By T Sher Singh | Opinion |
In homes that have the wherewithal, Sikh families strive to set aside a room for prayer, contemplation and meditation. In daily parlance, it is referred to as ‘Baba ji da Kamra”, literally, the room of divinity.
It usually contains only a handful of items, but I am overwhelmed by the layers and dimensions of the Sikh way of life they convey.
The focal point of it all is Guru Granth Sahib, our one and only Scripture. No wonder that many Persian scholars have referred to us as The People of The Book, even though the abrahamic faiths also lay claim to the moniker. For Sikhs, though, our scripture is not only The Word but our entire lives revolve around it. It is not merely a ‘Book’, for us it is our Teacher. Its contents represent the living embodiment of our Gurus.
Hence we treat it as a living presence. Given that, how would we behave if Guru Nanak was in our midst? We’d give him with the same deference as one does any royalty!
Which is exactly how we regard our Scripture. In accordance with that principle, we surround it with all the accoutrements associated with royalty. Not in worship but to convey respect and reverence. Think of how in our cultural tradition we bow before our parents, teachers and elders and touch their feet. That is why we bow (mattha tekna) before the Guru Granth Sahib.
Once we understand that, all other things in the room begin to have meaning. The palki is the throne … remember, royalty? The chandoa (canopy) that adorns the ceiling above the palki. The chhabba (jewellery) that hangs from it. The chaur (fly whisk). The rumalas (ornate fabrics) that adorn the physical Scripture.
The kirpan in the room is part of the royal presence. It is also symbolic of one of our primary terms for God (Waheguru) – Bhagauti, The Sword. That is, the sword of justice and compassion, the sword that cleaves truth from falsehood.
We bow in respect every time we enter this royal presence, and always sit facing it. (In a royal court, you’d never sit with your back towards the King, would you?) We sit cross-legged to ensure our feet are not pointing to the palki. We dress modestly and we keep our heads covered; we leave our shoes outside … Again, all for the same reason: we are in the presence of royalty!
The ultimate purpose of it all was to wean us away from idol worship: there could be no other higher or equal personage in the presence of a King and Emperor. All submit to his suzerainty. Hence, there was to be no place in a Sikh home for idols. Their absence was to remind us, inter alia, that we don’t worship Guru Granth Sahib, we learn from it. And then try to live by the teachings.
There is absolutely no ritual involved because there is a reason behind all that we do. We remember these reasons each time we enter. And we ensure that we convey them to our children.
T. Sher Singh is a writer, editor and publisher at sikhchic.com. The Sikh media portal, now undergoing a major overhaul to bring it up-to-date with the latest gadgets, aims to be up by Spring.
Guru Granth Sahib Ji: Pride of the Sikhs (Asia Samachar, 9 Oct 2020)
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