The number five is important across cultures. There are five books of the Torah, five are the pillars of Islam, and the number of wounds of Jesus Christ. In the Indian sub-continent, the system of local governance is based on the panchayat, the village body led by five wise members of the community.
In 1699 AD, Guru Gobind Singh called for five volunteers to lead the community. He appeared in the congregation with an unsheathed sword, and announced that while every member of the community was equally dear to him, he was looking for someone who was willing to sacrifice his head to him. Some devotees were taken aback, and some even left the congregation in fear.
After some time, a devotee offered his head. The Guru took him inside the tent, and returned to make a fresh call for another devotee. The call was made five times, and each time more devotees came forward, one by one. The Guru anointed them as the PanjPyare – the Five Beloved – who would henceforth be the leaders of the community. To establish this new institution, he then requested the PanjPyare to anoint him too, as a remarkable incident of leading by example.
Guru Nanak Dev travelled to the North East, South, and the West and North, and Guru Gobind Singh cemented this vision, by creating a pan-Indian community, as opposed to a regional one. The Guru’s creation of the PanjPyare was a unique template of a plural India – united on principles of humanity. Consider the diverse geography and caste identities which the ‘Five Beloved’ represented. Daya Ram, a Khatri of Lahore; Dharam Singh, a Jat from Hastinapur; Mohkam Chand, a chhimba (tailor) from Dwarka; Himmat Rai, a water-bearer from JagannathPuri; and Sahib Chand, a barber from Bidar.
By this, we can approximate a map of modern India – plural in all dimensions, yet united.