seeks And Their College At Patna
By Sir Charles Wilkins

I found the College
1 of the Seeks, situated in one of the narrow streets of Patna, at no very considerable distance from the Custom-house. I was permitted to enter the outward gate, but, as soon as I came to the steps which led into the Chapel, or public-hall, I was civilly accosted by two of the Society. I asked them if I might ascend into the hall. They said it was a place of worship open to me and to all men; but at the same time, intimated that I must take off my shoes. As I consider this ceremony in the same light


FOOTNOTE
1
The Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, called Takht Patna Sahib, the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru was born here on Poh Sudi 7, 1723 Bikrami, December 22, 1666 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb.

as uncovering my head upon entering any of our temples dedicated to the Deity, I did not hesitate to comply, and I was then politely conducted into the hall and seated upon a carpet, in the midst of the assembly, which was so numerous as almost to fill the room. The whole building2 forms a square of about forty feet, raised from the ground about six or eight steps. The hall is in the centre, divided from four other apartments by wooden arches upon pillars of the same materials, all neatly carved. The room is rather longer than it is broad. The floor was covered with a neat carpet, and furnished with six or seven desks, on which stood as many of the books of their law; and the walls, above the arches, were hung with European looking glasses in gold frames, arid pictures of Mussulman Princes, and Hindoo Deities. A little room, which, as you enter, is situated at the left hand end of the hall is the chancel, and is furnished with an altar covered with a cloth of gold, upon which was laid a round black shield over a long broad sword, and, on either side, a chowry of peacock feathers mounted in silver handle. The altar was raised a little above the ground in a declining position. Before it stood a low kind of throne plated with silver; but rather too small to be useful; above it were several flower pots and rose-water bottles, and on the left hand stood three Urns which appeared to be copper, furnished with notches to receive the donations of the, charitable. There stood also near the altar, on a low desk, a great book3 of folio size, from which some portions are daily read in their divine service. It was covered with a blue
mantle, on which were painted, in silver letters, some select passage of their law.

After I had a long conversation with two of the congregation, who had politely seated themselves, on each side of me, on the carpet, and whom I found very intelligent, notice was given that it was noon and the hour of divine service. The congregation arranged themselves upon the carpet, on each side of the hall, so as to leave a space before the altar from end to end. The great book, desk, and all, was brought, with some little ceremony from the altar; and placed at the opposite extremity of the hall. An old man, with a reverend silver beard, kneeled down before the desk with his face towards the altar; and on one side of him sat a man with a small drum, and two or three with cymbals. The book was now opened, and the old man began to chant to the tune of the drums and the cymbals; and at the conclusion of every verse, most of the congregation joined chorus in a response, with countenances exhibiting great marks of joy. Their tones were by no means harsh; and the time was quick; and I learnt that the subject was a Hymn in praise of the Unity, the Omnipresence, and the Omnipotence of the Deity.


FOOTNOTE
2
The description given by Charles Wilkins is of the old building of the Gurdwara which does not exist at present. It was burnt, I was told during my stay there in 1933, somewhere in the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the present building was erected by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and other Sikh chiefs and Sardars, During the earthquake of January 1934 the buildings of the Gurdwara were rudely shaken and some of them fell to the ground. But, strangely enough, no serious harm was done to the Gurdwara proper. The Sikh Community has taken in hand the reconstruction of the demolished portions and the northern side has now been completed with the funds raised by the Chief Khalsa Dewan, Amritsar, and other institutions and Sangats.
3
Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs

I was singularly delighted with the gestures of the old man; I never saw a countenance so expressive of infelt joy, whilst he turned about from one to another, as it were, bespeaking their assents to those truths which his very soul seemed to be engaged in chanting forth. The Hymn being concluded, which consisted of about twenty verses, the whole congregation got up and presented their faces with joined hands towards the altar, in the attitude of prayer. A young man stood forth, and, with a loud voice and distinct accent, solemnly pronounced a long prayer or kind of liturgy, at certain periods of which all the people joined in a general response, saying Wa Gooroo.4 They prayed against temptation; for grace to do good; and for the general good of mankind; and a particular blessing to the Seeks; and for the safety of those who at that time were on their travels. This prayer was followed by a short blessing from the old man, and an invitation to the assembly to partake of a friendly feast. The book was then closed and restored to its place at the altar, and the people being seated as before, two men entered bearing a large iron caldron called curray5, just taken from the fire, and placed it in the centre of the hall upon a low stool. These were followed by others with five or six dishes, some of which were of silver, and a large pile of leaves sewed together with fibres in the form of plates. One of these plates was given to each of the company with- out distinction, and the dishes being filled from the caldron, their contents were served out till everyone had got his share: myself was not forgotten; and, as I was resolved not to give them the smallest occasion for offence, I ate my portion. It was a kind of sweetmeat,6 of the consistence of soft brown sugar, composed of flour and sugar mixed up with clarified butter, which is called Ghee. Had not the Ghee been rancid, I should have relished better.

We were next served with a few sugar plums; and here ended the feast and the ceremonies of the day. They told me the religious part of the ceremony was daily repeated five times. I now took my leave, inviting some of the principal men amongst them who were about to return to their own country through Banaris, to pay me a visit.

In the course of the conversation I was engaged in with the two 'Seeks' before the service, I was able to gather the following circumstances. That the founder of their faith was called Naneek Sah, who flourished about four7 hundred years ago at Punjab, and who, before his apostasy, was a Hindoo of the Kshetry or military tribe; and that his body disappeared as the Hindoos and Mussulman were disputing for it, for upon their removing the cloth that covered it, it was gone. That he left behind him a book, composed by himself,8 in verse and the language of Punjab, but a character partly of his own


FOOTNOTE
4
Wahiguru, God; also translated as 'Glory to thee, O Lord !'
5
Karahi.
6
Karah Prasad.
7
This should be 'about three hundred to two hundred fifty years'. Guru Nanak. the founder of the Sikh religion, lived from 1469 to 1539 A.D.
8
Here Wilkins evidently refers to the Guru Grantha Sahib. The whole of it was not composed by Guru Nanak. In addition to the compositions of the Gurus, first to the fifth and the nineth (with a Shaloka of the tenth Guru, as is commonly believed), it embodies the compositions of several other saints, Muslims and Hindus, and even Sudras, of both sexes.

invention,9 which teaches the doctrines of the faith he had established. That they called ie. this character, in honour of their founder, Gooroo-Mookhee: from the mouth of the preceptor. That this book, of which that standing near the altar, and several others in the hall, were copies, teaches that there is but one God, Omnipotent and Omnipresent, ' filling all space and pervading all matter: and that He is to be worshiped and invoked. That there will be day of retribution, when virtue will be rewarded and vice punished (I forgot to ask in what manner); that it not only commands universal toleration, but forbids murder, theft, and such other deeds as are, by the majority of the mankind, esteemed crimes against society; and inculcates the practice of all the virtues, but particularly universal philanthropy, and a general hospitality to strangers and travellers. This is all my short visit would permit me to learn of this book. It is a folio volume, containing about four or five hundred pages.

They told me further, that some years after this book of Noneek Sah had been promulgated, another10 made its appearance, now held in almost as much esteem as the former. The name of the author has escaped my memory; but they favoured me with an extract from the book itself in praise of the Deity. The passage had struck my ear on my first entering the hall when the students were all engaged in reading. From the similarity of the language to the Hindoovee11, and many Sanscrit words, I was able to understand a good deal of it, and I hope, at some future period, to have the honour of laying a translation of it before the Society. They told me I might have copies of both their books, if I would be at the expense of transcribing them.

I next enquired why they were called Seeks, and they told me it was a word borrowed from one of the commandments of the founder which signifies "Learn thou"; and it was adopted to distinguish the sect soon after he disappeared. The word, as is well known, has the same import in the Hindoovee.

I asked them what were the ceremonies used in admitting a proselyte. A person having shown a sincere inclination to renounce his former opinions, to any five or more Seeks assembled together, in any place, as well on the highway as in a house of worship, they send to first shop where sweetmeats are sold and procure a small quantity of a particular sort which is very common, and as I recollect, they call Batasa, and having diluted it in pure water, they sprinkle some of it on the body, and into the eyes of the: convert, whilst one of the best instructed repeats to him in any languages with which he is conversant the chief cannons of their faith, exacting from him a solemn promise to abide by them the rest of his life. This is the whole of the ceremony.


FOOTNOTE
9
This view held by the Sikhs as early as 1781, when Wilkins visited Patna, lends further support to those who hold that Gurmukhi characters were invented. or perfected in their present forms, by Guru Nanak himself and not by Guru Anged, the Second Guru.
10
Evidently, the Dasam Granth, also called the Daswin Padshahi da Granth
11
Hindi, Devnagri

The new convert may then choose a Gooroo,12 or preceptor, to teach him in the language of their scripture, who first gives him the alphabet to learn, and so leads him on, by slow degrees, until he wants no further inscription. They offered to admit me into their Society; but declined the honor; contenting myself with the alphabet which they told me to guard as the apple of my eye, as it was a sacred character. I find it differs but little from the Dewnagur13. The number, order and powers of the letters are exactly the same. The language itself is a mixture of Persian, Arabic and some Sanscrit, grafted upon the provincial dialect of Punjab, which is a kind of Hindoovee, or, as it is vulgarly called by us, moors.
FOOTNOTE
12
The word Gooroo (Guru) here is used in the sense of Ustad or teacher.
13
The Devnagri, Hindi or Sanskrit: characters


Source:Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, Dr Ganda Singh




 
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