The Source Book On Sikhism

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Chapter Thirty-Two

Baba Farid

Symbol of Composite Culture

K.K. Khullar

Farid was to Punjabi what Chaucer was to English. He made Punjabi poetry and poetry Punjabi. Later when Adi Granth (Sikh scripture) was compiled by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjun Dev Ji, Farid’s ‘slokas’ (sacred couplets) were given the place of honour along with those of Kabir, Ramdev and Guru Ravidas.

The year was 1398. Timur was returning home after ransacking Delhi - light of mind but laden with gold, trampling corn, killing men and cattle alike. It was a typical Punjab winter and the air in the fields mingled with the blood of the innocents.

On the banks of the river Sutlej at a place called Pak Pattan, his horses suddenly stopped. The horsemen whipped their animals. The stallions started bleeding but refused to move further. There was panic among the soldiers, hysteria among the officers, total confusion in the army. There was consternation and alarm writ large on every face. Not used to such unscheduled halts, the Turk chief leapt forward, roared like a lion and demanded answers.

Nobody replied. He shouted again. Everyone remained totally speechless. At last an old man came forward and said, “Your honour, this place is sanctified”. “By whom?” the Chief asked. “By one saint whose ancestors had migrated from Iran to escape death at the hands of your ancestors”, the old man replied. Everyone looked at everyone else. The general’s hands reached for his sword but before they could go any further, a miracle happened. As goes the legend, a voice came from somewhere and called, “Baba Farid, the King of Kings”. Every tongue felt that it had an ear on it. A vision came to the advancing marauder. He felt elated. The armies were ordered to spare the town.

Timur bowed low in the ‘Khanqah’ heard the Sufi hymns, spent the night in the ‘dargah’. He ate the same austere food, which the Devotees ate, slept on the same mat and pledged not to kill any more innocents, only to break the pledge later.

Acknowledged by every literary authority as the first major poet of the Punjabi language, Farid was to Punjabi what Chaucer was to English. He made Punjabi poetry and poetry Punjabi. Later when Adi Granth (Sikh scripture) was compiled by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjun Dev, Farid’s ‘slokas’ (sacred couplets) were given the place of honour along with those of Kabir, Ramdev and Guru Ravidas. They all sang in the people’s dialect about the glory of India's culture, the greatness of Indian values and the supremacy of Indian thought.

Among the many social and religious movements in India of the last two thousand years, the Bhakti movement of the middle ages from the 13th to the 17th centuries was the most pronounced, as it cut across all distinctions of high and low birth, the learned and the unlettered, men and women and opened the doors of spiritual realization and salvation to one and all. Besides, it provided a base for common socio-religious culture in India.

One great characteristic of the Indian civilization is that more than its kings and warriors and generals, it is the Saints and the Sufis who realized the goals of the Renaissance and the Reformation. The cyclic tales recited by the lute players of ancient India, the songs of the wandering minstrels, the ballads and the ‘kathaks’ (storytellers) of medieval times provided a framework for the evolution and growth of the composite culture of India. They integrated the diverse elements of Indian society and knit them in a unified cultural necklace. It is these saints and sufis who bestowed a sense of Indianness on Indians down the ages. Baba Farid occupies a very high place in this cultural anthology.

Baba Farid lived in Punjab in the 13th century and composed hymns in Punjabi, the likes of which are yet to be composed. There was something in his poetry akin to prayer. He spoke of his people in the people’s dialect and asked them to use Punjabi for religious purposes. He started a ‘silsilah’ at Pak Pattan and established a mystic organization, a ‘Khanqah’ (Monastery) on the lines of a European seminary upholding the rule of mind over matter in the ultimate analysis of human affairs.

Farid’s ‘Bani’ (religious text) is small in volume but has moved mankind over the last eight centuries. The lyrical content and haunting melody of these ‘slokas’ has been so great that every visitor to Punjab has stopped to pay homage to the soul, which conceived them. In the true Sufi tradition, Farid employed sensual imagery to convey mystical meaning. Regarding God as eternal beauty, the Sufi poets, both in Persia and India, had set new trends in poetry. Its special quality lay in the fact that unless one knows the intentions of the poet, one cannot distinguish whether it is an ode to human love or a hymn addressed to a deity. Take for example this love song of the Baba.

“The alleyway is muddy, O Farid,

The Beloved's House is distance,

if I go I would drench my cloak,

And break my bond if I stay.

It’s the Creator’s ordinance, this deluge;

Go I will to my Beloved to strengthen

The links of love, and let my woollen sheet

Be drenched with downpour.”

Even the illiterate could understand and enjoy Farid’s metaphors and imagery - rooted as they were in the soil.

Chapter Thirty-Three

A Day at the Darbar Sahib

The Golden Temple - Amritsar

Courtesy of Patwant Singh

For thousands of Amritsar’s inhabitants, the day begins early. It begins, in fact, the night before, at three o’clock or so in the morning, as households in the city stir with the activity of people preparing for a predawn visit to the Darbar Sahib - a routine that hasn’t changed for four centuries.

The devout of Amritsar eagerly await this hour each morning with the keen sense of anticipation that comes from knowing they will soon visit the Harmandir.

As they walk through the familiar streets of the old city, their pace quickens in expectation of soon seeing the beloved shrine. Some of them have made this walk at this hour each morning for as long as they can remember.

Outside the main entrance, they take their shoes off, check them with an attendant and proceed into the complex. At a trough of swiftly running water, they dip their feet to cleanse them. As they pass the flower stalls, some stop to buy garlands of yellow, gold or russet marigolds to carry inside as offerings.

Descending the marble stairs to the parkarma, they behold, in the centre of the sarowar, the serene and immortal Harmandir Sahib. They gaze at it with awe, and with reverence and love - the very emotions others before them have experienced for as long as the Harmandir has existed.

They are transfixed by this first sight of it, by its golden facades and domes. The waters around it are still and glassy in the peaceful early morning silence, and capture an almost perfect reflection.

Bowing low to touch their foreheads to the cool marble of the parkarma, worshippers pay homage and express thanks for the divine grace that has made their visit possible. Then, as is customary, they turn left to go around the entire parkarma, and to stop at shrines on the way, before finally reaching the Harmandir.

The first shrine along the marble walkway is the Dukh Bhanjani Ber. Built around a jujube tree, it marks the spot where, it is said, a dip in the sacred pool miraculously cured a crippled youth. Since many consider their visit to the temple incomplete without bathing at this spot, they stop here and enter the water, hoping to shed their afflictions and troubles.

Past the Dukh Bhanjani Ber is a raised marble platform which is the Ath Sath Tirath, the Shrine of the Sixty-Eight Holy Places. To bathe near it, some believe, their dreams of visiting the 68 holy places of India will be fulfilled.

Further along the parkarma, around the next corner, is the shrine of Baba Deep Singh, the legendary old warrior who died at this spot. Every since, pilgrims have paused here to pray, to sprinkle rose petals or to lay fresh garlands in his honour.

Such cameos of valour enliven the rich mosaic of a military tradition that continues to this day. Even now, the names of Sikh martyrs and soldiers who die in battle are inscribed on marble plaques embedded in the floor of the parkarma or on the pillars of the adjoining verandas. Many Indian army regiments still maintain the tradition of installing commemorative plaques here to honour their war heroes.

As the devout turn the next corner of the parkarma, leading to the Akal Takht and the Darshani Deorhi, their excitement builds, for soon they will witness, and possibly join in, the ceremonies that only those who visit the Darbar Sahib at this hour can. These are the rituals that attend the traditional bearing of the Guru Granth Sahib from the Kotha Sahib in the Akal Takht, where it is kept each night, to the Harmandir Sahib, to which it is always returned before five o'clock in the morning.

About half an hour before the Granth Sahib is brought down from the Akal Takht, the palki, a gold and silver palanquin, is prepared for it. Attendants replace the cushions and pillows on which the Granth Sahib will rest. They day down fresh sets of silk and brocade coverings and, when everything is ready, they sprinkle delicately scented rose water over all.

As the head priest of the Harmandir appears with the Granth Sahib on a cushion on his head, a series of deep, resonant drum beats of the nigara heralds its arrival to the assembled worshippers who, even at this hour, fill the large plaza to capacity. Showering fragrant red, pink and white rose petals, and reciting hymns from the holy scriptures, they make way for the palki’s journey to the Harmandir. This passage, though short, sometimes takes up to half an hour while as many worshippers as possible share the honour of carrying it.

The procession solemnly moves across the plaza, through the Darshani Deorhi, and along the causeway, stopping as it reaches the main door of the Harmandir. The head priest reverently lifts the Granth Sahib out of the palki, places it on a silk cushion on his head, and enters the holy shrine.

He carries it to its customary place of honour beneath a velvet canopy richly brocaded with silver and gold, and carefully sets it on velvet cushions and silks placed on a manji sahib.

As the congregation stands in hushed silence, the head priest seats himself in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, ceremoniously opens it, and reads aloud the vaq, or Lord's message, for the day.

The recitation of Asa di War, which had been in progress here since a little after three a.m., had stopped as the Granth Sahib was carried in. Sung always at this predawn hour of the morning, the Asa di War also, like all other compositions recited here, is taken from the Granth Sahib.

After the vaq is read, the singing of the Asa di War continues. As it ends, the entire congregation and the servitors of the temple stand up for the ardas, a prayer that is recited at the conclusion of each service. After the ardas, the shabad kirtan, the vocal and musical renditions from the sacred verses, are resumed. The shabad kirtan will be sung throughout the day and late into the evening by a succession of ragis.

The early morning worshippers now step out of the Harmandir, walk on the inner parkarma that encircles it, and stop on its southern side at the Har ki Pauri. Here, marble steps descend into the sarowar, so that visitors may cup the water of the sacred pool into their hands and sprinkle it on their heads. Some take a small sip of it as well. Tradition has it that Guru Arjan Dev himself gave this place its name.

Continuing around the Harmandir, on the inner parkarma, the devotees once more bow in the direction of the Granth Sahib, then make their way back over the causeway, through the Darshani Deorhi and onto the main parkarma.

As they proceed along the parkarma, towards the stairs by which they had entered, some pause by the Ber Baba Buddha, popularly known as the Tree Shrine. Baba Buddha, the first head priest of the Harmandir Sahib, is said to have sat under this tree as he supervised the construction of the Harmandir Sahib.

Before leaving the Darbar Sahib, once more the early morning worshippers turn to face the Harmandir with folded hands and touch their foreheads to the marble floor of the parkarma in farewell. As they ascend the stairs on the way out, they feel renewed, invigorated and reinforced by the knowledge that the hand of the Divine will guide them through the day.

With daylight, the pace of activity at the Darbar Sahib quickens. Groups of visitors and pilgrims steadily arrive at the main entrance, in tongas, scooters, cars, buses, trucks, tractors, trailers and on foot. Unlike the predawn devotees who had come to pray or to participate in the early morning rituals, these people have come from longer distances for the pleasure of a pilgrimage whose purpose is both pious and festive. Some will stay in the sacred precincts for a day or more.

This colourful flow of visitors continues all day and late into the night: executives in business attire; farmers in their working clothes; women in a myriad variety of dress and personal adornment; and children in clothes specially made for the occasion. All ages are represented, from those who have already made the better part of their journey through life, to newlyweds come to seek blessings for the life that lies ahead - brides in scarlet and gold wedding finery, the grooms in crisply tied pink or red turbans.

People are spread out everywhere. Some are in the Harmandir listening to the shabad kirtan on the ground floor, others are absorbed in the words of the akhand path in the quiet of its upper floors. Some visit the Akal Takht where the swords and personal weapons of Guru Gobind Singh are enshrined.

Many join the line in front of the special kitchen where karah parsad is prepared. They made a donation of money for this sacramental food and carry it into the Harmandir. They give it to the attendants stationed at the door specially to receive it. The attendants in turn pass it on with God's blessing to those leaving the sanctum.

Some devotees sit in quiet contemplation in the shrine of Baba Atal, built to honour Guru Hargobind's remarkably gifted son who died young, or in the shrine built in Guru Tegh Bahadur’s memory.

Since voluntary service is the very essence of Sikhism, a continuous stream of visitors makes its way to the Guru Ram Das langar, to help prepare the food that will be served to the thousands who eat there daily.

Occasionally visitors go on brief forays into the winding bazaars around the Darbar Sahib, drawn to them by the endless variety of goods on display, the prospect of good-natured bargaining, the banter between the customers and the shopkeepers, and the stimulation of the many colours, textures and sounds that only a traditional Indian bazaar offers.

As the sun sets, and the time for evening prayers nears, there is a perceptible change in the nature of the people who now enter the Harmandir. These devotees come to sit and listen in rapt attention to the evening recitations, and to enjoy the beauty of the verses and the ragas in which these prayers are rendered. Just as in the morning, prayers began with the Asa di War, in the veering, prayers end with the Rahras, the Arti and the shabad kirtan, concluding with the ardas at 9:45 p.m.

When the prayers end, the Guru Granth Sahib is reverently closed, wrapped in fresh layers of rich silk and muslin, and ceremoniously carried to the palki waiting outside. As in the morning, so also now, the palki is shouldered by devout Sikhs and taken to the Kotha Sahib where the Granth Sahib will rest for the night.

The massive silver and rosewood doors of the Darshani Deorhi are shut and a group of volunteers inside the Harmandir starts the ritual cleansing of the shrine with milk and water in preparation for the next day. In a few hours, the doors of the Darshani Deorhi will once again be opened to worshippers, and the Harmandir will be ready to receive them so they can welcome the arrival of the Guru Granth Sahib and seek its spiritual guidance for another day.

Seeing the glow of the lamps and their myriad reflections in the pool, hearing the melodic chanting of hymns, tossing handfuls of rose petals before the procession of the Granth Sahib, and feeling the intensity of the love and reverence that attend each ritual, are experiences that will always be remembered.

Day after day, the Harmandir Sahib, the abiding symbol of the Sikh faith, continues to inspire and uplift those thousands who come to it. It is, in a sense, the heart of the Sikhs, for wherever beats a Sikh heart, there throbs the sentiment of undying devotion for this holiest of all Sikh shrines.

Chapter Thirty-Four

Guru Hargobind Ji

The Sixth Guru of the Sikhs

Prof. Puran Singh

Arjun Dev was cruelly tortured to death, to the sore affliction of the soul of the whole people. The devotion they bore to their Master was deep and selfless. While they helplessly witnessed his cruel death, a curse arose from among them both against the Moghal Empire and against themselves. Now that He had been tortured, of what use was life? Their prospect was annihilation: acceptance of which meant the eventual disappearance from this earth of the type of spiritual humanity created by the Master; resistance to which meant sorrow, suffering, hunger and death, for themselves and their children - but, so great was the love of the people for their true king, that all these ills must be endured. So great was now their indignation that they felt everything they held dear - religion, song, home, love of child and wife - must be sacrificed, and their love for the Guru redeemed. For the first time in the centuries; long enslavement of the Indians by the hordes of barbarous invaders from the near West, there was resistance. Guru Har Gobind, driven by curse and prayer of the people, unsheathed his shining sword, and declared a holy war against the unrighteous empire of India. The fire that had come leaping from outside into the camp of peace must be quenched.

Ignorance of the preceding event has led many to believe that Guru Har Gobind waged a war of hatred against the Empire, thus compromising his ideals of spiritual Humanity, which were of a life at peace with all creation. It is commonly forgotten that the Guru’s heroism that appeared in his character, at this juncture was not a heroism that kills and murders, but the heroism that dies with a glad heart. It is akin to the heroism of the Sati-woman who dresses herself in the most passionate colours when her husband and lover is dead. It certainly seems incongruous that her self-adornment at that moment should be one of joy and not of mourning; yet those beautiful colours are nothing but the symbol of that flame of devotion which will lead her presently to leap into fire that consumes the body. A similar pure resolution came to the whole Sikh people and to their leader after the cruel death of Guru Arjun Dev. Theirs was the distinction of military uniform, the wearing of two swords, the riding on a charger, the defiance of mighty powers; but how few they were, and was it not all the pathetic preparation of a Sati? This is the spirit of the Guru’s declaration of war; the rest is mere dusty detail. Here out of the roots of life rises a new Bushido, a pure passion for death in love.

As of old, Bhai Budha, the hoary-headed saint, placed before Har Gobind the Saili or Ribbon of Renunciation that Nanak wore and gave to Angad, who gave it to Amardas, who gave it to Ramdas, who gave it to Arjun Dev. Har Gobind said to Bhai Budha, “No, give me two swords to wear instead.” He saluted the Saili and put it by. The Master ordered all his men to wear swords, to keep horses, and to make arms: determining to take his disciples through blood and fire, since they wished it. When the command went forth, the disciples were already prepared, and they began bringing offering of arms - arrows and swords and shield and bows to the Guru. The Sikh people were thence forward dyed in passionate colours like the Sati-woman, and the whole Sikh world courted death in a spirit similar to the spirit of Yamato of Japan; that is, not proposing to themselves any clear purpose, sacred or otherwise; but merely for the love that would not suffer them to live in captivity and submission.

Alarmed by the new pomp of Har Gobind's court, a few of the worldly-wise proffered counsel both to Mother Ganga and to old Sikhs like Bhai Budha, that the Master should be persuaded not to adopt a dangerous militancy. Mother Ganga replied, “He is on the throne of Guru Nanak. His ancestors are with him. My son and his Master can do no wrong. All counsellors of peace, again sought the presence of the Guru to tell him that these warlike preparations would draw the wrath of the whole empire on their heads, and thus annihilate the Sikh nation. In reply, Guru Har Gobind merely looked at Bhai Budha, who bowed down, saying, "thou canst never err. All is right that thou doest.” The Guru’s mere glance intensified Bahi Budha’s reverence, rejuvenated his faith, and rekindled the passion of his youth. Bhai Budha, left behind when Guru Har Gobind went from Amritsar, knew no rest; he breathed prayers to the empty air, conjured up the form of the Guru in imagination, and in Hari Mandir at his feet, singing love songs.

News of those doings soon reached the Emperor Jehangir. Chandu, the arch-enemy of the Sacred House, was still busy. There was not a good deal of evidence for a charge against Har Gobind, of rebellion. The refusal by Arjun Dev to pay the fine imposed on him, was remembered. Guru Har Gobind was at last summoned by the Emperor to Delhi. He came, and saw, and conquered Delhi by dint of his natural majesty. He began living at Delhi as the Emperor's guest. Whenever Jehangir went out into camp, there was a separate tent and camping ground for the Guru.

The False King and the True King

We treasure a beautiful story of a Sikh of Agra who was a humble grass-cutter. The tents of the two kings being pitched side by side in the fields, the poor Sikh approached Jehangir’s tent with an offering of two copper pice out of his wages, and desired to know where was “The True King”. “Whom do you wish to see?” said Jehangir, “I want to see the True King”, said the grass-cutter. “I am the king”, said Jehangir. The grass-cutter placed his offerings before him, bowed down to him, and rose and said, “O True King! save me thy slave from this sea of darkness, and take me into thy refuge of light that is All Knowledge”. On this the Emperor told him that he was not the king sought, and that the saviour’s tent was pitched yonder. The grass-cutter hastily took back his offering and went running to the Guru.

The queen, Nur Jehan, took a deep interest in the Guru and had many interviews with him. Also, with the poor frequenting the place, he was in much repute as a comforter. During these days, Jehangir fell ill; and, following the barbarous advice of his Hindu ministers, he invited his astrologers to tell him of his evil stars that brought illness on him. These astrologers were heavily bribed by Chandu, who was always seeking to detach the Emperor from Har Gobind. The astrologers accordingly prophesised that a holy man of God should go to the Fort of Gwalior and pray for his recovery from there. Chandu then advised the Emperor that Har Gobind was the holiest of men and should be sent to Gwalior. Jehangir requested Har Gobind to go, and though he saw through the plot of his enemies, he left for Gwalior immediately. While Har Gobind was a Gwalior, great was the distress of his Sikhs at Delhi and at Amritsar, who suspected foul play on the part of Chandu. In fact, Chandu did write to Hari Das, the Commander of Gwalior fort, urging him to poison the Guru or kill him in any way - and promising a large reward. Hari Das, was by that time devoted to the Master. So he laid all these letters before him who smiled and said nothing. The Guru met many other Rajahs who were prisoners in this fort, and made them happy.

When Jehangir at length recovered, he thought of Har Gobind again. Undoubtedly Nur Jehan, who evinced a disciple-like devotion to the Master, had something to do with his recall from Gwalior. However, the Guru would not go unless the Emperor agreed to set all the prisoners at the fort at liberty. The Emperor at last gave way; and on the personal security of the Guru, all the prisoners were released. The Guru was hailed at Gwalior as “Bandi Chhor” - the great deliverer who cuts fetters off the prisoners’ feet and sets them free. There remains, in the historic fort at Gwalior, a shrine of the Bandhi Chhor Pir, worshipped by Hindus and Mussalmans alike, where they have lit a lamp in memory of the event, and where a Mohammedan Faqir sits in hallowed memory of some great one of whom he knows only the name - Bandhi Chhor. In the Panjab, in the daily prayers of the Sikhs, Har Gobind is saluted as Bandhi Chhor. Surely he carried this name from Gwalior to Amritsar.

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