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Gur Panth Parkash

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




ਕਿਸੁ ਪਹਿ ਖੋਲ੍ਉ ਗੰਠੜੀ ਦੂਖੀ ਭਰਿ ਆਇਆ

Reflection of a Devout Sensitive Sikh

P.P.S. Gill*

Recently, rummaging through the loaded shelves of my little study, I came across scores of special issues and souvenirs related to Sikhism. These had been largely brought out by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) on the occasions of anniversaries, commemorative days of Sikh gurus, Sikh martyrs and Sikh personalities, who had played a crucial role in Sikhs’ religio-political affairs, across the decades.

Printed on glossy paper, the treasure trove gives glimpses of Sikh history, culture, socio-economic and religio-political ethos, ethics, rituals etc. These also give examples of Sikh spirit of tolerance and sacrifice, discriminations they have faced. Where as these accounts remind us of genocide (for instance post-Indira Gandhi assassination violence in 1984), these also highlight the importance and role of institution of langar (community kitchen) and social service, like extending a helping hand to fellow humans in the face of natural disasters and calamities, pandemics, across the globe, without discrimination based on sex, caste, creed, faith, ethnicity or religion.

These publications teach us about the value and importance of gender equality or how the Sikh scripture ordains and reminds us, in succinct, cogent manner, of the importance of: Oneness of humanity, harmonious living. These also glorify and inculcate in us the culture of work, worship cardinal principles of universal brotherhood.

If that be so, a clutch of questions also clouded my mind. Why is it that only the Sikhs, Sikhism, Sikh religio-political affairs and Sikh clergy - priests - are perpetually and perennially in the news for all the wrong reasons? Why do controversies encapsulate only the Sikhs and their affairs? Why no other community is embroiled in so many controversies? Why most of the incidents of sacrilege, desecration involve only the Sikh scriptures, either Guru Granth Sahib or the Gutka; that too within the state of Punjab? 

Why do anniversaries, which require sobriety and introspection, invariably lead to tensions (at times even clashes) in the holy precincts of the Golden Temple, like when the Quom remembers and commemorates the anniversary of the Operation Bluestar? Where have, we the Sikhs, gone wrong and why? Is there a way out of such a situation? Who should be apportioned the blame? My answer is – we, ourselves!

Such questions need to be debated and discussed to restore the pristine glory of the Sikhs, whose contribution is well acknowledged and recognised. For instance, their participation either in world wars, across continents; their role in the freedom struggle and undergoing sentences to life imprisonment or to be hanged in Andaman-Nicobar; their struggle for Punjabi Suba; their fight against curbing of freedom of life and liberty, speech and expression, during the Emergency in 1975; and the way the Sikh peasantry spearheaded a peaceful struggle - Satyagrah - against the three contentious farm laws and related issues for 15 months, (it ended on December 11, 2021) is still fresh in the mind.

Where is the Quom headed? This question is obvious given the divisions within the Sikhs, who flock to numerous sects and deras; self-styled Babas, Sants and Mahants. Is this not a sort of idol worship? And, the SGPC, dominated by one single family heading the mainstream Sikh political party – The Shiromani Akali Dal, has failed to control or end this culture. In fact, these so-called ‘Deras’ enjoy protection of various political parties on whose support these thrive and proliferate. These are also a potential a vote-bank for the patronising politicians.

In the process, those who control the levers of religion and power politics forget what the Gurus had taught and ignore their message with  impurity: Guru Manio Granth - Guru Granth Sahib is the ‘living’ Guru. It is eternal and shows the path to holistic family and community life and answers our prayers.

The Sikh religio-political leadership must be held responsible and apportioned major part of the blame for the present impasse and schizophrenia that grips the Sikhs and Punjab. This has been happening on and off. When we talk of controversies that involve and revolve around the Sikhs, look at the way we have progressed. Today, there are two sets of high priests. In fact, there is no procedure or system of appointment or removal of the high priests. Inner democracy within the SAD is either non-existents or surficial. We have well codified Rehat Maryada (Sikh code of conduct for living), yet we have different percepts, concepts, practices and rituals in different places of Sikh worship.

So much so that even elections to the SGPC are conducted by the union home ministry and vested political interests in the state manipulate these, as well. There is no all-India Sikh Gurdwara Act, yet, though we have been hearing about it for decades. In the name of the Panth, Sikh leaders create hysteria to save their ‘Kursi’. They continue to play the emotional card. For them raising the slogan -‘Panth is in danger’- is a common practice during their out of power period.

Ever since 1966, when Punjab was trifurcated, Akalis have been playing the emotive card for resolving territorial issues, water sharing and several other issues. Their favourite forte has been: Launching of ‘morchas’, ‘jail bharo’;‘rasta or rail roko’ agitations etc!

These are only illustrative examples that have often led to controversies, which continue to obstinately persist and are purely man-made. It is, perhaps, because of such shortcomings, discrepancies, contradictions, and presence of multiple fiefdoms (sects, deras, Sants, Mahants etc.) that Sikhs and controversies go hand- in- hand. This unfortunate situation suits many a palate both religious and political!

Scant attention has been paid to the living conditions of disadvantaged Punjabis in rural and urban pockets or to the growing cult of isms and schisms; widening chasm based on economic disparities, class, caste and religion. Little attention has been paid to existing the poor state of health and educational facilities, growing unemployment etc in the State.

Having said this, one is pained and saddened by the fact that the three cases of sacrilege, desecration and killings that took place in 2015, when SAD-Bhartiya Janata Party coalition ruled the state, continue to simmer. These issues have acquired centre-stage in the political arena now due to soon to be held legislative elections.

These unresolved issues, despite several police investigations, reconstitution of special task forces, and intervention of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, continue to prick the conscience of the ordinary Sikhs, who are agitated, frustrated and haplessly helpless. Is this the price the Quom is paying where religion and politics are considered to be inseparable (in symbiotic relationship), and an integral part of power games politicians play with high priests singing to the tune of their political masters? Nothing can be more shameful.

Equally shameful is the manner in which self-seeking politicians, who believe only in power-grabbing and power-wielding, promise and give out doles – freebies in the election rallies. Are Punjabis being reduced to the stature of destitute beggars, who are forever looking up to the ruling dispensation for more doles? Another very disturbing and serious feature of the Sikh dominated state is the ever growing, menace of drugs. Here again, inquiry reports remain unopened; trial and hearing move at a snail’s pace in courts of law.

Is individual and collective memory of the Sikh Quom so short that what Guru Granth Sahib says seems to have been forgotten, despite observing anniversaries, bringing out souvenirs, holding Kirtan Darbars, organising lectures, seminars, inviting scholars to interpret the writings in the sacred Sikh scripture. As a tradition, organizing community kitchen (langar), taking out Nagar Kirtan and religiously paying obeisance at the Gurdwaras is well accepted, but all this seemingly is symbolism all the way, have created the mess the Sikhs have landed themselves in. Substance of Sikh gospel and its message of the Gurus stands diluted and ineffective.

When we pay obeisance at a Sikh place of worship, do we pay attention to the Gurbani hymns that are being recited? In fact, many of us may end up not having read the Granth Sahib - even once in our life time! What to speak of understanding it. Worldly and religio-political affairs, symbolism, rituals consume most of our time?

I wish to be proved utterly wrong when I say this. Also I wish to be proved wrong when I say some of us may not even be able to remember the names of the ten Gurus in the chronological order or name the five beloved ones (Panj Pyaras) or recall the names of the four sons (Sahibzadas) of the Dasam Guru. Pardon my saying so. It is time again to revive the tradition when every family prayed together daily.

Here, allow a little digression to refer to a survey by the Pew Research Centre on: Religion in India-tolerance and segregation.  It was based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages, between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the Covid-19 pandemic). Its result says Indians of all religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths. Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation.

Wikipedia says religious diversity and religious tolerance are established by the law; the Constitution of India defines freedom of religion  a fundamental right and holds India to be a secular state.

Let me quote from the survey report: “Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be ‘truly Indian’. And tolerance is a religious, as well as civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.

“More than 70 years after India became free from colonial rule, Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: A society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely. India’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world’s Hindus, Jain and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and to millions of Christians and Buddhists”.

It is up to the intelligent readers of ‘Abstracts of Sikh Studies’ to introspect and form their opinion as to: Are we really tolerant, as a society pan-India, when it comes to religions? Collective Sikh behavior during the two latest incidents of sacrilege present not a very sensible attitute. Instant vigilante justice is not the hallmark of a civilized society. 

Let me revert to the issue of Sikhs and controversies. For this let us traverse through the corridors of time to 2019.

The high point of that year was the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak in November. That was also the time of opening of the corridor - passage of peace - connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur in Narowal district in Pakistan, across the Radcliffe line, with Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to enable the faithful pay obeisance at a place where Guru Nanak had spent the last18 years of his life, cultivating land, codify the rudiments of Sikh Rahit Maryada and practicing these himself. 

The low point of the celebrations was the way SGPC-cum- SAD, on the one hand, and the Congress government, on the other hand, engaged in petty squabbles for one-upmanship, centered round ‘credit’ for every conceivable aspect of the opening of the corridor and celebrations. This had put the spotlight on the toxic mix of religion and politics, and the use of religious means for political ends and gains and the other political party dabbling in religion for similar political leverage. Even the Akal Takht-directed ‘coordination committee’, despite several meetings failed to iron out wrinkles.

Is it not ridiculous, and tragic, that rather than showing maturity, grace and sagacity, political and religious leadership of both sides fought for ‘credit’ in every which way, that too in the name of Guru Nanak, who was all for universal wellness; oneness of humanity, harmonious community relationships and peace? For the stakeholders, in the competitive race for the celebrations, Nanak’s preaching was a secondary issue. Rather than accommodating one another, displaying unity, humility and spirit of co-operation, the Sikh leaders on both sides made a spectacle of their narrow-mindedness, parochial thinking, pettiness and meanness.

So much so there were separate delivery of invitations to the President, Vice-President and the Prime Minister for the functions; work was started on two parallel stages, given the estranged relationship between the two principal political players. The interplay of religion and politics had once again exposed the leadership, which did not realise how, in the long run such divisive ways for political and electoral gains could harm a border state’s stability, harmony, peace and prosperity.

In the name of Guru Nanak, several projects and plans were chalked out on a grand scale and volume: New physical infrastructures, repair and renovation of the old structures, politico-religious discourses, naming of movable and immovable public assets, painting of Sultanpur Lodhi town white, organising light and sound programmes, poetic recitation, competitions, seminars, exhibitions, as also programmes on environment, sanitation and cleanliness etc.

Adequate funds were made available by the Centre and state governments to spruce up places associated with Guru Nanak. However, one may ask: Why all these decades, towns and places associated with Guru Nanak were left in a state of neglect? Why did successive state governments, across the decades, not think of improving their outlook and giving the respect these memorials deserved?

It will only be appropriate if the Sikh intellectuals and institutions were to carry out an audit of the projects then announced.

Akali and Congress leaders were squarely responsible for the bad odour the celebrations oozed then, as also the hysteria they are whipping up now over sacrilege, desecration and killings in 2015 and 2021, with next Assembly elections at the doorstep. As one views the on-going political ‘tamasha’, one needs to again remind the two principal parties - Akalis and Congress - of Guru Nanak’s message: Universal brotherhood, peace and wellbeing of all.

It will be appreciated were the two political outfits to reach aconsensus on several other issues, which tend to cause pain, create fear-psychosis among the people, threaten peace, lead to divisions within the Sikh community and ridicule of their institutions.

There have been wars between religions - struggles seeking the right to worship. Often, these wars developed heavy political overtones. In Sikhism, there has always existed not ‘symbolic’ but ‘symbiotic’ relationship between religion and politics. Unfortunately, while accepting and practicing religion and politics as one entity, the Sikh leadership (read Akalis) have politicized religion rather than drawing strength and sustenance from it. The Congress is not far behind. The question is: Should the two, religion and politics, be accepted as one and practiced as such, or be separated? Across time, voices have been heard demanding separation.

There is also a growing perception that on several occasions, the Sikh intelligentsia and intellectuals have also failed to play the expected, desired and demanded role for a semblance of unity and clear the Sikhs of unsavoury controversies. The two have seemingly developed their own vested political roots and shoots. Moreover, the SGPC, which is accepted as the final arbiter on religious affairs, has also failed and faltered. It has failed to fully perform its assigned and mandated duties and own up onerous responsibilities entrusted to it. It remains stuck in the administrative matters of Gurdwaras, with a strong political bias, rather than setting its own house in order. It must be de-politicized and freed from the political clutches.   

Finding solutions to growing controversies that do no good to Sikh Quom is imperative, as is the need to focus on issues that are political, social and economic; it is as much the responsibility of the religio-political leadership as that of the Sikh intelligentsia to spring clean the Quom of unwanted and avoidable controversies. After all, Sikhism is a living, thriving, throbbing, scientific way of life.


Lt us jointly make efforts to set right some of the above mentioned aberrations and utilize the continuously pouring donations to Sikh shrines for the welfare of Sikh community, especially for providing quality health and education facilites across the board. Let the prominent Sikh organizations especially the SGPC and Chief Khalsa Dewan create and establish a central training Institution for preparing a dedicated, well-trained and informed cadre of Sikh preachers on the basis of a uniform curriculum to be taught by this institution with certified diplomas and degrees and facilitate their deployment in all the Sikh Gurdwaras in rural and urban across Punjab, India and foreign countries with significant diaspora Sikh populations. Let us hurry to fix our religious priorities and get rid of superfluous flab created by vested interests. At least, let the civil society among the Sikhs raise its voice against the prevalent mess.







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