Medieval Punjab constitutes an important period for any critical analysis of debate on religion. However, the overwhelming perspective on religion in Punjab emerges out of the Tat-Khalsa trope on region’s historiography that seeks to limit region’s history between two seminal dates- from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469 to the fall of the Ranjit Singh kingdom in 1839. Explorations in the ‘Medieval’ are thus significant for a critique of existing historiography that projects backward the modern territorial and ethnic boundaries, which emerged after the reorganisation of the province in 1966, on pre-partition Punjab- hence producing narrow ethnicity-oriented discourses. These two dates are also significant points of contacts between two political milieus, first the rising predominance of Mughal authority and second the strengthening of British presence in Punjab. These two dates thus fit well in the British imperialist imagination of region’s history.
Besides, the production of Sikh nationalist history (juxtaposed with the history of the region) has been mobilized for the political present in the past several decades, and ‘shows no indication of losing a privileged discursive position in representations of and by the community’. Thus, instead of producing analytical model of discourses, linear narrative on Sikh-Mughal relations as a religious conflict, Singh Sabha and Gurdwara reform unproblematically reproduce colonial historiography, one which the scholars invariably sought to critique. Oberoi remarks that the historiography of the Sikh experience in the nineteenth century- rituals, and quotidian practices that constituted the Sikh tradition- is based on two principles, one of absence and the other of negation. Like the European, they began a journey in search of “authentic” texts so that the “correct” articles of faith could be established. Much like the European scholars or late nineteenth century Sikh reformers, contemporary scholarship either tends to ignore vast terrains of Sikh life in the nineteenth century or views it as a superfluous addition that has to be ignored. Thus, official Sikh historiography completely undermines the role that Nathpanth and Sufism play in shaping Sikh beliefs and practices, and instead ‘establishes that Sikhs were delivered from the bondage of these un-Sikh beliefs by the intervention of the late nineteenth century Singh Sabha movement’.
The Sikh literati who emerged under the shadows of the Raj were powerfully influenced by the European discourse on their religion and in due course began to exhibit a similar intolerance toward many aspects of the Sikh tradition. This discussion will seek to engage with some crucial intellectual debates between Naths, Sufis and Bhaktas (Nanak in particular) to argue that despite the polemics of philosophical abstraction, there exists a vibrant narrative thread between these three traditions which defines the contours of popular veneration in contemporary times. I also seek to argue that the evolution of Sufi and Sikh traditions in Punjab cannot be fully appreciated without understanding their dialectics with Naths and vice-versa. Further, it is only through the trope of everyday that we can appreciate the interplay of interactive traditions of medieval India in the lived trajectories of contemporary popular veneration.
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