The so-called Jathedar of Akal Takhat Sahib
The so-called Jathedar of Akal Takhat Sahib By : DR. HARJINDER SINGH DILGEER
Akal Takht Sahib was revealed by Guru Hargobind Sahib on June 15,1606. The foundation stone of the building of Akal Takht Sahib was laid down by Guru Hargobind Sahib himself. (Guru Hargobind Sahib did not built or create Akal Takht Sahib, he revealed it. Akal Takht Sahib belonged to Waheguru and it was the Almighty who could have created Akal Takht Sahib). The rest of the structure was completed by Baba Buddha (the veteran Sikh servant) and by Bhai Gurdas (Sikh scholar) only. No mason or any other person was permitted to participate in the construction of the structure. Guru Hargobind Sahib himself was the Custodian of the Takht of Waheguru. According to a source, when Guru Hargobind Sahib remained in Gwalior Fort prison, he had asked Baba Buddha to perform the services of Darbar Sahib (HARIMANDAR SAHIB) and Bhai Gurdas to take care of Akal Takht Sahib. It was not the appointment of Bhai Gurdas as the Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib. It is ignorance to say that Bhai Gurdas was the Jathedar or the Custodian of Akal Takht Sahib. He was just the caretaker. Guru Hargobind Sahib left Amritsar in 1635. Between 1635 and 1696 (until the death of Harji), Amritsar was under the control of the descendants of Pirthi Chand (elder brother of Guru Arjan Sahib). In April 1698, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib appointed Bhai Mani Singh as Granthi of Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib. On December 30, 1711, Bahadur Shah, the Mogul emperor, "assigned" the Jagir of Chakk Ram Das (Amritsar) to Ajit Singh Palit (He had been adopted by Mata Sunder Kaur. Later, she discarded him). Bahadur Shah wanted to use Ajit Singh Palit against Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, the Sikh General. Ajit Singh returned to Delhi after the death of Bahadur Shah (February 27, 1712). After this Baba Kahan Singh of the so-called Tat Khalsa, who looked after Akal Takht Sahib and Mahant Amar Singh of the so-called Bandai Khalsa, who had the control of Jhanda Bunga. Bhai Mani Singh is not referred as so-called Jathedar in any Sikh work. Bhai Ratan Singh Bhangu calls him "Pujaran sion vado pujari" (chief priest among the priests).
After the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh (June 24,1734), there was no one to take care of the shrines at Amritsar during the dark period of the Sikh history. There were Sarbat Khalsa gatherings at Akal Takht Sahib, at least since 1726, but no reference is available as to who convened these gatherings. It is presumed that Jathedars of the Sikh army used to call these gatherings. Later, Budha Dal (the Sikh veterans) took over the charge of the shrines. As the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib, he introduced authentic Sikh practices at Akal Takht Sahib and Darbar Sahib. Baba Prem Singh Hoti wrote a book about Akali Phula Singh in 1912. Baba Prem Singh did not use the term Jathedar even once.
On October 12,1920, when some initiated Sikhs, belonging to so-called low castes, went to Akal Takht Sahib to offer an Ardas (prayer), to caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib and the Granthis slipped away. The gathering found the Takht Sahib unattended. A Jatha (band) of 25 Sikhs was selected to take care of Takht Sahib. Bahi Teja Singh Bhucher was appointed as the Jathedar of the Jatha. Bhai Teja Singh was to be the chief of the Jatha and not Akal Takht Sahib. On October 13,1920, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar called a meeting of the (former) priests and the Sikh leaders. The priests abstained from the meeting. This meeting selected an ad-hoc Committee to look after the affairs of Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib. The Committee comprised Sundar Singh Ramgarhia (the manager of Akal Takht Sahib and Darbar Sahib). Professor Teja Singh, Bawa Harkishan Singh, Bhai Deva Singh, Bhai Bahadur Singh Hakim, Bhai Chanda Singh, Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar, Jathedar Teja Singh Bhucher and Doctor Gurbakhash Singh. This Committee, later, called a Sarbat Khalsa gathering for November 15-16, 1920. A Hukamnama, signed by Dr. Gurbakhash Singh, a member of the ad-hoc Committee, was issued. (This Hudamnama wa not issued by Jathedar Teja Singh Bhucher, the Jathedar of the Jahta appointed to take care of Akal Takht Sahib on October 12, 1920). Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha published his encyclopedic work, Mahan Kosh in 1930. He did not even mention anything such as the Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib.
Even after 1920 or 1925 of even 1947, the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib, (though the term Jathedar was being used by the leaders of the SGPC and the other officials) was not known to be any specific entity. When on November 29, 1961, the Panj Piaray gave their verdict from Akal Takht Sahib against Master Tara Singh, Fateh Singh ect., the so-called Jathedar came to be known as something extraordinary. When on October 2, 1962, the Fateh Singh group wrested the control of the S.G.P.C. from the Master Tara Singh, Jathedar Achchhar Singh, the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib resigned his position to protest against the mismanagement of the affairs of Darbar Sahib and the other shrines. No one bothered about the institution of the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib. No one reacted when Sadhu Singh Bhaura, who had been defeated in the S.G.P.C. elections, was appointed as so called Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib. It was not only on September 26, 1979, when Jathedar Jagdev Singh Talwandi and Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra approached Akal Takht Sahib for settlement of the internal affairs of the Akali Dal, that the so called Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib came to be known as some "extra special" entity. Since then the caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib has been considered as an officer, who is a sort of object of fear (like a Mafia boss or even a monster) for every Sikh. It was the promotion of fascism. It was and it is utterly in contradiction to the Sikh ideology.
Akal Takht Sahib is the Throne of the Almighty. It is supreme-most seat of the Sikh nation and all those who choose to owe their allegiance to this Throne. Akal Takht Sahib is not an ordinary shrine. It is not an organization. A Jathedar means the chief of the President of the leader of a Jatha (band) of an organization. Hence the term Jathedar is a misnomer. There can be a "caretaker" of Akal Takht Sahib of there can be a Jathedar of Sarbat Khalsa (the Sikh Commonwealth). He must represent the whole of the Sikh nation. He must have the confidence of the whole of the Sikh nation. It implies that he should be SELECTED through the consensus of the whole of the Sikh nation. The proper course to SELECT the Jathedar of the Sarbat Khalsa or the "caretaker" of Akal Takht Sahib, is to convene a Sarbat Khalsa. It should be a gathering of representatives of all Sikh organization and Sikh intellectuals (who consider themselves as the subjects of , and owe their loyalty solely to, Akal Takht Sahib). The S.G.P.C. represents the Sikh nation with regard to the management of the Sikh shrines and on this issue it is supreme. None can challenge S.G.P.C.'s jurisdiction in the case of the management of the Sikh shrines. But, the S.G.P.C. is not the Sarbat Khalsa for the purpose of the selection of the "Jathedar of the Sarbat Khalsa" or for the appointment/selection of the "caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib". This Sewadar must be selected by way of a Gumatta of the Sarbat Khalsa. The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib can be named as Mukh Sewadar (chief attendant) or Sarbrah (manager) or Nigran (custodian) or Safir (ambassador) of Bulara (spokesman) or Diwan (a sort of minister). I will suggest the term Mukh Sewadar in Punjabi and "caretaker" in English.
The caretaker of Akal Takht Sahib is not a monarch, nor is he like the President (as in the USA), nor is the Pontiff (like Catholic Pope). He is just a speaker, a spokesman, an attendant. He is not a dicator. He can not issue Hukamnamas as a per his whims of his will. He can issue the Gurmattas of the Sarbat Khalsa as the Hudamnamas of Akal Takht Sahib. The issues of the petition of the persons excommunicated from the Sikh Panth, the cases of punishment must be considered by the Sarbat Khalsa. There can be a "standing committee", which should consist of the representatives of the organizations which are loyal to Akal Takht Sahib, plus a few Sikh intellectuals (to be coopted by these representatives). The members of this "standing committee" shall continue to be members of the Committee as long as they have the confidence of their organizations as well as the Sikh nation. Even these members shall not be consider themselves as some authority. They are the Sewadars of the Sikh nation. For the local issue, the petitions may be decided by Panj Piaray.
Article by : Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer International Director Guru Nanak Institute of Sikh Studies, England Former Director Sikh History Research Board & the Sikh Reference Library