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?

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