Toynbee on Amritsar and Lahore

Found this old but crisp piece by the great the historian here

Amritsar & Lahore


The following is a chapter from East to West  –  A Journey Round the World, by Arnold Toynbee, the greatest historian/philosopher of the twentieth century. Toynbee was also the author of the monumental A Study of History. 

 Minnesotan reader, imagine, if you can, that the perversity of human nature has split your splendid state in two, by driving an international frontier in between Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Imagine that every Catholic in the United States, north-west of that outrageous line, has had to flee for his life, leaving home, job and professions behind him, and cross the line to live the wretched life of a “displaced person” on the safe side of it. 

Imagine that every Protestant south-east of the line has had to make the same tragic migration, in the opposite direction. 

And, then imagine that the road traffic across the new frontier has been entirely cut off (there is a no-man’s land, two miles broad, that is forbidden ground for cars traveling in either direction).  Railroad traffic still survives, but it has been reduced to a single train a day.  The armed guards on board it change, as the fearsome border is crossed. 

Imagine all this, and you will have pictured to yourself what has happened in real life to that unfortunate country, the Panjab, and its historic twin cities, Amritsar and Lahore.

Amritsar is a creation of the Sikh religion. 

The Golden Temple was planted in the wilds, and a secular city grew up around it.  But, till the deadly partition in 1947, a Sikh who lived in Amritsar never dreamed that he might be debarred from carrying on his profession in Lahore, while a Muslim who lived in Lahore never dreamed that he might be debarred from owning and cultivating a field in the district of Amritsar.  Lahore was the Sikhs’ and Muslims’ common capital; the broad Panjab countryside was the common source of their livelihood.

Why has the rankling memory of an ancient feud impelled these once-intermingled communities to sort themselves out at such a dreadful cost to both of them? 

The fate that they have brought on themselves seems ironic to the foreign inquirer who feels sympathy for both alike; for, as it appears to the outsider, the Sikh faith and Islam have a close affinity with one another.  The atmosphere of Amritsar strikes a Western observer as being decidedly Islamic and, indeed, almost Protestant. 

Hindu worship is a casual, disorderly affair; Sikh worship is as precise and as highly disciplined as the proceedings in a mosque or in a Calvinist church.  The Granth Sahib, which is the Sikh Khalsa’s holy scripture, is an anthology in which selections from the works of Kabir and other Muslim mystics find a place beside the works of Guru Nanak, the father of the Sikh faith.  And the veneration paid to the Granth Sahib goes beyond the furthest extremes of Protestant Christian bibliolatry. 

Why could not Sikhs and Muslims – and, for that matter, Hindus as well – go on living side by side in an unpartitioned Panjab?  The perversity of human nature is the greatest of the mysteries of human life.

We took that international train and arrived at Lahore, without incident, in advance of the scheduled time.  How strange to see Ranjit Singh’s tomb shouldering its way between fort and mosque.  It was certainly a provocative act to plant the Sikh warlord’s sculpture at the most sensitive spot in the Muslim quarters of Lahore. 

But then, who built that magnificently austere imperial masjid, whose courtyard is bigger than that of any other mosque in the sub-continent?  The builder was Aurangzeb. 

And who committed the provocative act of razing the principal Hindu temple in Benares and planting a mosque in its place?  Aurangzeb, again.  Who else could it be? 

And so, the tale of wrong and counter-wrong stretches back through a long chain of generations.

As a result of Partition, Lahore has gained in political importance.  It is no longer the capital of a unitary Panjab, but it has now become the capital of a unitary Western Pakistan.  Yet it is no longer what it was when Kim clambered over the famous cannon (which still stands in its place) in a city that was then still a common home for the followers of three faiths. 

Amritsar has a surer future, for it will remain the religious centre of the Sikhs so long as the Khalsa endures; and the Sikhs, in losing the Panjab, have gained the world.  Today, they are established all over India (above the wheel of every second bus and taxi, you spy that unmistakable bearded and turbaned head).  And they have not kept within India’s frontiers.  They have made their way eastwards, through Burma and Singapore and Hong Kong, to the Pacific slope of Canada. 

They are the burliest men on the face of the planet  –  tough and capable and slightly grim.  If human life survives the present chapter of Man’s history, the Sikhs, for sure, will still be on the map.

[From East to West  –  A Journey Round the World, by Arnold Toynbee. Oxford University Press, London, 1958, pp. 121-23.]

February 11, 2008

2 responses to “Toynbee on Amritsar and Lahore

  1. Nice blog. Thanks for the article. I would like to take strong exception to the eulogy on Toyanbee

    It just goes to prove that Orientalism is still alive and well. That you would reproduce toyanbee just becuase it mentions Lahore is amazing.

    The content of the article is of course total nonsense. It blames Muslims for all evil in the Subcontinent and does not mention the Tara SIng atrocities and the Ranjit Sing atrocities.

    Toyenbee forgets to mention the fact that the Lahore badshahi mosque was totally destroyed by Ranjit Singh and made into a horses stable. It was reconstructed by Pakistan and reconstruction was competed in 1960.

    Jehangir was the richest man in the world. His tomb exceeded the Taj Mahal in excelelnce. Look at it now…all the gold from PUnjabi Muslims was taken and the gold from Jehanigrs tomsb was stolen, and melted and put in the Golden Temple. the god in the Golden temple was from bangles of young girls and teeth of dead Msulim women

    When he says that Sikhs didn’t have a clue that they would end up in Pakistan….that farmer would have been living in a cave since 1930….the Lahore resolution was passed in 1940.

    Of course Aurenzeb built many many temples including temples in Benaras also

    Did toyanbee mention that all of Kashmir was Buddhist and each and every one of their Buddhist tmeples was dstroyed in fact Buddhism was destroyed in the Subcontinent by the Hindus and the faith incorporated…The Delai Lama does not accept the figment that Buddhism is part of Hinduism

    …..and so it goes

  2. Pingback: wtf Pakistan » Blog Archive » Toynbee on Amritsar and Lahore

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