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Parshad - The Mystical Communion?

Jul 13, 2004
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.

Sher Singh

Nov 10, 2004
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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