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The Dasam Granth Issue: A Red Herring

by I.J. SINGH

 

Just about a year ago I was at a conference. Its goal was to celebrate 300 years of the Guru Granth. In attendance were people of all religions and also a fair number of Sikhs.

For the 30 minutes or so that I spoke, I never once referred to the "Dasam Granth." But during the Q & A, the first question from a Sikh in the audience was "What is your take on the Dasam Granth?"

It is not that I had not thought about the matter. It has intruded on our consciousness by the intensity and variety of battles over it within the worldwide Sikh community that occur at fairly regular intervals.

Even the Akal Takht, the seat of temporal authority in Sikhism, had issued an ill-considered edict banning any discussion on the matter but discussion has not ceased; it remains even livelier today than before the edict.

But my topic was the Guru Granth, not the Dasam Granth; moreover, with a mixed audience of Sikhs and non-Sikhs, opening this Pandora's Box on our internal dissensions would have been inappropriate. I gently tried to point that out but perhaps the questioner sensed a weakness on my part for he became even more insistent that I respond.

The controversy over the authenticity, authorship and importance of the so called Dasam Granth continues to rile some people in the community and what I say today is not likely to settle the dust. Today, I take on this issue and hope that, given the contentious reality at this time, it does not turn out to be self-destructive for me. I offer you a view that is largely non-scholarly, but neither historically inaccurate nor inconsistent nor devoid of some common sense.

Why now? Because the controversy has gone on long enough and shows no light at the end of the tunnel. And because a pillar of the community with an enviable track record, Professor Darshan Singh, has been vilified, pilloried and abused all over the world and then just as staunchly defended by others.

Matters of honest disagreement that we should expect in any good and honest people are hard to isolate because they are intertwined and covered in personal innuendo and vilification.

In the past decade or so, there has been a plethora of writings on the Dasam Granth by writers on both sides of the controversy. Click on the site Sikh Spectrum or a host of others to delve into the nitty gritty of the debate. The most trustworthy secondary sources of our history and tradition - among others, Punjabi University's Encyclopaedia of Sikhism and Kahn Singh (Nabha)'s Mahaan Kosh, tell me this:

The longish, almost 10 page entry in the encyclopedia, is by C. H. Loehlin and Rattan Singh Jaggi; certainly their academic credentials, especially of the latter, are unquestionable.

During the evacuation of Anandpur by Guru Gobind Singh, many of his own writings and those of poets in his court were lost. After an effort of several years, Mani Singh salvaged what he could from wherever he could. Thus was the first recension of the Dasam Granth compiled some two decades after the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh. Based on copies of this, several recensions appeared some years later, many with significant variations.

Kesar Singh Chibber author of the historical documents - Bansavlinama and a Rehatnama - asserts that the two tomes, Dasam Granth and the Adi Granth (that later became Guru Granth in 1708), sat separately during Guru Gobind Singh's lifetime. When asked by Sikhs to combine the two, the Guru declined, stating that the "Adi Guru Granth is the root book; the other is only for my diversion. Let this be kept in mind and the two stay separate."

This remains the bedrock principle in Sikhi and the two thus can never be equated.

During the Singh Sabha days in the last century, the Khalsa Diwan explored the authenticity of the writings in the Dasam Granth. Copies of the Dasam Granth that could be located - numbering 32 - were collected and a group of eminent scholars worked them threadbare from July 5, 1895 to October 17, 1897. The recension based on their findings was first published in 1902.

This committee identified what exactly is the writing of Guru Gobind Singh and what is likely not.

Parsing authorship is not a simple matter. It requires an in-depth understanding of language, culture and context, and remains a matter where scholars will spend a life and more and even then remain unsure. But why and how exactly did such a massive problem of authorship arise in the first place?

History tells us that at least 52 prominent poets made their home under the patronage of Guru Gobind Singh. They composed a lot of poetry as did the Guru in many of the Indic languages extant at that time. That's what poets do. I would imagine that, like us, these poets, too, were occupied by many ideas, with a whimsical muse sometimes. They did not spend all day in worship and prayer but did all the things that people do - some of them even playful. And their poetry showed it.

The collection that came to be called the Dasam Granth, therefore, contained much that was the Guru's serious contribution, mixed here and there with what was neither serious nor from his pen. It never was an easy matter separating the wheat from the chaff and, despite the best efforts of scholars, still not so easy a matter.

I often ponder, for instance, over the fact that the Dasam Granth speaks eloquently of the past life of Guru Gobind Singh and from that has emerged the legend of Hemkunt. But no Guru ever talked of a previous life. We don't ever venerate any places where any Guru(s) might have visited or worshipped before they became Sikhs.

For instance, history tells us that Lehna, before he became a Sikh and later Guru Angad, went on yearly pilgrimages to Hindu holy places as did Amardas. But once they came into the fold of Sikhism, they never again spoke of the need of a pilgrimage anywhere; Sikhs do not regard those sites as holy. It is inconceivable to me that Guru Gobind Singh would deliberately go against the unbroken tradition of Sikhism in such a weighty matter.

So why should we mix history and mythology to convert Hemkunt into a pilgrimage? But that's what we do when we interpret literally what is in the Dasam Granth.

Remember that the Guru, himself, called his writings "a play and diversion" and denied it the status that he himself accorded to the Adi Granth.

In a play that has diversionary writings of many authors, should we be shocked to find sexual innuendos and references? I think not. They are part of life and no Guru taught us to abandon life. Keep in mind that it was the traditional Indian culture that produced the erotic art of Khajuraho. Yet the same society, as we know it today, will outdo the Victorians in prudery. Why should we react like deer caught in headlights when such stories of old find their way into another book of stories? Except for certain parts, this book - Dasam Granth - has many stories and was not designed to become the Guru.

There are also a different set of questions that come to mind. Why is the Dasam Granth being promoted as scripture at a level with the Guru Granth? Clearly, such promotion creates division within Sikhs and is contrary to Guru Gobind Singh's directive. Who benefits from seeding dissension among Sikhs? Is there a political agenda at work here directed by the forces of Hindutva in India?

The controversy seems to be driven by a visible and highly vocal minority with an agenda of destroying anyone who does not quite toe their line. And now there are charges floating around that some hotheads have doctored the evidence to suit their purpose and push their arguments. This hardly helps. Believe me I am no acolyte of Darshan Singh or anyone else.

Let me digress. Ever since I was in high school, I have loved to write short essays on a variety of topics. Early on, I discovered that my essays fared better if I dressed them up with some appropriate citations from well known or even anonymous authors. And so I did. But sometimes no apt quotation would come to mind. I would then construct a short epigrammatic sentence that I would credit to some author in the confidence that the teacher would likely be unfamiliar with the citation or its source.

Remember, these were pre-Google days.

I recall a quotation from George Bernard Shaw that I once used. It went "He who can does; he who cannot teaches." So I embellished it with the words "and he who cannot teach teaches teachers." My words seemed to blend perfectly with those of Shaw. It flew by the teacher.

I suspect poets routinely play such games with words; they are wordsmiths after all who delight in word play.

I would be absolutely surprised if such addenda and additions do not exist in what we call the Dasam Granth.

Let scholars and lexicographers continue to parse the text; many a doctoral thesis will surely result. Dasam Granth is an important part of Sikh literature and should be treated as such with respect. That is the bailiwick of scholars and I leave it to them.

For most of us - lay Sikhs - suffice it to know that even though parts of it we accept as gurbani, Dasam Granth has absolutely no place alongside the Guru Granth.

It is not the Guru.

So decreed Guru Gobind Singh when he sealed the Sikh Canon in 1708.

The controversy remains what it is - a red herring.

 

ijsingh99@gmail.com

December 2, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), December 02, 2009, 7:57 AM.

This is a very balanced article by Dr. I. J. Singh. Last year, Sikhs celebrated 300 years of Guru Gaddhi Divas of Granth Shaib at Hazur Sahib, Nanded. Prof. Darshan Singh, during his kirtan and katha, clearly asked the Hazur Sahib management to not equate the Dasam Granth with the Guru Granth Sahib, because Guru Gobind Singh had given the GurGaddi to only the Adi Granth. There is no harm in reading and discussing the Dasam Granth. Sikhs masses should adopt a habit of discussion and come to their own conclusion. There is a distinct possibility that some of the people might have subsequently mixed their own works in the Dasam Granth. Even today, some new wordings are being added to various Nitnem Paatths, etc. by various fringe groups. Jumping to conclusions without study, contemplation and discussion is always harmful. There is no harm reading and singing the Dasam Granth bani, as we do the Dhaddi vaars, etc. But, there is now only One Sikh Guru - The Guru Granth, and no other.

2: Sirtaj Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), December 02, 2009, 9:03 AM.

As far as I am concerned, all such issues are non-issues. The only thing that matters is: Naam simran, Kirat karni, Wand Chhakna. If we stick to the basics, nothing else matters. Then, the mischief-makers will have nothing to do and will put their tails between their legs and head home. My advice to my fellow-Sikhs: don't jump into such a fray.

3: Tejwant (U.S.A.), December 02, 2009, 12:16 PM.

The cauldron of ignorance bubbling with rituals has been simmering for quite sometime in the guise of Sikhi. Blind faith has been successful in creating blindfolds that cannot be taken off. The other thing that disguises these blindfolds is the full baana of many which is worn as a chip on the shoulder rather than the vestment that leads to the understanding of gurbani in the Guru Granth, our only Guru bestowed upon us by our 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. We are urged by our visionary Gurus to study the Guru Granth rather than parroting it so that goodness can be bred within and shared with others. Dasam Granth's adoration as a parallel scripture to Guru Granth by many baana-wearing Sikhs proves the tightness of the blindfolds they have on, which defies the teachings of contemplation, reasoning and thoughtfulness bestowed on us by our Gurus. This is more an insult to the memory Of Guru Gobind Singh than anything else. If we are unable to take our blindfolds off, then let's close our eyes behind them and visualise internally for a minute or two. How can a young lad of 11 ask his father, Guru Teg Bahadar to sacrifice his life - not in defence of Sikhi but for humanity and the right of all individuals to seek spirituality in their own ways - in this case, the Kashmiri Pandits (perhaps Indira Gandhi's ancestors)? The founding founders of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. discovered the same many years later but with many caveats which included slavery rather than true freedom against any kind of tyranny. How can this person who was called Gobind Rai and then later became Guru Gobind Singh, our 10th and last Guru, who put the icing on the cake started by Guru Nanak and inscribed on it the name Khalsa Panth, would write a book under his name called the Dasam Granth? How come our Dasam Pita would talk about his previous life when none of our previous Gurus did in the book which gave birth to Hemkunt and also to the mechanical ritual called the pilgrimage a la Hinduism and many other isms, hence defying the teachings of Guru Granth, once again? It has become a yearly Hajj in Sikhi where the obese pilgrims hire other people to carry them to Hemkunt, which makes the carriers the real pilgrims if one comes to think of it. How can our 10th Guru who also sacrificed his four sons in the name of justice for all would dwell in me-ism as the stories in Dasam Granth suggest? How come this polyglot visionary great poet, who added his father's bani in the Guru Granth, deliberately not adding a single word from his own poetry, would be considered so self-centered by writing a book called the Dasam Granth? Yes, part of the beautiful poetry which is in the book and which compliments gurmat values of the Guru Granth, is more likely his and that part has become part of our daily prayers, the Nitnem. But many parts like Charitars cannot be discussed in the gurdwaras because of their sexual content and cannot be claimed as the writings of our Dasam Pita as many of the ones with the blindfolds on have tried to do for quite sometime. Bobby Kennedy used to say, "If you have a problem, hang a lantern on it". I want to thank Inder ji for doing that. Now it depends on us to take our blindfolds off and see what the light shows us.

4: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), December 02, 2009, 7:43 PM.

The controversy over the Dasam Granth is just that - a red herring. The real question, to my mind, is whose interest is being served by manufacturing this controversy? Seen against the backdrop of the Nirankaris, Sacha Sauda and demands to repeal the Nanakshahi Calender, raking up the Dasam Granth issue only suggests that there is a concerted effort to undermine Sikh ideology and institutions. The shenanigans around the Prof. Darshan Singh affair only serve to strengthen this feeling. I find the debate quite ignorant, especially the notion that Guru Gobind Singh could not have possibly written certain sections of the Granth because of the sexual innuendo. I am not suggesting that Guruji did - or did not - but the fact is that we tend to draw this hard line between the "sacred" and the "profane", a boundary that the Sikh Gurus erased. What makes matters worse - or laughable - is that many of the Sikhs I talk to are not even aware of the Dasam Granth. So, there you go ... Who exactly profits from this? That is the question.

5: Harnaam Singh (Canada), December 02, 2009, 9:02 PM.

Tejwant, your labelling and categorizing of every baana wearing person is distasteful and quite shameful. It is appropriate to comment on the Dasam Granth, but it seems to me that you have a problem with the baana as well. Remember, it is not an easy thing to adorn, and I for one, ill-respective of the person's inside rehat, carry respect for a person who takes the time to adorn the dress worn and prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh. Who are we to say/ ask whether they have understood baani or not? And regarding your question: "How can a young lad of 11 ask his father, Guru Teg Bahadar to sacrifice his life - not in defence of Sikhi but for humanity and the right of all individuals to seek spirituality in their own ways", the answer would be that young Gobind Rai was no ordinary "young lad" just as Guru Nanak Sahib was not any other "young lad" in his times. There is no correlation with this question to the discussed subject. [Editor: A clarification - there is NO prescribed baana or uniform prescribed for Sikhs or the Khalsa, other than the Five K's and the dastaar. This idea has mysteriously emerged within fringe groups post 9/11.]

6: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), December 03, 2009, 5:03 AM.

Dr.I.J. Singh's article is simple but engaging. As a Sikh, each and every individual raises his voice every day to repeat Guru Gobind Singh's hukamnama to revere Guru Granth Sahib as the only Guru and to whom all of us bow in respect, seeking guidance and shelter at all times. Having repeated the Guru's Hukam, right from the time we gained our senses, I wonder why we still remain in doubt. As stated by Dr. I.J. Singh that there would be willful or maybe lack of understanding on the part of those involved in collecting and reassembling the contents of Dasam Granth, there could be a good mix of the writings of Guru Sahib's works with those of the 52 poets that wrote in his court. It is therefore necessary for all Sikhs to accept without question the supremacy of Guru Granth Sahib as our Guru, firstly because the 10th Guru issued the hukamnama towards that, secondly Guru Sahib himself never added his work to the Guru Granth and wished it to remain separate. Finally, we pray and recognize the Guru Granth as our present Guru as directed by Guru Gobind Singh, why do we then entertain doubts and mislead each other time and again raising controversies. Perhaps the intellectuals and the learned can put their energies together towards the betterment of our forthcoming generations unitedly. Let the Khalsa stand out by deed and intellect as envisaged by our beloved Gurus. Lastly, regardless of whatever argument may be made collectively or by individuals, it can in no way override our Guru's Hukamnama; it would be a blatant defiance of his will and command. As envisaged in Sikhism, we have only one God and our salvage is through the one and only Guru, the Adi Granth. Thank you, Dr. I.J. Singh ji, for putting across a simple and straightforward understanding.

7: Tejwant Singh (Nevada, U.S.A.), December 03, 2009, 1:11 PM.

Harnaam Singh ji: I have no idea where your anger and disdain come from and nor do I know how you jumped to the conclusion that I "have a problem with the baana as well" (your words). FYI, I am a baana-wearing person who took Khandei di pahul on Vaisakhi of 1988. The fact is that it is not the clean shaven who are creating a ruckus about having the prakash of the Dasam Granth along with Guru Granth, our only Guru. It is the baana-wearing amritdharis. Your response about Guru Gobind Singh being special - which is true about all our Gurus - has nothing to do with what I wrote.

8: Prabhu Singh Khalsa (Española, New Mexico, U.S.A.), December 03, 2009, 4:40 PM.

I agree that this article is well written and fairly balanced. I don't agree with everything in here, however. My personal belief is that every bit of the Dasam Granth was written by Guru Gobind Singh and that Bhai Mani Singh was wise enough to know (and probably instructed by Guru Gobind Singh) what should be in there. I do agree however with I.J. Singh's conclusion that our only Guru is Guru Granth Sahib. However, in the Guru Granth Sahib it is stated that bani is the Guru. The Dasam Granth for me personally is Guru Gobind Singh's bani. How to reconcile the two I think is a personal matter. For me, I will take a hukamnama from the Guru Granth Sahib, but not the Dasam Granth. I take the Guru Granth Sahib as my guide for living and the Dasam Granth as a further guide, often for specific purposes. For example, a lot of Dasam Granth prepares you for battle, and not just the battle of life, but real combat, which I think most of us don't need to recite daily. Also the charitro pakhyan have lessons on male/female and sexual relations, which doesn't necessarily apply to all situations in life. I think it's all personal and that's why the argument really is a distraction.

9: Kirpal Singh (Wellington, New Zealand), December 04, 2009, 3:09 AM.

Guru Gobind Singh ordered the Sikhs to accept the Guru Granth Sahib as their only Guru. So any other granth or book becomes secondary and should not be equated with the Guru Granth Sahib.

10: Roma Rajpal (U.S.A.), December 04, 2009, 5:48 PM.

A much needed article! Thank you, I.J. Singh! You are truly an amazing writer, scholar, and philosopher. I really admire your ideas, your thoughts, your perspective on almost any subject! Reading any of your articles just makes my day! God bless you!

11: Raj (Canada), December 05, 2009, 6:07 PM.

Without being all emotional about the validities of the material contained in Dasam Granth, we need to look at it from the merit of the message in it. The only material of spiritual merit, we as Sikhs have, is Guru Granth Sahib. The majority of the material included in Dasam Granth can be tracked to some Hindu scriptures. Now remember, in Guru Sahib's days, this knowledge was "property" of the brahmins. They didn't teach anyone of lower than their own caste. Guru Gobind Singh may have got these scriptures translated by Sikhs when he sent them for education to Kashi. May be it was written for comparative studies. Also, there're three or four formats of this Granth, namely Bhai Mani Singh's, Bhai Deep Singh's and Bhai Sukha Singh's. The last one has Bhagauti de chhakke and more material. In my humble opinion, without proper authentication, no material should be attributed to Guru Gobind Singh. This issue is for scholars, not for general public or for sants and babas.

12: Sukhindarpal SIngh (Penang, Malaysia), December 07, 2009, 10:33 PM.

The Dasam Granth is just that. The Guru Granth is the Shabad Guru. As for Hemkunt: on their return from a trip there, my late mother and her friends had a thanksgiving samagam. After the ardaas, the hukam was," Teerath navan jao, teerath naam hai." That said it all.

13: Hardev Kohli (Canada), January 27, 2010, 10:19 PM.

Just because someone has said something which is not as per the beliefs of others, that person does not become guru drohi.

14: Sanehaa (Europe), February 06, 2010, 8:48 AM.

Thank you very much for this balanced article, I.J. Singh ji. The majority of articles, so called "news"- and Sikh websites mostly perpetuate opinions about the writings contained in the Dasam Granth that are based on a certain ideology (sant samaj, damdami taksal, akj, etc.). In the majority of cases, it is evident that people who write about the Dasam Granth have not even read it properly. Very few people really try to understand independently what is true and in consonance with the universal message of the Guru Granth. Only who is in love with truth and not with an ideology or group, is able to come to a truthful conclusion. It is an irony that we behave like sheep and parrots - although our Guru created us independent - Singhs and Kaurs! First we should pass Grade One before talking about the contents of Grade Ten. Have we understood our only Guru - the Guru Granth? History and the current developments (so called 'excommunication' - a concept that never existed during the time of our Gurus - of Prof. Darshan Singh, and the abolition of Nanakshahi Calendar) in the Sikh Panth clearly shows: No! To say 'I personally believe this and that' contradicts Gurmat. Gurmat is not about what I (haumai) believe - but is about what is truth. Truth is not based on personal beliefsnor is it concerned with ideology. We believe a lot and quite often in things that have little to do with truth. Every religion believes different things. But where then is the connection to truth? Let us hope that Sikhs become more responsible before putting up articles in the name of our beloved Guru on the Internet. The Internet has become a huge corpus of half truths, badly researched pseudo-information and personal attacks. It is like in real life. It becomes more and more difficult to find the truth because falsehood and ignorance are dominating. Especially our youngsters are more and more confused and turn their back to Sikhi with disgust. Tejwant Singh (Nevada, U.S.A.), thanks for your well versed comment and clarification. It is important that educated and engaged Sikhs who have taken khande da pahul come forward and give answers based on Gurmat to important questions. By the way: 99% of baptised Sikhs don't even know that Amrit chhaknaâ in its literal sense is a confusing word for baptism. The Guru says over and over: there is only ONE amrit and it is in inner realization that cannot be transferred from one person to the other (for example: Guru Angad: GGS:1238). This little example shows how confused we are after 500 years. Why? Because we have little bothered to understand the Guru Granth but went after other writings and historically doubtful material. Let us all unite, discuss openly and bring forward mankind by living according to Gurmat!

15: Nihang Singh  (London, United Kingdom), January 02, 2011, 8:12 AM.

Moorkhai naal na lujheeai - Don't argue with a fool [GGS:473]

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