CHRISTMAS AND THE SIKHS
Last week of December, every year, is abuzz with Christmas and New Year celebrations the world over. Both these days are celebrated with great fervour all over the world. But very few people remember another equally important sequence of events that took place during that period for which the fortnight is labeled as shahidi pandharwara (martyrdom fortnight) in Punjab. It is a good gesture to share the joys and sorrows of the people around, but is it necessary to forget one’s own culture, history and religious dos and don’ts? This year I was shocked to see messages from many Sikhs wishing all and sundry a “Merry Christmas” on face book. They were not simple and somber messages but messages given overzealously as if it was a matter of life and death; as if it was their heartfelt emotion! Some ‘orthodox’ friends reminded all Sikhs to remember the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas (sons of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji), particularly the younger ones who were bricked alive during the last week of December, way back in the year 1704. While everyone is free to do as one pleases in this age of self-centeredness but, still, it is expected that more respect is shown to one’s own culture and history. However, some friends (I am referring to Sikhs only) did not take very kindly to this suggestion to show a little restraint.
Not only this, some more ‘liberal’ friends went on to justify their celebrations and snubbed those recommending restraint by posting messages like: ‘Guru Sahib dian kurbanian nun koi nahin bhull skda te na hi koi status post karn naal bahuta mahaan ban janda hai…we are in a multi cultural country where all festivals are celebrated with equal respect….’
‘If others can join the Vaisakhi/Diwali/Eid/ Onam/Pongal, then why we should show our narrow-mindedness and backward thinking….I pity those who think that by joining kids and families who are enjoying their festivals …we are in any way not showing any disrespect to our great Guruji’s and shaheeds… change your thinking friends’
Alas! Who will tell these “broadminded” people that Shaheedi purab of Sahibzadas is not celebrated but observed solemnly with pain in our hearts! Martyrdom is remembered so as to remind ourselves about the sacrifices made and rededicate ourselves to the pious cause. Who will tell these ultra modern people that Vaisakhi, Diwali and Eid cannot be compared with any martyrdom?
Every religion has its own philosophy, rituals and beliefs about God and man’s efforts to meet the Almighty. Per force, every religion faces some historical challenges and undergoes persecution at the hands of other ‘believers’ who do not see eye to eye with each other. Even though each religion talks about one supreme power, the supreme power it believes in is considered superior to the supreme power of the other faiths. Although all human beings are considered the creation of this supreme power, it is also believed that followers of one’s own faith are the real children of the Almighty. This belief has led to much bloodshed in the human history; and is still the greatest challenge before humanity. But no group in the human history has ever forgotten their past, however painful, because it gives us the courage and inspiration.
Sikh religion is one of the youngest religions of the world in chronological terms- about 550 years old. It has seen many ups and downs during this short span of time. These ups and downs include severe persecutions- the first being the martyrdom of its fifth Master Guru Arjun Dev, and the last being the genocide of Sikhs in June/November1984.One similar persecution took place in the month of December 1704 when the tenth master , Guru Gobind Singh, the creator of Khalsa left his abode at the Anandpur Sahib. The last fortnight of that chilly December saw his family being separated from the Guru, the two younger sons of the Guru being bricked alive at Sirhind (leading to the demise of his mother also), and two elder sons attaining martyrdom in the battlefield at Chamkaur Sahib, before the very eyes of the Guru in one of the most unequal battles of the world! Just visualize that cruel fortnight when the family of the Guru, who undertook the courageous task of lifting the spirits of the masses to stand upright, being decimated for taking up the cudgels against the atrocities of the tyrant rulers and for protecting the human rights of the masses. Just close your eyes, and experience the chilly winds lashing the burj at Sirhind, where the grandmother and grandsons were kept hostage. These events created such an impact on the psyche of the masses – even the non-Sikhs –that for almost two centuries after that cruel month people shuddered to think about those events and did not sleep on their beds during that fortnight; they did not cook on the deadly day when the young Sahibzadas were bricked alive. The fortnight was observed as martyrdom fortnight (shaheedi pandharwara), when no celebrations were held in any household.
Alas! The Sikhs seem to have lost the gravity of that black chapter of the human history during the last half century! Now they are always in the celebration mood; always finding alibis to celebrate, enjoy, dance and dine lavishly — be it nagar kirtans, kirtan durbars, prakash utsavs or shaheedi divas — all are to be garnished with tasty langars, losing the solemnity of the occasion!
Coming to the arguments given by my ‘liberal’ and ‘broadminded’ friends, I would like to ask them ‘if there is some death in their family, would they attend the marriage/ birthday and share the happiness of their neighbors? In every social set up, even the neighbors tend to shift their celebrations under such circumstances or keep them at low key! If at all participation is necessary the sad happenings have precedence over the happy ones. Does anyone expect Muslim friends to participate in any celebrations during Moharram? It is not the fault of other communities; it is our own overzealous mindset to forget our past. May the Guru forgive us for our ingratitude and show us the right path!
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All