373.The Man in Blue – A Visit to the burnt down Sikh Sangat Gurdwara

On Sunday the 17th of May I paid a visit to the Sikh Sangat Gurdwara, Harley Grove, Bow, which recently was set fire to by ‘person or persons unknown’. In this column I will not discuss the possible motives behind this.

After getting up, taking a shower and doing my ‘nitnem’ I did some work related to ‘fbfe’, updated my weblog and added some pictures to my flickr account. Like I do every morning I had Panjabi style tea with cloves, cardamom and fennel and a Dutch style breakfast with different types of bread, peanut butter, marmalade and cheese.

I then went out to Elthorne (Hanwell) to deliver Lib Dem leaflets encouraging people to vote Lib Dems at the European election. We might be reasonably successful, as voters are less unhappy with our lot than with the Conservatives and New Labour. Our voters are also more motivated to vote in a European election, as Lib Dems do not suffer from Europhobia.

At about 13.00 I took a bus to Ealing Broadway and went from there by train and underground to Bow.

Sadh Sangat was having langar in the street in front of the Gurdwara and I was invited to take part. I was recognised by a Singh who studies at Walthamstow College, and talked to him and to another Singh who has a stall in the Roman Road street market.

After langar I helped with removing, cleaning and stacking the tables and chairs, which gave me the chance to have a good look at the damage done to the Gurdwara. The back of the building with the langar and the kitchen is intact, the front where the beautiful divan hall and the ‘sach khand’ were is in an awful state. The outer walls are standing but this part of the building is an empty shell with a caved in roof.

I enjoyed being with sangat, I liked the langar in the street and the divan in a tent on the green across the road from the Gurdwara, but seeing the damage done made me feel sad over the loss inflicted on the community and over the lost ‘birs’ of the Guru Granth Sahib.

This building symbolises the rich and diverse history of the area, first a church, then a synagogue and finally a Gurdwara. It should be restored to its original state, respecting the faith traditions that it housed. Whoever the arsonist was, whatever his motives, regardless whether he acted on his own or not, he should not be allowed to win.

We should all contribute to a restoration fund that has both local and outside Gursikhs as trustees, making sure that this monument for the rich social and religious history of East London is preserved.

Published in: on May 23, 2009 at 7:04 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

372.The Man in Blue – The North West Frontier Province

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan is part of the inheritance of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, taken over in 1849 by the East India Company and after the 1857 Mutiny by the British Empire.

In the period before independence of India and Pakistan the leading political party of the NWFP would probably have preferred to be part of India. This might be because they were conquered by Panjabis in the past, and did not fancy being part of a state dominated by Panjabis.

It was good for the North West of India that Ranjit Singh conquered this border area of Afghanistan, and so controlled the Khyber Pass. But the Sikh Kingdom conquered the NWFP against the will of its population. It was ruled very harshly by the likes of General Paolo Bartolomeo Avitabile, an Italian general in the service of Ranjit Singh.

Avitabile was a ruthless ruler, summary executions became usual, and he had people executed by throwing them from the top of one of the city’s mosques. What was true then is true still : Pathans, whether in the NWFP or in Afghanistan are not the easiest to people to rule (and neither are Sikhs).

Under the Lahore Kingdom, under British rule and as part of Pakistan the so-called tribal areas were given a degree of autonomy because it was simply too difficult to control them. The Swat Valley which is very much in the news these days was a semi-independent princely state until 1969.

Although the valley does not have as turbulent a history as the tribal areas, part of the reason why there is support for the Taliban in Swat is that they were integrated in Pakistan without having any say in the matter.

I am just trying to give you a feel of the modern history of the NWFP and of the role played by the Sikhs. I have no brilliant suggestions on how to solve the present problems in the province.

Pakistan could of course give the NWFP back to Afghanistan, and maybe some parts of the border areas of Baluchistan as well. This will change the nature of the problems, but will not make them go away. Having violence in areas just across your borders is different from having them just inside your borders, but is not necessarily much better.

Pakistan should try to reach out to the people of the NWFP and their traditional leaders, bypassing the Taliban, and allow local autonomy in exchange for adherence to basic human rights.

I would be very surprised if this were to be accomplished by corrupt and incompetent Pakistani politicians like Ali Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

371.The Man in Blue – The Definition of a Sikh in the Rehat Maryada

The Definition of Sikh : Any human being who faithfully believes in

I. One Immortal Being,

II. Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib,

III. The Guru Granth Sahib,

IV. The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and

V. the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.

Sikhí as a dharm rather than a religion has not got too many doctrines but the Rehat Maryada does define who or what a Sikh is. This definition is not perfect, but it has helpful aspects.

To my thinking the definition should be around the Guru Granth and the Guru Panth, but this second part of Guru Gobind Singh’s directive, issued before he passed away, is completely missing.

Sikhs believe in One God, in One Immortal Being, there can be no doubt about that. Believing in the Ten Gurus always strikes me as a little odd, but I think what is meant is that we believe in their teachings, which are to be found in the Guru Granth. What is meant under IV is not really clear.

Any utterances and teachings that are recorded outside the Guru Granth Sahib are acceptable only if these agree with the teachings of the Guru Granth. Teachings and utterances found in Sakis, the Dasam Granth or Sarbloh Granth that do not agree with the Guru Granth Sahib are not acceptable.

I know the above is seen as controversial, although all I do is adhere to Guru Gobind Singh’s ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’ directive.

Long discussions have been held about the meaning of the sentence ‘who faithfully believes in the baptism bequeathed by tenth Guru’. Is it good enough to believe in, but not take Amrit ? Does it mean that you should be moving towards taking Amrit ? Or are you only a Sikh after taking Amrit ?

Note that the word Khalsa is not used. Nowhere have I found that you can be a one-fifth, two-fifth, three-fifth, four fifth Sikh or Khalsa by wearing 0ne, two, three or four Ks. Keshdhari Sikhs, Sehajdari Sikhs do not exist.

The definition of a Sikh (and a Khalsa) should be changed, simplified, and there should be a recognition that there are many people who are listening to our eternal Guru and are on the path towards being a full Sikh or Khalsa. It should also be made clear that just wearing 5 Ks and reciting the prescribed sabads does not make you a Sikh if there is no Sikh behaviour.

370.The Man in Blue – Peace of Mind in the Kingston Gurdwara

As happens to me too often I went through a period during which I was very busy both with working for Faiths & Beliefs in Further Education (fbfe) and also with the various other things I get up to.

On the 30th of April I held my bi-annual fbfe London Region Forum. It was quite successful, and it is likely that things are going to be less hectic between now and September.

I had agreed to a first visit to Kingston College for the 1st of May, but I felt more like having a day off instead of going to yet another college to make my case for multi-faith activities.

It was a beautiful morning and I decided to leave early and pay a visit to the Kingston Gurdwara before going to the college. As there is no direct rail link between Kingston and Southall I took the 607 bus to Ealing and from Ealing the 65 bus to Eden Road in central Kingston. From there I took the K1 bus to the Guru Har Rai Gurdwara.

The only sangat present in the Gurdwara was a lady busy preparing langar. She asked me if I liked some ‘nasta’ and whether I wanted ‘chai’ or ‘dudh’. I sat down and enjoyed my parantha, sabzi and chai with chini (not khand). The lady either spoke Hindi or city Panjabi strongly influenced by Hindi.

The big advantage for me was that she used fewer nasal sounds and less high speed talking, so I could actually understand her and answer her in my version of Panjabi (you are allowed to laugh).    

But my inadequacies in the field of understanding and speaking Panjabi are not the subject of this article. What I found was that by simply being in the Gurdwara, listening to the reading of the Guru Granth, enjoying my cup of tea and my bit of langar I calmed down, I relaxed and when I went to the Kingston College everything went really well.

The Gurdwara is to be a refuelling station where both physical and spiritual food is on offer. Even when no function takes place, when there is no kirtan, katha (and especially no extremely noisy dhadis) the Gurdwara is (should be) a place of peace.

Nobody needs to do anything very special, just treat all comers with respect, try to leave those that just want some peace and quiet alone, and sit down with those that need a listening ear.

What we do not need is sevadars that shout at each other, or even worse at the sangat. What we need even less is Prabandhaks fighting each other.

369.The Man in Blue – No Khalsa without the Guru Dasam Granth

I was very shocked when I saw a young man during the Southall Nagar Kirtan wearing a jacket with the above slogan printed on the back. The problem is that this kind of slogan which goes directly against the directions given to us by Guru Gobind Singh will be believed by many Sikhs.

The ten Gurus did not each teach their own Sikhí, they were all Nanak, they all carried forward God’s light that was given to Guru Nanak. That light is present in the Guru Granth Sahib, our eternal Guru, and in the lives of all the ten Gurus. There really is only one Guru and that is God.

Guru Nanak wrote that if you want to play the Game of Love you have to carry your head on the palm of your hand. Some two hundred years later Guru Gobind Singh asked for exactly that same commitment. Guru Gobind Singh told us that the True Khalsa serves all, and serving all, seeing God’s presence in all, is what the other nine Gurus taught and practised.

Guru Hargobind took up the sword, Guru Teg Bahadur took up the sword before he became the Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur gave his life defending Hindus. The principles on which Guru’s Khalsa is based are in the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Gobind gave these principles a new form.

On Vaisakhi 1699 there was no Dasam Granth, when Guru before he passed away declared the Guru Granth to be the eternal Guru of the Sikhs there was no Dasam Granth.

The above does not mean that it is wrong to read the Dasam Granth, and I have not said anything about the authorship of the Dasam Granth. I do not know who wrote the Dasam Granth, and I am not getting involved in a debate that cannot be won, as nobody knows who wrote the Dasam Granth.

There is a lot of interesting material in the Dasam Granth, and also some writing of which I cannot understand what it has to do with any religion. But whatever I think is irrelevant, Guru Gobind Singh taught us to follow the teachings of the Guru Granth, and that is what I concentrate on.

No Khalsa without the Guru Granth, no Sikhí without the Guru Granth. That is not my personal interpretation, it is what Guru taught us. The irony is that many people who claim to be ardent supporters of Guru Gobind Singh  try to make him out to be more important than the other Gurus, and try to make a Granth that did not even exist in Guru’s lifetime equal or even more important than the Guru Granth.

Guru Gobind Singh like the other Gurus did not want to be worshipped, Guru Gobind Singh wanted us to follow the Guru Granth.

Published in: on May 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,