Centennial to Honour Max Arthur Macauliffe

Year 2013 was Centennial Year in Honour of Max Arthur MaCauliffe.

(Update from : Lal, Harbans. The Western Gateway to Sikhism: The Life and Works of Max Arthur MaCauliffe, Sikh Art & Literature, Editor Kerry Brown, Taylor & Francis, 1992)


On March 15, 1913, Macauliffe left for the heavenly abode in his London home after completing recitation of Japji from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The news of his death aroused deep sorrow among the Sikhs and their associations and societies passed resolutions of profound condolence. They set up memorials to honor Macauliffe's contributions. Among the Sikhs who first spoke and wrote of the Sikh religion in English was Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913). While posted in Punjab (Indo-Pakistan) as a deputy commissioner in 1882, Macauliffe often visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. There, he was introduced to the hymns of the Gurus that sparked his interest in Sikhism that finally led to his adopting the Sikh faith as his religion. He cherished to comprehend the divine hymns as a life time preoccupation as a Sahjdhari Sikh. In his life time, Macauliffe wrote profoundly on Sikh theology and Sikh traditions. He published articles in scholarly journals such as the Calcutta Review, presented papers at professional meetings and spoke before many gatherings of oriental scholars in India, Italy, France and England. It is now believed that the twentieth century interest of Western scholars in Sikh Studies would have been seriously impeded without Macauliffe's monumental works, The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, published in six volumes by the Oxford University Press in 1909. Macauliffe lived as a team member of the Singh Sabha leaders and his mission during his professional life included: (1) writing and speaking on his new found love, the Sikhs and their religion, (2) projecting Sikh theology and history to the Western world in their own idiom and metaphysics, and (3) speaking forcefully against the evil practices creeping into the Sikh way of life in 19th century.


Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913) was born on September 11, 1838, at in Glenmore, Monagea, County Limerick, Ireland, and christened according to the rite of the Roman Catholic Church as 'Michael McAuliffe'. He was educated at what is now St Flannan's College, Ennis, County Clare. He graduated from Queen's College, Galway in 1860. His courses included the Greek and Latin classics as well as readings from French and Italian literature.

In 1862, Macauliffe was selected for Indian Civil Service with assignment to the State of Punjab in India. Within short time after joining this position, he was promoted to the rank of a deputy commissioner of the district of Ferozpur in 1864 and then became a divisional judge of the same district in 1882. In 1893 he resigned from the luceratively paying position Indian Civil Service to to undertake writing on Sikhism, a project that took major part of his life, nearly 25 years.

While posted in Punjab (India), Macauliffe was a frequent visitor of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. There, he met Sikh public and the Sikh clergy who introduced him to the hymns of the Gurus. The Guru Granth hymns and their singing sparked his interest in Sikhism that finally culminated in his adopting the Sikh faith as his religious preference (Tadhg Foley, 2012). He practiced the Sikh faith as a Sahjdhari Sikh and cherished to comprehend the divine hymns as a life time preoccupation.

Macauliffe is known for his numerous writings on Sikhism and his contributions in Sikh reform movements of 19th century. His home at 2 Cantonment Road, Amritsar, was described as "a school of divinity where theological discussion and literary and linguistic hair-splitting went on all the time."

On March 15, 1913, Macauliffe left for the heavenly abode in his London home at 10 Sinclair Gardens, West Kensington. He had just completed recitation of Japji from Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Religious and Socio-political Milieu

Macauliffe lived among the times of Sikh revival when the Sikhs were struggling to emerge from their infancy with respect to translation of their theology and with respect to foundation of their institutions. The Gurus revealed their theology and philosophy, Ranjit Singh consolidated the political power for the Guru's followers, and it was left to the eighteenth and nineteenth century reformers, scholars, and theologians, to carve a place for the Gurus' doctrines in the world community. There was a vacuum that was attracting attention on many fronts and there emerged many well meaning reformers to engage in this reconstruction. However, without exception all of them were from North Western region of the Indian sub-continent and did not possess skills in any foreign language or culture. The country's foreign rulers were out to create pockets of influence by rewarding favors and there were many innocent people to fall in their cunning traps. At the same time, people were starving to cling on to religious faiths that promised peace and prosperity on this earth and a place with their deity in heaven. This led to mushrooming of religio-political leaders whose allegiance was to their political masters and personal wealth. They were prepared to use religion for their personal gains and not care to preserve the traditions that were in great danger of being subordinated under brahaminic influences.

At the religious front most of the movements of the time were falling a prey to the idiosyncratic prejudices of leaders desirous of creating a personal following. Many of the religious leaders were claiming to descend from the Gurus and bringing special message to Guru's followers. To spread their influence, they were becoming embroiled with politicians to seek their favors. Most leaders would not leave any stone unturned to please their political master including robing their followers of money and faith.

For illustration, one may recall, that even the most valuable national heritage, the original manuscript of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, was not spared from maneuver for personal gains and presented as a personal gift to a petty British Officer in return for meager favors. Sadhu Singh Sodhi, who had possession of the Kartarpur Beer refused to supply a copy earlier even to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, but offered to present a copy to a British officer for shipment to England. There, John Lawrence was to receive the gift and present the manuscript to the India Office Library. To the Sikhs' fortune this tragedy was inadvertently prevented as a matter of sheer luck. Trumpp was there to want the original volume for translation. He succeeded in preventing the shipment at Calcutta harbor and the volume was returned to Punjab.

An editorial in the Khalsa Advocate of December 15, 1904 summed up the situation during the times of Macauliffe as4

"... false gurus grew up in great abundance whose only business was to fleece their flock and pamper their own self-aggrandizement. Properly speaking, there was no Sikhism. Belief in the Gurus was gone. The idea of brotherhood in the Panth was discarded ... Sikhs engulfed in superstition and idolatry ... The Sikh tradition had thus lost all that was good and life-giving in the faith."

The community was frustrated and confused. It was eager to support new movements to define their faith and history in the context of Guru's teachings, modern logic, and new challenges of the time. There were positive results. Their urges gave birth to an impressive list of Sikh revivalists in the field of Sikh history, Sikh theology, Social and other reforms, and Sikh literature. Singh Sabha, a milestone movement in Sikh history was founded. Those who distinguished themselves as leaders of Singh Sabha movement included Professor Gurmukh Singh (1849-1898), Bhagat Lakshman Singh, Bhai Jawahir Singh (1859-1910), Gyani Dit Singh (1853-1901), and Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha (1861-1938), and an Englishman, Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913).

The life of Singh Sabha movement well coincided with the life of Macauliffe. The first Singh Sabha was founded in 1873 at Amritsar and a rival Singh Sabha at Lahore on December 12, 1879, at the same time when Macauliffe began to publish his reviews on the Sikh religion. His fist paper was published in the Calcutta Reviews in 1975. The objective of Macauliffe' writings and efforts of other Singh Sabha leaders was to expose onslaughts of alterations in the Sikh way of life and to formulate more genuine models of Sikh traditions and expositions of Sikh theology to be made available to Sikh communities everywhere. The community was aroused to eradicate ritualistic practices and religious dogmas in favor of a genuine religion and religiously oriented life practices.

The Singh Sabha leaders undertook extensive projects to reinterpret Sikh Scriptures and the Sikh traditions. These projects were identifying the religious and moral practices traceable only to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and to the Sikh traditions as they had evolved directly under the Gurus. The new leaders undertook vigorously to permit no action or belief that could not have the Scriptures as a point of reference. Macauliffe joined their efforts in a timely fashion to similarly re-interpret the Sikh heritage in English language. He did so for the spread of Guru's message firstly to the West and secondly to those in the East who were increasingly coming under the influence of English as their medium of instructions and language of daily as well as scholarly pursuits. Thus, Macauliffe became a part and parcel of the Singh Sabha movement of 19th century and filled an important void that would have been left unfilled without him getting interested in the Sikh reforms. Even though he did not have the advantage of being born on the Punjabi soil or inherit Sikhism from his parents, his contributions to bring about the Sikh renaissance of the Singh Sabha years were no less than any one else recognized for leadership of that era. Describing the place of Macauliffe as a scholar in the Singh Sabha movement, himself a dignitary of the Singh Sabha movement, Bhagat Lakshman Singh wrote, " .. for to speak nothing of that time, even now a days there is not one Sikh of Mr. Macauliffe's learning and resources."5

Antecedents to Macauliffe's Translation of Sikh Scriptures

After reaching northern Indian sub-continent by annexation of the former Sikh state of Punjab, the British rulers soon realized that they would have to deal extensively with Sikhs for a long time to come. As shrewd conquerors, they felt necessity for understanding the Sikh phenomenon in India . During the mutiny of 1857, the Governor General of India asked the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab to get the Sikh Scriptures translated into English. However, no one could be found with background of languages which comprise the Guru Granth Sahib and who was qualified and willing to undertake this Herculean task. It took nearly two decades to locate the German missionary, Dr. Ernest Trumpp, who was recruited in 1870 to translate Guru Granth Sahib into English.

Born in 1823, at Ilsfield, Wartemberg (Germany), Trumpp was educated at the University of Tubingen. In 1848, he passed the Theological examinations and visited France, Italy and England in the pursuit of linguistic studies. In England, he taught Latin and German, but returned to Germany to enter the service of German Missionary Society. In 1854, he visited Karachi, to carry out linguistic researches. Here, he also learned Sindhi, Hindi and Sanskrit. He visited Palestine for a brief time to learn Arabic. In 1862, he proceeded to Peshawar to learn Pashto and Persian for a year and a half. Later he was appointed to the Chair of Semitic Languages and Literature at the University of Munich.

Dr. Trumpp moved to Lahore of Pakistan in order to translate the Guru Granth Sahib. However, after seven years, he gave up the project in despair when he completed only one-fourth of the translation. Trumpp did not learn the many languages used in the Guru Granth Sahib well enough to understand the Guru's hymns. Traditional gyanis were suspicious of Trumpp's intentions and made themselves unavailable to help; they also lacked skills of modern writing and scholarship necessary to translate Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Trumpp freely exhibited his ignorance and his missionary bias in rendering Guru Granth Sahib into English. He was arrogant and insulting to the sensitivity of Sikhs in that he even smoked when working with the holy scripture. Thus he was only in the first third of his translation project that he fell ill. In 1883, he became blind and died two years later in 1885.

Though Trumpp considered Guru Granth Sahib "the treasury of the old Hindu dialects," he called it "incoherent and shallow in the extreme and couched in dark and perplexing language hardly expected of any attraction to its study". Trumpp freely exposed his missionary commitment and shallow knowledge of languages in his translation. He made Gurus' hymns look ridiculous. According to Dr. Gopal Singh , Trumpp took Sanskrit words for Persian or Arabic and vice versa. Obviously, publication of Trumpp's translation by the British Government in 1877 aroused large scale protest in the entire Sikh community and other fair minded scholars. As a result, circulation of Trumpp's translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib was withdrawn, although a reprint of Trumpp's work is now available from Oriental Publishers.

The Trumpp episode alarmed the Sikh community and raised questions about the ability and motivation of foreigners in helping them translate their tenants into English. Under the circumstances of this experience, one can easily imagine the difficulty a foreigner would have in undertaking again the project of translating Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is exactly under these circumstances that Macauliffe came into picture. Macauliffe had to overcome the suspicious sentiments of the Sikh community; which he did with his lovable personality and reverence for sacred scriptures.

Soon after Macauliffe was introduced to the Sikhs, Sikhs began to readily accept him as one of their own and not only recruited him for the very high level of service, but gave him whatever resources they could muster for his project. Full support, both moral and financial, was promised to him by the Khalsa Divan, local Gurdwaras, the Sikh clergy, and the Sikh princes.

Fascination of Macauliffe

Macauliffe consciously undertook a project which would take commitment of a life time devoted to scholarly work of gigantic magnitude. Such works were badly needed to interpret the Sikh theology and way of life to the English speaking world. In his own words8, his mission was stated as "I bring from the East what is practically an unknown religion. The Sikhs are distinguished throughout the world as a great military people, but there is little known even to professional scholars regarding their religion." He further stated9, "All persons of discrimination acquainted with the Sikhs set a high value on them, but it appears that a knowledge throughout the world of the excellence of their religion would enhance even the present regard with which they are entertained, and that my work would be at least of political advantage to them." He was fascinated by this need and the thought that he could serve his faith by meeting this need.

He considered the Western education and culture to be ripe to accept this message. He wrote, "Already prepared by Western culture to think and act independently, they will be constitutionally fitted to understand the catholicity of Sikh principles, and will feel a pleasure in spreading Sikh ideas far and wide." For this mission of spreading Sikhism far and wide, he gave up his career, his comforts, religion of his forefathers, his British friends, and whatever else was in his possession.

According to Professor Harbans Singh10, interest of Macauliffe in Sikhism was sparked during his frequent visits to Golden Temple, Amritsar, in Northern India. He had an opportunity of witnessing a Divali celebration in Amritsar soon after he arrived in Indian subcontinent. It was spark of illumination providing the background for Guru's hymns that initiated his asking questions on Sikh ceremonies and Sikh beliefs. Soon after this experience, he even began to write on the Sikh ceremonies. His article on "Diwali in Amritsar" was published in Calcutta Review in 1880. Sikh ceremonies at Amritsar and singing of Guru's hymns at the Temple intrigued him because of "the sublimity of their style and the high standard of ethics which they inculcate." He soon found himself deeply engulfed in what he began to discover in the treasures of Sikh inheritance.

As stated above, soon after his rendezvous with Sikhism at Amritsar he began to write on Sikh Religion. His articles began to appear in Calcutta Review in 1875, that is, at the time when Sikhs were attempting to get out of movements like arya smaj and many years prior to his undertaking to translate the Holy Granth. At the time, Macauliffe was posted at the city of Ferozpur as divisional judge where he inculcated relationship with the local Sikhs. In the short time that he was there, he succeeded in gaining their confidence. It was the Sri Guru Singh Sabha of Ferozpur that wrote a letter urging him to undertake a full-scale rendering of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This letter became the first formal Sikh effort to induce Macauliffe to devote his life to the translation of the Holy Scriptures. At the time, the Singh Sabha was a representative organization of the Sikhs and in this capacity the Sabha urged him to persuade the government to assign him to undertake this work as they had Dr. Trummp. Sikhs were asking the British rulers to support this project in order to undo the disservice that Trumpp rendered to Sikh community, community of religions, and to British rulers. In addition, they described a full scale rendering of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the need of the hour for their community. The Khalsa Divan similarly voiced the wishes of whole Sikh community whose intelligentsia were learning the English language in increasing frequency. It is on the urging of the Khalsa Divan that Macauliffe resigned his job in 1893.

Instead of helping the Sikhs, the British Government was cool to the idea and began to distance from Macauliffe. They feared backlash among the British subjects to their unfair handling of a community shown to be so progressive. After all Bristishers could justify the taking over of the Sikh kingdom only if Sikhs were shown incapable of governing themselves. Propagation of their rich heritage would prove otherwise. Thus the British Government would rather promote the derogatory images created by people like Trumpp. Sikh leaders began to realize this game. Thus, the Khalsa Divan promised to collect funds for Macauliffe. Raja Bikram Singh of Faridkot assured him of his salary for six months. Other Sikh rulers also provided financial help. Raja Hira Singh of Nabha, Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala, Raja Ranbir Singh of Jind, Tikka Ripduman Singh of Nabha, Sardar Ranjit Singh of Chachhrauli and the Gaekawar of Baroda were among those who helped financially. But this help was not enough. During first six years of his work Macauliffe had incurred a debt of Rs. 35,000.00. He described this expense to include salaries of gyanis that he employed. The total cost of this project was going to be in the vicinity of Rs 200,000. Macauliffe fully realized that rendering of Sikh Scriptures into English and writing a history of the Sikhism was a task that could not be done with his responsibilities of a full time Government administrator. Yet, he could not afford to give up his employment. He had already lost a large fortune in commercial investments. However, lack of funds did not discourage Macauliffe. He was fascinated with Guru's hymns and was determined to serve the Guru and the community irrespective of cost. With his faith in the Guru and assurance from Sikh community and some assurance from the British Government, he resigned from his job in 1893.

Macauliffe's Approach

At the time of Macauliffe, no published work was available for help. The exposition of Sri Guru Granth Sahib had come down by word of mouth through gyanis or preachers from Udasi and Nirmala sects. The orthodox Sikhs felt that the interpretation of the holy writings had better remain on the lips of the believers. Thus, the gyanis were reluctant to deliver texts or any other help to writers who will try their hand at fathoming their meaning and thus taking liberties with the Guru's word. However, Sikh intellegentia was in a mood to begin discarding the orthodox notions and exhibit courage to take on these gyanis. In 1877, under the influence of the Singh Sabha renaissance, Maharaja Bikram Singh of Faridkot, appointed a syndicate of Sikh scholars to prepare a commentary on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but this work had not yet been published to help the public or the scholars. In 1877, Trumpp's translation appeared which offended Sikh sentiments and their enthusiasm for English translations was injured seriously.

Macauliffe's number one objective was to make reparation to the Sikhs for the injury caused by Trummp's work. He said, "One of the main objects of the present work is to endeavor to make some reparation to the Sikhs for the insult which he (Trumpp) offered to their Gurus and their religion."

He was also sensitive to the fact that merely literary translation of the holy scripture will be a meaningless effort. He later wrote that "the literal translation of words without coming to terms with the milieu in which they were written often left faulty and imperfect impressions for those unacquainted with Sikhism"11.

He wanted to relate the Sikhism to the Western public as a religion very relevant to their own life and aspirations. He routinely clarified complex issues, such as explaining the critical junctures in the evolution of Sikhism, by drawing real or imaginary parallels with Western tradition and religion.

He followed the tradition set by Guru Nanak who frequently bridged gaps in argument through use of analogy. He presented Sikhism as reflecting intellectual currents. The writings were clearly addressed to Western audience as Macauliffe went to great pains to draw comparisons between key doctrines in Sikhism and Western history and metaphysics.

Unlike other Western scholars of today or of the past, Macauliffe exhibited humility and caution in claiming authority either in Sikh history, languages or in Sikh scriptures. Being realistic of his short comings, Macauliffe established deep and continuing contacts with leading Sikh scholars. He moved to Amritsar into a house at 2 Cantonment Road to avail the material and talent available at the center of Sikh activities. His home in Amritsar was described by Professor Harbans Singh as "a school of divinity where theological discussion and literary and linguistic hair-splitting went on all the time." Macauliffe frequently visited and lived in Nabha, and spent summers in Mussoorie and Dehra Dun. He also undertook to master the linguistic skills needed to understand Sikh Scriptures. Among the languages he studied included Sanskrit, Prakrit, Arabic, Persian, Marathi, Gujrati, and Punjabi and their different dialects. During this time, he studied Suraj Parkash and all volumes of the Gur Bilas for writing biographies of the Ten Gurus of the Sikhs and the Hindu Bhagats and Muslim saints whose compositions were selected by the Guru for inclusion in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Although he extensively sought the help of Sikh clergy, he was aware of the fact that there were not many people who understood Sri Guru Granth Sahib. At the annual session of the Lahore Singh Sabha in 1886, he said , that "the Sri Guru Granth Sahib was matchless as a Book of holy teachings, but, to his regret, there were not even 50 Sikhs in the whole of Punjab who could interpret it."


Contrary to their non-cooperating attitude towards foreigners translating the Holy scripture, Sikh scholars made themselves freely available to Macauliffe. The ruler of Nabha spared services of the venerable Sikh savant, Bhai Kahan Singh, his foreign minister and other aids to help Macauliffe learn the true meaning of the Guru's hymns. Bhai Kahan Singh was the most learned Sikh scholar of his day. He possessed knowledge of the languages of the scripture and at the same time had learned English. Besides Bhai Kahan Singh, other interpreters of the Sikh Scriptures, famous among them, Bhai Dit Singh, Hazara Singh, Sardul Singh and Sant Singh, offered their full support to Macauliffe. Macauliffe also remained in active contact with Bhai Fateh Singh, Bhai Darbara Singh, Bhai Bhagwan Singh of Patiala, and Bhai Dasaundha Singh of Ferozpur. He was also helped by Sanskrit scholars as Bhagat Balmokand, BA LLB.

Macauliffe was always conscious of the fact that Trumpp had produced a translation which was unacceptable to Sikhs. Thus, he sought and obtained approval from every one he could identify among the Sikhs. According to Professor Harbans Singh's information, Macauliffe secured the guidance and opinion of every Sikh scholar or clergyman who was available. He went as far as advertising in Sikh newspapers to invite all whom it might concern to visit him, inspect, and correct the translation if necessary. He submitted every line of his translation to the most searching criticism of learned Sikhs. He sent his translations to Sikh scholars every where with a request to provide critical suggestions. He also sought criticism from friends from Udasi or other quasi-Sikh traditions.

As is traditional, it was never easy to deal with the gyanis. Hardly any two gyanis would agree on any interpretation. None of them knew English. Some of them would deliberately not share their knowledge of the sacred scriptures with a European. An unusual skill was needed to communicate with them and then decide between the rival and contradictory versions.


Macauliffe made his home in Amritsar a seat of theological and linguistic discussions and invited every one to enter into hair splitting debates all the time. He freely accepted advice from every scholar who genuinely helped. Portion of his work were sent to scholars all over India and abroad which resulted in not only constructive critiques but letters of complements. Macauliffe reefers to a letter from Divan Leila Ram, Subordinate Judge at Hydrabad, Sindh. Mr. Ram wrote that he had gone through over 25 translations of the Japji - some in English and others in Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, etc., but none of them matched his translation in accuracy and quality. Beside letters from Indian sub-continent, Westerner dignitaries such as J. A. Grieson, Sir William Hunter, Sir Edwin Arnold and Professor Max Mueller wrote to Macauliffe in appreciation.

WORKS of Macauliffe

This paper is not intended to do any justice to the writings of Macauliffe. I am presentlt collecting list of his publication to publish when I have my search completed. It is not the objective of this author to comment on his writing; that topic may become subject of a later lengthy review.


Only a mention is made of Macauliffe's six volume set, The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, This set was published in six volumes by the Oxford University Press in 1909, and consist of the lives of the Gurus, their followers and contemporaries, as well as extensive translations from Sri Guru Granth Sahib spaced throughout the narrative. Volume one contains a lengthy introduction to Sikhism and the life of Guru Nanak; volume 2 discusses Guru Angad, Guru Amar Dass and Guru Ram Dass; three describes Guru Arjan, while four covered the lives of Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Teg Bahadur. Volume five describes the life and times of Guru Gobind Singh, plus an essay on Banda Singh Bahadur and annotation on rags, or the musical measures of the scripture. The concluding part provided short sketches of bhagats and saints who contributed to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Besides his major work referenced above, Macauliffe published numerous essays and lectures in leading journals of the time published in India and in European countries. According to Fauja Singh, these essays are significant for two reasons. Macauliffe demonstrated an ability to tell a good story, to describe events in a clear and highly readable fashion. He routinely attempted to classify complex issues, such as explaining the key junctures in the evolution of Sikhism. Secondly, Macauliffe 's interpretations generally reflected the intellectual currents around him.

Genius of Macauliffe

Macauliffe as a Sikh

The Sikh community readily accepted Macauliffe as one of their own and welcomed him as a Sahjdhari Sikh during his life time. He was invited to participate in Sikh sangats and other community function as a member. He often spoke in Gurdwaras and other Sikh meetings as a Sikh reformer. Similarly, Sikh writers always referred him as a Sikh in their writings.

According to Fauja Singh12, Macauliffe devoted much of his life and linguistic skills on the study of Sikhism. Singh while commenting on the writings of Macauliffe, saw him openly identifying with Sikhism and exhibiting a sympathy with Sikh cause. Similarly, Bhagat Lakshman Singh13, a stalwart of Singh Sabha movement himself described Macauliffe as a Sikh. He wrote, " Mr. Macauliffe started as a Sikh Research Scholar and died as a Sikh, boycotted by the members of his own service and race."

The reference to the boycott is to the fact that during the later days, Macauliffe was discarded by Christian British community. Earlier, the Punjab Government had recommended an award of 1000 British pounds for Macauliffe's efforts to translate Sikh scriptures. The Secretary of State, Lord Morley, ordered reduction of this award to Rs. 5000 when Macauliffe exhibited deeper involvement in Sikhism than what was expected of him at the time he was deputed to his project.

Macauliffe rejected the offer as he had already spent about Rs. 200,000 on the project from his pocket. Britishers began to shun his company for his having "turned a Sikh" as they used to say publicly. According to Macauliffe's letter14 to Bhagat Lakshman Singh on September 7, 1912, a lobby had started working against him and against the Sikhs. In his last days in India,

Macauliffe would sit in the evening a dejected man eating alone in his hotel room in Rawalpindi Cantonment as his British colleagues would not join him for his deserting their religion.

From all of the evidence available from the memoirs of Singh Sabha movement it is clear that Macauliffe explicitly adopted Gurmat as his religion and lived life of a Sahjdhari Sikh. In his life time he was recognized as such by both Sikh sangats who adored him as their own and by British Christian community who discarded him as "turned Sikh."

Like in the Sikh history since the Baisakhi of 1699, it was not uncommon in the Singh Sabha days that many followers of Sikhism would serve the Panth as Sahjdhari Sikhs. Those were the Sikhs described by Guru Gobind Singh as sehji Sikhs. They were born of the non-Sikh parents but adopted Sikhism later in life when they chose Sikh religion as the preference of their religious beliefs. They had not yet taken baptism or often not adopted the external Sikh form; their adherence to Sikhism was determined entirely by their declaration and by their deeds.

Macauliffe's allegiance to Sikhism becomes very apparent as soon as one begins to read into his life commitments. In the sections above, Macauliffe's approach and his motivation of propagating Sikhism is already described.

From the very beginning, Macauliffe began to engage in self-examination and characterizing his own Sikh intellectual developments in the light of his fascination with the Guru's hymns.

By 1893, his identification with Sikhism had reached the point that he even resigned a very lucrative post such as the divisional judge to dedicate himself to reading Gurbani and to the dissemination of Sikh doctrines among others in English. According to Barrier15,

Macauliffe stressed two themes throughout his writing, the separate nature of Sikhism as a world religion and the heroism inherent in Sikh tradition. Macauliffe presented Guru Nanak as the founder of a "new" and important religious system. He described his religion as to believe that "good works and the remeberance of God's name were the most meritorious human acts leading to absorption in God and release from the pain and misery of transmigration" as he learned from studying Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

The purpose of his writing is very clear to be his statement on his position on religious doctrines that he undertook to follow. Barrier observed that Macauliffe' writings reflected a sympathy for a identification with Sikhism. This identification persisted throughout Macauliffe's life. To Barrier this empathy colored Macauliffe' efforts to present a new assessment of Sikh literature and religion. According to Barrier, Macauliffe wrote on Sikhism as any loyal Sikh would write.

Macauliffe's love for Sikhism did not go unnoticed even by the present day Sikh writers. For example, Teja Singh, a Sikh writer of great recognition, described Macauliffe among "the best lovers of Sikhism16".

It should be pointed out that Sikhs are a dynamic community and their acceptance of any scholar is not always unequivocal. As was the case with many other Sikh leaders of the time17, Macauliffe's relationship with a section of Sikh community did not sail smooth some of the time.

Whereas overwhelming sector of Sikh community approved and supported Macauliffe's efforts, there were those who began to turn away from him near the end. Bhagat Lakshman Singh is alleged to have told Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi18 that a number of Sikh Sardars became cooler towards Macauliffe because of a personal pique.

Macauliffe had written a parody about great Sardars of Amritsar on account of their apathy towards translations of Guru Granth Sahib. Taking hints from their British rulers and on account of some jealousy with Macauliffe's work, a section of the Sikh community cooled off from Macauliffe in his last days. The Sikh Educational Conference, held in Rawalpindi in 1911, refused to sponsor a resolution commending his works. Thus, he was rejected by the people whom he had given his life.

But, as is typical of many Sikh reformers, this never deterred him from his mission or his love of Guru's hymns. He recited hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib literally to his last breath.

It should be pointed out that later at its annual meeting held in Ambala in 1912, Sikh Educational Conference rectified its position and recorded approval and expressed appreciation of Macauliffe's works by an overwhelmingly approved resolution. Bhagat Lakshman Singh and the Conference President, Diwan Bahadur Leela Ram Singh of Hydrabad (Sind, Pakistan), who himself was a great scholar, promoted this resolution to its success.

Macauliffe as a Sikh Reformer

Macauliffe not only engaged in translating and interpreting the Gurus' hymns and their history, but also engaged in a host of ancillary activities, social and educational, that yield information on the zeal he possessed to reform the community practices as much as he could. Thus, as an Englishman, he was a part of the Singh Sabha movement as much as other reformers born in Punjab. For example, according to Bhagat Lakshman Singh19 birth dates of the Singh Sabha movement among the Sikhs coincided with the time when Macauliffe appeared on the scene observing in discourses that beef eating was not forbidden in the Sikh scriptures.

The reformer's role of Macauliffe was amply acknowledged even when Macauliffe was still alive. For example, the Singh Sabha Amritsar in an address presented to Macauliffe described his services in accomplishing the translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, said, "Akal Purakh granted you the credit of performance. As the holy Guru Teg Bahadur foretold that men would come from beyond the sea to assist the Sikhs, so you have been rendering us mental and bodily assistance.." . "The objective of Macauliffe as the reformer always had remained to provide definite and definitive ideas on the moral and religious heritage of the Sikhs by providing interpretation of their religious doctrines.

Major Nineteenth Century interpreter of Sikh Tradition

Barrier20 described Macauliffe as the second major interpreter of Sikh traditions. Like a reformer, Macauliffe presented Sikhism as a distinct religion and a universal ethical system. His urge to community for social reforms in all aspect of life is illustrated by his statement in which wrote, "We have seen that Sikhism prohibits idolatry, hypocrisy, caste exclusiveness, the cocremation of widows, the immurement of women, the use of wine and other intoxicant, tobacco-smoking, infanticide, slander, pilgrimages to sacred rivers and tanks of the Hindus, an did inculcated loyalty, gratitude, truth, honesty, and all the moral and domestic virtues known to the holiest Christians."21

Promoter of Gurbani Dissemination

Macauliffe not only undertook major efforts of translating the Sikh scriptures himself but maintained a keen interest in other works on Sikh scriptures. He promoted free discussions on Sikh theology among Sikh gyanis and scholars. He forcefully criticized Trumpp's translation of Guru Granth Sahib as the literary translation of words without coming to terms with the milieu in which they were written. He was concerned that Trumpp's translations would leave faulty and imperfect impressions for those un-acquainted with Sikhism22. Macauliffe warned the British on the political danger of withholding from them the reparation which it could not be doubted was due for the misrepresentation of their sacred volume in the only official translation that has ever been made.

Advocate of Literacy and Education among Sikhs

Macauliffe expressed fear that Sikh power may erode because of inadequate education and a decline in population (see Simla lecture). He recommended to British rulers to take immediate steps to provide the Sikhs with patronage. He always congratulated the Sikh boys who graduated from institutions of other higher learning.

Promoter of Sikh Inheritance

According to Bhagat Lakshman Singh23, "It was at Macauliffe's instance that the Lahore Sikhs celebrated the second century of the installation of the Khalsa Panth as an heir of the Guru, when Macauliffe himself contributed rupees 100 towards expenses in this behalf. It is this tradition that we are preparing to celebrate again in 1999.

Campaign against drinking and smoking

Macauliffe often spoke in public against the evil of drinking creeping in Sikh society.

He saw it customary for the Sikh leaders to join their British colleagues or negotiators for a "drink" during their meeting with them. This practice was noticed and continued throughout the nineteenth century Sikh history. For example, according to minutes of the meetings of Khalsa College Managing Committee, vine was served during the meeting breaks. Similar records are found in annals of several other organizations. The British members would offer a drink and that offer was not declined by their Sikh guests. Several religious reformers of Singh Sabha movement wrote this social evil.

Besides speaking directly before the public, Macauliffe got Sikhs' most influential body of the time, the Singh Sabha Amritsar, to pass a resolution condemning the evil of drinking among Sikhs.

Macauliffe is also on record to describe Trumpp's smoking of cigar as an insult to Sikh sensitivities. He felt hurt to see Trumpp blowing cigar smoke across the pages of the holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib24. Macauliffe not only brought this to the attention of Sikh sangats protested to authorities about Trumpp's misbehavior.

Warning Against Dangers to Sikhism

Like other Sikh reformers of the time, Macauliffe was very much disturbed by hinduization of Sikhism. Macauliffe described the present condition and danger facing Sikhism as vehemently as other leaders of Sikhism.

At the time when Bhai Kahan Singh adopted the slogan of ham Hindu nahi, Macauliffe wrote, "Hinduism is like the boa constrictor of the Indian forests. When a petty enemy appears to worry it, it winds around its opponent, crushes it in its folds, and finally causes it to disappear in its capacious interior. Sikhism may go this way. Brahmins and Sikhs mix today. Brahmins help Sikhs to be born, help them to wed, help them to die, and help their souls after death to obtain state of bliss. Brahmins, with all the deafness of the Roman Catholic missionaries in Protestant countries, have partially succeeded in persuading the Sikhs to restore to their niches the images of Devi, the Queen of Heaven, and the saints and gods of their ancient faith25.

Sikhism in danger has remained a theme in Macauliffe's intellectual development, as it did in undertakings of Singh Sabha leaders of that time. His solution was take Sikhs to the educated and learned people of the west. He wrote, "I am not without hope that when enlightened nations become acquainted with the merits of the Sikh religion, they will not willingly let it perish in the great abyss in which so many creeds have been engulfed26.

Macauliffe Passes Away

Death and Burial:


On March 15, 1913, Macauliffe passed away in his London home, Sinclair Gardens, West Kingston. His Punjabi servant, Mohammed, who knew little English, wrote in his innocent way to Bhai Kahan Singh informing him of the sorrowful event. Mohammed wrote that he was sorry to inform Bhai Kahan Singh that his dear friend had passed away at 8:10 PM on March 15, 1913. He also added that Macauliffe was reciting the Jap Ji unto 10 minutes before he had taken his last breath27. Macauliffe left no direct descendant.

According to Bhai Kahan Singh28, there was a great debate among the community he was living in with regard to Macauliffe's religion and his rights to burial in the community cemetery. As Macauliffe was considered a Sikh and labeled as "turned Sikh", the town's Christian community put up a resistance to permitting Macauliffe's body to be buried in the local cemetery as the cemetery was considered to be "meant" for Christians and not for those who opted out of Christian faith as did Macauliffe. This happening offered further evidence that Macauliffe's conversion to Sikhism was widely known among the neighborhood community in England as was known to Sikhs in India.

Macauliffe in his life time won the honor of being the first English scholar to write extensively on Sikhism and on Sikhs. The following29 is the homage paid by the then State Government of the Punjab State in Indian Subcontinent.

"The name of the late Mr. Max Arthur Macauliffe will always be associated with his monumental translation into English of the Granth Sahib, a work on which he was engaged for sixteen years. He was thus an example of an Indian Civilian whose most important work was done after his retirement from the service. Mr. Macauliffe was appointed to the service at the examination of 1862, after an education at Newcastle School, Limerick, Springfield college, and Queen's college, Galway. He was posted to the Punjab, and arrived in the country in 1864. He reached the grade of Deputy Commissioner in 1882 and become a Divisional Judge two years later. During his service in the Punjab Mr. Macauliffe had devoted himself to the study of Sikhism and its literature, and published a series of articles on the subject in Calcutta Review during 1880 - 81. The translation of the Granth Sahib which the India office had commissioned a missionary (Dr. Trumpp) to undertake was acknowledged to be full of imperfections, besides offending Sikh susceptibilities in many particulars, and Mr. Macauliffe, therefore, resolved to devote himself to the preparation of a new translation, a task which he was urged to undertake by representative Sikh societies. For this purpose he resigned the service in 1893. The work occupied him for the next sixteen years, and when completed, its great value was acknowledged by many scholars and by the leaders of the Sikh community as well. The work was printed at the cost of the University of Oxford, but this only represented a small part of the translator's expenditure. He himself estimated that he had spent as much as two lakhs on the work. Some years ago the Punjab Government offered Mr. Macauliffe a grant of Rs. 5000 in advance for certain copies of the translation, but the offer was declined. More recently the Punjab Government repeated its offer of Rs. 5,000 but Mr. Macauliffe again declined to accept a sum which he regarded as utterly inadequate to his labours and the importance of his work. "ITS ACCEPTANCE " he added, "WOULD NOT BE OF MUCH MATERIAL ADVANTAGE TO ME, NEITHER WOULD IT ENHANCE MY REPUTATION IN THE EYES OF THE SIKHS OR THE GENERAL PUBLIC".

On his death, Macauliffe's contributions secured him a permanent place in the hearts of Sikh people and he added a chapter in Sikh history by being an important leader of Singh Sabha movement.

Macauliffe Memorials

Sikh Educational Conference, the major association of Sikh intellectuals and educationists organized and operated under the leadership of Chief Khalsa Diwan, passed a resolution to commemorate the death of Macauliffe. The Conference paid homage to their leader and stamped a seal of approval on Macauliffe's services and his works on SriGuru Granth Sahib and other Sikh scriptures. In addition, the community under the leadership of Bhagat Lacshman Singh appealed for funds to establish a suitable memorial in Macauliffe's honor. A Macauliffe Memorial Society was founded to lead this effort. The Sikh leaders welcomed this commemoration.

Sardar Bahadur Sunder Singh Majithia and Bhai Vir Singh were among those who offered their support and personally contributed to this fund. At this time, some Britishers also felt like helping. Lieutenant Governor Sir Michael O'Dwyer wrote a letter of support and sent financial contribution for a library in Macauliffe's name. Similarly, Mr. G. A. Wathen, Principal of Khalsa College, was one of the supporter. Rs. 3245 were collected. The plan for library did not materialize. The Managing Committee of the Khalsa College Amritsar insisted that the Macauliffe trust competition awards should not be limited to only the Sikhs. Rather, the trust awards and other programs must be open to all communities.

A Macauliffe Memorial Gold Medal was instituted at the premium institute of the Sikhs, Khalsa College Amritsar. The medal was to be awarded every year to the best student in Sikh theology and history. Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi, the author of famous English translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib received this medal in 1934 at the age of 16 when he was a sophomore student at the Khalsa College.

Year 2013 was Centennial Year in honour of Max Arthur MaCauliffe. The Academy of Guru Granth Studies undertook to celebrate the Centenniel in North America.

An International Conference was held in Montreal, Canada, to celebrate the MaCauliffe Centenniel to highlight his contributions to the Panth and initiate translations of Sikh scripture in English. The Conference selected the theme of Formulating Methodology for Interpreting Gurbani.

The Conference honored MaCauliffe by conferring the title of GYANI on Sikh-British scholar Max Arthur Macauliffe. Montreal Sikh congregations and Sikh congregations in other places in USA formally supported the Montreal Conference resolution.

Similarly, in 2013, University College Cork hosted the Max Arthur Macauliffe Centennial Conference, "Representing Sikhism," on March 15, 2013 in Ireland.

In the summer of 2013, Macauliffe Institute gained a permanent home in the city of Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada. In a meeting of some Sikh scholars including the author and Sardar T. Sher Singh, plans were made to establish a library and residence facilities for visiting scholars to initiate research projects.

Finally, representatives of the Academy of Gur Granth Studies from USA and a number local Sikhs from London paid their respect to the memories of Macauliffe by visiting and saying prayers in front of his last residence on 10 Sinclair Road, London.

Sikhs will always remember Giani Max Arthur Macauliffe.


Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors (Oxford university at Clarendon Press, 1909), v. 1-6, S. Chand & Co., New Delhi.
Singh, Teja., Guru Nanak and His Mission, p. 1, Publisher, AS Marwaha, Los Angeles 1969.
Singh, Harbans, Max Arthur Macauliffe; Translator of Sikh Scriptures and Historian of Early Sikhism, Macauliffe Institute of Sikh Studies, Toronto, 1988.
Singh, Fauja, Historians and Historiography of the Sikh, Ed. Fauja Singh, Oriental Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1978.
Singh, Gopal, History of the Sikh People, The Gomdals Press, New Delhi, 1979
Singh, Nripinder, The Sikh moral Traditions, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 1990
Foley, Tading, Max Arthur Macauliffe and The Sikh Religion, University College Cork, 2012. 'From Templeglantine to the Golden Temple: Religion, Empire, and Max Arthur Macauliffe', in Evangelicals and Catholics in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, ed James H. Murphy (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), pp. 197-208.


1 For correspondence, write to Harbans Lal, Professor of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Fort Worth, 3500 Camp bowie, Fort Worth, TX 76107. [email protected]
2 Executive Director, Academy of Guru Granth Studies, 6415 Amicable Drive, Arlington, TX 76016, USA. Telephone 817-654-0844.
3 Singh, Harbans, Max Arthur Macauliffe; Translator of Sikh Scriptures and Historian of Early Sikhism, Macauliffe Institute of Sikh Studies, Toronto, 1988.
4 Singh, Nripinder, The Sikh Moral Traditions, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 1990, p151
5 Singh, Ganda, Bhagat Lakshman Singh- Autobiography, Sikh Cultural Center, Calcutta, 1965.
6 See, for example, the detailed discussion of Sikhism and its political implications in, Foreign Political Affairs, p. 141-142, 1859; Foreign Secret, 37-44, 1851; Foreign Journal, 68-69W, 1869.
7 Singh, Gopal, History of the Sikh People, The Gomdals Press, New Delhi, 1979, p. 619.
8 Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors (Oxford university at Clarendon Press, 1909), v. 1-6, S. Chand & Co., New Delhi. p. vii intro.
9 Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors (Oxford university at Clarendon Press, 1909), v. 1-6, S. Chand & Co., New Delhi. p. v 19
10 Singh, Harbans, Max Arthur Macauliffe; Translator of Sikh Scriptures and Historian of Early Sikhism, Macauliffe Institute of Sikh Studies, Toronto, 1988.
11 (Macauliffe comments in Home Public Aug. 1902, 192A.)
12 Singh, Fauja., Historians and Histography of the Sikhs, p. 173, Published by Oriental Publishers and Distributors, .New Delhi, 1978.
13 Singh, Ganda, Bhatag Lakshman Singh- Autobiography, Sikh Cultural Center, Calcutta, 1965
14 Singh, Gopal, History of the Sikh People, The Gomdals Press, New Delhi, 1979 p. 622
15 Barrier in Singh, Fauja, Historians and Historiography of the Sikh, Ed. Fauja Singh, Oriental Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1978.
16 Singh, Teja., Guru Nanak and His Mission, p. 1, Publisher, AS Marwaha, Los Angeles 1969.
17 Among the Singh Sabha leaders, case of Bhai Gurmukh Singh and Giani Dit Singh may be illustrated.
18 Dr. Gopal Singh quoted this in his book, History of the Sikh People, The Gomdals Press, New Delhi, 1979, see p. 922.
19 Singh, Fauja, Historians and Historiography of the Sikh, Ed. Fauja Singh, Oriental Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1978. p. 158.
20 Barrier in Singh, Fauja, Historians and Historiography of the Sikh, Ed. Fauja Singh, Oriental Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1978.
21 Macauliffe in A Lecture on "The Sikh Religion and Its Advantages to the State" Simla c. 1903, p 27.
22 Macauliffe's comments in Home Public, 192A, 1902; and many other letters and writings, see also Fauja Singh.
23Singh, Fauja, Historians and Historiography of the Sikh, Ed. Fauja Singh, Oriental Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1978.
24 Macauliffe's account in Government of India Home-Books, June 1907, 121-1A; also Macauliffe comments on Trumpp in the holy Writings of the Sikhs, Allahabad, 1900, pp. 25-26).
25 Macauliffe, M.A., Religion under Bana and its Present Condition, Calcutta Review, CXLV, 1881, p. 168.
26 Macauliffe's Lectures in Paris as quoted in The Punjab Past and Present. XV1-11, 484-540, 1982.
27Original letter in the Ganda Singh Archives at Punjabi University, Patiala. Transcription provided by Professor Harbans Singh who also published a part of the letter in, Singh, Fauja, Historians and Historiography of the Sikh, Ed. Fauja Singh, Oriental Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1978.
28 Personal communication from Gyani Gurdit Singh of Sri Guru Singh Sabha Shatabadi Committee, Chandigarh, 1992.
29 The Civil and military Gazette Lahore, March 19, 1913.

Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal

Dr. (Bhai) Harbans Lal is a distinguished Pharmacologist and a recognized scholar of Sikhism. Professor Lal has been published in all the major Sikh journals. His present interests lie in promoting Sikh Studies in North America.

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