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Review

Educational Philosophy of Guru Granth
– Samuhik Sikhiya Sanchar da Sadhan –

A Review by Dr Bhai Harbans Lal

Author: Amrit Kaur Raina, M.A., M.Ed., Ph.D
Publisher: Punjabi University, Patiala

I experienced a sudden emotional outburst on a sunny afternoon when the US Postal Service delivered a parcel of books that opened my eyes wide. The parcel I received on that day contained books by Dr Amrit Kaur Raina.

I consider Amrit as my emotional and intellectual link with my dear colleague late Professor Harnam Das (1905-1971). Professor Sahib was a Sikh intellectual who devoted his lifetime in searching and disseminating teachings of Guru Nanak. This vocation was his personal devotion to Gurmat and a commitment to be a leader in the field of Punjabi education. He served his mission until his retirement. He served as the Head of the Punjabi Department of S D College in Ambala Cant, and as the founding President of the Punjabi Sahit Sabha, he promoted Punjabi Language and Sikhism. Because of his outstanding contributions, my colleague Dr Balkar Singh called Harnam Das a great and true scholar of Sikhism.

Harnam Das raised his daughter Amrit Kaur as a gift from Guru Nanak. Being a Sehajdhari Sikh he took his wife periodically to the Gurdwara Sri Panja Sahib for prayers until she conceived their child. They named the child Amrit Kaur as a token of gratefulness at the feet of Guru Nanak. As was the tradition in her parental home, Amrit’s marriage was solemnized as per the Anand Karaj to the true Sikh tradition.

Amrit retired from the position of Principal of S D College, to devote full time to the pursuit of the mission her father had left for her to promote. Thus, she continues to write and publish works on the educational philosophy of Guru Nanak. Further, she developed position papers and resource material on youth education based upon the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

I believe that the faculty of probing into universal knowledge and imparting it as education is an important purpose that the Creator assigns to every human body. Dr Raina personifies this ideal in her writings. I recently finished reading Dr Raina’s book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib: Samuhik Sikhiya Sanchar Da Sadhan, published by the Punjabi University, Patiala. After finishing its reading, I found in it a full justification for Dr Raina to write this book and I found it warranted for me to spread her message on Guru Nanak’s educational contributions.

Any novice first time introduced to Sri Guru Granth Sahib will instantaneously realize it as an educational institution where a teacher interacting with a group of students constitute an integral educational unit. The Granth being the teacher and the congregation being a school for learners will immediately become the center of attention making every Sikh as the object of its emphasis. Thus, the institution of education becomes a central doctrine in the Sikh society. Any definition or any identity in the Sikh society will revolve around this doctrine.

Some years ago, I published a series of six articles on Guru’s guidance on Education. Many others also wrote on the subject. However, Raina’s writings are the first comprehensive treatment of the Guru Granth’s educational leadership. Raina redrew the map of Sikh view on education strictly according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib that is not communal, parochial or ethnic but comprehensive and universal. It is readily applicable to the civil societies all over the world.

Alas, this book should have been written in English and international idiom. That would benefit our Diasporas and civil society in general. Amrit promised that she would be working on the English version. She did have an earlier book on similar subject in English. The title of that book was “The Educational Philosophy of the Sikh Gurus”. In contrast to the book under current review, this book contains complementary material from the biographies of the Sikh Gurus.

Dr Raina’s thesis on the subject of the educational philosophy of the Guru Granth earned wide acclaim and considered by some as the best work on the subject ever completed. Earlier, her essay, Guru Nanak Dev Ji da Sikhia Darshan, received first prize from the Punjab University Chandigarh; her essay in English received a prize from our esteemed journal The Sikh Review on the eve of Quinn-centenary of Guru Nanak Dev. Her essay on “Vision of Gursikh in Gurbani” won a prize at the All India Ganda Singh Memorial Essay Competition organized by Guru Nanak Mission Patiala in collaboration with Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

Raina’s work was followed only more recently by Dr Lakhbir Kaur Bahra. She was awarded Ph D (education) by the University of Lucknow. Her thesis title read, “Philosophy of Guru Granth Sahib and its Educational Implications”.

The publisher of the book under current review, Publication Bureau of the Punjabi University, Patiala is well known to me. As expected, I did not find any flaw in the publication. There were no typographical and grammatical mistakes throughout the volume, indicating carefulness in editing the book for print. Gurbani hymns are given in original and without error of spelling that often detracts readers from books published on the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. What is missing in this regard is the translation following each Gurbani verses cited. The writers in Punjab often ignore this aspect. Perhaps our readers living near our shrines in India do not feel necessity of the translations in prose that we need so badly in the Western countries.

The book being a single author book is cohesive in presentation. There is no doubt that the volume under review has reached a high water mark of success.

Here I will only give a cursory overview to dwell on what will interest the readers and what may be applicable to our community today. Let us turn the pages of Raina’s book divided in logical chapters.

Chapter 1 defines education; chapter 2 illustrates place of imparting education according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib; chapter 3 outlines purpose of education according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib; chapter 4 writes on Educational curriculum - Instructions for imparting education; chapter 5 reviews Starting of Modern Educational philosophy; chapter 6 continues Educational traditions; chapter 7, Concepts of the Teacher; chapter 8, Concepts of the student, educational technology, educational media; chapter 8 is on Educational consideration for education of women; chapter 9 outlines Overall purpose of education; and chapter 10 concludes with Relevance and Potential impact of educational philosophy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in modern times. At the end, there is a list of the books referred and consulted in preparing this work.

In introducing the book, Raina outlines conditions at the time of Guru Nanak given in the Guru’s own language. She illustrates how the founder of our faith protested against the injustice. Injustice particularly affected in the field of freedom and opportunity for true knowledge in local languages without dominance of the invaders and cruel rulers. She also challenges the reader to consider the definition of a true education and the role education may play in the life of ordinary citizens.

Education, she writes, had become a process of enslavement of human minds by rulers, clergy and other exploiters of society. The true aim of education should be to call forth that which is essential to the social, economic and spiritual development of an individual and society.

She concludes the introduction as to how much an individual would be indebted to Sri Guru Granth Sahib for the real education it provides. Is there an educational philosophy of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib worthy of scholarly research and exposition? Is Sri Guru Granth Sahib educational philosophy worthy of impact on social, political, and economic system of today’s world? Then truly, she treated Sri Guru Granth Sahib a source of a true educational philosophy and resource.

The remainder of the book takes a more avant-garde approach, with each chapter providing the framework for Guru’s vision of education, as seen through the eyes of an educationist such as Dr Raina. They highlight the major issues on comprehensive education of both body and mind.

Dr Raina’s book is a result of her many years working in the field of education and of her years of continuous research in the field. Throughout the volume, Raina recounts her search into Gurmat philosophy, and finally her disillusionment with modern education. These vignettes provide authenticity to the author’s ability to write on education, but are not the book’s focus.

Raina’s primary purpose is to rekindle a philosophical conversation on the essential questions with which the educational system should be concerned, and she revisits these questions in an intriguing and novel manner. There is a greater treasure of knowledge for reader in these chapters.

Raina asserts that in our present educational system, cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfortable; rather than shifting our minds to accommodate new knowledge we tend to reject that knowledge in an attempt to ease the discomfort. Nevertheless, she argues that education does not need to be managed, coerced or quantified to be an effective tool.

The value of such research on the Guru’s guidance on education will be determined by our attitude whether we are serious in implementing our Guru’s views on education verses what is dictated by political, regional or ethnic considerations. Many educationists do think such research an imperative challenge so that she was awarded a Research Project Grant by Union Grant Commission of the Government of India to research the topic of “Guru Granth Sahib as Vehicle of Mass Education”.

In conclusion, Sri Guru Granth Sahib as tool of comprehensive educational tradition is filled with captivating ideas about education, some new and some that need revisiting – all put in scholarly treatise for educationists, teachers and students alike. Reading this book was a time-consuming process because it is so comprehensive and so well supported with quotes and comparisons. The contents frequently demanded that I stop to reread and ponder sections.

I like this type of books that make me think, and this is one of those books that provide a banquet, not a morsel, of food for thought. I recommend the book to anyone in education, who is contemplating entering the field, or who is simply concerned about the path Sikh education was meant to follow. I also recommend this book to Sikh intelligentsia who wish to comprehend the treasure within their tradition via educational philosophy of the Guru Granth.

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