BEDTIME LURE – a dialogue
– Adi Granth, the First Book , what I call Book-guru because it is a person, is an anthology compiled in 1604 under the supervision of Arjun Dev, the fifth guru of the Sikhs. He edited it with the help of other learned men. Gobind Singh, our tenth guru, expanded it in 1706. It contains more than 6,600 poems and couplets, forming a formidable tome of 1,430 pages. Two years later, in 1708, he designated it as his successor.
– Why a book as a successor?
– You can say it was God’s wish. It happened that a few months earlier two of his sons were killed in a battle against the Mogul army supported by Hindu rajas. The local Muslim governor then captured the remaining two younger sons, aged seven and nine, and after torturing them, beheaded them. There was no one to continue the line.
– Didn’t he have a daughter?
– No. Anyway, a woman has never become a guru.
– Tradition. Do you know a woman in India or anywhere else in the world who has risen to that eminence?
– I can think of Mary, mother of Jesus and Meerabai.
– Not in her lifetime. The latter was relegated to a minor saint. A proposal to include her hymns in Book-guru was turned down. The authors of all religious literature are men. Book-guru is no exception.
– Why didn’t Gobind Singh follow Nanak, the first guru, who had designated his ablest disciple as his successor?
– I believe Gobind Singh was hard-pressed from every side. He was left with a handful of companions chased by Mogul forces. Not only was it difficult to choose someone, he must have realized that in a family succession he could not create the just society he wanted. So designating the Adi Granth as Book-guru was a logical decision.
– Did people accept it?
– For some sixty years it remained the Adi Granth. Then the followers began to address it as Guru and added words of respect: Sri, Sahib and Ji. So, I’m not wrong in calling it by the name of a person: Book-guru.
– But, unlike the Bible, the Koran, and the Gita, it’s our eternal living embodiment of a guru – our burning light.
– I realize that. That’s why we address it as Maharaj and Patshah, true emperor. We seek blessings directly from it. That’s why we drape it in the most expensive clothes, wake it up in the morning, place it on a raised decorated dais, put it to bed in the evening and symbolically feed it, just as the Hindu sects indulge their statues of gods and goddesses.
– Be careful, the Sikhs don’t like to hear that.
– You think they’ll brand me with a fatwa? They can’t do that. I have read such views expressed in the Punjabi newspapers. Many universities, researchers and knowledgeable people condemn the absurd rituals and beliefs that Book-guru wants us to do away with.
– Few people know what Book-guru says because they do not understand its language.
– I’m sure the illiterate public of the fifteenth and sixteenth century understood the language of Book-guru’s songs. Otherwise why did they write? I think it is easier to understand it today. I have seen high-school children in the village with their Punjabi textbooks which contain many of the Book-guru’s songs. Its language is no more difficult than the language of Shakespeare and other English authors that children learn in school.
– All our children want to learn English. They are reluctant to use Punjabi and Hindi because they want to pass the exams which are set in English. I understand what you are saying. We are knowingly losing our way. Yet Book-guru’s poetry is easy to understand once you begin to study it. It’s rhymed, musical and metrical, arranged in musical scales to be sung in any place at any time. These songs connote a relationship with the divine that has no limit. It is love for its own sake, typical, sane, reasoned, rational and level-headed.
– That tells a lot about your Book-guru. Its songs assert that the guru in the book is neither the book, nor the words, nor the songs, but the ideas they express. If you do not know these ideas, you cannot learn from the guru. Book-guru says: The Word is the Guru and the Guru is the Word. Often we interpret the Word in a narrow way to mean the writings in Book-guru. They forget that Word is a universal all-encompassing idea of Nam, Name, which expresses the essence of God, the Flow, its vital energy, information, knowledge, interactions and interdependences. The Flow itself is the true Guru. The most striking thing is that it does not contain any fixed doctrine or dogma other than the idea of a supreme power.
– Nor does it frighten us with hellfire. It does not claim that it is the only source of ethical intuition.
– I agree with you. Book-guru’s ideas are rational and applicable even today, except for some aspects which reflect the social customs of old times. By contrast, the Hindus and Muslims have an unsolvable problem with their scriptural ideas resulting in irrational practices such as caste discrimination and according women a lower status. The Sikhs do not have such problems. Their problem is that they are unable to put them into practice. As a consequence, their social behaviour is irrational because they continue to follow some of the despicable Hindu and Muslim ways.
– Certain practices have become part of us. They cannot be wrong.
– Like what?
– The fuss we make over Book-guru. I went to the gurdwara for the evening prayer. At the end, the priest recited a short prayer in an incomprehensible mumble. Why was he in such a hurry? I assumed that Book-guru must be tired, having endured three days of uninterrupted reading. With utmost respect the priest wrapped Book-guru in white underclothes and covered it with a silk cloth. The Guru Maharaj was ready to retire to his sleeping quarters. A hefty male devotee aided by two assistants reverently placed the Book-guru on the priest’s turbaned head. He walked carefully to the bedroom while we respectfully chanted Waheguru, Waheguru… You can see this ceremony on the Punjabi TV channels.
– Why does it trouble you? It’s so calming.
– I do not deny that. But I’m curious about the role of women in Sikhism. I haven’t seen them perform this ceremony. Does Book-guru forbid them?
– There isn’t anything like that.
– Then is it dangerous if women put Book-guru to bed and one of them quietly stays behind? You know what women are like.
– What are you implying?
– You see, people believe that Book-guru is living. Don’t you see? The presence of a woman alone triggers a delicate situation.
– Book-guru is above all that.
– Then why isn’t a woman allowed to carry Book-guru on her head?
– You’re asking for trouble.
– You do not want to admit that it’s sex discrimination or fear of temptation.
– How can Maharaj be tempted?
– I remember the story of the famous Hindu Rishi, holy man. Deep in the Himalayan forest, he sat in meditation under a banyan tree. He remained in a profound transcendental trance for many years. He survived on air. All the celestial gods became alarmed that if the Rishi acquired too much power, they would be obliged to submit to him. After much pondering, they worked out a plan to break his trance before he reached the divine state of a god. They sent down a ravishing damsel who was an exquisite dancer. The seductress was instructed to perform in front of the Rishi. I have seen Bollywood films emulating this scene innumerable times, with a busty, hip-swinging dazzling girl in glittering outfits hiding very little of her body. This heavenly damsel appears in front of the meditating Rishi, and the forest awakens to the sound and beat of heavenly music. The damsel begins her slow and erotic dance. The rhythm quickens to an orgasmic pitch. The Rishi does not budge. The dance reaches its peak, emanating electric-laser shafts of light penetrating the Rishi’s head. He opens his eyes, shooting back flames of anger. The seductress is unperturbed and stares back. The man is so mesmerized by her beauty that he gets up and starts to dance with her, and they slip out of sight into the forest.
– You mean Book-guru might wake up!
– Do you know that women are not allowed to sing Book-guru’s songs in the Golden Temple?
– That’s correct, I never thought of it that way.
– That reminds me of the Greek hero Odysseus. He was forewarned of the beautiful sirens living on an island. With the sweetness of their songs and charm they would lure him and his sailors, use them and then destroy them. Their ship approached the island. The sea was calm, the perfumed air conveyed celestial music to their ears. Odysseus quickly plugged the ears of his seamen with wax. He instructed his crew to bind him to the mast and whatever he might say or do, not to untie him until the island was out of sight. Hearing the ravishing song, Odysseus was hypnotized and struggled frantically to free himself. He screamed, he cried and made signs to his men to untie him. Instead, they bound him tighter and the ship stayed on course. The music grew fainter until it could not be heard. Odysseus calmed down and stopped struggling. All were saved and the ship reached home safely. So you see why it’s dangerous to listen to women singing.
– To conclude, what you are saying is that in male-dominated Sikh society, Book-guru can do nothing, the principle of equality between the sexes is still to see full implementation.