The Encyclopedia of Sikhism

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The Encyclopedia of Sikhism is a 4 volume encyclopaedia on Sikhism prepared under the auspices of Punjabi University, Patiala by Professor Harbans Singh. The first volume of this work was initially released in 1992 by the President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma. The complete set of the 4-volume Encyclopaedia was released by Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 1998.

The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism was the first of its kind in the field of Sikh studies; it is comprehensive in its scope and includes entries to cover topics such as Sikh history, theology, philosophy, literature, art and architecture, customs and ceremonies, sects, personalities, shrines, etc. The fact that the work has undergone several reprints since its first publication testifies to the authenticity and catholicity of its contents, its terse and precise style and impeccable and flawless English idiom.


Harbans Singh hard work

It has contributed a lot in fertilizing Sikh learning apart from helping scholars and students working in the field of Sikh studies. Professor Harbans Singh's industry and diligence and his search for the exactness of idea and expression has been admired by many prominent personalities. His economy of phrase and a finely attuned verbal sense lend the text easily readable.

Planting of the seed

At a time when the euphoria of celebrations of 300th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master of the Sikh faith, in 1966 and of the quincentenary of Guru Nanak's birth in 1969 was still in air, Punjabi University decided to name the department after the Tenth Master as Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies.

Therr is no doubt that the anniversary celebrations created an interest in the study of Sikhism and culminated in the publication of literature on different aspects of it. Foundations were formed and Chairs were set up in various Indian Universities to initiate and carry out research work on different aspects of Sikh history, philosophy and theology.

However, the outcome of these efforts fell short of producing good literature and the paucity of such serious academic and research work left behind a vacuum. The need for a comprehensive reference work was badly felt to meet the needs of scholars and students in the now-widening field of Sikh studies.

In fact, after Bhai Kahn Singh's Gurushabad Ratanakar Mahan Kosh (1930), no other such work had come out. However, this Mahan Kosh being in Punjabi was inaccessible to those not conversant with Punjabi language and Gurmukhi script and its entries also happened to be quite brief. Moreover, with the passage of time and the inflow of fresh knowledge, many concepts and doctrines needed to be re-stated and re-interpreted so as to establish their contemporary praxis. Of course, the Mahan Kosh was - and still is - relevant but a "need and gap" was being seriously felt.

Professor Harbans Singh chosen

To fill this gap, the Punjabi University, as an endeavour to fulfil its statutory obligation of promoting Punjabi literature and culture, decided to prepare, in English as well as in Punjabi, a comprehensive reference work and assigned the responsibility to Professor Harbans Singh, a Sikh scholar known for his diligence, thoroughness and meticulousness in matters of research as well as for his mastery over English diction.

Professor Harbans Singh prepared an outline for the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, and gave up all other responsibilities to dedicate himself single-mindedly to this project. It was an arduous and long-drawn project, and it took him and a small team of scholars that worked with him a little more than two decades to complete the full project.

Works transferred to a website

When Swarn Singh Boparai became Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, he felt that such an important work needed to be shared with a wider readership at the international level. Accordingly, having decided that the best way to do so in the modern age of information technology was to put the complete works on the website of the University.

Since the press-copy of the Encyclopaedia had been first prepared on manual typewriters, the whole of the text had to be re-compose the entire Encyclopaedia transferred on computer media. The text of the Encyclopaedia contains many non-English words with diacritical signs on them so as to facilitate their proper pronunciation, and the scanner, with all the modern technology at its command, failed to correctly read all such words and signs. It necessitated re-reading of the text more than once at various levels. No doubt, this was a difficult task but we have put in our best endeavour to come up to the accuracy level of an Encyclopaedia.

"I am happy that the Encyclopaedia of Sikhism is ready to be placed on the University's website and hope that it will immensely benefit scholars and students working in the field of Sikh studies." Quotation by Swarn Singh Boparai, Kirti Chakra, Padma Shri awardee, Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala. 28th August 2006