Sikhs Views on Social Problems
December 1991 / January 1992
by Karan Chagger
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The Sikh faith is one of the youngest, it is only 500 years old. It can thus be said to be a ‘modern’ religion.
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji said: “Suffering is the remedy and comfort is the disease”. What this really means is that the mind of man is more prone to evil than to good, and accordingly, all the so-called MODERN SOCIAL PROBLEMS are nothing but necessary evils created by our Maker to test the character of man.
The radio, television and print media keep harping about the modern social problems in our daily lives, but what are the solutions ?
Sikhs identify five evils as the root of all modern social problems, and are required to understand them in order to avoid them. They are: Lust, Anger, Greed, Attachment, and Pride.
The first evil, Lust (Kam) is a grave sin because it results in nothing but shame and misery. We hear daily of problems caused by lust: AIDS, prostitution and teenage pregnancies – to name a few. Sikhism promotes a monogamous relation with one’s spouse, and forbids promiscuity.
The second evil, Anger (Krodh) is a passion of the mind which is charged with destructive power. It has been known to lead to perversity in an individual because it draws its strength from evil thought. It produces problems such as violence in the home, on the streets and between nations of the world. Anger can be conquered by cultivating the virtues of patience and forgiveness. Sikhs believe that God dwells in every heart and one should not hurt the God in another man.
The third evil, Greed (Lobh) is an obsessive desire for money or a love of selfish gain. It causes problems such as : dishonesty, disloyalty and unfairness. Sikhism admonishes to keep greed in check, stressing the need for contentment to conquer greed, because it creates a desire for needless luxury and other selfish evils, and so the excessive love of money, and money obtained by fraud and unfair means is to be resented.
The fourth evil, Worldly Attachment (Moh) springs from disregard for the fact that people and things do not remain forever. If human kind were not so attached to their worldly possessions, they would not fear death, for death means losing the things and people dearly loved; therefore by controlling the temptation of attachment, Sikhs should triumph over the ghosts of fear that drive to failure or death.
Finally, the fifth and greatest evil that every Sikh must guard against is Pride (Ahankar); it is probably the worst of all the evils combined together. Sikhism teaches that the remedy for pride is to cultivate selfless humility; because humility, forgiveness and compassion go together.
According to the Sikh faith, if we can control these five evils, we can lessen if not prevent the social problems in the world, and help ourselves and those around us.
Sikh culture advocates that each individual has a right to develop their human potential to the utmost, and achieve a perfect personality by learning to control those evils.
Professor Pritam Singh Grewal is a former College lecturer and Public School Principal from Punjab, India; in Canada, a local Heritage Language Teacher
Human Race Equality
April / May 1992
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One of the largest visible minorities of Canada, the Sikhs, started arriving at the west coast from the Punjab at the beginning of this century. Of about 170,000 Sikhs settled in Canada, over one thousand reside in and around Kitchener-Waterloo. They can be identified from their outward symbols of unshorn hair, turban and a steel bracelet on the right wrist.
The usual Sikh middle name is Singh (Lion) for males and Kaur (Princess) for females. Known as the youngest major religion of the world, Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 AD). His birth-place, called Nankana Sahib is now in Pakistan, after the Punjab split in 1947. The world population of the Sikhs is around 20 million. The Sikh faith evolved and developed under the leadership of ten Gurus. The tenth Guru Gobind Singh installed the holy book named Guru Granth Sahib as the perpetual Guru. It is a 1430 page anthology of hymns composed by the Sikh Gurus and some saints from other faiths. These hymns were written in several current dialects and languages including Sanskrit and Persian, and are set to 31 musical scores.
One of the cardinal principles of Sikhism is the essential equality of all human beings. Thus Sikhism rejects all man-made divisions of human race into castes, creeds, colours and classes. In fact, Guru Nanak’s constant companion was a Muslim musician named Mardana.
The famous Sikh temple called the Golden Temple at Amritsar has four doors towards the four directions signifying that all persons are welcome there without any discrimination of creed or clime. The foundation of this Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) was laid by a Muslim saint named Mian Mir.
The Sikh Gurus opposed all forms of oppression and exploitation. They resisted the religious, social and political policies which went against equality and dignity of human beings. An example is when the Brahmins (members of the priestly and highest caste of Hindus) of Kashmir feared persecution at the hands of the then rulers of India, they sought help from the ninth Sikh Guru: Tegh Bahadur. Though they had a different faith, the Guru sacrificed his own life at Delhi in 1675 to defend their right to faith and life.
An important Sikh practice of social equality is ‘Langar’ or common and free kitchen, where every person is welcome to eat irrespective of faith or status. Sikhs recognise the whole human race as one.
The Sikh Community celebrates Baisakhi Day, April 13, as on this day in 1699 A.D., the tenth Sikh Guru GobindSingh created the Khalsa Order by baptising the Sikhs with Amrit ceremony at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. A special congregation to mark this day will be held at Kitchener Gurdwara on April 26, 1992 from 10 am – 2 pm
A Glimpse of the Punjabi Heritage
June / July 1992
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The people of the Punjab, known as the Punjabis, possess an old and rich culture. PUNJ + AB means the land of five rivers, namely Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum. The present Punjab, divided in 1947, forms part of India and Pakistan. The language of this region is Punjabi and has several dialects. The Punjabi people belong to the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions. The Punjabi culture and heritage is of the vintage of the famous Indus Valley civilization (third millennium B.C.) whose sites have been excavated at Mohenjo-Daro and Sanghol. The verses of the Rig-Veda, regarded as the oldest scripture, were composed in Punjab.
Historically, the Punjabis had to bear the brunt of numerous invasions of India from across the North-Western borders which began in 327 B.C. with the attack by Alexander the Great of Macedon, from Greece. Invasions continued till 1767 A.D., when the Sikhs finally repulsed the forces of Ahmed Shah of Afghanistan. Such hard times made the Punjabis daring, sturdy, adventurous and open-minded.
The Sikh religion, founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539), a contemporary of the Mughal emperor Babur, was another powerful factor that influenced the Punjabi way of life. Besides their spiritual regeneration, the Punjabis experienced a strong social and political awakening through the philosophy and practice of the Ten Sikh Gurus, during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Sikh ideal was realized in 1699 in the formation of an egalitarian, monotheistic, self-disciplined and human-rights-conscious community of Saint-soldiers called the Khalsa. Surviving persecution and even genocide at the hands of foreign rulers for a hundred years, these dauntless people established the most powerful sovereign state of the then India, under the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh who was popular with the Punjabis of all faiths. His cabinet included Muslim and Hindu ministers. His French and Italian generals trained the Khalsa army on European lines. Comprising the whole Punjab and Kashmir, this state flourished till annexed by the British in 1849, after two Anglo-Sikh wars. Please refer to the map (opposite page) taken from the book “The Sikhs and Their Way of Life” by Gurinder Singh Sacha.
For long Punjab remained a melting pot of cultures. The Punjabi language, art, architecture, dress, and food, show Greek, Mughal and Persian influence on them.
The Punjabi language is written in Gurmukhi script (see opposite), but Pakistani-Punjabis use Persian letters.
Punjabi literature has been enriched by Sikh, Muslim and Hindu writers alike.
Baisakhi (April 13) is Punjabis’ main festival, marking the height of spring, harvest of wheat and the birthday of Khalsa.
Folk songs and dances – Giddha, Bhangra – charm and thrill the Punjabis.
A sampling of Punjabi folk songs:
The fair face and eyes brown, why behind the veil restrain?
A girl wearing anklets the water spilt,
A boy wearing necklace slipped on it.
To veil your face and walk with grace
A double trouble at in-laws’ place.
Sympathy in Trees:
The trees though can’t speak
Yet share people’s grief.
Sikh Community Celebration
To mark the Martyrdom Day of their Fifth Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the Sikh Community will hold special congregations at the Sikh temples: Gurdwaras. The celebration includes singing of Kirtan: the Guru’s verses, speeches and Langar: free food for all who attend
Guru Arjan Dev got the foundation of the famous Golden Temple laid by a Muslim saint Mian Mir in 1588 at Amritsar (Punjab) and compiled the first edition of the Sikh scripture, Ad Granth, in 1604. He contributed 2312
compositions himself to this holy book. For the sake of his right to faith and expression, this first martyr Sikh Guru had to face inhuman tortures and death in 1606 at Lahore as ordered by the then emperor Jehangir of India.
Gur + dwara – The Sikh Place of Worship
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GUR + DWARA means Guru’s Abode. It is a place for the Sikh congregational worship of God in the presence of GURU GRANTH SAHIB, the Sikh scripture. This 1430 page anthology of hymns composed by the Sikh Gurus also contains sayings of 15 Hindu and Muslim holy men who believed in One God and equality of the human race.
Its first edition was compiled by the Fifth Guru, Arjan Dev Ji, in 1604. Guru Granth Sahib, as the Guru’s Word, holds the supreme authority for the Sikhs. The holy book, reverently covered in robes, is kept on a raised place under a canopy in every Gurdwara. As a mark of respect for the Guru’s Word, the Sikhs bow before this book and then sit cross-legged on the carpet in the hall.
All persons, regardless of caste, creed, colour or age can enter a Gurdwara. They must take off their shoes, clean their hands and feet and cover their heads before going in. Alcohol, tobacco or intoxicants are not allowed there.
The daily worship in a Gurdwara generally consists of the opening of Guru Granth Sahib in the morning, singing of the Guru’s hymns, joint prayer, reading of a passage from the holy book and its exposition. A similar service is performed in the evening before the closing of the scripture.
Sikh women can also lead the service. It may be noted that though the Sikhs highly respect the Guru’s Word in the form of Guru Granth Sahib, yet the only object of their worship is One Eternal and Omnipresent God. The Sikhs call Him WAHEGURU, or the Wonderful Lord .. but according to the Guru one can worship God by any name.
Muslim epithets like Allah, Karim, Rahim; and Hindu epithets like Ram, Gobind, Madhav etc .. for Him, occur in the Sikh scripture.
Another essential part of a Gurdwara is the Guru’s Langar or the free common kitchen where all are welcome to share food for which the devotees voluntarily contribute in cash or kind. The food is prepared and caringly served by volunteers to the Pangat or the people sitting together in rows. In some historical Gurdwaras, the common kitchen serves the visitors round the clock.
Outwardly, a Gurdwara is recognizable from a saffron-coloured triangular flag having the Sikh emblem of swords and circle on it.
Guru Nanak – Founder of the Sikh Faith
October / November 1992
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Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) founded the Sikh faith which is known as the youngest major religion of the world. He was born in Talwandi village in Punjab. This place is now known as Nanakana Sahib and is in Pakistan since 1947. The local teachers could not satisfy child Nanak’s quest for truth and curiosity for the real purpose of human life. When his father sent him to graze the family cattle, Nanak would sit in meditation while the animals strayed into wheat crops. Once he spent the money given to him by his father for business, to feed some hungry hermits. The father became unhappy at his only son’s ‘otherworldliness’.
Nanak was married and had two sons. For some time he worked as manager of Nawab Daulat Khan Lordi’s stores at Sultanpur town (Punjab). His humane and spiritual behaviour made him very popular there. But jealousy led some adversaries to complain to the Nawab that Nanak was not careful about his job. Ther stores were inspected twice but no discrepancy was found. Nanak quit the job.
Now he revealed his real mission, starting with his message: there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim .. all human beings are the children of the same God. Thus Guru Nanak founded the Sikh faith on the principle of human equality. He accepted neither religious rituals nor caste systems. To make individual and social life purposeful and productive he preached the following three things: Remember One Eternal God who is both Transcendent and Immanent; Earn your living by honest work; and share your gains with others.
To spread his message Guru Nanak undertook long and hazardous journeys in India and abroad, reaching Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Arabia and Iraq. He visited many Hindu and Muslim places of worship.
It is said that when Malik Bhago, a rich but corrupt official of Emnabad town, invited Nanak to his sumptuous feast, Nanak dined instead with a poor but honest carpenter named Bhai Lalo.
During one of his journeys Guru Nanak was confronted with the biggest question of those days: “Who is superior, a Hindu or a Muslim ?” his answer was that without doing good deeds both would repent because God accepts none on the basis of religion alone. He emphasised the practice of the genuine values of one’s faith rather than the performance of mere rituals.
He denounced those who rated women inferior to men, and believed that truth is higher than everything, but higher still is truthful living.
The Guru’s philosophy and teachings are contained in his 947 compositions compiled in the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib.
Towards the end of his life, Guru Nanak founded the village KARTARPUR on the banks of the river Ravi where he settled as a farmer and continued his preaching. There he passed away at the age of 70, after bestowing the Guruship on Guru Angad Dev Ji. Guru Nanak was succeeded by nine Gurus till 1708.
The following folklore brings out the popularity of Nanak as the prophet of human equality:
Nanak Shah fakir, Hindu ka Guru Musilman ka Pir
which means: Saint Nanak is Hindus’ Guru as well as Muslims’ Pir.
A Sampling of Punjabi Songs
December 1992 / January 1993
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Folk songs are a vital part of a nation’s culture. They depict different phases of development of the civilization of a people or country. Folk songs mirror joys and pains experienced by the people during their long struggle for survival, and are a valuable source of knowledge about their physical and social environment, occupations, mental and physical characteristics, food, dress, art, craft, and family and community relationships. Folklore forms the unwritten literature of a language too.
The Punjabi peoples’ heritage is very rich with a large variety of folk songs. These have been composed and sung on plenty of topics such as the birth of a child, lullabies, engagement, marriage, youth, beauty, parental and in-law’s home, dresses, ornaments, seasons, crops, trees, occupations, festivals, ceremonies, love, pain of separation, chivalry, battles, patriotism, humour, pranks, .. etc.
Aptly chosen words, spontaneous expression and beautiful rhyme and rhythm have made them a precious possession of the Punjabis for centuries, at home and abroad.
Punjab, being the fertile land of five rivers and situated in the path of invaders of India from the north-western frontiers, produced one of the most reputed people of farms and arms. The following sampling of translated Punjabi folk songs illustrates Punjabi life in the context of fields and battlefields.
To begin with, here is a saying that briefly but intensely conveys the cherished wish of the Punjabi people:
Live with dignity though a few days shorter the life be.
The romantic charm of the glittering nose ornament of a Punjabi damsel:
On seeing your nose-pin aglow
The ploughmen forgot to plough.
A chivalrous tribute to the cotton-picking lass:
Give way,, O slender cotton stalk,
Let the slim belle pass and walk.
Subtle flattery of lover to get the lost necklace found:
My necklace fell in the field of millet
Please go, like a peacock pick it.
A request to the soldier husband to come home on leave:
The nights are dark, alone and scared I am
Do come on leave, my serviceman !
A keen desire to be ever in the company of the serving husband:
O my rider of the blue steed, if you go on campaign apace
Hide me in your haversack.
Wherever the night may fall, take me out to embrace.
Husband’s presence as a farmer preferred to his absence as a soldier:
Stay at home and till the land
I’ll regard you as a serviceman.
A mother’s concern for the young men leaving for war:
Over the bridges military trains pass anon
Carrying mothers’ many a soldier son.
A sister’s wish to give dinner to her brother’s fellow soldiers:
Your troops to dinner, O brother, I’ll ask
Tho’ my mother-in-law may take me to task.
Looking forward to visit her parental family but if in-laws permit:
O my dear sister-in-law sitting with your companions of spinning wheel,
My brother on horse and with sword in hand has here come
May I go with him to visit my parents’ home ?
In the middle of the 18th century, the Sikh horsemen challenged and started routing the foreign invader of Punjab. They became strong enough to protect the native wealth and honour from the predators from the north-west. The then governor of Lahore, Mir Mannu, was so upset that he ordered the extermination of the Sikhs. How the Sikhs faced this situation and survived is expressed through the symbols of farming in the following folk song:
We are the crop and Mannu is the scythe to mow
The more he mows us the more we grow.
Pioneer Punjabi Immigrants in Canada
February / March 1993
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The Punjabi immigrants have been in Canada for about a century now. After a decade of the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab, the British annexed this last independent state of India to their Empire in 1849 through war and diplomacy. Ranjit Singh had brought the Sikh army among the best forces of those times by getting it trained and equipped on the European models by hiring veteran generals from France and Italy. After the fall of the Sikh state of Punjab, the Punjabi youth joined the forces of the British Empire and were posted to many colonies in the east. From there they came to know about the migration of the Chinese and the Japanese to Canada after the mid 19th century. In 1897, a group of Sikh soldiers were deputed to take part in the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s monarchy in London. From there they returned after traversing the Dominion of Canada carrying with them a keen desire to settle and work in its vast and promising resources.
Being of an adventurous and enterprising nature, hundreds of Punjabis started arriving in British Columbia at the beginning of the 20th century. 98% of them were Sikhs and the rest were Hindus and Muslims. These pioneer Punjabi immigrants had to cope with a tough geographical and working environment. Yet by dint of perseverance, hard work and austere living, they soon found themselves living on the trail of success. They earned a reputation as diligent workers in farms and lumber mills around Vancouver and Victoria.
A few hundred shareholders founded and registered the Guru Nanak Mining and Trust Co. for financial entrepreneurship and they started investing in real estate.
To satisfy their religious and social needs, the first Sikh Temple or Gurdwara in Canada was opened in Vancouver in 1908. Earlier, the body of the first Sikh who died had to be cremated in the jungle at night in the absence of proper facilities for that purpose.
As subjects of the same empire they expected equal treatment, yet they had to face discouraging discrimination. For example, in 1911 a Punjabi resident of B.C. fetched his wife and 3 year old daughter from Punjab – the wife and child were detained in Vancouver, they were allowed to land as an Act of Grace after prolonged litigation.
The clause of Continuous Journey and Through Ticket from the country of which they are natives or citizens appended to the Immigration Act adversly affected the coming of people from India, as to fulfil such conditions then was impossible.
Moreover, a person bringing his family had to show $200 per head.
To overcome the problem of ‘continuous journey and through ticket’ from India, Baba Gurdit Singh chartered a ship named Kama Gata Maru which reached Vancouver in 1914, with 376 Punjabis on board. But after two months of negotiations and privations they had to return. The local press reporters described these passengers as “in good health, certainly clean, well set up and a handsome lot”. Today, thousands of Punjabis are contributing to the progress of Canada and are living in peace and prosperity in this land of diverse cultures. The trail they follow was blazed nearly a century ago.
Stories from Travels of Guru Nanak
April / May 1993
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The founder of Sikh religion and first of the ten Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) travelled all over India and to many places in China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Middle East with a view to giving his universal message of only One Eternal God, equality of humanity, personal and social values of good deeds and selfless service of others. During his hazardous and long journeys in four directions, he came across countless people of various faiths, ranks, professions, castes, etc.
The following are three stories during those travels:
The Treasure and a Needle
Once Guru Nanak visited the town of Lahore, now in Pakistan. There he saw flags of different colours atop a mansion. The Guru, along with his Muslim companion Bhai Mardana, entered that big house, and were warmly received by its owner Seth Duni Chand. The Guru asked him about the significance of the flags, and Duni Chand proudly replied that one flag stood for ten million rupees he had – that was his way of telling people how rich he was. Guru Nanak quietly took out a sewing needle from his pocket, gave it to the millionaire saying “please keep me this little property in your custody along with your treasures, I may take the needle back from you in the next world”. The Seth thought awhile and said, “O, holy man, how can I carry the needle into the next world when one leaves everything behind after one’s death ?” On this the Guru commented, “If that is the case, then how can your wealth avail you hereafter. Death keeps no calendar. You may quit this world and wealth any moment. So give up greed and share your treasure with the needy. Thus will you get real comfort and peace here and hereafter.” The rich man acted upon Guru’s advice.
Remain Rooted, Be Uprooted
Guru Nanak once reached a village where the people were so discourteous that they neither greeted him nor listened to his message. The Guru blessed them thus, “May you remain comfortably settled here for ever !” Then along with Mardana he left for the next village. There the residents were hospitable and open-minded. They heard his words attentively. Before departing Guru wished them thus, “May you be uprooted from your homes and hearths and be scattered far and wide !” Mardana wondered why Guru had blessed the bad people and cursed the good ones. He explained – “My friend, let a disease remain localised lest it should infect the healthy cells of the body. The wellness must course through as many parts of the body as possible. That is why the people of bad conduct should remain settled and those of good conduct be on the move in society”.
The Brimful Bowl and the Flower Petal
Once Guru Nanak visited Multan which was known as the town of fakirs or holy men. On hearing of his arrival, the fakirs felt a little jittery. They sent the Guru a bowl brimming with milk with a messenger. The Guru easily understood their message that there was no room for him in Multan which was already full of holy men as the brimful bowl. He gently floated a flower petal on the surface of the milk and returned the bowl to the fakirs. The Guru’s symbolic reply was that his presence there would not displace any of the holy men, and would also spread love and goodness like the inoffensive fragrance of the flower petal.