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Talking Stick

Bhai Gurdas
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 26, June 28 - July 4

Convenor: RAVINDER SINGH TANEJA

 

 

CONVENOR'S NOTE

Thank you for your active participation in yet another enlightening discussion on gurbani. With the conclusion of our discussion last week, we have now considered two banis that are foundational to Sikh practice - Japji Sahib and Kirtan Sohila.

Before proceeding to another bani, it seemed natural to pause and re-visit some key concepts and underpinnings of gurmat that we had to otherwise gloss over.

This week, we turn to Bhai Gurdas - Sikh savant and missionary, best known to Sikhs as Guru Arjan's scribe - to shed light on Sikh teachings. Bhai Gurdas is the obvious choice - for all the reasons that Dr. I.J. Singh's introductory essay highlights hereinbelow.

The essay, which he was gracious enough to write for
The Talking Stick Colloquium this week, provides the backdrop for the discussion that will ensue in the coming weeks. The focus this week is Bhai Gurdas, the man, his circumstances and some very obvious questions around him that offer food for thought.

In the coming weeks, we will selectively pick on Bhai Gurdas' writings not only for an elucidation but also for the socio-political conditions that prevailed during his time.

The topic next week will be Guru Nanak's mission as seen by Bhai Gurdas  in his '
Vaar 1'.

 

 

BHAI GURDAS: Sikhi's First Public Intellectual [1551 - 1636]

by I.J. SINGH

His life is the stuff of legends - fascinating and utterly baffling at the same time. Sikhs know him best as the man who laboriously and meticulously penned the first ever collation of Sikh scriptural writings under the supervision of the Fifth Master, Guru Arjan.

This was the Adi Granth in 1604. With minor additions this hand-written volume became the Guru Granth in 1708, the eternal Word to Sikhs worldwide.

But he was more than a scribe. Leaving aside the Gurus, Bhai Gurdas has possibly been the first - and even until today - the foremost and most outstanding public intellectual of Sikhi.

We know that he lived from 1551 to 1636 to the ripe old age of 85 - his life spanning the Guruship of five of the ten Gurus. (Guru Angad passed away in 1552.)

Orphaned at the age of twelve, he was "adopted" into the household of Guru Amar Das, who was also his father's cousin.

There, he was initiated into Sikhi by Guru Ram Das, the Fourth Master, in 1579.

Tradition tells us that he threreon played a central role in Sikh affairs.

He tutored the young Tegh Mull (later Guru Tegh Bahadur) in the ancient Indic classics; offered the congregational prayer (ardaas) at the death of Mata Ganga, Guru Arjan's wife, as also at Baba Buddha's death in 1631.

When the Muslim Emperor Akbar visited Guru Arjan and wanted to listen to the Guru Granth, it was Bhai Gurdas who read the verses chosen at random to assuage Akbar's concern that the Guru Granth might have an anti-Muslim bias.

When Bhai Gurdas died, Guru Hargobind was present with him and personally offered the last rites.

He was not only scribe of the entire Adi Granth; he also contributed manual labor during the excavation of the pool at the Harmandar in 1577 and later, along with Baba Buddha, in the construction of the Akal Takht. Guru Ram Das commissioned him to Agra, where he spent time preaching the message of Gurmat.

In the interest of clarity, I need to remind you that three men in Sikh history have been known as Bhai Gurdas. Here, we are only speaking of the man who lived from 1551 to 1636 and is usually known as Bhai Gurdas I. There was another, Bhai Gurdas II, an eighteenth century poet, who is credited as the author of the Vaar Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki, Patshahi Dasvi(n) Ki which is often appended, in error, to the Vaars of Bhai Gurdas I.

This Bhai Gurdas II is also the author of the celebrated title "Mard Agamrra" (Man nonpareil) for Guru Gobind Singh.

A third Bhai Gurdas, a minor figure, was a loyalist of Ram Rai, the secessionist, but was instrumental in mending fences with Guru Gobind Singh after Ram Rai's death.

Our exploration today is restricted to the life and work of Bhai Gurdas I. He remains, for Sikhs, the primary exemplar and the clearest expounder of the Sikh way of life.

His writings (consisting of 40 vaars and close to 600 kabits) remain the pithiest and clearest explanations of the Sikh way of life. Deeply imbued in ancient Indian texts and philosophic lore, he was uniquely able to connect Sikh teaching equally easily to folklore as well as to philosophic complexities.His poetry has a highly unusual style of catchy, racy rhythmicity, with each line connecting to and effortlessly capturing the essential core of the message.

Much of his writing is thematic.

For example, he engages the issues of sangat, Guru and the lifestyle of a Sikh in a few well chosen and memorable words, and lays the matters to rest. To my mind, he cuts to the chase, swooping down to the essential core of an idea in a way that is the hallmark of the Punjabi Sikh mind.

Sikhs believe that Guru Arjan himself honored Bhai Gurdas' writings by designating the latter's Vaaran as the "key" to the scripture. Alongwith the writings of Guru Gobind Singh and Bhai Nand Lal, the only other writings that may be read or sung along with the poetry of Guru Granth at any gurdwara are the writings of Bhai Gurdas.

His writing is still widely, nay universally, relied on in Sikh homes and gurdwaras across the world.

But what kind of a man was Bhai Gurdas?

Today, I posit for you a different set of questions While he celebrated the family (girhast) structure as supreme - indeed the first religion of mankind to do so - he apparently chose to remain unmarried himself. History does not tell us why.

Bhai Gurdas, as we have noted, was central to the compilation of the Sikh scripture. He was with Guru Arjan when the latter sifted through the many songs and hymns that sundry saints and poets submitted for inclusion into the Guru Granth. If the eminent saints of the times - Kabir, Farid, Ravidas, Tarlochan, etc. were included, so were some not so widely known, such as the Bhatts.

Why then not a single composition of Bhai Gurdas is to be found in the Guru Granth? If it is designated as the "key" to understanding the Guru Granth, why is there not a single word by him in it?

Bhai Gurdas was present when Guru Arjan was martyred, but he never directly referred to the event. He was also there when the concept of Miri-Piri became formalized. His writings and elaboration of Sikhi had already claimed a premier place in the message of Sikhi. Certainly his would have been a strong possibility of succeeding as Guru, even though Guruship had by then become familial.

History gives us not even a hint to an answer. Perhaps folk lore and human nature would.

His silence on Guru Arjan's martyrdom may have been in keeping with Sikh teachings, which refrain from historical notes or details. History, with its many cunning passages and contrived corridors, often changes perceptions with time and circumstance.

The emphasis in Sikhi is on matters that are timeless such as a framework for developing an ethical and productive sense of self; this is how societies, communities and nations are built. The focus is absolutely not on debating and analyzing historical factoids.

Some kathakaars and gyanis tell us that Bhai Gurdas personally declined to submit his own writings for inclusion in Guru Granth. Could it be that he had such a reverence for the Gurus' word that he did not think it appropriate to offer his own writing at the same table? If true, was that remarkable reticence stemming from true humility or some particular personality quirk? It is anyone's guess.

But look around you.

There are people who truly revel in the role of the consigliore rather than that of the supremo. You find such people everywhere - in politics, in families, in clans, even in the mafia; in academia and in religions - in fact, anywhere and everywhere in society. Their influence does not become any less for that.

Given my personal bias, over the years some examples of this from academia come to mind.

One that I particularly treasure is of one excellent administrator who successfully resisted appointment as Dean and higher into the upper echelons of academic administration. He was content to stay one rung below the decisive level. His voice was solicited and it was respectfully heard. The Deans, and even their superiors, never took a step without consulting him and publicly acknowledging him. Many Deans came and went; he was always consulted. Many times he was offered the office; his answer never wavered - always, no thanks.

Look closely and many such examples exist in industries and businesses as well.

Yet, he was no reluctant wall flower.

In life examples abound where circumstances pushed some such reticent person into the highest office. Then all of a sudden things fell apart. His good counsel seemed to have abandoned him; he seemed to lack the sure touch needed at the top. And, if by some chance, the man lost his place as the Second-in-Command, then, too, things disintegrated. Not even the best chief could function without the insight of the assistant.

Many similar examples from our many endeavors come to mind. This might sound sexist and I certainly don't mean it to be, but I have seen many a mother play such a seemingly secondary but indispensable role in excellent families; without such women there would be little stability in home or in society. In the political sphere think of Karl Rove and Rahm Emanuel; but true to the modus operandi and goals of their calling these men can be supremely divisive, so they are perhaps best left out of further consideration here.

Some people are best in second place. In that role they are indispensable and invaluable, and they know it. They are in second place but are never second rate. The rare but excellent boss, too, understands it.

Better a kingmaker than a king?

That is how I see Bhai Gurdas, Sikhi's public intellectual par excellence.

 

Next week: We begin to tackle some of Bhai Gurdas' writings on The Talking Stick.

ijsingh99@gmail.com

June 28, 2010 

 

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 29, 2010, 7:32 AM.

Ravinder Singh ji provided the spark, and Yuktanand Singh ji went on to provide an exhaustive, erudite exposition on Bhai Gurdas, who was the first best known interpretive writers to give a definitive sense of Sikhi in its intrinsic form. He was honoured by Guru Arjan by declaring his, Bhai Gurdas', writings as a key to the understanding of Guru Granth Sahib. Yuktanand Singh ji has provided the start, so let's fast forward to the point of departure. How a man goes determines the kind of life he had led. This tuk comes to mind: 'Koho Naanak sabh tayree vadia-aa-ee kohe naa-o-na jaanai mayraa [GGS:383.12] - "Says Nanak, this is all Your greatness; no one even knows my name." Thus, his self effacement and the highest learning had placed him at the pinnacle, to be chosen as a scribe for the monumental work that was to become 'jugo jug atal' - an eternal, living Shabad Guru. Bhai Gurdas, his work done, had retired to Goindwal. As a bramhgyani, he sensed the end of his journey and expressed his desire to breathe his last in the 'charan' of Guru Hargobind Sahib. The day arrived as it must. It was in August of 1630. At the conclusion of Asa ki Vaar, he expressed his wish that when he breathed his last, all present should repeat 'Waheguru, Waheguru', and no samadhi in any form was to be erected for him. Disperse the ashes in the river Bias. Guru Hargobind was present to see him go, declaring that he was incomparable. When he was alive, Guru Hargobind had always made him sit by his side on the Akal Takht. When carrying his bier, Guru Hargobind himself gave his shoulder. The others were Bhai Bidhi Chand and Bhai Jaitha. Thus passed away Bhai Gurdas. "Sooraj kiran milay jal kaa jal hoo-aa ram/ Joteeti jot ralee sampooran thee-aa ram" [GGS:846.17] - "The rays of light merge with the sun, and water merges with water/ One's light blends with the Light, and one becomes totally perfect!"

2: Pinkie Kaur (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 9:20 AM.

I must confess I knew nothing about Bhai Gurdas. Hadn't even heard his name. I'm in my early 20's and have attended a number of Sikh camps over the course of my "growing up". Probably my fault - but maybe we aren't structuring our children's education in a systematic fashion. It's still being done by amateurs who mean well but shouldn't be doing it, I'm sorry to say! So, thank you for this piece and for putting it up as your new topic of discussion. Look forward to it!

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 11:59 AM.

Sangat Singh ji, the exposition on Bhai Gurdas this week comes from Dr I.J. Singh. Yuktanand Singh ji (another valued participant) posted comments on some threads from last week's discussion on the last stanza of Kirtan Sohila. We will return to some of those concepts (that Yuktanand ji raised) but view them through Bhai Gurdas' lens - in the weeks to follow.

4: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 12:11 PM.

Pinkie ji: Your candor is refreshing indeed. I am much older than you are, but my knowledge of Bhai Gurdas is quite limited - which is one reason we picked him as the subject of this week's discussion. In the weeks to come, we hope to get better acquainted with Bhai Gurdas through his writings and exposition on Sikhi.

5: Balmeet Singh (Delano, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 4:18 PM.

The Vaaran of Bhai Gurdas are readily available now. Where can I find his Kabits online with English translations?

6: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 4:53 PM.

From the comments so far, two clarifications are pertinent. I think Sangat Singh has erroneously credited Yuktanand Singh with the authorship of the column on Bhai Gurdas. I value immensely Yuktanand's erudite and analytic writings on gurbani but, in fairness to him, I should confess that the contents of this column on Bhai Gurdas are mine and not his. A second matter concerns the authorship of 'Vaar Sri Bhagauti Ji Ki Patshahi Dasvin Ki'. Historians now credit this to Bhai Gurdas II who was an 18th century poet and a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh. Often, popular printings still append this Vaar at the end of the works of Bhai Gurdas I. This is erroneous but not uncommon. Bhai Gurdas II is also the author of the deservedly popular composition that goes "Pargatyo mard agamrrha ..." that speaks of Guru Gobind Singh as a man nonpareil. It obviously could not have been the work of Bhai Gurdas I, since he lived a century earlier than Guru Gobind Singh. I have tried to clarify these matters in my column. For a quick reference, I refer readers to the 4-volume Encyclopedia of Sikhism published by Punjabi University. Misunderstandings in these matters are not uncommon. My column here is an exploration of the life and works of Bhai Gurdas I who remains a seminal figure in Sikhi.

7: Surinder (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 6:12 PM.

Article says: "He tutored the young Tegh Mull (later Guru Tegh Bahadar) in the ancient Indic classics". The birth name of the Ninth master was Tyag Mall, not Teg Mall. He was given the new name by his father, Guru Hargobind Sahib ji when he showed extreme bravery in battle - (Tegh means sword).

8: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 29, 2010, 7:13 PM.

Balmeet Singh ji: Try www.gurmat.info/sms/smspublications/Kabit_BhaiGurdasJi.pdf

9: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 29, 2010, 11:00 PM.

I do sincerely apologize to Dr.I.J. Singh for the inadvertent error in crediting Yuktanand Singh for the authorship. As a mild excuse, may I attribute this to the macular degeneration of my right eye that made my left eye see both nearly as same. I promise to be more careful in the future. My humble apologies.

10: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 30, 2010, 4:22 AM.

Surinder is totally correct. The earlier name of the Guru was Tyag Mull. My error.

11: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), June 30, 2010, 5:35 AM.

Bhai Gurdas studied Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures at Varanasi. Guru Ram Das initiated him into Sikhism. He travelled extensively to preach Guru Nanak's word to Agra, Lucknow, Burhanpur-Omkareshwer, Rajasthan, Jammu and Chamba hills. When Guru Ram Das passed away, he returned to Punjab/ Goindval and to Amritsar to pay his respects to Guru Arjan and settled there. For his love of learning and devotion, he was recognized as the Guru's disciple. Bhai Gurdas was chosen to scribe the Holy Granth when Guru Arjan decided to compile the hymns of the Gurus and of some of the saints and sufis from the pothy of Guru Nanak to Guru Ram Das. (Two pothies from Baba Mohan, 600 pages and 448 pages contained bani of the first three Gurus and Bhagats Kabir, Trilochan, Nam Dev, Sain, Ravi Das and Bhagat Jai Dev). During the process of compilation, Bhai Gurdas learned a lot from Guru Arjan, as they both worked together on the volume, which was completed in August 1604. Several sloks were distributed in Vaars through the Adi Granth, with matching pauries, under the guidance of Guru Arjan. The title of each chapter, raags and maintaining link of each shabads including numbering, Bhai Gurdas also carried out through instructions of the Guru. The Granth was then called 'Pothy Sahib'; later Guru Arjan referred to it as 'Pothy Parmeshwer'. Bhai Gurdas composed his 40 verses, which are valued for their vivid exposition of the teaching of the Gurus, now known as Varaan Bhai Gurdas. Guru Arjan put his seal of approval on it as the "key" to the Holy Scripture. Bhai Gurdas also contributed his labour in the excavation of the foundations and pool around the Darbar Sahib with Guru Arjan and Baba Budhha. During the time of Guru Har Gobind, Bhai Gurdas also extended his hand in building of the Akal Bunga, now called the Akal Takht. Guru Hargobind also appointed him to teach his young son Tyag Mall (later, Guru Tegh Bahadar) mainly the arts of archery and horsemanship. At Kartarpur, Tyag, at the age of 12, fought all alone with a couple of Mughal sainiks with his tegh (sword). Pleased with his bravery, the Guru henceforth called him Tegh Bahadar. Bhai Gurdas also led a batch of Sikhs to Gwalior where Guru Hargobind was detained under the orders of the Emperor Jahangir. He also witnessed the weddings of the Guru's sons, Baba Gurditta and Baba Suraj Mall. Bhai Gurdas, who never married, died at Goindval, in August 1636.

12: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 30, 2010, 6:52 AM.

Dr I.J. Singh's assertion that Bhai Gurdas was silent on Guru Arjan's martyrdom might appear questionable in the light of how some scholars - in particular, Dr Jodh Singh and Shamsher Singh Ashok - have interpreted, the 24th Var, PauRi 23: "Rehnde gur dariayo vich meen kuleen het nirbani | Darsan dekh patang jio(n) joti andar jot samani | Sabad surat(i) liv mirg jio, bhirh payee chit avar na jani | Gur Arjan vith(u) kurbani | [Vaar 24]. If I am not mistaken, Bhai Gurdas also refers to the proclamation of Miri/Piri by Guru Hargobind (although I do not have the exact citation handy). True, Sikh teachings are timeless and universal, not bound by history, but Sikh lives are - our collective memory (history) shapes us very significantly, and it would be hard to believe that Bhai Gurdas would gloss over such a seminal event in Sikh history. I wonder what Dr. I.J. Singh thinks?

13: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 30, 2010, 2:52 PM.

Ravinder, you raise some interesting issues. The point is that many of the most significant events in Sikh history that shaped Sikhi received cursory, tangential or passing notice and reference, absolutely not the detailed treatment that we might think they deserve. This is true in the writings of Bhai Gurdas as it is true in Guru Granth as well. In contrast, one can find detailed historical notes, often mixed with the folklore and mythology of the day, in the scriptural writings of many other faith traditions. To my mind the reason, as I said, is that Sikh scriptural writings focus on timeless matters, not contentious historical details or a parsing of their causes and consequences. This issue, I hope, would morph into an independent topic for a future essay.

14: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 30, 2010, 6:55 PM.

There is certainly a historical narrative in the scriptures of other faith traditions that is absent in the Guru Granth. But the question is: how much of that historical narrative would pass muster as serious history by today's standards? On the other hand, any historian writing about Guru Arjan would have to use Bhai Gurdas as a primary source.

15: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 01, 2010, 1:39 PM.

I am struck by the lack of literature on Bhai Gurdas - at least in English. In looking at the International Bibliography of Sikh Studies compiled by Rajwant Singh Chilana (at the University of Illinois, Urbana) the listings (as of June 2004) on Bhai Gurdas occupied barely half a page - counting books, articles, journals, proceedings, etc. And there wasn't even that much on Bhai Nand Lal. In examining Bhai Gurdas' Vaaran a little more closely than I have in the past, I feel like an in-depth study of Bhai Gurdas would be an interesting project - apart from his exposition on Sikh philosophy, he offers us quite a window into the conditions surrounding our first six Gurus. An invaluable source.

16: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), July 01, 2010, 1:52 PM.

The answer to the question, 'Why were compositions of Bhai Gurdas not included in the Guru Granth Sahib?' Shamsher Singh Puri (English translation - Vaaran Bhai Gurdas) mentions two reasons extracted from the works of (Bhai) Dr. Jodh Singh and Max Macauliffe. 1) Bhai Gurdas created his compositions after the initial composition of the Adi Granth. 2) Guru Arjan probably offered to include his compositions, but Bhai GurDas humbly declined the offer saying that these were not worthy of such honor.

17: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), July 01, 2010, 5:15 PM.

Ravinder ji, Dr. Kuldip Singh, in his "The Vaars of Bhai Gurdas", clearly indicates that Bhai Gurdas was fully conversant and proficient in the art of history writing. There is no doubt that he was either asked to, or decided, not to write about contemporary events.

18: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), July 01, 2010, 8:54 PM.

Many contributions of Bhai Gurdas to the Sikh faith have been recognized. For an intellectual, he did much more than a normal human being could accomplish in one life time. As we commence interpreting/ reviewing his writings, much more is likely to emerge about him and his thought. After the Sikh gurus, he is one of those held in the highest esteem. His 'vaars' (poems) are considered as shabads and recited in our daily practice, valued close to the hymns in Guru Granth and quoted frequently in religious discourse. This aspect poses a concern for me. Are we mentally prepared to discuss his writings with the same openness and mind set as we may have Japji, for example. Being loyal, devoted and appreciative of the Gurus, his writings reflect his opinions about those acts or incidents in the lives of the Gurus that he deemed extra-ordinary, mystic, miraculous and divine. My concern arises out of personal experience. Last year, celebrating Vaisakhi in a local gurdwara, a Bhai ji singing a Bhai Gurdas shabad, recited a dialogue between Guru Nanak and the Siddhs and he described Guru Nanak having performed a miracle to show guru's divine knowledge and miraculous capabilities, to the Siddhs. After the program, I mentioned Guru Nanak's lack of belief in miracles to the preacher. Without thinking for a second, he quoted Bhai Gurdas as a believable source for the story. Another case is related to a pauri in Vaar #1, in which Bhai Gurdas narrates Guru Nanak's visit to Baghdad and meeting a local saint named Dastgir there. Historically, Dastgir is supposed to have passed away nearly 300 years before Guru Nanak's visit to Baghdad. These issues are bound to surface in our study like they should. The point or concern here is not the correctness of Bhai Gurdas but our sensitivity in dealing with it. It requires our proper and fair understanding of his blind love and devotion to the Gurus and he wrote whatever he may have heard from others about the life of Guru Nanak who passed away nearly 20 years before he was even born. To consider such incidents for historical correctness will be a gross disregard to Bhai Gurdas intent in writing his poems in praise of the Gurus out of his personal devotion. He did not pen his thoughts for the sake of his poems gaining significance as they have. The issue is likely to influence our minds due to our genuine collective reverence for Bhai Gurdas. Demonstrating our sensitivity to the readers and their willingness to view our thoughts with an open mind are equally important in this conversation.

19: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), July 02, 2010, 6:36 AM.

In his introduction to Bhai Gurdas, I.J. Singh ji made a thoughtful reflection on a small group of talented individuals who remain content without aspiring to become supremos. There is lot to learn from the intellect and attitude of these rare individuals. Because the general public fails to appreciate or recognize the inherent wisdom in the decision making process of these gifted individuals. In the human realm, seeking promotions and advancements is a cultural phenomena and customarily viewed as an occasion to celebrate. The custom is ancient, wide spread and extends to many events like birth, anniversary, business, etc. This custom over-rides religious views because, historically, religious influence in every culture is relatively not that old. And our dialogue here is in the religious context. In some ways, the entire human approach to advancing in life is contradictory. Custom dictates that if an offer to advance is rejected, there is something wrong with that person. He/she may be hiding something about the self. The new position is never considered as a new start at another level with potential pitfalls to fail. The reflection of bystanders is not to admire the courage or wisdom in turning the offer down, but resort to speculation and gossip. There is built-in cultural euphoria about wishing to be number one, possessing such traits and be successful in human endeavors. Those who display courage to reject offers to advance are not viewed as clear about their needs, wise and self assured. Their intentions and approach is grossly misunderstood while they are alive and admired only after they pass away. The situation is no different in the Sikh faith. In spite of well advised gurbani principle of "munn too(n) jot saroop hain", in our faith, our mind is sensitized and bound by cultural custom and we celebrate achievements in life with the same pomp and show. Our attitude towards Bhai Gurdas and others not seeking self glory, sadly remains mired in this cultural bugaboo.

20: Bhai Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), July 02, 2010, 11:05 AM.

Balmeet Singh ji, the following information may be helpful regarding your inquiry about the availability of Kabit Sawwaiyye. "Kabit Sawwaiyye Bhai Gurdas ji" were recently translated by Shamsher Singh Puri and published by Singh Brothers, Amritsar. In U.S.A., the two volumes are available for $ 75 plus postage from S.S. Puri, 5235 Sterling Trace Ct., Lilburn, GA 30247-4932. puris@bellsouth.net. Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki wrote about these volumes thus: " ... S.Shamsher Singh President, Academy of Sikh Studies, Inc., has produced a very much needed translation of this important text. His work is no literal translation, it is an exposition cum translation. That seems to have been undertaken to make it better understandable than a literal rendering of this text. However, what we miss in the translation is the metrer, the cadence and the lilt of the original. But to capture these would have been made the undertaking well nigh impossible. Prose translation of a poetic work essentially deprives the reader of the evidence of the artistic and prosodic skill of the poet. Shamsher Singh has good prowess in the English language and his translation-exposition is faithful. Some scholars might have occasional reservations about the meaning of some verses that Shamsher Singh has accepted. However, this is inevitable when one is breaking ground of such a voluminous work for the first time. By and large, he captures even the subtle connotations, and the significance of metaphors and the mythological allusions that stud the work generously. The translator deserves gratitude of students of Sikh learning who would now be able to empathize with the spirit of this important Sikh text." The kabits were also translated and published by our Sikh scholar, Pritpal Singh Bindra, who may be contacted to obtain these volumes at his address: 3292 Bethuna Road, Mississauga ON L5L 4RI, Canada - pritpalbindra@rogers.com

21: Bhai Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), July 02, 2010, 2:18 PM.

I wish to come back to IJ Singh's concern on Bhai Gurdas' silence over Guru Arjan's martyrdom. I join I.J. Singh in admitting that Bhai Gurdas failed to record this seminal event in the annals of Sikh history and we do not know the reason. He has asked for thoughts on it. Like him, I also fully accept the reports written later on the martyrdom of Guru Arjan and its great significance in Sikh history. No one may have the slightest doubt about the event itself. However, the present response to the question of why Bhai Gurdas failed to record this event is not convincing. I have heard before of the use of Bhai Gurdas' Vaar 24, pauri 23, as description of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. Although the translation of this verse is not given here, it will be stretching our imagination to translate this pauri as a historical report or comment on Guru Arjan's martyrdom. Vaar 24 that contains this pauri is not on the subject of the Gurus' biographies or significant events in Sikh history. What do we identify Guru Arjan's martyrdom with? Among many answers, those that come to mind may include: unprecedented sacrifice to protect Sikhi, demonstration of implicit belief in the doctrine of Hukam, promotion of non-violent means to achieve a sacred objective, taking firm stand against torture and suppression by the rulers, and many others. None of those are mentioned in this pauri, neither is mentioned any event related to the torture or death itself. I am not writing this to criticize the translations offered of this pauri, they may refer to the Guru martyrdom; but at the most, the mention is indirect and it does not clearly state either the description of the event, its causes, or what impact might it have on the future history of the nation. There is another way to look at it. For some reason, unknown to us to date, Bhai Gurdas determined not to mention Guru Arjan's martyrdom. He was not alone, no other Sikh historian or scholar who was contemporary of the Gurus provided any record. All of the sources of our knowledge of the event originated after the Mogul rule. My curiosity about it received a hint of the possible reason from my discussion with some Islamic scholars of the Punjab University in Lahore. I was told that in Islamic law, only a Muslim could be honored as achieving martyrdom, no non-Muslim can be a shaheed, the term used for a martyr. One must first convert to Islam before participation in the act of shaheedi and be so honored as a result of his martyrdom. The guards of the shariyia law would not permit Guru Arjan to be recognized as a shaheed in those days. Bhai Gurdas and his contemporary historians and scholars might have taken a decision not to risk the wrath of Mogul rulers to further undertake onslaught of the Sikh leadership at that time. According to Islamic scholars, Sikh historians have considered that it was not a time to jeopardize the growth of the Panth. Arrest, torture and martyrdom of Bhai Gurdas himself and other prominent Sikh scholars would not be a risk worth taking. We still do not know the real reason for the silence on the part of Bhai Gurdas and all other Sikh writers of that time in reporting the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, but there might be a valid reason such as the one given to me by the Islamic scholars.

22: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 09, 2010, 9:05 AM.

I.J. Singh ji wrote: "While he celebrated the family (girhast) structure as supreme - indeed the first religion of mankind to do so ..." Can you please point to some shabads on this iussue?

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