Kids Corner

                                       Carried by Baba Buddha...


The images depict the 1604 procession taking the Adi Granth into the then new Harmandar for the first time.

                                              With Guru Arjan...


                                                   With pomp...


                                                With ceremony...



The Journey Together




This piece was first published in August 2008 in commemoration of the Tercentenary (1708-2008) of the investiture of Guru Granth Sahib as our eternal Guide and Teacher. It is re-published today to mark the 303rd anniversary of the investiture. 



Let me tell you a story! How a book, too voluminous to prop up in bed to read, written in languages that I barely understood, became, for me, first an object of admiration, and then adoration and veneration.

I must have been slow!

For as long as I can remember, my father's take on our religion - Sikhi - was primarily analytical. My mother, on the other hand, encountered Sikhi as something to be experienced, felt and lived, rather than to be analyzed and parsed.

Consequently, our home had books galore on Sikhs and Sikhism. My father had esoteric stuff on history. He had the existing, and barely passable translations of Gurbani, as well some excellent stuff on Sikhi by Sir Jogendra Singh, Teja Singh, Kahn Singh (Nabha), Duncan Greenlees and C.F. Andrews, Max McAuliffe, even some by the widely derided Ernest Trumpp.

My mother's collection, too, was eclectic, but it was almost entirely in Punjabi and weighted to favor the works of Bhai Vir Singh, of which we had a complete and growing collection.

Both my parents were fond of classical Indian music and keertan; I, too, had inherited a little of the gene. I had learned a little of Sikhism, largely by osmosis, as most Sikhs in India did then, and perhaps still do. My way of finding a middle ground between the approaches to Sikhi of my father and my mother was to largely ignore both.

So when I came to this country, almost half a century ago, I was not inimical to Sikhi; I just didn't know much about it and perhaps cared a little less. My interest in it developed as a direct result of living for many years where there was almost no other Sikh presence near me, and because when non-Sikhs asked me questions, I had little or nothing to say that made sense to me, much less to others.

Yet, unknown to me but deep within, the aura at home had sowed the dormant seed of Sikhi.

When I came to this country, I had brought along a few books on Sikhi. Some years later, my father sent me the UNESCO publication, Sacred Writings of the Sikhs. It was but a brief selection, largely, but not entirely, from the Guru Granth; but it was an eye-opener, and remains one, forty years later.

I still find it the best translation, bar none, that captures the magic of Gurbani and its poetry, even though the language is now somewhat arcane.

In 1974, my parents came to visit us. By that time, I had developed an embryonic, but serious, interest in Sikhism. My mother brought with her a small portable rescension of the Guru Granth.

She needed the appropriate ambience for it and not much was available in the marketplace. So I fabricated a small palki in plexiglas for the Guru Granth. The traditional palki was formed either in wood or in brass. Mine was thus extremely low-tech and not at all ornate, but it was ultramodern - the only one of its kind as far as I knew.

When, a few months later, the time came for my parents to return to India, and my mother started packing the Guru Granth, I realized how used I had become to listening to it, and that I would sorely miss it when it was gone.

She said a little over 350 pages remained in her reading of the Guru Granth that she had started on arriving here. Despite her protestations that I couldn't even read the script, I promised her that I would finish the reading if she would leave it here with me.

She did, but it took me a good few years to fulfill my promise.

In order for my reading not to become pointless prattling, it demanded a methodical semi-serious pursuit of both the language and the content of Guru Granth through the eight-volume translation of it by Manmohan Singh - parts of it had just appeared by then.

It presented on each page a column of the original Gurbani, a second column of translation in hackneyed but serviceable English, and a third column of Punjabi translation.

Some years later, I graduated to the four-volume Shabdarth that only presented translations in Punjabi of difficult words as well as some explanations of esoteric mythological and historical information.

I then acquired the English translations of Gopal Singh, Trilochan Singh and Gurbachan Singh Talib, as they became available.

And, with the passage of time, I learned to love the exegeses of Professor Sahib Singh and Bhai Vir Singh, the mysticism of Professor Puran Singh, the rigorous intellect of Kapur Singh, as also the intricate Gurbani-laced style of Professor Darshan Singh, among others.

I always had more than a passing interest in Indian classical music.

The kirtan of Bhai Avtar Singh, Bhai Mohan Singh and their ilk, found in me an avid fan. This was, of course, years before recordings and CD's were widely available. Certainly, it was a lifetime before there was anything called the Internet with its freewheeling discussions and sites like Sikhi-to-the-Max, Kulbir Singh Thind's monumental work that provided the whole Guru Granth on a single CD with research tools, and the availability of Gurmukhi fonts, Sikh history, culture, music, and a plethora of research tools and sites, as well.

Now that I look back, I was driven, more than anything else, by the fact that in North America I lived in an entirely non-Sikh milieu, and by the innumerable invitations to churches, synagogues and Bible study groups that came my way.

There, I found that I knew almost nothing about the tradition that I called my own, and now, years later, has come to define me. Sometimes the experiences were raw, even painful, but as they say, "No pain, no gain". I reckon that, among other things, this is how I came to terms with the meaning of the line from Guru Granth that goes: "Dukh daroo sukh roag bhayaa".

My wife at that time was a non-Sikh, and our marriage didn't last. Some years later, I married a Sikh woman from Delhi who was visiting the States. I was overjoyed that she could recall from memory so many lines of Gurbani, and was equally dismayed days after the wedding that she could not read the Gurmukhi script.

But by then, however, this was not an insurmountable hurdle. She learned to read the Guru Granth in days where it had taken me months and years.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have developed the interest in Guru Granth had I lived much or all of my life within the cocoon of a Sikh community in India. Perhaps one does not value something until he has been deprived of it.

I wish I could tell you the time and date of my epiphany. There was no "Aha" moment. But there was a magical process when I realized that Guru Granth speaks of a reality that the senses cannot perceive and the intellect cannot fathom, but with which our inner self can commune. This reality transcends anything what science and technology can measure.

If one does enough of anything, one then begins to believe in it and then it generates its own meaning. The book is now no longer just a Granth. In becoming the Guru, it defines me and directs my life. To kneel in its presence, to bow to it is a natural reflex now, as basic as breathing or eating.

Guru Granth is both timeless and universal, so it speaks to me today as it did to countless Sikhs centuries ago. It deliberately shies away from historical events. It, also, absolutely refrains from dispensing specific edicts on particular moral choices, such as abortion, reproductive rights or other bioethical issues.

The idea is not a God who micromanages our existence. In life, many dilemmas will test us and new issues of life and death will demand our attention. Our response will evolve with time and technology in a changing world.

Guru Granth does not provide me a sin quotient for every infraction committed or contemplated. It gives me not cut-and-dried solutions as in a catechism or an easily-swallowed pill, but an ethical framework rooted in spiritual values within which to navigate my way.

Some may think this to be a weakness - a chink in the teaching. I find it our strength because it demands responsibility and accountability from each of us.

And now I see that darshan of Guru Granth really means engagement with the "Word" therein, and then it has to be accosted by the dual lenses of faith and reason; either lens alone is insufficient. "Ditthay mukt na hovayee jicchar sabd na(n) karay vicchar" [GGS, p 594].

Even though the best prayer is honest self-effort, the results are pure grace (nadar), like manna from heaven.

Faith, to some, is a balm; to others it is a placebo. In the final analysis, to me it is embracing the uncertainty that is life, while knowing in the gut a visceral universal presence and oneness. This, then, becomes walking in the shadow of God, or a life in "hukam".

Many times, I marvel at the powerful imagery and the longing of the heart in the romantic poetry of Guru Arjan when he reaches out to the Infinite within each of us with: Khamb vikaandrey jay lahaan q(h)inna saveen tole, tan jarayee(n) aapnay(n) lahaa(n) so sajjan tole" [GGS, p 1426].

"If wings were sold in the marketplace, I would buy them equal to my weight, attach them to my body and soar in search of my soul mate".

And then he speaks of this beloved who rules the hearts; whose nearness ennobles us:

Sajjan saccha patsah ... jis pass baithyaan soheeye ...

His longing for a reality greater than the self brings tears to the eyes.

To me, Guru Granth has moral clarity and the vocabulary to express it without maudlin oversimplification or an iota of self-righteous hubris. It gives my life an inner satisfaction, reverence, reason, faith as well as hope, and an unmistakable calmness in action.

My faith and engagement with the Guru in the Granth seem at best semipiternal - with a beginning, but no end. Guru Granth is now inseparably integrated into everything I think, I do or feel, at work or at play.

Now, the most precious times are those when, for a trice or for the day, a word or a phrase from the Guru Granth reverberates and resonates within and then, time stands still.


First published on August 1, 2008. Re-published on October 21, 2011.

Conversation about this article

1: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), August 01, 2008, 4:59 PM.

Another beautiful and a personal piece - I want to applaud for this initiative to have those that have experienced the Guru write about them, and inspire us who haven't reached that state yet, to work on ourselves and hopefully someday also receive the Guru's Nadar. Dr. I.J. Singh's relationship with his Guru seems like a story of so many of us, who stumble upon this path by sheer luck, totally unplanned where there is no "aha" moment but an incremental and growing relationship. I hope someday I too can say that "Guru Granth is now inseparably integrated into everything I think, I do or feel, at work or at play". So far, I only seem to see a tiny light far away, at the end of the tunnel; but, on the positive side, this far-off sliver of light has often inspired me to continue walking on this journey. Thank you and Dr. I.J. Singh, for this inspiration!

2: Tejwant (U.S.A.), August 02, 2008, 2:13 PM.

It is interesting to notice that we are all products of our envoirnment. The seeds sown in the begining through the nurturing of Gurmat values by our parents bear the kind of fruits which can weather any tsunamis life brings us. And sometimes, the turbulent waters wash away all the grime that is collected from the muddy waters during our journey. We can only thank our parents when we get our sheen back. The Gurmat values they instilled in us work as the right Brasso in these circumstances. This introspective essay that I.J. has shared with us made me think about myself as a parent and the self reflection shows that I have failed many a times as one. Thanks to I.J., I am begining to take the grime off and become a better dad than I have been. We all owe that to our own children.

3: Jasleen Kaur Dhir (Fremont, California, U.S.A.), August 03, 2008, 3:08 AM.

Very good write-up. I enjoyed reading it and feel inspired! May Waheguru keep you on this path of enlightening others with your words.

4: D.J. Singh (U.S.A.), August 03, 2008, 6:57 AM.

Guru Granth Sahib emphasizes truthful living through exercising virtues like total devotion to the Creator and the creation, kindness, contentment and self-control. It reveals that re-union with Waheguru is the real purpose of human life and advises us on how to meet this objective. We are taught to totally disregard false rituals, baseless customs and practices, none of which will help us to reunite with God, but only true devotion to Waheguru will take us to our goal. After compilation of Adi Granth, Guru Arjan placed the Holy Granth Sahib on the Gaddi that he would normally sit on and himself sat - and slept - beside it, on the ground. In October 1708, Guru Gobind Singh Ji ended the Guruship in human form. He opened the Granth Sahib, placed a coconut before it, and solemnly bowed to it as his successor. How should we interpret these actions? With Guru Granth inseparably integrated into everything you think or feel, it will help you to be free from bias, animus, and controversy.

5: Kabir Singh (Vancouver/Canada), August 04, 2008, 5:34 AM.

The spirituality and the mantric quality of the Bani, which I sometimes feel bears within it the epitome of the 'indic' sound, and the total courage of the Gurus to place their exalted spiritual fountainhead experience right in front for all to dive into, is yet to be grasped in its full grandeur by those outside the Sikh faith. For those of us who do belong to the Sikh domain, please wake up to this very powerful construct, (thanks to the genius of 'Nanak'), and give its study your best shot. It iss worth every "matra" and every "akhar" in gold! Thanks for a lovely write-up, Dr. I.J. Singh.

6: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.A.), August 04, 2008, 10:01 PM.

Inder: Blessed are ones that experience even for a moment the Shabad within.

7: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), August 05, 2008, 4:04 PM.

It is a pleasure to read Dr. I.J. Singh's personal journey with the Guru. If his mother had not left the volume of the Guru Granth Sahib with him, we wouldn't have the kind of I.J. Singh that we now have. An ordinary event of that moment has become extrordinary in his life. It is no wonder that he now makes informed comments on contemporary Sikh life in the diaspora. Dr. Singh, you are playing an admirable role in the evolution of global Sikhism! Keep it up!

8: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 05, 2008, 9:00 PM.

Spiritual journeys are indeed sempiternal - thanks for taking us along.

9: Satvir Kaur (Boston, U.S.A.), August 06, 2008, 8:27 AM.

I think this is a saga of many of those who immigrated to places away from "home". Parts of it certainly resonated with me. Very well written. Thanks for sharing!

10: Tejvansh Singh Soni (Fremont, California, U.S.A.), August 06, 2008, 6:36 PM.

A very well written personal essay. What intrigued me the most was the part where Dr. I.J. Singh talks about the absence of catechisms in Guru Granth Sahib. It would be an interesting topic to explore this in conjunction with the rehat maryada.

11: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), August 07, 2008, 1:10 PM.

Yes, the point raised by Tejvansh Singh is indeed fascinating. I hope readers would respond to it. I certainly hope to explore the issue - soon. Thank you.

12: Amardeep (U.S.A.), August 07, 2008, 3:41 PM.

With my limited knowledge, I think that the rehat maryada helps beginners and the vast majority of us to build discipline in life and relationship with the Guru. Those who are already on fire, or diving deep, what chains can hold them? "Kabir, when you are in love with the One Lord, duality and alienation depart. Then, you may have matted hair, or none at all ..." [GGS, 1365:16]

13: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), October 21, 2011, 1:27 PM.

May I add to this great piece that unfortunately our Guru is becoming a status symbol in many of our homes. Oft heard: "Assee Guru Granth Sahib ghar rukhyaa hoyah hai!", and yet they use and abuse alcohol in the same homes.

14: Dr. Pargat Singh (Nottingham, United Kingdom), October 21, 2011, 4:38 PM.

I agree, what a wonderfully inspirational article.

15: Hardeep Singh (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), October 21, 2011, 7:31 PM.

Thanks Dr. I.J. Singh ji, for sharing your experiential journey and for your candid expressions about your interactions with different elements and essence of Faith. It surely has come straight from your soul - which is reflected in your sincere submissions. Thanks a lot for being brave and truthful.

16: Ravinder Singh Oberoi (Mumbai, India), October 22, 2011, 6:16 AM.

Gursikh - the term itself is self-defining. Learning the Gurmukhi script, reading the Guru Granth Sahib, thinking over the message of the gurshabad, interpreting it as per one's understanding and making it one's way of life, should be made the most defining rehat of all who claim themselves to be Sikhs and should also be encouraged for all those who want to learn from the Guru Granth. Thanks, I.J.Singh ji, for sharing such a beautiful experience, which cannot be appreciated in words.

17: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 22, 2011, 6:59 PM.

Inder ji: I am sure in your daily ardass, you never fail to thank the parents Waheguru blessed you with. "Dhan jannee jin jaa-a/ dhan pitaa pardhan." [GGS:32.12] - "Blessed is the mother who gave birth; respected is the father." The seedling sown by them now shows in you. In reading this we recognize the blessings of our own parents. Unfortunately this recognition comes usually quite late, often after they are gone. Alas, we should have sat at their feet when we had the opportunity. (Hope our children get to read this, though ... while I'm still alive!)

18: M..Kaur (New York, U.S.A.), October 22, 2011, 10:30 PM.

Dr.I.J Singh: There you go again! Putting your thoughts into crystal-clear prose. Every time I read your articles, I come away gratified and relieved that you've articulated what I'm sure resonates within so many of us in many different ways. Thank you.

19: Balbir Singh (Germany), October 23, 2011, 3:08 PM.

Once with the Guru, the 'I' fades away.

20: Nav Kaur (Australia), October 23, 2011, 10:43 PM.

Beautifully expressed. Thank you, Dr. I. J. Singh, for sharing your blessed journey with us and being such a motivation for many like myself who have not quite set foot on this path. I hope some day I too can form such an intimate relationship with the Guru whereby the Guru Granth Sahib will be integrated into everything I do. May Waheguru continue to bless you and all of us for that matter, with such a divine relationship.

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The Journey Together"

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