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Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : Mud
Date: 7/25/2004 12:26 am

I don't know how many of you have looked at the "Early Accounts" section of sikhcybermuseum.org, but it has some very interesting letters early Europeans wrote about us (Sikhs). We are talking about Pre-Maharaja Ranjit Singh accounts by Europeans here and of course they are very interesting to read.

By in large these European accounts are pretty much right on the mark as far as describing our ancestors. The Europeans make small mistakes here and their but by in large I found that they were pretty much accurate, except one thing: Diet.

The diet of our ancestors was apparently way different than what it is now, at least according to European accounts. Let's jump right in and observe some of the writing and lets try and clarify this up for each other and come to the root of this issue.

Here is an excerpt titled "The Sieks" written by a Major Polier in 1776:

"As for the Seikhs, that formidable aristocratic republick, I may safely say, it is only so to a weak defenceless state, such as this is. It is properly the snake with many heads. Each zemindar who from the Attock to Hansey Issar, and to the gates of Delhi lets his beard grow, cries Wah gorow, eats pork, wears an iron bracelet, drinks 'bang', abominates the smoking of tobacco..."

First lets look at what they got correct:

1. "lets his beard grow"
2. "cries Wah gorow"
3. "wears an iron bracelet"
4. "abominates the smoking of tobacco"

and what they get wrong:

1. "eats pork"
2. "drinks 'bang'"

Pork? Weed?

Here is another example, this time written by Polier and a Mr. George Forster. It is titled "A Character Of The Sieks":

"The food of the Sieks is of the coarsest kind, and such as the poorest people in Hindustan use from necessity. Bread baked in ashes, and soaked in a mash made of different sorts of pulse, is the best dish, and such as they never indulge in but when at full leisure; otherwise vetches and tares, hastily parched, is all they care for. They abhor smoking tobacco, for what reasons I cannot discover, but intoxicate themselves freely with spirits of their own country manufacture: a cup of the last they never fail taking after a fatigue at night."

Does anyone know what this "Bread baked in ashes, and soaked in a mash made of different sorts of pulse," is? It sure doesn't sound like Rotee that we eat today. Also does anyone know what "vetches and tares" are?

They use some antiquated grammar and diction, so maybe I am wrong, but is it correct to interpret this as drinking alcohol: "but intoxicate themselves freely with spirits of their own country manufacture"?

They also go on to say:

"A Siek, who in the chase shall have slain a wild hog, is frequently known to compel the first Mohammedan to meet to carry to his home the body of the animal; and, on being initiated into the rites of their religion, the Sieks will sometimes require Mohammedan convert to bind on his arm the tusk of a bore, that by this act of national impurity he may more avowedly testify a renunciation and contempt of his former faith. The facts sufficiently mark the haughty and insulting demeanour, which, with few deviations, forms a prominent feature in the character of the military Sieks : but we may also ascribe a certain portion of their severe and contumelious treatment of Mohammedans to a remembrance of recent injuries."

Anyone have any comments on this? Heard anything like this before?

In another letter titled "OBSERVATIONS ON THE SIKHS" by Polier and Forster they write:

"The Seicks do not seem to be at all rigorous in their requisitions from Mussulmen Proselytes, who, if they abstain from eating Beef Flesh, which is held in as much Abhorrence by the Seicks as by the Hindoos, they are indulged in every other article."

I am a little confused by this sentence. It uses some antiquated grammar, anyone care to translate this to modern English?

Their are some more accounts that I am almost ready to present, but it's late and I am tired. Let's get the discussion started her and I will add them as the discussion goes on.

So what do you guys think? Have you heard stories of early Sikhs (pre-Ranjit Singh) as to what their behavior was like? What do preeminent Sikh scholars have to say about these early Sikhs? Anyone have any other sources of early accounts of Sikhs? Anyone have books on Sikhs during the 1700 or 1800's?

Note: This is NOT a discussion on what Gurmat says about eating meat, I think everyone here agrees that it is against eating meat. This discussion is a historical discussion on the dietary concerns of our ancestors. Let me emphasize that this is not a discussion on Gurbani, SO I DO NOT WANT YOU QUOTING GURBANI OR REHAIT MARYADAS, THIS IS A __HISTORICAL DISCUSSION__ ON SIKHS AND THE LIFESTYLE OUR ANCESTORS LIVED, so please keep that in mind when replying. Let's work together and try and learn about the ways of our ancestors.

Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : Kulbir Singh
Date: 7/25/2004 5:41 am

If a Gora (Westerner) was to go to a typical village or city in India and visit a Sikh's house what impression would that person get? I am sure such Gora would write that all Sikhs drink liquor, trim their beards, eat meat, get up late in the morning and sleep late, have no prayer or worshipping requirements, Go to Gurdwara Sahib once a week and quickly go to the langar hall etc etc.

Now if 200 years down the road someone was to read this account, he or she is surely going to think that the puraatan Sikhs in the 21st century used to drink liquor, cut hair and trim beards, eat meat, do no paath etc.

The reality is that whether olden days or modern days, there were always only a minority of Sikhs who used to follow Gurmat to the greatest extent. It is naive to assume that every Sikh (or even majority of Sikhs) who lived during the time of Raja Ranjit Singh (early 1800s to mid 1800s) or during the Misl period (1760s to 1790s) were ideal Gursikhs. Nothing could be further from truth. We very well know that during the Misl period, the spiritual downfall of the Sikhs had started and the Sikhs had taken to comfortable living and had started compromising on Gurmat.

Despite the presence of weak Sikhs (rehit-wise) there was a strong presence of Chardi Kala waalay gursikhs who followed full rehit. Even today, there are numerous gursikhs who are very adept in following rehit and Naam.

The British accounts about Sikhs from the 18th and 19th century are based on their experiences with ordinary Sikhs who may not have been following rehit to full extent.

Kulbir Singh
Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : MS
Date: 7/25/2004 6:38 am

or even to a basic extent as in these cases
Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : Jarnail Singh Arshi Gyani
Date: 7/25/2004 9:39 pm

Waheguru ji ak khalsa waheguru ji ki afeth.

yes personal experiences at the most. in fact history itself is a personal view of things and happenings by the writer....each writer "sees" the same event differently according to hsi religion, race, background etc.

we can see that muslim historians call sikhs "dogs" (sugg)...but is then "forced" to call them "lions" in the next few lines . He calls them dogs because he hates their guts for defeating the muslims...but then the honest "historian" in him gets the better of him ( his muslim religion) and he rephrases the word dog to lion because deep down he knows thats what the sikhs really are.

anyone going into a typical punjabi village today would see 'sikhs" clean shaven, no dastaar, smoking or even doing drugs, gambling at cards drinking home made alcohol... waht would a histroian write about modern sikhs in punjab ??

dass jarnail singh
Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : Amandeep
Date: 7/26/2004 2:46 am

Polier was no fan of the Sikhs, he frequently uses quite insulting language when describing the Sikhs. More importantly he only saw sikhs in a political context, he wanted to known why they were frustrating Shah Alum's baggage trains and how these people were grabbing power as Mughal pre-eminence was waning in the Punjab. Most importantly, he did not attempt to understand the religious or spiritual roots of sikhism. As previously mentioned he only reflected what he saw. He is, however, not alone with many other contemporaries pointing out exactly the same observations.

On another point about diet. The ingredients used in today's Punjabi cooking are a world away from the ingredients available during the Guru's days. For example tomatoes, garlic, chillies and potatoes were innivations bought from the 'New World' and were only availabel in north india from about the 17th-18th century. So the food that was available at the time of (the early Gurus) would have been made without tomatoes and spiced with only pepper and ginger - nothing hotter

Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : daas
Date: 7/26/2004 12:51 pm

Is there a reason why in Banda Singh Bahadur's hukamnama he tells teh Khalsa not to eat onions?
Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : Mkhalsa
Date: 7/26/2004 2:30 pm

garlic and onions can make one thirsty and have a dry mouth. if someone intends to do akhand patt etc it is best to avoid eating them before doing it.
Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : singh
Date: 7/26/2004 3:06 pm

but if the sikhs he observed were not religious then how come they "cried Wah gorow" (haha)

Re: Early accounts of Sikh diet
Posted by : Bhujang fauj
Date: 7/26/2004 3:54 pm

Garlic has natural antibiotic properties which help the immune system.
If you eat wild garlic it even helps open clogged arteries, there have been various trials on people in switzerland, which proved garlic is good for the heart.