The Sikh Rehat Maryada document is an important document when studying the Sikh faith. Since it was first made in 1936, Sri Akal Takhat Sahib has used this document as an official reference for Sikh matters and as a standard for the protocol, procedures and conduct of religious duties at the historic shrine. The same document is used and propagated by all Gurdwaras and shrines under the management of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, the largest Sikh representative organization, as well as other major Sikh institutions and Gurdwaras.
Bhai Manvir Singh Khalsa in his book, ‘The Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct): History, Guiding Principles, and a Contextual Translation’ has written about this document in detail. Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 1) describes the document as:
“a collective work that scholars, intellectuals and religious personalities during the start of the 20th century contributed towards. It was a collective attempt to standardise a minimum baseline code of conduct for the Sikh Panth and stop the non-Sikh influences that had entered Sikh institutions and the daily lives of Sikhs.”
A valid question would be, what traditions or code of conduct was followed in historic Sikh shrines prior to this document being formed. In accordance to Bhai Manvir Singh Khalsa (Ibid):
“Prior to 1927, when the first sub-committee was appointed to work on drafting the Sikh Rehat Maryada document, there were many respect-worthy religious schools or groups that claimed to follow the code of conduct that had been passed down generation to generation from Guru Gobind Singh Ji; however, none of the prevalent traditions and views matched identically. In regards to some issues and observances, there was a great divide, and even contradictions with Gurbani, yet all claimed to follow the authentic traditions ordained by the Sikh Gurus. The situation worsened to the extent that idols of Hindu gods were installed around the edges of the Sarovar (holy lake) of Sri Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar. Moreover, the Mahants (headmen) refused to initiate those deemed as low-castes in accordance to Hinduism into the Sikh fold in the same Amrit Sanchaars (initiation ceremonies) that were held for the so-called high castes. The purity of Sikh teachings and code of conduct had been lost with the growing influence of Hinduism on the Sikh religion at the time.”
The main source of guidance for any Sikh is Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. In addition to this, Sikhs since the time of the Gurus have also taking inspiration and guidance from the writings of the Tenth Guru, Bhai Gurdas Ji, and Bhai Nand Lal Ji. Bhai Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 2-3) quotes Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha (Gurmat Martand, Vol. II, p. 796-97) as listing 24 manuscripts that are used as Rehatnamas or letters of code of conduct that Sikhs based their religious discipline.
Manvir Singh Khalsa (Ibid) provides details of seven of this historical sources:
- Rehatnama and Tankhahnama of Bhai Nand Lal Singh Ji
Bhai Nand Lal Singh Ji (1612-1715), also known as Bhai Nand Lal Ji before becoming Amritdhari, was an Afghan Sikh who was a great Persian and Arabic scholar. He was the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s court. He was one the 52 poets of the Guru’s court and was a scholar and perfect devotee of the Guru.
- Rehatnama of Bhai Daya Singh Ji
Bhai Daya Singh Ji (1669-1708) was the first of the Panj Piaare to offer his head to the Guru on Vaisakhi day in 1699. He was a respected scholar. Due to his wisdom, faith and courage. Guru Gobind Singh Ji chose him to deliver his letter, the Zaffarnama, to Aurangzeb.
- Rehatnama and Tankhahnama of Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji
Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji, known in early life as Chaupat Rai, was given by his family to Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji to stay and do Seva. Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji was blessed with the company of four Gurus (from the Seventh Guru to the Tenth Guru). When the Tenth Guru was born, he was appointed the male-nurse to him and later Gurmukhi teacher. Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji was ordered by Guru Gobind Singh Ji to scribe Rehatnamas.
- Rehatnama of Bhai Prahlad Singh Ji
Bhai Prahlad Singh Ji was a Persian and Sanskrit scholar born in a Brahmin family that embraced Sikhi. He was a court scribe of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
- Rehatnama of Bhai Desa Singh Ji
Bhai Desa Singh Ji was the youngest son of Shaheed Bhai Mani Singh Ji (1662-1737).
- Prem Sumarg
Also known as Param Sumarg is an ancient manuscript. The author is unknown. According to Prof Piara Singh Padam (Rehatname, p. 49) it seems it is written by a good scholarly Sikh. It is particularly significant as it describes each rite of passage and ceremony of a Sikh’s life. Prof Padam suggests that it was written around 1765 during the height of the Misl period as it describes in one part how to be a good ruler.
- Mukatnama and Ratan Maal (Sau Sakhi) of Bhai Sahib Singh Ji
In accordance to Prof. Piara Singh Padam (Rehatname, p. 49), there is one Bhai Sahib Singh Ji who was one the original Panj Piaare, and the other Bhai Sahib Singh Ji is the writer of Rehatnama and Mukatnama. The latter Bhai Sahib Singh Ji is also the author of Sau Sakhi and scribed about the Guru as dictated by Bhai Ram Singh Koer Ji. His works of Rehatnama and Mukatnama were used by 20th century scholars for the making of Sikh Rehat Maryada document.
Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 3-4) quotes a book called ‘Khalsa Rehat Maryada Sanbandhi Bhulekia Da Samaadhaan’ (p. 15):
Soora Parvaar, Khalsa Rehat Maryada Sanbandhi Bhulekia Da Samaadhaan (3rd Ed), 1990
The Khalsa Rehat found in the written and published Rehatnamas that are available today do not match one another, as in some matters there are differences. The worrying matter is that there are some things in some Rehatnamas that are blatantly opposite to the orders of the Guru that are emphasised in Gurbani. It seems that the reason for this is that the enemies of the religion added things against Gurmat to Rehatnamas in order to distort Sikhi and finish off the Sikh spirit…
Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 4-5) brings to the attention of readers some examples of how historical Sikh sources have been adulterated and clearly contradict central Sikh teachings contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji:
- kys cMfI jI dIey, bwhnI k~C hnU jI deI… [
“Kes (hair) was given by goddess ‘Chandi’. The ‘Kachh’ (Kachhera) was given by ‘Hanuman’ (the monkey-god) …”
(Rehatnama: Bhai Daya Singh Ji – p. 68)
- …srkr ibSnU jI dInI, mYdw mhWdyv jI dInw, GIv bRhmy ny dIAw, iqRBwv kw kVwh pRswd kIAw [
“Karhah Prashaad was made with three ingredients– Vishnu (the Hindu god of preservation) gave sugar, Maha-Dev (known as Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction) gave flour, and Brahma (the Hindu go of creation) gave Gheo (clarified butter).”
(Rehatnama: Bhai Daya Singh Ji – p. 68)
- ipClI rwqI auT ky bIVI (pwn bIVI) krY, ieSnwn krY, AQvw pMj ieSnwn krY [
“In the last part of the night (Amrit-Vela) wake up and consume tobacco. Then bathe or wash your hands, feet, and face.”
(Rehatnama: Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji – p. 79)
- gurU ky isK mus~dI – jo srkwr qurkW dI ivc hovn, iqnHW nUM sBo kurihqW mwP…[
“Gursikhs who are employed by a Turk (Muslim) administration should be forgiven for all their Kurehats (breach of Rehat) …”
(Rehatnama: Bhai Chaupa Singh Ji – p. 85)
- iesqRI hoqy dwsI kw sMg n krY [ dwsI kw sMg qb krY, jo jwnY iesqRI nwhI AwpnY pws; Ar kwm ky jor qY rih nhI skqw [
“Don’t have sex with a maid if you have a wife. Only have sex with your maid if you know your wife is not there with you and you cannot control the urge of your lust.” (Prem Sumarg, p. 121)
Bhai Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 5) comments on the above quotations by saying:
“It is clear from the above that Rehatnamas have been manipulated and tampered with. All other historical texts had different versions. A Rehatnama is something that explains Rehat as defined by Gurbani, and therefore, someone with knowledge of Gurbani would be able to identify adulterations and corruptions in the historical Rehatnama literature.”
In conclusion, Bhai Manvir Singh Khalsa (p. 5-6) writes:
“A Sikh is not obliged to accept anything that has been written down in a Rehatnama which contradicts Gurbani. At the end he concludes that the final say on Rehat is Gurbani contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Dasam Granth.”