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Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Sikh Society

Pritam Singh

As a part of the joyous celebration of the Tri-centenary Gurta Divas, a two-day Seminar on the theme indicated above and with a focus on the four sub-themes of Theological, Sociological, Value System and Modern Challenges dimensions was organized by the Institute of Sikh Studies (IOSS). The objective was to have presentations by eminent scholars from the Universities and the IOSS on the guidance available from Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) on the contemporary concerns and problems of the Sikh society pertaining to four sub-themes mentioned above. The IOSS got heart warming response from the university level professors and other scholars.

S Gurdev Singh, IAS (retd), Patron of the IOSS, extended a hearty welcome to the participants. Appreciating the choice of the theme and sub-themes of the Seminar, he emphasized the importance of the need to have in-depth study of the problems and concerns faced by the Sikh Community globally and the guidance which is available from SGGS.

Bhai Ashok Singh Ji, the President of the IOSS dealt with some of the important issues requiring deliberations by the Scholars. He gave the details of his personal observations while attending the celebrations at Hazoor Sahib, highlighting some of the institutional dilemmas being faced by the community.

S Saran Singh, IAS (retd), Chief Editor, Sikh Review was to inaugurate the Seminar but could not come for health reasons. His Inaugural Address “Theology for the Common Man” was presented by Bhai Ashok Singh Ji. The Paper, very comprehensive and thought provoking in nature, dealt with very crucial dimensions of the Sikh theology – its nature, its role and functions, its empowerment of the believers for coping with worldly responsibilities, its implications with regards to fundamentalism and ultra-liberalism prevailing simultaneously in the Sikh society and the guidance provided by it for proper attitudes for inter-faith interaction and for living in a pluralistic society. Quoting the hymns from SGGS, Sardar Saran Singh Ji asserted that SGGS represents the most comprehensive, coherent and compelling enunciation of the creation’s moral and spiritual purpose. It constitutes the intelligent man’s guide to inner peace while affirming that he/she is capable of experiencing and realizing God despite God’s incomprehensibility. He stressed the urgent need for a re-integration of the human, moral and spiritual values inherent in SGGS and Sikh tradition along with the synthesis of Sikh theology with scientific orientation. His main concern was how to re-discover the dynamic and everlasting truths of SGGS towards a resurgent Sikhism at home and globally in the 21st century

S Pritam Singh (Kohli), IAS (retd), Convener of the Seminar, presented the Keynote Address. In the context of the prevailing problems and concerns of the Sikh society in India and abroad, his focus was on the tasks for the contributors to the Seminar. Quoting Prof Emeritus Pritam Singh Ji (God bless his soul), it was pointed out that there is a dearth of standard literature on the philosophy, theology and sociology of the Sikh religion. He quoted a well known western scholar saying that “Sikh theology for modern times is yet to be written” and that the Sikh scholars have written mainly as commentary on hymns or on the historical dimensions. It was in this context that as a Convener of the Seminar, he wanted presentations on at least four sub-themes selected on basis of guidance available in Prof Ninian Smarts’ “Dimensions of the Sacred” and which are so crucial for the main theme of SGGS and Sikh Society.

The tasks assigned to the contributors were:
i. To delineate the ideas, beliefs, and practices as enshrined in Shri Guru Granth Sahib, that is, ‘what we teach’... [and] to examine the lived experiences in present times globally, the gap between the two and how to bridge that gap.
ii. To present the Sikh traditions in such a way that some form of a divinely ordered cosmos is always a central concern and that there are many ways to understand right order, from the level of the individual to the family, the society, and the religious institution with a view to engage with the wider society and with other traditions for inter-faith dialogue.
iii. To highlight the strong internal resources which the Sikh tradition has utilized in the past and how the tradition evolves and responds to the social challenges.
Prof Shashi Bala of GNDU presented her Paper: Universal Religion vis-à-vis Ethnic Identity – Guru Granth Sahib Perspective.

She opined that the message of Guru Granth Sahib is universal, dynamic and deeply humanistic and is not confined to the boundaries of space and time. It provides solace and bliss to the whole humanity due to its cosmopolitan spirit, interfaith dialogue and emphasis on world-affirmation with deep concern for spiritual transformation of man. Though the Holy Scripture gives reflection of the contemporary conditions of the medieval Indian society yet the eternal spiritual philosophy and moral values provide perennial solution to the emerging problems of human life.

Adopting a unique perspective, she presented a brilliant analysis of the modern challenge of universalism, on the one hand, and issue of ethnic identity, on the other hand. Then she highlighted, first the Sikh concept of universal religion; second the idea of ethnic identity; and finally what type of guidance is provided in the Holy Scripture to resolve the concept of universal religion vis-à-vis the issue of ethnic identity.

Prof S S Jodhka of JNU presented his Paper “Why to talk about Caste and how to talk about it.” In addition, he dealt with the various social and economic problems and concerns from the perspectives of the Dalits. His advice was that the conditions of anomie generated in some areas of rural Punjab were mainly responsible for the drifting of Dalits Sikhs to the Deras and Babas and hence need to be curbed. He encouraged and welcomed the questions and internal discussions on the malady of caste-system, which is being practiced in Sikh Society though at much lower intensity than elsewhere in India. With more of interaction, urbanization and globalization such social differentiations may get further weakened.

  Prof Rajesh Gill of Punjab University presented her Paper, Guru Granth Sahib as a Theory or Practice? Need For Introspection. Her focus was upon the immensely rich interpretation contained in Guru Granth Sahib, of the predicaments of modern life, which for her was the most critical, liberal, democratic and modern outlook on human life of course If Put Into Practice. While our Gurus did what they preached, we have been largely preoccupied with the mechanical reciting of Gurbani, hardly ever showing either the guts or desire to implement even a fraction of this wonderful philosophy in our mundane life. Unfortunately, the leadership too has hardly ever made a sincere effort to translate this theory into practice, perhaps due to the other priorities chosen by them. It is high time that we make a bold effort towards introspection into our own selves, with the objective of sensitizing our younger generations about the huge potential held by this religious philosophy for easing out most of the strains and predicaments faced by us, in contemporary scenario. She highlighted the increased relevance of this philosophy in the stressful life of the present day.

Prof Sukh Dyal Singh of Pbi Univ, in his very original research and interpretation, brought in sharp focus some dimensions of Babur Bani which he thought have been neglected so far. He stressed the point that Babur Bani reflects the pangs of Guru Nanak Dev Ji for the devastation, plunder, torture and humiliations suffered by Indians throughout India and not merely at one point of time or a particular location but through out India during Babur’s various attacks. Further, apart from Guru Nanak, no other Indian of any stature in those times wrote anything about Babur’s invasions. His interpretation of the mention of “Khurasan” in Babur Bani seems quite original in view of the facts furnished by him with regards to the relationship between Babur and the emperor of Khurasan.

His interpretation of the line Aawan Athatrey Jaan Satanwey leads him to suggest that the date for the “Joti-Jot Samaanaa” of Guru Nanak should be September 1540 and not Sep 1539.

Dr Gurmeet Singh Sidhu of Pbi Univ: The Everlasting Spirit (Sociological Perspective of Sri Guru Granth Sahib)

He described the functions of SGGS from a sociological perspective and how it contributes to maintain and regulate the social order. His focus was on the Sikh beliefs and practices as enshrined in SGGS and their role and significance towards the Sikh Society and humankind.

The sociological study of religion takes more attention on this question as to how religion contributes to maintain and regulate the social order. We are attempting to understand the function of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in sociological perspective. The present paper focuses on Sikh beliefs and rituals as they are in SGGS and secondly to examine its role and significance towards the Sikh society as well as humankind.

Dr Kirpal Singh, Veteran Historian, and Member IOSS: Paper on “Sikh Value system”:
A very scholarly presentation was made by Dr Singh highlighting the philosophical and theological foundations of the Sikh Value System as enshrined in SGGS and made operative in the Sikh way of life through Rahit Maryada and Sikh social institutions. Emphasizing the impact of this value system on the Sikh society, he described in detail the type of miraculous metamorphosis which transformed a fissiparous and degenerated society into spiritually awakened and ethically regenerated society. His focus was on the various types of values to which the Sikh way of life and Sikh social institutions give expression. These included equality, brotherhood; liberty, freedom and democratic way of life; social justice; courage, fearlessness; humility, contentment, love, truth; dignity of labor, honest and lawful means of earning. The ultimate value for a Sikh is the realization of Naam from which the other values emanate.

S Bhagwant Singh Dalawari, Tapovan Ashram: Value Systems:
He opined that the following verse of Guru Granth Sahib neatly describes the present state of Sikh society vis-à-vis the teachings of our Masters.
krm Drm pwKMf jo dIsih iqn jmu jwgwqI lUtY ]

Those who are involved only in the karam-khand bhakti (i.e., external manifestation of so-called devotion) are in fact hypocrites whom yamas will plunder like highway robbers. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 747

The greatest tragedy of our times is that the purest, the sweetest, the most loving message of our Shabad Guru has been rendered into external platitudes to the eternal shame of the followers of Guru Granth Sahib. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the perpetrators of this blasphemy are not even aware of their own degeneration or the degeneration that they are imposing on our coming generations. Giving details of his personal experience of deep depression and complete recovery as a result of imbibing the spirit of Guru-Shabad, he stressed the importance of living the Gurbani.

He highlighted with great clarity the universality of SGGS, the moral content of its teachings, its essence in spiritual terms and the portrait of a Sikh on the basis of Guru’s teachings. He gave a clarion call: “Show yourself in every field as the example of what you want others to become.”

Dr Harnam Singh Shan, Prof Emritus: paper, Shri Guru Granth Sahib ik vidit te updeshit sabhyachar (Punjabi)

Prof Shan emphasized that the main teachings SGGS are enshrined in the twin principle of “nam simren” as means of god realization and the ethical conduct as a means for the proper societal relationships. Illustrating his each assertion with the most appropriate hymns on the subject, he concluded that the synthesis of bhakti and ethical conduct was the sure means for a perfect and successful life devoted to the welfare of humankind. What is needed for salvation in the Sikhi context is the spirit of humility to be developed by “bho bhakti” while living actively in the society as a householder but with the orientation of detachment. Instead of getting into controversy related to “parvirti” and “nirvirti”, SGGS embodies the principle of the compatibility of this-worldly orientation with spirituality leading to “sahj marg”.

Describing the main components of “sahj marg” and the various stages in it, including the need for acquiring positive values and giving up negative values, he emphasized the need to faithfully adopt the two tri-component formulae advocated in sggs: i. Nam japna, kirat karna; and wand chhakna; ii. Nam, daan, isnaan.

Dr. Jagir Singh: Musicologist and Guru’s Kirtania: paper: “guru granth sahib vich kirtan ate kirtaniey da sankalp” (Punjabi).

(Sikhism is considered to be the synthesis of epistemology and aesthetics. Hence the need to have this presentation by Dr Jagir Singh as a sample of aesthetical value system – the audience found this paper as the most satisfying one. – Convener)

Highlighting the qualities prescribed in SGGS for an ideal person, Dr Singh drew attention to the hymns laying emphasis on the acquisition of aesthetic values related to music and poetry. Describing the potentiality of music in its impact on humans, animals and plants, Dr Singh illustrated the synergetic effect produced by interaction between poetry and music. This is the logic that the Gurus’ entire revelation through their mystical experience has been expressed in Gurbani composed under ragas most appropriate to the sentiment – rasa of the particular bani so that the compositions can be sung for the optimal impact on the singer as well as the listener. The importance given to kirtan in SGGS for purpose of worship finds mention in number of hymns and its value has been metaphorically compared with those of jewels. Further, the Gurus liberated the ragas from their earlier depiction through shinghar ras and highlighted their essence, the required characteristics and role in singing the glories of the Lord. Dr Singh illustrated very effectively how such a transformation was brought about by the Gurus in respect of ragas used in Gurbani. Simultaneously, the Gurus also laid down the qualities which a kirtania must develop and possess. Thus clear-cut concepts about kirtan and kirtanias have been enshrined in SGGS. Amongst the world’s scriptures, this is a unique feature of the SGGS.

(This was followed by recitation of the choicest shabads on the theme of “Anand’ and “Vismad” by S Gurcharan Singh – a member of IOSS)

Dr H S Virk, Director Research, DAVIET, Member - IOSS presented his Paper, “Scientific Vision in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. He emphasized that a scientific perspective is conducive to and valuable in comprehending the scope of the vision of the Sikh Gurus. He pointed out that SGGS is not a text book of Science but the Vision of Sikh Gurus recorded in it is far more scientific as compared to the Holy Books of other faiths. Guru Nanak gave a clarion call to reject rituals and myths and promoted a scientific vision of life in this Universe. The Sikhs have failed to realize the full potential of Sabad Guru (SGGS) by adopting it as a tool of idolatry worship.

Giving quotes from Shri Guru Granth Sahib, he very lucidly provided glimpses of scientific vision in SGGS on number of themes like Cosmology, Concept of Time in Science and Sikh Tradition and Concept of Origin of Life and Biological Evolution.

S Gajindar Singh - Author, Member, IOSS, Evolving Traditions and the Guru Granth Sahib. He highlighted the unique features of the Sikh traditions as originated by Guru Nanak in contradistinction to the prevailing traditions.

Guru Nanak ushered in a new definition of tradition. Instead of the ancient rituals, which flourished partly because of rich imagination based on magical and miraculous make-beliefs, he offered a new set of values to his followers, perfection of their moral aptitude to begin with, and essentially adopting good and virtuous habits and profession of truth at all times. Truth itself underwent a change, as he defined God anew and set up the task of imbibing spiritual qualities of God in life. God became a role model, described vividly in the Guru Granth Sahib. Instead of the old awe of the majesty of God, man was encouraged to become god-like. In the formidable corpus of Gurus’ bani, enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, the qualities and requirements of an ideal ‘gursikh’ are enumerated from page 1 to the last. Emphasizing the enormity of the task of liberating the masses from the old tradition to the new one, Gajindar Singh very clearly delineates the components and the significance of the Sikh tradition evolved from the scriptures as well as from historical generation through the successor Gurus and the Panth.

Bibi Harsimranjit Kaur – Research Scholar – Pbi Univ, highlighted the social and cultural significance of the development of Punjabi language and the use of Gurmukhi script by the Sikh Gurus in their Bani, thus gaining freedom from the shackles of Brahminical culture and Sanskrit language which was beyond the comprehension of the masses and access to which was denied to the so-called lower castes.

Bibi Baljit Kaur – Member EC, IOSS As a prominent, active and alert defender of human rights, her focus was on the emphasis and principles as enshrined in SGGS for recognizing, respecting and enforcing the human rights, particularly of the down-trodden and exploited masses with whom the Sikh Gurus identified themselves.

Sardar Santokh Singh of IOSS in his essay A Scientific Spiritual Scripture has dwelt on the essential base of Gurbani of one Eternal God, humane behaviour, righteousness and the building of character so far the Sikhs adhered to the value of Sikhism. They lost all power once they got misled by manmat and anmat.

Giani Jarnail Singh “Arshi” of Malaysia: The One and only Universal Guru. Highlighting the unique features of SGGS, Gyaniji brought out that Guru Granth Sahib is the perfect manual of life. It gives humanity the universal law of brotherhood – One Creator – One humankind. It has the panacea – the cure-all formula for all the threats to world peace and sanity.

But he lamented that we are not using the gurmat tools to change our lives. We simply worship the Guru as an idol, with blind shardha. We even perform various rituals that the Guru rejects outright. In spite of having the perfect Guru, we go seeking the help of religious charlatans, fakes, soothsayers. He exorted that evey Sikh must read, understand and implement Gurbani so as to become the “Complete Man – the Khalsa” as envisaged by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Bibi Jasbir Kaur Khalsa of Malaysia spoke against foeticide, which in spite of Guru’s teachings and command is rampant in Sikh society in Punjab.

Following is the list of Papers which could not be presented due to the inability of the authors to physically participate in the Seminar. These, along with others, will be printed in the book form later.

i. Nirmal Singh: Doctrine & Experience: Looking Back, Looking Forward This Centenary
ii. Nanak Singh Nishter: Place of Shri Guru Granth Sahib
iii. J S Sethi: Women In Sikhism
iv. Dr Bhai Harbans Lal, Prof Emeritus: Theology of Moolmantar
v. S Balwant Singh, IAS (retd): SGGS and Sikh Society
There was a general appreciation of the quality and the management of the Seminar by all the participants. The discussions with regards to question-answers were held in very dignified and pleasant manners, thanks to the effective enforcement of the guide-lines prescribed for the Seminar.


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