When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799

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Oxford University Press, USA, Nov 3, 2011 - History - 253 pages
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Challenging the commonly accepted belief that the distinctive rituals, ceremonies, and cultural practices associated with the Khalsa were formed during the lifetime of the Tenth and last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, Purnima Dhavan reveals how such markers of Khalsa identity evolved slowly over the course of the eighteenth century. By focusing on the long-overlooked experiences of peasant communities, she traces the multiple perspectives and debates that eventually coalesced to create a composite Khalsa culture by 1799. When Sparrows Became Hawks incorporates and analyzes Sikh normative religious literature created during this period by reading it in the larger context of sources such as news reports, court histories, and other primary sources that show how actual practices were shaped in response to religious reforms. Recovering the agency of the peasants who dominated this community, Dhavan demonstrates how a dynamic process of debates, collaboration, and conflict among Sikh peasants, scholars, and chiefs transformed Sikh practices and shaped a new martial community.

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Professor Dhavan perused the writings of authors and historian of the time of Guru Gobind Singh and a century thereafter. She concluded that the distinctive forms, symbols, rituals, ceremonies, and cultural practices that are presently associated with the Khalsa institution of the Sikhs were all neither ordained by the Guru nor observed to be practiced at the time of the Guru. In her conclusion she referred to the authors known to be closely related to the Guru and his times. She found that Khalsa symbols and religious practices specifically practiced by the Khalsa denomination of the Sikhs today took almost a century to evolve. The author took great pains in describing how various components of the Khalsa as it exists today evolved through the evolution of necessities of the difficult environment through which Sikhs had to pass during the time after the Guru. In brief, the writer reviews a dynamic and unique history that promoted the evolution of a segment of the Sikh population into the present form of Sikh institution of Khalsa.  


The Origins of the Khalsa
2 Early Narratives of the Last Guru and the Creation of the Khalsa
3 Remaking the Khalsa 17081748
Two Jassa Singhs and the Place of Sikhs in the EighteenthCentury Military Labor Market
Rebel Raja and Sikh Sardar
Raiding Honor Feuds and the Transformation of Khalsa Identity
The Affective Communities of Gurbilas Texts
8 Conclusion

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About the author (2011)

Purnima Dhavan is assistant professor of history at the University of Washington, Seattle. She has written several essays on Sikh history, gender, and literary traditions. Her next project focuses on vernacular identities and literary publics in early modern South Asia.

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