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EDITORIAL SIKH BULLETIN FEB. 2005

BANI AND BANA

    Punjabi University Patiala Punjabi-English dictionary defines the terms as: bwxI [Bani] speech, utterance, voice, same as Gurbani             [ g urbwxI ] and [bwxw] [Bana] dress, habit, apparel, garb. When Bani and Bana are uttered in the same breath it evokes only one image, that of an Amritdhari Sikh with 5Ks. To such a person that in fact is the only definition of a Sikh. Appearance is more important than the character, otherwise why would our religious and political leaders vie with each other to become more corrupt than the next guy? After all bwxw [Bana] gives them the license. There again, Bana seems to confine itself to above the neck. As long as hair is uncut and covered with a turban, no matter how tied, the rest of the dress could be pant, pajama or kchhehra and of course appropriate shirt or chola. In fact there are certain ‘kathakars’ who live the life in India in western clothing , except the turban, of course, but switch to ‘chola’ while visiting abroad. This, unquestionably, has become the image of a Sikh.

    A recent news item (See p. 3) informs us that Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) had formed a special board of leading community scholars and leaders to suggest ways to handle what it called ‘the current cultural crisis facin g the reli g ion’. That cultural crisis is the disappearin g turban for which they have created ‘Save Turban Panel’. The names forming the panel are all very familiar. There may be a few honorable exceptions but the hypocrisy of most of them and others like them is the primary reason for what they call the ‘cultural crisis. When they themselves lack integrity and credibility, how effective can they be in stemming this tide of cultural decline? We will come back to the term ‘cultural’ later.

    Another term often used these days is ‘patit’. (p.3) Same dictionary defines piqq [patit] as: fallen (in moral or religious sense), apostate, sinner, degraded. The Random House Dictionary of the English  Language defines ‘apostate’ as one who forsakes his religion, cause, etc. What it boils down to is this: for Sikhs the reli g ion is invariably associated with the uncut hair and turban. Character is relegated to insignificance and does not count.

    At the SSI-WSC conference in Sydney , Australia on September 18th and 19th 2004 I was repeatedly asked the definition of a Sikh by a g roup of honorable and well meanin g Amritdhari Sikhs. Every time I read the definition from the Sikh Reht Maryada which reads: “Any human bein g who faithfully believes in One Immortal Bein g ; Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh; The Guru Granth Sahib; The utterances and teachin g s of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe alle g iance to any other reli g ion, is a Sikh.” Apparently what they were lookin g for was the mention of uncut hair, but that is not in the definition quoted from the December 2000 En g lish version of The Sikh Reht Maryada published by the Dharam Parchar Committee of the SGPC.

     June-July 2004 issue of The Sikh Bulletin carried an article, ‘Who am I’, by Bawa Singh Jagdev of Sidney , Australia . In it he narrates a response from a student from a private Catholic School who had received some informational material on Sikhism from him. It is very pertinent here for the point I wish to make. “Sir, thank you so much for the literature, on Sikhism, you sent to me, it was very descriptive, elaborately informative and very interesting . The basic philosophy of the reli g ion, Sikhism, of which I knew  nothing  about before, fascinates me. It is simple and easy to follow. It helped me a lot to complete my project, and am sure my teacher will like it too.  However my elder brother has read it and gone through the few pages you sent to me and whenever he finds time he discusses about the Sikh reli g ion with me. But one of his friends told him that to become a Sikh you must never cut your hair and carry a lon g sword all the time, which scared him. He likes the philosophy of the Sikh Gurus and is very much interested in becoming a Sikh but he doesn’t like to grow long hair or carry a sword. Could you please explain to me as to why one has to grow long hair and wear a lon g sword to become a Sikh and  whether  some one can become a Sikh without, growing long hair and carrying a sword…….?” .

     On page 4 we carry an article by a Brazilian Sikh, Claudia G. S. Martins, “Sikhi: Unfinished A g enda at the Dawn of XX1 Century”. In it she bemoans the absence of Sikh missionary activity in Brazil which is ripe for it. But she also has a warnin g : Traditional Sikhism with saffronised Amritdharis carrying long kirpans as the only standard to be followed has little chance to be implemented in Brazil .

     Garon Lee was a young High School student in South Carolina back in 1996-97 when he started corresponding with me about Sikh religion. He was in inquisitive mode. He has done enough study of our faith to ask intelligent questions. Here is his latest query: “Reading the Rahit and knowing some of the basic teachings of the Gurus it seems that it is full of contradictory material. For example, if I'm not mistaken the Gurus said that all rituals should be done away with and the Rahit is full of them. Is not the concept of "Anand Karaj ceremony" contrary to gurmat, in that it is full of rituals? Shouldn't a marriage be a consensual agreement between two competent people, instead of arranged? Also, the Rahit says to remember the 10 Gurus at all times. I thought that the important thing to Sikhs was the message that the Gurus brought and not so much the person who delivered them. Also, it says that in a congregation only a sikh can perform kirtan. This doesn't make sense to me, because much of the SGGS was composed by people who were Muslims and Hindus”. Thank you, Garon Lee.  

    To quote Bawa Singh Jagdev from his SB June-July 2004 article ‘Who am I?’ again: Whereas tenets of Sikhism are eternal and immutable, culture, traditions and values do under go changes as our modes of livin g chan g e and have changed with time. We don’t do things the way our elders did. Even our gurus questioned every cultural, religious or political tradition and proclamations and chan g ed as situation demanded. Our Gurus were unconventional. Guru Nanak stood up a g ainst the lon g held traditions and futile rituals of the Hindus and Musalmans, He never advocated the use of arms, yet Guru Hargobind had to take up arms so did Guru Gobind Singh. Not only that,  to escape arrest  by the Mu g al  forces, He, as suggested by Nabi Khan and Gani Khan, discarded His Sikh uniform and  put on the robes of Muslim Pir and even partook food with the Muslim General. (Glorious history of the Sikhs G.K.Narang )   

    What Bawa Sin g h Jagdev is sayin g is that from the time of Guru Nanak to the time of Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhism has evolved and that evolution need not stop. Let us take ourselves to the time of Guru Nanak. Guru is givin g a sermon. Who is he giving the sermon to? In his audience are Hindus and Muslims, adherents of the two dominant faiths of that time. Did he treat them differently from each other or did he treat them as humans eager to make sense out of this life? Did he see Hindu and Muslim faces or Human faces?

kbIr pRIiq iek isau kIey Awn duibDw jwie]

BwvY lWby kys kru BwvY Grir mufwie] p 1365

kabeer pareet ik si-o kee-ay aan dubiDhaa jaa-ay. 
bh
aavai laaNbay kays kar bhaavai gharar mudaa-ay.

Kabeer, when you are in love with the One Lord, duality and alienation depart. 
You may have long hair, or you may shave your head bald.
(AGGS Page: 1365)

    Earlier I have made reference to the ‘Save Turban Panel’ created by the DSGMC to handle what it called ‘the current cultural crisis facing the religion’.  This panel will not be able to solve the problem because for all of them uncut hair and turban is an integeral part of Sikhi. But, inadvertently, they have used the correct term, ‘cultural crisis’. Long hair, not necessarily uncut, has been part of the ancient cultures. During Guru period people of all faiths kept long hair. Even today some people in some faiths keep long beards and others long hair. Hair and dress are cultural phenomenon. For those of us who are calling diaspora our home, to expect our children to keep long hair and turban/chunni is and will remain a disheartening experience.

 

    We often read about the g lowin g tributes that forei g n scholars have paid to AGGS. One such tribute by Max Arthur Macauliffe is on page 3 .  Mr. Macauliffe g ave up a very promisin g career in British India Civil Service to devote his life to the study of Guru Granth Sahib but he did not convert to Sikhism; nor did scores of others who lauded the Sikh scriptures in similar lan g ua g e. Have we been instrumental in denyin g the Gurbani experience to the rest of the world?

 

    Is it not time, to use the language of Col. Avtar Singh in his letter to the editor on page 23 ‘that Sikhs residing outside India need to delink themselves from the petty politics of Punjab’, but modify it to read ‘that Sikhs residing outside India need to delink Sikhi from restrictions of Bana’? This must in no way be construed as opposition to Bana. We should first expose the individual to Gurbani and let the desire for Bana come from within.                                                                                                                                   Hardev Singh Shergill

 


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