A US-based Sikh was recently declared “tankhaiya” (guilty of religious misconduct) for making unilateral changes to the text of the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS). Karminder Singh Dhillon answers five questions to help readers to better understand the issues at hand.
What exactly did Thaminder do to invite the wrath of the Sikh authorities?
He is said to have published (online) a version of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) within which he has made changes to words – particularly their spellings and grammar. His stated justification is that the prevalent versions of the SGGS contain numerous errors that need correcting. He has gone on record for saying he has brought the matter to the attention to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) and Akal Takht on many occasions and no remedial action was forthcoming. He thus went ahead and did the changes on account of his group – the Sikh Book Club.
What are your views on what he did?
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.
There are two SGPC reports to this effect. The first report was composed by a ten-member committee headed by Prof Jodh Singh which sat from 1951 till 1959. This committee discovered 733 errors in prevalent versions of the SGGS after comparing them on the benchmark of the Kartarpuri Beerr. This Beerr, also known as Pothi Sahib was edited by Guru Arjun and is in the script of Bhai Gurdas. The SGPC accepted the report and made the 733 corrections in the versions that are printed from the SGPC press in Amritsar.
The second report was commissioned by the SGPC in 1976. A three-man group of researchers comprising dedicated researchers Randhir Singh, Gyani Kundan Singh and Gyan Singh produced a comprehensive report in 1977 that discovered more discrepancies. This report has not been acted on by SGPC. No reasons have been provided for the non-action by SGPC on its own report.
Subsequently Gurbani scholars such as Joginder Singh Talwara, Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jagtar Singh Jachak and Gyani Gurbachan Singh Bhindran have written books pointing out the discrepancies. No action has been taken by the SGPC and Akal Takht on the exposures that are the subject matter of these writers.
Having said that, and recognizing the sensitive nature of the subject, it must be acknowledged that the task of remedial action is not that of an individual or any one institution. It is the task of our Panthik organizations namely the SGPC and Akal Takht.
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. 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.
Have the Sikh bodies – SGPC, Akal Takht Jathedar, etc – acted appropriately?
Apart from acting on the 1959 report, the SGPC and Akal Takht have done no more than sweep the issue under the rug. The 1977 report was published by the SGPC but never acted upon. The research of the other Gurbani scholars on the matter has been ignored. This lack of leadership on the matter is a pain point for those within the Gurbani community who want the right thing to be done.
On the matter of Thaminder, the SGPC and Akal Takht has acted in ways to expose their inherent weaknesses, their inability to respond to needs of the Panth and their hypocrisy. Apart from declaring Thaminder a “Thankhiya” the SGPC and Akal Takht have offered no solution to the root problem. This is what I mean by lack of leadership. In doing so, the SGPC and Akal Takht have turned a blind eye to the most sensitive issue concerning Gurbani and the SGGS. This is what I mean by the inability of the SGPC and Akal Takht to respond to the pressing needs of the Panth.
The hypocrisy part needs mention, too. The Dera Chowk Mehta, led by Harnam Singh Dhumma has done exactly what Thaminder Singh did. Under the name of Damdmi Taksaal – this dera has published their own SGGS with hundreds of changes and alterations. Not only was no action taken against this dera, there was no mention whatsoever of Dhumma’s version of SGGS in the Akal Takht announcement pertaining to Thaminder Singh on 3rd of May. What takes the hypocrisy to a low ebb is that Harnam Singh Dhumma participated in the deliberations of Akal Takht within the Panthik gathering of 3rd May and condemned the actions of Thaminder Singh. In essence then, he condemned himself and his own actions – knowing fully well perhaps that he was not going to be held accountable. This is what I mean by the hypocrisy of SGPC and Akal Takht.
Could this matter have handled differently? How?
Had the SGPC and Akal Takht done their work and carried out their responsibilities towards ensuring the integrity of publishing the SGGS saroops in a timely manner, this problem would never have arisen.
Now that two organizations – Dhumma and Thaminder – have gone ahead to publish their own versions of the SGGS – complete with all sorts of alterations – the right thing to do would have been to sanction both, call for a halt to similar actions – and most importantly – promise action on behalf of SGPC. A statement to the effect that the 1977 report pertaining to discrepancies within the prevalent saroops of the SGGS would be implemented now would have been the right thing to do.
In acting in the partisan and biased manner as they did, the Akal Takht and SGPC have lost a great deal of credibility. They have both lost a considerable amount of trust and confidence of the Sikh Panth. By not displaying an urgency in taking charge of the matter, the SGPC and Akal Takht have shown that they actually have no solution to offer the Panth. In the Akal Takht decision to punish one and let the other off the hook, they have put their hypocrisy on display for the Sikh Panth to see.
There is a strident call to revert to printing of larrivar format of the GGS. What is your response to this?
Such a call is made by persons who are ignorant of the simple fact that even larrivar format is subject to discrepancies and errors.
The first handwritten larrivar copy of the Pothi Sahib was done by Bhai Bano of Gujrat. This version contains numerous discrepancies. Baba Deep Singh is said to have done four copies in larrivar of the Damdmi Beerr. These copies are available at Akal Takht, Patna, Anandpur, and Damdma Sahib. Researchers who have compared these Beerrs have shown that all four have numerous discrepancies that have been recorded in the 1959 SGPC report.
Beyond that, reverting to larrivar is a step backwards when it comes to getting the Sikh masses to read the SGGS on their own. As it is, even the padsheyd (non-larrivar) is already a challenge for most ordinary Sikhs.
If we somehow reverted to larrivar – only the clergy will be able to read it for us and to us. In doing so, we would we have taken away the Gurbani reading rights of ordinary Sikhs. Worse, our saroops would still have all the discrepancies and errors that exist today. So what would we have resolved?
The issue is not that we have the wrong formats, printing styles or binding. The issue is we have errors and discrepancies that have crept in through the process of printing, typesetting, and publishing. These errors and discrepancies must be remedied. And our Panthik bodies must do it.
Grappling with Guru Granth printing errors. Thaminder takes the hit (Asia Samachar, 7 May 2022)
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