Launch of a New Book on Nihangs: by GURU KAUR
'In The Master's Presence'
The gathering in the Jubilee Room at the English House of Commons in London for the launch of In The Master's Presence, a book by our friends Nidar Singh Nihang and Parmjit Singh, was indeed an impressive one.
Although I was only able to glance through the sample copy briefly, it was enough to know that the superbly selected, and abundant use of illustrations alone gives this book a very special place in the annals of Sikh History.
It has a quality about it not only in the production which is superb, but also in the depth and calibre of its authors, men of both high integrity and standards of excellence
As Nidar Singh Nihang put it, this book gives an alternative view of our history. Drawing on sources in Hazur Sahib, Maharastra, it conveys the Nihang view of Sikhism. There's bound to be some controversy here - as there always is nowadays with things Nihang - but without that, this book would have risked becoming yet another of those run-of-the-mill histories.
I'm quite sure that the ten years of research which these two authors put into the writing of this beautiful book was methodical and meticulous. I look forward to being able to learn more and enjoying the forthcoming discussions about the Nihang past.
Parmjit's previous books include the wonderful Warrior Saints (which he co-authored with Amandeep Singh Madra), which shows the three-hundred-year military history of the Sikhs - one of the most treasured books we have.
So to the evening itself:
A group of children played the most beautiful shabad for us, whose sound current literally lulled us into another world, a world where integrity stands for everything, and honour is all. I've been in this room several times , but I've never seen it blanketed in bliss like that before.
The warm welcome by Member of Parliament Anne Keen, one of the many eminent M.P.s who were present, and also those who are so keenly supportive of our Sikh way of life in this country, was genuinely heartfelt. Her delight in being able to return the abundant hospitality she and her fellow M.P.s have received from Sikh communities, and her emphasis that we are known for always having food to share, was welcome news to all the guests that this occasion was not to be an exception.
Before the division bell rang calling the Right Honourable Members to vote in the Chamber of the House of Commons, I was able to catch up with a couple of the M.P.s, including Rob Marris, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sikhs (and was also voted Backbencher of the Year for his outstanding work).
When I asked them what the Sikhs in their constituencies brought to the local communities, the reply was unequivocally their generosity of community spirit and their strong work ethic.
These last few months have also seen the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the inauguration of the Guru Granth Sahib. To call this tome a Holy Book is somehow to miss the point. It is indeed a book of 1430 pages, revered by Sikhs as the living embodiment and experience of Sikhi. It is a universally accessible collection of hymns, wisdom and guidance.
When Guru Gobind Singh passed on 300 years ago in what is now known as Hazur Sahib, he decreed that he would be the last living Guru, and that the "Adi Granth" would be the next and perennial Guru of the Sikhs.
Kiran Rana gave us the most excellent description of the Guru Granth, highlighting that it was indeed a work of enlightened reflection and revelation. As such, it demonstrates the accessibility of spiritual attainment. As Guru Gobind Singh declared:
"Those with disciplined minds
Will find what they seek'"
Kiran chose one particular phrase from Guru Granth which for me perfectly sums up the Way of Life that Sikhi is:
"The truly enlightened ones are those who neither incite fear in others
Nor do they fear anyone themselves"
Susan Stronge, Senior Curator of the Asian Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, who was behind the Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms Exhibition at the V&A, spoke sincerely about In the Master's Presence. She highlighted that, remarkably, this is the first book that has been written on the shrine of Guru Gobind Singh in present day Maharashtra in some time
I know that when Susan says that it is written in a very accessible style, that it's an extremely readable book, and that she means it when she recommends it highly.
What touched me most during Susan's speech was looking at Nidar Singh's and Parmjit Singh's faces while she spoke. Their radiance that their work had been so acknowledged by such an authority as Susan Stronge herself said a thousand words; they knew and she knew they knew how useful this book is and that they had honoured their subject most fittingly.
It was Nidar Singh whom my husband, the photographer Nick Fleming, met before going to do his first photographic assignment living with the Nihang Singhs in Punjab, and therefore, he has always had a very special place in my heart, even though, till now, I had not met him.
Nidar Singh is an imposing figure, who looks as though he's just sauntered out of some eighteenth century military camp in the middle of nowhere and just happened upon the bastion of British Democracy for a cup of chai. He exudes an air of being so at ease with himself that being around him everyone relaxes visibly. Which may seem odd to you: a man in a dress with calf muscles David Beckham would die for, a worn-out anorak barely hiding the large kirpan tucked into his waistband, standing in the hallowed sanctuary of the British Establishment.
To the contrary, it just seemed the most natural thing in the world.
He is the embodiment of the spirit of what he writes about in his book. He brings it to life, makes history happen in this moment. As I looked again around the room at all the smiling faces it dawned on me how happy everyone was, how friendly and caring, how we all were part of one huge global family, how everyone felt taken care of.
As Anne had hinted, this event would not have been complete without food.
Discreetly, Parmjit had quietly gone to bring up the food while his co-author held us in awe. That humility and service summed up the occasion.
[In The Master's Presence: The Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib: 1, by Nidar Singh Nihang & Parmjit Singh, Kashi House, 2009. Illustrated, hardcover, 330 pages, Pounds Sterling: 45.00. ISBN-10: 0956016804, ISBN-13: 978-0956016805.]
Guru Kaur runs the Be the Woman You Were Born to Be ... Online Course and Community, and is the host of the new series of Regally GracefulTM Teleseminars which offer you, for free, better solutions to traditional challenges.
February 9, 2009
Conversation about this article
1: Ashmeet Kaur (India ), February 12, 2009, 3:58 AM.
I have read this book and seem to have to got it before the official launch of the book in the U.K. even though it is not available in India. Well, it is really a delight to have this book and after reading it, I can ponder over the pages of history that have gone by around Hazur Sahib. This book appears to have been thoroughly researched by the authors and simply a delight to have and read. 'In the Master's Presence' has enlightened me to a great knowledge of the history of Nihang Singhs during and after the life-time of Guru Gobind Singh. All the turmoils that the Akali Nihangs have gone through since then have been covered in this book. I am truly proud to have this book and am eagerly looking forward to the next volume.