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California School Books Won't Have Any Image Of Guru Nanak Now, Sikhs Want One

Vikram singh

Feb 24, 2005
California school books won't have any image of Guru Nanak now, Sikhs want one July 13, 2007
SACRAMENTO: Months after the California Sikhs had successfully got the State Board of Education to get removed from a Grade VII book an objectionable picture of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak, which virtually showed him as a Muslim and was grossly offensive to all Sikhs, the publishers have now got printed new books omitting the picture altogether instead of replacing it with acceptable image of the Guru.
After the Sikhs tried to take the matter back to the Board, the latter has declined to act, thus leaving the students to miss the picture of Guru Nanak in "An Age of Voyages: 1350-1600", a book which is otherwise lavishly illustrated.
The publisher Oxford University Press had earlier offered to replace the Islamic style picture of Guru Nanak with a Hindu style image, an offer which was spurned by the Sikhs.
"(They had offered) to replace it with an image which portrayed Guru Nanak as a Hindu (with cap, tikka -vertical mark on the forehead, Janeyu - Hindu sacred thread and Dhoti –Hindu clothing). Naturally, I did not approve of the same. A letter signed by large numbers of Sikhs was sent to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and CDE for banning the book and replacement of offensive picture. Finally, the SBE scheduled a consideration of the matter at its meeting of March 7-8. I provided relevant material to the SBE members on March 7. These included copies of letters of Dr Narinder Singh Kapany, Noel Q. King, Professor Emeritus ( U.C. Santa Cruz) and the SGPC, written by them to CDE/SBE officers," Onkar S Bindra had explained.
It is not clear on what grounds a reputed publisher is digging in by refusing to publish an acceptable image which most Sikhs identify with.
Bindra had made a presentation, showing pictures of Guru Nanak in ten books on World Religions, written by non-Sikhs and published in USA or UK and one authored by non-Sikhs and published in India. All these had only Sikh style pictures of Guru Nanak. The board had finally voted in March ordering removal of the objectionable image of Guru Nanak which showed Guru Nanak wearing a crown and with a closely cropped beard on page 95.
Sikhism requires observant devouts not to shave their facial hair or any hair.
So far, some 520 copies have been distributed to 16 California school districts but are without any picture of the Guru. Sikh activists wanted that the offensive picture should have been replaced with a more accurate one, not removed entirely.
A media report quoted Jeff Brodd, a religious studies professor at Sacramento State University, as testifying at Thursday's hearing before the Board by saying that the book is "wonderfully, lavishly illustrated," so the absence of an accurate picture of Guru Nanak is even more glaring.
Sikhs have also reported the problem with the titling of the Guru's name as the book uses the term "devi", clearly a feminine form of address not used for men. The mistake somehow also points to rather shoddy handling of the affair by the publishers.
Surely, the Sikhs think, it wasn't difficult for scholars at the Oxford to realise that the prophet, a simple man who preached to the poor and certainly, couldnot worn a crown. The Oxford claimed they used the ealiest possible picture available, but the Sikhs proved even that fact to be inaccurate. Thomas Adams, director of the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division of the State Education Department, was quoted on this score in the media as saying that "it wasn't defensible on the issue of accuracy, because it is from a later period" than the one in which Guru Nanak lived.
Now efforts are on to correct the title. The publisher is likely to make available the new books to the school districts this summer.
California's school board has a public — and often lengthy — process of reviewing textbooks before they are made available for purchase by individual school districts. But it seems with the rise in cultural sensitivity, the cost and time consumed in making schoolbooks have also increased.
Publishers do usually make changes, though it is only because of California's size and buying power. The schoolbook market in the United States is roughly $4.2 billion and California schools are the nation's top purchaser. The state government allocated $403 million for schoolbooks in 2006, and that excludes federal money or lottery revenue.
Last time the row hit media headlines, the Sikhs had even presented six large transparencies of old murals in the old and historic Baba Atal Rai Gurdwara in the Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar, Punjab. Apparently, these murals are older than the offensive picture chosen by OUP. Besides, these are in the Sikh style. The painting which the SGPC recommended to the CDE/SBE bears strong resemblance with Guru Nanak in these old murals, especially regarding turban and unshorn facial hair.
A Sikh style picture of Guru Nanak would have most certainly helped correct the erroneous perception about Sikhs being Arabs, prevalent among large sections in the US.


Dec 10, 2004
Dear Vir jees,

i am really surprised at this so called 'controversy' and the fact that no one has yet replied to this thread with regards to pictures of the Gurus and the Sikh religion. Perhaps the following article will clarify matters:

The gallery of pictures of Gurus is a collection of such pictures that many sikhs like to collect and display at their home and offices, but before you go to the gallery, please allow us to share the views of Dr. Gurbax Singh on the subject just for your better knowledge.

Let us discuss the Sikh philosophy regarding pictures of the Gurus. According to the Sikh principles, not the physical features of his body, but the words said by the Guru are the 'Guru'.

Lessons given in the sacred Gurbaani are the 'Guru'. A disciple who obeys Gurbaani, will surely achieve the goal of human life.

The holy hymns spoken by the Gurus, Bhagats, and other contributions, were compiled and installed as 'Shabad Guru' in the Harmandir Sahib,
Amritsar. No pictures or idols of the Guru (none were there), were allowed to be placed in the buildings or depicted on its walls. For making the environment aesthetic and soothing to the mind, flowers, geometrical figures and other artwork was engraved on the walls of the Harmandir Sahib. Pictures and paintings of the Gurus are conspicuous by their absence.

One wonders how the false pictures of the Gurus and even their plastic, wooden and metallic idols appeared, not only in the houses of the Sikhs but also in many Gurdwaras. This is nothing but Brahmanical philosophy displacing the Sikh faith from the Sikh houses and their places of worship.

It can easily be known from the historical records as to how fake pictures and then statues of the Gurus entered the Harmandir Sahib and Sikh houses. What seems to be extremely difficult is, how to throw them out of the Gurdwaras and the Sikh psyche. Not only a few credulous Sikhs, some traditional preachers and even a few educated Sikhs have started believing in Guru pictures. They think that keeping pictures of the Gurus in the houses is the Gurmat method of showing respect to the Gurus and obtaining their blessings. Some Sikhs have been seen garlanding the Guru pictures and serving food to them for 'Bhog', a practice prohibited for the Sikhs.

Not all Sikhs, of course, have reached the stage of worshipping the Gurus' pictures/paintings as the Hindus worship their idols, but a large number of them are on their way to do that. Some scholars want these pictures (all are surely fake) to be destroyed whereas others suggest that only their worship be prohibited.

Bhai Gurdas explains that the picture of the Guru is his "Word", Gurbaani, which a Sikh is to love.

The history of the imaginary Guru pictures is briefly stated below.

When the Keshadhari (Long Haired) Sikhs during the 18th century were forced to leave the villages and live in the forests, the non Keshadhari disciples took care of the Sikh Gurdwaras and the historical places. These disciples did not board the ship of Sikh Faith; they only held it in their hands but keep their feet stuck in the Hindu Boat. The Brahmanical influence, which was still holding their mind, obliged them to depict popular mythological scenes on the walls of the Gurdwaras as they were traditional depicted on the walls of the Hindu temples. When the pictures of the Hindu gods and their consorts appeared on the Gurdwara walls, the pictures of the Gurus had also to appear as a natural sequence. All pictures, of course, differed and were subject to the imagination of the painters. The pictures from the walls moved on to the paper and were printed in large numbers to reach every Sikh house and every Gurdwara. Only a few vigilant managers did not permit any kind of pictures, howsoever 'genuine' or 'superior' they were claimed to be, to come even near the boundary of the Gurdwaras. Once the pictures of the Gurus were accepted as 'true' and 'good' by the masses, how could anyone stop them from taking the form of idols and statues ? Unfortunately, it appears that they are here to stay at least for the time being.

During the 18th century, not only the non-Sikh but anti-Sikh rituals were practiced in Gurdwaras without any objection because the Khalsa had moved to the forests. The sacred places were managed by the Sanatni (Brahmanical) Sikh or by those Mahants who still believed in Hindu rituals even after associating themselves with the Sikh faith.

When the Sikhs lost their Raj in Panjab in 1849, they had time to turn their thoughts towards their faith. They were surprised to find Sikhism already pushed out of the Gurdwaras by Brahmanical rituals. The worship of idols, whether of the Hindu gods or of the Sikh Gurus, is prohibited for the Sikhs. However, both were worshipped by the Sikhs in the precincts of the Harmandir Sahib.

True Picture?

No true pictures of the Guru exist, though some have been claimed to be true pictures. One 'true' picture is totally different from the other 'true' picture. Most of them are modern paintings. Some old sketches / paintings are also available, but all are based on the imagination of the painters. No Guru permitted his painting to be made in his time, because it is against the philosophy of the Sikh faith as mentioned earlier. We should not have Guru pictures in our houses or Gurdwaras. Instead we should have Gurbaani hymns written and hung for our guidance in our house.

Bending/bowing before the pictures or garlanding them is prohibited even if they were true pictures. The Sikh philosophy tells that 'words' said by the Guru are the 'Guru' (now Guru Granth Sahib). We bow not before a book, as some persons think, but to the 'Gian' (knowledge) therein.

Now do you stillthink, there is a need left to go to the picture gallery?



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