Sketches From Sikh HIstory, by Puran Singh
This is not a very good book, unfortunately. It is mercifully short, at less than 150 pages, but it is not a very accomplished effort. It is easy to see what the author is trying to do here, and to respect the intention of the work. These sketches from Sikh history seek to present the gurus of the Sikh faith as being followers of God with a great deal of enlightenment and to present the struggles the Sikh people and their leaders had to face in the latter stages of the Mogul Empire as being noble martyrdom worthy of the respect of the West. There is in here a sort of ecumenical appeal that wishes to view the Sikh as being on the level of faiths as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism as being important to know and to regard on a global level. The author, moreover, attempts to portray faith as being more a matter of mystical relationships rather than ancestral identity, and engages in some comparative religious discussion that seeks to put Sikh on an equal and level playing field with much larger and better-known religious traditions that the author appears to view with at least some respect.
Even if one is not an ecumenical person, and I am not, the intentions of this book are easy enough to praise. The fault, as is usually the case, is in the execution of this book’s intentions. The author rambles on about points that have little to do with Sikh history and more to do with a philosophy of history that the author seeks to adopt in order to legitimize the history of the Sikh. There is a discussion of the supposed enlightenment of the sages of the Sikh faith, of the martyrdom that they suffered, and of the struggles of the small Sikh community to grow and to maintain its faith. At best, the most enjoyable parts of this book are biographies of important people in Sikh history, but this book is not properly a work of history as much as it is an act of philosophizing in a way that is not as enjoyable to read as it could have been. It is unclear whether there are many works on Sikh history that exist; I have seldom come across them and this is not an example worth recommending to others. Hopefully others have done the job better, even if this was an early effort from a bit more than a century ago.