Maharaja Ranjit Singh listening to the two sacred Granths being recited near Sri Harimandir Sahib. (A Painting by August Theodore Schoefft (1809-1888), made in Amritsar. From Princess Bamba Collection)
Note: The following is an excerpt from a book, Sketch of the Sikhs, a singular nation in the province of Penjab,written by Sir John Malcolm* in 1812. John Malcolm’s work is one of the rarest firsthand information recorded by a western historian on the lifestyle, belief systems and traditions of the Sikhs in Punjab during the 18th century .
When Gurmata or great national council, is called, (as it always is, or ought to be, when any imminent danger threatens the country, or any large expedition is to be undertaken) all the Sikh chiefs assemble at Amritsar. The assembly, which is called the Guru-mata, is convened by the Acalis; and when the chiefs meet upon this solemn occasion, it is concluded that all private animosities cease, and that every main sacrifices his personal feelings at the shrine of the general good; and, actuated by principles of pure patriotism, thinks of nothing but the interests of the religion, and commonwealth, to which he belongs.
When the chiefs and principal leaders are seated, the Adi-Granth and Dasama Padshah ka Granth are placed before them. They all bend their heads before these scriptures, and exclaim, Wa! Guruji ka Khalsa! Wa! Guruji ki Fateh! A great quantity of cakes, made of wheat, butter, and sugar, are then placed before the volumes of their sacred writings, and covered with a cloth. These holy cakes, which are in commemoration of the injunction of Nanac, to eat and to give to others to eat, next receive the salutation of the assembly, who then rise, and the Acalis pray aloud, while the musicians play. The Acalis, then the prayers are finished, desire the council to be seated. They sit down, and the cakes being uncovered, are eaten of by all classes of Sikhs: those distinctions of original tribes, which are, on occasions, kept up, being on this occasion laid aside, in token of their general and complete union in one cause. The Acalis then exclaim: “Sirdars! (Chiefs) this is Guru-mata!” on which prayers are again said aloud. The chiefs, after this sit closer, and say to each other: “The sacred Granth is betwixt us, let us swear by our scripture to forget all internal disputes, and to be united.” This moment of religious fervor and ardent patriotism, is taken to reconcile all animosities. They then proceed to consider the danger with whcih they are threatened, to settle the best plans for averting it, and to choose the generals who are to lead their armies against the common enemy. The first Guru-mata was assembled by Guru Govinid; and the latest was called in 1805, when the British army pursued Holkar into the Penjab.
*Sir John Malcolm (May 2, 1769 ‑ 1833) was a Scottish soldier, statesman, and historian. He held various distinguished posts, being Ambassador to Persia, Resident of Gwalior (1803-1804) and Governor of Bombay 1827-1830. He was the author of several valuable works regarded as authorities, viz., Sketch of the Sikhs, a singular nation in the province of Penjab (1812), A History of Persia (1815), Memoir of Central India(1823), Political History of India from 1784 to 1823 (1826), and Life of Lord Clive (1836)