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Beware Of New Masands Controlling Sikhi

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004


On Nov 22 1664 Guru Tegh Bahadhur turned away from Sri Harmindar Sahib

(Bhai) Harbans Lal

This day in November may be commemorated as reminder to us of an important historical lesson regarding the misfit of the clergy system in speaking on behalf of our gurus and in managing our religious institutions. On November 22, 1664, GURU TEGH BAHADUR (16211675), prophet and martyr, revered as the Ninth Guru or Revealer of the Sikh faith, was turned away from the holy Sikh shrine of Amritsar by the then clergy-in charge and the associates. Instead Guru stayed with the congregations outside of the Golden Temple to spread his message. Perhaps for the same reason, Guru Gobind Singh refrained from visiting this holy place.

This was not an isolated misconduct by the clergy representatives, such precedent continues to surface in Sikh history from time to time. There are many examples. Fortunately, those examples are limited only to certain historic places where clergy class has upper hand in the management. It is certainly not the case with the Sikh masses in general. All local gurdwaras and institutions welcome every participant without any prejudice of gender or dress. However, we may keep the sad incidents in our annals alive in our memory as stern reminders.

Among the deplorable examples is included the day when Sikhs initiated with Khande-de-Pahul were denied entrance to Takhat Sri Patna Sahib. Who does not know that 50% of Sikh adult population (Sikh women) is forbidden from performing certain services in the Golden Temple and many other Sikh historical places.

Only a few days ago, Rababi Ghulam Mohammad Chaand (70) was denied his request to recite a hymn from Sri Guru Granth Sahib at Sri Harmandir Sahib. He could not experience the much cherished heritage of his ancestors performing Kirtan at this holy place.

Bhai Chaand is the immediate descendent of the elder Bhai Chaand who was once the regular cantor of Sri Darbar Sahib. Bhai Chand is the descendent of Bhai Mardana whom the founder of our religion Guru Nanak hand picked for improvising musical rhythms for the divine hymns revealed to Nanak from time to time. At the time of Indian partition in 1947, the same Bahi Chaand was offered a permanent position by the Gurdwara management to regularly sing the hymns. Regretfully, he could not accept it due to family circumstances. He continued performing duties of holy singing in the Sikh holy shrines of Pakistan.

The good news is that Sikh women participate in Sikh services everywhere else and the rababi singers were welcome at every other gurdwara in the neighborhood. All of this goes to show that the Sikh congregations at grass root are alert and will succeed in making the religion of our gurus’ dream freely accessible to this global village.

In remembering the folly committed by the Sikh clergy at the time of Guru Tag Bahadure’s visit to Amritsar, we should learn that our gurus shunned away from the clergy right from the beginning. Let me quote selections from Gurtej Singh as below.

Amongst the classes strongly condemned by Guru Nanak and shunned most by all his successors is the clergy class. In the Guru Granth it is disapproved of mainly for four reasons. Firstly because it extorts money out of simple believers by spiritual blackmail thus robbing the people also of the most satisfying spiritual experience. Secondly, it spreads demeaning superstition, empty formalism and ritualism for the eventual selfish purpose of mind control and extortion. Thirdly, it thereby distorts religious truths and dwarfs the vision of prophets to serve its own sordid ends. Fourthly, the clergy class becomes a potent instrument in the hands of political and social oppressors, and helps in enslaving the people, whose spiritual liberation they are ostensibly seeking. In many verses of the Guru Granth, these failings and machinations of the clergy are explicitly brought out.

Securing justice in all spheres to everyone was central to the Guru’s religion. He perceives the clergy as accepting bribes to deny it. `A religious judge sits on the seat of justice. He turns the beads and utters God’s name. All the same he accepts bribes and denies what is rightfully due. If someone questions him, he quotes scripture. He further said that `They will all be presented to God as sinners since they realize (the Truth).’

The Gurus took many precautions for of preventing this class from arising amongst the Sikhs. They themselves committed their spiritual experiences to writing so that there may not be any scope for ambiguity on what these exactly were. The entire Sikh scripture is in the poetic form and most of it is set to musical mode thus rendering it easy to commit to memory. They wrote their message in the most commonly understood language of the people so that there would be no need for specialized understanding and interpretation by the particularly learned in a specified area. While imparting the final shape to the scripture, the incomparable editor Guru Arjun, took ample care to weave grammar into it so that every word was capable of yielding only one meaning. He also numbered every verse thus obviating interpolation leading to ambiguity.

The Tenth Guru put the final seal on the scripture and in addition declared it to be the eternal living Guru. This signified that the Sikhs in future would need no other spiritual guidance outside the scripture. He went a step further and declared that his Khalsa would owe no allegiance to any mortal but must regard itself as the direct domain of Almighty. To guide the followers in the day to day affairs, in politics and social interaction under the scriptural provisions, he created the mystique of the Guru Khalsa Panth, the collective Guruship of all the believers. These measures were sufficient to obviate the need for the clergy as none of the core functions they perform in all religions was left to be entrusted to them.

When the Sikhs were in political power their social and spiritual norms were adhered to in the natural course. For instance, there are indications that during Ranjit Singh’s time and before, there was no tradition of uninterrupted singing of hymns at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Much time was spent on interpretation of the scripture. (Exegesis of Gurubani used to be regularly held in the afternoon for four `watches’ during the early period. Giani Surat Singh father of the famous Giani Sant Singh, a contemporary of Ranjit Singh and his fourth successor Bhai Pardumman Singh, who died on November 22, 1877 are known as two of the very learned persons in the field.

Women exegesis expert had been in vogue since the time of Guru Amardas who established fifty-two women managed `pirhis’ or seats for disseminating religious instructions. It is also certain that women singers of hymns would participate and lead the congregations in prayer as a matter of routine.

Actually it is the Britsh who singled out the Sikh shrines for control through clergy class. They placed the Hinduised mahants in-charge of Sikh shrines. These clergy utilized their primacy in Sikh affairs to import many rituals and practices. These included idol worship in the more prominent Sikh shrines and several other crude and some very subtle, rituals. The so-called low-caste Sikhs were banned from making offerings at Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. These pujaris did not recognize marriage according to Sikh rites. Sunder Singh Majithia’s son Kirpal Singh married by anandkaraj ceremony. The mahants at Darbar Sahib refused to accept that family’s offering. The Jathedar of Akal Takhat of the time wrote to the British Government that it would be a sacrilege to electrify the Golden Temple instead of using jot or oil lamp to lighten the Harminder Sahib. There are many more such examples.

Beware of false prophets who pretend to speak for the Guru. Our gurus ran masands and other clergy out of religion once. Let us hope that Guru Panth does it again.



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