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Journal Article

History in the Sikh Past

Anne Murphy
History and Theory
Vol. 46, No. 3 (Oct., 2007), pp. 345-365
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4502263
Page Count: 21
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History in the Sikh Past
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Abstract

This article offers a reading of an early eighteenth-century Punjabi text-Gur Sobha or "The Splendor of the Guru"-as a form of historical representation, suggesting reasons for the importance of the representation of the past as history within Sikh discursive contexts. The text in question provides an account of the life, death, and teachings of the last of the ten living Sikh Gurus or teachers, Guru Gobind Singh. The article argues that the construction of history in this text is linked to the transition of the Sikh community at the death of the last living Guru whereby authority was invested in the canonical text (granth) and community (panth). As such a particular rationale for history was produced within Sikh religious thought and intellectual production around the discursive construction of the community in relation to the past and as a continuing presence. As such, the text provides an alternative to modern European forms of historical representation, while sharing some features of the "historical" as defined in that context. The essay relates this phenomenon to a broader exploration of history in South Asian contexts, to notions of historicality that are plural, and to issues particular to the intersection of history and religion. Later texts, through the middle of the nineteenth century, are briefly considered, to provide a sense of the significance of Gur Sobha within a broader, historically and religiously constituted Sikh imagination of the past.

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