Saturday, 24 January 2009
Historical Dictionary of Sikhism (Second Edition) by W.H. Mcleod
The Historical Disctionary of Sikhism by W.H Mcleod (Scarecrow Press) provides useful information on the Sikh's in a user-friendly style that will appeal to a wide range of readers. The book is divided into three main sections, the first begins with a map of the Punjab, India, a 'family tree' of some of the Gurus, and a chronological timeline. It then gives an abbreviated outline of the teachings of the Gurus, several paragraphs on Sikh identity, and a brief discussion of two contrasting approaches to history. The map would benefit from an explanation, since Punjab has been repeatedly truncated and its boundaries redrawn. In 1947, half of Punjab went into creating Pakistan; from the remaining part in India, two other states - Himachal Pardesh and Haryana - have since been carved out. Although a good attempt at explaining important Sikhs, the book does have flaws, for instance Guru Gobind Singh is portrayed as 'the leader of his Sikhs, fighting to sustain his position as the ruler of a small Shivalik principality!' this would make him seem like some petty warlord instead of a Guru! His four sons were martyrs also, but McLeod's description sounds as if the older two sons were killed running away instead of defending Chamkaur in battle. The dictionary would have benefited with information on the younger two sons, who even as small children seven and eight years old, were willing to be martyred rather than accept Islam. A continuously held and deeply loved belief that permeates Sikhism is that in 1699, five Sikhs (Panj Piarey) were the first to accept initiation in the Khalsa, and that Guru Gobind Singh himself accepted initiation from their hands. Hew McLeod elides by this very significant point. This is as if in a presentation on Christianity, one were to ignore the detail of crucifixion because not all the facts may be historically clear. However it is not without its good points such as, for instance, entiries on 'Gender' and the 'Gender of God' are excellent and good commentaries on the unequivocal Sikh ideal of gender equality, and the actual practice that varies considerably from it. Another example of this is 'Sikh Architecture,' a short, but tantalizing, note on its distinctive style. The development and sentiment for a Sikh 'Nanakshahi' calendar also finds a well-deserved space. The author, W.H. Mcleod has gained a p.hD from SOAS, London and went to Batala to teach English, whilst there he learnt Gurmukhi and studied the sikh scriptures.