Hukamnama

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HUKAMNAMA , is a compound of two Persian words hukm, meaning command or order, and namah, meaning letter. In the Sikh tradition, historically it refers to the letters sent by the Sikh Gurus to their Sikhs or sangats (congregation) in different parts of the country during the period of the Ten Gurus from 1469 to 1708. However, now it is used to refer to the Shabd {hymn} that is read after the Ardas prayer is said in the presence of the Sikh holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. In this case the word is can also be shortened to just the Guru's Hukam.

Currently, the word also applies to edicts issued from time to time from the five takhats or seats of high religious authorities for the Sikhs – the Akal Takht at Amritsar, Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib at Anandpur Sahib (Punjab), Takht Harimander Sahib at Patna (Bihar), Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib at Nanded (Maharashtra) and Takht [[Damdama Sahib at Talvandi Sabo (in Bathinda district of the Punjab). The full name of these edicts is "Takhat deh Hunkamnama" - "The Order of the Takhat"

Letters addressed to Sikhs by historical personages as Baba Gurditta, the elder son of Guru Hargobind, Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Devi, widows of Guru Gobind Singh, and Banda Singh Bahadur are also included in this genre. Some of the letters of the later Gurus to sangats or prominent Sikhs have in recent years been traced and published in two collections, with most of the material common to both, the first entitled Hukamname, edited by Ganda Singh (Patiala, Punjabi University, 1967), and the second Nisan te Hukamname, edited by Shamsher Singh Ashok (Amritsar, Sikh Itihas Research Board, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, 1967). A separate anthology of Guru Tegh Bahadur's hukamnamas, in Devanagari transcription and with an English translation, was published by Punjabi University, Patiala, in 1976. All hakamnamas were originally written in Punjabi, in Gurmukhi characters.

Those of Guru Hargobind as also most of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s are believed to have been written in their own hand. It appears, however, that in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, the text was written by a scribe while the Guru put down on the top of the letter an authentication mark, an invocation or some direction. There is a near uniformity in the format of the hukamnamas. The earlier ones bore no date; from AD 1691 onwards they were usually dated and also, at times, numbered. Later on, the practice of recording at the end of the text the number of lines in the body of the letters also came into vogue. The scribes began the text with the words, Sri Guru ji ki agia hai (It is the order of the revered Guru, or the revered Guru desires), preceded by the formula Ik Onkar Guru Sati, later Ik Onkar Satguru (Remember One God, the True Guru).

Banda Singh Bahadur (1670-1716), blessed by Guru Gobind Singh himself, introduced a seal in Persian script as authentication mark and recorded the initial formula to read as Ik Onkar Fateh Darsanu (God is One, Victory to (His) Presence), and the text began with Sache Sahib di agia hai (by order of the True Master). Hukamnamas of Mata Sundari begin with the words Sri Mata ji di agia hai, and those of Mata Sahib Devi with Sri Akal Purakh ji ka Khalisa Sri Mata Sahib Devi ji di agia hai (Mata Sahib Devi’s order to the Khalsa of the Timeless One).


Apart from their importance to the Sikhs as the sacred remembrances of the Gurus, the hukamnamas are invaluable historical documents. Names of persons and places to which they are addressed provide clues to the composition, socially, of early Sikhism and its spread, geographically. One of the earliest hukamnamas discovered is a missive addressed by Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) to sangats at Patna, Alamganj, Sherpur, Bina and Monghyr, in Bihar, and includes no fewer than 62 names of prominent Sikhs belonging to those communities. Hukamnamas of Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-75) and Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) are addressed to sangats as far apart as Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet in the east and Patan, present-day Pakpattan, in Pakistan in the west. In addition to blessings from the Gurus and acknowledgement of the devotees’ gifts, these letters contain instructions for the followers to cultivate love and prayer as well as indications with regard to the offerings they might bring. The demands ranged from cash contribution in the form of gold or hundis (bills of exchange) to pet birds, garments, weapons, cannons and war elephants. Sometimes these demands are written in abbreviated forms.


The hukamnamas, which are dated, help to fix the chronology of certain events. For instance, letters instructing Sikhs not to recognize masands, or tithe-collectors, but to bring their offerings directly to the Guru on the occasions of Baisakhi and Diwali are all written during 1699 or later, confirming the abolition of the institution of masands simultaneously with the creation of the Khalsa on 30 March 1699. The almost identical letters, both dated 1 Kartik 1764 Bk/2 October 1707, while informing the sangats at Dhaul and Khara of Guru Gobind Singh’s meeting with the Emperor (Bahadur Shah), enjoined upon them to present themselves duly armed when the Guru arrived in Kahlur (Anandpur). This was not to be, for the Guru passed away at Nanded, in the South, a year later, but the Guru’s intention of returning to the Punjab is clearly established. The hukamnamas are important linguistically as well and provide crucial clues for tracing the development of the Gurmukhi script and Punjabi prose.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • 1. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, ed., Nisan te Hukamname. Amritsar, 1967
  • 2. Ganda Singh, ed., Hukamname. Patiala, 1967
  • 3. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990


Above adapted from article By Ganda Singh