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Above: an artist's vision of Guru Amar Das.

Roundtable

Chaubara Sahib -- Home to Three Gurus
The Roundtable Open Forum # 112

RALPH SINGH

 

 

 

Chaubara: room on the top floor of a two-storied or multi-storied building. [Dictionary]

 

There are many disciplines by which we attempt to ascertain reality.

In the social sciences, we find archeologists in search of original sites, anthropologists drawing their conclusions from field work, and historians delving into seminal texts of the period. All trying to verify their interpretations, as a scientist would substantiate his hypothesis.

But the one discipline by which we approach Truth may not always be verifiable by academic research. We often call it Faith and though it may be blind in some cases, in others we have tangible historic evidence to substantiate it.

Why, when scholarship in other traditions has traditionally focused on verifying and supporting the key elements of faith, do we as Sikhs feel we have to submit ourselves to western methods of scholarship -- which are inherently as limited in ambit and scope as most others -- or in other cases, political ideologies, when the end result undermines our own foundations of faith?

Other traditions have well established scholarship that arises within the “church,” what I would call an ecclesiastic base  -- which starts with and refuses to question a long list of self-proclaimed “givens”. In ages past, the religious centers themselves were the bastion of scholarship of all types, not simply limited to the narrow limits by which we approach the study of religion today.

Much of what we know as science and math, or philosophy today, came out of religious centers.

Guru Gobind Singh ji was not only a great scholar and literary genius himself, but valued traditional scholarship so much that he sent Sikhs to Kashi, the historical seat of learning then on the subcontinent, to study all scriptures then known in that part of the world. These scholars came to be known as the Nirmalas and continue to run seminaries today.

It may be worthy of note that the Nirmalas have been often maligned, and unjustly so, for their ‘Hindu’ influence. I would submit that when our Gurus themselves wanted their Sikhs to have a broader, enlightened world view, why are we so concerned with the parochial?

But the center for scholarship has shifted with the shift to the secular. The trend today is for university research to be taken as gospel. Our children, growing up without formal religious education, find the courses in university more authentic than the stories and history they may have heard in the gurdwara or from their parents.

McLeod’s questioning of Guru Nanak’s Udasis based on his mere reading of the Janam Sakhis, suggests that the Sikhs don’t really know their own history – “It’s all folklore and myth” – which can’t stand the test of true scholarship.

[The very same questioning scholars gloss over the fact that their own faith systems -- which they treat as the norm -- are almost totally based on fiction and fantasy. Biblical scholars are virtually unanimous in confirming that the Christian Bible, for example, is at best, 98% fictitious and non-factual.]

Recent discussions on the origins of the Guru Granth Sahib, this past year being the 300th anniversary of its coronation as the Eternal Guru, brought prominence to many of the theories. Many prominent scholars have labeled well accepted stories of the faithful – saakhiaa(n) -- are myths. Baba Mohan’s story is a myth, we are told, for example, based on their review of the documents. But have they given equal weight to the physical evidence?

While Goindwal Sahib, with its impressive gurdwara and world-famous 52 step stairwell, draws the pious from around the world, one small gurdwara down the road barely a stone-throw away, may well hold the key to the origins of Guru Granth Sahib.

It documents the early part of Sikh history. Indeed, it holds the historic evidence of the life course of some of our Gurus. No bigger than a modern home, Chubara Sahib was the family home of three Gurus.

It is here that Guru Amar Das, the Third Master, lived with his children. His two sons, Baba Mohri and Baba Mohan, faithful servants to their father and the sangat who thronged to Goindwal Sahib, and Bibi Bhani who would become the wife of Guru Ram Das, the Fourth Master.

Here is the nail still preserved to which Guru Amar Das would tie a tuft of his hair so he would not fall asleep when he meditated.

Today strands of his hair still lie preserved here in a glass case.

Here his beloved daughter, Bibi Bhani put her fist under her father’s stool to support him when a leg broke during his bath. He was so pleased by her devotion that he offered to grant whatever she would ask. And it is from her wish, that the Gur Gaddi not pass from the family, that from the time of her marriage to Bhai Jetha – that the Guru’s Gaddi stayed amongst the descendants of the family.

It is here that the coronation of Guru Ram Das took place. With Bhai Gurdas, Baba Buddha and the Guru himself presiding. Sitting at his feet was Baba Mohri, and seated on the ground next to everyone with his Udasi bhek was Baba Mohan.

And it was here that Guru Arjan was born. As a child, he no doubt played at the feet of his maternal uncles, Baba Mohan and Baba Mohri.

But along the way a special event took place.

When Guru Amar Das took the sangat to pay their respects to Baba Sri Chand, the Guru offered his elder son, Baba Mohan in service to Baba Sri Chand. Baba Mohan took on the appearance of an Udasi sadhu, leaving his hair matted in uncombed locks. He would spend endless days sitting only in a loin cloth on a deerskin in samadhi -- in traditional Hindu mendicant fashion, a practice expressly rejected in Sikhi.

As a matter of fact the plaque depicting the coronation of Guru Ram Das shows Baba Mohan sitting off to one side in such a pose.

Baba Sri Chand gave Baba Mohan the sanchiaa(n) (manuscripts) of Guru Nanak for safe keeping, and instructed him to keep them safe as they would one day be required. He then became the custodian of the bani of Guru Angad, of his father and Guru, Guru Amar Das, and of Guru Ram Das.

So it is here in this room that Baba Mohan sat in samadhi. And it is here that, when it was time to compile the Adi Granth, after Bhai Gurdas and Baba Buddha had failed to rouse Baba Mohan from his reverie, that Guru Arjan himself came barefoot to sing:

mohan tero uchai mandir mahal apara [GGS:9]

Awakening from his samadhi to the sweet voice of his beloved nephew and Guru, Baba Mohan gladly turned over the sanchiaa(n) to Guru Arjan.

For those who would question why the Guru would sing praises to Baba Mohan, and interpret the passage in Guru Granth Sahib to mean God (“Mohan“ -- one of the hundreds of terms used for Waheguru in Sikh spiritual parlance), remember, what is so strange about singing your maternal uncle’s praises – especially when he loved him dearly and grew up at his feet and his uncle was worthy of such praise as he had devoted himself to meditation and seva?

And for those who question the story as myth, and some sit in the halls of Amritsar itself, they only need take the 34-mile journey to Goindwal to see for themselves.

The wooden palki still lies preserved there and the Chaubara – the second floor room – bears eternal witness to the birth of Guru Granth Sahib and to the origins of the blessings to the lineage of the Gurus that followed.

The main plate also shows the history of the 22 manjiaa(n) (bishoprics) assembled from the devotees who dug the Baoli. Notably, it shows that women were among them and we find Baba Mohri faithfully serving the group.

This one site bears witness to an important chapter in the history of the panth. It clearly shows the connection between Baba Sri Chand and the Gurus, and it authenticates the sanchiaa(n).

How in this year (past) of the coronation of Guru Granth Sahib could we miss this important piece of history is only a matter of speculation. Scholars from around the world looked to dispute or even dismiss the early stories of the sanchiaa(n) as myth. Even those who sit only 35 miles away. Those who interpret gurbani scoff at the idea that the Guru would or could ever sing the praises of a mere mortal. And therefore discount the entire line in gurbani.

The site is managed by the SGPC. And nagar kirtan takes place here each year. The sangat makes the trip of 34 miles from Tarn Taran to follow the path taken by the historical palki sahib. How and why would scholars or commentators choose to ignore that or, worse yet, refute its authenticity?

I find in the West, more so than in India, there are those who want to maintain or increase the divide between Sikhs and other communities. And there are those who want to undermine the faith of other believers.

But – when even established universities and their scholars engage in or endorse such scholarship, it legitimizes and turns streams of thought into oceans. It becomes an authentic resource for other scholars, not able to observe nor interested in the physical evidence.

Let us not in the name of inadequate scholarship, drift away from our spiritual roots. When Guru Gobind Singh himself valued scholarship so much he sent his Sikhs to Kashi to learn the scriptures of other faiths – why are we so intent on separating ourselves from our the path of our Gurus just to justify our political or personal ideologies?

I always share with gatherings that the Christians, Jews, and Muslim communities may in fact be responsible for more killings and blood shed throughout the past 2000 years. But they will never deny that Abraham is their common patriarch. We Sikhs should take a lesson and not alter our bani and history to suit our current political ideologies, lest the power which the Gurus vested in us be eroded.

In the process of trying to preserve our identity, we should be wary that we not lose our place at the Guru’s feet.

 

THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 112

We invite our readers to join the discussion initiated in this article by the author.

 

January 6, 2013

 

 

Conversation about this article

1: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), January 06, 2014, 12:52 PM.

Baba Sri Chand and Baba Mohan were respected because they were the blood relatives of the Gurus. However, they were not given gur gaddi. Baba Sri Chand lived the life of an ascetic -- a life-style and path which Guru Nanak preached against. Cordial relations were maintained with them, while the Gurus were alive, because they were extended family members. However, we have long gone our separate ways, for the better.

2: R Singh  (Canada), January 06, 2014, 5:59 PM.

Just because others have myths does not mean we go overboard with ours. We are seekers, we should strive to sift throughout the dust that inevitably settles on traditions. Nirmalas cannot go against the grain of Sikh teachings and claim to be running seminaries for Sikhs. There is definitely an attempt at incorporating ascetic traditions, like tying your hair to hooks to keep awake, when we have a first person injunction to refrain from extremes, and importance of amrit vela is extolled in the Guru Granth Sahib. We need to weed out the influences that are contrary to the Sikh philosophy, lest we pander to people who in their zeal for self promotion, promote extreme practices, and instead end up promoting the view that our Gurus did not practice what they preached, when we know that was not the case. Nothing is more sacred than the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib.

3: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), January 06, 2014, 8:27 PM.

The Nirmala story of Guru Gobind Singh sending five Sikhs to Kashi to learn Sanskrit in order to advance Sikh scholarship, doesn't hold water. Had Sanskrit been required to understand gurbani, then the Gurus would have all learned Sanskrit, as they are the ones who wrote gurbani. If the Gurus knew Sanskrit, then there would be no need to send Sikhs to Kashi, as the Gurus would themselves teach their Sikhs Sanskrit. Either way, the Nirmala story falls apart.

4: Devinder Singh Chahal (Laval, Quebec, Canada), January 07, 2014, 9:24 AM.

There seems to be some confusion between these two statements: If Baba Mohan accepted the system of Baba Sri Chand, which was different than that of the mainstream of Sikhism, then how could he be custodian of bani of Guru Angad, Guru Amardas and Guru Ramdas? If Baba Sri Chand gave sanchiaan (manuscripts) of Guru Nanak to Baba Mohan at the time of Guru Amardas' visit to Baba Sri Chand, then it means Guru Nanak did not give his bani to Guru Angad at the time of his coronation to the Guruship. It negates the research of Prof Sahib Singh that Guru Nanak gave his bani to Guru Angad and Guru Angad gave to Guru Amardas along with his own bani, and so on, and finally it reached Guru Arjan. this article has created a lot of confusion. When will we know the real story about the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib?

5: R Singh (Canada), January 07, 2014, 9:29 AM.

Let us not forget the role of the seminaries during the period of mahant control of gurdwaras, and the British patronage that most of the spurious literatures were coined and super-imposed to incorporate magic and ritual and myths from the Hindu Puranas. We cannot let anyone preach contrary teachings which do not tally with the Guru Granth Sahib.

6: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), January 07, 2014, 10:39 AM.

Even in material sciences, experience comes first to a few persons and then followed through with actual experimentation by others to expose the truth. Similarly, in the field of religion which in our case is Sikhi, we should place reliance on what was promoted by our Gurus. Science promotes physical truth, but spiritual truths are perceived by individuals and generally through the concept of their religion. Spiritual truths revealed are not by reasoning so much but by divine inspiration. So we have to follow traditions set forth by our Gurus who were close to divinity.

7: Ravinder Singh (Los Angeles, California, USA), January 07, 2014, 1:51 PM.

Great article and very timely. I think it's time many of us opened our minds and explored the expansive beauty of our dharam rather than simply thinking it's 'done' only one way. The Gurus were extremely progressive, expansive, graceful and compassionate. I hope that we return to those times and understand the message of the Guru rather than relying on scholars/authors, no matter how sincere and ardent their attempt.

8: Rup Singh (Canada), January 07, 2014, 3:09 PM.

This article is cleverly written and tries in not so subtle ways to tie in Brahamin and karmic rituals to Sikhi ... I assume, in a effort to justify these practices carried on by certain fringe groups who though they portray themselves as believers of Guru Granth Sahib but also carry on these anti-Sikhi practices. From Guru Nanak to Guru Tegh Bahadar, the Gurus spread the knowledge of gurbani without Sanskrit. Then why was it all of a sudden needed by Guru Gobind Singh? Sanskrit is considered by Brahmins to be the holy script and reserved for them only and was forbidden to be taught to others. The so-called Hindu untouchables were not even allowed to read the Vedas or enter the temples. As the story goes, Guru Sahib sent five Sikhs dressed as sadhus to Kashi to learn Sanskrit, and all the texts then known to the 'learned'. These Sikhs came to be known as Nirmalas ... and continued the practices they had picked up in Kashi. What was to be learned from people who do not treat all humans as equal? So essentially Guru Gobind Singh founded the Nirmal sect ... can this be believed, that He established a group which goes against his own values and teachings? The Nirmalas are very heavily influenced by Hinduism. They dress differently (like most sects or cults of today) and do not take Khandey di Pahul (Amrit). They were the ones who introduced Brahmin rituals into gurdwaras and these are still going on to this day at some places. When they are doing so many things anti-gurbani and Sikhi, can they be trusted in any way to uphold Sikh values?

9: Hardev Singh (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), January 08, 2014, 2:26 PM.

I have two questions that intrigue me, Mr. Ralph Singh: 1) How would Kashi, a Brahaminical seat of learning strictly for Brahmins only as per the strictly enforced custom, would accept casteless Sikh students? 2) What would be the point of learning Hindu scriptures which were not only at odds with the House of Guru Nanak but were categorically rejected by Sikh Gurus?

10: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), January 09, 2014, 2:38 PM.

Hardev Singh ji (#9): Sikhism believes in freedom of religion a what will save mankind. Guru Gobind Singh was sharing his message with both Hindus and Muslims for the upliftment of mankind socially, morally and spiritually. Sikh philosophy is: so long as we live, we must share our thoughts with each other [GGS:661: "jubb lug duniya rahiyai Nanak kichh suniyai kichh kahiyai").

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 112"









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