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Is there any online site that offers advice from Sikh scholars?

For example, there are many Islamic sites where people can ask the imams or scholars certain questions about the religion, prayers, practices and basically anything.

It would be great if there was such a site for Sikhs to turn to.

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http://www.gurbani.org/ - although it lacks a q&a section or a forum, this website offers some very detailed vichaar of Gurbani shabds on numerous topics. I've included it b/c it may be able to answer some of your questions.

Regarding the Sikh-Diaspora group: There seems to be a lack of true intellectual freedom on that discussion group. I encourage you to read the following article. It is long but very interesting.

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Campaign to recast Sikh image by Sikhs of Diaspora

Disavowing the import of Baisakhi of 1699

Bhupinder Singh Mahal


An older son of a distantly related family, a few years my junior, once told me of an incident in his life that first made him realize what it was like to be a Sikh in diaspora. Taken, in the early 1950’s, as a child to London by parents seeking family’s economic well-being, he was speaking of his first day at an English primary school. Accompanied by the Headmaster of the school, as he strode past a bunch of boys milling about the quadrangle, he remembers hearing one lad say, distinctly, tauntingly, in a loud whisper, “He can talkâ€.

He excused the reaction of the young boys on the grounds that they were seeing someone wearing a turban for the first time, an alien and a strange sight to English boys growing up in the 1950’s in a borough on the outskirts of London, much like any rural youngster.

Being given a slew of nicknames at the English school came as no surprise. What was unsettling was the nature of the sobriquet (e.g Sindbad or Gunga Din) that made his turban the focus and his being a Sikh an issue.

However, he did not let the taunts about his identity shame him. And at no time did he feel that the turban was a cross to bear. Instead, he found comfort, strength and pride in his faith. Time would show that the turban was no handicap in building of his career that began with a technical apprenticeship and moved along to senior executive positions in some of the leading Fortune 500 companies.

In sharp contrast stands the case of a high school classmate of mine who proceeded to London for furtherance of his studies at an English university, at about the same time as the young boy referred to above was entering primary school. Within months of arrival he had the local barber transmogrify his well-groomed turbaned and bearded self into a clean-shaven countenance. A deed he would have recoiled from while under his father’s roof in Kenya, from whence he hailed. Decades later, he was to say that it was done on an impulse.

Although his beliefs were shallow-rooted, they were not a reason that led him to the barber’s chair. Maybe, it was time spent every morning grooming his beard; wrapping it in a muslin scarf (‘dhatha’) to maintain its shape; preparing his turban in layers; and, once every week, washing his long hair in the wash-basin of his cold and damp bed-sitter. Maybe, he did not want to look any different from others and was sick of all eyes being on him wherever he went. Maybe, it was an indirect prompting from a girl friend working as an au pair.

What prompted him to shed his hair was not that cut-and-dried. For a while he was conscience-stricken and he viewed it as a temporary measure believing that when it came time to return home he will grow back his hair. So, the deed was one of choice, not by the force of any external stimuli. If he had hoped for his altered visage to be an advantage, that didn’t pan out as he was to pursue a regular career for the rest of his working days in England.

Like two flowers that grew side by side on the same limb but were fated to end up poles apart: one strung into a garland worn by a bride (celebrating a long established tradition), the other placed beside a headstone (remembering a buried past); these two Sikh boys, too, were destined to take separate paths: one keeping his faith, the other disavowing it.

The moral dilemma that these two middleclass Sikh boys - both originating from the same town, with similar upbringing – were to face in England of the early 1950’s and tackle it contrarily is a struggle that myriads of other Sikhs were to face and resolve in their own particular way, over and over again in diaspora.

At the core of the struggle lie the questions of apostasy and who is a Sikh. The question of apostasy first raised its head following on the heels of the collapse of the Sikh empire. Hindus who had swelled the ranks of the khalsa to curry favour with the Sikh ruling classes were now abandoning the Sikh faith and in the words of Khushwant Singh “being reabsorbed into Hinduism (and, furthermore) genuine Sikh families who had cultivated close social relations with such Hindus either followed suit or became clean-shaven sahajdharis.†Matters were made worse by the proselytizing zeal of both the Christian evangelists and iconoclastic Arya Samaj, which was to accelerate apostasy among the Sikhs.

Arya Samajists saw Sikhism as an offshoot of Hinduism; Sikhs contended they were a self-evident entity; and, relations between the two curdled. In furtherance of their distinct identity, the Akali wing of the Singh Sabha movement immersed itself in repossessing their Gurdwaras from the control of the corrupt Hindu mahants. Regaining control of the temples from firmly ensconced mahants and their Hindu supporters was not all that simple as it often fomented stiff resistance and bloodletting.

The struggle was to climax with the passing of The Gurdwara Act of 1925, which listed the Sikh shrines to be set up under the aegis of the act, established criteria for judging what institution was or wasn’t a Gurdwara and inaugurated an elective pre-eminent Sikh body (now commonly known by its acronym SGPC). However, the act went much further by legislating the novel idea of defining a Sikh. That opened up the Pandora’s box, breaking loose the most vexatious and divisive an issue that will not go away.

Following was the litmus test for who is a Sikh as incorporated in The Gurdwara Act of 1925:

Sikh means a person who professes the Sikh religion or, in the case of a deceased person, who professed the Sikh religion or was known to be a Sikh during his lifetime. If any question arises as to whether any living person is or is not a Sikh, he shall be deemed, respectively, to be or not to be a Sikh, according as he makes or refuses to make in such manner as the Government may prescribe the following declaration: “I solemnly affirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in Guru Granth Sahib, that I believe in the ten Gurus and that I have no other religion.

Apparently, the prompting for defining the Sikh was to preclude Gurdwaras from being usurped in the future by Hindu mahants, which they once controlled and lost. The definition, therefore, was an essential prerequisite on two counts. First, it was to ensure that both the voters and the candidates for the elections to the SGPC would be Sikhs. Second, it was to facilitate an orderly and legally binding elections of members to the SGPC. But, curious is the anchoring of a highly pivotal definition on two words that are impotent and unenforceable: affirm (make a statement formally but not under oath) and believe (to hold an opinion; to accept as true).

So, all that was required to be recognized as a Sikh, was for one to declare oneself as a Sikh by virtue of one’s belief in the holy book and the ten Gurus. If the intent of the act was to safeguard Sikh interests from being hijacked, if anything, it invited inverse consequence. For instance, there was nothing to stop a defrocked mahant or to that matter any clean-shaven Hindu from claiming Sikh identity by subterfuge.

SGPC’s raison d'être was of a custodial nature: that of taking control and management of the Gurdwaras entrusted to it by The Gurdwara Act of 1925. The modus operandi of these Gurdwaras varied according to who (mahant ) controlled which shrine; liturgy, in some instances, had taken on a Hindu flavour. Essentially, therefore, Rehat Maryada was born of the need to promote uniform standards of conduct, observances, practices, rules and procedures in keeping with the Sikh spiritual and social philosophy.

At the same time SGPC needed to develop its own governance policies, for example, to set standards of eligibility for appointment to elective offices. One of the crucial elements for eligibility was to define the voter in a way that would ensure that the governing body is composed solely of bona fide Sikhs.

Towards that end, SGPC was to hone The Gurdwara Act of 1925 definition to discourage electoral fraud. It was to embody the definition in the all-encompassing religious manifesto known as Rehat Maryada. According to it:

Any human being who faithfully believes in one immortal being, ten Gurus from Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, the Guru Granth Sahib, the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.

The definition was more in keeping with a procedural mechanism than establishing a religious model. It was meant to curb voter abuses such as experienced by Justice Harbans Singh, as Chief Commissioner Gurdwara Elections in 1978-79 and again in 1996, when he observed that “Under the garb of ‘Sehajdhari Sikh’ persons not entitled to meddle in the affairs of the Gurdwara, got themselves included in the list of electors (including some who were) habitual smokers, - and even some Muslims – by filing false declarations under the Actâ€.

A Sehajdhari is someone akin to a catechumen in Christianity, a religious sophomore. He is a seminarian who may have ambivalent feelings about the strength of his commitment. He does not know if he can hack it and graduate and join the ranks of Kesdhari . So, why on earth would a Sehajdhari actively seek a position for which he is not qualified? Who will in his right mind seek guidance from a Sehajdhari , the student? How on earth can one allow a Sehajdhari , the neophyte, to occupy a position of authority that dispenses guidance to its followers? These rhetorical questions are cautionary, illustrating the dangers lurking in the Sikh institutions getting hijacked by renegades.

Few, if any in the general Sikh community, knew about the Act or its criterion and that probably explains the absence of brouhaha over the definition. Only those who are politically savvy and have set their sights on a seat on governing bodies like the SGPC are the one’s who know the ins and outs of how to make the definition help them in their quest. Thus, the definition was of no bother to anyone except the Gurdwara functionaries or those seeking elected office.

The definition lay dormant until Prof. W.H. McLeod made an issue of it in his essay titled “Who is a Sikh?†in the late 1980’s. His assertion that “the Rehat Maryada, the standard manual of Sikh doctrine and behavior, provides a succinct answerâ€, the underpinning of his argument, will not stand scrutiny on examination and is untenable.

The Rehat Maryada, meaning literally a desirable way of life, is a repository of “moral or religious rules or social conventions, which inevitably embody subtle nuances of a religion's metaphysical, moral and social philosophy (and) for ensuring uniformity of observances and avoiding unintended heresyâ€, so says SGPC. It is not, and cannot be, described as a manual of doctrine, given that according to the religious lexicon, a doctrine is “a belief or set of beliefs, especially religious, taught and accepted by a particular group; a body of ideas, particularly in religion, taught to people as truthful.†These beliefs or body of ideas are enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, buttressed by the Janamsakhis, other literature, utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus.

Prof. W.H. McLeod raises the issue of the uniformity of Sikh identity by claiming that the Rehat Maryada “glosses over complexity, skirting essential issues and reducing diversity to a single simple model†. Certainly, Sikh religion, just like Christianity or Islam, is entangled by inconsistencies and the unexplainable. However, complexity is a modern day concern, arising largely from the sea change in attitudes and mores that are more relaxed today than at the inception of the faith; and, even more so because of the interplay between the staggering scientific advances, the urbanization of humanity and the rapid pace of globalization. People have become more self-centered and materialistic and less spiritual and that has resulted in a collateral dilution of personal character traits such as discipline, duty, obligations, selflessness and the like.

Take for instance the Papal encyclical on birth control and natural regulation of birth. By and large Catholic couples observed the decree and it was only following World War II that we see the advent of transformed family life. The role of woman the mother had rapidly metamorphosed into woman the wage earner as women entered the labor market in increasing numbers. Pregnancy and staying at home to nurture the infant child were seen as income penalties that adversely impacted on the standard of living of the family.

So, instead of observing natural birth control, which at times was a case of a hit or miss, couples resorted to the more certain and full-proof alternative of artificial contraception. Hence, the change (alternate decision) is based on material well-being and not on a moral imperative; the change is driven by selfishness and personal comfort. Sikhs are no different. Some are known to resolve their moral dilemma by allowing selfishness and personal comfort to get the better of their moral obligations (e.g cutting hair). To paraphrase Shakespeare, “the fault lies not in our religious philosophy, but in ourselves.â€

Equally perplexing is McLeod’s exaggeration of the apparent notion of “diversityâ€, which is how he describes the nomenclature of Sikh identity. Broadly speaking, in human and sociological terms, diversity denotes gender and racial ethnicity. These are constant and unchangeable features of life. That is to say there is absolute permanence about one’s gender or racial identity. The same cannot be said of the diversity that Prof. W.H. McLeod calls “alternate Sikh identitiesâ€; “identities†which are not cast in stone and whose fluidity depends solely on the believer.

It is not unusual for a person to take on different identities in the course of his life. Because each identity is a preferred state by an individual (e.g mona) that he can as easily shed in favour of another (e.g Kesdhari ). So, the question is not that Rehat Maryada reduces “diversity to a single simple model†, as Prof. W.H. McLeod contends, as it is a matter of “a single simple model†(Kesdhari ) being dismembered into diverse entities. (Note: Prof. McLeod’s “alternate Sikh identities†is now the vociferously stated policy of a particular Sikh discussion group about which more will be said a little later).

A Sikh was first defined on purely secular grounds. For example, the legislative instrument (1925 Act) supervising the compliance is a not an ex-cathedra religious encyclical. It is the product of parliamentarians, religious laymen. For another, its purpose was for orderly and legally binding elections. Its contravention did not impose temporal penalties and even if it did it will have been monetary, unlike impiety that may result in religious sanction.

So why is McLeod so deeply preoccupied with defining a Sikh in religious terms and terms corresponding with the degree of a person’s piety, namely: khalsa, Amritdhari, Sehajdhari , Patit and mona. (Note: His attempt to associate incongruous add-ons of Nirankaris and Namdharis as sectarian sects is, to say the least, a hazardous proposition.)

The schematic diagrams that McLeod uses to illustrate “alternate Sikh identities†in tiered fashion - which he calls “scattered items†- are difficult to decipher. Whether the “clean-shaven or trimmed Sikhs of Southall or Toronto†can call themselves Sikhs, he believes “depends on the individual’s antecedents or on continuing contact with the gurdwaraâ€. That gives an enormous degree of latitude to an individual who voluntarily chose apostasy. Cassandra-like he then adds: “Sikhs will continue to cut their hair, leaving us with the problem of how to frame a definition which accommodates the strict khalsa and those who set aside the Rahit†.

Reality is that those who violate the religious dicta do so because, unlike the Catholic Church, Sikhism imposes no perpetual penance and excommunication on an individual found guilty of voluntarily abandoning the faith. It is this absence of spiritual penalty that some appear to exploit.

And, in the next breath McLeod upholds that, “Those who decline to accept the basic requirements of the Rahit can still be accepted as Sikhs, but only on the understanding that they are failing to discharge their customary duties†. By definition, “basic requirements†inherent in the Rahit will constitute the more important dictates but not necessarily all. Kes will certainly be a basic requirement though amrit not so. Hence it follows by extrapolation that the form of kesdahri is, even in McLeod’s view, a minimum requirement.

The path to the state of amritdhari is a single path with several milestones along the way. The pilgrim (the kesdahri) chooses the path voluntarily. At each of the milestone he is tested for his fidelity, and, as he advances he becomes more and more of an enlightened being. At the penultimate milestone he must decide if he wants to proceed further. Only the strong-minded, the determined and the adamantine are obliged to approach the next and final milestone, the amritdhari, because of the rigours of the steep uphill climb. However, not everyone has the proper commitment as some of the pilgrims turn around and abandon the path.

Not surprisingly, Prof. W.H. McLeod’s essay on who is a Sikh gave a fresh impetus to some in the Sikh community anxious to rake up the controversy in order to resolve the issue to their liking. The mutiny was to brew among one particular cyber space discussion group that is affiliated with the Yahoo-groups. This group (hereinafter referred to as UDG), of whom I was one of the three founding members, will remain unnamed because of the manner of my leaving it. All three of us owner-moderators are clean-shaven.

However, unlike my two colleagues who chose to cut their hair, I never wore long hair from infancy because of recurring scalp problems. Fair to say, I made no serious effort to redeem myself in my adult life but have a deep longing to grow my hair. And, by the grace of Guru as a kesdhari I hope to lie on the funeral pyre. That apart, let me put this into perspective: I hold, and have held, the view that only a turban and beard identifies a Sikh.

Debate on who is a Sikh rages time and again on UDG; wherein, unlike other groups, moderators who are also owners, not only spearhead the debate but also exercise editorial control that is highly biased, in particular, towards the amritdharis. Recently, the forum revived the debate on the question of who is a Sikh with the object of finding an acceptable definition that they intended as their recommendation to Sikhs in general.

Random sampling of opinions expressed on UDG - note that those fully named are ones whose views are in the public domain: (1) Prof. D.S Chahal suggested that “A person, who follows Sikhi (Gurmat) that is based on the Gurbani, incorporated in the Aad (sic) Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Gobind Singh, the fifth and the tenth Guru in succession to the House of Nanak, is a Sikhâ€; (2) Bhai Harbans Lal was quoted as saying “One who pledges religious allegiance exclusively to the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and ten Gurusâ€; (3) DS writes that, according to Dr. Ganda Singh, “khalsa is a special (higher?) order of the Sikhs. I believe that all followers of the Sikh religion founded by Guru Nanak are Sikhs, and those who have taken the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru are khalsaâ€; (4) JST felt that “any definition of Sikhism is good for me if it covers the teachings and philosophy of ten Sikh Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib, it is as simple as thatâ€; (5) Dr. JSM proposed “A person who has complete faith in one God, believes in ten Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib is a Sikhâ€. (Note: In the book “Sikh Form and Symbols†Dr. Ganda Singh states categorically that “with the removal of hair, a Sikh becomes an apostate and is excommunicated from the Sikh fold. He is no longer recognized as a Sikhâ€, contrary to how DS construed the writer.)

Consensus arrived by the forum’s management was summarized in a two part definition: Part 1 – “Sikh means a person who professes the Sikh faithâ€; and, Part 2 – Followed by a declaration – “I solemnly affirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in the Guru Granth Sahib, that I believe in the ten Gurus, and that I have no other religionâ€. Thirty-three members signed the resolution as endorsees. One cannot help note that the definition is cannily similar to the The Gurdwara Act of 1925 except for the omission of the criterion for a deceased person. Noticeably absent is any reference to “the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru.â€

During the debate, heavy emphasis was placed on “believe in the Guru Granth Sahib†for good reasons. According to most respondents, when all is said and done, the only thing a Sikh is enjoined to do is to accept the Granth as the Guru. Inevitable corollary of such command is that he who is obedient to the Guru Granth Sahibis a bona fide Sikh of the Guru. So, in their minds, affirmation of belief in the holy book is what counts to the exclusion of everything else. As further proof, the respondents point out that the Guru Granth Sahib makes no mention of the institution of “khalsa†nor does it prescribe wearing of long hair. That is a clever ploy and an indication of the eristic nature of the UDG’s respondents.

These misinformed people need reminding that even though the Guru Granth Sahib was compiled in 1604, almost a century before the Baisakhi of 1699, it makes references to amrit, kes, Rahit, dastar and sabat surat. To emphasize the latter point further, it is worth mentioning that Bhai Gurdas prompted the faithful to honour the tradition of panj kapare (five garments), comprising turban, hazuria, long cholara, sash and underwear. (Note: Bhai Gurdas was “a near relation to the third Sikh Guru, Amar Das (and) a devout Sikh, and a poet and philosopher of a high order (who was) a companion of Guru Nanak†.)

Guru Gobind Singh incorporated these ideas into the formalized Order of the khalsa. Again, they pick out selective verses from the holy book that will bolster their image, for example: “Sachiar Sikh bethe Satgur passâ€. Conveniently, they gloss over verses that are germane to the kes (hair) or dastar (turban), for example: “kes Sang das pug jhahro, eha manorath mera†(SGGS – 500) and “Sabat soorat dastar sira†(SGGS 1084).

Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: “What is not in it, is nowhereâ€, so wrote KM Munshi in his preface to the edition of the epic by C. Rajagopalachari . Members of UDG appear to hold a similar view of the Guru Granth Sahib. They assert that they are bound exclusively by the religious morality and dicta of the holy book and are beholden to nothing else. Such is their alibi to explain why they overlook the “teachings and utterances†of the Gurus not recorded in the holy book.

Yet, when asked by outsiders about the genesis of Sikhism, these very people are wont to narrate stories from Guru Nanak’s life, not to be found in the holy book, that reveal absurdities of some Hindu religious rites and rituals that persuaded the Guru to seek a more enlightened path (like the well-known anecdote about the Guru giving the appearance of watering his distant farmland). Similarly, they extol the heroic virtues of Guru Gobind Singh, the significance of the great sacrifice of his sons and so on. Such contradictions are a reflection of schizophrenic symptoms.

Guru Granth Sahib is compilation of the Word or teachings of the six Gurus only (except for the one Shloka of Guru Gobind Singh in the Shlokas of Guru Tegh Bahadur) . So does it follow that if one swears allegiance to the Guru Granth Sahib then that allegiance is restricted to the six Gurus? For example, wouldn’t that mean ignoring Guru Hargobind (sixth Guru)? By extension, will that not require us to erase from our memories the paradigm of miri (temporal power) and piri (spiritual power)? And, since it was Guru Hargobind who built the Akal Takht, will that mean that we pretend it does not exist? Not to mention the pivotal contributions of Guru Gobind Singh.

As was evident from the sentiments expressed by the respondents during brainstorming, they limited their affirmation simply and solely to the recognition of the hard fact of the lineage and relationship of the Gurus. They acknowledged the existence of the “ten Gurus†but not necessarily each one’s message. That is absurd since keeping faith in each one of the Gurus, individually and severally, of necessity means acceptance of the moral and spiritual philosophy of each and every Guru, wherever (Anandpur Sahib, 1699) and in whatever form (Dasam Granth) expressed. Guru Gobind Singh was a poet philosopher. He left behind sublimely beautiful writings, such as Bicitra Natak, incorporating spirituality that is lofty and noble. Therefore, the “teachings and utterances†of every one of the Guru is important and to be revered no less.

Not so. As was obvious in the glaringly obvious omission of the critical word “amrit†or reference to baptismal ceremony from the definition. The exclusion was not an oversight but a deliberate decision. For to affirm words “believes in amritâ€, for instance, will perforce acknowledge acceptance of “the utterances and teachings†of Guru Gobind Singh. And, that would have taken the respondents down the slippery slope of reconciling the question of mona Vs kesdhari once more. To mix my metaphor, the respondents were not willing to open that can of worms, come hell or high water.

Let us now examine the implications of the exclusionary word ‘amrit’. Baisakhi 1699 was to mark the pinnacle of Guru Gobind Singh’s life’s work. He invited his followers, come what may, to attend the Baisakhi festival at Anandpur Sahib. According to the historian Khushwant Singh, “He specifically exhorted the Sikhs to come with their hair and beards unshornâ€; his annotated footnote mentioning the Hukamnama issued for the occasion, which read in part:

The Sikhs should come to me wearing long hair. Once a man becomes a Sikh, he should never shave himself.12

What knowledge can we glean from the 1699 proclamation? Firstly, in view of the primitive mode of communications back then, that will have made it necessary for the Hukamnama to be issued months prior to Baisakhi, if the followers of the Guru, who were scattered all over Punjab, were to heed it. Secondly, the followers he was calling upon to come were already known as Sikhs as borne by these words: “the Sikhs should come to me….â€; and, the reference that “once a man becomes a Sikh, he should never shave himself†may attest to the fact that it was probably the custom among majority of the Sikhs of the time to wear long hair and beard. This is corroborated by Khushwant Singh, in his words: “The injunction did not surprise the Sikhs, since it was not an innovation (because) there is reason to believe that all the gurus after Nanak and many of their disciples had abstained from cutting their hair†Thirdly, telling the attendees to come “wearing long hair†was his prescription to those not wearing long hair, likely the clean-shaven.

Thus, those who had gathered at Anandpur Sahib on that fateful Baisakhi day had not the slightest inkling of what the Guru had in mind for the day except they were told that the day would have a special meaning and that they should come there with “hair and beards unshornâ€. The attendees have to have arrived with kes since it was from among them that the initiates were to volunteer for the baptismal ceremony, a rite that exclusively calls for a turbaned and bearded neophyte. This should dispel the notion falsely held by some at UDG that until the Baisakhi of 1699 all followers were Sikhs whether clean-shaven or wearing unshorn hair; and, that it was the formal baptism that created the khalsa, a higher order, and it was the khalsa who were mandated to keep long hair.

To reiterate, majority of the respondents had echoed their fealty to the “ten Gurusâ€. Furthermore, they also acknowledged that the “ten Gurusâ€, succeeding one another, catenate an unbroken spiritual chain. Prof. W.H McLeod characterized the continuum succinctly: “For more than two centuries (Akal Purakh) spoke through a succession of ten Masters (Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh)†.

From this one can infer that Akal Purakh conveyed the Word to each Guru successively without breaking the thread of spirituality and the philosophy. The body of doctrine that binds Sikhs together, therefore, is an aggregate of the teachings of the ten Gurus. Consequently, the canon and teaching of the Sikh faith cannot be compartmentalized by an individual Guru or severally.

And, such segmentation where ‘form’ is inessential is precisely what the respondent Dr. Jerry Barrier advocates when he says: “the emphasis on content and living rather than form is indeed the essence of Sikhismâ€; a categorical statement that appears to disavow the import of the Baisakhi of 1699 and dismisses Guru Gobind Singh outright. The thread was then picked up by KSB who summarized his thinking in these words: “from Guru Nanak to Guru Teg Bahadar - none of them were amritdharis or kept the five K's. These were the ‘Sikhs’ - followers of a faith that believed in One God.â€

No ambiguity in his terse statement. His argument that none of the first nine Gurus were amritdharis coupled with his assertion - “followers of a faith†– which assumes that the Sikh faith had gelled, adds up to saying that one is a Sikh notwithstanding Guru Gobind Singh, thereby rendering the teachings and philosophy of the tenth Guru redundant. Worse still is the implication that whereas the followers of the first nine Gurus are Sikhs, the followers of the tenth Guru are amritdharis (meaning khalsa); and, the two are not one and the same. (Note: throughout the text, the word ‘respondent’ will be in reference to a member of the UDG.)

Consider the following blasphemous remark by DS, another respondent, who wrote: “Certainly more important in human development than the length of your hair or kirpan, which have just replaced janneu and sunnat, as outward symbols of religious piety! I have no doubt Guru Nanak would have similarly ridiculed our preoccupation with them.†The gist of his words that Guru Nanak will have “ridiculed†the “hair or kirpan†- two of the five emblems prescribed for the khalsa – and the in-built implication that Guru Nanak will have disapproved the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh, is proof of the ludicrous lengths that some respondents have gone to justify that long hair alone do not a Sikh make.

Was Guru Gobind Singh last of the ten Masters? Was the moral philosophy and religious teachings of Sikhi codified by 1708? Some respondents appear to express ambivalent feelings. For example, JST wrote: “I know some Sikh scholars and leaders who have accepted patit sons. Panth is evolving and taking a new shape. Its shape was different in each century in the past since Guru Nanak. It was different before the amrit ceremony of 1699, it is emerging into another shape now in the 21st century.†In somewhat similar vein, TST suggested: “Evolutionary trends have, especially in diaspora, rendered the notion of brother/sisterhood (or siblinghood) inconsequential. New breed of pied pipers will need new tunes to attract followers in today's environment; worn out clichés will not impress well informed Sikh youth - they need more than hype.â€

JST thinks that what transpired at Anandpur Sahib in 1699 was not the last Word on Sikhism; believing, that today, three hundred years later, Sikhism is “emerging into another shapeâ€, a shape he did not define or describe. He added that the Panth is evolving. To evolve, in popular jargon, means “to develop into something more complex or advanced; to develop from an earlier form into a newer stateâ€; but, who will bring about this change was left out. Singing from JST’s hymn sheet, TST, believes that the institution of khalsa is obsolete and that “new breed of pied pipers†will sing new “tunes to attract followersâ€. He, too, foresees an evolutionary trend. Both appear to imply that Guruship is well and alive. That is precisely the raison d'être of the Nirankaris.

Prayer is an essential concomitant of every known faith. The Sikh prayer or supplication (Ardas) is recited following the Kirtan (hymn singing). It is one time, albeit a brief one, when an individual is directly communicating with Akal Purakh. The Ardas is composed of three distinct parts, the third and last dimension decrees bestowal, among other things, of uncut hair . The Ardas also provides a medium to a supplicant who seeks a special favour of the Wahguru (Supreme authority), such as a blessing before embarking on a new endeavour. On prayer Mark Twain said: “You can’t pray a lie†. In which case, how does a mona (the clean-shaven) reconcile his apostasy with the personal entreaty to Wahguru to answer his particular prayer? Is the mona mindful of Dante’s caution:

A prayer may chance to rise

From one whose heart lives in the grace of God

A prayer from any other is unheeded ~ Dante (The Divine Comedy)

In a revived debate on UDG titled “Definition of a Sikhâ€, respondent PSK posed a most pertinent question: “How can a clean-shaven Sikh, representing a legitimate Sikh institution, defend the rights of another Sikh to maintain kesh at the workplace?†The question so rankled the moderator that he handed out a stern rebuke via editor’s note appended to PSK’s message prior to its publishing, viz: “All Sikhs, hyphenated or not, have equal right to represent or belong to the Sikh fold. Blinkered Sikhs cannot offer vision or direction to the community.†The term “blinkered Sikhs†is code word for amritdhari Sikh, one who has been on the receiving end of near abuse from several of the respondents. The ensuing questions and answers arrive at the truth without any editorializing from me.

The question was answered by Dr. JSM as follows: “We can tell in the court or in the work place that there are two types of Sikhs as far as appearance is concerned. This relates to men Sikhs only. There is no problem with Sikh women. The orthodox Sikh men have long hair and wear a turban. The liberal (modern or any other label) Sikhs do not have long hair and thus no turban. Both types belong to the same Sikh religion.†The respondent then provides a unique legal perspective, saying: “However best is to have both types of Sikhs (to represent the case of an orthodox Sikh in court). The judge will be more convinced if a modern Sikh without long hair testifies that orthodox Sikhs are required to have long hair and turban in the Sikh religionâ€.

A pointed rebuttal from respondent ISC followed, viz: “Firstly, do you think a person who has discarded his kesh (and obviously doesn’t regard kesh as important) would really fight for another’s right to keep his kesh? Secondly, do you really think the judge will be convinced that the ‘orthodox’ Sikh really needs to retain his appearance when the ‘modern’ Sikh has discarded it out of his own choice and has been elected as a leader by the ‘orthodox’ Sikhs in their fight to retain their identity!â€

Untypical of Sikh managed discussion groups on the internet, UDG’s modus operandi is, in general, as different as chalk from cheese; and, in particular, its editorialized buttressing of arguments that are critical and unflattering to kesdharis is an open secret. UDG is an owner-moderated forum, operated by clean-shaven individuals, whose moderators not only approve postings that question the dignity and moral rectitude of the amritdhari in general but who editorialize in concert their pro-mona views and opinions.

If, so to speak, the proof of the pudding is in the eating then ironically there is no lack of evidence of the type of “expert witness†that any one of the UDG moderator’s will make. They will bear testimony that the kes and the baptismal ceremony are an option and not an ex cathedra pronouncement. Any member of UDG who were to criticize the moderators for their impartiality and bias towards kesdharis or question their pro-mona stance will not have his message approved and will find himself declared persona non grata and kicked out unceremoniously.

I’ll wrap this essay up by using the ship as a metaphor for cutting through the complexity. The ship (Sikhism) built as per the architect’s (ten Gurus) specifications and blueprints, bearing Sikh quom registry, with a captain and a crew (Gurdwara leaders, SGPC et al) at the helm - so elected based on their experience, knowledge and capabilities – who are responsible for navigating the vessel through calm waters and storms, carrying pilgrims (Sikhs) whose sole reason for the voyage is to reach the common destination (Akal Purakh). Why on earth handful of passengers would seek to question the sea worthiness of the ship or interfere with its route or criticize the performance of the crew or attempt to commandeer the ship is incomprehensible.

Unfathomable indeed, since no one is barred from congregational worship; access to Gurdwara is denied to none; no one is turned down from including a personal prayer in the Ardas (collective prayer) pleading for a desirable outcome (e.g recovery from serious illness); no one is refused catering for langar in celebration of an auspicious occasion; no one is stopped from performing seva (communal service); no one is arm-twisted to observe any element of the Rahit . Why then the mutiny?

Mutineers are the pilgrims who recanted. They know that betrayal comes with some cost, overwhelming guilt and a loss of self-esteem is no exception. They are the one’s who veered off their religious path voluntarily, but still insist upon the privileges and prerogatives without the collateral obligations. These are the people who have to explain to outsiders, time and again, why they profess to be Sikhs but do not look like a Sikh.

They seek to define themselves with words not deeds. That’s the crux of their problem, because words, however crafted, are no panacea to soothe inner turmoil.


I am grateful to several of the members of UDG, who for obvious reasons shall remain unidentified, for placing relevant excerpted material at my disposal that helped shape this essay.


1 A History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh (Princeton University Press, 1963)

2 Amending Gurdwara Legislation by ex-Chief Justice Ranjit Singh Narula (The Sikh Review, Jan 2000)

3 The Sikhs by W.H. McLeod (Columbia University Press, 1989)

4 ibid W.H. McLeod

5 ibid W.H. McLeod

6 Who is a Sikh? The problem of Sikh Identity (Clarendon Press, 1989)

7 ibid W.H. McLeod

8 ibid W.H. McLeod

9 A History of the Sikh People by Dr. Gopal Singh (World Sikh University Press, 1979)

10 Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1976)

11 Guru Granth Sahib by Surinder Singh Kohli (Singh Bros., 1992)

12 A History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh (Princeton University Press, 1963)

13 ibid Khushwant Singh

14 The Sikhs by W.H. McLeod (Columbia University Press, 1989)

15 Heritage of Sikh Culture by Pritem Singh Gill (New Academic Publishing Co, 1975)

16 The adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Copyright ©2002

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This is the site- Sikhawareness. :D :D :D

We got sikh western scholars here ie- tsingh, Bahadur Singh(Shaka Nyoria), Kamalroop Singh, Nihal Kaur, Amriveer ji.

Just shoot with questions ji :D :D

We finally have some "Sikh Western Scholars"...the Panth is saved!!!

I'm surprised G Kaur, Beast, Canadian_Jatti, Hari, Fatehsingh, and Niranjana didnt make the list...sniff sniff :cry:

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opps forgot Narsingha,

having a blonde day these days..lol :mrgreen:

I'm neither "Western" nor a "Scholar"

....and some would argue I am not a "Sikh" either :LOL:

Perhaps one needs to define criteria as to what defines a "Scholar", However, assuming a larger definition, anyone who is claims to be a "Sikh" can be considered a scholar should they wish to study Dharam.

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dont flatter yourself very quickly yea..hehehe..lol. When i said opps forgot Narsingha i meant. :LOL::LOL:

'm surprised G Kaur, Beast, Canadian_Jatti, Hari, Fatehsingh, and Niranjana didnt make the list...sniff sniff

But anyway its good you clarified because I could see that coming mile off from your premis ..lol :LOL:

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dont flatter yourself very quickly yea..hehehe..lol. When i said opps forgot Narsingha i meant. :LOL::LOL:

:roll: perhaps Mr N30Singh, need to check up on what "flattery" entails. After reading your posts, one may get the impression that Canadian Sikhs (?Scholars?) arent very proficient grasp of English. Tsk tsk.

Just as well I'm not part of the "Penji Paaji Club", otherwise I would find myself being "flattered" by the likes of yourself.. :wink:

Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand, isnt Amrit based in India? Why is he considered a "Western Sikh Scholar"?

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I aint a scholar Narsingha..so don't need to do spell check... also may be your perception of western scholar is different than mine. I ll leave it at that.

Ahemm... Ahem... going back to the topic.

Now that Noor knows soo many western scholars around her on Sikhawareess. Its time for her to shoot with questions :D

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Anyway, getting back to the matter at hand, isnt Amrit based in India? Why is he considered a "Western Sikh Scholar"?

Amrit bha ji is in India, so he is not 'Western Sikh Scholar'. His thinking/ Gurbani explanations given by him/ his dress/his food/his mother-tounge etc is Indian, or in his own words 'Bhaarti'.

And also, he does not come online now, after death of his father. (http://www.sikhawareness.com/sikhawareness...opic.php?t=5636)I think he was the only member on this forum, who does 'katha' of Gurbani and suraj parkash etc. No doubt, he is a scholar, but ex-member of the forum.

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Guys, I meant scholars who have spent their time studying the Guru Granth Sahib ji and Sikhism, as in they devote their entire time to this.. no offense but the people you named as scholars.. have they studied Sikhism in depth or are still learning about it?


You guys are wonderful with information on Sikhism, thats for sure (well done to you all :D )

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Im a scholar of Barbiology, if anyone wants to discuss the latest Ken umm designs, please PM me for an appointment.

(Noor, dont worry ok? you didnt say anything wrong at all, I would say read that stuff Narsingha mentioned, and learn from anyone and anything, cos knowledge can come from weird places <---sounds good huh? *big hug*)

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