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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Guru Naak alight brighter than a thousand suns : the Sikh tradition and narratives of conversion in South Asia Grewal, Harjeet Singh


This thesis is a preliminary excursion analyzing narrative modes in janamsakhi literature of the Sikh tradition as a putative site of proselytization. Using a semiological methodology in combination with the writings of theorists on communication and reception of texts, I argue that reception of the sakhi "The Massacre of Saidpur" as found in "Janamsakhi Sri Guru Nanak Dev" (a critical edition of the B40 manuscript by Piar Singh) was meant to lead to emulatory orders of action. This sakhi depicts a meeting between the first Mughal ruler, Babar, and the first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak. The story ends with Babar becoming a follower of Guru Nanak. By contextualizing this sakhi during the period of its production in the eighteenth century, I argue that traditionally held distinctions between Khalsa and nonKhalsa Sikhs are overdetermined. Indeed, the existence of these categories may have enabled a process of conversion. Furthermore, I will examine the B40's colophon for the cultural modes and meanings that it reveals in regards to the Sikh panth's historical-cultural situation during the eighteenth century. Finally, I argue that the sakhi "The Massacre of Saidpur" has embedded within its narrative structure an implicit structure for the process of conversion that was placed there in order to signal to the audience the need for mimesis of Babar's actions. In this manner the text functions as a site of rhetoric for conversion. It is my assertion that applying theories of reception and reading elaborates the historical and cultural situation of the Sikh panth during the eighteenth century. Such an endeavor enables the 'writing-in' of cultural meanings into the metanarrative of this time in Sikh history.

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