Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rakhi: the Hindu-Sikh debate

archaran Bains Harjinder Singh Dilgeer You are great scholar of SIkh history, religion, ideology, philosophy and scriptures. therefore, i must sit on the ground before you and learn from you.

I have a few reservations on the questions you have raised. And in all h
umility, i wish to place these before you honestly and truthfully so that you can remove them or may be remove my misudnerstandings. 

About the Rakhdi practice, I have this to submit humbly: 

Because of the daily social interface between the Hindus and the Sikhs,some of their cultural symbols have got mixed up. But to react to these in extremes may be a little harsh.

After all, the brave people who responded to Guru's call to join his mainstream were all ( with just nominal exceptions that can be counted on finger tips) drawn from the Hindu community/ religion, even though the dominant segment of society at that time were the Muslims.

Its a little unfair not to remember this fact. 

Secondly, one of the main reasons for the spread of Sikh numbers was the custom in many Hindu families to baptise their eldest son as a Sikh.The Hindus did it as gesture of respect for the gurus and an expression of gratitude for their Sikh brethern who were also not Arabs, buut drawn from the Hindu society, as I said above, sir. Thus the bonds between the communities are not just skin deep. 

The Sikhs are a separate religion and that fact must be respected by everyone all the time. But to consider even common social customs as a threat to our religion is probably taking a hard ideological position which is historically indefensible and inconsistent with the brave liberal message of the great Gurus. . Can we deny that most of the non-Jat Sikhs still carry their Hindu surnames - like Bhatia, Arora, Bedi and so many others. In fact Bhai Gurdas ji also referred to these caste surnames in his unforgettable and immortal classic . Waaraan Bhai Gurdas Ji. 

Sir, the point you are trying to make is valid - that ritualism should be avoided and that the Gurus dismissed ritualism as superficial. This is very true.
At the same time, even today, one sees more ritualism in the observance of purely Sikh religious norms - as in the use of incense and holy jyot with desi ghee in our Gurdwaras or even at other places where religious services are practised. No Hindu comes to tell us to do it.We do it on our own. Even Guru Nanak Dev ji's immortal anti-ritualsitic but supremely lyrical and breathtakingly original hymn - Gagan mae thaal.." is sung in gurdwaras and other places by using lamps, incense, chawar and everything else which the hymn implicitly discards

Further, sir, In Western countries, the SIkhs routinely celebrate Christmas as devoutly and with as much enthusiasm and cheer as the Christians do. In some Muslim areas, the Sikhs join their Muslim brethern to perform all the rituals of Islam. This never threatens their Sikh ethos.

The reason for this is that the Sikh ethos and SIkh philosophy are so strong that they need not fear any threat from outside. Minor social customs like Rakhi can have little meaning in challenging the strong sikh beliefs. In fact, that is not even the intention. 

After all, which Sikh household does not celebrate Diwali or Holi and many other relgio-cultural events.?

But they don't observe Ram Naumi, Janam Ashtamai or Shivvratri because these are not cultural events. These are purely religious Hindu occasions and only Hindus observe them. You will rarely find a Sikh visiting a Temple on these occasions.

Rakhi , Diwali, Holi and few other festivals on the other hand fall more in socio-cultural than in religious zone.

Sir, the point really is that instead of being rigid on social customs, the Sikhs perhaps will do well to re-ignite their spiritual energies, and that is not done either by observing rituals or by rejecting them This falls in purely spiritual category. i\I am sure that all Sikhs know it and that is why they see no threat from socio-cultural practices common to them and some other religions. 
The reason why these social customs remain common in different communities is that the dominat catchment area for the Sikhs in early stages were the Hindu masses. Therefore some cultural memory is carried forward without violating religious convictions in their new religion- Sikhism. 

Now, rakhi - or rakhdi as we call it in Punjab - is not a religious ritual. Its a social custom. No social custom can influence religious and spiritual pursuits - neither positively nor negatively. Rakhdi can neither take us close to God nor away from Him. Its just a social thing..

The emphasis needs to be on spiritual awakening rather than on obsession with social customs - our own customs or those of other communities.

If we look at things from an extreme and rigid angle, then even the practice of Anand Karaj will be called to question because the great Gurus did not write those divinely inspired verses of union with the Nirnakar ( paya prabh abinashi) for something so routinely worldly and materialistic as marriage of male and female . The four laavaans are also a continuation of Hindu ritual with a minor change in number from traditional Hindu practice. In Gurbani they relate to a sublime experience. But we have reduced it to just a social tie up of two families based on purely material considerations and relating merely to boy and girl getting together to run a family. 
This is far far removed from what the Guru spoke on those breathtaking words of spiritually inspired moments.

Sir, the point I am trying to make is that the Sikh masses routinely observe social customs which have remained common in society. But where relgious customs are concerned, no SIkh will get mantras recited at his wedding, no Sikh observes Hindu religious dates such as Ram Naumi, Chaturthi, Janam Ashtami or so many other such events. There is no confusion in a common Sikhs' mind that he belongs to a strong and independent religion and its strngth and independence is not threatened by commonly observed social habits that have lasted since centuries>

In short sir, I think in line with open and non-rigid approach advocated by the Great Gurus, we may not take things to illogical limits in trying to distinguish ourselves from others.

In the end,let me point out a strong irony.The number of Hindus visiting Sikh Gurdwars is much, much larger than the number of Sikhs visiting temples. What does it mean? Are they more liberal and secular than us and respect our religion more than we respect theirs.If that is true, then we are going astray somewhere from the teachings of our Gurus.

These are some of the questions in my mind which I have humbly placed before a great scholarly mind such as yours. Please consider them. And if I am wrong - which is most likely - please touch these points one by one. i will be grateful.

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