HUKAMNAMA, a compound of two Persian words hukm, meaning command or order, and ndmah, meaning letter, refers in the Sikh tradition to letters sent by the Gurus to their Sikhs or sangats in different parts of the country. Currently, the word applies to edicts issued from time to time from the five takhis or scats of high religious authority for the Sikhs tlie Akal Takht at Amritsar, Takht Sri Kesgarh at Anandpur Sahib (Punjab), Takht Harimandar Sahib at Patna (Bihar), Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib at Nanded (Maharashtra) and Takht Damdama Sahib at Talvandi Sabo (in Bathinda district of the Punjab).

Letters addressed to Sikhs by historical personages such as Baba Gurditta, the elder son of Guru Hargobind, Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Devi, widows of Guru Gobind Singh, and Banda Singh Bahadur are also included in this genre. Some of the letters of the later Gurus to sangats or prominent Sikhs have in recent years been traced and published in two collections, with most of the material common to both, the first entitled Hukamndme, edited by Ganda Singh (Patiala, Punjabi University, 1967), and the second Nisdn te Hukamndme, edited by Shamsher Singh Ashok (Amritsar, Sikh Itihas Research Board, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, 1967).

A separate anthology of Guru Tegh Bahadur`s hukamndmds, in Devanagari transcription and with an English translation, was published by Punjabi University, Patiala, in 1976. All hukamndmds were originally written in Punjabi, in Gurmukhi characters. Those of Guru Hargobind as also most of Guru Tegh Bahadur`s are believed to have been written in their own hand. It appears, however, that in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, the text was written by a scribe while the Guru put down on the top of the letter an authentication mark, an invocation or some direction.

There is a near uniformity in the format of the hukamndmds. The earlier ones bore no date; from AD 1691 onwards they were usually dated and also, at times, numbered. Later on, the practice of recording at the end of the text the number of lines in the body of the letters also came into vogue. The scribes began the text with the words, Sri Guru ji ki dgid hai (It is the order of the revered Guru, or the revered Guru desires), preceded by the formula Ik Onkar Guru Sati, later Ik Onkar Satiguru (Remember One God, the True Guru).

Banda Singh Bahadur (1670-1716), blessed by Guru Gobind Singh himself, introduced a seal in Persian script as authentication mark and recorded the initial formula to read as Ik Onkar Fateh Darsanu (God is One, Victory to (His) Presence), and the text began with Sache Sahib di dgid hai (by order of the True Master). Hukamndmds of Mata Sundari begin with the words Sn Mdtd ji dl dgid hai, and those of Mata Sahib Devi with Sn Akdl Purakh ji kd Khalisd Sri Maid Sahib Devi ji di dgid hai (Mata Sahib Dcvi`s order to the Khalsa of the Timeless One). Apart from their importance to the Sikhs as the sacred remembrances of the Gurus, the hukamndmds are invaluable historical documents.

Names of persons and places to which they are addressed provide clues to the composition, socially, of early Sikhism and its spread, geographically. One of the earliest huakmndmds discovered is a missive addressed by Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) to sangats at Patna, Alamganj, Sherpur, Bina and Monghyr, in Bihar, and includes no fewer than 62 names of prominent Sikhs belonging to those communities. Hukamndmds of Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-75) and Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) are addressed to sangats as far apart as Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet in the east and Patan, present day Pakpattan, in Pakistan in the west.

In addition to blessings from the Gurus and acknowledgement of the devotees` gifts, these letters contain instructions for the followers to cultivate love and prayer as well as indications with regard to the offerings they might bring. The demands ranged from cash contribution in the form of gold or hundis (bills of exchange) to pet birds, garments, weapons.

cannons and war elephants. Sometimes these demands are written in abbreviated forms. The hukamndmds which are dated help to fix the chronology of certain events. For instance, letters instructing Sikhs not to recognize masands, or to the collectors, but to bring their offerings directly to the Guru on the occasions of Baisakhi and Divali are all written during 1699 or later, confirming the abolition of the institution of masands simultaneously with the creation of the Khalsa on 30 March 1699.

The almost identical letters, both dated 1 Kartik 1764 Bk/2 October 1707, while informing the sangats at Dhaul and Khara of Guru Gobind Singh`s meeting with the Emperor (Bahadur Shah), enjoined upon them to present themselves duly armed when the Guru arrived in Kahlur (Anandpur). This was not to be, for the Guru passed away at Nandcd, in the South, a year later, but the Guru`s intention of returning to the Punjab is clearly established. The hukamndmds are important linguistically as well and provide crucial clues for tracing the development of the Gurmukhi script and Punjabi prose.

References :

1. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, ed., Nisan te Hukamname. Amritsar, 1967
2. Ganda Singh, ed., Hukamname. Paliala, 1967
3. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990