Sri Guru Granth Sahib – The Importance of Transcending Communal Boundaries
Dr. Karanjit Singh
Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a unique religious book. We do not mean to minimize the great importance of other scriptures by saying so but are trying to state a truth which cannot be proved wrong. This religious book was not only prepared during the Guru’s lifetime but under his own supervision. The scriptures of other religions were not written during the lifetime of their founders but later. This should not be considered an ordinary difference. The second reason for its uniqueness is that it contains not only the verses of the Sikh Gurus but also those Hindu and Muslim saints who held similar views with similar aims. These saints belonged to both North and South India, came from different castes and were engaged in different professions, toiling with their own hands; and all of them were not even contemporaries. Therefore from the point of view of its construction, it is indeed a unique religious book. This is the first example of its being above communalism. Not only from the point of view of construction, it is above communal consideration even in regard to its scope and content as well.
When Guru Nanak came into this world, Buddhism had been wiped out of North India and Hinduism (Brahminism) had come up again. This faith was a combination of different beliefs and ways of life. In other words, there were many cults which interpreted the old religious books according to their own narrow point of view. As a consequence, in the words of Bhai Vir Singh, ‘Haye, Hind phal phariaan wale’ (Alas! It is so much a divided place). Sikh faith was a movement which rose in opposition to the brahminical society. Every movement is based on its philosophy. Sri Guru Granth Sahib was the foundation stone of this opposing movement. The devotees of this movement worked to bring in fundamental changes in society. The change aimed at demolishing the walls which divided man and man on the basis of castes and sections, high and low so that everyone could enjoy equality and freedom.
The movement aimed at bringing entire humanity at an equal level and the first step its founders took was that the so called high and low caste saints were brought to sit at the same level in the Holy Book – Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Gurus themselves were Bedis, Bhallas and Sodhis, but they made the Chhimbas (Namdev), barbers (Sain), weavers (Kabir), chamars (Ravidas) butchers (Sadhna), etc. sit with them most respectfully. Besides these, Bhikhan and Farid (Muslims) the great gems, who did not hurt anyone, joined this stream. Those who were not even allowed to enter the temples to worship, became worthy of worship. Evidently, Guru Arjan Dev had not compiled Sri Guru Granth Sahib for a particular faith or community; and not only for the Indians of the time, it was for the depressed and suffering millions of the entire world, to provide them with a means to liberate themselves. That it had an international aim in mind is clear from Guru Nanak travel to foreign lands and within the country. Otherwise why should he have spent such a long time moving around and meeting people both in various parts of India and abroad for over twenty five years. He went to most of the holy places of different religions, even up to Mecca. This was done not for the purpose of a pilgrimage but to preach the gospel of humanism.
His message was that the creator of the universe is One; call him Allah or Ishwar; he sustains every one. His light shines in everyone.
Awwal Allah Noor upaiya.
Qudrat de sabh bandey (1349)
First of all God created His Light and then
He created the Universe out of this light (nature).
Therefore, no one is a Hindu or a Muslim; all of them are human beings. No one is high or low, big or small. These divisions have been made by the people themselves and consequently, they are suffering.
Islam believes in One God and it also believes that He is the Creator of the universe. In spite of this, the reason for tolerating inequality seems to be that Islam was born when the Arabs were transforming themselves from early tribes to a social community and proceeding towards the establishment of theocratic feudal states. Therefore, it favoured the ruling classes. Secondly, Islam also believes in man’s pre-determined destiny. The Hindu society had accorded holiness and acceptance to inequality. When the followers of Islam settled down in India, they adopted all the evils of the brahminical society. Bhagat Namdev says –
Hindu annah, Turku kaana.
Duhaan te giyani siyana. (875)
The Hindu is blind (of faith)
and the Turk (Muslim) is one-eyed (bigoted)
Wiser of the two is the enlightened one.
This enlightened one is an adherent of Sikh faith (Gurmat) and is far-sighted and above religious bigotry. Because the Hindu and Muslim religious places spread communal hatred between man and man, Namdev had said:
Hindu poojai dehura, Mussalman, maseet.
Namai soyee sevya jeh dehura na maseet.
Hindus worship in temples, Muslims in mosques.
Namdev serves Him who is neither in temples nor in mosques.
Though Guru Gobind Singh’s writing ‘Akaal Ustat’ is not incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, it is given the status of Gurbani. The same thought process of a broad view above communalism is discernible in the following lines:
Dehura masit soyee, puja au niwap ohi.
Manas sabhae eik pai anek ko bhramo hai.
Temples and mosques, worship and prayer are one and the same thing.
All human beings are one though of different complexions.
The hymns of six Gurus are included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s hymns were incorporated later on by Guru Gobind Singh. Even if the hymns of any other saint were not included, the Gurus’ baani is capable of guiding the Sikh movement. Therefore the question that arises is why Guru Arjan Dev felt the need to include the verses of Jai Dev, Kabir, Farid, Namdev and Dhanna, among others, in Sri Guru Granth Sahib? It is clear that the Guru wanted to consolidate all those powers which stood in revolt against the contemporary established order.
From the point of view of language, the Gurus have a broad outlook which points out to their rising above narrow communal consideration. Sri Guru Granth Sahib has a very liberal use of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Punjabi words and idiom and their connotations. From this angle also, it is a book of its own kind and of national importance. The multi-lingual writing (which is called ‘Sadhukri’) could be understood in every nook and corner of the country and perhaps it is understood today also. It shows the national outlook of the Gurus which is above provincial boundaries and communal considerations.
In addition, another important point is that as against other religious scriptures, Sri Guru Granth Sahib does not proclaim that one’s salvation lies only in believing in it. Greater emphasis has been laid on a good moral character and the fact that one is free to adopt any spiritual path to attain salvation. Guru Amar Das says –
Jagat jalanda rakh lai, apni kirpa dhaar.
Jit duarai ubrai titai lehu ubaar. (853)
Save the burning world with Thy Grace.
And save it whichever way it can be saved.
Rising above sectarian thinking is not only the philosophy of the Sikh faith; it is also the prescribed way of life. Who can forget the lifelong friendship between Guru Nanak and Mardana? They spent together more than five decades of their lives and shared each other’s joys and sorrows. Can anyone forget the Gurdwara established in Amritsar in memory of the daughter of a Qazi of Lahore? And does anyone, having even a rudimentary knowledge of Sikh traditions, not know that the foundation stone of the Sikh Mecca, ‘Harmandar Sahib’ at Amritsar was laid by a Muslim, Sayeen Mian Mir, who was a great Sufi saint and a friend of the fifth Guru, at the request of the Guru.
Everyone knows that Sri Guru Granth Sahib was given the Guruship by Guru Gobind Singh himself. But Guru Arjan Dev had installed it in Harmandar Sahib and it was revered in all respects as ‘Pothi Sahib’. But after the founding of the Khalsa, according to Giani Gian Singh, the Granth had become the Guru.
Agya bhayee Akaal ki, tabai chalayo panth.
Sabh sikhan kau hukam hai, Guru manyo Granth.
Under God’s command was created the Panth (faith)
All the Sikhs are ordained to accept Granth as the Guru.
Thus came to an end the personal Guruship, and strict discipline was enforced among the Khalsa. The principles and traditions of the faith got consolidated and took the form of an institution, a religion; but gradually with the passage of time, as it has been happening in the history of mankind, unnecessary rituals, present in earlier faiths also, crept in. Faith got separated from real life. Religious rituals came to be followed as if the rituals were the main purpose of life. One is aware that a large number of people go to the gurdwara daily, read or recite baani, listen to discourse as if all this has nothing to with one. Someone has rightly said about those who regard the Sri Guru Granth Sahib as their Guru: ‘We follow the Granth but not the teachings in it’. There is a big gap between the two. This gap suits those who are trying only to achieve selfish ends.
Just as Christianity was born as a movement of the slave and the suffering labour class but assumed the form of the religion of the ruling – the oppressor class – in the same way, Sikh faith was born to liberate the people from the illusion of wealth, but got caught in the clutches of the lovers of wealth. The compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib was done keeping in view the national perspective, but its extent and scope has been limited to Punjab and the Sikh community. A question that arises in my mind is whether it is possible to make it a national book of religion again. Today when the country is badly divided among religions, castes, sub-castes, etc., can the catholicity of Guru Granth Sahib help us in any way?