339.The Man in Blue – The Guru Granth is the Benchmark

I was asked by somebody in relation to a discussion on Námdharis, who it was that told us that the Guru of the Sikhs after Guru Gobind Singh was the Guru Granth – Guru Panth. The answer is that it was Guru Gobind Singh himself. I have been told about this many times when I lived in Panjab, and I have written about it many times since I came to the UK, but I am not sure if there is any document recording Guru’s statement.

 

As long as nobody contradicts us with evidence, we can safely assume that this statement is correct. I will first say something about the combination and then narrow it down to the Guru Granth in relation other publications.

 

Guru Granth – Guru Panth means that the worldwide Sikh community taking guidance from the Guru Granth is the highest authority in Sikhí. That sounds wonderful, but there are difficulties with the application of this idea in the Sikh Panth as we find it today.

 

Think about it : It does away with Jathedars, Pardhans, Babas and of course ‘Satgurus’ as authorities in Sikhí. What bliss, it sounds too good to be true ! The Yogi has passed away but post mortem I want to tell him that he never was the leader of the Sikhs in the western hemisphere and I am sorry Bhai Mohinder Singh but you are not the spiritual leader of the Sikhs in the UK.

 

‘Jathedar comes and Jathedar goes’ of the Akal Takhat, your coming and going is irrelevant. Not only do you have you no Jatha but also you have no authority. We will not even discuss the Jathedars of the other four Takhats.

 

The problem is with the Guru Panth. The members of the Panth have been ‘informed’ about Sikhí by these Jathedars, Pardhans, Babas and jathabandis. These ‘authorities’ have confirmed the members of the sangat in their sub-continental mindset, instead of adopting the revolutionary mindset that the Guru teaches. The above ‘authorities’ failed to teach Sikhí to the sangat in order to be able to call them ignorant ‘pindus’ and then assume authority over them. Changing the Sikh world order includes a massive effort at education, otherwise things would get worse instead of better.

 

The Guru Granth will also deal with the discussion about the ‘Dasam Granth’ or any other Sikh publication. The discussion about who wrote the ‘Dasam Granth’ is useless, as it is impossible to decide either way.   

 

Any publication should be judged by the benchmark of the Guru Granth. Stories about avtars of Hindu Gods or erotic stories are not in tune with the Guru Granth but Jaap Sahib is wonderful. Judging the many different works that make up the ‘Dasam Granth’ by the benchmark of the Guru Granth is not going to be easy, but at least we have some hope to come to a peaceful conclusion that way !

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Published in: on September 28, 2008 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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338.The Man in Blue – The S R M

I am going to try to reduce the confusion that exists about the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) and about Rehat Maryadas in general. I will probably fail, as there are too many entrenched positions on this subject and there are too many organisations and individuals claiming authority in the panth. I am not a jathedar, but I try to speak from Guru’s teachings and Sikh tradition.

 

The Guru Granth does not contain anything like the biblical Ten Commandments. It is very clear that Guru does not like hypocrisy, that Guru wants us to get ‘high’ on Nám rather than on drugs, that we should not have sexual relations with women other than our wives, but nowhere is there a set of rules like : You shall not be a hypocrite, You shall not drink alcohol or take drugs or You shall not commit adultery. On most subjects Guru teaches general principles, not specific rules.

 

There is a body of work called the rehatnamas, but they miss the authority of the Guru Granth. These rehatnamas are ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh and to others like Bhai Nand Lal, although authorship is sometimes disputed. It also seems that some of these are specific answers to specific situations, and not necessarily rules meant for eternity.

 

The S R M was put together through study of the general principles laid down in the Guru Granth, whatever records we have about the creation of the Khalsa in 1699 and records like the rehatnamas that I referred to above.

 

On meat eating there is only a proscription of the eating of ritualistically slaughtered meat, although followers of the Damdami Taksal and the AKJ feel strongly that eating meat should be forbidden. Kabir’s sabads in the Guru Granth suggest that we should not eat any meat, Guru Nanak seems to leave the choice to us and a text ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh mentions that we should not eat halal or kosher meat.

 

Similarly the rag mala is included in the Guru Granth Sahib against the will of the AKJ, but you do not have to include it when reciting the Guru Granth. Compromise is uncomfortable, but is preferable to schism.

    

There is no suggestion that the present S R M is perfect and cannot be changed, by its nature it needs to be updated from time to time. We might discover new sources on the practices of Guru, and we might come to the conclusion that rules that were relevant in an almost exclusively Panjabi panth are simply not applicable to a worldwide panth.

 

More and more Sikhs of Panjabi background are born outside the sub-continent and there is an increasing number of non-Panjabi Sikhs. This will lead to the panth, the Sarbat Khalsa having to make changes. This of course does not involve giving up any of the Guru Granth’s teachings.

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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337.The Man in Blue – Gurdwara Elections II

In my first article I tried to describe and analyse the problems around the Gurdwara elections in Southall. Some outsiders are suggesting that there is a struggle between ‘radical Sikhs’ and ‘the peaceful establishment’.

 

There is an establishment, but I am not impressed by the ‘peacefulness’ of either party and/or their followers. An important part of the motivation of the followers of both the Baaz & the Sher party seems to be power and money. The Sher party is definitely not made up of dangerous Sikh radicals.  

 

There are many stories doing the round on how friends and relatives of the present Gurdwara management profit from money spent or visas sponsored by the Gurdwara. I am not interested in these stories, but it is undeniable that being a member of the Prabandhak Committee is a prestigious position, which will impress friends and relatives in the UK and abroad.

 

I appeal to both ‘Baaz’ and ‘Sher’ to fight a clean election, to undertake in public that a maximum of openness and fairness will be exercised before and during the election and that both parties will not resort to either shouting and screaming or violence at any stage.

 

Both the ‘Baaz’ and the ‘Sher’ group should address the following issues :

      Who qualifies for Gurdwara membership ? The first time I became a member the person in charge was hesitant to enrol me because of my Dutch last name, although I am a visible Sikh. People with ‘Hindu’ last names who did not even wear a kara were accepted without questions.    

      I analysed the last set of accounts of the Singh Sabha Ltd and could not find any fault with them. The accounts were presented in a professional manner, but the Gurdwara should also produce a simple profit & loss account and a balance sheet for the benefit of ordinary members.

      It is not acceptable in a democratic organisation that the same persons can be officers of the executive like Chair, Secretary and Treasurer without any time limit. Maximum period in office should be three years followed by a period of three years in which such persons could be committee members but not officers.

      It should be clear that the authority within the organisation is with the members and that the officers and committee members execute the decisions of the AGM and other general meetings and run ‘current affairs’ but do not have the authority to make policy decisions. 

      It is a great shame that sangat’s money is spent on hiring a security firm during the elections. Both parties are at fault.

      Baaz & Sher should come together and agree Panj Piaré who will act as mediators between the two groups, as was done during the Misl period.


I will make sure that both Dr Parvinder Singh (gen secretary), and Gurmail Singh (Sher group) will receive a copy of Gurdwara Election I and II. 

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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336.The Man in Blue – Gurdwara Elections I

Why is it that during elections in our bigger Gurdwaré, the prabandhaks need to hire security, or are forced to have a postal election, to prevent outbreaks of violence ?

 

Many Panjabi Sikhs claim that elections are anti-Sikh or anti-Panjabi. There is of course much more to democracy than annual, bi-annual or tri-annual elections, but I do not think there is anything wrong with elections in the light of Gurmat.

 

Here and in the Netherlands there has been a gradual development from the early Middle Ages till now towards a greater involvement of the citizens in the affairs of state, counties and boroughs. There are examples of early forms of democracy on the sub-continent too, but mostly the experience has been of autocratic rule under the Lodhis and the Mughals, Maharaja Ranjit Singh & sons and the British ‘Raj’.

 

There was a modicum of democracy during the time of the Misl (most of the 18th Century, after Guru Gobind Singh and before Maharaja Ranjit Singh), but even then the emphasis was on the Misl leaders and not on the ordinary Singhs, let alone the Kaurs.

 

Democracy has to be learned. Even in the UK democracy is far from perfect. We have a political system of dictatorship by a political party that has not even got the majority of the vote, with elections every four/five years. In-between elections the Government mainly listens to the opinions of those filthy rags called the Sun, the Star and the Daily (racist) Mail.  

 

Back to the Gurdwaré in the UK. In the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick the prabandhak committee is put together by some kind of lottery, but that did not stop physical fighting breaking out. In Southall the two Singh Sabha Gurdwaré and the Sikh school-to-be are ruled by Himmat Singh Sohi, who was in post when I arrived here in February 2000 and still rules supreme.

 

The good thing about Himmat Singh is that he runs an effective administration. You cannot run a Gurdwara on spirituality alone, you also need to be businesslike and use the sangat’s money in an effective way.

 

The problem we face in the UK is that whatever the differences in the degree of efficiency with which the ‘Doors to the Guru’ are run, most Gurdwaré are not centres of spiritual excellence.

 

You are more likely to find Sadh Sangat in the multi-faith groups I am part of, or amongst Jagdeesh Singh’s (Slough) Quaker’s than in these Panjabi clubs. Ending on a positive note, the food in the Gurdwaré is good (although a bit too salty and too oily) and available to all.

Published in: on September 9, 2008 at 5:36 am  Comments (2)  
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335.The Man in Blue – English or Panjabi ?

Is Panjabi the Sikh language ? Should all Sikhs be able to speak Panjabi, should all Sikhs be Panjabis ? Is there any rule against speaking French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian or English in the Gurdwara ? The answers to these four questions are : No, No, No and No !

 

The language of the Guru Granth is not Panjabi, it is the language of the North West of the sub-continent of Guru’s day and was understood by most people in that corner of the subcontinent. Most would not have been familiar with Gurmukhi script, just like now people would use the Farsi or the Devnagri one and many were not able to read and write at all.

 

Anybody who can understand Urdu, Panjabi or Hindi will understand the Guru Granth much easier than ‘western’ Sikhs like Harjinder Singh (me). He (me) has the additional disadvantage that he came to Sikhí at the age of 50, when learning new languages is far more challenging than when you are 25.

 

The Guru Granth is mostly poetry, and most of the poetry is set to classical musical measures called rágs. We will never want to live by translations alone, as we would miss the beautiful poetry.

 

That does not mean that we should not spend time and money on excellent translations of the Guru Granth Sahib into English, and to have the Guru Granth translated in as many other languages as possible. We should also improve the quality of path and kirtan in the original language, using string instruments and in the original rágs.

 

I became a Sikh because in spite of using poor quality translations, Guru’s message is so powerful that it came through anyway. With better translations, more projections of original text and translations, we should bring the sangat back to the powerful teachings of our wonderful Guru.

 

If we want the Gurdwaré to be more than Panjabi clubs, announcements and notices should be in the local language and Panjabi, and katha should be in Panjabi some nights and in the local language on others. All katha should concentrate on the implications of Guru’s teachings on our daily life.

 

The first time I visited the ‘daftar’ (office) of the Park Avenue Singh Sabha I was told that I should speak in Panjabi, the other day in the same Gurdwara somebody tried to tell me something in Panjabi and I did not understand him. In spite of the fact that he could speak English he kept saying the same thing in Panjabi, and we did not get anywhere.

 

This is England, the language of this country is English. It is not my mother tongue either, but if I am part of what is a world religion in England, I think it would be perfectly reasonable that the local language is used as well.

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 7:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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