| Opinion | 9 Feb 2017 | Asia Samachar |
By Jagdesh Singh
“The Granthi mumbles when reading the paath. Irritates the hell out of me,” lamented my father, a regular paathi in my sleepy hometown, a few days back.
For the uninitiated, paathis are they who do path, i.e. reading the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). They are usually engaged for akhand paths, the non-stop reading of the Sikh scripture.
“Maybe he doesn’t enjoy it like you do,” I jibed at my Dad.
“Not the point. It’s a seva. Do it the right way so that the Sanggat can listen nicely!” he responded.
“Not his fault at all, Pa.”
Clearly he was irritated and was about to ask me if I was simply yanking his chain or looking for an argument.
“Why did we have to get him to do the Paath this time around if we knew he wasn’t doing it nicely or sincerely before?” I queried.
The answer is pretty obvious. Like most Sikh communities in Malaysia, the local Sanggat did not really have a choice. And, the Sanggat would argue profusely that it was the Granthis’ job to be regular paathis for the Sanggat that employs them.
Three issues here concern me. And I know I’m pretty much part of the problem.
- Why aren’t there many amongst us who can perform this wonderful seva for the Sanggat?
Most of us have totally abandoned the endeavor to read, recite, listen and seek understanding from Sri Guru Granth Sahib – the spiritual fountain of Sikh spiritual knowledge. I’m guilty, too. We are akin to the Hindus during the times of our Gurus who were overly reliant on the pandits, the priests who play the role of bridging our material lives to our spiritual Master and our Maker. In other words, we rely on our Granthis to recite our scriptures as if it was a ritual for which only the Granthis are trained to do. In our race to attain excellence in education and in our livelihoods, we have somewhat sacrificed our spiritual dharma. One aspect of this dharma is the ever maturing state of understanding the spiritual learnings from reciting Gurbani. There are many more aspects of this dharma like loving and caring of all beings, selflessness, honest living. The list goes on. But learning more from Gurbani is as vital as all other aspects because that’s how we learn and understand more of the other aspects of spirituality. Each aspect depends on each other.
Our inability to read and recite Gurbani, or even worse, because we can’t make the time, too few of us are available to read the SGGS in gurdwaras for the benefit of those that want to listen but are unable to recite. We then rely on the few, including the employed Granthis, who are probably doing it as a means of employment rather than spiritual driven seva.
- Why call paathis over to our homes or in the Gurdwara to read the SGGS during the working hours when we are not present?
The recitation isn’t for the physical walls of the house or Gurdwara. I personally don’t call it prayer because prayers are from the heart in any language and any form. But that’s another discussion for another day. The recitation is for our ears, our hearts and our spiritual beings. If we understand what we’re listening to, then the messages and lessons learnt from Gurbani can change our lives. If we don’t understand what we’re listening to, it doesn’t really mean we’re doomed to boredom and are to be burned in raging fires of hell due to ignorance.
Gurbani was designed perfectly, rest assured. It was designed to surpass our logical thinking and cognitive understanding. It wasn’t designed for the selected few who understood the language. It is immensely universal.
The sounds and vibrations from the audible recitation of Gurbani touches our spirits within. Very mystical, I know. But I sincerely believe so. Repetitive recitation would slowly force you to understand what you’re listening to. But on its own, one can experience bliss, peace, lighter shoulders and happiness by listening to a perfectly audible recitation of Gurbani. And I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this almost all my life. But I have to be there, present in mind and in body. Otherwise, reading Gurbani to an empty house or gurdwara is an exercise in futility. It’s a sheer waste of time. Remember, we can do prayers ourselves, without any knowledge of scriptures or protocol, anywhere and anytime. You don’t need a paathi to do it for you.
- Lastly, why are we treating Granthis like they’re employees with a job description?
We have literally abandoned the seva of reading the Guru Granth Sahib. We don’t have proper locally trained Granthis. This has created a market for Granthis from India. I use the word ‘market’ rather crudely. They come here to earn a decent wage to sustain their families. They probably have no intentions of making this country or the town of duty their homes. Contracts are quite often drawn, and relationships are all almost exclusively professional. Sometimes Granthis are replaced on a quarterly basis because he wasn’t up to standard or didn’t follow instructions from the paying Gurdwara management committee.
It is sad, but Granthis have always been of higher standing, with almost father-like figures for the community they serve. Not merely restricted to doing prayers and kirtan, and locked out on other matters. Granthis and the Sanggat are supposed to have the most symbiotic of relationships, balanced and fair, with communal responsibilities as per the Sikh faith and practice. Not bound by contracts and salaries, or even worse, threats of deportation. Yet, because we don’t have any of our own, with strong local relationships with the community of that town or kampung, to play the role of Granthis, we turn to our foreign-trained granthis. And we import them just like we bring in the consultants, and employ them. And we treat them like so.
And so, with few paathis around, we have no choice but to get our employed Granthis to recite Gurbani in our homes while we are absent at work as he mumbles his way through.
My dad couldn’t disagree with me this time as I ranted on about our plight of the rarity of local Granthis. He could only nod. Now, that was an experience of a lifetime.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A granthi, literally, is a reader of the Guru Granth Sahib. In many places today, a granthi is in reference to the person handling the gurdwara’s religious affairs. He or she is usually employed by the gurdwara management committee to handle the religious programmes. They do the reading of the SGGS, kirtan and sometimes also give talks. In smaller gurdwaras, they are akin to the one-stop person running the affairs of the centre. The Collins dictionary defines a granthi as the ‘caretaker of a gurdwara and the reader of the Guru Granth, who officiates at Sikh ceremonies’.
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