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REVIEWS

Nanak Parkash Vol II

A Review by Surjit Singh

Editor : Dr Kirpal Singh
Publisher: SGPC, Amritsar
Price :165/-; Pages : 891

The present world is no more a vast expanse hard to traverse and hardly unamenable to communication. This has happened due to the impact of revolution in transportation and information technology. The altered scenario has enabled people of different civilizations and cultural structures to get together and interact with one another comfortably. In the process, the scrutiny and appraisal of different ideologies or thought-patterns is bound to take place. For any pattern, whether it is religious or political or social, it is imperative that it should be understood and projected properly.

As a result, the religions the impact of which is widespread, as for instance, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Jainism and Sikhism, are more likely to be subjected to screening and scrutiny. The greatest indication is the increasing tendency to organize inter-faith seminars or debates all over the world.

Fully aware of this fact, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar, the apex religious body of the Sikhs, has focussed on the sources of Sikh history and Sikh religion to get these properly evaluated so that while analysing of the concepts and history of the Sikhs, spurious and irrelevant matter does not distort or smudge it.

For the successful accomplishment of its much cherished objective, it has requisitioned the services of Dr Kirpal Singh, a renowned historian, who is credited with having analysed nearly two dozen groundbreaking dissertations.

To start with, he took up the task of scrutinizing and editing Sri Guru Nanak Parkash, which was authored by Bhai Santokh Singh, which subsequently formed the most prominent part of his magnum opus, Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth. The learned editor is all praise for Bhai ji for his erudition, and his vast knowledge of Vedantic philosophy, Puranic literature, ancient Indian lore, different cultural patterns, historical traditions, and whims and vanities of people of diverse races, especially of those who lived in the north western part of the sub-continent of India.

He also took note of Bhai ji’s firm faith in Guru Nanak and his ideology which provide dynamical push to his creative genius to blossom and exude fragrance. Having prepared the manuscript of Sri Gurpartap Suraj Granth, he presented it to Sri Akal Takht (1843-44) as his offering like a humble Sikh. Soon after he breathed his last. The impression went around that perhaps his life was so customized that it was not to endure after his task of preparing the Granth had been accomplished.

The editor’s incisive skill took no time to identify that Bhai Santokh Singh, being a votary of Nirmala Panth, approached Sikh religion like a Vedantist and, no wonder, Sri Gur Nanak Parkash is replete with a plethora of references from Vedantic literature, and Puranic lore. The text of Sri Gur Nanak Parkash likewise incorporated many aspects of Brahminical ritual system.

According to Bhai Vir Singh, this was due to the influence of the Brahmin scholars whom Bhai ji had called upon to assist him in his work. The editor, however, holds a different opinion. According to him many other factors besides his association with Brahmin scholars at the court of the rulers of Patiala, Nabha and Kaithal, his reluctance to break the literary traditional shackles also influenced his version. One such factor was his penchant to present Guru Nanak and his successors taller than any of the prophets of yore or of present, especially those of the Hindus.

The editor fully recognizes the poetic acumen of Bhai ji and his high-profile verses of Sri Gur Nanak Parkash which are marked for their immaculacy, appropriate usage of meters, allegories, symbols, metaphors, their lucidity, profundity and clarity.

The edited text of the book in hand is the second half of Sri Guru Nanak Parkash Purbaradh comprising thirty six chapters beginning with the thirty eighth chapter and culminating at seventy three. Out of the thirty six chapters, chapters numbered 52, 65, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 72 have been edited out to be placed after chapter seventy three as the appendices text also carries Punjabi translation verse by verse in prose. To each chapter are appended footnotes and references to lend clarity and to bring out the depth of the contents.

The rearrangement of the chapters was done without altering the titles and numbers of the chapters. The chapters, contents of which seemed far-fetched, totally mythological or unhistorical or speculative or unconnected with the life of Guru Nanak, were placed at the end of the book as appendices. The purpose of the editor seems to be to keep the original work intact, although in a different form, to enable the readers to assess its historical value themselves.

The editor’s main purpose, as he himself admits in the Preface to the text, is to identify historical Guru Nanak in the work. In the process, he scrutinizes the whole gamut of events embodied in the work and finds no difficulty in recognizing that the author’s primary source of information is Bhai Bala’s Janamsakhi a copy of which bearing year 1658 CE was available to him. He also seems to have consulted Janamsakhi by Bhai Mani Singh and Vaars of Bhai Gurdas though only casually or marginally.

Since Bhai Bala’s Janamsakhi was compiled at the behest of Bidhi Chand, a scion of Baba Handal and leader of a rival sect of Hindalias, who was intent on denigrating Guru Nanak Dev in comparison to Handal, its narration was full of blemishes, exaggerations and fantasies.

Bhai ji was aware of the shortcomings of this Janamsakhi; yet he had to use it extensively, because no other source-material, worthy of trust, was available to him. According to the learned editor, he seemed even wary of utilizing its material; but even his caution was tempered with certain notions and beliefs, because of his nourishment in Puranic and mythological literature.

The result was that Sri Gur Nanak Parkash included such material which is historically unacceptable, religiously outlandish and palpably tangential to the main focus of the text. The text instead of presenting Guru Nanak in the right perspective, turned out to be a mix of history, mythology, Puranic legends, Brahminical notions of rituals and practices.

While detailing the itineraries of Guru Nanak to different places in India or abroad, Bhai ji seems to be ignorant of their correct geographical locations. The narration also betrays his paucity of knowledge of routes. At places in the text, we come across such facts, as are purely fanciful and unbelievable. For instance, in one of the chapters, it is said that the Guru while crossing a vast expanse of Arabian Sea walked on the back of a fish which had a span of 35 kos (nearly 43 miles). The fact is at best a conjecture, pure and simple, absolutely unrelated to reality. Besides, the places visited during Guru Nanak’s travels are not recorded either chronologically or location wise. For instance, the Guru is shown visiting SANGLA Deep immediately after visiting Kamrup, from Sangladip to Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and from Medina to Sultanpur (in Punjab). It looks absurd, for Guru Nanak could not reach Kamrup straight from Talwandi (modern Nankana Sahib) or from Kamrup to Sangladip without sojourning en route, given the state of transport facilities available during that period. Moreover, the Guru was shown flying from one place to the other while traversing long distances rather than using available means of transportation such as ships, horses or elephants which show Bhai ji’s lack of awareness of even the contemporary means of transportation. Even the details of most of the events are either exaggerated or beyond the limits of historical imagination. These are overloaded with mythologies, miracles or untruths.

It is well known that Sikhism does not believe in miracles and considers these violative of cosmic law and spirituality. Bhai Ji, on the other hand, assigns miracles to the Guru without any reservation, taking little care of the fact that such an act would popularise the image of Guru Nanak among the laity and that too temporarily, besides causing abberations in the Sikh principle.

Similarly Bhai ji used Puranic and mythological notions and stories not as an aid to comprehend and highlight a situation or a personality as it had been done in Adi Granth but as an absolute truth, thereby attaching either purposely or accidentally such a material with the Guru’s personality which has never found acceptance in the religion of Guru Nanak.

Despite different shortcomings inscribed in the foregoing paragraphs Bhai ji’s Sri Guru Nanak Parkash Part II still holds an important position in historical literature. It is difficult to spot such historical facts which can be a rare aid in assimilating certain aspects of Guru Nanak’s life.

The account of Guru’s visit to Ceylon, Mecca, Sayyidpur approximates to the modern researches. Similarly his accout of conversation of the Guru with the Sidhas, the term used generically for yogis and sanyasis, has been beautifully covered in the text, specially that part which concerns the polemical discussion about the nature of reality, its relation the with world and the role of shabad in the process of self-realisation.

Bhai ji, however, did not take care of the chronology of the life spans of Yogis to determine which of the yogis Gorakh Nath, Machhandar, Loharipa, Kanifa, Bhurvei, Gopi Chand, Mangal et al whom the Guru met, were the contemporaries of Guru Nanak. This is a glaring historical travesty.

Possibly, according to the Editor, the Sidhas / Yogis with whom the Guru entered into dialogue, had assumed the names of their respective masters in order to emphasize that there was unity of thought between them and other masters, following the examples of the heads of different Sufi silsilahs in the medieval Punjab who preferred to be known by the name of their founder of the silsala.

By preparing the edited text of Sri Guru Nanak Parkash, Dr Kirpal Singh has done a unique job. Now the readers/devotees would read or study the text not as a sacred object as it has been a wont with them till now, but as a text overflowing with devotion for the Guru as well as a text replete with aberrations, tangential facts, and even anti-Sikh material. For such a critical work, the editor deserves approbation.

 

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