Thaminder Singh (left) of Sikh Book Club. Right: Giani Harpreet (middle) making the ‘tankhaiya’ pronouncement from Akal Takht on 3 May 2022
By Hb Singh | Panthic Issues |
Sikhs around the globe have been jolted with news that a US-based Sikh had made unilateral changes to the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS). The issue moved into high gear when the Akal Takht intervened earlier this week, taking to task the alleged perpetrator.
On Tuesday (3 May 2022), Akal Takhat acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh pronounced US-based Thaminder Singh as “tankhaiya” (guilty of religious misconduct) for allegedly publishing online the GGS with the changes, including adding extra “lagan-matravan” (suprasegmental symbols of Gurmukhi).
In his defence, Thaminder and his team from the SikhBookClub.com claim that they were merely instituting changes to correct numerous printing errors previously identified by multiple committees under Sikh august bodies, but left unattended in subsequent printing of GGS saroops (as the copies are referred to) for many years.
So, this is not a case of some Sikh lone-ranger running amok with the Sikh scriptures. There is more than meets the eye.
Among the issues at play are GGS printing and publishing errors, published reports by committees pointing out those errors, inaction on the part of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), haphazard and careless printing of gutka (prayer books containing selected Gurbani portions) and sancheaa (GGS in parts, usually used for personal reading or contemplation) as well as making GGS copies easily available around the globe. And, as always, there is Panthic politics, with warring factions peddling their respective interests and potential selective prosecution.
Sikh Research Institute (SikhRi) senior fellow Harinder Singh succinctly captured the key issues in this tweet: “Adversaries & advocates aside, there are 2 issues: 1. We’ve known for 90 years that printed sarups/birs/copies of #GuruGranthSahib have inconsistencies. How to rectify amicably? 2. Who shall have authority to publish/print them and with protocols? And protocols for distribution?”
Those in the know will tell you that there are numerous printing errors in the GGS copies available today in gurdwaras and homes around the world.
“That there are errors and discrepancies within the prevalent versions of the SGGS is a fact that has been admitted by researchers and scholars – including that of the SGPC. My own research shown the same,” Sikh writer and speaker Karminder Singh Dhillon tells Asia Samachar.
Thaminder was acutely aware of the errors. The president of a US-based real estate holdings company is actively involved in Sikh affairs with his involvement at the SikhBookClub which provides PDF books on for free download. For over a decade, the portal has been also digitised rare Sikh books, making them freely available to more than160,000 active users, as claimed. At the same time, he is also involved in translating the GGS into other languages for seven years now. SGGSonline.com now carries GGS translations in Arabic, French, German, Telugu and Urdu, and are working on translating it into 15 other languages such as Korean, Chinese, Bengali, Malayalam and Italian. The group claims they provide copies of gutka in local languages to gurdwaras around the world.
As they undertook their voluntary work, they grappled with known GGS printing errors. They raised them to the SGPC, the Amritsar-based body which has taken the responsibility to solely handle printing of GGS copies. Nothing much happened. In a letter dated 22 March 2022 to the Akal Takht jathedar, Thaminder said: “Several of your committees over years and other organizations have reported printing lapses and errors and nothing was done over it. Jathedar Vedanti Ji and Bhai Talwara Ji and other honorable Sevadars had worked on removing these lapses from The Guru Sahib.”
People close to Thaminder and his team said they had also tried seeking permission to undertake the effort to make the correction themselves, but to no avail. Asia Samachar was not able to talk to Thaminder for his response, though he has released a number of statements on the SikhBookClub website.
After years of frustration, this must have led them to making the corrections unilaterally. However, they took one step more. They added “lagan-matravan” (suprasegmental symbols of Gurmukhi) to aid the correct reading of the GGS. This move will not sit well with most Sikh bodies, even those supportive of instituting corrections due to printing and other errors.
“While there is no denying that the intentions of Thaminder Singh and the Sikh Book Club are commendable, their decision to take the matter into their own hands and publishing their own version is difficult to support,” said Karminder, author of The Hijacking of Sikhi and a number of other Gurmat-related books. “The danger is that such action opens a flood gate of other organizations doing the same in future. In no time we will have a bigger problem on our hands.” he added. See full Q&A here.
The issue came to a head when the edited version of the GGS text was shared online.
In a recent appeal, Thaminder had noted that the Akal Takht jathedar is in a position to resolve the matter as he has access to Sikh thinkers and earlier reports. It is understood that Thamider was summoned to the Akal Takht on May 3 to put forward his case. However, he has cited ill-health for not being able to travel. It is understood that Thaminder had suffered two heart attacks in the past.
On the allotted day, a meeting of various Sikh groups was called at the Akal Takht. (Click here for part of the proceeding captured on the SGPC Facebook page.)
Some have questioned if the gathering was cross-sectional enough to discuss the issue thoroughly. “Those given time to speak were mostly in favour of the decision taken at the end,” a New Delhi-based Gurmat institution leader told Asia Samachar.
At the end, Giani Harpreet announced the following: “Thaminder Singh is held guilty of making changes in the Gurbani on his own. Considering the sentiments of the Panth, Akal Takht Sahib bans offline and online publishing of Gurbani by him. He is directed to appear before the Takht, give his explanation and disclose the persons behind him within a month. He is also directed to present related records at the Takht. Until he does it, he will remain a ‘tankhaiya’. All the Sikhs are directed to shun all kinds of relations or cooperation with him.”
Harpreet was accompanied by Takht Patna Sahib jathedar Giani Ranjit Singh and Takht Kesgarh Sahib jathedar Giani Raghbir Singh when making the pronouncement from the Akal Takht.
Some observers spoken to were aghast at the speed at which the decision was taken. A similar action – making changes to the GGS text – is said to have been undertaken by Damdami Taksal chief Harnam Singh Dhumma, who took part in the very proceeding that found Thaminder guilty.
“Is this selective prosecution?” asked the New Delhi based Sikh parcharak quoted earlier. “Akal Takht must not only dispense justice, but also to be seen to be doing it, as well.”
Excommunication and Sikhism: The case of Bhai Ranjit Singh Dhadriawala (Asia Samachar, 4 Sept 2020)
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