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The predicament of the Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier): theorising violence in the Sikh tradition

Hegarty, James ORCID: 2020. The predicament of the Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier): theorising violence in the Sikh tradition. Power, Maria and Paynter, Helen, eds. Violence and Peace in Sacred Texts, Palgrave Macmillan,

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This chapter explores Sikh understandings of violence and of peace. It does so by means of an exploration of important Sikh texts, both canonical and non-canonical, as well as key historical moments, from the earliest period of Sikh tradition to the present day. The texts considered include the foundational Sikh text, the Guru Granth Sahib, as well as the Dasam Granth (a compilation of Sikh texts created by, and with, the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh), and a range of hagiographical sources (which take up the lives, in particular, of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh), and, finally, the Rahit-Nama, or Sikh manuals of conduct, which circulate from the Eighteenth Century onwards. It explores the development, in particular, of the idea of martyrdom (śahādat) in these sources, considering, as it does so, the danger of anachronism and retrojection in relation both to this concept and to broader understandings of the titular sant-sipahi of this paper. Emphasis is placed on the role of self-sacrifice and selfless action in the development of Sikh understandings of human action and consequently of violence. Moving from canonical and authoritative texts, the paper will take up contemporary internet and media sources (from Sikhiwiki to, as well as, The Sikh Channel, and the web presence of the Sikh Council UK), which express or explore Sikh perspectives on violence and peace (and which have provided a lens through which earlier texts have been read both by Sikhs and commentators on Sikh tradition). In terms of historical events, the martyrdom of the Gurus, Arjan (1563-1606) and Hargobind (1594-1644), as well as the foundation of the ‘militaristic’ religious order of the Khalsa at the very close of the Seventeenth Century are explored. These events are shown to have had a shaping influence on subsequent attitudes to the necessity of violence, and the possibility of peace, within Sikh traditions, but, equally, have also been codified and adapted to historic and contemporary concerns; a received narrative has emerged of heroic resistance in Sikh tradition, which verges, occasionally, on a debilitating, or at least delimiting, stereotype. This brings us to a consideration of the impact of British colonial understandings of the Sikhs as a ‘martial race’ and the, sometimes uneasy, relationship between Sikhs and the modern Indian nation state. The overarching argument of the chapter is that the relationship between theory (be it ethico-legal or narrative) and practice is, in Sikh tradition, as elsewhere, demonstrably two way. It further suggests that this dynamism can be used to facilitate intra-faith, inter-faith and even ‘extra-faith’ dialogue. The chapter concludes by reflecting upon scholarly approaches to religion more broadly especially where certain characteristics or tendencies, such as violence, are closely associated with certain religious constituencies (such as the Sikhs), but not others. In this way, the chapter shows that the perception of violence within, and concerning, Sikh traditions is an important part of the larger project of theorising religion and violence and challenging violent behavior in the contemporary world, religious or otherwise.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: In Press
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2022 10:37

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