Gurinder Singh Mann

Power and Protest in the Founding of the Sikh Community
Contrary to an image of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) that once held sway, I am convinced that he was intentionally the founder of the community that has come to revere him as its first guru.  He responded to specific conditions that surrounded him at the time, many of them explicitly political in nature, and the community he established at Kartarpur around the late 1510s most definitely had a political valence.  It may well have been that his personal ties to Daulat Khan Lodhi, the ruler in Lahore (1500[?]-1526), encouraged Nanak’s first followers to rally to his cause.

The question is, then:  What does this have to do with bhakti?  Is bhakti an appropriate designation for the community Nanak envisioned, or would another be better?  And what of the bhagats who became an explicit part of the Sikh textual and performative world in the period of Guru Amar Das (Guru 1551-1574) and possibly earlier?  Was bhakti, thus labeled, a sort of second-class citizenship as imagined within a Sikh domain that was somehow more than bhakti?  Who was responsible for that secondary evaluation, if so?  Did Guru Amar Das intend to “bhaktify” the Sikh panth?  Such questions have been at the heart of Sikhs’ evaluation of their relationship to “the bhakti movement” for generations.  I hope that that my recent and current work will cast them in rather a new light.

Bio: Gurinder Singh Mann taught at Columbia University from 1987 to 1999, and held Kundan Kaur Kapany Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, until his retirement in 2015.  His research interests focus on Sikhism, Punjabi language, and religion and society in the Punjab. His publications include The Goindval Pothis (Harvard Oriental Series 51, 1997); The Making of Sikh Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2001); and Sikhism (Religions of the World Series, Prentice Hall, 2004). He has co-authored Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs of America (Oxford University Press, 2001), and Introduction to Punjabi (Punjabi University, 2011). He has also been the co-editor of The Journal of Punjab Studies (2004-) and has extensively lectured on Sikh issues in North American universities. His current projects include co-editing of Brill’s Encyclopedia of Sikhism, and overseeing a series of critical editions and translations of early Sikh texts.