The Guru for the Planet or Just a Few?

Questions and dialog about the accessibility of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib to people of different languages, locations a...

It seems that one of the side-effects of having my family out of town is that I have a little bit more time to write on Recently I was talking to an older friend of mine who is a very servicefull "Khalsa Auntie". Over the years she has spent countless hours answering questions to hundreds of youth on SikhNet on all topics related to Sikhi. Recently she has been planning a new project. As many of you might know, there are many more people in the past 30 years that have started to adopt the Sikh lifestyle. Most of these people are not from Punjabi speaking countries so rely on translations of Gurbani since they know little or no punjabi.

In most of the Gurdwaras where I grew up in there has always been a regular weekly akandh path that would go on. Various sevadhars go around during the week with a sign up sheet inviting those people who wished to have the blessing of participating in the continuous reading of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. There was never any restrictions as to who could partake.There was no question about whether you were a "Sikh" or not, or could read fast, or even read Gurmukhi. Really anyone could take part that was called to do so. You didn’t have to be a "Sikhi Expert" or even a Sikh, so long as you covered your head, remoded your shoes and followed the guidelines for the Akandh Path.

My office SikhNet is right next to where the Akandh Path goes on, so I see and hear all the different types of people that participate in the Akandh path. I end up being the "first responder" most of the time when someone rings the bell during the day if they need assistance (normally if their replacement reader hasn’t shown up). It’s quite a blessing! (though with the new cameras in the Gurdwara, Mataji Gurumeher Kaur keeps a close eye on things :) 

Normally for an Akandh Path it would be completed in 48 hours (when done in Gurmukhi), however because of the diverse backgrounds of the readers the Akandh Path takes typically 72 hours. In our Gurdwara the Akand Path is read using 5 volume set (?) of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, which contains the Gurmukhi and English translation. So, normally reading the English translation might be the most read, and the base language, and those that can read the Gurmukhi can read that way (or go back and forth from the English to Gurmukhi). This is one of the many differences that has taken place to accommodate the growing number of "Sikhers" who are new to this lifestyle and from very different religious and cultural backgrounds. 

Ok, so back to my friend and her project. If any of you have read some of the English translations that were done in these older multi-volume sets of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, you would see that they are quite cryptic, old style english in their wording, and not very easy to understand. You almost need someone to translate the translations! There have been some newer English translations that are much more understandable and current with modern language, but they are currently only available in digital form.

So, a few Gursikhs have been discussing the plan of creating a new single volume of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib that would have the original Gurmukhi along with the newer and more understandable English translation. This would also make it much easier for people to read from the Guru without having to change volumes (which is particularly important in Akhand paths because it is a continuous reading. 

What’s the problem with doing this? I think it is an awesome project because it makes the Guru much more accessible and understandable to people, but people tell me that the current "rules" set by SGPC say that only THEY can print and distribute Siri Guru Granth Sahib’s. In addition to that rule, that it could not be a single volume of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib if it included English Translation. Don’t get me wrong, I understand where some of this is coming from, and have read about some of the mis-use and disrpect that some publishers have done. HOWEVER, I think many of the so called rules that come out of SGPC are very reactive in nature and don’t always address the big picture, or the needs of the times.

As we talked about this project many questions came into our minds about what is right and wrong. I quite frequently have people email me asking where they can purchase a Siri Guru Granth Sahib, so that they can have the Guru in their home. For the most part the only choice for people is to get multi volume sets (apparently there are different "rules" for those). If you can only get Siri Guru Granth Sahib’s from Punjab, what about the rest of the world? Do you have to have a rich person charter a whole plain to bring many volumes of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib to other parts of the world? What is the respectful way to bring the Siri Guru Granths to places far away? Is there any difference when having the granth in different sizes? Is it ok to "purchase" a Siri Guru Granth Sahib? It’s the Guru right…and one doesn’t "buy" the Guru? Do you get where I am coming from? There are so many contradictions and perspectives on this issue.

So many questions like these come to mind and there are no easy answers. As time passes the world changes and we have to figure out some of these answers as things change. 150 years ago we didn’t have Sikhs spread so far around the world or airplanes to travel. Just as the digital age brought Gurbani online in the internet form, we have had to figure out things along the way of what is respectful and proper. This will continue and we will have to figure out the answers along the way.

The issue with the current "system" is that it limits the accessibility of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. If I can only get the Guru in India, then how am I supposed to bring it back? In what way? If I printed copies of the Siri Guru Granth what would be right ways to do so? Does it have to be printed in a special facility? Does it have to be printed by Sikhs? One could potentially take this process to quite extremes, all the way to where tree for the paper comes from. I’m all for respect for the Guru, but many of these questions come into my mind in the search for a balanced approach. I don’t have the answer, but I do feel that the Guru should not be limited to certain locations and people. Every humble Gursikh who would like to have a small Gurdwara in their home should be able to.

The last time I was in Amritsar I was able to see some extremely old hand written Siri Guru Granth Sahibs in one of the buildings around the Golden Temple. There must have been over fifty or more of them, and they were stored in makeshift cabinets, wrapped up in cloth/ramalla. In general I have seen many places where the granth is brought in the Gurdwara in prakash, that that is sort of the "initiation" of the Guru in a whole different way then when it was stored elsewhere. There is a certain preferential treatment to the specific Guru that is in prakash in the Gurdwara.  At what point does it become the "Guru" that we all bow down to? As soon as the last page was bound when it was printed? When it is the "chosen" one and brought out in the Gurdwara? Also, what makes a five volume set of the Siri Guru Granth that is kept together different than a single volume? They are definitely treated differently (at least in terms of the printing/transporting).

I ask all these questions because they are important for us all to think about and consider.  Last year a Spanish translation of Siri Guru Granth Sahib ji completed by Babaji Singh Khalsa from Mexico. His life mission was completing this, and right before he passed away it was bound and printed into a single volume with Gurmukhi, Spanish Translation and Transliteration. This new Granth is very important to the growing sangat of Spanish speaking Sikhs who wish to read the original Gurmukhi and understand it in their own language. I remember when I posted some pictures of the Granth from Summer Solstice and getting a few emails from people saying that this was against the SGPC hukamnama.

Obviously the SGPC and most Sikhs are not aware of the needs of the growing Sikh community who are of non-punjabi origin, but they should know about the growing numbers of Sikhs that live outside India (many of whom grew up in western countries and don’t speak punjab). So not only do we have barriers of location, but of language and culture. We have to ensure that we go forward with this growing world in mind and adjust consciously to meet the needs of the times. Luckily most of us at least have the internet where we can read digital versions of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, however there is something very special and different about the physical form of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib that should be available to any Sikh.

As far as my friend is concerned regarding creating this new Siri Guru Granth Sahib volume with newer English translation, I suggested that it would be a better first step to print it in a two volume set (rather than one) to avoid some of the objections that might come up otherwise from some in Sikh community. In the end, whether it is one volume of the Granth or five, online in digital form, or recited from memory, the Guru is formless and beyond time and space. Guruka Singh explained it perfectly in his video titled "The Living Guru" where he answers some questions about the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

This year we celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib and I think it is a perfect time to start a dialog about these issues. I would love to hear ideas and comments on this topic! Please do share! (at the bottom of the article)

In the mean time I still have to deal with criticism about people’s opinions about whether a picture/painting representing the Siri Guru Granth Sahib that is posted on SikhNet is proper or not. Overall in all these situations it’s a matter of opinion and perspective, and these vary wildly! People see what they want to see and sometimes get caught up in that and loose the spirit of what the Guru is for us. This is how Sikh can go from a very open spiritual path to a judgmental critical rule book.

For those of you who stuck with me reading all the way to the bottom, here is a small gift for your listening and meditative pleasure (which you can listen to while thinking and writing your comments!).  This is an updated more finished version of an audio track by Balvinder Singh (Australia wale) which is titled "Light". The actual words are from the shabad by Guru Arjan Dev Ji: "Jo Mangeh Thakur Apne Thae". The vocals are by Harinder Kaur. You can hear some other music by Balvinder Singh that I have posted in the past.


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