By Hb Singh
“This lady passes on in front of SGGS JI in gurdwara. She is so blessed. After having parshad (gepha), she just lay down in front of Waheguru Ji.”
The above note accompanied a video shared by a friend in one of my Whatsapp groups. It shows a lady, probably in her 60s, entering a darbar sahib, the prayer room in a gurdwara. She circumambulates the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), then partakes degh, the sweet pudding we traditionally get at the gurdwara. She sits facing the SGGS. After partaking the degh, she collapses to the left. A man rushes to her aid, but seemingly to no avail. All through, a soothing music is playing in the background.
Are you blessed to die such a death? My immediate response: “It’s a touching video, seeing a lady whose the age of a mum to most of us here. However, I have a slightly different take on it. No difference where you die. No difference how you die. What matters is what you did up to the point your soul leaves the body.”
In response, the friend agreed. He admitted to having forwarded the message as received, not giving it much thought until I pointed it out to him. He then mentioned about how we have heard of Muslims casually saying how it would be blessed to die in Makkah while performing the hajj, or Sikhs talk about dying Amritsar. From the Hindu side, we have heard about how it is blessed to die in Kashi – the old name of Varanasi – as opposed to Magahar which is located about 240km from Lucknow. Even today, Kashi still attracts thousands of old people, mainly widows, who await death in the hope of attaining salvation (Deccan Herald, 2011).
Bhagat Kabir, whose compositions are embedded in the SGGS, deals with this topic head on. Kabir challenges the belief that Kashi was supposed to be a blessed place to die, as proclaimed by the Brahmins, while Magahar was cursed.
ਤੋਰੇ ਭਰੋਸੇ ਮਗਹਰ ਬਸਿਓ ਮੇਰੇ ਤਨ ਕੀ ਤਪਤਿ ਬੁਝਾਈ ॥
Thorae Bharosae Magehar Basiou Maerae Than Kee Thapath Bujhaaee ||
Relying upon You, I can live even in the cursed place of Magahar; You have put out the fire of my body.
ਪਹਿਲੇ ਦਰਸਨੁ ਮਗਹਰ ਪਾਇਓ ਫੁਨਿ ਕਾਸੀ ਬਸੇ ਆਈ ॥੨॥
Pehilae Dharasan Magehar Paaeiou Fun Kaasee Basae Aaee ||2||
First, I obtained the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan in Magahar; then, I came to dwell at Benares. ||2||
ਜੈਸਾ ਮਗਹਰੁ ਤੈਸੀ ਕਾਸੀ ਹਮ ਏਕੈ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਨੀ ॥
Jaisaa Magehar Thaisee Kaasee Ham Eaekai Kar Jaanee ||
As is Magahar, so is Benares; I see them as one and the same.
ਹਮ ਨਿਰਧਨ ਜਿਉ ਇਹੁ ਧਨੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਮਰਤੇ ਫੂਟਿ ਗੁਮਾਨੀ ॥੩॥
Ham Niradhhan Jio Eihu Dhhan Paaeiaa Marathae Foott Gumaanee ||3||
I am poor, but I have obtained this wealth of the Lord; the proud are bursting with pride, and die. ||3||
ਕਰੈ ਗੁਮਾਨੁ ਚੁਭਹਿ ਤਿਸੁ ਸੂਲਾ ਕੋ ਕਾਢਨ ਕਉ ਨਾਹੀ ॥
Karai Gumaan Chubhehi This Soolaa Ko Kaadtan Ko Naahee ||
One who takes pride in himself is stuck with thorns; no one can pull them out.
ਅਜੈ ਸੁ ਚੋਭ ਕਉ ਬਿਲਲ ਬਿਲਾਤੇ ਨਰਕੇ ਘੋਰ ਪਚਾਹੀ ॥੪॥
Ajai S Chobh Ko Bilal Bilaathae Narakae Ghor Pachaahee ||4||
Here, he cries bitterly, and hereafter, he burns in the most hideous hell. ||4||
ਰਾਮਲਕੀ (ਭ. ਕਬੀਰ) (੩) ੪:੨ – ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ : ਅੰਗ ੯੬੯ ਪੰ. ੧੫
— SGGS, p969 (English translation from SearchGurbani.com)
While researching on this topic, I came across a wonderful explanation of the shabad above by Daljit Singh Jawa in ‘It is the Same Light: The Enlightening Wisdom of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), Vol 5. He writes:
Talking to yogis, Kabir Ji…takes another aspect of Hindu belief, that if at the time of death, you live in Banaras or Kashi (India) you go to heaven. But if you die in the city of Maghar near Gorakh Pur (India), then you would be born as a donkey in your next birth. In order to remove this superstition from people’s minds Kabir Ji went to Maghar twice, and ultimately died there.
In this context, addressing God, Kabir Ji says: “O’ my Master, for me You are like my Sumer mountain, because I have grasped on to Your support. Since You don’t waver, (by grasping to Your support) I also do not fall down (from my firm beliefs, and this way You have saved my (honor).” (1)
Once again confirming his firm belief in God, Kabir Ji says: “(O’ my God), now, then and whenever, for me You and You alone (are my support) and by Your grace, I am always in peace.” (1-pause)
Now specifically referring to his move from Maghar to Kashi, Kabir Ji says: (O’ God, people believe that Maghar is a cursed land. But having faith in You, I went to reside in Maghar, and You pacified the torment of my mind. (Actually), I was blessed with Your sight in Maghar, and only after that I came to reside in Kashi. (2)
However, expressing his belief that living in any city makes no difference, Kabir Ji says: “(O’ God, for me) as is Maghar, so is Kashi, I have deemed (them both as) one. Since the time, I the poor one have obtained the wealth (of God’s Name, and confidence that all places created by You are equal in spiritual merit), those self-conceited ones who doubt (that You are pervading equally in all places), feel very miserable.” (3)
Describing the pain those people bear before and after death, who live with any kind of self-conceit or arrogance, Kabir Ji says: “They, who indulge in ego, (suffer such pain, as if they are being) pricked by thorns, and there is nobody to take these out. All their life, they keep crying in pain and (after death) they are consumed in deep hell.” (4)
Now stating how he has become indifferent to hell or heaven, Kabir Ji says: (O’ my friends), of what (consequences is this thought that one who dies in Kashi, goes to heaven, and the ones who dies in Maghar, goes to hell, when) the saints have rejected both. By our Guru’s grace, we won’t depend upon anybody’s mercy (to save us from hell or help us in reaching heaven).” (5)
In conclusion, Kabir Ji says: “Now I have mounted the (divine) throne and have met the God of earth. (So now) God and Kabir have become one and no one can distinguish (one from the other).” (6-3)
The message of this shabad is that we should not be driven by such superstitions as living in holy places or avoiding the cursed ones. Instead we should always live in loving fear and devotion of God, then irrespective of our lineage, social status or abode, God would grant us his blissful union.
There you have it. Kabir has settled the matter for us. It makes no difference where you die. But it makes a world of a difference as to how we live.
Hb Singh is a volunteer editor at Asia Samachar who had some years of active involvement with Sikh organisations in Malaysia
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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Lessons for Sikhs from the Muslim-only Muar laundry (Asia Samachar, 1 Oct 2017)
Beyond delusion of the coming and going (Asia Samachar, 18 Aug 2017)
Respecting the dead (Asia Samachar, 29 Aug 2016)