Globalisation, Universalism and the notion of “Sarbat Ka Bhala” in Sikhism
The term Globalisation addresses diversity in a very open-ended pattern. A term that seems to incorporate various views, ideologies and methods to bring together the world under one umbrella. This approach has enabled exchange amongst people. Exchange, not just of commodities but of cultures and ideologies. The concept as used in this paper is a cultural context. This falls in line with Anthony Giddens observation that “globalisation, as we are experiencing it, is in many respects not only new, but also revolutionary. … Globalisation is political, technological and cultural, as well as economic.”(10) Thus, the very idea that globalization impacts the everyday life of human beings is more significant. This needs to be understood specifically with two aspects of globalization, one convergence (coming together) and the other political (which is revolutionary). Both these aspects have influenced everyday life of human beings individually and of societies collectively. India has been an example of such a diversity where people of different regions, faiths, speaking different languages live together. This diversity in itself is the most peculiar feature of the sub-continent. With globalization, this specific diversity of a single nation seems to confluence with a larger and more global diversity, where the world seems to have become one family though not isolated from the varied and the diverse. Thus, globalisation needs to be viewed in convergence with the voices of the subordinated and the oppressed classes. Though these notions have become more prominent in the present era, its emergence is visible in past centuries. The sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries depict similar convergence and political revolutions as visible in several voices in Guru Granth Sahib. This paper is an effort to read the Miri-Piri tradition in Sikhism along the line of a political movement and associate it with the principles drawn from Guru Granth Sahib. The readings from Guru Granth Sahib lead to ideas of Universalism that relates to the present day notions of globalisation with an attempt to bring together humanity as “one”.
Guru Granth Sahib offers a concrete example of such a convergence. At the outset, Guru Granth Sahib needs to be studied as a text that promotes mass-revolution with an aim of reform. If we keep this in mind and proceed further, we shall realize that the voices that emerge in Guru Granth Sahib are the voices of the lower castes. These are not just representations about the lower castes but also representations by the lower caste people. Until the compilation of Guru Granth Sahib, the people of lower castes had not found any platform from where they could raise their voices. More than this, something more interesting about the text is that the excluded sections of society were given an equal status with the upper castes and the upper classes. This revolution needs to be seen as convergence, an aspect of globalization that gets manifested way back in the sixteenth century itself. This was a move by the Gurus towards addressing the fundamental right of equality that was denied to certain sections of society. In this context, Jagroop Kaur in her essay “Concept of peace and the Guru Granth Sahib” clarifies that:
Guru Granth Sahib teaches the path of equality of all human beings. One of the greatest missions of Sikh Gurus was to abolish the tradition of caste system because it was based on inequality and unnatural distinction. The caste system discriminated people on the basis of low birth and favoured those with high births. According to Sikh Gurus, no one is born high or low because all are the children of God.1
Guru Nanak asserted that people need to be considered equal and thus he began a revolution to restore the dignity and self-respect of the people of the lower castes. He said:
ਨੀਚਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਨੀਚੀ ਹੂ ਅਤਿ ਨੀਚੁ ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਥਿ ਵਡਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਰੀਸ ॥
ਜਿਥੈ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਲੀਅਨਿ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ ॥
Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low.
[Nanak stays with the lowly] Why should he try to compete with the great [upper caste]?
In that place where the lowly are cared for-there, the Blessings of Your Glance of Grace rain down. ||4||3||
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15
Such a recognition of the often excluded sections of society was a challenge to the existing social as well as political order of the society. A concern was generated for the people of the lower castes. To consider this as a case of equality alone would be a simplistic reading of a very complex and a challenging revolution. This revolution intended to bring a reform in the society. Guru Nanak’s (1469-1539) mission was revolutionizing the society that was ridden with injustice, inequality and oppression. He envisioned an ideal society that would function on the principle of truth and truthful living:
ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਆਚਾਰੁ ॥੫॥
ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਊਚਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਨੀਚੁ ਨ ਦੀਸੈ ਕੋਇ ॥
Truth is higher than everything; but higher still is truthful living.||5||
Call everyone exalted; no one seems lowly.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 62
Guru Nanak’s movement needs to be understood from sociological aspects along with the spiritual. This was also the grounding of the Miri-Piri doctrine as deciphered by Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) later on. In this connection it would be apt to refer to Gurdeep Kaur who observes that “Miri-Piri system is fundamental to Guru Nanak’s spiritual perception and his mission. As far as the ideology of Miri-Piri was concerned, it had been laid down in Guru Nanak’s hymns in Guru Granth completely, very succinctly, and emphatically.”2 (Political Ethics, 87) This view can be taken further by indicating that Guru Nanak’s initiative of representing the case of the lower castes gave rise to a representational discourse that addressed the case of those who were oppressed. Thus, Guru Nanak’s mission was to oust injustice from the society as deliberated by Gurdeep Kaur as follows:
… Guru Nanak…started the institution of appointing a successor so that the succeeding Gurus could accomplish the targets and tasks of his mission. This was because the society that he was creating was still in its infancy and could not be motivated in a short span to face the gigantic problems of injustice and oppression then prevailing in India. Further, it was to be a great long-drawn task to train and condition people to accept the responsibility of undoing justice. (Political Ethics, 86)3
Guru Nanak’s philosophy bridged the gap between the spiritual and the empirical life of human beings. The notion of “Sacha Patshah” (True King) that gets epitomized by Guru Arjan Dev later on was introduced by Guru Nanak who in a way was abolishing the idea of “Patshah” (The King) who was the worldly King, by inducing the notion of truthfulness with the King. In this connection Daljeet Singh remarks that:
Guru’s God is a ‘Just Emperor’ and embodies the roles both of Miri and Piri. Since the Guru and the seeker have to be the instruments of God’s Will, they too have to play their part in both the spheres of life. Thus, the compulsion and the rationale behind the doctrine of Miri and Piri, is Guru Nanak’s view of God and his essential combination of the spiritual life and the empirical life. (“Sikhism”, n.p.)4
Thus, along with the spiritual, the empirical witnessed through politicization of a religious movement functioned on a straight–forward, concentrated objective of ‘justice for all’. This objective extends to the successors of the Guru who continued working on the mission. Expansion of Guru Ka Langar(community kitchen) and introduction of Punjabi script, Gurmukhi, by Guru Angad Dev was a move in this direction. Both these initiatives worked towards destruction of hegemonic power of the Upper castes and the pandits of temples and maulvis of the masjids who had held the hegemony of Sanskrit and Arabic respectively. Thus, with the introduction of Gurmukhi, education was made available to the people of lower classes and castes. This was carried forward by Guru Arjan Dev who anthologized the Bani of Bhagats along with those of Gurus. Hence, a space was created for the people of different communities and regions, who could rightfully voice their concern for humanity. These people belonged to those sections of society who had been proscribed for centuries together from the erudite spaces of society such as education, religion, and politics. This mission gradually took a concrete shape through the construction of a physical space that became the “sacred centre of the new community” (Gurdeep Kaur, 92) by Guru Ramdas. Followed by Guru ArjanDev, the Sikh tradition had now entered the political space in the country. The birth of an organization was visible. Daswand was introduced. The organization functioned purely for community welfare, on the principles of cohesiveness. The cohesive factor rendered the entire mission unique, something that would deconstruct the rationale of the fragmented society on which the discretionary elements functioned. At the same time, the entire movement was militarized. The Guru could foresee the need of the hour. Sikhs were accordingly trained for military skills. This became a rare example when a religious organization became radical by promoting the concept of saint-soldier which shaped into a well sought out combination of Miri- Piri with Guru Hargobind, taking charge of Guruship after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev. With Guru Hargobind the notion of Miri-Piri got framed as an ideology and the movement spelled out the religious and political agenda more openly than was done in the past. “Miri”addressed the spiritual aspect of human individually and equitable feature of the community collectively. Thus, with the notions of “Miri” as suggested by Gurus before Guru Hargobind, the birth of representational discourse was visible. This was also evident through the interaction of the Gurus with Sufis and Bhagats of Bhakti movement. By representational discourse, I mean to lay emphasis on the literary activity that corresponded simultaneously along with these movements. Adi Granth was being compiled wherein the contributions of various poets who belonged to different castes and clans were anthologized. I would like to highlight Nirmal Das’s comment at this point about the inclusion of BhagatBani in Guru Granth Sahib where he explains that Guru ArjanDev not just historically contextualized the Sikh faith but gave it a pre-history. He explains:
…the fifteen saints are not merely adjunct to Adi Granth, nor are they marginal to the teachings of the Gurus; rather they are the intertextual ground from which Sikh piety itself springs- for prehistory implies continuity. In brief, the words of the Gurus complete the utterances of the various saints: the old flows into the new, and the new encompasses the old; both receive and perfect each other.5
Adi Granth, which later on became Guru Granth Sahib, a scripture of the followers of the Sikh faith (I am not saying the scripture of Sikhs alone, in terms of Sikhism, as the Scripture is not restrictive to a particular religion, it is universal, a scripture of the entire human race) that pronounced the idea of equality and democracy in its true spirit. In order to promote equality and justice to human race it became important for the Guru to stand against injustice. Thus, during Guru Hargobind’s reign and also because of the manner in which Guru Arjan Dev had been martyred, entire movement took a more organized and structured form. The formation of Akal Takht, thus provided the physical space that could incorporate the temporal necessities of the period. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom for the Kashmiri Pandits exemplifies the fight for the cause of righteousness and “Sarbat ka Bhalla”. After his martyrdom, the formation of Khalsa was purely with an intention to promote justice, to protect the rights of human beings and to spread a message of love amongst various communities in order to unite human race on the principle of “oneness”. Jagjit Singh in his essay, “Doctrine of Meeri-Peeri” explains how “Peeri” was pivotal to the entire movement:
‘Peeri’ : ‘ Peeri’ is not merely an essential component of ‘Meeri-Peeri’, it is the fulcrum around which ‘Meeri’ must revolve. Because, in the Gurus’ concept of ‘Meeri-Peeri’, the exercise of Political power was valid only so long it was employed in transforming the world in accordance with God’s purpose. It ceased to be valid, the moment it was used merely for its secular enjoyment by any agency, whether Khalsa or any other. The Akal takhat was meant not to be the seat of worldly political power, it was the throne of God only. Guru Hargobind, addressing his army on to eve of a battle, said: “Brother Sikhs, this contest is not for empire, for wealth, or for land. It is in reality a war for religion’. [quoted from Macauliff, 255] The creation of the Khalsa was just an extension of the doctrine of Meeri-Peeri”. Whereas Guru Gobind Singh had declared that he did not aspire for raj (political authority) for his own person, [quoted from Koer Singh, 99] it was he who blessed the downtrodden (Jats and Sudras) to attain raj at a time when his sons were alive. [quoted from Koer, 131, 139] ‘The Khalsa was God’s own, and its achievements were God’s achievements’ (‘Wahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Wahiguru ji kee fateh’). ... “The Khalsa was created to destroy the evil-doer and to remove distress.” [quoted from Ganda Singh, 21] (Web. n,p)6
Thus, the whole notion of Miri-Piri right from Guru Nanak needs to be viewed as a revolution, a reworking of a political order of society and as an enunciation of representational discourse through convergence of the political with the religious. Since the entire crux of the matter is “representation” as being dealt within this paper, I would like to lay stress on the fact that the movement delineates a mass representational aspect of a more global confluence focusing on human dignity and self-respect. Tracing the trajectory from past to present, we have come a long way along with several events in history, from colonialism, de-colonialism to post colonialism, the concern for welfare of human species “sarbat ka bhalla”, has remained relevant. Indeed, the past posits gruesome victimization of people around the world, in India and abroad, we have entered a world order in the present where humankind is threatened through terrorism, endangered through addiction and suppressed because of the fear of the dominating agency. Simultaneously, several movements be it feminism, movements led by Aborigines, Dalits, minorities and marginalized groups have led to assertion of an awakened consciousness. An endeavor which was initiated by the Sikh Guru’s several centuries back. We may have understood the process of democratization as a political order much later in the present, but the democratic ideas were very much professed in Guru Granth Sahib which provided a futuristic vision, way back in the early fifteenth to eighteenth century. Revisiting Guru Granth Sahib, for creation of a new world order would indicate the following that correspond to globalization. The very notion of “oneness” as projected in Guru Granth Sahib is the first. In Guru Granth Sahib, “oneness” has been perceived in two ways, one: “God as One” who belongs to all alike; and human beings as one, thus discarding the distinction of caste: First, God is one, who is the sole deliverer of the soul; the only one who provides consolation to beings in their sufferings:
Only one being has the knowledge of all other beings, only He is the protector. My mind has placed hope on one, He is the sustainer of life… The One is my brother, friend. He is mother and father. Only He is the hope of my mind, who gave me life and body. That master who masters everything should not be kept out of mind.…
Supreme Master is only one; there is none other than Him. The life and body is His, what He wills will happen. Nanak says, ‘Everyone is made perfect by the perfect Guru. Therefore, remember that He is the truth. (Trans. Darshan Singh)7
Secondly, the following shabad indicates reaction against the prevailing caste system in the sixteenth century, condemning all distinctions of caste and creed. The text proclaims similarity and oneness amongst all beings of the universe. God has been compared with a potter who shapes toys with the same clay:
No one should be proud of one’s caste. One who realizes God is Brahaman, who actually knows God. ||1 || O! foolish , idiot man , do not be proud of caste. This pride gives birth to many evils || 1 || Pause || Everyone says there are four classes. All creation is created by the semen of God. || 2 || All people are created with the same clay, With the same clay, God has designed all pots, in different forms || 3||8 ( Trans. Darshan Singh).
Therefore, proclaiming oneness of beings, Guru Granth Sahib universalizes its teachings extending its scope for all human beings equally. The entire philosophy is based on existence of humanity, its problems and solutions to these problems. For a world order based on globalization, universalism indicated through “oneness” would be the primary requisite. Secondly, in the economic terms liberalization and free exchange of goods and capitals will determine a more synchronized world order. The very fact that the Gurus were travelling to different parts of the world right from Guru Nanak’s Udasis to Guru Gobind Singh’s non-stationary movements, an exchange of cultures and ideas was made possible. The whole idea of travel was to explore and to bring together the world on common values. The exchange of capital and goods can never be an exchange without that of cultures and ideas. In the present,the world has already been connected through technology, connectivity is no more an obstacle.
Thirdly, the very notion of Daswand projected ideas of common money for community welfare, thus decentralizing the control of capital from the hands of a few and sundry elites. The globalization of economic activities functions on coordination of both national and world economy collectively.
Fourthly, quest for truth based on rational principles as projected by Gurus and revolutionizing with a motive of reform and justice for all would result in creation of a borderless society, as human beings need to be considered as ‘one’ despite differences. Deinstitutionalizing the dogmatic religions of all kinds, would lead to an open-ended religion that would be free of all institutions. Guru Granth Sahib, becomes an apt example for this as it condemns all rituals and dogmas. This would lead to a new formation of a composite nation-state through an integration of common economy, commercial, cultural, social and political, knitted together through technological tie-ups. This world order would evidently result in reducing the powers of the state. Individuals would be granted more rights and freedom to exercise irrespective of any disintegrating factors.
To sum up it would not be wrong to state that Guru Granth Sahib represents a concern for entirety and is free of any kind of discretion, the text in itself functions as scripture of the world and for the world which provides a model for the creation of an ideal world-order.
1. Kaur, Jagroop. “The Concept of Peace and the Guru Granth Sahib”The Indian Journal of Political Science, Vol 66 No.3 (July-Sept., 2005) 649-660. 21/10/2013 www.jstor.org/stable/41856155 Web.
Macauliffe, Max Arthur. The Sikh Religion.Voliv. N.p.: Oxford University Press, 1909. [as quoted by Jagjit Singh]
2. Kaur, Gurdeep. Political Ethics of Guru Granth Sahib: The Concept of State. New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2000. Print.
4. Singh, Daljeet. “Sikhism: A MiriPiri System”.Recent Researches in Sikhism eds. Jabir Singh Mann and Karak Singh. Chandigarh: IOSS, 1992. Print.
5. Das, Nirmal. Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth: Translation and Introduction. Albany: State University of New York, 2000. Print.
Giddens, Anthony. Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping Our Lives. London: Profile Books. 2002. Print.
6. Singh, Jagjit. “The Doctrine of ‘Meeri-Peeri”. Recent Researches in Sikhism eds. Jabir Singh Mann and Karak Singh. Chandigarh: IOSS, 1992. Print.
Singh Koer. GurbilasPatshahiDasvi (1754) [as quoted by Jagjit Singh]
7. Singh, Darshan. Guru Granth Sahib: Sentence by sentence (Gurmukhi Script, Roman Transliteration and English Translation) Belgium: International Publishing House: n.d. Print.
8. Singh, Ganda. Sri GurSobha. Patiala: Patiala Univ. Press, 1967. [as quoted by Jagjit Singh)
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2014, All