Heritage Using Correct Terminology In Sikh Related Affairs

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
Over recent weeks we have seen a number of words that have come to be used in the Sikh religious context terminology, which is quite different from the Punjabi language terminology. The Punjabi language is although not only the language of the Sikhs, but yet there is quite a good amount of vocabulary in Punjabi that is solely the perogative of the Sikhs, and associated with the religious Sikh language, Gurmukhi.It would mean absolutely nothing to a non Sikh.

Although Gurmukhi is more widely known as the alphabets, but within it there is some reasonable vocabulary that may be termed and recognised as the Gurmukhi "langauge".

Bible, Murtad, Kaffir are not words of any meaning or purpose nor of any value in the Sikh religious vocabulary.The word temple is another very misleading and loosely word used to define Sikh Gurduaras. For a long time, Sikhs have been no strangers to this word and used it for their House of prayers unabated, and without feeling guilty. As generations changed, Sikhs got more at home with the word temple, so much so today, some find it impossible to understand that the real term for a Sikh house of prayer is Gurduara.

While other religions insisted on using the correct terminology and introducing their own terms, Sikhs have instead compromised their own words and adopted and accepted foreign and English words that really do not mean anything, or are at the best a nearest equivalent to the Sikh descriptive word.

Once such word is 'baptism', often used to describe the Sikh intiation ceremony into the Khalsahood. Almost all early and senior Sikh scholars used that term to describe the Sikh Amritpaan ceremony.

However, when we scrutinize and analyse the word 'baptism' we find it means "In Christianity baptism (from the Greek noun baptisma; itself derived from baptismos, ritual washing) is for the majority the rite of admission, almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition. Baptism has been called a sacrament and an ordinance of Jesus Christ.

Therefore with such clear description, how can we say a Sikh is "baptised"into the church, ordinance of Jesus Christ or any particular Church? Therefore Sikhs should refrain from using even loosly inappropriate word for any Sikh rite. The words associated with the Sikh ceremony almost similar to baptism is amritpaan- a word that should be introduced to the English, which is able to expand and include such words if they are used commonly enough by many people.

The next interesting word that has come to light is Murtad. The word murtad may be familiar in Punjabi language for good speakers of the language, irrespective of their religion may understand it. But in Sikh religious terms it means absolutely NOTHING. In fact it may reflect total ignorance on any Sikh's part to use such word for Sikhs.

In Islam MURTAD is an apostate. A murtad is anyone who leaves Islam and becomes a "traitor" to it through their new beliefs or actions. The penalty for this is death. This clearly implies to be a murtad the person must be a follower of islam.

So if one is not a Muslim, but a Sikh or hindu or buddhist, the word means absolutely zero in any way and manner. The Sikh word used for those Sikhs who have erred in any principles relating to Sikhism, is PATIT.

In Sikh context/ terminology the word patit means a Sikh who has lapsed after having been initiated into the Khalsa fold. A Sikh who has failed to observe the Khalsa code of conduct.

Its legal definition as inserted in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, through the amending Act XI of 1944 runs as below: "Patit means a person who being a Kesadhari Sikh, trims or shaves his beard or keshas or who after taking AMRIT commits any one or more of the four kurahits."

Delhi Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1971, contains a similar definition except a reference to keshdhari because unlike Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925, it defines only keshdhari, and not sahajdhari, as Sikhs. It states: "Patit" means a Sikh who trims or shaves his beard or hair (keshas) or who after taking amrit commits any one or more of the four kurahits.
In the Rehit Marayada Section Six, it states: The undermentioned four transgressions ,taboo'd practice must be avoided:
  1. Dishonouring the hair;
  2. Eating the meat of an animal slaughtered the Kutha manner ;
  3. Cohabiting with a person other than one's spouse;
  4. Using tobacco

An internet based definition of patit says it is an adjective formed from the word 'patan' meaning fall, decline or degradation, with its roots. In Sanskrit 'pat' which means, variously, "to fall, sink, descend; to fall in the moral sense; to lose caste, rank or position," usually denotes one who is morally fallen, wicked, degraded or outcaste. It is slightly different from the English word `apostate`, which usually stands for one who abandons his religion for another voluntarily or under compulsion.

According to Sikhism and Sikh code of conduct [Sikh Rehat Maryada] a patit is one who commits a religious misdemeanour or transgression of faith principles, yet does not forsake his professed faith. He may seek redemption and may be readmitted to the Panth after due penitence in the sangat.

The SIKH REHAT MARYADA originates based upon GURBANI,the historical eyewitness accounts written by the contemporaries of the Gurus- called REHATNAMAS,FACTUAL HISTORY & TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS & PRACTICE based upon guidance from Gurbani. It covers physical appearance, religious beliefs, and observances; moral conduct and social behaviour.

The very first mark of religious ordination of a Sikh personality is the FIVE Kakaars- ARTICLES of SIKH FAITH, which evry initiated Sikh must adopt. The physical features of the Sikh Rehat maryada prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji are the signs of the bond that links the Sikh community together and gives it its' distinct identity. These are simply not symbols as some refer today, they are a declaration of privileges that the Guru sahibaan had demarcated very clearly. Sikhism has it distinct law[sidhant], identity and social norms.

As per Sikh religion
The readers may observe the difference between Murtad and Patit. While death awaits a Murtad, with no possibilty of a pardon. In Sikh religion, a simple tan-khah [penance] carried out in the sangat awaits the sincere Sikh who seeks a pardon, and gets readmitted into the faith.

In fact, we should be thankful to the Guru sahibaan, apart from Sikhism, the punishment for blasphemy in almost all of the major religions is certain death. Though in recent times Christianity has adopted a much more lenient attitude due to constitutional/parliamentary laws being in place.

As per Christianity & Judaism.
Punishment for blasphemy or misdemeanor is death. It is stated in the Old Testament of the Bible, which is the authority for both the Jews and the Christians:

"And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: [Book of Leviticus 24:16]"

As per Hinduism
In the religious book of Manusmriti, the Law book of the Hindus, it says:

“If a man born of a lower class intentionally bothers a priest, the king should punish him physically with various forms of corporal and capital punishment that make men shudder.” [Manusmriti 9:248]

As per Islam
Islam says the punishment for blasphemy in Islam, is mentioned in the Koran as:-

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land [this is not an option, as we have seen in many recent cases.It was used in the early islam, where exile was possible] : that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;” [Surah Al-Maidah 5:33].

Although Islam gives 3 different options for blasphamy and apostacy punishment in addition to death; however, the option for exile is not in practice.

As per Buddhism

Like Sikhism, Buddhism does not have an 'legalistic' approach to belief and, thus, never developed a concept of apostasy, nor does any Buddhist culture have such a concept. In Buddhism, the individual is free to believe or not according to his or her inclinations and understanding. This means that one can unbecome a buddhist through non practice, and re-enter the faith with no formal ceremony by indulging into practice as according to the buddhist faith. None of the criminal codes of traditional Buddhist countries criminalized apostasy; therefore like Sikhism, within responsible and accountable limits; Buddhism practices tolerance without any limitations or responsibilty at individual or coporate level.

The one but last word-Kaffir - cannot be applied to a Sikh. It is a word associated with islamic values and beliefs.In islam it refers to the concept of disbelief and normally refers to pagan disbelief of the *****. So technically, to apply this word to other believers of GOD is wrong too. As Sikhism is an independent religion and not any associated branch of any other religion, it is very objectionable to refer to a Sikh as kaffir. Anyone using such, only displays a lack of understanding and common sense intelligence. The word kaffir, also spelt as kaffer at times is also an offensive word used to refer to a black person in the Aparthied era in South Africa.It is said the word was derived from Arabic /Islamic term *****. It is considered an ethnic slur within the bounds racial equality laws of todays world.

This article does not cover in detail many words used within "Sikh context" from other religions and cultures. There are many other words that should not be used neither are appropriately used; as they then do not display the real and correct meaning for Sikhs and Sikh items.

We should refrain saying the Sikh Rehat Maryada is the "sharia law"of the Sikhs, as it is not; neither it has any thing in common with the principles apart from the worship of one Entity.

The Kirpan is not a dagger or a knife. The Guru Granth sahib is not anything similar nor near to the Bible, or vedas or Koran. Neither is it is a "book". It has been explained previously, Guru Granth Sahib is ever present words of the Gurus. To the Sikhs they are living words, hence in the evening the Guru sahibaan is helped to rest in the Sukhasan.

There is a recognised maryada for the trip to the Sukhasan like there is one when the Guru ji returns to sit out majestically in the sangat and his Darbar sahib. The darbar sahib is not the prayer hall. As Sikh protocol demands highest respect and order to be in the darbar sahib.

In any ordinary prayer hall, there is no protocol apart from requested silence. I have seen prayer halls, where people are seated on chairs, more than often with shoes! But such is not practiced in the darbar sahib.

The Kacherra is not underpants. The Turban or dastaar is not a hat. The degh is not holy pudding nor "sacrament as like in Christianity".
The word Gurduara clearly symbolises and represents the House of Prayer of the Sikhs. So words like Sikh temple, Sikh Church, Sikh mandir etc refering to Gurduara should be abstained from usage.
The langger is not community kitchen as it does not serve any one particular community [as the meaning of community kitchen suggests] but the poor, needy and people of all races, religion and cultures that come to it following certain protocol. It is also not the "makan" place.
While browsing major websites, forums, blasphemic literature and discussion threads online, one will realize that little educated /unintelligent people are indulging themselves in a very serious 'sin' or acts of blasphemy or hate words against a or any religion, other people and fellow human beings, whose reprecussions don't stop at an individual or an organization but go onto whole community, and humanity. This happens sometimes out of ignorance and at other times when challenged by individuals, based on values and principles in place. Using defamatory langauge against anyone only reflects the shallow civility levels present in among many of us.

There are many other words that do not belong to the Sikhs, but one cannot blame anyone else as Sikhs need to clarify the misconceptions about Sikhism and help remove doubts and the misconeptions prevalent in our own minds. It is the job of every Sikh to respond to allegations against Sikhi, within Sikhi and for Sikhi and help clarify misconceptions about or own religion.let us strat using the correct terms and words, and the English dictionaries will pick that up and familiarise these Sikh words to the world and ourselves.

Bhul Chuk, Ma'af

Gurcharan Singh, Kulim

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