SIKHS THE SEEKERS
(This piece on the introduction of Sikhs was written for Australian and New Zealand papers)
A foreigner visiting Australia would always have ample free time. For me it is an opportunity to overhaul my body with walking and exercises.
Walking along Gympie and Webster Road of Brisbane has become my memorable experience for the amusement it gave especially in the evenings. Often the passerby's, mostly the workers returning from their daily chorus, would hoot with waving hands, "Hi", "Salam" (Muslim greeting) and "Marhaba" (Arabic: How are you). Of course my amusement would vanish when some one will cry out, "Hi Osama." What I mean to say while on road I am misunderstood as a Muslim.
All this has raised my curiosity to know how much do common Australians know about Sikhs. I would thus often ask students and elders if they knew why I have turban and intact hair. Mostly I would get encouraging replies. However some would say, "We know Muslim priests are supposed to support beard and wear turban."
Today (April 13) being Sikh festival day : Vaisakhi, I thought of writing a few lines about Sikhism and Sikhs for our Australian citizens.
Sikhs are a microscopic community in India just about 1.5% of Indian population. Of course they are scattered the world over but their homeland is Punjab province which is on the western border of north of India.
A province with the name of Punjab is also there in Pakistan. In 1947 AD when the British were leaving India, communal violence broke out which claimed one million people and worst ever migration in human history. Punjab was then bifurcated into Indian Punjab and Pakistan Punjab. Muslims migrated to Pakistan side while Sikhs to India. 26% of the total Sikh population had to immigrate.
About 300 of their holy places were left in Pakistan including the birth and last place of the founder of faith. Incidentally the last abode of Guru Nanak (Kartarpur) fell right on the border and is visible from Indian side. For the last 70 years Sikhs daily pray for visit and upkeep of shrines many of these have since vanished. Indian Govt has not approved the Pakistan offer of free passage to kartarpur.
Sikhs are distinct in appearance with a turban on their heads. Turban is simply a cotton cloth of one metre by about 6 metres. Sikhs are prohibited to shave/cut hair of any part of body. Ideally they have flowing beards but many fix it with glue in a smart way while some defiant young men have trimmed beards as well. But a Sikh would not in any case shave his moustache alone unlike their Muslim brothers.
Male or female, a Sikh would invariably wear a steel bangle on the right wrist. Every Sikh male name has suffix of 'Singh' and female 'Kaur'.
A Sikh woman likes to wear salwar-kameej-chuni (salwar -baggy trousers, kameej-shirt, Chunni or dupatta-scarf to cover head and breast) Here the Sikh woman's dress is very much like her Muslim sister's but the Sikh woman would not hide her face unlike the Muslim woman.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 AD) who travelled far and wide (as far as Rome, Iran, Iraq, Uzbekistan, China, Lanka and of course whole of India) to spread his concept (gospel). Nanak was followed by 9 more Gurus the teachers.
Interestingly the emblem of Sikhism is digit one (1) in Punjabi (their language) to symbolize that the entire universe is one.
Further the concept of God in Sikhism is also very interesting. Sikhism believes that 'Truth' is the most appropriate name for God. It believes that consciousness of man (of course all living beings) is nothing but God minus mans ego. It believes that ego (which means human weakness of sex, anger, greed, attachment and pride collectively known as haumen) separates man from God.
Perhaps to simplify we can give example of various electric gadgets and current. Like gadgets lose importance without electric current similarly living beings are nothing without God. But Master of the Universe the God in Sikhism is immortal, all pervading, omnipresent, everlasting and beyond the concepts of time, space and matter.
Some of the peripheral or superficial features of Sikhism are identical with Islam and Hinduism. Since it believed that we (all living beings) sprouted from the same source and that our strength the God is one the Hindu concept of divisions of high and low (casteism) among the human beings stood repudiated in Sikhism. It believes that God deliberately created variety and thus we should not hate unbelievers (kafirs of Islam) It also believes that we should not hate even the evil doers (like thieves, murderers) as it is the God himself that created such characters in society. Sikhism believes that world is like a drama and repeatedly reminds the Sikh that one day you will have to go.
Praises to God (Naam Japna), Labour (Kirrat karna), and Sharing (vand chhakna) are three pillars of Sikh thought. It is for this reason that every gurdwara (Sikh church) has a 24 hour free kitchen attached to it.
Guru Nanak's teachings raised lot of curiosity and discussion in Indian system. Some of the complaints against founder were considered so serious that Nanak was arrested but later released on the orders from then Mughal Emperor Babur. So much so three successors of Guru, 5th, 9th and 10th in order were executed by the respective rulers. On one occasion even the infant sons of 10th Guru were also executed.
A sympathy wave thus arose as a result of which Sikh state came into being with the support of Hindus and Muslims. The Sikhs roughly ruled in Punjab from 1865 to 1849 AD. Some British contemporary authors have written that the Sikh state never awarded capital punishment to any body and female literacy rate was better in Sikh state than in Britain. The British annexed Sikh state after 2-3 wars
Interestingly later however the Sikhs supported the British to curb mutiny that broke out in 1857 AD. As a result of which the colonial British relied heavily on Sikhs even during WW-1 and 2. Following this the British had to face criticism of Hindu and Muslim leader, "The British are behaving like the 11th Guru of Sikhs." However the British couldn't help the Sikhs while leaving India because there hardly was any area where the Sikhs enjoyed majority. Sikh thinkers are however critical that the Sikh leaders of the day didn't play their cards well.
After India's independence, unfortunately Sikh relations with the Indian state have mostly remained strained culminating in the unfortunate events of 1984 AD when Sikh centre the Golden Temple was stormed by army and thousands of Sikhs massacred in Delhi and elsewhere.
Under these circumstances the Sikhs are virtually fleeing India and at places adopting even unfair means to get immigration to western countries like UK, Canada, Australia, USA, New Zealand etc.
|Author : B.S.Goraya|
Unfortunately the present position of this simple community and naïve community is not very rosy. According to 2011 census the Sikh decadal growth rate has alarmingly come down to 8 per thousand against Indian average of 18. The Sikh percentage in Punjab population has come down by 6% in 20 years (1981 to 2011). Thinkers fear that Sikhs will soon become a minority in their homeland Punjab also.
Vaisakhi is the Sikh celebration day. The founder Guru was born around Vaisakhi. It was on this day the 10th Guru formally declared in 1699 AD that Sikhism is a separate religion independent from Islam and Hinduism. A some kind of militarisation of the faith took place. He defied the Hindu order that the low caste (shudra) can't have arms and ride a horse. He asked his followers not to lay down life meekly before the tyrant and rather fight to death. It is for this reason that some Sikhs called 'Khalsa' are carrying symbolic sword till this day. It is however to their credit that sword has never ever been used as a weapon of offense.