Gurbani as the voice of the depressed.
Dr.Tarlok Singh Kanwar
Gurbani (Gurus’ Word) is a well known and important ‘word culture ‘ of the Punjabi way of life.This word culture, despite the pressures of the problematic situation prevailing in the medieval times, builds the world-view aimed at the welfare of the people and includes such writings in itself as conform to its central world view. That is how Gurbani, after being established as an accepted institution, has been respected and accepted under the tradtion of Punjabi word-culture. Generally regarding it as the Divine word, the spiritualism contained therein has been highlighted and an attempt is made to study it in the context of the Indianness as brought out in scriptures like Vedas, Upnisads, etc. In this way Gurbani has been viewed as an important writing lending support to the ancient philosophy. This means that the central aspect of the world view of Gurbani had been accepted by the ancient tradition and Gurbani is the definitive syntax of this determined paradigm.
The tendency to study Gurbani in this way brings to the fore many samples. The Vedanties, Nirmalpanthies and Udasis interpreted Gurbani in their Teekas on these lines. But if viewed carefully, we would see that this methodology of study of Gurbani highlights the substance of Gurbani. This process of highlighting does not mean its scientific sublimation, but to see it placed at the highest pedestal of supirituality. By doing so, however, Gurbani, based on the ancient Indianness gets presented as the expansion of the tradition and as the ideal of the ancient ethos. Such a study of Gurbani is linked with the application of the message of the highest truth enshrined therein to the tradition of spirituality. In the circumstances, instead of having a true and full comprehension of its content, one is faced with a situation where, under the influence of the historical pressures, one is not permitted to regard the word-culture in its independent and real form. We should bear in mind that a study is always concerned with the quest of truth. The conditions prevailing in tradition tend to suppress such a truth. To know such a truth, it is necessary to bear in mind the historical conditions, under the pressure of which the subject of study is helping to build a new order. Gurbani, as we have said above, assumed the form and content under the conditions and pressures of the medieval Punjab. Feudalism ruled supreme those days. The main feature of the feudal culture is the challenge of the Mughal violence and reaction thereto. Side by side, however, was the brahminical monopoly which had taken into its embrace the cultural attainment of every type and played its role in the building of the medieval word-culture.Gurbani stands against the dual problem of feudal pressures and violence.
Spiritualism, which had been accepted as the salient and certain feature of the Indian culture, enters Gurbani also in the same form. All the writers of Gurbani take it with them as the main principle of their works. But the centre point of Gurbani is concerned with the mutual clash of human freedom and feudal supremacy. In other words, Gurbani establishes spiritualism, which had taken roots in tradition, in the contemporary problematic context. It means that Gurbani, keeping with it the previous ethos, and revolting against them, establishes its own word-system and through the so established word system it gets highlighted. We have called this as ‘established’ or ‘arisen’ in the above discussion, which means that Gurbani decodes the established values and includes in it the intricate and problematic factors. In this way Gurbani makes itself such a direct word-force to confront feaudalism and becomes the voice of the depressed (Dalit) society.
Before we see the different aspects of the Dalit signification through the study of Gurbani, it is necessary that the decoding of the previous traditional specimens done in Gurbani should be viewed objectively. It is certain that Gurbani in the ultimate analysis preaches the gospel of Truth (Brahm) and in accordance with the situation of its time, its first problem is to recognize Brahm (God). Upto that time, many ways and postures of recognizing God had been devised by laying down rituals. But Gurbani oversteps such postures and in accordance with its own world-view, determines its own concept of God. Guru Nanak presents this problem in Maru Raga in this way –
Arbad narbad dhundukara. Dharan na gagna hukam apara.
Na din rain na chand na suraj, sunn Samadhi lagayeda.1.
(There was all round darkness. There were no earth or sky except Thy Will. Day, night, moon, sun were also not there. Thou sat in a state of nothingness and complete silence.)
Khani na bani, paun na pani. Opat khapat na awan jani.
Khand patal sapat nahi sagar, nadi na neer wahayeda. 2.
(There were no sources of creation or the languages, nor air or water, nor the regions nor were there oceans and the world under water, nor did the water flow in the rivers. )
Na tad surga, machh payala. Dozakh bhist nahi khaikala.
Narak surag nahi jamman marna, na ko aye na jayeda.3.
(There were no heavens, earth or Netherlands, nor was there hell nor heaven or death (after which to go there), no birth or death or coming or going (transmigration).
Brahma Bishan Mahesh na koyee Awar na disai Eko soyee.
Nar purakh nahi jati na janma, na ko dukh sukh payeda.4.
(There were no Brahma, Vishun or Mehesha except Him.
No man or woman, no caste or birth, nor pleasure or pain)
. Na tad jati sati banwasi. Na tad sidh sadhak sukhvasi.
Jogi jangam bhekh na koyee na ko nath kahayeda.5.
(There were no celebates leading a chaste life, nor were there ascetics or those living in hermitages. Nor were there jogis ever treading the earth nor were there the jogic orders and no one was called a Natha.)
Jap tap sanjam na brat pooja. Na ko aak wakhanai dooja.
Aapai aap upaye vigsai, aapai qeemat payeda.6.
(No meditation, penance or discipline nor fasts nor worship There was no ohterliness. He delighted in His Own doing He knew what was the worth of what He was doing.)
Na such sanjam tulsi mala. Gopi kahan na gou guala.
Tant mant pakhand na koyee na ko vans wajayeda. 7
(There were no purificative action, nor rosary or Tulsi Nor were there Kirshna nor gopis nor cows or cowherds. There were no occult powers nor formalities of rituals nor any one played the flute.)
Karam dharma nahi maya makhi Jati janam nahi deesai aakhi.
Mamta jaal kaal nahi mathai, na ko kisai dhyayeda. 8
(No deeds, good or bad, nor maya (illusion), nor were there castes or births therein nor deaths nor did any one keep anyone in mind.)
Nind, bind nahi jio na jindo. Na tad Gorakh na Machhindo.
Na tad gyan dhyan kul opati, na ko ganat ganayeda.9.
(No praise or slander, no body or soul nor were there ascetics like Gorakh and Machhindra, nor was there knowledge of anyking nor any one to meditate upon, nor was any lineage or birth therein nor accountability for actions. Varan bhekh nahi Brahmin khatri, deo na deohra,gou gayatri. Hom jag nahi tirath nahwan na ko pooja layeda. 10. (No castes or division of society therein, nor were there Brahmins or khatries nor was there a deity or abode thereof nor the recitation of Gayatri or cows. No sacrificial fires were lit nor bathing at piligrimage places nor any performance of worship.)
Na ko mulla na ko qaji. No ko seikh musayak haji.
Raiyat, rao na haumai dunia, na ko kahan kahayeda. 11
(There were no Muslim priests like Mullas or Qadis nor were there Sheikhs or Hajis (who performed Haj). No rulers or subjects were there no ego in the world and no one called himself incarnation (Krishna).
Bhao na bhagati, na Siva Sakti. Sajan meet bind nahi rakti.
Aapai sahu, aapai wanjara, sachai eho bhayeda. 12.
(There were no prayers or Siva or Sakti and no foe was there and no procreation took place. He Himself was the financier and dealer, in His Will. )
Baid, kateb, na simrati sasat, path Puran udai nahi asat.
Kehta bakta aap agochar, aapai alakh lakhayeda. 13
(There were no scriptures like Vedas or the Occidental religious books like Quran or Bible; no reading of the Puranas and no sun rise or sun set. He spoke and He listened to Himself, the In-accessible One, and He Himself described Himself.)
Ja tis bhana ta jagat upaiya, bajh kala adaan rahaiya.
Brahma Bishan Mahesh upaye, maya moh wadhayeda.14.
(He created the Universe in His Will and sustained the skies without support; He created Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and attached His Creation to Maya.)
Virlai kau Gur sabad sunaiya.
Kar kar dekhai hukam sabaeya.
Khand Brahmand Pataal arambhai, Guptahu pargati ayeda/15 – Maru Moh. 1, SGGS, p. 1035.
(Very few were enabled to listen to the Word. He watched His Own creation in all its vastness. He created the regions of the globe, countries and continents including netherlands. He Himself reveals Himself.)
Reading through these lines carefully, one finds that Guru Nanak describes the conditions prevailing those days in regard to religious practices, rituals, etc. which he rejects and exhorts the world to follow the true path shown in the Word (Gurbani). Actually this is the symbolism through which ritualistic religion is sought to be replaced by the Word (the teachings of Gurbani). In this symbolism God reveals Himself through His Word and this Word is propagated for acceptance by the world. Thus God consciousness and language get inter-related and present such a structured methodology through Gurbani to deal with the world caught in the web. These conditions had clearly emerged in Gurus’ times and the Gurus have offered logical and forceful concepts in this regards. For example, Nanakbani goes to say even this much that this expanse of the world caught in the web is like an ocean in which has been cast the unseen net and man gets caught in this being unaware of it. Fish, net and the ocean symbolize the human condition when man gets caught in the net and Guruji lays emphasis on the suddenness of this unexpected happening. Explaining this in the social and cultural context it becomes clear that the administrative system have all along been trying to devise ways and means to keep the people enslaved. The cultural scientists of the present age call this political unconsciousness. Through this, on the one hand, the natural resources are put to such uses as are in the interest of the rulers of the time, the man power is put to maximum use to serve the governmental interests, on the other. To accomplish this, side by side with the political set up, language, symbolism, cultural-system and communications systems are built in such a way that the concerned people get fully attuned to this. All these aspects become the part of human nature.These aspects are called uncosncious of a cultural community. Though this unconscious, such a thought process begins which creates a model mannerism. And this mannerism is called such a behaviour as is necessary for mutual goodwill. This mannerism becomes the symbol of the best and high order of human behaviour right from the lowest level to the topmost rung.
In the circumstances people of all sections of society feel proud of conforming to such a behaviour. Viewed from the starting point, it can be said that this mannerism effaces the gap between the powerful and the powerless though its ideal characteristics, by which the powerful sections maintain their power and increases it day by day because this type of political unconscious 45 is working in the background of the entire social structure. Consequently, an awareness or consciousness is created and the unconsciousn begins gradulally to change into consciousness. This trend had begun before the Gurus’ time in the Bhagatbani. That is why the Gurus’ regarded the Bhagatbani as conforming to their world view and includes it in their own Bani. The paradigm in Bhagatbani which we have called the traditional expression of Brahmvad (God-consciousness) is fully reflected in Bhagatbani. The Bhagats, however, attained this after a long and concerted effort and they have celebrated this attainment like a festivity in their hymns. While reading Bhagatbani we get the indication again and again as if the adversity of ages, lethargy, poverty, penury and disease had ended and effort, prosperity and zeal had taken their place. Though it was attainment of the Braham, as the language thereof had been linked with the caste-ridden background of the saints for centruries, and their inability to express themselves because of the restrictions imposed on them. The language in use by the caste of the bhagats was such as was considered crude, limited by the compulsions of the deprived classes, and therefore they were restricted to keep it within their limits. But when the Bhagats broke the pro-feudal brahminic monopoly and got the place occupied by it, they began to move themselves in that place and this resulted in the establishment of a new consciouness. This can be seen in the hymns of Bhagat Namdev, Kabir, Ravidas, Pipa, Sain, etc. in the varied form. A duality, however, is seen to be working in all this newness. This duality tends to adopt the feudal mannerism and also tries to violate it too. When Brahm is accepted as a great and weighty attainment, the symbolism and philosophy is also accepted with it which weaves the warp and woof of culture and society. But it should be borne in mind here that the attainment of the Bhagats is the experience of reunion with Brahm after separation from Him in many of the past lives. Similarly when they come across the truth established in society and culture they experience a live meeting therewith. This too makes a strange beginning. This seems to be an effort begun right from the family level leading to the attainment of Brahm. But there is the other side to it too. And that is the side of revolt which highlights the need of human freedom, wherein political power, atrocious behaviour, highhandedness, etc. are challenged and humility and egoless conduct is considered as a moral value. This sense of revolt is so sharp in Kabir’s verses, when he says –
Chet achet moorh man mairai,
bajai anhad baja.
Kahe Kabir sansa bhram chooko
Dhru Prehlad niwaja. SGGS, p.856.
(Awake ye ignorant and foolish mind of mine And listen to the unstrung sound. Sayeth Kabir, the doubts and misgivings are gone Just as Dhru and Prehalad were honoured).
With this has been launched a direct attack against atrocious behaviour usurpation. Thus this Bhagatbani becomes the voice of the depressed classes.
Moving ahead with this topic when we enter the domain of Gurbani, we find that Gurbani had already launched a direct struggle against those who had usurped power. Guru Nanak says in Assa di var-
Manas khanai kareh niwaj.
Chhuri wagayan tin gal taag.
Tin ghar Brahman poorai naad.
Ohna bhi awai oyee saad.
Koodi raas kooda vapaar.
Kood bole kareh ahaar.
Sarm dharma ka dera door.
Nanak kood rahya bharpoor. (SGGS, p. 471)
(The man-eaters offer Muslim prayers
Those wearing the sacred thread
Use butcher’s knife and cut throats.
The Brahmin priests simply make
A show of their religious conduct when
They blow the conches and partake their food.
All this is falsehood, the business of falsehood.
They tell lies, their earning is by unfair means
And they partake of food got by such earning.
Religious conduct or purity have gone away
Sayeth Nanak, falsehood verily has its sway
One thing becomes very clear that those who are controlling the social and cultural system, the rulers and the so called priests are in league and are busy in looting the people systrematically and cruelly. The joint monopoly of the ruler and the priest has been depicted in may hymns of Gurbani and based thereon, it can bes concluded that Gurbani had certainly begun to give form to idea to build political consciousness in the medieval times and it should be understood in this way that Gurbani comprehends fully the working of the cultural ethos and the forces controlling it, which had built it in. Towards this end, Gurbani made the entire folk heritage as its code and tried to see through it the entire administrative structure. Gurbani deals with such relationships at the level of Brahm, king, father, mother, offspring, etc. But viewed from the heritage angle, family emerges as the centre-point or unit. In the context of family, Gurbani takes woman as the centre of culture. One form of woman is that which was accepted in the traditional way,
the examples of which can be given in this way –
Kawan su akhar kawan gun kavan su mania mant.
Kavan su vaiso hau kari jit vas awai kant. 126
(What should I say and what virtues imbibe and what should I recite, and what type of dress shuld I wear to win over my spouse.)
Nivan su akhar khavan gun, jihba mania mant
Ei trai bhainai ves kari, taan vas aavi kant. 127
(Imbibe the quality of humility, talk humbly, be virtuous, wear the dress of these qualities, my sister, To win over your spouse.)
Ek na bhariya gun kar dhova
Maira sahu jagai hau nis bhar sova.
Iyon kyon kant pyari hova
Sahu jagai hau nis bhar sova.1.
Aas pyasi sejai avaan.
Aagai sahu bhavai ki na bhava.2
Kya jana kya hoyega ri mayee.
Hari darsan bin rehan na jayee.2.rahau.
Prem na chakhya mairi tis na bujhani
Gaya su joban dhan pachhtani. SGGS, p. 356
(There is not one sin which can be washed. I sleep the whole night)
But my spouse keeps awake.
How can I become His beloved?
He keeps awake, and I go to sleep.1
I come to bed full of genuine hope
But the spouse may like me or not.2
What will happen in that case, my mother? I can’t live without a glimpse of Him.2. (Pause).
I had no taste of love, nor my thirst quenched.
The entire youth has gone, repents the bride.)
Ianariai manra kahai kareh,
apnarai ghar Hari rango ki na maheh.
Shau nerai dhan kamliai bahar kya dhoondeh.
Bhai kiya deh salaiyann nani bhav ka kar sigarau.
Ta suhagan janiai lagi ja sahu dharai pyarau.
Iyani bali kya karai ja dhan kant na bhavai.
Karan palah karai bahuterai, sadhan mehal na pavai.
Vin karma kichhu paiai nahin je bahutera dhavai.
Lab lobh hanker ki maati maya mahi samani.
Ini batin sahu paiai nahi bhayee Kaman iyani.2
Jaye puchhahu sohagini vahai kini batin sahu paiai.
Jo kich karai so bhala kar maniai, hikmat hukam chukaiai.
Ja kai prem padarath paiai, tau charni chit laiai.
Sahu kahai so kijai, tanu mano dijai aisa parmal laiai.
Eiv kahai sohagini bhainai ini baati sahu paiai.3
Aap gavaiai ta sahu paiai aur kaisi chaturayee.
Sahu nadar kar dekhai so din lekahi
kamini nau nidh paiyee.
Aapnai kant pyari sa suhagini Nanak sa sabhrayee.
Aisai rang raati sehaj ki maati ahnis bhaye samani. Sunder sai saroop bichakhan kahiai sa syani.
(Tilang Moh 1, p.722)
(Why are you so proud, O ignorant woman, and not enjoying the bliss of His company even when he is with you? And you are wandering outside in search of Him. Put the collyrium of his fear in your eyes and do the make up of His love. Only then one becomes a truly wedded wife deeply in love with her spouse. What can the ignorant dame do if the spouse does not like her. Howsoever hard she may try, the spouse does not enter her place. You can’t attain any thing without His Grace if you go from place to place. You are so engrossed in greedy pursuits and caught in the web of illusion. You can’t attain your spouse by such a conduct. The childish one is so ignorant. You can meet those who are happily wedded as to what should be done to please Him. The best thing is to do as willed by Him, without questioning. Touch the feet of the Spouse whose love endows all the virtues. Obey the spouse, sacrifice body and mind unto Him, use such a perfume. Thus, says the happily wedded sister, can you have union with your spouse. By making self-sacrifice only can one find the spouse, and other things are just clerver moves. The day the Spouse looks at you with love is the auspicious day as you, the yearning dame, are granted all the boons and access to nine treasures of the world. Such a woman becomes the beloved one of the Lord, sayeth Nanak, she alone can earn His pleasure. Scuh a woman looks so beautiful and attractive and is considered wise and she enjoys the Bliss and the equipoise day and night ever lost in His love.
Besides the above instances, many more can be quoted wherein woman has been considered in the traditional way the epitome of mannerism ass mentioned in the discourse. Under this method of discourse, non-violence, humility, subjugation and passivity all get together. Gurbani makes this passivity the important point of its basic device. This depicts the depressed state of woman in society and also at the symbolic level, uplifts her also whereby the woman gets rid of her passivity upto a point. In fact all our aesthetics is based on woman’s passivity. In the feudal society, woman is the object of man’s pleasure and indulgence. But Guruji has made her being the basic point of his discussion.
Guru Nanak has also tried to free woman of the traditional and depressed state she was placed in. When the Gurus condemn the woman of bad character, their emphasis is on the point that woman should not be made the object of pleasure seeking and exploited in this way.
In this way Gurujis attack the citadels of feudalism and monopoly of the priest. They have duly recognized the human aspect in them but not the might and coercion they use. For instance, Guru Nanak has said a lot against brahmanism but indirectly the depressed classes have been recognized in the context of entire humanity. For example,
Kubudh doomani kudaya qasayan.
Parninda chohri muthi karodh chandaal.
Kari kadhi kya thiai, jaan charai baithian naal. -SGGS p.91
(The Brahmins draw a line of purity when they prepare their food and no one of low caste can overstep this line to pollute their food. But Gujruji admonishes them that the ill-witted singing woman, compassionless butcher woman, slanderer scavenger woman, and the untouchable anger, they have all crossed the line of purity to enter your mind . What is the use of drawing such a line of purity, if all these four are sitting with you.)
Guru Amar Das pays spectial attention to the woeful state of women, the depressed ones, in the context of the ritual of Sati (when the woman is made to burn herself to death on the pyre of her husband).
Satiya eh na akhian jo marhiyaan lag jalann.
Nanak satiya janian, ji birha chot marann.
Mo.3 Bhi so satia janian seel santokh rahann
Sewan sayee aapna nit uth sammalann.
Mo.3Kanta naal mahelia seti agg jalahe.
Je janahi pir aapna taan tan dukh sahahe.
Nanak kant na janani so kyo agg jalahe.
Bhavai jivau kai marau doorahu hi bhaj jahe.
(Suhi ki var, Mo.3, p.797)
(The true and faithful wedded wife is the one who dies of the shock of her husband’s death and not who burns herself on his pyre. Even such ones would be considered truly chaste if they spend their time in living a life of piety and contentment fixing their mind in God all the time. Those who burn themselves on the pyres of this dead husbands, suffer the pain of burning and death as they die with a corpse (and not his soul). They do so as they do not realize the true nature of the spouse. The unchaste ones do not care for the spouse when alive and shun Him. Why should they burn themselves in fire, asks Nanak? They would keep off them whether alive or dead. )
In this way we can take Gurbani, in the Moghal feudal and monopolistic system, a discourse which linked to itself the problematic position of the contemporary society and identified the suppressed and exploited classes suffering under the tyranny of the powerful and showed the way to liberation from such a system. That is why Gurmat, the way shown by the Guru, is regarded Guru himself and it is called the honour of the humble, the power of the powerless, shelter of the shelterless, house of the houseless. Therefore we can say without hesitation that Gurbani is the voice of the depressed and written in support of the depressed.