Institutional Failure within Sikhism
Brig Hardit Singh
The world thinkers and philosophers have already started saying that Sikhism is the religion of the New Age. Inspite of all the potentialities and distinctions, the Sikhs have started drifting from the high ideals of Sikhism. An attempt is being made in this paper to discuss where we have gone wrong and to recommend remedial measures.
Disbelief in Oneness of God and Humanity
Guru Nanak, the prophet of amity, organised sangats (religious congregation) and pangats (dining together in community kitchen) where people of all castes and creeds could live, pray and eat together without any distinction of high or low birth. This casteless society came to be known as Sikhs — the learners of Guru’s wisdom. Guru Nanak and his nine successor Gurus stressed that after becoming a Sikh, one was free from inhibition of past performance (kirt), caste and creed (kul), religious belief (dharam), past actions and its consequences (karam) and susperstitions (bharam). Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) openly enunciated this belief in 1699 at the time of ‘amrit sanchar’ ceremony. This is called the ‘Nash’ doctrine which means freedom from five vices. The Guru also enjoined that the male Sikhs should suffix their name with the word ‘Singh’ (lion) and the females with ‘Kaur’ (princess). The Sikhs mainly abided by this injunction till about end of 19th century and then started reverting to be called by caste names. Some have adopted names of village or town as suffix such as Barnala, Badal, Chandumajra etc. Today the Sikh Panth is divided into Jat Sikhs, Khatri Sikhs, Majhbi / Ramdasia Sikhs, Ramgarhia Sikhs etc., so much so that they have built their own gurdwaras. In the West there are even Sahijdhari and Amritdhari / Keshdhari gurdwaras. Low caste Sikhs are being discriminated and this is against Guru Nanak’s saying “Lowliest of the lowly are my kin, and with them I shall abide.” The caste system which the Gurus wanted to eradicate is rearing its head again. This is an ominous lapse, calling for our immediate attention.
Lapse in Mode of Worship
The main mission of Guru Nanak was to spread the gospel of one Formless God who could be realised through the medium of shabad and not through any visible object or person. This concept in nutshell is known as, “Puja Akal ki, parcha shabad da”. Guru Nanak known as “Nanak-Nirankari” is the first prophet who laid stress on the formless aspect of God. Shabad is the Guru (Divine Light) and not the body. Guru’s eternal form is shabad — “Gur moorat gur shabad hai.” The Ten Gurus in their lifetime preached this fundamental tenet and Guru Gobind Singh before shedding his mortal frame enthroned the shabad, Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the Enternal Guru of the Sikhs and ended the lineage of living Gurus. These days some so called saints or spiritual guides are again reviving the old culture of having a living Guru and are advocating veneration of pictures, idols and statues for salvation. Namdharis, Nirankaris and Radhasoamis are the product of this cult. There is a vital need to extensively propogate the concept of oneness of Shabad Guru and the Gurbani.
Neglect of Sikh Code of Conduct
Sikhs are enjoined to live a purposeful whole life. The guiding principle is to earn one’s bread by honest means (dharam di kirt karna), sharing it with the needy (wand chhakna) and to remember Him (Naam Japna). Not to be deterred from doing noble deeds at any cost is their beau-ideal (shukbh karman te kabhu na taron).
Guru Arjun Dev (1563-1606) had warned us of the four pitfalls (kapts) that a person or community must guard against : power and prestige (Raj); vanity or pride (Roop); wealth and property (Dhan) and arrogance of caste and clan (Kul). Instead the Sikhs were asked to be sweet and humble (Mithat-Nivi) and work selflessly for the welfare of humanity (Sarbat da Bhalla). The Sikhs of the 18th century abided by the Gurus will. During the 18th century a Sikhs’s statement in a court was taken as a gospel truth. Kazi Noor Mohd, an arch antagonist of the Sikhs had expressed “Do not call them ‘sags’ (dogs) as they are the bravest and the most chivalrous when in the battle field .... They will not tell a lie, nor will they molest a woman or even cast an evil eye on any woman.” In the same period, a ‘nihang’ Sikh when asked by a foreigner as to who was his sovereign disdainfully replied, “He does not accept suzerainty of any earthly king. God Almighty is his Lord”. Compare it with our present day standard of morality and truthfulness, our servility knows no bounds.
Decline of Akal Takht
The Akal Takht, constructed by Guru Hargobind (1595-1606) is the highest religious (piri) and temporal (miri) seat of the Sikhs. The Guru sat in state upon it, discussed all affairs concering the community and humanity at large and issued edicts (hukamnamas) for implementation.
Appointment of jathedar for the Akal Takht and the other four Takhts is a wrong precedent and is against the Sikh tradition. Jathedar is a military term which means head of a contingent (Jatha). A general notion that Bhai Mani Singh and Akali Phula Singh were jathedars of the Akal Takht is not correct. Mata Sundriji appointed Bhai Mani Singh as a custodian to look after the sacred complex and Akali Phula Singh was the head of the Nihangs based in Amritsar and not a jathedar. He was the most courageous and selfless leader and in that capacity he had dealt with Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his religious lapse. The term jathedar doesn’t even appear in the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925 and is thus a new development.
During the last decade or so the jathedars, particularly those of Akal Takht, have made mockery of the Akal Takht’s status and the Sikhs traditions. They had issued controversial ‘hukamnamas’ like the one in regard to ‘langar’ (eating together in the community kitchen), ex-communicated persons without going through the proper procedure; appointed their own Panj-Piaras without the Panth’s approval and that too from places away from the Akal Takht and behaved as if they were the supreme authority. An ex-jathedar is going about claiming that he is “the real Jathedar” and that he would convene a “Sarbat Khalsa” meeting, which he is not entitled to do, to justify his self appointment. The jathedars being employees of the SGPC cannot be expected to make independent judgements and decisions. Further they should be symbols of humility and service but this noble trait in them is largely missing. Guru Gobind Singh had ended the lineage of living Gurus and had entrusted the spiritual power to Guru Granth and temporal power to the Sikh Panth. Guru Gobind Singh had not elevated any single person to the position of absolute authority. We should do away with the jathedari and follow the Guru's precept of collective leadership of “Guru Granth and Guru Panth”.
Defective Working of SGPC
The enactment of the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 was a great victory for the Sikhs in wresting control of their Gurdwaras from the control of corrupt ‘mahants’. It, however, brought in its wake two grave maladies. One is the system of election by votes and the second one is the government control over the elections and the appointment of the Tribunal and the Judicial Commission.
Elections by votes breeds factionalism and nepotism and the right type of Sikhs are not coming forward to become SGPC members. Membership is sought as a stepping stone for political power. Liquor, money, muscle power and even fire-arms are used to win votes. All other gurdwaras and Sikh institutions are also now electing their governing bodies by votes. These elections are even worse when free fights take place in the holy presence of our Eternal Guru. Such a behaviour, apart from bringing bad name to the community, alienates youths from Sikhism. Sikhism enjoins that members should be chosen by concensus under Guru Nanak’s dictum of “Panch Parwan Panch Pardhan.”
The SGPC main role of care and maintenance of gurdwara and propagation of Sikhism (Dharam Parchar) is being neglected. It is now practically a side wing of the Akali party. Supercession of religious affairs by a temporal power is basically against the Sikh tenet of Miri and Piri.
Growing Apostasy Among the Sikhs
Apostasy in regard to shearing of hair and use of intoxicants is spreading fast. Wearing of caps is a taboo in Sikhism but it is a common sight to see young and even old Sikhs sporting it.
All the ills stem from lack of knowledge of Gurbani, Sikh history, traditions, ideology and ethics, and consequently loss of faith in Sikhism. People are unaware of Sikh character, achievements and the sacrifices made by them to maintain their identity and glory. The numerous martyrs whose deeds are narrated in the daily Sikhs Ardas lived true to their tenets of retaining unshorn hair till their last breath “Sikhi kesan suasan naal nibhai”. Hair is our uniform, our identity and symbol of devotion and dedication for our Gurus and God who has granted us this gift of hair. Like other limbs, hair is integral to human body. There is also a scriptural injunction on the maintenance of unshorn hair and wearing of a turban in the Holy Book, page 1084 – “Sabat soorat dastar sira”. Here is what a Muslim says:
“The turbaned Sikh looks like a lion;
The rest of us look like sheep and goats
afraid to be identified.”
Sheikh Ahmed Deedat,
(The Toroanto Star, July 1994)
The main cause for our drift from the high ideals of Sikhism is our lack of pride in its uniqueness and our achievements in all the sphere of life . We are not paying adequate attention to gurbani which so to say is our mother, guide and spiritual strength. Our application to it is merely a lip service, we neither try to understand it nor apply it to our daily conduct. Sikhism offers modern man an opportunity to achieve self realisation. The world famous philosophers and historians have recognised this potentiality of our religion.
“Sikhism is a universal world faith with a message for all men ......... Sikhs must cease to think of their faith as just another good religion and must begin to think in terms of Sikhism being the religion for the New Age.... It is the summum bonum for the modern man.”
A concerted effort is needed to eradicate the brahminical rites and rituals as also other unlike Sikh practices such as observance of caste system, veneration of idols and pictures of the Gurus that are eroding the spirit of Sikhism from within.