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Miri Piri

The words “miri and piri” in Sikh tradition are used in reference to the temporal and spiritual components of life. The term, Miri Piri represents, for Sikhs, the basic principle that has influenced their political thought and governed their social structure, political behaviour, organisation, leadership and politics since the origin of the concept by Guru Hargobind Sahib JI (1595 – 1644) who, unlike his five predecessors, adopted a princely style right from the time of his installation in 1606 as the sixth Guru or prophet mentor of the Sikhs, when as part of the investiture he wore on his person two swords, one representing Miri (political) command of the community and Piri with pin, spiritual leadership.

Background

For this reason, the term “Miri Piri da Malik” or “master of worldly matters as well as their spiritual matters” refers to a person who has the wisdom to excel in both the material and spiritual domains. This correlation between the mundane and spiritual had in fact been conceptualized in the teachings of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev Ji in (1469-1539). God is posited by Guru Nanak Dev Ji as the Ultimate Reality. He is the Creator, the ultimate ground of all that exists. Man according to Guru Nanak Dev Jiis the creation of God, who carries a small spark of the Ultimate Soul – a little photon of His Own Light. How does man fulfil himself in this world which, again, is posited as a reality? Not by withdrawal or renunciation, but, as says Guru Nanak Dev Ji in a hymn in the measure Ramkali, by “battling in the open field with one’s mind perfectly in control and with one’s heart poised in love all the time” (GG,93l).

Balance between Material and spiritual

Thus worldly structures; the family, the social and economic systems were brought within the religious domain. Along with the transcendental vision, concern with existential reality was part of Guru Nanak’s intuition. His sacred verse reveals an acute awareness of the ills and errors of contemporary society. Equally telling was his opposition to oppressive State structures. He frankly censured the high handedness of the kings and the injustices and inequalities which permeated the system.

The community that grew from Guru Nanak’s message had a distinct social entity and, under the succeeding Gurus, it became consolidated into a distinct political entity with features not dissimilar to those of a political state: for instance, its geographical division into manjis or dioceses each under a masand or the Guru’s representative, new towns founded and developed both as religious and commercial centres, and an independent revenue administration for collection of tithes. The Guru began to be addressed by the devotees as sachchd pdtsdh (true king).

Explanations in the Holy Granth

Bards Balvand and Satta, contemporaries of Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606), sing in their hymn preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib the praise of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in kingly terminology. “He constructed the castle of truth on firm foundation, established his kingdom and had the (royal) umbrella unfurled over Lahina’s (Guru Arigad’s) head” (GG, 966). The execution in 1606, of Guru Arjan Dev ji , Nanak V, under the orders of Emperor Jaharigir, marked the Mughal authority’s response to a growing religious order asserting the principles of freedom of conscience and human justice. The event led to Guru Arjan Dev ji’s young successor Guru Hargobind Sahib JI, Nanak VI, formally to adopt the emblems of authority.

The significance of twin concepts

In front of the holy Harimandar Sahib JI , he constructed the Akal Takhat, throne (takht) of the Timeless One {Akal). Here he went through the investiture ceremony for which he put on a warrior’s accoutrement with two swords symbolizing assumption of the spiritual office as well as the control of secular affairs for the conduct of which he specifically used this new seat. He also raised an armed force and asked his followers to bring him presents of horses and weapons.

This was a practical measure undertaken for the defence of the nascent community’s right of freedom of faith and worship against the discriminatory religious policy of the State. To go by the tradition preserved in Sikhdn di Bhagat Maid ascribed to Bhai Mani Singh and in Gurbilas Chhevm Patshahi, Guru Arjan himself had encouraged the military training of his son, Hargobind Sahib Ji , and other Sikhs.

The need to protect both these fronts

By founding the Akal Takht and introducing soldierly style, Guru Hargobind Sahib JI institutionalized the concept of Miri and Piri. His successors continued to function as temporal as well as spiritual heads of the community although there were no open clashes with the State power as had occurred during his time.

Guru Har Rai Ji, Nanak VII, tried to help the liberal prince Dara Shukoh against his fanatic younger brother, Aurangzeb. To checkmate Emperor Aurangzeb’s policies of religious monolithism, Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib Ji  toured extensively in the countryside exhorting the populace to discard fear and stand up boldly to face oppression. He himself set an example by choosing to give away his life to uphold human freedom and dignity.

The Finishing touches

The blending of Miri and Piri was conmmated by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib JI  in the creation of the Khalsa Panth, sovereign both religiously and political ending the personal Guruship before he died, he bestowed the stewardship of the community on the Khalsa functioning under the guidance of the Divine Word inscribed in the [Guru Granth Sahib ji]], in perpetuity. The popular slogan, “The Khalsa shall (ultimately) rule and none shall defy” is attributed to him; so are the slogans, ‘Without state power dharma can’t flourish (and) without dharma all (social tribes) gets crushed and trampled upon;” and “No one gifts away power to another; whosoever gets it gets it by his own strength.”

Combination of Miri and Piri does not envisage a theocratic system of government. Among the Sikhs, there is no priestly hierarchy. Secondly, as is evidenced by the Khalsa rule in practice, first briefly under Banda Singh Bahadur and later under the Sikh misls and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the form of government established was religiously neutral. Religion representing Piri did provide moral guidance to the State representing Miri, and the State provided protection and support equally to the followers of different faiths. Along with the liberation of the individual soul, the Sikh faith seeks the betterment of the human state as a whole by upholding the values of freedom of belief and freedom from oppressive authority, of man over man. Religious faith is the keeper of human conscience and the moral arbiter for guiding and regulating the exercise of political authority which must defend and ensure freedom of thought, expression and worship. This juxtaposition of the moral and secular obligations of man is the central point of the Sikh doctrine of Miri-Piri.

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