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The Dasam Granth Issue: A Red Herring


1947-2014 (Archived)
The Dasam Granth Issue: A Red Herring

<small>by I.J. SINGH</small>

Just about a year ago I was at a conference. Its goal was to celebrate 300 years of the Guru Granth. In attendance were people of all religions and also a fair number of Sikhs.

For the 30 minutes or so that I spoke, I never once referred to the "Dasam Granth." But during the Q & A, the first question from a Sikh in the audience was "What is your take on the Dasam Granth?"

It is not that I had not thought about the matter. It has intruded on our consciousness by the intensity and variety of battles over it within the worldwide Sikh community that occur at fairly regular intervals.

Even the Akal Takht, the seat of temporal authority in Sikhism, had issued an ill-considered edict banning any discussion on the matter but discussion has not ceased; it remains even livelier today than before the edict. But my topic was the Guru Granth, not the Dasam Granth; moreover, with a mixed audience of Sikhs and non-Sikhs, opening this Pandora's Box on our internal dissensions would have been inappropriate. I gently tried to point that out but perhaps the questioner sensed a weakness on my part for he became even more insistent that I respond.

The controversy over the authenticity, authorship and importance of the so called Dasam Granth continues to rile some people in the community and what I say today is not likely to settle the dust. Today, I take on this issue and hope that, given the contentious reality at this time, it does not turn out to be self-destructive for me. I offer you a view that is largely non-scholarly, but neither historically inaccurate nor inconsistent nor devoid of some common sense.

Why now? Because the controversy has gone on long enough and shows no light at the end of the tunnel. And because a pillar of the community with an enviable track record, Professor Darshan Singh, has been vilified, pilloried and abused all over the world and then just as staunchly defended by others.

Matters of honest disagreement that we should expect in any good and honest people are hard to isolate because they are intertwined and covered in personal innuendo and vilification.

In the past decade or so, there has been a plethora of writings on the Dasam Granth by writers on both sides of the controversy. Click on the site Sikh Spectrum or a host of others to delve into the nitty gritty of the debate. The most trustworthy secondary sources of our history and tradition - among others, Punjabi University's Encyclopaedia of Sikhism and Kahn Singh (Nabha)'s Mahaan Kosh, tell me this:

The longish, almost 10 page entry in the encyclopedia, is by C. H. Loehlin and Rattan Singh Jaggi; certainly their academic credentials, especially of the latter, are unquestionable.

During the evacuation of Anandpur by Guru Gobind Singh, many of his own writings and those of poets in his court were lost. After an effort of several years, Mani Singh salvaged what he could from wherever he could. Thus was the first recension of the Dasam Granth compiled some two decades after the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh. Based on copies of this, several recensions appeared some years later, many with significant variations.

Kesar Singh Chibber author of the historical documents - Bansavlinama and a Rehatnama - asserts that the two tomes, Dasam Granth and the Adi Granth (that later became Guru Granth in 1708), sat separately during Guru Gobind Singh's lifetime. When asked by Sikhs to combine the two, the Guru declined, stating that the "Adi Guru Granth is the root book; the other is only for my diversion. Let this be kept in mind and the two stay separate."

This remains the bedrock principle in Sikhi and the two thus can never be equated.

During the Singh Sabha days in the last century, the Khalsa Diwan explored the authenticity of the writings in the Dasam Granth. Copies of the Dasam Granth that could be located - numbering 32 - were collected and a group of eminent scholars worked them threadbare from July 5, 1895 to October 17, 1897. The recension based on their findings was first published in 1902.

This committee identified what exactly is the writing of Guru Gobind Singh and what is likely not.

Parsing authorship is not a simple matter. It requires an in-depth understanding of language, culture and context, and remains a matter where scholars will spend a life and more and even then remain unsure.

But why and how exactly did such a massive problem of authorship arise in the first place?

History tells us that at least 52 prominent poets made their home under the patronage of Guru Gobind Singh. They composed a lot of poetry as did the Guru in many of the Indic languages extant at that time. That's what poets do. I would imagine that, like us, these poets, too, were occupied by many ideas, with a whimsical muse sometimes. They did not spend all day in worship and prayer but did all the things that people do - some of them even playful. And their poetry showed it.

The collection that came to be called the Dasam Granth, therefore, contained much that was the Guru's serious contribution, mixed here and there with what was neither serious nor from his pen. It never was an easy matter separating the wheat from the chaff and, despite the best efforts of scholars, still not so easy a matter.

I often ponder, for instance, over the fact that the Dasam Granth speaks eloquently of the past life of Guru Gobind Singh and from that has emerged the legend of Hemkunt. But no Guru ever talked of a previous life. We don't ever venerate any places where any Guru(s) might have visited or worshipped before they became Sikhs.

For instance, history tells us that Lehna, before he became a Sikh and later Guru Angad, went on yearly pilgrimages to Hindu holy places as did Amardas. But once they came into the fold of Sikhism, they never again spoke of the need of a pilgrimage anywhere; Sikhs do not regard those sites as holy. It is inconceivable to me that Guru Gobind Singh would deliberately go against the unbroken tradition of Sikhism in such a weighty matter.

So why should we mix history and mythology to convert Hemkunt into a pilgrimage? But that's what we do when we interpret literally what is in the Dasam Granth.

Remember that the Guru, himself, called his writings "a play and diversion" and denied it the status that he himself accorded to the Adi Granth.
In a play that has diversionary writings of many authors, should we be shocked to find sexual innuendos and references? I think not. They are part of life and no Guru taught us to abandon life. Keep in mind that it was the traditional Indian culture that produced the erotic art of Khajuraho. Yet the same society, as we know it today, will outdo the Victorians in prudery. Why should we react like deer caught in headlights when such stories of old find their way into another book of stories? Except for certain parts, this book - Dasam Granth - has many stories and was not designed to become the Guru.

There are also a different set of questions that come to mind. Why is the Dasam Granth being promoted as scripture at a level with the Guru Granth? Clearly, such promotion creates division within Sikhs and is contrary to Guru Gobind Singh's directive. Who benefits from seeding dissension among Sikhs? Is there a political agenda at work here directed by the forces of Hindutva in India?

The controversy seems to be driven by a visible and highly vocal minority with an agenda of destroying anyone who does not quite toe their line. And now there are charges floating around that some hotheads have doctored the evidence to suit their purpose and push their arguments. This hardly helps. Believe me I am no acolyte of Darshan Singh or anyone else.

Let me digress. Ever since I was in high school, I have loved to write short essays on a variety of topics. Early on, I discovered that my essays fared better if I dressed them up with some appropriate citations from well known or even anonymous authors. And so I did. But sometimes no apt quotation would come to mind. I would then construct a short epigrammatic sentence that I would credit to some author in the confidence that the teacher would likely be unfamiliar with the citation or its source.

Remember, these were pre-Google days.

I recall a quotation from George Bernard Shaw that I once used. It went "He who can does; he who cannot teaches." So I embellished it with the words "and he who cannot teach teaches teachers." My words seemed to blend perfectly with those of Shaw. It flew by the teacher.

I suspect poets routinely play such games with words; they are wordsmiths after all who delight in word play.

I would be absolutely surprised if such addenda and additions do not exist in what we call the Dasam Granth.

Let scholars and lexicographers continue to p{censored} the text; many a doctoral thesis will surely result. Dasam Granth is an important part of Sikh literature and should be treated as such with respect. That is the bailiwick of scholars and I leave it to them.

For most of us - lay Sikhs - suffice it to know that even though parts of it we accept as gurbani, Dasam Granth has absolutely no place alongside the Guru Granth.

It is not the Guru.

So decreed Guru Gobind Singh when he sealed the Sikh Cannon in 1708.

The controversy remains what it is - a red herring.

Forwarded by forum member Tejwant Singh ji Malik


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Tejwant Singh

Re: The Dasam Granth Issue: A Red Herring (from SikhChic)

The cauldron of ignorance bubbling with rituals has been simmering for quite sometimes in the guise of Sikhi. Blind faith has been successful in creating blindfolds that can not be taken off.

The other thing that disguises these blindfolds is the full baana of many which is worn as a chip on the shoulder rather than the vestment that leads to the understanding of Gurbani in the Guru Granth, our only Guru bestowed upon us by our 10<sup>th</sup> Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

We are urged by our visionary Gurus to study the Guru Granth rather than parroting it, so that goodness can be bred within and shared with others. Dasam Granth’s adoration as a parallel Granth to Guru Granth by many baana wearing Sikhs proves the tightness of the blindfolds they have on, which defies the teachings of contemplation, reasoning and thoughtfulness bestowed to us by Guru Gobind Singh in the form of Guru Granth, our only Guru. This is more an insult to our 10th Guru than anything else.

If we are unable to take our blindfolds off, then let’s close our eyes behind them and visualise internally for a minute or two.

How can a young lad of may be 11 would ask his father Guru Teg Bahadur to sacrifice his life, not to defend Sikhi but to defend humanity and the right of the individual to seek spirituality in their own ways, in this case the Kashmiri Pandits, (perhaps Indira Gandhi's ancestors)?

The founding founders of the Bill of Rights of the USA discovered the same many years later but with many caveats which included slavery rather than true freedom against any kind of tyranny.

How can this person who was called Gobind Rai and then later became Guru Gobind Singh, our 10<sup>th</sup> and last Guru, who put the icing on the cake started by Guru Nanak and inscribed on it the name Khalsa Panth would write a book under his name called the Dasam Granth?

How come our Dasam Pita would talk about his previous life when none of our previous Gurus did, in the book which gave birth to Hemkunt and also to the mechanical ritual called the pilgrimage a la Hinduism and many other isms, hence defying the teachings of Guru Granth, once again? It has become a yearly Hajj in Sikhi where the obese pilgrims hire other people to carry them to the "Promised Land" which makes the carriers the real pilgrims if one comes to think of it.

How can our 10<sup>th</sup> Guru who also sacrificed his 4 sons in the name of justice for all would dwell in me-ism as the stories in Dasam Granth suggest?

How come this polyglot visionary great poet, who added his father’s Gurbani in the Guru Granth, deliberately not adding a single word from his own poetry would be considered so self centered by writing a book called the Dasam Granth?

Yes, part of the beautiful poetry which is in the book and which compliments Gurmat values of the Guru Granth,our only Guru is more likely his and that part has become part of our daily prayers, the Nitnem.

But many parts like Charitars can not be discussed in the Gurdwaras because of their sexual content and can not be claimed as the writings of our Dasam Pita as many of the ones with the blindfolds on have tried to do for quite sometime.

Bobby Kennedy used to say,” If you have a problem, hang a lantern on it”. I want to thank Inder ji for doing just that. Now, it depends on us to take our blindfolds off and see what the light shows us.

Tejwant singh
Re: The Dasam Granth Issue: A Red Herring (from SikhChic)

I think I J Singh in a very gentle, suave and erudite manner has put the controversy in a perspective for all open minded Sikhs to have a re look.

As he has brilliantly and delicately suggested, that perhaps Dasam Pita knew about the contents and still did not reject it since he knew that it could serve a purpose as book of art but resolutely refused to elevate it to the status of Guru. This position could be taken only by SGGS for its sheer spirituality and unmatched metaphysical content.

I think it is quite crass on our part to blame blame a group having particular religious affiliations for trying to propogate this book and unnecessary creating illwill. Sikhi is all about creating harmony and at the same time not compromising on basic principals. I do not think that is too difficult and it is not necessary to denigrate other faiths in process.

While on the subject, I would like to mention that Bhai Vir Singh ji, both in Guru Nanak Chamatkar, and Guru Kalgidhar Chamatkar has described the advent of Guru Nanak Ji and Guru Gobind Singh ji into this world in a very romantic and poetic manner borrowing heavily from Bachittar Natak and Janam Sakhis. Though not beliveble by the rational mind, it does stir a sense of bliss in the readers being. The later part of the works are well researched, referenced and generallyappeal to reason. Most important they give a thorough insight and understanding of Sikhi as as no other work so far. They are also capable of lifting the conciousness of a person from depths of despair to heights of chardian kalan.

For me personally IJ SIngh ji's article has been like whiff of fresh air. I thank Tejwant Singh ji for forwarding this article.