Superstition Will Get You Nowhere


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
In Sikhi, Superstitions Will Get You Nowhereby HARJINDER SINGH

In order to ward off the evil, destructive and inauspicious influences of Ketu, the "headless, shadowy half-planet," also known as the "descending lunar node," take the following steps immediately:

a Feed jaggery to a monkey.

b Offer a black and white blanket (i.e. of two colors) as alms to a temple.

c Keep tied a white or silver-woven thread to both thumbs of the feet.

d Practice celibacy.

e Wear a kesartilak - a saffron mark - on your forehead.

[Remedies prescribed in the Laal Kitaab - the Hindu "Red Book," which addresses all ailments and predicaments, based on Vedic astrology.]

For Sikhs living in any part of the globe, a visit to Amritsar is incomplete if they don't pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib, popularly known as The Golden Temple.
In fact, they visit Amritsar with the foremost motive of experiencing spiritual bliss at Harmandar Sahib (as it is also often called) - bathing in the sarovar, listening to Gurbani kirtan, doing seva in the Guru Ram Das Langar Hall, and partaking of a communal meal in the langar.

This is the case despite the fact that Sikhi attaches no ritual importance to visiting and bathing at holy places of worship. Rather, it stresses the need to meditate on Naam.

Why should I bathe at sacred shrines of pilgrimage?
The Name of the Lord is the true pilgrimage.
My pilgrimage is in seeking spiritual wisdom within,
Through contemplation of the Word."
[GGS, I:687]

March 26, 2009 - the day I was blessed to pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib - happened to be masya (moonless night) for the month of Chet. I only realized this after reaching there. Seeing large numbers of devotees walking along the parikarma and long queues for entry into the sanctum sanctorum (the area inside the Harmandar where Guru Granth Sahib is "in court"), I enquired from one of the elderly devotees:

"Is it some important day in the Sikh Calendar?"

He looked at me with astonishment and said, "Don't you know it is Cheti Masya?" I thanked him and moved on.

"Cheti Masya?" The words rang alarm bells in my mind.

Masya is the last day of the dark half of the lunar month, when the moon is hidden from view. The lunar month is subdivided into two fortnights called vadi and sudi by Hindus. In the former, the half moon wanes, while in the latter, it waxes. The full moon day and night is called puranmaashi.

In Hindu belief, these two days, i.e., masya and puranmaashi, are very auspicious. Hindus visit holy places, give offerings to idols in temples and take a dip in ponds and holy rivers, such as the Ganges, Yamuna and Godavari.

Gurbani teaches us that all these so-called "special" times - vadi and sudi, masya and puranmaashi - do not have any importance or significance whatsoever for Sikhs.

So I was wondering, "Are we Sikhs still blindly following age-old Hindu rituals, very contrary to Gurmat principles - the same rituals that our Gurus rejected outright as being no more than superstitions? Are some days really more important than others?"
Answers to these queries came to me while I was reciting from the Guru Granth a few days later:

"Fifteen lunar days, seven days of the week,
Months and seasons repeat themselves endlessly;
So do the days and nights.
That is how the world goes.
The comings and goings are by the Creator's Will;
The Creator alone is Truth immutable."
[GGS, III:842]

Guru Nanak preached and practiced against all rituals, and stressed leading a honest and truthful life, while meditating on Naam. All days are of equal importance for Sikhs. A day, any day, every day, is neither good or bad, if we humans know the true purpose of life.

"O, Nanak, that day is beautiful, when God comes to mind.
Cursed is that day, no matter how pleasant the season,
When the Supreme Lord God is forgotten."
[GGS, V:318]

Another thought that has long kept nagging me is about managing large numbers of devotees visiting the Darbar Sahib on so-called important occasions. With better and faster means of transportation, the number of pilgrims has increased manifold. Live relay of Gurbani kirtan on television from Harmandar Sahib has also contributed in a positive manner.

Before I dare to suggest any changes to help make paying obeisance at the Darbar Sahib more hassle-free, as well as more orderly and more efficiently managed, I would like to clarify that in no manner am I trying to find fault with the present state of management. In fact, it is managed far better at the Darbar Sahib than at the important shrines of other world religions ... but there is always some room for improvement.

Such suggestions, I hope, will be taken in the right spirit and not as an infringement on anyone's rights and privileges.

Two incidents that are testimony to the vehement resistance of our community to any change as well as the tendency to stall and scuttle proposed changes, involve the electrification of the Darbar Sahib in 1896-1897 and the installation of air conditioning in its sanctum sanctorum in 2008.

Lots of energy, time and money is wasted to oppose any change, just for the sake of opposing.

Some things that need immediate attention of Sikhs the world over are the upkeep of the edifice of the Darbar Sahib; making access to it more comfortable and less time-consuming, especially for the aged, handicapped persons, and mothers carrying babies; and ensuring the safe condition of the causeway between the darshani deorhi and the Harmandar.

[The darshani deorhi - literally, the "Viewing Pavilion" - is the structure serving as the entrance to the causeway, which leads to the Harmandar. There are a number of important rooms within this building: for example, the toshakhana or "treasury" which houses rare and valuable artifacts, is located on its first floor.)

On "important" occasions, the number of pilgrims soars dramatically: that is a sign of the chardi kalaa of the Khalsa Panth and its unflinching faith in the Shabad Guru.
Queues extend right up to the base of the Akal Takht. It can easily take 60 to 90 minutes in the queue before one can pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib. On Gurpurab days, even hours!

Would it be feasible to make some alternate route to cater to those with special needs, such as the aged, handicapped persons and mothers carrying babies? Can the number of devotees who stand in queues on the causeway be reduced, so that the weight to which it is exposed would be reduced?

The number of devotees who enter the actual building of the Harmandar, too, must be monitored and managed, so that it is never overly crowded. In fact, at times one is pushed around and jostled, while bowing one's head in reverence before the Guru.
I still remember the time when there were no railings or barricades in the Darbar Sahib complex. This part of the world was still on the other side of the "digital divide," but that boundary is decimated now. With the live relay of Gurbani kirtan from here, a few of the devotees, too, want their fifteen minutes of fame. People who want to be seen on the television screen during the live relay try to strategically position themselves behind the raagis (minstrels).

In the process, a few unsavoury incidents occur, which are duly captured by the TV cameras.

Would it be possible for the number of devotees who can sit in the space behind the raagis to be fixed, so that there is less jostling about for occupying a vantage point?
First and foremost, I feel as Gursikhs, we all must be well-disciplined, orderly and ready to help those in need, especially the aged, handicapped persons and women with small children.

All the above ideas and suggestions are just thoughts that frequently keep goading me. I am putting them across to the sangat as a humble Sikh; I am not sure if they are feasible at all.

References : Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Amritsar, 1964) and Encyclopaedia of Sikhism (Punjabi University, Patiala, 1992). Translations adapted from those by Sikhi to the Max and Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa.

May 15, 2009