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Sikh Militancy in the Seventeenth Century: Religous Violence in Mughal and Early Modern India

Sikh Militancy in the Seventeenth Century: Religous Violence in Mughal and Early Modern India
Hardip Singh Syan

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In the seventeenth century, the Sikh community entered into a process of militarisation which would culminate in rebellion against the Mughal Empire. Images of a despotic Mughal state, religious intolerance, vulnerable Sikhs and the idea of an inevitable Sikh 'militancy' would come to characterise the period's historiography. This book examines the development of Sikh militancy in this era, highlighting how the Sikh literati, and eventually the public, engaged with the subject of Sikh religious violence. In doing so, it fundamentally challenges the coherent grand narratives of early Sikh history. Sikh Militancy in the Seventeenth Century addresses the issue of 'doxa' in early Sikh writing and illustrates how retrospective readings have distorted the experiences of the historical Sikh community. Drawing on a range of medieval Sikh sources, it focuses on the intellectual dialogues within the community. Additionally, it attempts to embed the community within the Mughal world; assessing how far it was influenced by wider cultural, intellectual and social processes. The development of Sikh militancy in the seventeenth century was neither natural nor inevitable.Instead, a careful analysis reveals a heterogeneous community who discussed the ideas of their leaders and communally interpreted the Mughal state.

Identifying significant distinctions in the community, this work thereby questions irredentist visions of Sikh and Mughal history. Furthermore, it seeks to depict the significance of religious discourse in pre-colonial India and the capacity of historical agents to fathom 'religion'. More broadly, the study also examines the history of violence in medieval South Asia, contextualising the concepts of 'peace' and 'militancy' in medieval South Asian theology and political philosophy.

Author Info

Hardip Singh Syan has a PhD in South Asian History from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has taught and worked at the University of London, the British Museum and the Institute of Historical Research.


‘Hardip Singh Syan is concerned to go beyond the current dominant historical narrative of the shift of Sikh society from peace to militancy, and does so by revealing the role of Sikh agency in this change. Throughout, one feels one was in the company of a well-developed historical imagination, tempered by a good mind and wide-ranging acquaintance with the secondary literature. This is an outstanding piece of work, which amounts to a major contribution not just to Sikh history but also to the history of seventeenth-century India.’
Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘Through a very diligent and sensitive reading of Sikh and Mughal sources, his grounding in South Asian history and intelligent forays in intellectual history, anthropology and religion, Hardip Singh Syan produces an innovative argument which substantively reinterprets the Sikh and Mughal history of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. There is a great need for the telling of this story. In providing the answers to many of the key questions, and suggesting modes of analysis that other scholars can follow, Hardip Syan’s contribution is a great work of history.’
Sunil Kumar, Professor in the History of Medieval India, University of Delhi

‘This is the first detailed study of seventeenth-century Sikh history. Dr. Syan has done a major service to the field by filling this gap. Furthermore, the nature of research that has gone into the making of Dr. Syan’s work is outstanding – his use of primary Sikh sources, many of which are being incorporated in scholarship in English for the first time, is superb. The book expands our understanding of the period as well as contributes toward a better grasp of the way to interpret it.’
Gurinder Singh Mann, Professor of Sikh Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.
Series: Library of South Asian History and Culture

ISBN: 9781780762500
Publication Date: 29 Jan 2013
Number of Pages: 320
Height: 216
Width: 134

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