By Bhawna Malik September 2011 A curious Hindu takes the plunge into the ocean of the Guru Granth Saheb and emerges drenched in ecstasy. The Guru Granth Sahib, sacred scripture of the Sikhs Though born in a Hindu family, Sikhism has always fascinated me. For one thing there is the novelty of having a sacred scripture as a guru, since the Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib to be a living guru. Plus, there is the sweetness of Gurubani, or the nitnem banis (daily prayers), the colourful and vibrant ambience of the gurudwara interiors, and the partaking of langar. All aroused in me an inexplicable desire to learn more about Sikhism. I reached the end of my quest at a book fair held at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Delhi. Forms were being filled for a short-term course of the Guru Granth Sahib for a fee of just Rs 100. I asked what the focus of the course would be. “How to think like a Sikh, look like a Sikh, and behave like a Sikh,” said a man standing next to me. Dressed in a beige safari suit and starched black turban, he introduced himself as Sardar Harinder Pal Singh, the chairman of the Gurmat College and the brain behind this course. Among other topics, the course dwelt on concepts like naam simran, environment, woman empowerment, the concept of the ideal man, and a study of the daily prayers. The course also had sessions on Punjabi grammar and the Gurumukhi script. Kaur competence My spiritual journey began in May 2010. Nervously, I entered the hall and was surprised to discover it packed with students aged 15 to 80, hailing from diverse walks of life. There were students, doctors, engineers, lawyers and some principals of colleges as well. The session began with a kirtan by the students of the Gurmat Sangeet Academy and an introduction on the relevance of Guru Granth Sahib and Naari Chetna by Dr Beant Kaur. She explained that the message of Guru Granth Sahib was eternal. If love, honesty, peace, morality and tolerance are relevant today then indeed its message is relevant. “The guru’s message does not lead us to Godhood, it guides humanity on being humane,” said Dr Beant Kaur, who has a doctorate in feminism. She explained that Sikh philosophy aims at inculcating human values like love, compassion, truthful living and righteousness. For instance, in the place of the sacred thread (janeiu) worn by the Hindus, the Gurubani suggests adorning oneself with the threads of contentment, righteousness and zeal. “Daya kapah santokh soot,Jat gandi sat vatEho janehu jie ka haiTa pane ghat”. (Out of the cotton of mercy roll the thread of contentment,Twisting them with righteous zealTie them into a knot of continence.O, pandit it will not break or get soiled Or be burnt or lost.Blessed is the man, o Nanak, who goes about With such a thread on his neck) Dr Beant Kaur also introduced us to the progressive view of Sikhism towards women. Women were treated with disrespect before the advent of Guru Nanak (founder of the Sikh religion). They were not allowed to participate in religious ceremonies and had no say even in family matters. Social systems were corrupted by child marriage, purdah and sati system. Dr Beant Kaur began with a verse from Gurubani: ‘So kyon manda aakhiye, jit jamhe raajaan?’ (Why call her bad who has given birth to the kings?). The Sikh gurus held women in high esteem and made the laity understand that without them, no creation could be. “Bhand jamiye, bhand nimiyeBhande mangan viahu, bhande hove dostiBhande chale raaho” (Asa di var) (Of a woman we are conceived,Of a woman we are born.To a woman we are betrothed and married.A woman is a friend and a life partnerIt is a woman who keeps the race going) Condemning the sati system, Guru Amar Das, the third guru said: Sati se na aakhiye, jo marriya lag jalan/ Nanak so satiya jaaniye jo birhe chot maran. (Don’t consider them sati who burn alive on pyre, rather call them sati who die because of separation in love). Chairman Sardar Harinder Pal Singh and Principal Narinder Pal Singh Reminding me to cover my head, a young lady added, “I was totally ignorant about Sikhism. Though born in a Sikh family, I was hesitant to use Kaur with my name,” says Komal Gandhi, an employee with the Standard Chartered Bank. To utilise her month-long sabbatical, she enrolled for the course with her husband. “I joined as Komal Gandhi but I will leave as Komal Kaur,” she said. The inspiration At tea break, the students got a chance to know each other and discuss their doubts. Sipping my tea, I joined Harinder Pal Singh for a small chat. How did he get the idea for this course, I asked. He answered, “Dr Jaspal Singh, the present VC of the Punjab University, Patiala, once remarked that all academic fields had a crash course. Why not a capsule course on the concepts of the Guru Granth Sahib? That thought stayed with me and I started working on it.” Finalising the curriculum was a Herculean task. A group of scholars from the Punjabi University, Patiala, and the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, zeroed in on topics to be covered in the 42 lectures. What began with a small bunch of students is now a full-fledged professional course with 500 students in each batch. Exams are held at the end of each session and the first three students are awarded cash prizes. “The money is to encourage them to continue this journey. To some, we also give books,” explained Harinder Pal Singh. Soul food Every Sunday, after the lectures were over, the students, faculty and the chairman relished the langar in the complex of Mata Gujri Gurudwara. So much so that a complete lecture was organised on langar, sangat and pangat. “These are the three pillars of Sikhism. Nam japna (meditating on the name), kirat karna (earning your own bread) and vand chhakna (sharing with others). These three concepts of community kitchen, Sikh congregation and communal breaking of bread were initiated by Guru Nanak and continue to this day. ‘The gurudwaras actually came to be known as temples of bread,” explained Sardar Aaya Singh, who used to be with the Ministry of External Affairs. He shared with me how the course helped him. He travelled extensively and communicated with dignitaries across the world. For him, religion was confined to the mere recitation of the banis. “The Gurubani guides us on every aspect of our life. I lived my life in contrast to what our gurus preached. I regret coming so late for this course,” he exclaimed poignantly. Two sessions completely transformed me: Siddha Goshti and Anand Sahib. Siddha Goshti is a dialogue between Guru Nanak and contemporary saints of the time. It encourages the peaceful co-existence of different viewpoints and also inculcates the virtue of patient listening. Guru Nanak encouraged the saints to speak first while he listened without being judgmental. Kich suniye kich kahiye’ (Some listening, some speaking). A piece of advice all of us could benefit from! Every single religion and its scriptures has its concept of the ideal man. The Gita talks of the Sthithpragya, Buddhism extols the Bodhisattva and Sikhism advocated the Gurmukh or Sachiar. They must be same, I think aloud. No, smilingly explains Dr Jodh Singh, a doctorate on Siddha Goshti. “The Gurmukh is not a recluse or hermit, but a householder. He attains moksha while living, not after death. “Gurmukh nivritt privritt pachaane” (Gurmukh understands and balances both worldly and spiritual life) In Siddha Goshti, Guru Nanak elaborates on the qualities possessed by the ideal man. ‘Gurmukh haumei shabad jalaae,Gurmukh chookei aavan jaan’ (Walking on the path shown by the guru, he surrenders completely, becoming egoless and liberated from the cycles of birth and death) Raising consciousness on Sikhism Satori My ‘aha’ moment occurred during a lecture on Anand Sahib. Anand means bliss. This is the ultimate and the climax of every single religious philosophy. ‘Anand bhaya meri maye satguru main paya’ (O mother, I have attained bliss by finding a satguru). This anand is mystical. It can only be experienced but not explained through words. Following the guru’s instructions, one reaches the abode of Anand. When a person is in bliss only then can he hear the shabad or the ‘word’ or what the scriptures call the unstruck melody. ‘Anand suno vadbhaagiyan, sagal manorath poore.’(Hear lucky ones, the unstruck melody. All your wishes will be fulfilled) Slowly and subtly, the divine and celestial world of Guru Granth Sahib enveloped me as I heard 42 illuminating lectures on the book’s message. I gained spiritually not just from its timeless message but from the noble souls I happened to meet during these lectures. I realised that studying and understanding religious philosophies of other faiths does not make you a convert. It facilitates the unfolding of hidden aspects of one’s own personality by lending it a broader perspective. For me, these lectures were a journey from Om to Ek Onkar (God is one). Bhawna Malik is a Delhi-based writer. She is a seeker, loves life and is interested in understanding complexities of the human mind.
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