Miri Piri – 21st July

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The concept of “Miri Piri” was highlighted by the sixth Sikh GuruGuru Hargobind when he was throned Guru on 11 June 1606. At the Guruship (succession) ceremony the Guru asked for two kirpans to be donned on him; one to symbolize the concept of Miri or temporal authority and the second to symbolize the concept of Piri or spiritual authority. The wearing of two swords was a departure from previous Guruship tradition when only the “salli” (for spiritual power) was worn by the preceding Gurus.

For many years now, the Sikh community worldwide have honoured the sixth Guru’s vision of Miri and Piri and have celebrated this vision on 21 July every year by calling this day the – Miri Piri Divas or the Miri Piri Day.

What do these words mean?

Miri: This word has come from the Persian word “miri”, which itself comes from the Arabic “Amir”. The word “Amir” (which is pronounced as “a-MEER”) literary means commander, governor, lord, prince, ruler, chieftain, etc. and signifies temporal power or material power. The concept of Miri signifies worldly, materialist and political power. The concept is linked to the traditional power enjoyed by kings and ruler where the might of the military resulted in the power and ability to rule or influence the people.

Piri: This word has again come from the Persian word “pir” which literary means saint, holy man, spiritual guide, senior man, head of a religious order and stands for spiritual authority. The concept of “Piri” is linked to the power enjoyed by religious leaders, church priests, qazis, pandits, etc. to have power or influence over the devotees by way of “spiritual power” or religious power. The words miri and piri are now frequently used together to give the concept promoted by the sixth Guru.

Concept of Miri Piri

The two Nishan sahib at Akal Takhatrepresenting “Miri and Piri”
painting by Kanwar Singh

Miri Piri: The adoption of the term “miri, piri” in Sikh tradition has been made to connote the temporal and spiritual components of life; the materialist concept of human existence and the spiritual aspect of the human soul. Guru Hargobind by wearing the two kirpans of Miri and Piri has endowed on the Sikhs the importance of these two important aspects of life. The term represents for the Sikhs a basic principle which has influenced their thought process and has governed their social structure, political behaviour, communal organisation, leadership and politics.

The Sikhs have to have regards to both the material needs of the community and the people and also the spiritual concept and rights of the people. Langar is an important aspect of the Miri concept; it provides for the materialist needs of the community. The right to follow your own chosen religion, a concept safeguarded by Guru Tegh Bahadar is an aspect of the “Piri” tradition. The Sikh has to keep an eye on both these important aspects of human endeavour; and the needs of all human beings be they Sikhs or non-Sikhs.

Background

On becoming the Sikh GuruGuru Hargobind wore two swords declaring one to be the symbol of the spiritual (Piri) and the other that of his temporal investiture (Miri]. According to Macauliffe 4, the Guru reported to Bhai Buddha ji as follows:

“It is through thine intercession I obtained birth; and it is in fulfilment of thy blessing I wear two swords as emblems of spiritual and temporal authority. In the Guru’s house religion and worldly enjoyment shall be combined – the caldron to supply the poor and needy and scimitar to smite oppressors.”

In these words is the concept of Degh Tegh which was established by Guru Nanak; the Degh or “kitchen” or “cooker” (sometime caldron or even kettle or cooking pot)to provide food for the body and ‘Tegh’ sword or kirpanDegh Tegh (Punjabiਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ) is a term that forms part of the Sikh Ardas where it is recited in the line: “ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ ਫਤਹ, ਬਿਰਦ ਕੀ ਪੈਜ, ਪੰਥ ਕੀ ਜੀਤ….” “Daeg taeg Fateh, bihrd kee paaej, Panth kee jeet….”.

As explained before, the word “degh” means “Large cooking pot” or “cauldron” or an “offering”. The word “tegh” means “sword” or “kirpan“. The term “degh tegh” refers to the concept of serving food Langar and protecting the liberty of the community. The two concepts of making sure that everyone in the community is fed and does not go hungry; and also that no one’s life is in any danger and that all in the community feel safe are both concepts equally promoted by Sikhi and the Sikh Gurus.