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The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History
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Gangu Shahieh

Time of origin: mid 1500s

Gangu was a poor Khatri who came and assiduously served the third Sikh Guru, Akali Guru Amardas. He desired that the Guru set him some task, so as he may spread the universal massage of Sanatan Sikhism. One day, he went to ask the Guru to fulfill his desire.

Sri Guru Amar Das Ji
A watercolour depicting the third Sikh Guru with companion, circa mid 19th century

At the Guru’s court he saw all the rich offerings other Sikhs were making and felt embarrassed having not much to offer himself. The Guru, upon sensing the poor Sikh’s apprehension called him over, and asked him who he was. Gangu, offering his small gift told of his desire. The Guru blessed him with a ‘Manji’ of Daoo village (NB. ‘Manji’ literally referring to a bedstead, but also refers to the Sikh name given to one of the 22 regions put under charge of a ‘Masand’ (caretaker). The Masand was responsible for spreading Sikhism in his particular region). Gangu’s fame spread and his disciples came to be known as the ‘Gangu Shahieh’. On his death, Gangu’s tomb was made in the village of Kago, in the region of Doaba in the Punjab.

In the 18th century, as the Akali Nihang Singh Khalsa fought a life and death struggle against the Moghals, the Gangu Shahieh began to exploit this time for their own ends. Rattan Singh Bhangu in his ‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’, writes of how the Gangu Shahieh tried to wean Sikhs away from the Khalsa cause. It is primarily for this reason that the Akali Nihang Khalsa of the period was extremely hostile to the Gangu Shahieh. Rattan Singh records one incident concerning Akali Nihangs and Gangu Shahieh thus:

‘Between Khalsa and Gangu Shahian remained conflict.
Singh said Khalsa was winning [against Moghals], Gangi said they were loosing.
How this argument arose.
Says Rattan Singh so listen.
Those who actually witnessed this.
They have told me so.
There was one Sikh of Guru complete [an Amritdhari Khalsa].
He was married into a house hold of Gangu’s who were afar from Sikhism.
He had no shortage of wealth.
He had but one need, a son.
He was greatly prosperous.
He took ‘Dasvand’ (one tenth of income out for Khalsa Sikhism).
The Sikh and Sikhni [his wife] made a decision. Let’s invite Sikhs home and give them ‘Dasvand’.
Feed them and have them do ‘Ardas’ (prayer).
So we have a son.
Guru Gobind Singh has said so.
Whatever you desire ask of five Sikhs [Amritdhari Khalsa].
Considering a good day they made decision.
They sent a invitation to Sikhs.
They desired Sikhs to put their feet in their house.
They also called their relatives.
A year passed so the in-laws got ready.
On the way they met their Guru, Kharak Singh Gangu Shahi.
They persuaded him to come with them.
He [Kharak Singh] made them [in-laws] promise to convert their son-in-law to a Gangu Shahi.
Ahead, Mehr Singh [a Nihang from Delhi] had arrived at Singh’s house.
There were ten or so weapon-bearing Singhs with him.
When the food was ready [at that Singh’s house].
Kharak Singh came and caused a commotion.
He insisted Singh take his ‘Charan Phaul’ (initiation into Gangu Panth).
First he becomes my ‘Sikh’ [disciple] then will I eat. In that house hold the in-laws had great sway.
His [that Singh’s] wife [daughter of Gangu Shahi] spoke up [in support of Gangu Shahis].
Singh argued “I am a ‘Phaul Khandadhari’ (Amritdhari Khalsa initiated by Akali Nihang Guru Gobind Singh) from the beginning. How can I turn back after being forged [into a Khalsa warrior] by ‘Satgur’?”.
His wife said: “My parents have brought [their Guru to convert him]. I desire you bow before him [Gangu Kharak Singh]. If not I will die and haunt this house. I will ruin all that you planned”.
The woman began to be stubborn as only women can be.
The Sikh was greatly pained.
Like a snake catching hold of a ‘Chakoondar’ [mistaking it for a mouse]. (NB: In Indian thinking eating a Chakoondar makes snakes blind).
If he frees it, it is embarrassing if eaten it makes him blind. (Meaning the Singh was trapped in an impossible situation. One hand was Guru Akali Nihang Singh Khalsa on other wife and in-laws).
His father in-law also said likewise: “Take ‘Charan Phaul’ and we will stay here”.
The Sikh was in a difficult position.
He had done a good deed [inviting Khalsa] but it had turned sour.
Then the Khalsa [Akali Nihang’s] got angry [they were waiting out side whilst the arguments were going on in house].
Binding on weapons to waist they desired to fight.
Whoever lives [Nihang’s said] they can make him their Sikh.
Who is dead how can he initiate disciples?
This will be our word.
We come you [Gangu Shahi’s] get ready.
Hearing this, the in-laws with Kharak Singh [and his followers] tried to escape.
Mehr Singh stood in their way and said, “Without a fight you can not go. ”
Taking swords Singh’s stood.
Kharak Singh was once more surrounded.
Singh’s said a decision will be made one way or other today.
The fight will determine who lives and who dies.
The in-laws faces went pale.
They began to plead through others [elderly wise people of village].
Singh said: “We will now not just go. We will see how he puts down his [Kharak Singhs] bedstead [sits himself as Guru here].”
Then the wise men [of village] came and pleaded [with Akali Nihang’s] make peace here.
In another place you can go and fight each other.
That Sikh [who had invited them] and other Sikhs of village calmed down the situation.
Whoever gives him a son [villagers said] he can make him his Sikh.
Gangian [Gangu Shahi] accepted this.
They desired to save their life. We will [said Gangu’s] give him a son within a year.
That day we will initiate him [in Gangu Panth].
These words the Singhs also accepted.
They had this written down.
Then the Singhs said thus: “Listen to our words oh beloved of the Guru. This Sikh has asked for a son. We would have killed that son [born in year with blessing of Gangu’s]. But he is a Sikh in love with Sikhism but also in love with his wife. They are like half gold mixed with half sand”.
Five Singh’s [‘Farladhari’ Akali Nihangs] gathered and said focusing their minds on feet of Guru [Adi Guru Durbar/ Akali Guru Nanak Gobind Singh].
He will have a son born in the seventh month Satgur knows all.
These words the Singhs had written.
That day will come and make him a Singh.
Let the Dasvand remain in his house we will collect it day his son is born.
Who remains alive [Akali Nihangs were at war those day’s with Moghals and Afghans] out of us will come and collect Dasvand.
Both sides put every thing in writing.
Feeding both sides they were sent away.
When seven months passed a son was born to that woman.
That Sikh was very happy he had a drum beaten [to announce birth of a son].
On one hand he is happy that a son was born to him and on other hand he was happy the Guru had kept his honor.
The tenth master had kept his honor.
As the five Singhs had prayed so it came to be.
Gangu Dasian words were cut to size and the Khalsa was greatly happy.
Gained glory the Kumar [potter Sikh Akali Nihang Mehr Singh] of Delhi that day he came to collect Dasvand.’
‘Pracheen Panth Prakash’, Expunged by Bhai Vir Singh, Pa. 179-181

Akali Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj
Painting done in the Pahari style, circa late 17th century, Mandi

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