13th January 2019   •   opinion
Why some Sikhs differ over the birth-date of Guru Gobind Singh Ji

Image: Sikh PA
Many Sikhs are split over which calendar they should use to commemorate their historical events, most notably the Gurpurabs or birth dates of the 10 Sikh Gurus.

One school of thought follows the Vikarmi lunar Calendar, where dates vary. The other follows the Nanakshai solar calendar, where dates are fixed.

The supporters of the Vikarmi calendar, which are primarily aligned with the Nirmala orientated Sikhs, emphasise the importance of tradition. They also argue that because Gurbani makes reference to dates based on the Vikarmi calendar, we have no right to reject it.

On the other hand, those advocating the Nanakshai calendar, which was adopted by the SGPC in 2002 but was later revoked, are aligned to the Singh Sabha reform movement. They emphasise the practicality of fixed dates. They also argue that the Nanakshai calendar is an expression of Sikh sovereignty and identity. Last, they claim religious legitimacy by stating it follows the 12 monthly structure that is recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib in the bani of 'Bara Maha'.

The outcome of these divisions is that major events like the birth of Guru Gobind Singh are celebrated on different days.

A significant portion of Sikhs celebrated it on 5th Jan 2019, which is the actual birth date of the Guru according to the Solar calendar.

However, other Sikhs and the Shromani Gurdwara Prabandak Committee (SGPC), which controls many historical Gurdwaras in India including the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, work from the lunar calendar and record his birth as 22nd Dec 1666. Because of minor shifts this year it falls on 13th January.

The major reason for establishing the Nanakshai Calendar was to get rid of confusion by fixing dates, but because of political and theological differences, the situation is more confused than ever.

Sikhs are not alone in this controversy

Though a neutral observer may feel astonished at why Sikhs are split on such a simple issue, the reality is that calendars have historically been divisive amongst all communities.

In 921/2 AD, a major dispute emerged amongst the Jews of Palestine and Babylon. It took 300 years to resolve.

Even today, though the Julian Gregorian calendar is based on the movements of the Sun and rooted on the birth of Christ (BC Before Christ, AD anno Domini or 'in the year of the lord') is universally recognised, Afghanistan, Iran use the Solar Hijri calnder whereas Ethiopia has its own and Nepal follows the Vikarmi calendar.

I believe we should celebrate the birth of our Gurus everyday and, according to gurmat, no one day is anymore special than any other. The only thing that really counts is the present moment of existence.

And so I say to my brothers and sisters who are celebrating today or last week, Happy Gurpurab. I would also appeal to Sikh intellectuals from both schools of thought to come together and find a solution; there is no other way forward.

Dr Gurnam Singh is Associate Professor of Social Work, Coventry University, UK and a presenter on the Akaal Channel.
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Dr Gurnam Singh is Associate Professor of Social Work, Coventry University, UK and a presenter on the Akaal Channel.
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