Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Cultural Revolution
Dr. Aman Gill
Sri Guru Granth Sahib enshrines a concept of balanced life. It contains the verses of the Sikh Gurus, bhagats and Bhattas who lived in different times connected with different sub-cultures. Thus this Bani (hymns of Sri Guru Granth Sahib) represents different cultures and different phases of different cultures. The common purpose of the people of all the cultures is to seek the truth and the experiences of different times have taught every culture that a balanced life is the ultimate truth. In this way different aspects of balanced life are spread all over the Holy Book. At every historical change, these aspects assume greater relevance. Every culture can, according to its needs, look for a model of balanced life in it and adopt it.
When a culture is born, it is born after taking the requisite emotional heat from a particular multitude. When in course of time ethnic disintegration takes place in the multitude, culture develops. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a representative work of this era of Indian culture. But being in the Gurumukhi script and having been regarded as a religious book, its cultural sphere has contracted from being Indian as a whole and limited to the culture of Punjab, and now it is confined to the Sikh faith only. A sign of this cultural penury is that a work of such a cultural significance has been kept limited to one section or a faith. This being the case, it is appropriate to view it in this context.
What has been the importance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib from historical times in Punjabi culture? It embraces entire Punjabi life in all its political, economic, and social aspects and has been the source of inspiration to people. It played a significant role in instilling among the Sikhs a spirit of revolt against tyrannical rule during the terror perpetrated by Muslim rulers on the Sikh community. It was but natural for the Sikhs to be inspired by it because as per tradition it was a Sikh scripture. But even the common people belonging to Muslim and Hindu faiths read it and experienced a broadening of their vision. It was for this reason that Guru Nanak, one of the important writers of Bani, came to be called –
Nanak Shah Faqir, Hindu ka Guru, Musalman ka Pir
Nanak Shah the faqir; the Guru of the Hindus, the Pir of the Muslims.
This saying highlights the importance and the role of Bani in creating a cultural affinity among the Hindu and Muslim masses. According to historical facts, when Babar heard the discourse of Guru Nanak, he felt himself purged of the dirt of his fanaticism. Thus Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s first opposition is to fanaticism because fanaticism is opposed to the development of culture. During the feudal age, the Punjabi masses were divided into three classes; businessmen, farmers, and craftsmen. All the three classes were connected with Gurbani while engaged in their vocations. As the farmers did not own land, there was no question of their amassing wealth. This held good for the craftsmen also. Only the business class could hold capital in this set up. Like other aspects, the aspect of amassing wealth is presented in Gurbani a balanced view based on reality of life.
Papaan bajhahu hovai nahi, mueya saath na jayee
Can’t be amassed, except through unfair means
It doesn’t accompany the holder when he leaves.
And the wealthy one has no idea of the Brahm –
Mayadhari ati annha bola.
Sabad na sunayee, bahu rol ghachaula.
The wealthy man is utterly blind and deaf.
Can’t hear the Word in the din and noise.
Partly because of their economic conditions and partly through the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the farming class and the craftsmen developed a balanced view of life with regard to money. But the class which had spare and unearned money began to play the Brahminical role in society. Moving from a feudal system to capitalism, it sidelined the significance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s cultural role and transformed it to the ancient fanaticism to which the Granth Sahib is vehemently opposed. When culture has no source of inspiration to create high and healthy values of life or it is not used in that form in which it should be, it stagnates initially and then begins to degrade. False values are always there in every culture. It is but natural. But in this state of stagnation, these false values begin to rise and when degradation begins, these false values get social recognition. If the importance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib has shrivelled in Punjab today, it is because of the state of stagnation and degradation.
Culture is a river of common knowledge flowing through it, which is used by the people for a common purpose. With political, social and economic changes coming in society, this common knowledge goes on changing continuously. Firstly, culture is influenced by social change and then it begins to influence society. This interaction thus goes on and newness keeps coming. Just as the plains of Punjab became fertile because of the soil brought to it by the five rivers, Punjabi culture grew fertile by foreign influences brought in by foreign invasions. Aryan, Greek, and Muslim invasions, and later on British colonialism, changed the Punjabi cultural form which is so diverse today. The interaction between Punjabi society and Punjabi culture is decreasing and efforts are being made to give a fillip to it by artificial means which does not have a vibrant effect. The need of the hour is to follow the right track in the modern context. We have with us Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the representative of all ages. Instead of dead devotion and ritualism, we have to develop a lively conduct. In this context, I would dilate on its possible modern relevance.
The writers of the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib were keen observers and philosophers of the social set up and human life. On observing the prevailing social conditions they had felt that in human society, woman had made great contribution towards the development of cultural grace. What was the grace, was clearly visualized in woman. It is for this reason that the expression of dedication and surrender has been made through the medium of woman or female studies. A powerful example of this can be found in this hymn recited in Gauri Bairagan:
Harni hoava ban basa kand mool chun khao.
Gur parsadi mera sahu mila var var hau jao jio.1
Mai banjarin Ram ki.
Teira Naam vakkhar vepar jor. 1.Rahau
Kokil hova amb basa sehaj sabad bichaar.
Sehaj subhai mera sahu mila darsan roop apaar
Machhuli hova jal basa jia jant sabh saar.
Urvar par mera sahu vasai hau milougi bah pasaar. 3
Nagin hova dhar vasa sabad vasai bhao jaye.
Nanak sada sohagini jin joti jote samaye. (157)
I wish I could be a doe in the woods,
living on plants and roots
With the Guru’s grace I might meet my spouse.
I would sacrifice myself unto Him again and again.
I am a dealer in Ram. This is my merchandise. 1
As a koel living on a mango tree, I dwell on the Word.
My spouse might come to meet me in that equipoise
And I may be blessed with his wondrous presence. 2
As a fish, I may live in water aware of all the creatures to
Meet my spouse living across the river with open arms. 3
Living as a serpent in the earth,
the Word may dispel my fears
Nanak, (in this way) I would ever be a happily
wedded wife, mingled with the eternal light.
When one goes deep into the logic of the sense of dedication on the part of woman, it is generally said that being dependent on man and lacking physical strength makes a woman subordinate to man and gradually the subordination turns into dedication or self-surrender. This is correct in a way. But we find the same sense of dedication in other female species too when there is no such thing as economic dependence in their case. The other cause of this is that a female is creative and the creator always loves its creation. The relationships begin with the female. Therefore the sense of surrender or dedication is found in a female. But in the context of social reality, the sense of dedication on the part of woman was considered her subordination. In the absence of proper understanding, in course of time, slavery of woman began. Gurbani condemns this male-dominated attitude:
Bhand jammiai bhand nimmiai bhand mangan viahu.
Bhandahu hova dosti, bhandahu challai rahu.
Bhand mua bhand bhaliai bhand hovai bandhaan
So kyo manda aakhia jit jammai rajaan. (473)
One is Conceived in and born of woman
Betrothed and married also to woman.
Friendship too is made with woman,
Worldly lineage begins only with woman.
One seeks another woman on death of one,
All the relationships are formed by woman.
It appears from this that Gurbani enshrines the concept of a balanced life of equipoise. Therefore, a gender-based discriminatory and unbalanced attitude has not been accepted. Right from medieval times to the present age of capitalism, the position of woman has improved in Punjabi society because of the intellectual movements which came up in Punjab and the decrease in woman’s economic dependence on man. Woman has become capable of enjoying life on an equal footing with man. But estrangement in relationships has also been taking place. The equality and freedom of woman is not assuming a constructive form. This changed scenario seems to play no part in building the modern facet of Punjabi culture. The reason for this is the absence of the correct view of balanced life.
In the context of the modern material world, while seeking a model of a balanced life, we will have a look at modern culture and behaviour. First the rat race in the material world draws our attention. The temporariness of material existence has been cited and opposed again and again. However, the driving force behind this behaviour is ego. Therefore the entire opposition of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is towards the ego. The ego is a big hurdle on the path to an understanding of the reality of life. More often it assumes the form of a jamura (factotum). In today’s age of capitalism, when man’s ego has devised the mechanism of conquering nature, Sri Guru Granth Sahib can help in adopting a balanced attitude towards these things and to inspire us to fight till the end to reach the truth. Sri Guru Granth Sahib repeatedly speaks of the soul and the truth. But in today’s capitalism, the soul is ignored and an artificial gloss has been given to all aspects of social life which stands in the way of soul searching and reaching the truth.
While all the other social complexities and dynamic solution thereto have been enumerated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, we can find from it a balanced view of the political situation. In Guru Nanakbani the ugliness of the corrupt political set up has been vehemently opposed. Many of his hymns can be quoted in the presentation of the ugly face of power. In the same manner, in the hymns of the bhagats and the writings of Guru Gobind Singh, Dasam Granth, views have been expressed about balanced political behaviour. Those having faith in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, can take inspiration from it, prepare a political strategy on this basis, and can carve out a distinct place for themselves in the comity of nations. Doing so would be a moral revolution in the political set up. During the course of adopting this strategy, implementing it and struggling for it, the face of politics would go on becoming human. We can’t expect a Utopian state from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. However, with the introduction of this strategy, the tide of decline in political values could be stemmed to some extent. This would be a great blessing of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to the common man. It is true that achieving this would be possible by adopting a balanced view as provided by Sri Guru Granth Sahib. We can’t move ahead by slashing one aspect of life from the other. By adopting a constructive approach towards woman’s freedom, opposing the materialistic rat race, and rising above the temptations of consumerism, and by applying the strategy hidden in Sri Guru Granth Sahib to political life, such a culture can be structured, which would give shape to the concept of universal love of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This would be a cultural revolution. This revolution would be in line with a balanced concept of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and not tilted (to one side) like political and social revolutions.
Culture which opposes criticism is reduced to a drop which cannot last long. Therefore, in order to maintain the fertility of the Punjabi culture, we would have to bear in mind this hymn by Kabir:
Nindau nindau mo kau log nindau.
Ninda jan kau khari pyari.
Ninda baap ninda metari.1. rahau.
Ninda hoye ta baikunth jaiai.
Naam padarath manhi basaiai.
Riday sudh jau ninda hoye.
Hamrai kaprai nindak dhoye.1.
Ninda karai so hamra meet.
Nindak mahi hamara cheet.
Nindak so jo ninda horai.
Hamra jiwan nindak lorai. (339)
Slander me, slander me ye people.
His devotees like to be slandered.
Slander is their father and mother.
One goes to His abode if slandered.
Stores in his mind the wealth of Name
If a pure of the heart is slandered.
The slanderer washes my clothes.
A slanderer is my friend indeed.
My mind is ever fixed in him.
A slanderer is one who stops
Me from slandering anyone.
The slanderer wants to live the
Life of the object of his slander.
At the present time, in regard to the relevance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the first problem is to identify this relevance and turn it into a model, the outlines of which have been given above by me to the best of my ability. The second problem, after identifying and making a model, is to communicate this model to others. Both problems are equally important. In the absence of proper communication skill, the relevance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to the present times would, in all probability, remain confined to libraries only. The first step in this direction would be to bring in a change the attitude towards the Granth Sahib on the part of those who claim to be devotees of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to give it a constructive, aesthetic and logical shape. The teachings of the writers of Sri Guru Granth Sahib were communicated to the masses through different movements of their times. The institution of ‘Satnaam’ during that period of history had a historical role to play and the thought process working in Sri Guru Granth Sahib reached the people in a healthy form. But in the present times, the institutions of Satnaam, etc. have become irrelevant. If we look for the relevance of Guru Granth Sahib in modern times, it would be appropriate to communicate its teachings also in the modern way because the common man today is in tune with modern information techniques, that is, with the media and education department.
The present attitude of the people towards Sri Guru Granth Sahib is devoid of logic and meaning, and culturally it is barren. This needs a radical change. In the present day capitalistic structure, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is being made a part of consumerism. No one has the ability to recognize its spirit at the mass level. Guru Gobind Singh, regarding it as a Guru, desired us to take inspiration from it as he wanted to make it a ‘Classic Guru’. But in the modern society it has assumed the form of an idol. A rat race mentality plays many tricks with its image. Illogical traditions and rituals are being evolved and performed. It has almost become a laughing stock with those who claim to be its adherents. These words said by Guru Nanak in Assa Di Vaar truly reflect this attitude.
Vayen chelai nachan gur.
Pair hilaiyan pheran sir.
Ud ud rava jhatai paye.
Vekhai lok hassai ghar jaye. (464)
The gurus dance to the tune of disciples.
They thump their feet and move their heads.
The dust that rises thereby falls on their heads
People see the show, laugh, and return home.
There are three ways to bring in change – by word, by vision and by sound. Music is the greatest well wisher (support) of faith. If there were no existence of music, faith could not have become classic. Music can be of the greatest help to link the common man with the Guru at an emotional level. Music, as it is said, is like pure butter. It should not have even a trace of consumer culture, which has come to dominate it at this time. These tendencies should be strongly opposed. After harmonizing the sound, that is music, with vision, this can be made a more powerful instrument. After taking pure Gurmat Sangeet (Music) out of the artificial environment of the studio, it should be presented in the natural environment so that nature should link the people with Gurbani and Gurbani should take people closer to nature. Consumer culture has blunted the sensitivities of the people. Gurmat Sangeet, presented through the medium of vision, should be presented in such contexts as should be able to awaken the dormant sensitivities of the people, dominate their mind and be able to wash the dirt of consumer culture.
Vision can link the common with Sri Guru Granth Sahib emotionally but to adopt a logical attitude we need the education department. The education department could play a very important role in culturally linking the entire generation with Sri Guru Granth Sahib. For this, however, the education department would have to get rid of the institution of examination. The institution of examination, which is creating a rat race in education and linking it with consumerism, can also give a wrong lead in its attitude towards Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The institution of examination compels the students to develop an approach of literal understanding of Sri Guru Granth Sahib like the rest of education. Even those who conduct research on Sri Guru Granth Sahib do not feel its presence in their day to day life. The real need is to consolidate all the powers of vision, media and the education department to change the attitude of the people towards Guru Granth Sahib and it should become a constructive approach. Those who who have faith in Sri Guru Granth Sahib should realize that Sri Guru Granth Sahib is not away from our life, but stands in the centre of life in a meaningful way.