Reading for July-August: Asa ki Var

30 Jul

For the next reading, we have decided to read and discuss Asa ki Var. The primary reading would be bani itself and its translations. We meet on Aug 21 at Inderpreet’s house.

Primary reading:

To get started, a brief explanation and links to bani in Gurmukhi and its translation/transliteration in English can be found at this link on SikhiWikiwebsite.

Secondary readings:

1. Came across this piece on Asa ki Var by Manjyot Kaur posted on SikhChic. She wrote it coming out of Saneha, a seminar in NJ which was organized bySikhRI on the topic of Asa ki Var. Interestingly, Inderpreet facilitates learning about Asa ki Var at the Sidak leadership program by SikhRI and will be gone for the same this early August. Having him for this book club discussion soon after Sidak should be an incentive for many of us.

** We gather at noon and start with potluck lunch.

Dasam Granth Convo Continued….

30 Jul

Sarbjeet was correct in that this session led to more questions than answers! In my view, some of the most important questions that we left with were:

  • How well do we (or atleast I) understand those Banis of Guru Gobind Singh Ji that are not controversial (i.e. Jaap Sahib, Chaupai Sahib, and Svaiyay)?
  • Are their messages any different than the controversial parts?
  • Can I comfortably and confidently recite the most controversial ones in public?

I left the meeting with the embarrassing discovery of how limited my understanding was of the widely accepted Banis of Guru Gobind Singh Ji….And three of those Banis are supposed to be recited everyday!: Jaap Sahib, Svayai, and Bayntee Chaupai (which is part of Rehras Sahib)

This self-realization forced me to take a step back and try to understand the theme of each of these Banis. After CAREFULLY listening to the Banis (ok not on an everyday basis like I am supposed to) and after tapping into my dad’s knowledge of Gurmat, I really came to appreciate these Banis in a new light!

To me, Jaap Sahib, for example, is an expression of awe, love and admiration of the ONE almighty spirit and of HIS (or you can say HER) attributes. It makes me wonder, just how rarely have I said or thought “Vahiguru, you are simply awesome.”?  I know, that sounds corny, but its true! My interactions with Vahiguru mainly consist of me asking for something and on occasion thanking the Giver. But admiring or being amazed by Vahigguru, hardly ever! Guru Sahib’s bani is full of passion where he goes on and on about HIS greatness and feeling humbled by it.

On the flip side, the Guru Sahib focuses on our own minisculness in Svaiyaa and even more, about how the ONLY way to establish a relationship with the powerful ONE Vahiguru is through this love and passion, literally spelling it out for us “Jin Prem Keeo Tin Hee Prab Payio.” Actually, Svaiyaa I think is very relevant to our lives, though on the surface it seems it is no longer applicable to our culture. I mean, why would I care for having tons of elephants and bands, BUT in todays world, our definition of success is still determined by worldly possessions and accomplishments…(ie…money, best job, crazy huge weddings, etc) Or we follow rituals…by not understanding why we believe or doing what we do.

And then, there is Bayntee Chaupee, another bani that is recited everyday. Again, Guru Sahib is being humble, revering the one, but mainly in this Bani, showing how Vahiguru is that BEING from which we can find friendship and protection (not literal necessarily).

So, it appears that each Bani is centered around revering, loving, fearing, and befriending that one Spirit. The language of the Bani was composed with great vigor! I think that it is these aspects that make Guru Gobind Singh’s bani. It is this criteria by which we need to determine which sections of Dasam Granth are authentic. (and of course historical evidence should be considered)

Bhul Chuck Maaf! Feel free to let me know what you think!

A Dasam Granth Weekend

10 Jun

Lightning and thunderstorms late afternoon gave way to a tranquil evening when we gathered in Marlborough to discuss the readings on Dasam Granth (DG). The objective for the evening, we decided, was to identify contentious issues surrounding DG and organize them meaningfully to get a sense of the big picture and then, if time allowed, to delve  deeper into some of them.

So here is how we mapped our conversation on the whiteboard:

"Dasam Granth Controversy"

From the readings, we identified arguments about DG regarding its

  1. authorship
  2. content
  3. status in the Sikh society, and
  4. implications, if any, on Sikh theology as understood in SGGS

These issues, which at first seem independent of each other, later turn out to be interrelated. For example, those who opine that contents of Charitropakhyan section of DG are too sexually graphic in nature believe that the author may not have been the Tenth Master. Thus, the issue of content has a direct bearing on the issue of authorship. And questioning the authorship leads to questioning the status it should be accorded in the Sikh society.

1. Authorship: The dominant view in the community is that Dasam Granth is a text by Guru Gobind Singh and which was compiled by Bhai Mani Singh after Guru Gobind Singh’s death. Hukumnamas from Akal Takht on matters related to this issue endorse this dominant view. However, those disputing this stand claim that all sections of DG were not authored by Guru Gobind Singh but some might have been written by Hindu poets of those times.  Citing the lack of authentic historical evidence, these few also dispute the claim that all sections in the current version of DG were put together by Bhai Mani Singh .

2. Content: Around 15 sections comprise the text of DG.  Charitropakhyan section is the largest section with 7555  verses with tales illustrating moral and immoral conduct. Some find the tales and the language/imagery too graphic for it to be read and discussed in Sangat. Scholars have responded to such objections (example). Some have objections about other sections too (such as Bachitar Natak and Krishna Avtaars, the argument being that these are theologically inconsistent with SGGS).

What is interesting about the Charitropakhyan controversy is that English translations of Charitropkhyan are not easily available on the internet. Websites such as these that offer English translation of Dasam Granth, however, do not provide translation of the Charitropakhyan section. I don’t get it.

3. Status: Most agree that there should be no controversy about the status of DG in Sikhism and the controversy, if it exists, is a red herring. DG is a granth, a text, and not to be given the same reverence or status as that of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). Even Guru Gobind Singhji himself chose to not include this composition in SGGS, and strictly instructed Sikhs to regard SGGS as the only true guru after him. Two things confuse us about the status of DG in Sikhism. 1) Takths Huzoor Sahib and Patna Sahib have the prakash of DG in the same area as that of SGGS, and 2) daily, hukumnama is taken from DG too (in a manner similar to SGGS) accompanied by similar prakash and sukhasan. What message does this send to the Sikh masses?  Does this mean that DG can be revered the same way as SGGS? If not, then why doesn’t Akal Takht stop Huzoor Sahib and Patna Sahib from continuing the prakash of DG in the same area as that of SGGS?

Speaking for myself, our reading and discussion left me with more questions than answers.  More than the actual knowledge of DG – I had not read the entire DG – the readings made me aware of the discourse on DG in the Sikh society. And the way this discourse is shaping up suggests to me that the number of questions and number of people asking the questions about DG are only going to increase. Not all the questioning can be or should be construed as mischief by anti-Sikhism forces to create divisions within the panth. Many questioners I know are young, bright minds with enthusiasm and passion for Sikhi.

Hopefully, the next reading will not stretch for as long as this reading did. Is there a book or a topic on your mind you would like to suggest for the next reading?


Next Reading: Dasam Granth & the Controversy

19 Feb

At our last book club meet, we had decided the next reading would be on the topic of Dasam Granth.  (Rendering the topic timely is Akal Takht’s recent excommunication of Prof. Darshan Singh, raagi and ex-jathedar of Akal Takht, following the latter’s stance on and public actions related to Dasam Granth).

Links to some readings on Dasam Granth for our next book club meet are provided below. To ensure that we do not rely on commentaries alone for our knowledge of Dasam Granth but that we also read it ourselves, we have included link #4 below that gives access to DG (with English translation) on the Internet.


  1. Dasam Granth: Its history” An article by Daljeet Singh (pdf file)
  2. Dasam Granth (from the website SikhiWiki)
  3. Historicity of Dasam Granth” (A report from World Sikh News)
  4. Read Dasam Granth on the web (if this link does not work, try this alternative website)  (However, these two resources either do not provide access to Charirtopakhyan, the part of Dasam Granth that some find controversial, or if provided, the English translation of this section is missing. To read the English translation, follow this link that will take you the relevant page on the SikhiWiki website; once you reach that page, scroll to the bottom of that page and you will find links to English translation of Charitropakhyan) (Let me add here that this translation by Bindra is controversial; however, I could not find links to any other less-controversial translation on the internet. If you do, please post a link in the comment and we will look it up.)
  5. A website with extensive resources (articles, videos, etc) supporting the authenticity and significance of Dasam Granth

As with our previous readings, the purpose this time too is to get educated on a particular aspect of Sikhism – Dasam Granth – and we should take care to not get side tracked by controversies such as the one embroiling Darshan Singh’s excommunication.


Garland Around My Neck

24 Sep

We are meeting at Supreet’s apt on Oct 3 Oct-17 Nov-21 for the September book reading discussion. The book we are reading is ‘Garland around my neck’, written by Patwant Singh and Harinder Kaur Sekhon."Bhagat Puran Singh"

You can check out some reviews and summaries of the book here:

  1. On Sikhiwiki
  2. On SikhChic

Here is the link to the website of Pingalwara Society that Bhagat Puran Singh founded for physically and mentally challenged members of the larger society.

*Update: We are moving the meet from Oct 3 to Oct-17.  Some folks are still awaiting the book in their mail. Technically this becomes an October book read, I guess.

**Update 2: With Kirtan, celebrations, etc happening on the evening of 17th, the book discussion has been moved to Nov 21.  This reading period has really stretched out. For some of us who are wont to make excuses for not completing our readings, the extension rules out that excuse. 🙂

Agenda for the Discussion

20 Jul

We will meet at Milford Gurdwara this Saturday at 10:00 am for the discussion on ‘Singh Sabha Movement’. The discussion is organized in three parts:

1] The first part of the discussion is structured around the following topics:

  • Historical background

    Khalsa College - Founded during Singh Sabha Movt.

  • Critical events that spurred the movement (e.g., four Sikh students announcing their decision to convert to Christianity)
  • Some key people involved & their contribution (e.g., Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha – ‘Hum Hindu Nahin’)
  • How the movement unfolded
  • Differences within the Singh Sabhas (e.g., Amritsar & Lahore; retaining or rejecting Hindu practices at Harmandir Sahib)
  • The role of British govt. (help or impediment?)
  • Achievements of the Movement (e.g., paved the way for Gurdwara Reform Act, SGPC, Sikh Rehat Maryada, Khalsa College, etc)
  • Controversies/debates about the movement (e.g., ‘reformist’ versus ‘revivalist’ nature of Singh Sabha Movement)

2] The second part involves applying the above learning. It is centered around the question: how do we apply the lessons learnt from the Singh Sabha Movement to affect change in the current times?

In this breakout session we will split into groups; each group will:

  • Identify a problem area affecting the Sikh society.
  • Explain the problem. [Describe the problem, list possible causes of the problem, and the significance/need to address the problem.]
  • Suggest a plan of action.
  • Identify likely resistance to the proposed plan and what can be done about it.
  • Deliver a short presentation to the other groups.

3] Wrap up.

The Next Discussion is a Workshop

30 Jun

Some changes have been made to the format and venue for the discussion of the next reading, which is on the topic of Singh Sabha Movement. Instead of hosting the discussion at a participant’s place as we always do, this time we will have it at the Milford Gurdwara. And the discussion will be in a workshop format.

The idea is to tie the workshop with the July 19 talk on Sikh Rehat Maryada at the Milford Gurdwara. Sikh Rehat Maryada, in its current form, is one of the outcomes of the Singh Sabha Movement. So tying in our discussion with the July 19 talk makes lot of sense. Having the workshop on the Singh Sabha Movement before July 19 will provide a context in which we can better appreciate the talk on Sikh Rehat Maryada. And if the workshop is organized after July 19, we hope that the talk on Sikh Rehat Maryada will generate an interest amongst the sangat leading to a greater participation in the workshop, for which the Gurdwara seems a more appropriate venue.  Continue reading

Readings for June – Singh Sabha Movement

14 Jun

Readings on the Singh Sabha Movement.

  1. Singh Sabha Movement by Prin. Teja Singh (from the book, Essays in Sikhism) It is a small reading; don’t let the pdf file size (4.87 mb) fool you.
  2. Singh Sabha Movement by New England Sikh Study Circle
  3. Singh Sabha Movement by Gurdarshan Singh (Chapter from the book ‘History and Culture of Punjab’). Opens in Google Books. (This reading has got more numbers and dates than the above two have.)


KEY PEOPLE & THEIR WORK: Below are some links related to people who played a key role in the Singh Sabha Movement, their work and some key events that occurred during that period.

  1. A short write-up on Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha here and here.
  2. And on the book “Hum Hindu Nahin” by Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha written during the Singh Sabha Movement
  3. On Bhai Ditt Singh
  4. On Bhai Vir Singh (from SikhiWiki) (One of his works: Sundri)



  1. “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question 1884 – 1915”  – by Harjot Oberoi (At the heart of the controversy is his overarching thesis that Sikhs did not have a form and identity distinct from the Hindus until the Singh Sabha Movement).
  2. “Women in the Singh Sabha Movement” – by Doris Jakobsh (from “Relocating Gender in Sikh History”)
  3. “The Historical Roots of Sikh Communal Consciousness” – by Harnik Deol (from Religion and Nationalism in India: The case of Punjab)
  4. Singh Sabha Movement – A Revival” – by Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon (from the document put together by Sikh scholars across the world and submitted to the University of British Columbia).

Readings for MAY

18 May

To mark the 25th anniversary of Operation BlueStar (June 3, 1984), we are reading the following articles.

Main Reading:

The Golden Temple: Its Theo-Political Status (Sirdar Kapur Singh)

Supplemental Reading:

The Crisis of Akal Takht Sahib (by Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer)

This is a short piece about the role of Akal Takht. It does not provide answers or opinions on this issue but raises lots of questions that we can use in conjunction with the main reading.

Blues of the Green Revolution

16 Apr

“How can this happen to us?” is a typical initial reaction in the Sikh community on reading about farmers’ suicides in Punjab. “We in Punjab have led the way in agriculture. We were the ones who heralded the Green Revolution and built Punjab as the ‘granary of India’. We have shown the way to a prosperous farming. Surely, this can’t be happening to us.”

The relationship of Punjab with agriculture, of Sikh farmers with hard work and reward, of industriousness with prosperity is etched on our minds much the same way as the stereotypical relationship of makki-di-roti with sarson-da-saag.

So when we hear about thousands of debt-trapped farmers committing suicide in the prosperous Punjab, about the poverty and hardships their families face, about the refusal by the state to recognize these deaths as suicides, the symptoms of our grief are evident: we first experience  shock and denial, followed by pain and then anger, anger at the state for causing these conditions, at the moneylenders leeching on the farmers, and even at the  poor farmers for committing suicide. Which is all quite understandable as long as we don’t stop there but go on to educate ourselves on the issue and work towards the reconstruction.

Two events occurred over the last couple of months that has got some of us here in Boston interested and involved in this issue. The first was the set of readings on farmers’ suicides in Punjab, which we read last month in our Sikh Book Club. The second was a visit by Ms. Harman Kaur, a grassroots activist in Punjab working with rehabilitating those farmers’ families. She was here to present her work at Harvard University. I will share some information on each.

We get educated:

Last month, we read the report published by FoodFirst, an institute for food and development policy. The report, authored by Brian Newman, explored the darker side of the Green Revolution in Punjab, contending that the crises of farmers’ suicides in Punjab is essentially a product of the same processes which had in the first place so greatly increased rice and wheat yields. That is, the Green Revolution had sowed the seeds of the current economic and social crises in Punjab. The report identified the following three issues linked with the farmers’ suicides:   Continue reading