Hukamnama: THE EDICT Fundamental Tradition and History

The word Hukamnama is a combination of ‘Hukam’ and ‘Nama’. ‘Hukam’ alludes to ‘permission’, ‘proclamation’, ‘Judgment’, ‘immortal decree’, ‘a corrective’ and the ‘Nama’ means ‘personally addressed’ or a ‘written Letter’. As such , Hukamnama is that written letter which is addressed as an ‘Order’. In general parlance, we can say that Hukamnama is that written order which is obligatory to acquiesce, which cannot be ignored.
During the time period of Gurus, whatever the letters were sent to the Sikhs, those were deemed as Hukamnamas. Revered Mata Sundri Ji also used to issue Hukamnamas to the Sikhs. Under administrative code of Guru-Panth, issue of Hukamnama has been in practice from the four (now Five) Takhats – the Seats of Soverginity – and are in vogue even now.
The above –quoted definition by Bhai Khan Singh Nabha makes it clear that during the Guru-period whatever the letters the Guru sent to various congregations or prominent Sikhs can be termed as Hukamnamas. After the eternal passing away of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, a few letters written by Mata Sundari Ji are available which are termed as Hukamnamas. Bhai Khan Singh, in the above reference, has acquiesced to the idea of issuing Orders from the Takhats - the Sovereign Seats – on behalf of Guru-Panth, but the utterance made by Giani Lal Singh is also worth consideration that no communication made under the name of any saint, priest or some revered person can be deemed as Hukamnama. Even the attendants, officials or priests also cannot issue any order at their own until these are approved by ‘Five Chosen Ones’ – the Panj Pyaras – through the congregation, and the same has been duly discussed for its purpose. Its assemblage is essential at any of the Five Takhats. Any order issued in contrariness to the Guru’s ideology cannot be taken as Hukamnama.
Giani Lal Singh (Sangrur) writes at another reference that “whosoever the Guru offered or sent Appreciation letter was deemed as Hukamnama”.
The references made by Giani Lal Singh bear testimony to the fact that, on one side, those Appreciation letters be also deemed as Hukamnamas that were given by Guru Devoted Sikhs, and, in the second order those are also Hukamnamas which have been issued on behalf of ‘Five Chosen Ones’ in the light of Guru ideology and in presence of congregation from any of the Five Takhats - the sovereign Seats, But no individual person in prominence as authority to issue any Hukamnama.
Under light of the opinions given by Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha and Giani Lal Singh (Sangrur), two things become clear in the form of Ideology. (1) During the Guru’s period the Guru Sahibans have been issuing Edicts to their devoted Sikhs and congregations, their subjects could be any. (2) Issuing of Edicts form the Takhats is the Panth-approved tradition but the authorized persons for this purpose are only the ‘Five Beloved’ representatives of Guru-Panth, not any other person in particular.
These days, of course, some intellectuals express such views as a Hukamnama can only be from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is true that in Sikh ideology that whatever the recitation we make from the Granth at the time of opening or conclusion of a function, the same is termed as Hukam - the order, in compliance with the Sikh Code of Conduct, the opening of Sri Guru Granth Sahib must be made after due approbation and one Shabad (the holy word) be read out from the Granth. The congregation acquiesce this Shabad as ‘Order’ of the Satguru.
In the text of the Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions, the proper mode of seeking this Order has also been described. While taking of seeking this Order has also been described. While taking the Order, the Shabad in the continuation on the top of left page be read from its beginning from the previous page, the leaf be turned and the Shabad be read in complete. If it is a Vaar, then all the Saloks and the Pauri be read in total. The Shabad be concluded where the ‘Nanak’ name occurs.
Similarly, the congregation accepts the Shabad as Order which is read at the time of opening of the Granth or conclusion of a function, and it ought to be obeyed. But it is not appropriate to mix or compare the Orders issued by the Gurus or the ‘Guru-Panth’ at times and the order read out from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Shabad read out as Order from Sri Guru Granth Sahib has its own dignity and importance. But the Orders issued at times on behalf of the Gurus and the Guru-Panth were primarily proclaimed in presence of the ‘Guru’ and secondly these Edicts have religious and historical importance, which shall ever continue, and which we ought not neglect or ignore in anyway.
Hukamnama is not merely a scared letter related with Sikh religious philosophy, but this is the certified historical document of a contemporary period wherefrom we get full information about historical names, places and various objects. Much is learnt about the various aspects of preaching and expansion of Sikhism from the Edicts written to the Sikh masses at different times. Hukamnamas – the Edicts – issued by the Gurus are the most valuable documents of Guru’s Ideology. A Gursikh’s adoration is with the Guru, and he craves to relish the Guru-blessed ideology heart and soul. This is the reason that every Gursikh deems it his good luck to have glimpse of the Hukamnamas issued by the revered Gurus from time to time. But the Hukamnamas, being in limited number, are not within the reach of every Gursikh, though Dr. Ganda Singh, S. Shamsher Singh Ashok and Dr. Fauja Singh have made efforts to compile the available Hukamnamas in the form of Books, but even these books are not within the extent of everyone.
Reverence regarding the Hukamnamas-the Edicts- issued by the Gurus has ever been and ever shall be intact. When an envoy reached the station of a religious congregation with the Guru’s directive - the Edict or Hukamnama, the whole gathering welcomed him and respectful standing posture to receive the Edict. Thereafter, he came in the gathering with the document placed on his head, and then he read it out to them all. Normally, the headman preserved the document most reverentially with his own self or at an especially secure place in the Gurdwara, and made it available for show to the religious gatherings on special occasions. Every Gursikh submitted to the Guru’s written message heart and soul, and deemed contribution in its compliance as his religious duty.
In the light of Guru’s Ideology, a person is regarded wise, learned, respectable and worthy of reverence who lives his life under humble submission to the Guru’s Order. The scared hymns show us a hint in the direction:

Soi Siana so patwana, hukam(u) lagai jis(u) mitha jio (SGGS, p. 108)

Bhai Gurdas JI has a dictum to say that a Gursikh’s doing lies in submission to Guru’s Order:

Gursikhi da karm eho, gur furmae Gursikh karna (Var 28, Pauri 10)

Should we observe canonically, a Gursikh is accountable in obeisance only to Sri Guru Granth Sahib. A Hukamnama - an Edict – is an Order; whatever it is issued by the Guru, or under Guru’s Permission by the ‘Five Chosen Ones’ as representatives of the ‘Guru-Panth’ from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib .
Related with the Edicts – the Hukamnamas – issued during Guru-period, we have received three books which needed deliberation:
1. Hukamname (Guru Sahiban, Mata Sahiban, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Khalsa Ji) Edited by Ganda Singh and Published by Punjabi University Patiala in May 1967.
2. Neesaan Te Hukamname- Edited by S. Shamsher Singh Ashok and published by Sikh History Research Board in October 1967.
3. Hukamname (Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib)- Edited by Dr. Fauja Singh and Published by Punjabi University. (This book contains Hindi-English translation of 22 Hukamnamas by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib and these are included on the books already published through Dr. Ganda Singh and S. Shamsher Singh Ashok.
In the book Hukamname edited by Dr. Ganda Singh, there are 99 Hukamname and neesaan in total. These comprise two by Guru hargobind Sahib, one by Guru Harkrishan, twenty-two by Guru Tegh bahadur Sahib and thirty-four by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
Beside the Gurus, there are one Hukamnama by Baba Gurditta Ji and nine each by Mata Sundri Ji and Mata Sahib Devan. Likewise, there are Hukamnamas one of each from Khalsa Ji and Takhat Harimandir Ji, Patna Sahib.
But Dr. Ganda Singh has given Neesaan also under the Hukamname title. These Neesaans comprise one by Guru Arjan Dev Ji, two by Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, one by Guru Har Rai Sahib and one Neesaan each by Guru Tegh Bahadur, and Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
Again, under detail of the Hukamnamas, Dr. Ganda Singh has made a mention of one Neesaan per name of Guru Har Rai Sahib. But on the next page, it has been entered as Hukamnama:
Only one Hukamnama by Guru Har Rai sahib was found, which was written per name of the Sangat of Pattan.
There lies difference between Hukamnama and Neesaan. Hukamnama indicates compliance of a written Order whereas Neesaan is certification of some particular object or Order as being valid. Neesaan in its literal content means a sign or seal that connotes to the distinct identity of a status person.
Dr. Ganda Singh himself in the book make a reference to the distinct Neesaan on the Hukamnamas issued by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. This way the seal mark - Neesaan – on the Hukamnama is an indication that certifies the validity of the document.
Along with the Orders proclaimed by the Gurus or under due sanction of the Gurus or the Hukamnamas issued by prominent persons have been included in this book which enjoy approval historically but a question arises if some distinct individual is authorized to issue a Hukamnama; especially after Guru Gobind Singh Ji when he bestowed Guruship upon ‘Guru-Panth’.
Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor, announced his religious policy in 1699 and made proclamation of his strict and dogmatic order against the non-Muslims because of which a wave of terror spread all over the country. These orders meant demolishing the historical Hindu temples and Schools of non-Muslims, restricting construction of new temples and schools and urging many more curbs.
From this mention made by Dr. Fauja Singh, one thing is evident that the contemporary Mughal Emperors were intent upon making India a Muslim empire and thus were proclaiming royal orders to demolish temples, gurdwaras and schools of the non-Muslims and putting restrictions on opening new ones. As a natural course against it, the non-Muslim people must be writing letters to their religio-brethren to safeguard their religio-beliefs which the committed people accepted as ‘Order’. We have been getting similar orders since Guru-period, and then from Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and thereafter from prominent Gursikhs. However, Dr. Ganda Singh has done a great service by including the Orders – the Hukamnamas – issued after the Guru-period in this book which testifies the fact that the tradition of issuing Hukamnamas has remained ever in practice. In line with such a community tradition, Hukamnamas of ‘Khalsa Ji’ along with other Hukamnamas issued from Takhat patna Sahib have been included in this book. It is worth menton that the Hukamnama per name of ‘Khalsa Ji’ was issued from sri Akal Takhat Sahib. Even in twentieth century, issuing of Hukamnamas on important Historical events from the sovereign seats of Khalsa community has remained in practice. But Dr. Ganda Singh has not included these Hukamnamas in this book. It may be kept in memory that in 1967, when this book was published, many important Hukamnamas had already been issued till the from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib Amritsar.
In like manner, the Hukamnamas issued from Takhat harmandir Ji Patna Sahib bear names of a few Singh’s issuing the Edicts. These names includes mahants, pujaris, ardasiye and officials and, as such the practice bears prrof to the fact that tradition of issuing Hukamnamas from the Takhats was there:
Neesaan te Hukamname, the book edited by S. Shamsher Singh Ashok contains 122 Neesaans and Hukamnamas. As is clear from the title of the book, Ashok has made a difference between Neesaan and Hukamnama, Neesaan means Guru’s Signature as seal and Hukamnama is another name given to ‘a letter of message’ or ‘a letter of permission’.
Many Neesaans and Hukamnamas have been repeated in the book of Dr. Ganda Singh and S. Shamsher Singh Ashok. The book edited by S. Shamsher Singh Ashok contains two Neesaans by Guru Arjan Dev, two Neesaans and three Hukamnamas by Guru Hargobind Sahib, three Neesaans by Guru Har Rai, one Neesaan and one Hukamnama by Guru Harkrishan ji, seven Neesaans and thirty Hukamnamas by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, fourteen Neesaans and thirty-one Hukamnamas by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. In addition, we have the documents related with baba Gurditta Ji, Mata Gujri Ji, Mata Sundri Ji, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Baba Sahib Singh Bedi, four Hukamnamas of the Takhats and two leaves of Sri Dasam Granth. In this way, there are 29 Neesaans, 91 Hukamnamas and photo copy of two leaves of the ancient Dasam Granth in his book.
A good number of Neesaans and Hukamnamas are contained in the books edited by Dr. Ganda Singh and S. Shamsher Singh Ashok. Of course, some slight difference is there. S. Shamsher Singh Ashok has included four Hukamnamas issued from the Takhats. This supports the tradition of issuing Hukamnamas from the Takhats at times. The book by S. Shamsher Singh Ashok was published in 1967, but he has not included the Hukamnamas issued from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib in twentieth century. It can elude the fact that these two scholars have published only the hand-written manuscripts of the Hukamnamas and must have kept their work limited to this extent only.
If we make a serious look at the Hukamnamas included in these books, we observe the fact that the Hukamnamas issued or written before 1691 A.D. bear no reference of date. But the Hukamnamas written after 1691 A.D. bear date as well as the number of the lines of the Hukamnama in the end. Many of the Hukamnamas begin with permission of the Guru and bear the Neesaan mark/seal. The Hukamnamas issued during the time of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur bear the stamp also.
Describing the importance of Hukamnamas, Dr. Ganda Singh writes: “As personal letters prove to be the best source material for scientific research, similarly these Hukamnamas work as unique reservoir of the most valuable rudimentary stuff for religious, political and social activities for it. Submitting to the Guru-Order, the Sikh masses used to collect and send provisions, money and tithe for the Guru – abode – the Gurdwaras. The process helped diminish the distance and consolidate the affinity. Through Hukamnamas only preparations were made for religious crusade and demands were sent for weapons, financial offerings, Horses and elephants and riders also.
Also, the Hukamnamas have been simple, straight and dependable media for making contacts with the Sikh congregations. Through Hukamnamas only, the Gursikh masses used to be informed of the decisions taken on behalf of the Guru-Ghar. For example, information regarding banishment of Masand tradition and bestowing of Khalsa image to the Sikh congregation could be available from the Hukamnamas only issued by Guru Ji. These Hukamnamas conveyed important information to the Sikh congregations such as to reach the Guru-place or celebration of Gurpurabs and delinking of relations with Masands.

With Thanks From "Edicts of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib" written by S. Roop Singh, Secretary S.G.P.C