Reignition of Dasam Granth controversy

Sadly today both sides of the debate have abandoned these important principles and adopted extreme positions

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By Gurnam Singh | OPINION |

The recent pronouncements by Indian PM Modi that Guru Gobind Singh has written ‘Gobind Ramayan‘ and former Jathedar of Takht Patna Sahib, Iqbal Singh, that Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh are descended from Lav and Kush, the twin sons of Rama Avtar, have once again sparked off debate about the status and authenticity of the ‘Dasam Granth’.

In his defense, Iqbal Singh argued that everything he said can be sourced to the ‘Rama Avtar‘ bani in the ‘Dasam Granth’, and technically Iqbal Singh is right. As for Modi, clearly somebody did his homework for him as indeed there is a composition in the ‘Dasam Granth’ called ‘Gobind Ramayana’ which is part of the ‘Bachitar Natak Bani‘.

Critics of Iqbal Singh (and Modi) seem to be divided into two factions. There are those who accept the Dasam Granth as the word of Guru Gobind Singh ji. They argue that the reference was taken out of context, and that Guru Gobind Singh, in his composition, explicitly rejects the Sanatan world view. This faction defends the text by claiming the true aim of Guru Sahib, in translating and interpreting the story of Rama in ‘Rama Avtar’, was to educate, not indoctrinate Sikhs.

The other faction rejects the authenticity of what they term ‘akhauti‘ or ‘so-called’ Dasam Granth. For them, this Granth has nothing to do with Guru Gobind Singh and Sikhism and has conspiratorily been implanted into the Khalsa Panth by Satanist elements with the expressed aim of absorbing Sikhism into the Hindu fold. They argue that Modi’s and Iqbal Singh’s statement forms part of a pattern and concerted attempt by the RSS to gain control of the Panth.

So where do I stand? Basically, as I have little knowledge of the Dasam Granth, I reserve judgment about its veracity and authenticity. However, I reject the idea that Guru Gobind Singh, who was a great scholar with a passionate interest in poetry, did not put pen to paper. And as for the various compositions in the Dasam Granth, whether they are the direct words of the Guru or of the may poets in his court, I must accept they are impressive compositions in their own right. Take, for example, the Akaal Ustat, which in many senses is a revolutionary text from where we get the lines, ‘Manas ki jaat sabh ekey pechanbo‘ or ‘recognise the human race as one’.

There are many many other examples from this text of beautiful and profound poetry. Therefore, I believe it is wrong to speak ill of this literary work. The way to respond to any literature, religious or secular, is not to condemn, but to read, understand, critique and learn. Book banning and book burning is characteristic of totalitarian states and hence has no place in Sikh principles of plurality, tolerance and learning.

But sadly today both sides of the debate have abandoned these important principles and adopted extreme positions. Some want to have the Dasam Granth banned and designated as an imposter Sanatan text. On the other extreme, by treating the Dasam Granth with the same level of symbolic reverence as Guru Granth Sahib ji, by placing it on a palki, doing chaur, performing akhand paths, taking hukamnama, prostrating before it, they are de facto designating it as a parallel granth.

There is so much polarisation and emotional investment that is it difficult to see how we can get out of this situation, not least because many Sikh scholars appear to have adopted rigid opposing positions. And of course, the ultimate danger is that if some kind of middle ground or third way is not found, then we could see a total bifurcation of the Panth, not dissimilar to the divides amongst Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and Muslims (Sunni and Shia).

In order to find a solution, albeit temporary, I think the former Jathedar of Akaal Takht, Joginder Singh Vedanti, who issued a sensible Gurmata (Resolution in the name of the Guru) in 2008 (reproduced here), offers a way forward. In short, the resolution emphasises the total sovereignty of Guru Granth Sahib Ji as ordered by Guru Gobind Singh himself in his proclamation ‘Sabh Sikhan ko hukam hei, Guru manio Granth’. However, it is also accepted that the Dasam Granth has an important and prominent place in Sikh literature and that nobody has the right to create controversy about those sections that have been approved by the Panth (panth parvanat bani) as prescribed in daily nitnem and Amrit Sanchar ceremony.

Diversity is a part of nature, and diversity of thought is essential for human progress. The same applies to belief systems and therefore we should not be surprised that differences exist amongst Sikhs; as they do amongst ALL other traditions. The vibrancy of a belief system is actually reliant on debate, dialogue and development of thought. In doing so one does not abandon source texts but prove their value in changing times. But this can only happen if we nurture the ability of ‘samvaad‘ and ‘goshti‘ (discussion and dialogue), something that the Sikh Gurus emphasied and practiced. If we can do this, then we will be able to overcome our differences; if we can’t, then conflict and ultimately schism is certainly a possibility.

[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk]

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

 

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