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Dr. Jeevan Deol's Speech regarding Canadian Sikhs!!!


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Dr. Jeevan Deol's Speech regarding Canadian Sikhs

One day a Sikh came to Guru Har Rai, the seventh Nanak, to find the answer to a question that had been eating away at him for a long time. He had been reading and reciting the Gurbani, the Gurus’ compositions, for years, but he didn’t really understand what it meant. Was he doing something that would help him to develop spiritually, or was he just wasting his time?

The Guru was silent. The next day, as he rode out hunting, the Guru pointed out to his followers some abandoned potsherds. In the bright mid-day sun, the shards glistened with the traces of the butter that they had once held. Just as the butter remained on the potsherds and was visible by the light of the sun, the Guru told them, so too would the essence of the bani adhere to their hearts.

Guru Har Rai is remembered for a great many things, the most striking of which is his love and respect for the bani of his predecessors as Guru. Many of the stories about his life highlight the ways in which he so touchingly showed by example and by allegory this reverence for the greatest treasure of the Sikh heritage.

I’m supposed to talk to you tonight about the traditions of Sikh scholarship and about our reverence for the greatest symbol of those traditions, the Guru Granth Sahib. I freely admit that I can’t even pretend to begin to do that; there’s just too much to say. Let me just give you the most impressionistic of sketches here.

In addition to its devotional message, the Granth Sahib enfolds within itself not only accomplished and polished poetry but also nearly the entire range of contemporary north Indian musical traditions, from classical genres to Punjabi folk forms. The court of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, produced under his patronage a varied and accomplished body of poetry that easily rivals the literature produced at other royal courts in north India at the time.

Contemporaneous with the lifetimes of the later Gurus, the Sikhs began to produce sakhi compilations, combining commentary on compositions from the Granth with narrative representations of the central importance of Guru Nanak to the Sikh faith. Through the eighteenth century, these developed into full-blown commentaries on scripture, and were augmented by accounts of the lives of the later Gurus and histories of the community. The same period saw the flowering of the sumptuous traditions of book illustration that are so strikingly represented in the early illustrated janamsakhis.

With the rise of Sikh rulers in Punjab at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, royal patronage led to a veritable explosion in scholarship, learning and teaching. Sikh writers produced texts in just about every genre and in Punjabi, Braj, Persian and Sanskrit: commentaries, love stories, works on poetics, histories, dictionaries and erotic manuals. Strong traditions of Sikh scholarship centred themselves around bungas (residential institutions) at major Sikh shrines, deras and chains of transmission from vidya guru, or teacher, to disciple. These writings, and what was transmitted through teaching, centred themselves firmly in the Sikh spiritual universe but also took from and engaged with the broader intellectual universe of the Indic world—its metres, myths, commentarial tools and artistic traditions.

When this world came to and end with the establishment of British rule in Punjab, this world of scholarship changed forever. Much was lost, but much was also gained: the coming of the printing press meant new audiences and exciting new changes in ways of writing and thinking. The beginning of the twentieth century was one of the most intellectually fertile periods we have known: its writers created editions of key texts, investigated major historical problems and frankly debated in public issues that we are afraid to touch on today.

We have a long and great heritage of learning and scholarship of which we can be justifiably proud. But since the end of the fertile period of the 1920s and 30s, and certainly after partition and the loss of Lahore in 1947, with some very few exceptions we largely began to abandon scholarship, and art and the life of the mind. The most poignant symbol of this, I think, is that by the 1960s, we had knocked down all but one of the bungas around the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar that had for so long been the centre of Sikh intellectual and cultural life.

Only now, in India and in the diaspora, are we slowly starting to value these things again. But it’s still slow going, and neglect and apathy can’t be swept away in a single flick of the wrist. It still pains me to see how much thinking and writing and painting and filmmaking goes on in the rest of the world, while we continue to fail to really encourage a Sikh life of the mind. It is the efforts of people like the Centennial Foundation that will start to show the way forward.

As I look out over all of you tonight, I see a few hundred amazing stories—of backbreaking effort, selfless sacrifice and opportunities seized with fervour. Those of you who came to this country to make your lives also made for us a community and handed us an opportunity beyond measure. We have all travelled so far from where we began—and not just in the physical sense.

But the real advantage and opportunity of Canada—for those of us who now have the leisure to enjoy it—is the world of choices and freedoms and debates and free thought that is at the heart of the cultural life of this country. Canadian Sikhs have begun to engage with politics and to play a major role in building this country, but we have failed signally to make the chances for growth and renaissance that the life of the mind offers into a part of our Sikh culture. We’ve taken the easy, unchallenging path towards stagnant complacency, blind conservatism, and the mute expectation that ‘the old country’ will guide and lead us.

Let’s turn our backs on now on what we haven’t done, and look to what we can do. Like our forebears, we need now to draw on the cultural and intellectual milieu in which we live. Let’s build on what have done and become. Let’s use who we are and where we are to become better, and stronger.

We have the opportunity to encourage culture, the arts, and the life of the mind within our Sikh culture here in Canada. And we must not waste this opportunity; it will only come once.

We will have to work hard, and things won’t happen overnight. There is a great deal to do—but also an incredible storehouse of talent and goodwill with which to remake and revitalise ourselves.

We have right now the chance to truly make a Canadian Sikh culture, one grounded in the reality of who are and what we want to be in this country. The chance to find and value, for the first time, the things that will truly help us to understand our world and make our way through it. And to give us a pride in ourselves that we will have truly earned.

The sun is shining, and if you look carefully you can see the butter glistening on the potsherds. It’s all there within us, waiting to be discovered and energised. More than five hundred years of art, culture and tradition have left their subtle traces on us, and its is now up to us to draw on that inheritance and make something new.

Now is that moment in the history of our community where you—each and every one of you—decides who you are and thereby who we are. Whether we recognise it or not, this is the passing on of the torch, the juncture at which we as a community either take up the responsibilities concurrent on our privilege and advantages or cease to be who we are. The opportunity is ours, and the future is ours. Only we can decide whether we want to make that future as Canadian Sikhs or not.

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