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Harbans Singh Commentary On Nitnem

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Harbans Singh Commentary On Nitnem

gjsingh

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There is an english edition of Nitnem translated by Harbans Singh Doabia that also contains a chapter called 'The Next World' wherein he describes the fate of the soul after death. His explanations are in english but he leaves the quotes to back up his descriptions in gurmukhi. I don't understand gurmukhi enough to know how well his arguments are backed up by the scripture. Therefore I ask the opinions of the forum on the veracity of his commentary. Frankly I was puzzled and not sure what to think.

First, although he says the sinner suffers further transmigrations after death, he also explicitly describes the sinner going to Hell and being punished there. Isn't this a contradiction?

Also, he says there are supernatural entities as follows. There is the angel of death called "Izrael" that drags the soul to the afterlife. There are two angels called "Chitr" and "Gupt" who record the person's deeds throughout life. And finally there is an entity called "Dharam Raj" with a special dispensation from God to judge the individual for Hell/transmigrations or staying in God's court.

Now, my impression has always been that SGGS is poetry, and employs poetic metaphors throughout. For example, when Japji says that there are so many Brahmas, Shivas, Krishnas, etc. it does not mean that there are literally multiple Shivas running around. That would be more absurd than the idea of a single Shiva, which is absurd indeed. So Dharam Raj is simply the personification of a certain principle of the universe and not a literal supernatural judge. Similarly, there is no literal Hell but the imagery might be used by Muslim Bhagats because of the particulars of their Abrahamic faith. It doesn't necessarily mean that Sikhism adopts any of that wholesale.

So what is going on here? Does Harbans have an overly literal analysis of the scripture? Or do I need to do ALOT more study of what Sikhism actually teaches, especially with regard to the afterlife?
 

Ishna

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Ji

I think you're on the right track already. You're aware that Sikhi grew up in between Hinduism and Islam which provide the cultural context surrounding the Sikh scripture, which is why Hell and reincarnation get mentions in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Do you know if Singh ji was using Gurmukhi to quote Gurbani in this English exegesis? Maybe you can scan or photograph the pages so we can see? :)
 

Tejwant Singh

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There is an english edition of Nitnem translated by Harbans Singh Doabia that also contains a chapter called 'The Next World' wherein he describes the fate of the soul after death. His explanations are in english but he leaves the quotes to back up his descriptions in gurmukhi. I don't understand gurmukhi enough to know how well his arguments are backed up by the scripture. Therefore I ask the opinions of the forum on the veracity of his commentary. Frankly I was puzzled and not sure what to think.

First, although he says the sinner suffers further transmigrations after death, he also explicitly describes the sinner going to Hell and being punished there. Isn't this a contradiction?

Also, he says there are supernatural entities as follows. There is the angel of death called "Izrael" that drags the soul to the afterlife. There are two angels called "Chitr" and "Gupt" who record the person's deeds throughout life. And finally there is an entity called "Dharam Raj" with a special dispensation from God to judge the individual for Hell/transmigrations or staying in God's court.

Now, my impression has always been that SGGS is poetry, and employs poetic metaphors throughout. For example, when Japji says that there are so many Brahmas, Shivas, Krishnas, etc. it does not mean that there are literally multiple Shivas running around. That would be more absurd than the idea of a single Shiva, which is absurd indeed. So Dharam Raj is simply the personification of a certain principle of the universe and not a literal supernatural judge. Similarly, there is no literal Hell but the imagery might be used by Muslim Bhagats because of the particulars of their Abrahamic faith. It doesn't necessarily mean that Sikhism adopts any of that wholesale.

So what is going on here? Does Harbans have an overly literal analysis of the scripture? Or do I need to do ALOT more study of what Sikhism actually teaches, especially with regard to the afterlife?
Do you have a PDF file of the translation? If you have it, please let us know. Only by going through it, one can assess what he is trying to convey because most of it sounds Abrahamic to me.



Also, he says there are supernatural entities as follows. There is the angel of death called "Izrael" that drags the soul to the afterlife. There are two angels called "Chitr" and "Gupt" who record the person's deeds throughout life. And finally there is an entity called "Dharam Raj" with a special dispensation from God to judge the individual for Hell/transmigrations or staying in God's court.
 

gjsingh

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Thanks for the feedback! I am embarrassed because I don't know how to cite from the SGGS at all. I do have some grasp of the Gurmukhi alphabet so I can "translate" the characters in Harbans Singh's citation though.

The passage for "Izrael" (I suspect this is the same angel that the Christians and Jews call "Azrael") is at:

Mahalaa 1, vaar raamkalee panaa 953

(hmmm... panaa means page maybe?)

I am told that this website has a respectable translation, and it does seem to imply a similar meaning:

Sri Granth: Sri Guru Granth Sahib

The passage that Harbans Singh describes as God appointing Dharam Raj as "the Judge of True Justice" is at:

Asa di Var panaa 463

Same website:
Sri Granth: Sri Guru Granth Sahib

--

If the above website is anything to go by, I suppose Harbans has captured the "literal" meaning of the words in a certain sense, but of course, the SGGS is not everyday prose! Plenty of room for interpretation I am sure...
 

gjsingh

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Do you have a PDF file of the translation? If you have it, please let us know. Only by going through it, one can assess what he is trying to convey because most of it sounds Abrahamic to me.
His commentary is in English, but for whatever reason he left his quotations untranslated. I'll try to scan or type up his words. It is indeed as you say, rather Christian sounding, to me anyways.
 

Ishna

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Don't be embarrassed, we're all learning!

It's tricky to cite Gurbani. The best thing to do it to cite the page number - you're right, that's often written as panna or ang (leaf or limb, respectively).

SriGranth is a good website - you can toggle between two translations there. But translations are only half the picture - we also have to have some understanding of the broader concepts and the Punjabi zeitgeist of the time in which it was written. A lot of this is presumed prior knowledge for people raised in Sikh or close neighbouring cultures.

Here's some background on Dharamraj and Chitr/Gupt that you might find useful: The Easy Learner: Jam, Jamdoots and Chitr-Gupt

Here's some information about Azrael, remembering that Sikhi was born between Hinduism and Islam: Azrael - Wikipedia

Essentially, Sikh Guru Sahibs would often refer to Hindu and Islamic beliefs, against which they would posit the Sikh view. We read in other places that when a person becomes a Gurmukh they are freed from the cycle of rebirths, and Azrael doesn't come for them. My understanding is that if you have reincarnation in your belief system, then you're bound to that belief. If you believe Azrael is God's death messenger, then he has to come for you - and from a Sikh perspective, these aren't relevant. As a Sikh they no longer apply to you - they're not part of your belief system. Your account has been settled and Azrael doesn't come after you.

I'm very happy to hear other thoughts, especially on the shabads you've referenced. Perhaps Dharamraj, Azrael and Chirt/Gupt are indeed parts of Sikhi and I've misunderstood?
 

gjsingh

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Thank you for that Sahejdari link, I found the explication there quite helpful. (Spoiler alert -- Dharam Raj is a pseudonym for Yama, India's Grim Reaper.) It makes sense that any religious teacher worth his salt, let alone the Satguru would use common fables and idioms to get the moral of the story across to the listener. Of course it has to be in the common currency of the time -- medieval Punjab. And that is of course the Muslim's Azrael, Hindu's Yama, etc.

Now when Harbans Singh says in his sermon,

"Those who have not worshipped, remembered, and repeated God's name will be summoned under the custody of the angels of death. Such sinners will have to pass through the most narrow lanes through which they can neither proceed forward nor backward...."

and so on and so forth, he is taking what they might call in the USA "the fire and brimstone" preacher approach. I suspect that the reality will be painful enough without literal angels of death dragging away my sinner's soul. But for the next person, the vivid imagery is what is needed for understanding.

By coincidence, I have been reading William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience and he explains at great length how the differing pychology of individuals are reflected in the the way they "do" religion. It's a great book.
 

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