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Parshad - The Mystical Communion?

Discussion in 'Essays on Sikhism' started by Arvind, Mar 2, 2005.

  1. Arvind

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    SPNer Contributor Supporter

    Jul 13, 2004
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    Taken from another internet site

    Parshad - The Mystical Communion?


    Dr I.J.Singh

    Some years ago I escorted a young non-Sikh woman to a Sikh religious
    service. Although born a Christian, she was fond of Eastern religions,
    and had some knowledge of India and Hinduism. The basic Sikh service
    is pretty much the same the world over and for any occasion - some
    singing of liturgy, an optional lecture or exposition of history or
    scripture, congregational prayer, and to conclude, parshad and a
    simple community meal which are offered to everybody. The parshad is
    obligatory to every service, the community meal is sometimes lacking
    if the facilities do not permit it.

    The parshad as well as the community meal are usually prepared and
    distributed by volunteers from the congregation. That day two
    volunteers were distributing parshad. My friend refused to accept it
    from one and preferred that it be given by the other. She insisted
    that one of the volunteers had a more spiritual aura and parshad from
    his hands would be more meaningful. Some Sikhs nearby tried to assuage
    her feelings by suggesting that it was only a "halvah-like dessert"
    and she could enjoy it as such, no matter who distributed it. We
    escaped the confusion but the incident stayed with me. What after all
    is parshad? Is it only a dessert? Is it like communion in a Church? If
    a non-Sikh accepts it, is his belief compromised? Would it matter who
    handled it?

    I remember being invited to a church some years earlier where the
    minister made a point of requesting that only the believers in
    Christianity should partake of the communion. I recall many of the
    stringent requirements that apply to a Roman Catholic as he steps
    forward to receive communion. I realize that some of these have been
    relaxed somewhat in the past fifteen years. At communion a wafer of
    bread and a thimbleful of wine or juice is offered to the believer in
    memory of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. There are clearly defined
    criteria to determine if the individual is in good standing and
    qualifies to receive communion. At one time, the Roman Catholic Church
    used to require a believer to refrain from food or sex for at least 12
    hours and confess his or her transgressions before stepping up to the
    altar to receive communion. Also, keep in mind that only a priest may
    consecrate the bread and wine, not even a nun has that privilege. much
    less a lay person. A nun may distribute it but a lay person may not.
    It is a matter of dogma to a Christian that the bread and wine are
    'transubstantiated' into the flesh and blood of Christ in memory of
    Christ and not merely symbolic of them. This stems from the "doctrine
    of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist," dating between 1546
    to 1563 from the Council of Trent which debated and codified many
    issues of Christian belief. Following this dogma, the "appearance" of
    bread and wine remains but the "reality" of the substance changes and
    becomes flesh and blood of Christ.

    How do Sikhs view the parshad? What is parshad and what is it not?
    More often than not, it is made of wheat flour, butter, sugar and
    water cooked to a pudding-like consistency. This is the traditional
    composition but parshad can be anything suitable for the congregation
    to share and eat. At times, it has been jaggery, sugar, grain, fruit,
    nuts or cookies, salt, among other things - whatever a person could
    afford and whatever was available in the house. It does not have to be
    much for it is not meant to assuage physical hunger; less than a
    spoonful would do. The traditional preparation has 500 years of
    history behind it, and at all gurudwaras and most places where it is
    possible, this version prevails. The parshad need not be cooked at the
    gurudwara. In smaller congregations where cooking facilities are
    lacking, it is often cooked at somebody's home and brought in for
    distribution. Predictably, the traditional composition draws upon
    ingredients which would normally be found in any Punjabi home, even
    the poorest one. That it tastes like a good dessert is all the better
    for who can resist it?

    History and tradition have given the Sikhs a novel timer to determine
    when the flour is sufficiently cooked: the time it takes to chant the
    Japuji (the morning prayer) at a methodical but leisurely pace. The
    aroma of parshad being prepared pervades the area and is sufficient to
    bind the Sikhs to their heritage and culture. One must never
    underestimate the pull and power of nostalgia.

    In the Sikh view, anybody may cook, serve or receive parshad. For
    either of the three: preparer, server or receiver, no questions are
    asked and no criteria or qualifications are imposed. One need not even
    be a nominal Sikh, much less one in good standing. One may not be
    asked when the last sin was committed, prayers uttered, nor his or her
    status, caste, or belief. What is required is that parshad be served
    in a dignified manner and respectfully accepted.

    It is important to point out that anybody can make or serve parshad -
    a woman, a non-Sikh, a sinner or a saint - none may be barred. This is
    significant when you realize that in many religions a woman may not
    read the scriptures or lead the prayers, particularly if she is
    menstruating. Since Sikhism does not advocate a life of renunciation,
    sexual activity in a marriage is never any bar to full religious
    participation. Salvation must be sought in this worldly life - a
    domestic life, honestly led, shared with the community and spent with
    an awareness of the Infinite within.

    The parshad from one place or gurudwara is not more sacred than from
    another. Often Sikhs give special reverence to parshad from a
    historical gurudwara such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar and are
    more cavalier about it from a small, new, unknown place or from
    somebody's home. Such distinctions are utter nonsense. What sanctifies
    parshad and lifts it from the level of a halvah-like dessert to a
    sacramental communion is not where it was made nor the person who
    makes or serves it but the congregation in mindful prayer and
    ultimately, the attitude of the receiver. The parshad is not lessened
    in value if a sinner makes, takes or serves it; he or she is ennobled
    by the aura of a congregation in mindful prayer.

    There are only two ways to devalue parshad: with hygienically unwashed
    hands of the preparer, server or receiver or by the wandering mind of
    the receiver. The personality and character of the individuals neither
    diminish nor exalt the significance of parshad; however, the
    experience of the blessing may inspire and elevate the individual. For
    a Sikh, the significance of parshad is deeply ingrained in his marrow
    through 500 years of history. A Sikh deems it a blessing to make it, a
    blessing to serve it, a blessing to receive it with all humility.
    Nobody turns it down for who wants to turn down a grace? Life is tough
    enough already.

    Many are the ways to reach and know God, the Infinite within us all.
    But all roads meander through the reality of the inner self. The
    congregation attuned to that common reality creates a parshad which is
    a product of the Sikh psyche but not limited exclusively to the Sikh
    spiritual needs. Others who accept it need not fear for their
    identity. A Christian may accept it in the name of Jesus and many
    Hindus and Muslims particularly in the Punjab have been addicted to it
    for generations but have remained Hindus or Muslims. He who feels part
    of the blessing will benefit; he who doesn't, won't.

    In the right spiritual atmosphere what is transformed or
    transubstantiated is not parshad but the minds of those who receive
    it. For them it becomes a holy communion. If communion is sacramental
    sharing then parshad becomes that, but it is never the communion
    defined in the Christian doctrine and experience. For many, parshad
    remains a halvah-like dessert and never becomes anything more. For
    them, it may be fattening but usually there is not enough of it and so
    are many of the other good things in life. To think that parshad is
    merely another dessert is like that thinking that glass and diamond
    are the same for they both shine.
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  3. Sher Singh

    Sher Singh
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    Nov 11, 2004
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    That is a very good article. Its true what he asks, What is Parshad to the Sikhs? What is teh significance of it? Is it merely just a dessert? All these questions need to be answered. I personnaly think that parshad WAS more than just a dessert. I think we have lost what the essectial meaning of it is. We need to understand it and its significance and i think in that article its provided us with that stating "The parshad need not be cooked at the
    gurudwara. In smaller congregations where cooking facilities are
    lacking, it is often cooked at somebody's home and brought in for
    distribution. Predictably, the traditional composition draws upon
    ingredients which would normally be found in any Punjabi home, even
    the poorest one. That it tastes like a good dessert is all the better
    for who can resist it?"

    I used that above quote because it shows us how powerful a thinker Guru Nanak was. Look at what he had said, "ingredients which would normally be found in any Punjabi home, even the poorest." Guru Nanak knew that not all people could make roti, or even a better meal. But what could be made from what one has in their home is Parshad. Parshad isnt just merely a dessert, it a reminder to us that Guru Nanak has blessed us with Parshad, and that not only is it food for the Sikhs, its Food for EVERYONE, because all can afford to make it. I think that's why its accepted by all because of its simplicity, taste, and affordability. And who can forget that Guru Nanak started it all!!

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