| Opinion | Malaysia | 3 June 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Pio Panda, the head of the Panda family is an intelligent highly educated scholar who knows much about religions and works as a psycho-religious therapist. Pott Panda, his teenage son is a smart student who is ever so inquisitive about things around him and life itself. [In Punjabi, pio means father, pott means son].
Pio Panda was just getting into his favourite seat at the patio when the much expected Pott Panda walks in and joins the dad. The ensuing part is the chat of these father-son pair while they sip through their hot cha in the cool evening breeze.
Pio Panda: Hi Son, how has your day been?
Pott Panda: It has been good Dad and I have so much to ask you.
Pio Panda: Ask me? (as he laughs because he knows his son and his ever inquisitive mind boggling, hard-hitting questions). Go ahead son.
Pott Panda: Well Dad…I was with my friend Singha today and we chatted for quite a while.
Pio Panda: Oh, Singha…the lion cub?
Pott Panda: Yes Dad. He was a bit distressed as he related to me that his relatives and others in his faith are having issues and situation is getting tensed. Singha looked like he was really worried and he was like our uncle, Sochha Wich Panda, who thinks too much and gets worried over things.
Pio Panda: Oh…you mean the Sikhs? Yes..yes…your uncle is always worried and in deep thoughts.
Pott Panda: Yes Dad, the Sikhs. I am sure you know Sikh religion well. The Sikhs seem to be having some religious issue that is breaking them apart and creating disunity. Singha looked quite distrubed as he related the situation to me.
Pio Panda: Yes Pott…the Sikhs who are known as a beautiful group of people are indeed having some issues and seemingly bogged with disunity. They are actually a monotheist religion, just like our Pandaism.
Pott Panda: I was told that it’s got to do with their religion and how some quarters are at odds regarding their holy scripture. Dad, didn’t you tell me that this is a very brave race which is loyal and loving.
Pio Panda: Yes son, they still are very responsible people who are ever willing to help no matter what the circumstances. They have a history of valour and bravery in face of atrocities in the formation years of the religion, and even after that era. Their Gurus challenged the ritualistic beliefs of the masses, mostly caused by some twisted religious understandings, to bring the Sikhs to a path of righteousness and their strongest asset is their holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib.
Pott Panda: Why do they call their holy scripture Guru? Isn’t the holy scripture just that, a book with holy scripture just like any other books?
Pio Panda: Well, they have this holy scripture since their first Guru, Guru Nanak. The Guru then passed on the scripture to the next guru and it went on until the last physical guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The gurus never portrayed themselves as extraordinary humans with extraordinary powers. They were steadfast in confronting anything at all with the clear allegiance to the scripture and One creator. Their strength was the scripture as they abide by the ordain and take it as God’s own words. Human form was important but more than that was the will of God, the hukam. They are easily the group with most sacrifices done by their gurus and their families as well as other Sikhs or disciples.
Pott Panda: Oh, so the scripture was passed on from a guru to the next?
Pio Panda: Yes Pott. It was passed down and added from one guru to another, with six of the 10 gurus having their own composition in the granth. The granth also contains hymns from Muslim and Hindu saints and scholars of that era. It is also interesting to note that the Gurus passed down the guruship in their lifetime, except for one guru who passed over unexpectedly at a young age. So, even at any time there were two gurus, one predecessor and one successor, the faith was clearly in the scripture, the Gurbani or Shabad-Guru. Guru Granth Sahib has been the guide of the Sikhs since the first guru, but put in order by their fifth Guru and called Adi Granth. It was then carried on as the primary guide until the last physical guru, Guru Gobind Singh conferred guruship on the holy scripture as the eventual and eternal guru for the Sikhs in 1708. The Adi Granth was then known as Guru Granth Sahib.
Pott Panda: Wow that is fascinating. So what happened then?
Pio Panda: The Sikhs took the Guru Granth Sahib as their sole revered scripture and got their guidance from it.
Pott Panda: So, why is there a problem today as I was told that there is parallel holy granth to the Guru?
Pio Panda: There is not a parallel guru as the Sikhs have been ordained to take the Guru Granth Sahib only as the sole guru. There are other scriptures but the Sikhs have not really installed a parallel guru as such.
Pott Panda: Then, what about the scripture they call Dasam Granth? I was told that it is at parallel with the Guru Granth Sahib and a large part of the Sikh community is upset with this.
Pio Panda: That is what a part of the community thinks and believes – that the Guru has been given a parallel granth next to it. This is compounded by the fact that some of the 5 highest thrones of the Sikhs are doing it.
Pott Panda: So, are the Sikhs really interested in having another holy scripture? Isn’t there a guideline or control over this matter?
Pio Panda: The Sikhs came up with the by-laws called Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM). The SRM advises the Sikhs on ceremonies, conduct and the upkeeeping of the faith in a proper manner. This document too has been evolving and the Sikhs from both the so-called divide are using the SRM to their advantage and understanding, often interpreting it to support their stand.
Pott Panda: Well, I also heard that there are hidden hands trying to divide the Sikhs and disintegrate their unity.
Pio Panda: To be honest son, it’s always easy to blame others and find a scapegoat. But again, there are reportedly so-called enemies of the faith out there trying to break up the community. There might be some truth in it as some quarters are envious of this brave and strong race which makes its mark wherever they are around the world. They are in small number and minorities everywhere, except in Punjab, but their presence is always felt and other races acknowledge what a brilliant race these Sikhs are. Their unique appearance also truly makes them stand out no matter wherever they are. These are the people others can rely on as they will not hesitate to give up their lives for righteousness. So, some people are envious and would like to see this race in disunity. Well that is also true if you look at any other religion and the followers somehow believe that their religion is under siege, including our own Pandaism. Having said all these, it has to be the race itself who allows others to disunite them. This is more so when there is a rift right in the religion itself with various factions, all believing that their ideology is the truth.
Pott Panda: Isn’t religion meant to be a good thing and a uniting factor? Why would people want to create factions?
Pio Panda: That is the very paradoxical fact about religions. They unite but they also divide. It all boils down to the followers of the faith. As Baba Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” It can be a double edged sword; it can unite you and if not used carefully can be used as the very weapon that destroys you.
Pott Panda: Hahaha… Baba Karl Marx?
Pio Panda: Yes son, why not? Baba is a revered term used by the Sikhs as well as others and Karl Marx was revered and is still revered until today by all the ideology followers. The Sikhs, too, have their Babas and there are lots of them. Some learned Sikhs believe that Babadom is another problem plaguing the Sikhs.
Pott Panda: But the Babas are religious people who guide the followers to the right path, or do they not Dad?
Pio Panda: It is again complicated. Many Sikhs are aligned to Babas and many of the Babas have their own way of doing things. There are certain ideologies that differ from one another.
Pott Panda: So, the Sikhs must be having so many different practices and different from each other.
Pio Panda: Yes, that might seem the case but thankfully they have the SRM as a guideline and that assures standardisation in the practices of the Sikhs, no matter where they are around the world.
DASAM GRANTH CONTROVERSY
Pott Panda: Back to the problem now Dad, why is the Dasam Granth (DG) such a controversy?
Pio Panda: Its simple. A faction is saying that it’s the writing of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh while another group claims that it is not authentic. In fact they also say that it was not known as Dasam Granth, but rather the Bachiter Natak which means a wonderful play. According to the SRM, there are three compilations of hymns, what the Sikhs called Bani, in the DG that are accepted in the daily prayer of the Sikhs and accepted as the composition of the tenth Guru. So, a group is saying the whole scripture is the work of Guru Gobind Singh while another group is saying it is not – and they claim to have the proof that the hymns are picked up from various ancient Hindu scriptures. So, the argument is also that the whole compilation of DG should not be totally discarded, akin to throwing the baby with the bath water.
Pott Panda: Dad, is it true what Singha told me…that the faction that propagates the authenticity of the DG is trying to install it at the same level as the Guru Granth Sahib and many Sikhs are upset while some are supporting their move?
Pio Panda: Well son, I think it is mostly hearsay and suspicion by each faction. Those for DG are saying that is not their intention but those not for DG as a wholly authentic scripture by the tenth Guru are saying this is the intention.
Pott Panda: So Dad, what is the problem, isn’t it normal to have difference of opinion?
Pio Panda: Yes, I suppose so. But the problem of the Sikhs is that they have resorted to violence at times and it’s getting more rampant now. Sikhs are fighting in the very hall, called Darbar Sahib, where they have their Guru Granth Sahib. They all say very strongly that they adhere to GGS and its teaching but in the same breath whack each other in front of the Guru. All in the name of upholding the truth! This is called Raula Panda in our language, Son.
Pott Panda: Wow, isn’t that a contradiction? You believe in the Guru but you fight each other in the very presence of the Guru. It’s like children saying they listen to their parents who taught them to be peaceful and loving but fight right in front of the parents.
Pio Panda: Yes, Pott, that is the mishap befalling the Sikhs right now. They pray and hold their Guru as the King of the Kings but do exactly what the Guru forbids – degrade, insult, physically attack each other; ironically all in the name of the Guru. They believe that they are doing so to safeguard the faith but do not realise or just too egoistic to accept that their very action is bringing the faith to shame. The sanctity of their worship halls are being compromised, often times with the law enforcement officers storming in to restore order. What a Sikh upholds as sacred- the covering of heads and removal of footwear, to name a few, is totally compromised with the law enforcement officers coming in without covering their heads or removing their footwear – something regarded as blasphemy by the Sikhs. But the sad part is, they are the very people who break all decorum and insult their own Guru. There seems to be no more consideration for Sikh brotherhood as they go in with such fury as to just destroy their own brothers. One wonders what has become of the Sikhs – the most respected people who are adorned for their respect and love for their Guru! These are the same people who are religious but at the same time forget all love and humanity just to show their ugly side.
Pott Panda: Yes, Dad. Singha told me there’s a lot of mud-slinging in the cyber space. There is name calling and insulting each other has become the norm it seems. That’s really a shame. So, what exactly are the factions trying to achieve Dad? What will they achieve in the end? Are they vying for paradise with all the beautiful accompaniments in the hereafter?
Pio Panda: That’s another interesting part – Sikhs do not believe in paradise or look for all that in the hereafter. They believe that they are to live a life in the path of righteousness and meditate upon the name of the Lord. Their basic principle is simple actually – meditate in the name of God, truthful living and sharing with the needy. Unfortunately some of them seem unfazed with all these as they spend most of their time in degrading and insulting each other – and at the slightest opportunity or reason, physically attack each other.
Pott Panda: Why can’t they agree to disagree? Those who are proponents of the controversial GGS and DG should do whatever they like in their own space.
Pio Panda: Ah..ha…but you must understand son that GGS is never controversial. It is accepted by all without an iota of doubt or controversy. All Sikhs accept the GGS as their rightful Guru. It is so perfectly compiled by the Gurus that no one can create any doubt in it. It is just a masterpiece. The controversy is only in the DG. But agreeing to disagree is only possible if all quarters start by respecting each other and sit down with cool heads to find an amicable way around this controversy. But again, there is so much distrust among the factions that sitting together and respecting the decisions afterwards is rendering almost impossible. On doing whatever each group likes to do might be a rational way but that is good as far as the group level is concerned. The Sikhs must have a united stand on certain aspects and should adhere to standard practices for the sake of the whole faith. Having disintegrated groups of factions give rise to sects and this is where many controversial figures are striving, each with their own unique practices. So, there is personal or small group level practices and the standard Sikh practices adhered to and respected by all for the sake of unity.
Pott Panda: What a pity! Such a good faith befallen by such misfortune.
Pio Panda: Quite the contrary, son. The Sikhs have been given such tests from time to time. Maybe that’s the will of God. They have had so much of atrocities on them for centuries now but each time something like that happens, there is a somehow unity and the Sikhs faced their problems strongly, together. They become stronger from each incident. Alas! This time the problem is from within and they seem to be getting divided by their own doing, albeit with the suspicion of hidden powers behind the issues.
Pott Panda: What are they looking for eventually, Dad? Will there be a winner?
Pio Panda: How can you win by destroying a part of you? What some perceive about winners or losers could be a fallacy. There will most likely be no winners as one faction will always try to beat the other in one instance and the other becomes more furious and comes back even stronger to create even a bigger rift. It’s like my hands don’t like my legs and the limbs are trying to destroy each other, so as to uphold my sanctity and for my sake! If the hands win, I will be left without legs and vice versa. How will any of these so-called victories bring me good?
This animosity now will go on and on and the end result can be catastrophic to say the least. The sooner the top influential figures understand and acknowledge this, the better it will be. Calm heads without prejudice against each other is the only way out as the warring factions are gaining traction on each side by having more and more supporters or sympathisers to fight their true cause. Ironically they are blind to the fact that the true cause is the united Sikh faith. I cannot really say what they are looking to achieve eventually at the moment, Pott. Perhaps they do not know too. At the moment there are too many hot heads and unless they realise what atrocity they are doing to their very own faith, matters will not be resolved.
Pott Panda: So, Dad…I also heard that the youngsters like Singha is being disillusioned by this controversy and many are shunning away from the faith. That will be really terrible, wouldn’t it?
Pio Panda: That might be true to a certain extent but it is not totally true to say that the youth are only shunning away from the faith because of this controversy. For years now, the very practices of the Sikhs have shunned the youths away. They don’t understand what is being preached and there seems to be not much discussion offered for the youths in the places of worship.
The youths are different today than when they were decades ago. We the older generation used to strictly follow the instruction by parents and did not question most of the orders. Youths nowadays are different – they want to understand what they are doing and want to understand their faith. The act of following the faith without asking why certain practices are done is not the norm for many youths today. They disregard age old practices as rituals that they do not understand and demand that they get explanation on every matter. They want to be engaged more and allowed to ask the questions they would like to. Some of them say that following without any understanding is blind faith and they seem defiant to normal routines. You are a good example of that, are you not Pott?
Pott Panda: Hahaha…I definitely am, Dad. But I am also told that many Sikhs are not involved in this controversy. They are either not bothered or trying to maintain the unity of the faith. I was also told by Singha that the factions are trying to make others aware or influence others to join their cause. Is that true Dad?
Pio Panda: The influencing part is another matter but I am sure Sikhs are discerning enough to choose what is right. But again, there might be truth in that as it’s just normal for groups to gain more support for their cause. Yes, many Sikhs are not bothered and are staying away from this controversy. It’s just like Ki Farak Panda in our community. But many others are in fact disturbed by the controversy and the on-going squabbles. Many would like to see peace restored and Sikhs back to respecting fellow brethren.
Pott Panda: So, do you see any hope in the Sikhs regaining their pride as a united faith?
Pio Panda: Yes, of course. As I have said just now, they are a strong people with unwavering faith in righteousness and upholding justice and truth. They will have to eventually find a way out of this divisive controversy. The opposing factions are made up of giants of the community and there is just too much to lose in losing any side. It will leave a void and the whole community will have to pay the price. They will have to come together in face of the younger generation and in making sure their faith will not wither away in oblivion. All they will need is to agree on standard community practices to keep the community united. Of course they might be some differences but these have to be practiced individually or in small groups rather than in society as a whole. Utmost respect should be given to one and only Guru Granth Sahib while some can read extra scriptures as they like in their own space.
Pott Panda: I’m curious. Are these Sikhs who are arguing well versed with Guru Granth Sahib and DG?
Pio Panda: Well…that is also interesting. I am pretty sure some of them would not have really comprehended the GGS and DG is another matter altogether. Just like in other religious feuds, some have little knowledge but tend to make the most noise. Some have no knowledge but are ready to fight at any time. So even if it’s true that no knowledge is sometimes better than little knowledge, in this case both are equally dangerous. The Sikhs must first embark on understanding their gurbani and the starting point has to be the GGS, their Guru. It is then appropriate to read complimentary scriptures to add to their understanding.
But respecting fellow humans and God’s creations is just common sense, which unfortunately many are not able to grasp. Hopefully cool heads will prevail. That will to unite must come from every Sikh and it can surely help if those making so much noise in cyberspace can just ceasefire and let things cool down while looking for the much awaited peace through intellectual engagement where everyone learns from each other and respect each other enough to hear them out. Shutting people up will only create more problems. Let everyone present their views supported by proof and backed up by what the Guru is saying. Have enough respect to allow the people to choose after they are given all information pertaining to the matter.
Pott Panda: I hope too, Dad, as I will like to see Singha happy again and his faith back to being the uniting factor and not the divisive one. There is so much to lose for this community of brilliant people if the issues are not resolved and allowed to escalate. I am sure they realise that the community needs development in other aspects as well and this is taking its toll on them. We wish them the best, Dad and hope they will also attain what we most value in our Panda land, Pyaar Panda.
The conversation soon ended as both the Pandas got off the patio and moved into the house looking hopeful about an amicable agreement for unity for this wonderful faith, Sikhi.
[Gurcharan Singh Bishen Singh, EdD, is the Programme Director MEd / Senior Lecturer at Open University Malaysia. He is an educationist who feels strongly the need to unify Sikh organisations in Malaysia.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
FROM THE SAME AUTHOR:
SGGS-DG Discourse: Another stumbling block towards Ekta of the Sikh panth? (Asia Samachar, 4 Aug 2016)
EKTA: A distant dream amongst Sikh organisations in Malaysia? (Asia Samachar, 5 July 2015)