In this article, I’d like to make an attempt to share my observation about how and why our Sikh community is struggling to connect with themselves and with Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS).
If you noticed, in some places, the younger generation, the millennial seem to have lack of interest with what’s going on in their local gurdwaras. Many who do make an effort to attend the gurdwara functions are probably there because they either were invited by a friend or they’re attending a wedding ceremony. Of course, the crowd is mesmerizing espeicially during Gurpurabs but honestly, who goes to the gurdwara to connect with the Guru?
I personally know friends who would attend Sunday gurdwara to enjoy the sumptuous meals (langgar) and to socialize and catch up with gossip and friends. We Punjabis love to chit-chat. Looks like this situation is becoming pretty apparent in both large and small town gurdwaras. Have you noticed, whenever there is a ‘satsang’ (congregation), you will hardly see any youth or children sitting upstairs in the ‘darbar’ (main hall) listening to ‘kirtan’ or ‘katha’ attentively?
Do you know, some gurdwara management have completely shut down ‘satsangs’ ? Because they are claiming that the number of turn ups are so low that it does not justify the cost for running the satsangs. Apparently, in smaller towns, where the number of Sikh families have dwindled to a handful are saying they’ve NEVER experienced a ‘satsang’ program. Most attend the regular Sunday gurdwara function but most say, their gurdwaras are no longer having any programs. This is probably due to low counts of sangat but the matter is deeper than what appears to be. To make matters graver, many youth have left their hometowns and gone to bigger cities to further their studies or to secure higher paying jobs. Many of these youth have confessed that they simply do not have time or interest to go to gurdwara.
What is the root of all this?
From what I’ve observed, there maybe a few reasons as to the root of this disinterest. One, most youth CANNOT understand or speak Punjabi!
Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), as you may already know, is a collection of shabads written and sung by six out of the ten Sikh gurus. Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, and Guru Teg Bahadur. It also contains compositions of thirteen Hindu saints and two muslim poets. Guru Granth Sahib is written in deep profound poetry and in many different languages and script. For example there is the Gurmukhī script and Lahnda (Western Punjabi). Other languages such as Braj Bhasha, Khariboli, Sanskrit, Sindhi, and Persian are also present.
Most children and youth these days tend to communicate mainly in English or Bahasa Melayu (here in Malaysia). Punjabi is hardly spoken. Have you noticed, whenever there is a gurdwara function, the granthis or ‘parcharaks’ (preachers) tend to communicate fully in Punjabi? Their explanations of the meanings of the shabads sung or ‘sakhis’ told are always in Punjabi as well. Its not that they deliberately do not want to communicate in English, but sadly, most of these granthis, can’t! Most, if not all of these granthis and parcharaks come from Punjab, India and sadly, they have not been trained to communicate in English. So, that’s one major issue. Communication barrier.
To make matters worst, most gurdwaras these days seem to have invested in laptops, screens and projectors. Great! We need to be at the forefront of technology. But here is the thing. Many, if not all the gurdwaras all over the world have installed a software called Shabad Guru. Whenever a ‘raagi ‘(singer) is singing a particular shabad, the English translations and transliterations are being projecte on the screen. You might be wondering, “what is wrong with this? Isn’t this good?” My answer is: No! Not really.
Shabad Guru and most other Gurbani-English softwares out there have derived from one of the earliest ‘teekas’ (translations) called the Fareedkot Teeka. This ‘teeka’ is NOT an accurate representation of Gurbani.
Let me quote Dr Karminder, PhD Boston’s words here,
The first translation of the SGGS was undertaken in 1883 by a group of Benares educated Nirmalas. The outcome was the Fareedkot Teeka – known after the rulers of Faridkot state who financed the venture. For all intents and purposes, the Fareedkot Teeka succeeded in making the SGGS appear as the fifth Vedas. It did so by a variety of ways but primarily by ignoring the revolutionary reinterpretation of pre-1468 spiritual concepts by the writers of Bani; effectively reverting unique Sikhi concepts back into Vedic, Puranic and Brahmanical ones.
Many aren’t aware about this fact but true enough, the Nirmala Hindu priests were financed by the rulers of Faridkot and they went all out in trying to position Guru Granth Sahib as the 5th Vedas. They have deliberately misinterpreted Gurbani to match their Brahmanical scriptures and ideologies with the sole purpose of derailing the authentic concepts and philosophies of Sikhi. That is probably why, many of the shabad translations we find today in softwares and apps have a slant towards the Hindu ‘mat’ (way of thinking).
Dr Karminder further pointed out saying,
They (the Nirmala priests) did so by disregarding the juxtaposing of Vedic myths within the compositions of the SGGS. The Fareedkot Teeka thus effectively converted the Vedic myths into Gurbani reality. It further did so by giving literal meanings to the spiritual idioms deployed abundantly by the writers of Gurbani while critiquing the clergy of existing spiritualties; effectively erasing the critique while giving credence to the clergies’ ways instead.
Gyani Gurmukh Singh of the Singh Sabha Movement – a reform initiative aimed at cleansing Sikhi of Udasi, Nirmala and Vedic influences – stood in opposition to the Fareedkoti Teeka. But he was excommunicated by the Akaal Takhat leaders and jathedaars who had – together with a majority of the other leaders and granthis – were either unaware of the infusion of Vedic stuff into Sikhi or knowingly closed an eye. Who know?! For all future attempts in translating the SGGS (including into non-Punjabi languages), the Fareedkot Teeka has regrettably stood in as the standard reference point.
One shabad at a time
Kindly forgive me for having say this, but today, you will find only a handful of Sikhs in the world who are truly interested in wanting to know the true meanings of Gurbani. The majority of us are content with our ‘ritualistic’ ways and beliefs. We are happy giving alms (donations) to charities and gurdwara ‘golaks’ to expand the buildings but have forgotten about internalizing Gurbani. That the true alms or donation is to rid ones mind from evil thoughts, ego, pride etc and to live a life of virtuosity – Godly values and virtues.
This can ONLY be achieved if one understands the ways of our Gurus, within Gurbani there are profound messages for all of humanity’s problems. We need to move up and away from just bowing in reverence to the ‘saroop’ (physical form of Guru Granth Sahib) and start bowing to the wisdom and ultimate knowledge of life which is contained within the pages of Guru Granth Sahib.
My wish for the reader of this article is:
Take one shabad, any shabad per week and make an attempt to read and contemplate on its meanings. Most importantly, take your time and read every line, word by word. Get the correct English translations and get yourself a Gurmukhi- English dictionary. It will help in your understanding of Gurmukhi especially for those of us who can only speak, read and write in English. Because, without contemplation, there is NO understanding of what needs to be done. Sikhs are not sheep that will just follow others.
Guru Nanak says,
ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ਗਹਹਿ ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵਾ ॥ ਮਨਿ ਤਨਿ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਅਭਿਮਾਨ ਅਭੇਵਾ ॥੬॥
Sabadh Veechaar Gehehi Gur Saevaa || Man Than Niramal Abhimaan Abhaevaa ||6|| (SGGS:906)
It is with contemplation and understanding of Guru’s Shabad, one is considered to have performed the truest seva. With this way of contemplation, one’s mind is satiated and becomes pure and ego/ pride within begins to depart.
So, lets start doing the ‘right’ thing. Let’s start to internalize and get connected with ourselves first. Let’s stop looking and searching for that ‘magical pill’ that will solve all our problems. There is NONE!
Let’s take ONE shabad a week, read it with full understanding and then try to apply the concepts within it. It’s not that difficult. You got to just put some interest in it. Things will definitely fall in place. That’s what happened to me. Stop doing everything ritualistically. We eat, pray and sleep ritualistically. Why live ritualistically? It’s never going to do us any good except give us a ‘feel good’ experience. That’s all! Most likely balloon our pride and egos through the roof. Put your utmost faith in the teachings of our Gurus. Sikhi is a beautiful and practical way of life!
Ask yourself, how is your way of life? Is it making you better? Closer to God realization? Giving you more peace and happiness? If not. Stop! Think. Then move ahead. Let’s change ourselves and our stubborn ways first, and only then, share it (not impose) with our loved ones. We’ve become accustomed to living our lives ritualistically. We are taught from young, never to question. Why not? Please ask questions! Be brave to voice out and hopefully a significant change can happen and we can connect more within and internally.