Need for Searching a Sikh Identity

We live in a Society where rational reasoning, free will, and making moral choices is the norm of the day. The fast evolving global changes in the areas of lifestyles, socio-economic and inter-cultural pressures, educational and professional diversity & competitiveness, women liberation & their empowerment, media, fashion, science and technology, advances in medical sciences etc. have visible impact on our daily life. Individuals do tend to shape their own futures by making individual choices. The younger generation is being swayed faster than the older in this philosophy of life.

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-1Great men and women in the past, with their grand imagination and foresight, have helped in transforming collective human consciousness and have helped reinvent the future of peoples in the World. When Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam were being practiced by masses, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the first Guru of the Sikhs, had indeed changed the future of the people by preaching the oneness of God; equality among human beings and spoke against excessive and abusive Brahmanical practices including caste and creed distinction. According to the Gurbani, all human-beings are equal, “Sarab nirantar eko dekh”; and there are only two castes in the Sikhism -“Gurmukh” (who look towards the Guru – of a good caste) or “Manmukh” (who move away from the Guru, ‘kamjat’ or of lower caste). According to Guru Nanak Sahib, “Khasam visare te  kamjat, Nanak nave baaj snat” (Raag Asa M. 1, GGS. 10-1).

All the Sikh Gurus that followed Guru Nanak Sahib, continued to shape the future of the followers of Nanak and the country by bringing various needed reforms, which grew out of the virtues taught by them, such as: humility, devotion, obedience, equality, service, self-sacrifice, justice, mercy, purity, tranquillity and courage. These virtues reinforced Nam-Simran (serious study of Gurbani), introducing of Langar, inventing of Gurmukhi script, establishment of schools and games for children, progressive role of women, setting up manjis (dioceses), eradication of social evils like ‘sati’, setting up of new towns and gurduaras, sarovars and clinics, collection of Gurbani and Bani of like minded saints and compilation of Adi Guru Granth Sahib, turning Saints to Soldiers through Piri-Miri style swords, respect for environment. Finally Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa-Panth to bring an end to the tyranny of Mogul Empire in India and to give India a new future. The sequence of events clearly suggests that Our Gurus were pragmatic and moved with needs of time to bring about necessary reforms and changes as desired.

If all human-beings, including the Sikhs, were perfect, they would have achieved union with God and there would be no need for an organized religion. Since we are not perfect, there is a need for a religion. The Sikhism is a great and latest religion with a Universal appeal to all human-beings based on the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib. The teachings of the Sikhism as a religion are fixed forever and cannot be compromised as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh. The importance of the Gurbani cannot be devalued in preference to rituals, dress code, what to eat and drink etc. However, a Sikh is expected to evolve with varying degree of devotion and spirituality that one might have acquired at different stages of his/her life through the Gurbani.

The level of discussions on various forums, particularly on the topic that “Sikhs should not be so rigid” are signs of a deep desire to find as where do the Sikh stand today and where are we going? The question before us is: What is to be done?

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-2No one can predict the emergence of another Guru in human-body to lead us and show us the way except the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the light-house (“Gurbani eis jag mein channan”  – Sri Raag M. 3, GGS. 67-10) to impart directions and values in the areas of divinity, spirituality, educational, social- cultural (universal brother-hood), economic, defence, environment and in all other matters that matter in living a good and full life. Guru Gobind Singh Ji ordained Guru Granth Sahib as our “the Guru” for now and forever.  Now, it is for the totality of the Sikh Sangat (the world community of the Sikhs) to engage in the exercise of inventing a future for the Sikhs in the light of “the living Guru- Guru Granth Sahib”. Any step in this direction will be in line with Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s power invested in the Sikh-Panth to supervise the future of the Sikhs.

In the new Millennium, there is need for a “Gurmata of the Global Sikh-Community (Sikh-Panth)” to bring about relevant innovation in conformity with the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib, while taking into account the historical forces, the past, present and future understanding in the social environment in global context, competing social and political interests, and the capacities and commitments of the communities concerned. This important task is to be lead by the best minds, including both religious, secular and professional Sikh-leaders, both men and women, and those living in India and overseas countries and certainly not to the exclusion of younger generation, which is starting to look for guidance anyway from the Sikh leadership. A process of inventing a future for the Sikhs may take a few years and shall involve consultation of community organizations at all levels.

The essential question before us is: Is Sikh only the one born into Sikhism (in a Sikh family), or can anyone be a Sikh?

To survive as Sikhs, in the traditional sense, would mean strengthening the convictions among the Sikhs to continue with the five K’s that determine the special physical appearance of an individual.  The five Ks were rightfully introduced by the Guru Gobind Singh to raise a martial community, which was visibly identifiable and could not be infiltrated by the enemy. The uniform assigned was in keeping with the preparedness desired of a saint-soldier with the driving force of daily recitation (Nit-Nem) of Gurbani. However, the times have changed since the historic day in April of 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh Ji enjoined upon the Khalsa (his chosen ones) to wear these identifiable signs of a “Singh”.

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-3The reality about the five K’s today is that a very few Sikh would be found carrying a Kirpan Only the priestly class, while performing ceremonial functions, may be wearing swords. In India the swords are not allowed in public places, parliament and on airplanes.  In overseas countries for a Sikh to carry a sword in public would be nearly impossible. Iron bracelets are worn these days by Sikhs and non-Sikh out of a fashion. People wear varieties of under-wear suiting their convenience.  Unshorn hair and turban, which are absolute minimum for the Sikh personal identity, are also under pressure especially in the younger generation. We need to raise all these issues and implied questions about the five K’s as part of our discussion. On eating of meat whether ‘Jhatka’ or ‘Halal’ both involve killing of an animal or bird, and If one does not like killing – better be a vegetarian. Fights on ‘Jhatka and Halal’ are getting into rituals, which the Gurbani condemns.

I have been an Amirtdhari Sikh from the age of 16 years and I can vouch that the Amrit Ceremony did help me a great deal to recite and understanding of the Gurbani. After initial understanding of the Gurbani, I must confess that that wearing of five Ks only boosted my ego that I belonged to a special group of people but these symbols have certainly not contributed in enhancing my grasp of Gurbani (humbly) but by further vigorous study of Gurbani. I do not claim to be a scholar but I must confess again humbly that I do enjoy enormous blessings of Waheguru. An input from those Gursikhs who received enhancement in their spiritual experience outside the Gurbani will be useful.

I used to keep a three inches Kirpan as a symbol in my pocket since I left India in 1970. About six years back at the Brisbane Airport at the security check this small Kirpan was detected and they took it away from me. While I was preparing to counteract a number of passengers who were watching this episode protested on my behalf to the Security Staff that it was just a religious symbol and he should be allowed to go with it as its size did not pose any security risk. I am normally a hot-headed person when it comes to such unreasonable pressure. But as I was going to say something I heard “Mere Waheguru Ji” coming out of me and I heard it loudly and so the other people around me. They thought I was going to be rude instead I told the Security to just keep it please and I moved on without a tiny symbolic Kirpan but with the assured presence of “Waheguru” (the mightiest sword) on my lips and heart and which cannot be taken away at any security check, be at an airport or any public place or parliament etc. Since then I have not worn Kirpan as a symbol. I am convinced that wearing the name of Waheguru is more important than any symbol – that’s why Guru Gobind Singh Ji ordered us to be with the Guru Granth Sahib.

Children are sent to schools in variety of uniforms, which allows them to enter a particular school where they are enrolled. Parents can provide them with any number of uniforms, lunch box, pocket money, books, exercise-books, biros, pens and pencils etc. They cannot be promoted to the next class (and finally become doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and other professionals) without following a teacher (Guru) and without hard work and study of the subject matter (Gurbani). So a Guru and the Gurbani are essential to succeed in life.

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-4A regular Nit-Nem is required (understanding and grasp of Gurbani and to try to find Nam (Waheguru, Parmatma or God) in Gurbani followed by daily Nam-Simran. Nam – the power of Gurbani comes automatically from reading/reciting and understanding of the Gurbani over a period of time and with Waheguru’s blessings and through the seeker’s constant silent prayers. The Sikhs are ordained to read the Gurbani or at least listen to the recitations (Kirtan) of the Guru Granth Sahib; that they go to the Gurdwara to be among the Sangat and sit in Pangat.

In a seminar on ‘Sikh Panth: its problems and solutions,’ it was highlighted by Prof. Jodh Singh (Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar) that ego and rigidity among the Sikh were the root causes of their social and religious problems. The Sikhs in Punjab continue to be in caste distinctions and female foeticide in spite of the teachings of the Sikh Guru.  There is a dire need to relook into the functioning of the various Sikh bodies in the country and an absence of a common platform for Sikh organizations in various countries.

A number of members of the Gurmat Learning Zone (GLZ) – Sikh Forum went on to say: Women being not allowed to recite Gurbani (Kirtan) in the Darbar Sahib,  women cannot serve as Granthi;  Sikhs (or non-Sikhs) without turban are not allowed to perform Kirtan in Darbar Sahib (when the four doors are meant to be open to all); Sikh scholars who dye their beards are denied honours (siroopas); handicapped’ s wheel chair (in Parikrama) and chairs in Langar Halls are resisted; changes in the Bikrami Calendar, cleaning of Sarovar water with chemicals and installation of air-conditioning in the Darbar Sahib was resisted; race prejudices are hindrances in congenial congregations; recently  Dr. Josh, a famous Sikh rice-breeder who was given the highest award by the President of Malaysia for his outstanding research,  was greeted with unkind words for not growing his long hair. How many Sikhs give an equal part of their wealth to their sons and daughters? The answer is very few indeed. In most Sikh homes, mothers would tend to reserve a somewhat better portion of food for a son than for a daughter (there could be exception). So inequality is in our blood, isn’t it? This is a sign of absence of understanding of the Gurbani.

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-5There can be no dangers to the Sikhism, which is on the rise,  but there are hurdles to be a Sikh. Sikh men are choosing to retreat from the typical outlook with the turban and unshorn hair.  Leaving aside uncut-hair and Kirpan, the other three K’s are hardly a matter of discussion these days.  Sikh women are getting their hair-styling and eye-brows done from professional hair-saloons anyway. Statistics show that most professional Sikh girls want to marry “clean-shaven Sikhs” or even non-Sikhs. The newly accepted dress style in the corporate world is generally a clean-shaven man in a business suit, and a well manicured woman in a trouser-suit or skirt. More and more Sikhs are quitting their traditions both in India and abroad. To promote Sikh culture, the real Sikh actors should be encouraged to join Indian Film Industry ‘Bollywood’ and play the roles of a Sikh rather than a non-Sikh performing similar roles as is practiced currently. Waris Ahluwalia is a great example!

Most Sikhs are unable to read the Guru Granth Sahib and few of those who can read, cannot understand fully.  Reading and reciting from the Guru Granth Sahib has become a specialist’s task.  While the Sikhs still show great devotion to the Guru Granth Sahib and spend long hours listening to the Kirtan, but in the majority of cases, the intellectual understanding of the Gurbani and Sikh philosophy is truly abysmal. The scriptures are becoming inaccessible to the younger generations because of the language used. The Khalsa Schools in Delhi, which were once primarily started to cater for Sikh students, have not a single Sikh student in some sections of classes. The Sikh parents want their children to study in public schools. Outside Punjab, the normal conversation between the Sikh parents & grandparents with their siblings is in a language other than in Punjabi. Even in Chandigarh, the Punjabi was not recognized as a second language some years ago. What a pity for the Sikh-Community to be so helpless!

In India, there is a sharp divide between the Sikhs and Hindus (particularly the RSS) and the resentment with the majority community is ever widening. At political level, where number counts, the Sikhs are at almost even numbers with non-Sikhs in the Punjab State. The Sikh votes are predominantly divided in to two Camps: the Shromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress. With the growing number of migrant workers settling in Punjab, the days are not far away when the BJP, main Hindu political Party can easily take over the political control to run Punjab Government throwing SAD in the background altogether. If once BJP takes over on its own, the reversal of political process may not be easy. To remain in control in Punjab the Sikh community needs to boost its numbers or those who have strong allegiance to the Sikhs.

The Siks are anyway drifting away to various Deras, Babas and Yogis who are also promoting Gurbani but accept both the turbaned and non-turbaned Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. The proposition is to suggest opening the doors and accepting those who have faith and trust in The Guru Granth Sahib (Gurbani) as the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh Sahib gave us the suffixes of `Singh’ and `Kaur’ after our names. But Guru Sahib nowhere said that those who do not have `Singh’ and `Kaur’ after their names are not Sikhs. This new element of adding `Singh’ and `Kaur’ after names would compound the already existing rigidity which would add to our social problems. Coercion is not good. It would divide Sikh society further. Why cannot a George, Mary, Kamlesh, Rahman, Sharma, Christine, Joseph etc etc be Sikh names as well? When to be a Sikh one needs to accept Guru Granth Sahib as ones Guru.

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-6The adherent of the Sikhism is called as a Sikh – one who is looking up to the Guru Granth Sahib as Guru even when he/she may be imperfect. Thus a Sikh could be: Amritdhari, Keshdhari, (Punjbi & non-Punjabi, Indians, Europeans, Americans, Africans etc.), sehajdhari sikh, gora or kala sikh and the list can go on. Since they are striving to be Sikhs, they are equal and deserve respect and all doors be kept open to all those who call themselves “Sikhs”. No Sikh is Patit only one who calls someone else with this name is Patit. Guru Gobind Singh Ji provided water for enemy soldiers in the battle field and here we fail to accept or embrace those as Sikhs who are moving towards the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the most important Rehat Maryada for a Sikh besides Nam Japna (Nam Japna comes from understanding of Gurbani – so it promotes 100% literacy); Kirt Karni (promotes professionalism) and Vand ke chakhana (promotes charity). The promoters of these of such qualities, “Sikhs” will make good citizens of the World and shall promote in turn spirituality, peace and prosperity wherever they will be. Thus to helping create ‘Khalistan’ – a land of good people with good resources).

The future of Sikhs is too important to unfold on its own while we all passively wait. Certainly it cannot be left to some politico-religious Jathedars who may be great in their ceremonial functions but who may not be able to participate in any historical, philosophic or intellectual or even theological discourse.  The Sikh Community must collectively invent a future and design a destiny for itself in the light of the Guru Granth Sahib (by using the pair of glasses / contact lenses or the intra-ocular lenses of gyan and Brahmgyan – realization of the Gurbani. . However, there is need of translations of the Gurbani in different languages spoken on all the continents.

I apologize to those whose sentiments I might  hurt. I am not against Amritdhari Sikhs (or Singhs) as they can be excellent human-beings and they have every right to continue with their practice with the focus on Gurbani. But others who wish to partake from the Universal treasure of Gurbani need also to be accepted as Sikh irrespective of creed, colour, country of origin, skin of colour, poor or rich, low or high caste etc. to give a necessary boost to the numbers of the Sikhs in India and in the rest of World. With is flexibility, there could be influx of interested people to become Sikhs and the Deras, Babas and Yogis may not lost very long.

This is open to constructive suggestions to move forward for the sake of the growth of a Sikh-community on all the Continents of the World in line with the teachings of the Universal Guru – the Guru Granth Sahib.

Kindly be guided by the Gurbani: “Prabh ka simran sabh te oocha”

I have no doubt that the future of the Sikhism is ever in ‘Chardi Kala’ but who is a Sikh is becoming somewhat blurred? After joining the GL-Z Forum and being exposed to the missives on the Gurbani and about the rigidity in Sikhism that I thought of contributing this article in search for an identity of a Sikh in the context of changing times in the light of my personal experience as well.

Historical-Perspective-Need-for-searching-a-Sikh-Identity-7Guru Gobind Singh was a great scholar, imbued with God fearing personality and a Manager with extra ordinary skills. He inherited determination for pragmatic changes from his predecessors, the nine Sikh Gurus. Towards the end of his sojourn in this world, he completed and got the Guru Granth Sahib ready to be ordained as the next Guru of the Sikhs. This order came from a Chief Executive of the Sikh-Panth without reference to any other instruction. Therefore, in fitness of things, it should imply that all the past edicts are superseded by the last and final order. The Guru as a leader guided the Sikhs to turn to the Guru Granth Sahib for advice thereafter. So we have no other choice but to read, understand and contemplate on Gurbani to go forward to experience the Truths in Gurbani and lead a decent and full life of a Sikh in various walks and respective professions.

The Guru Granth Sahib  guides as to how to live life and to merge with God through the Gurbani, the grasp of which leads a Sikh to Nam Sirnrn (“Prab ka simrn sab te oocha’). There is no room for any rituals what so ever to meet the goal in life.

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About Kirpal Singh

Kirpal Singh holds a PhD in Chemistry. Served as Professor, Dean of School of Natural and Physical Sciences and Adviser to the Vice Chancellor at the University of Papua New Guinea. Retired as Professor Emeritus. Exploring Gurbani and Gurmat is his passion. Authored a book "Gurmat Saachi Saacha Vichaar", Sanbun Publishers, New Delhi, April 2014. Actively participates in Gurmat discussions on various International Sikh Forums. His articles have appeared in Sikh Review, Nishaan, Gurmat Parkash (SGPC) and Sisganj (DSGMC).

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