| Karminder Singh Dhillon | Opinion | 13 Jan 2015 | Asia Samachar |
By Karminder Singh Dhillon
My WhatsApp traffic this morning has brought me to write this. Out of nowhere I got a couple of invitations to attend Lohree celebration at local gurdwaras.
One particular one deserves comment. It read “ …a bonfire will be lit. Please come and join in the Lohri celebrations at Gurdwara Sahib Tuesday night and be blessed by Guruji. An excellent opportunity to Darshankar Guru Maharaj ji and listen to wonderful Kirtan. Be blessed.”
It seems that that are lots of things I don’t really know about Sikhi.
I didn’t know that Lohree (also known as Sankrant, Pongal, Bihu, Bhogali, Magh, Pohi, Bhogi and Loi Loi amongst the Hindi, Tamil, Bihari, Marhati, Malyalam, Bengali, Telugu and Sindhi adherents of the Hindu faith) was a Sikh celebration meant to be celebrated in our Gurdwaras.
I did not know that bonfires were part of Sikhi or even Gurdwara activities. Surely the author of the WhatsApp was not referring to the fire that cooked our langgar or made our karah parshaad.
I also did not know that our Guruji blessed those who attended such bonfires. The only bonfire story relating to Sikhi I had heard once was of some masands (spiritual mafia) being pushed into it for their crimes towards humanity. Even so, that bonfire was not lit in a Gurdwara, and the masands were not celebrating Lohree.
I further did not know that going to Gurdwara on Lohree to witness a bonfire was an excellent opportunity to “Darshankar Guru Maharaj ji” unless of course the author of the WhatsApp meant to say it was a wonderful opportunity to “darshankar the bonfire”, and / or that “the bonfire itself was the guru maharaj ji” for the occasion.
Finally, I did not know and could not figure out which shabads from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) would be sung in this “wonderful Kirtan” that would be performed in this Lohree celebration in the Gurdwara.
THE THINGS I DO KNOW
But surely after some 40 years of trying to be a Sikh, studying Gurbani, learning Gurmat and attending Katha, Kirtan and satsang in our Gurdwaras, there must be some things about Sikhi that I do know.
I do know for instance that the Panth accepted and Akaal Takhat sanctioned Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) in Article 4(h) says in very simple Punjabi that “In a Gurdwara, there should be no anti-Gurmat activity…and that no celebrations belonging to other faiths be celebrated.”
I also do know that the SGGS does not contain a single verse that calls upon Sikhs to worship the elements or planets – fire, water, sun, moon, stars etc. But there are numerous verses that tell the Sikh to connect to the Creator instead of His creation – no matter how mighty the forces or objects of this creation.
The SGGS further critiques concepts such as “auspicious” and “non-auspicious” moments and acts. Gurbani exhorts the Sikh to not fear the planets and elements and give up “activities meant to please them” but do all one can to please the Creator instead.
Further I do know that the Preamble of the SRM defines the Sikh as a human being who deposits his spiritual faith entirely and only in the SGGS.
Of course I do know that that are countless Sikhs out there who also know all the above, and more.
Finally, I also know that one does not have to have spent some 40 years of trying to be a Sikh, studying Gurbani, learning Gurmat and attending Katha, Kirtan and satsang in our Gurdwaras to know the following additional things.
THE ADDDITIONAL THINGS THAT WE DO KNOW
We know that Lohri is a Hindu celebration that marks the movement of the son towards the north (Uttaryan) from the south (Dakshinayan). Our Hindu friends consider the moment to be extremely auspicious given that the sun enters the tropic of capricorn from the tropic of cancer.
The celebration date is set to coincide with solstice – the day of the year when the sun remains risen for the longest period.
We thus know that Lohree is a festival dedicated to the sun god and god of fire, hence the bonfire ritual on solstice day. On this day, devotees light a bonfire and gather around it. People put rewaries, sugar-candy, popcorn, sesame seeds, gur (raw sugar), moongphali (peanuts) and phuliya or popcorn into the fire as offerings to the two gods and sing till the fire dies out.
They also perform prayers as they go around the fire. This is to show respect to the natural element of fire. Milk and water is also poured around the bonfire for thanking the sun god and seeking his continued protection.
Given the fact that more than one billion Hindu brethren across India celebrate Lohree, they have given a variety of names in their variety of languages and have a variety of versions to fulfil their spiritual requirements.
But the Sikhs don’t have any spiritual name for it. And that is because it is not a Sikh festival.
But we do have an idiom “Kee Lohraa Aa Gyaa.” Idioms are difficult to translate, but the closest would be “what nonsense has come my way”
And my Kee Lohraa Aa Gyaa moment came when I read the final line of the WhatsApp message above that suggested that I would be “blessed” if I chose to attend the bonfire in the Gurdwara. The result has been this piece and my decision to “celebrate” my Lohree as follows:
I intend to stay home, do my Rehras, listen to some “wonderful kirtan” CDs I purchased last week, play some computer games with my kids, and watch a movie. I know I will be blessed even if only for choosing to stay away from yet another un-Gurmat activity.
Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston) writes on Gurbani and Gurmat issues in The Sikh Bulletin, USA. He also conducts Gurbani Katha in local Gurdwaras. He is currently running an Understanding Sohela Class at Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya on Sundays 7 – 9 pm. He is based in Kuala Lumpur.
RELATED ARTICLE: Lohree, Birthdays, Culture and New Year (Asia Samachar, 21 Jan 2015)
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What about lohri being celebrated in hazoor sahib gurdwara. Why isn’t anybody saying anything about this? I know that Sikhism don’t allow us to pray to any objects but lohri is not a gurmat celebration but it is only a cultural function don’t become a hypocrate as if you know everything about Sikhism you are also a human being just like others not a guru
Gurunam Singh and Jarnail Singh Ji. Veer Urmela Singh raised great issues which have been answered by Dr Karminder Singh Dhillon in his second Lohree piece titled Lohree, Birthdays, Culture and New Year also on Asia Samachar of Jan 21. Just in case you missed it. Thank you Jarnail Singh for your helpful clarifications.
Urmela Singh Ji,
dass has attempted to answer some of your questions in comments on Veer Jespal Singh Brars article on holi.
Yes Culture and Religion are intertwined but the aim of Gurmatt is to be heavier on Spirituality than on culture. Culture leads to more Manmatt than Gurmatt.
Guru Ji was well aware of this intertwining..and thats why we have the Allahnniah, Ghorrihn, Ramkali sadd etc Banis…these are the Spiritual Gurmatt replacements of the Cultural namesakes.
I dont wish to repeat too much here.
New Year is just a DAY….with no significance and on this aspect we have the Banis called Barah mah and many sloks telling us that no day is special/good/bad/ashubh/shubh/lucky/unlucky etc etc etc..This was importnat becasue there was so much undue emphsasis on holy days, lucky days, bad luck days, snagrands, massihs, pooranmashis etc etc etc..and GURU ji has taken the trouble to dispell all those MYTHS..for what they are..MYTHS. So “celebrating” New Years Day…on 31st decemebr..or 28th February…with Kirtan/sggs gurbani read and vichared etc is not harmful in any way. In fact its a good idea to make use of Public Holidays/Sundays…to have Kirtan/Samagams…because more sangat can attend !!! So if an Akhand paath is held during the Raya Holidays..or CNY Holidays..its by no means an indication that Sikhs celebrate Raya or CNY as the Muslims/Chinese do…we are simply using the PUBLIC HOLIDAY provided..to do our thing. JSGyani Arshi Selayang Baru
Karmindar Singh has indeed explained well. So has Urmila Singh raised some queries that need to be answered. Thank you.
Maharaj ji SSA JI and Namaskar ji. Fundamentalism.open-mindedness.liberty.rationality.understanding customs and traditions and being able to think critically with a creative mind are the issues that one must look at to understand better history.cultures.languages.religious philosopy and tbeology in general.
LOHRI is cultural just like HOLI. Historically.it was a Hindu custom and festival.but over time it has become a cross over the board custom cum festival.Farmers.the general populace look at it now as one which is to remind one and all of climatic changes from cold to hot seasons.The basic custom has been retained and that is the campfire.What has been incorporated are the songs and dances about the weather sawan tbe mahina etc about joy and happiness and about being positive about the harvests and life in general.The Hindu concepts have been retained by Hindus with their respective prayers.etc such as described in your article.It is also a tourist attration in vatious parts of Infia.but the accompaniing followed rituals remain for tnose who are Hindus. For the Hindu titusls are left out and must be left out. SOME infivifusls who habe been born and bred in India and resident in Malaysia ate influencing tbe local borns to incorporate the Hindu ritualistic aspects in Lohri celebraions by Sikhs and this Vjkvjkf ji…just for a more deeper understanding ji…
Lohri is not a religious but cultural custom common to tbe inhabitants of northern india..to celebrate n to usher in the new warmer n ending of the cold season…this is dangerous as they are non compliant with the teachings contained in tbe SGGS Ji.
THE turbsn n other forms of sttire are also customary.so too fashion.or Holi for the matter.these are cultures. Vustoms and trafitions that have chsnged over tomes nut are retained by ever developing and changing communities and ethhnic groups worldwide. We must not allow customs traditions and cultures to become part of religious teachings as they are different and neither are they invalid or HARAM in the real sense because..thr basics of the SGGS JI is naam naam simran naamdjan shabad simran and nhajsn and anhad bani and the panj shabads and panj djoots or kam krodh lob moh ahankar OR lusy anger greed attachment ego…
we are all so concernef abt what is Sikhi and Non Sikhi or haram or not BUT the basic rule to keep unshorn or uncut hair not eating meat becoming vegetatian..noVjkvjkf ji…just for a more deeper understanding ji… Lohri is not a religious but cultural custom common to tbe inhabitants of northern india..to celebrate n to usher in the new warmer n ending of the cold season…not drinking eating alcohol paan sur macbli panch eyc is not beong followed bu many Sikhs.tq ji ssa ji n namaskar ji..This neefs re efiting ad I am wtiting on my Samsung..with manu tupo errors. Tq ji
Thanks for the information
Great,eye opener for sikhs
Well said and we learn from elders. Hope this message will be spread to all Sikhs.
Bhai Karmindar Singh Ji’s article has led me to struggle with some questions:
I have always believed that religion and culture are very closely intertwined …therefore if we start stripping culture away from religion, then what will we be left with?
If Lohri is an un-gurmat activity, then should celebrating New Year (which almost every Gurudwara in Malaysia does) and birthdays also be deemed un-gurmat activities?
Wonderful article virji- good wake up call for our Sikhs !
No wonder, PHD!
Appreciate your article. Hope it reaches as many thinking Sikhs
Well said Virji Karminder