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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

BACK

Sikhs Stamp Their Presence, World-Wide

PPS Gill

French artist Paul Cezanne once said: We live in a rainbow of chaos. I look at the rainbow of chaos - our society - we live in, as a bouquet. It is a live example of unity in diversity. Today, however, this bouquet is losing its fragrance. It lies scattered and shattered. May be this is because we have become too individualistic, too self-centered, too self-conscious, too self-serving; and too ambitious for materialistic possessions, focusing on temporal rather than spiritual pursuits. We are living in cocoons, out of touch with the natural world! This distances us from peace, harmony, happiness.

And, what do all religions and scriptures underline? It is: Limit materialistic possessions; non-violence in thought, speech and action; and respect the multiplicity of viewpoints. This, perhaps, is the key to the three elements, peace, harmony, happiness, which constitute the bed-rock of a society ensuring its overall wellness and wellbeing, thereby, contributing to its holistic progress and development.

In fact, our sages and Gurus have preached that these three elements are part of our 'inner' conscience, and have ordained meditation to overcome agony and suffering; and be strong, steadfast, calm, composed and contented. The echo of agony and suffering of humanity, at different times in history, reverberates in our holy texts; for example, in the hymns of Guru Nanak, wherein, even remedies are suggested how to be at peace and contended with the self.

However, in a multi-religious society, where ritualism and symbolism have taken precedence over the sum and substance of the message of the holy books and scriptures, it makes us wander 'outside' our 'inner' self for peace, harmony, happiness. And, as Dalai Lama said: We can never obtain peace in the 'outer' world until we make peace 'within' ourselves, adding: Our strength, therefore, is not to let behaviour of 'others' destroy our 'inner' peace. Even Mahatma Gandhi said: 'Outward' peace is useless without 'inner' peace. S N Goenka of Vipassana Research Institute says: There is a common denominator in all religions – the universal teachings of morality and charity, of a disciplined and pure mind full of love, compassion, goodwill and tolerance.

It is the common denominator that all religious leaders ought to emphasize, and all religious adherents ought to practice. As such all religions need to be propagate religiosity in the right spirit.

Humankind needs to learn through scriptures how to resolve the conflict between 'outer' and 'inner' contentment. Absence of such learning casts a shadow over peace, harmony, happiness. We have to introspect and look inwards for rational thinking and calm. In fact, wittingly or unwittingly, we are either a party to or a witness to conflicts and violence over matters - religious. Religious competitiveness, intolerance is leading to communal divisions; erosion of peace, harmony, happiness. Religions expose us how to stem this tide, and help us understand, in proper perspective, how to lead simple life.

Albert Einstein once said: Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

If this be so, propagation of religions also requires imaginative ways and means to attract more audience. Across all religions, worshipers and faithful, as an affirmation of their beliefs, adherence to sayings, preaching and teaching, show reverence and respect to the creator of the universe, their respective gurus, saints and sages. The thought upper most in their mind is: How and where to search for peace, happiness and harmony. As such, religious occasions, events and anniversaries of national importance are observed in a befitting manner. Propagation of religions is an all encompassing exercise for which imagination is integral, given the questioning and inquisitive nature of the humans in this scientific age, ever seeking logic and reasoning.

Spreading spirituality through religious discourses, lectures, recitation of scriptures, singing of hymns, organizing contests, competitions, inculcating spiritual values and virtues at congregations, holding exhibitions, recapitulating and recalling sacrifices of martyrs, narrating stories from epics and folk-lore etc. is commonplace; so is holding of camps imparting training in religious pursuits; like on the art of tying turban in Sikhism. And, of course, taped - CDs and DVDs - or live telecasting and broadcasting - of spiritual messages in now an in-thing.

In a paper: Consumers' attitudes towards spiritual quest of religious channels on television in Delhi/NCR (National Capital Region), Ms. Anagha Shukre, gives this quote - "Religion defines the ideals of life, which in turn are reflected in the values and attitudes of societies and individuals. Such values and attitudes shape the behaviour and practices of institutions and members of cultures". The author says spirituality has always been a part of the Indian psyche. But now, it has found a new vehicle - twenty-four hours television. The television channels aim to re-establish the old traditional value systems with modern analysis in today's context.

She goes on: in fact, telecast of Ramayana and Mahabharata laid the foundation for present day religious channels. They proved that a huge market was waiting. And, like everything else, spirituality too has to be accessible, interesting and on the go. Little wonder that temples, churches, gurdwaras and other religious places of worship are offering live broadcast of Mass and Pujas on mobile. In three to four years one has come to see a distinct performance genre that can be called tele-puja. This consists of a studio repackaging of all the rituals, Yatra, Archanas, Yajnas, Bhajan, dances and various other modes of worship from all over India. Indians can have darshan of all their holy sites on television, buy CDs and DVDs based on telecasts.

India has 890-plus TV channels. And, a host of spiritual channels on air. For example: Sanskar, Aastha, Sadhna, Jeevan, God Channel, Zee Jagaran, Maharishi Veda Vision, MiracleNet, Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), Peace television and Ahimsaa etc. There are a sufficient number of Christian, Sikh, and Islamic channels, as well. Their viewership is steadily rising both at home and abroad.

The author asks: Who watches these channels? And answers: It is, perhaps, a reflection of our times that Nirvana-seekers are getting younger, diverse and experimental. Times have changed. Young people are more stressed. They find their answers in spiritual discourses, and take to such channels - 'television psychiatrists'. On an average, across all religious channels, it was found that 54 per cent of viewers were aged 35 and above. Does this mean we face spiritual and emotional trauma because of vacuum in life?

In this backdrop, let us focus on propagation of Sikh religion or Sikhism, as a way of life - practical living guided by the message of the holy book: Guru Granth Sahib. This holy book is not just for reverence, respect and bowing before it. It is meant to be read, assimilated and followed in daily life in letter and spirit by one and all. One wonders, what percentage of Sikh faithful, worshippers and believers have actually read their holy book, even once!

The present young generation would do well to remember that Sikhism is world's fifth-largest organized religion with 23 million (some estimates put the figure at 25 million) followers and faithful. The other four are: Christianity- 2.1 billion, Islam- 1.3 billion, Hinduism- 900 million, Buddhism- 376 million (Source: Wikipedia).

Going by the 'catch-them-young' theory, the aim of several voluntary organizations, instructional and educational institutions and Gurdwara managements is to expose the young Sikh generation to the Sikh culture, Sikh values, Sikh history, Sikh heritage, Sikh shrines etc. The idea is to ignite the young minds to understand their religion, what it implies, its import, its importance in everyday life. Were the young generation to pursue this, with sincerity, dedication and commitment, it would help answer many of their questions, clear doubts, misunderstandings and help them steady their life. For this we need good teachers and preachers, across the spectrum.

In the context of imaginative ways to propagate religion, 'thematic' philately comes to mind, as yet another alternative or additional medium to give a new dimension to infuse interest in the Sikh youth and spread the message of religion. You may even call it renewal of spiritual pursuit! {Philately is - art of collecting stamps.} If employed, exploited and perused in systematic, scientific manner, it may prove to be an effective instrument to inculcate in the young minds the message of the holy book, as ordained by the Gurus, and enrich them through understanding of their roots.

Most of the present generation, across all religious faiths and beliefs, has to be repeatedly reminded that meditation is not a preserve and reserve of only the 'aged' - the senior citizens. And, when Anagha Shukre tells us that 50 per cent plus viewers in Delhi and national capital region are 35 or above, it rings a bell. In a way it tells us how stress and strain of daily-life schedules is leading to depression and distress.

Therefore, given the extant and extent of distance the present generation has traversed away from adherence to their respective faiths in which they were born, the need is to create in them an awareness, an awakening, about what they are missing out. Philately is one way to approach them in this venture.

In Sikhism, the most worrisome aspect is the fast spreading cult of 'apostasy' among the Sikh boys and girls; and resorting to intoxicants: alcohol and drugs. This makes it all the more necessary and imperative to bring the youth 'back home'; to reunite them with the creator, caretaker of the universe. Undeniably, the way a large number of Sikh youth turn up for voluntary service on religious festivities is appreciable. It gives hope that the spirit of 'Sikhi' exists and survives!

Since the focus is on 'thematic' philately, allow a small diversion. Long back, there was a Punjabi song, when loosely translated it inter alia conveyed this message: Ever since telephones became commonplace, people have forgotten to write letters. As information - communication technology advanced, letter-writing began to go out of fashion. In between appeared type-writers: heavy desk-tops to portables to electronic. This further gave a blow to the art of 'hand-written' letters.

Today, landline telephones stand replaced by new means and medium of messaging - fast, instant and convenient. Its range is as wide as the variety of available gadgets and gizmos. Besides the fax machines, there is the ubiquitous internet - the world wide net; a host and variety of mobile phones: smart or radio-frequency operated; computers, lap-tops; i-pads, i-pods and Tablets. These have elbowed out noisy teleprinters! Social media: Twitter and Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook; SMS and MMS, and what have you. These rule the air-waves, globally.

Even the Indian post and telegraph department has undergone a sea-change, completely morphed. It is now 'India- Post'. Words, 'India' and 'Bharat', have replaced 'India postage', the earlier standard words on stamps. With letter-writing having virtually withered away, due to technological breakthrough, the post-card, the inland and foreign letter-cards and envelops have almost become dysfunctional, so have telegrams.

In fact, the new-world medium has wiped out even the 'Greetings card'. For generations, these 'relics' conveyed human emotions. These are now obsolete. With the passage of time, even postage stamps have almost exited - silently. Franking machines have replaced stamps! As such, the present generation has missed a great, unique opportunity of not only the art of letter-writing but also of selecting appropriate postage stamps, posting the letters in the red-coloured letter-box at the street corner or at the post-office; and the anxious wait that followed for the postman for a reply!

Reverting to the issue of 'thematic' philately, this medium still has relevance, though much has changed, across decades and time. The present generation may not be entirely unfamiliar with the usage of and purpose of postage stamps, which have all along been issued even to mark special occasions. However, the daily usage of postage stamps is now seemingly out of focus and fashion. It is another matter that any individual can now have a 'selfie' postage stamp of the desired denomination and size, courtesy 'India- Post', and flaunt it by affixing it on envelops and posting to friends!

Stamps - square, rectangular; small, colorful pieces of paper with serrated sides; and coated with sticking material - are collectors' prized possession. These remind us of remembrance, reverence and respect shown to observe or commemorate occasions, events and anniversaries or recognize the role and contribution of communities and individuals to the service of the Nation and society. This is why the word - philately - comes to mind, as a means and medium of education and instruction to convey the import and importance of Sikh spiritualism, nationalism and patriotism.

The young, present generation, needs to imbibe the rich treasure trove of their history and heritage to understand the present and prepare for the future, as well as learn how to steer their life in this highly competitive, volatile and violent world with calm, equanimity and humility. There are any number of philatelists and philately clubs devoted to such objectives. As such, 'thematic' philately can make a significant contribution to recognize and honour the role of the Sikhs, Sikh Gurus, Sikh personalities in armed forces, sports, politics, arts and culture, letters; as social activists, philanthropists, politicians; saints, soldiers, warriors and martyrs; and Sikh architecture (through gurdwaras) etc.

The images on stamps of the gurdwaras: Golden Temple, Sisganj, Nankana Sahib, Patna Sahib, Goindwal Sahib, Ber Sahib etc; Republic Day special numbers depicting Sikh images teach and remind us of our glorious past. Among the individuals depicted on stamps or on first day covers are: Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Baba Kharak Singh, Bhai Ghanyaji, Bhai Vir Singh, Bhagat Puran Singh, Shaheed Udham Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sobha Singh, Master Tara Singh, more illustrious personalities.

Stamps issued to commemorate special occasions and anniversaries related to the Sikhs - a small minority yet significant - have been issued both in pre-and-post-Independence India. In fact, several countries: Pakistan, Bhutan, Canada, Nederland, Singapore, Germany, South Korea, Kenya, Uzbekistan {showing former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Uzbek President, Islam Abduganievich Karimov} have also issued stamps in recognition of the role and contribution of the Sikh Diaspora. This is an important hallmark, which, for the young generation, should be of great education and learning, interest and entertainment, making them inquisitive to know more.

Google search showed a mosaic of stamps that illustrated and illuminated the computer screen, giving thumb-nail sketches of hundreds of stamps that were specially designed, produced and issued to highlight Sikh heritage, culture, valour and religiosity - like serving langar (community kitchen) etc. For this write-up, as suggestive illustrative sources, the writer came across net-portals and net-organizations devoted to this aspect of reverence and respect. For example: SinghSahib.Com, Sikh Net, Punjabi Janta, the Sikh Foundation International, {it reviewed Sikh Heritage through Stamps by Ranjit Singh}, Phil India International etc.

There are writers like Rupinder Kaur or philatelists like Surinder Singh, who have researched, recognized and acknowledged the presence of Sikhs, as a community, taking the reader and viewer to new horizons. Ranjit Singh depicts Sikh heritage in his philately book through stamps; preserving it for posterity. Writing in her essay, Stamps on Sikh Architecture, Rupinder Kaur says: These stamps released over the years give a silent message by paying homage to these places of veneration. They not only make a little pilgrimage tour in themselves but reflect the same peace and solace which one gets by visiting them. They truly represent important memoirs and make ones collection truly remarkable and noteworthy.

The labour of love of such individuals, and internet portals, give us a wide-angle exposure to the Sikhs' entrepreneurship and adventurism. As one scrolls, actual photographs of the stamps, facsimiles, first day covers etc. on a wide and myriad range of 'thematic' stamps of varying dimensions, denominations, colours and contrasts emerge to fill the screen; and viewer with pride.

In the following paragraphs are given only some illustrative examples glorifying the Sikhs and Sikhism.

The Google search revealed that the first ever stamp on Sikhs or Sikhism was issued in 1935 to commemorate the silver jubilee of King George V. It shows a black and white picture of the Golden Temple with a portrait of the King on the right. Its price was three-and-a-half Anna.

'India Post' has released special stamps and first day covers to commemorate the birth anniversaries of the Sikh gurus - Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Amar Das and Guru Gobind Singh, portraying gurdwaras which stand at their birth places. On the occasion of the 300th Birth Anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs the department of posts issued a special stamp in 1967, in the denomination of 15 Paisa. The stamp shows the Gurdwara at Patna Sahib which stands at the birth place of the tenth master.

In 1969, the 500th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the first guru of the Sikhs, was celebrated throughout the world. The department of posts associated itself with this celebration by bringing out a special stamp depicting Nankana Sahib {earlier known as Talwandi}, the birth place of the founder of Sikhism, which is now in Pakistan. Later, on the 500th Birth Anniversary of the Guru Amar Das in 1979 'India Post' issued a special stamp of 30 Paisa denomination depicting Gurdwara Baoli Sahib in Goindwal.

From the stamps released by the department on Sikh architecture, one shows a famous educational institution: Mohindra College at Patiala, which Maharaja Mohinder Singh had established in the late 19th century. Its foundation was laid by the then Viceroy of India in 1875. It was inaugurated in 1884.

Besides its architectural grandeur, it was the only institution stretching from Lahore to Delhi, attracting students from far and wide, and occupied a place of eminence in the educational landscape of the country. To commemorate this prestigious institute the department of posts issued a special stamp in 1988. The stamp shows the photograph of the magnificent building in monochromatic pink. The first day cover shows the same picture in full colors.

The simple idea of this narrative is to explore 'thematic' philately as an additional instrument to augment the existing efforts and expand understanding of Sikhism: a young and scientific religion, which believes in universal wellness, goodness and brotherhood. Also, to ignite the young minds to pursue their religion with fired imagination, dedication and commitment. Since Sikhs have stamped their presence, world-wide, individuals and institutions already engaged in infusing thought and spirit in the Sikh youth, may consider 'thematic' philately, as well as an additional attraction.

Will the Institute of Sikh Studies take the lead in such a venture and involve the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, as well? One wishes all historic gurdwaras should set up special philately sections displaying available stamps, first day covers on the Sikhs and Sikhism, as a means to propagate religion, as also attract the youth. And, by the way, the suggested philately section could also show-case coins issued on special occasions, give brief historical background in respect of all such souvenirs, and even make available all special anniversary publications and coffee table books. May be, this also helps us rediscover peace, harmony, happiness.

Yes, indeed, Sikhs have stamped their presence, world-wide!

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