Terminology confusion amongst Sikhs

When I met him, after childhood, I called him, affectionately, ‘Nana Ji’. He stopped me right there. With a big smile he said, “Kaka, sare mainu Bhaji sadh-dhe nay. Tu vi mainu Bhaji sadh.” (All call me Bhaji. You too call me Bhaji.) - DYA SINGH


By Dya Singh | OPINION | 

I am always bemused and frustrated at times how we have problems with Sikh terminology and even have disagreeable arguments about it. I shall dive straight into some.

1. Our Fateh

Our formal ‘fateh’ is Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh. Very good. A formidable statement. And those who go on stage or announce it on tv/radio programs have different ways of saying it and different lengths of time to say it in, and different emphasis points, because it is the moment the speaker wishes to establish his ‘presence’.

Some can be either very irritating or amusing! (Let us dabble in some introductions by speakers on gurdwara stages – the simple one being Paramsatkar Gururoop Sadh sangat … etc., Guru fateh saanji keeriyay etc. then the full fateh. I have actually clocked one speaker taking a full four minutes in completing his introduction, mainly extolling the virtues of sadh sangat and the lofty status of the fateh in very elegant flowy language! Especially because he had been given 10 minutes to speak which of course then never happens. He probably has by then forgotten what he wanted to say and needs time to get back on track inevitably going way over time!)

In private some say Sat Sri Akal and some get told off for saying Sat Sri Akal. (Oe puri fateh belah!) God forbid if he or she then turns around and says HELLO!

Sometimes when multiple speakers are answering a question say on a panel, all you keep hearing again and again is prominent full fatehs – “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!” Normally without much other content. All the time is taken up with Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh. My point is: Can we, sometimes, when it is appropriate to perhaps shorten like a westerner might say “Hello” before speaking or a quick Good Morning or Good Evening etc.?

How nice it would be if a Sikh speaker one day just said a quick “Gurfateh Ji” and moved on with what he or she really had to say! At Sikh youth camps and samelans we take it one step further – first the speaker says it and then the sangat repeats it! I once floated the idea of a half-fateh where you just raised one hand and just said ‘Fateh!’ to the consternation of the traditionalists. The kids loved it!

I know nothing is going to change, but I shall state my views anyway. Maybe the younger generation might read this!

2. Vesakhi Day

Bless us, we are divided about how to ‘say’ this most important of days in the Sikh calender. I have been told off for saying Happy Vesakhi (also spelt Vaisakhi) because it is Khalsa Sajena Devas! Or is it Utsav? Quite a mouthful! It is also Amrit Sanchar Devas. I am certain there are other names. Why don’t we all just call it Khalsa Day?

3. Asa Dhi Var or Asa Ki Var?

From time immemorial (my lifetime that is and before) I have, my father has, and every venerable Sikh sage I know, has called it Asa Dhi Var. Gutkas say Asa Dhi Var. Now we are being forced to call it Asa Ki Var. I almost had an unbelievable disagreeable disagreement with a very close friend because he became angry that I still call it Asa Dhi Var. I tried to defend my saying it, and he got angrier. I was wrong!

Some, I am very certain, bright scholar has discovered, that it is called Asa Ki Var in the Guru Granth Sahib index and must have made a big argument for changing saying it to Asa Ki Var. My contention is: that the Asa Dhi/Ki Var is not compiled as one unit in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). Someone, sometime, somewhere compiled it as one and called it Asa Dhi Var. I am used to Asa Dhi Var. So, what do I do? I now call it Asa Dhi/Ki Var to keep my friends happy, or perhaps rile them a little more. I just make mention the silliness that we have amongst us about such small matters.

4. Gurpurab

I have always been under the impression that Gurpurab is the birth celebration of any of our Guru Ji’s except for Guru Granth Sahib whose presentation is called Parkash Dehada, Parkash Devas or Parkash Purab. Now just to confuse matters Gurpurab is slowly being changed to GurParkash or Gurpurab Parkash and believe me there are other names being used, and Devas also becomes Dehada!

I am still a little uncertain what the 550th birthday bash of our beloved Baba Nanak is called and how many times that will change as one vidhvaan tries to outdo the next in naming this very auspicious day! Well, a very Happy 550th birthday my beloved Baba Nanak!

5. Varsi

There is strong opposition to the word Varsi (also spelt Barsi) from many mostly ‘dharam-dhe-thekedar’ type Sikhs (those who believe that they are exponents in Sikhism). WE DO NOT CELEBRATE VARSI’s! So, the more saner ones try to skirt the word by using others for the same thing, like Yaadgar Dhin, sorry Dehada or Devas, etc.

In Malaysia, we have a famous ‘Varsi’ – that of Malaysia’s celebrated Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji. It is known throughout the Malaysian Sikh world affectionately as ‘Melaka Varsi’ or simply as ‘Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji Varsi’. A recent Asia Samachar post proclaimed – The ‘Malacca Barsi’ which is now officially called the ‘Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji Salaana Semagam’ … etc. I bet there are those who will not be happy with that and will hope that Baba Sohan Singh Ji’s name is removed from that altogether!

6. Nanak

Finally, I make reference to the many many prefixes and suffixes we use to pay respect to important personalities especially our Guru Ji’s. For example ‘Dhan dhan Paramsatkar, Jagdhi jyot, Hazra Hazur, Jahra Zahoor, desan Patshahian dhi Jyot, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj! Sorry, I forgot to add the ‘Ji’ at the end!

I have had bitter complaints of referring to Baba Nanak as simply Nanak in some writings or even in workshops. There are those who expect me to at least write or say Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji every time I mention his venerable name. My respect for Nanak is just as much as anyone who calls him dhan dhan Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji Maharaj. In fact, I think I probably have a more intimate relationship with him than one who uses lofty formal prefixes and suffixes.

And There Are More

I am certain you can think of many more instances where we use different titles and prefixes and suffixes and make life more complicated. I love my grandchildren calling me ‘Nana!’ for example, rather than Nana Ji. I think I have a more intimate relationship when they cutely say ‘Nana’. I used to be called Veer Dya at ‘camps’ 40 years ago which changed to just Uncle and now to Nana. I thinnk I have a more intimate relationship with youngsters when they just call me Uncle or Nana. Yes, I called my father Bapu Ji and I will not go as far as some western families where mum, dad and even grandpa and grandma sometimes, are called by their first names!

I had four Mama Ji’s and one Mama. The four Mama Ji’s lived in India and I had a formal relationship with them. My one and only Mama lived in Malaysia – father of former Malaysian hockey player Awtar Grewal. He was very very close and I called him just Mama.

My maternal grandfather (Nana Ji) was called Bhaji by ‘everyone’ and I mean everyone in his village! The village idiot, the children, the panchayat, the officials, the police, the Granthi Sahib, his own wife my Nani, his children, his grandchildren, all called him Bhaji and a more gentle and friendly soul I am yet to meet. I was 20 when I first met him as he lived in Punjab and I went to Punjab for the first time when I was 20. When I met him, after childhood, I called him, affectionately, ‘Nana Ji’. He stopped me right there. With a big smile he said, “Kaka, sare mainu Bhaji sadh-dhe nay. Tu vi mainu Bhaji sadh.” (All call me Bhaji. You too call me Bhaji.) He did not need superfluous prefixes or suffixes to be known. Bhaji was famous not only in his village but in all nearby villages. So is Nanak. And remember, a rose by any other name, smells just the same.

Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at dyasingh@khalsa.com

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



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    Parkash Kaur: We copied it from the Hindus😁 ‘Barsi ceremony, or Varsi, among Hindus is an important ceremony after death. It is observed after a year in Hindu religion – it is the first death anniversary. It is also known as the first yearly Shradh and is performed exactly after a year.’

    Jit Singh: Aside this the romanization does not adhere punjabi intonations. It automatically makes Punjabi into Hindi. Pai become bhai. Pagoti become bhagouti, tharm became dharam, etc etc. And so many vowels are added to makes the romanization a challenge to read.

    Jasmail Singh: It’s only a name, whether it’s called barsi or yaadgari, the sangat get together in remembrance of an event. Whatever it is, it’s done in the name of God and Guru.

    Gurcharan Singh: Seen and commented many times on this long hardous journey of fateh..it should suffice …by ..Gur Fateh parvaan krde /karo……instead of the long journey ..
    Seen the comedy of repeat long fatehs..on tv panels…
    Asa di ਦੀ var …..not Asa dhi ਧੀ…..var….
    ਧੀ, Dhi is daughter
    By the way, no such word as Varsi,ਵਰਸੀ …. it is barsi, ਬਰਸੀ i think Dya just cooked this up…😂😂😂😂
    Never ever heard even in Malaysia anyone say varsi
    The rest is with nothing to do Sikhs’ prolonged self exhibition of unettiqueted vadhoo boli jana circus
    By the way bhai is ਭਾੲੀ, not Bai, ਬਾੲੀ
    The second letter H denotes ਭ,ਚ etc
    Like Dhaliwal is not ਡਾਲੀਵਾਲ but ਧਾਲੀਵਾਲ….
    Daya is ਦੲਿਅਾ , not ਡੲਿਅਾ…..

    Kulwant Rekhra: Dya Singh ji has voiced out my exact thots!! I have always wondered…

    Parkash Kaur: ਗੁਰਪੁਰਬ gurpurb = commemorations(historical) in relation to the Sikh guru g’s including the guru granth sahib.
    ‘SGGS Gurmukhi-Gurmukhi Dictionary
    Purab. 1. ਪਿਛਲੀ, ਪਹਿਲੀ, ਪੂਰਬਲੀ। 2. ਸ਼ੁਭ ਅਵਸਰ (ਦਸ ਪੁਰਬ ਜਦੋਂ ਪਰੰਪਰਕ ਤੌਰ ਤੇ ਇਸਨਾਨ ਕਰਨਾ ਚੰਗਾ ਮੰਨਿਆ ਜਾਂਦਾ ਹੈ) ਉਹ ਹਨ: ਅੱਠੇ, ਚੌਂਦੇ, ਮਸਿਆ, ਸੰਗਰਾਂਦ, ਪੂਰਨਮਾਸ਼ੀ, ਉਤਰਾਇਣ, ਦਖਣਾਇਣ, ਵਯ ਤਿਪਾਤ, ਚੰਨ ਤੇ ਸੂਰਜ ਦੇ ਗ੍ਰਹਿਣ)। 1. earlier, prenatal. 2. festivals, auspicious occasion. 1. ਉਦਾਹਰਨ: ਤਿਸੁ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਜਿਸੁ ਪੁਰਬ ਕਮਾਈ ॥ Raga Maajh 5, 48, 2:2 (P: 108). ਉਦਾਹਰਨ: ਤਿਨਿ ਹਰਿ ਧਨੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਿਸੁ ਪੁਰਬ ਲਿਖੇ ਕਾ ਲਹਣਾ ॥ (ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਦੇ ਲਿਖੇ ਭਾਵ ਭਾਗਾਂ ਅਨੁਸਾਰ). Raga Aaasaa 5, 18, 4:1 (P: 375). 2. ਉਦਾਹਰਨ: ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨ ਸਾਚਾ ਥਾਨੁ ਤੀਰਥੁ ਦਸ ਪੁਰਬ ਸਦਾ ਦਸਾਹਰਾ ॥ Raga Dhanaasaree 1, Chhant 1, 1:3 (P: 687).
    SGGS Gurmukhi-English Dictionary
    [1. n. 2. n. 3. adj.] 1. (from Sk. Purva) glory, greatness. 2. (from Sk. Parvan) auspicious day, festival. 3. (from Sk. Pūrava) former
    SGGS Gurmukhi-English Data provided by Harjinder Singh Gill, Santa Monica, CA, USA.
    English Translation
    n.m. religious function or festival; fiesta, any festival or festive occasion.
    Mahan Kosh Encyclopedia
    ਸੰ. ਪੂਰ੍‍ਵ. ਵਿ- ਪਹਿਲਾਂ। (2) ਸੰ. ਪਰ੍‍ਵ. {ਸੰਗ੍ਯਾ}. ਉਤਸਵ. ਤ੍ਯੋਹਾਰ. “ਬਾਬਾ ਆਇਆ ਤੀਰਥ, ਤੀਰਥ ਪੁਰਬ ਸਭੈ ਫਿਰ ਦੇਖੇ”. (ਭਾਗੁ)। (3) ਦੇਖੋ, ਪੁਰਬੁ.’