By Gurmukh Singh OBE | OPINION |
UK Sikhs are tired of divisive jathebandi (faction) politics, doctrinal conflicts and waste of community resources on gurdwara disputes which often end up in the law courts. There is much negative publicity. Next generations are already moving away from gurdwaras.
The alleged physical assault on a parcharak (Sikh exegetist) at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Southall (UK) has added urgency to find a national solution to such recurring incidents due to ideological differences.
In accordance with Sikhi tradition, one way forward is the selection of Panj Piaray from gurdwara representatives only. Those selected should have proven ability to interpret Sikh tradition and ideology (sidhaant) and to be able to assess 21st century issues and needs. They should be able to seek and assess expert advice as required. UK Sikhs have the opportunity to lead such a diaspora initiative.
While the number of the top level panel is not necessarily restricted to five (which accords with Sikhi tradition), a larger number would delay decisions. There should be no limit to the expert advice which should be made available to this highest level national panel or board. Once in place, the same panel can also be invited to arbitrate to settle local gurdwara disputes in accordance with Sikhi maryada (code and conduct).
After Guru Gobind Singh ji, collective decision-making was the Sikhi tradition during the most challenging period of the 18th century. In Sikh affairs, the One and Only Sikh Leader is the Guru and none other. Interpretation of the wisdom of the Guru is collective through the institution of the Panj Pyaray. There is no scope for individuals claiming community leadership or representation.
The consequences of ignoring such incidents, as the one at Southall, which shook the Sikh world, can be far more serious than sometimes realised. Much has been achieved regarding recognition of Sikh kakaars (article of faith) and the dastar (Sikh turban). Organisations have worked hard to get official guidance introduced for the wearing of the kakaars in public places. However, when Sikhs themselves feel no shame in knocking off dastars, then there is also a danger that kirpans might be used in the heat of the moment when some self-righteous individuals start believing that they are doing all this for the Guru and the Panth!
The emotive language used by even Amritdhari individuals defending and even imposing certain ideologies in TV shows, is worrying. Much that has been achieved can be lost in a very short time.
SIKH COUNCIL UK
The establishment of the Sikh Council UK as a national platform gave us an opportunity to review the most important issues which concern us as a distinct religio-social community.
In January 2014, the Council did receive formal Adesh from Sri Akal Takht Sahib to set up the necessary mechanisms to settle UK disputes while referring the more complex issues to the Takht with recommendations. There is no reason why that authority should not be used to set up a Gurdwaras panel or board under the auspicious of the Sikh Council UK.
Ideally, the local gurdwara management and Sangat (holy congregation) should be able to resolve most issues. There have been times when Gursikhs nominated from the Sangat as the Panj Piaray have settled such issues. In fact, that is the ideal Sikhi way in most cases. Local Guru-ki-Sangat is a powerful Sikhi miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) institution.
LATITUDE FOR PARCHARAKS, KATHAKARS
There is no ordained priesthood in the Sikh religious tradition nor are there any formal qualifications for a person to perform religious duties. Parcharaks and kathakars are Sikh exegetists who have similar roles. A kathakar interprets a text, usually from the Sikh holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, while a parcharak speaks to some religious topic. Both use relevant quotations from Sri Guru Granth Sahib and other scriptures and anecdotes from Sikh tradition. The third category are the Kirtanias who sing the holy hymns. They too sometimes start a katha (exegesis) in-between singing. The same person may be skilled in the three roles and, also be a reader (patthi) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
The latitude and freedom which parcharaks and kathakars give themselves is wide. However, in recent times, due to ideological differences and conflicts in certain areas, parcharaks have come under pressure to follow stricter discipline.
For any guidance drawn up by a panel of scholars, the Sikh Reht Maryada (Code of Conduct) provides the basis. In a gurdwara, in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib before the Sangat (holy congregation), the sole purpose of katha, parchar or kirtan, is the exposition of Gurbani to promote understanding of Gurbani in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru’s tenets. In this context, the Guru’s tenet would be any principle, doctrine, or dogma held to be true by the Sikh religious tradition and based on the study of Guru history over the period 1469 to 1708 (Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh).
To quote the Sikh Reht Maryada (Article XIII): The exposition can only be of the ten Gurus’ writings or utterances, Bhai Gurdas’ writings, Bhai Nand Lal’s writings or of any generally accepted Panthic book or books of history (which are in agreement with the Guru’s tenets) and not of a book of any other faith. However, for illustration, references to a holy person’s teachings or those contained in a book may be made.
Regarding Kirtan: In the congregation, Kirtan only of Gurbani (Guru Granth’s or Guru Gobind Singh’s hymns) and, for its elaboration, of the compositions of Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal, may be performed. (Article VI)
No discourse contrary to the Guru’s tenets should be delivered inside a Gurdwara. (Article XIV).
The way forward would be to agree guidance which restricts katha and parchar in the gurdwara to a more disciplined interpretation of the Sikh Reht Maryada.
Open seminars, discussions and presentations can be held in halls adjoining gurdwaras or elsewhere.
The Sikh Council UK has Sri Akal Takht approval in principle to facilitate the necessary processes in the UK.
This article, which first appeared in Punjab Times recently, has been revised for Asia Samachar.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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