Kids Corner


All In The Family:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 72





Taking me under his wing, my Beloved (husband) weaned my mother-in-law away

No longer could my sisters-in-law torment me

My brother-in-law couldn’t order me around

My wise husband protects me

Hear me everyone, I am filled with love.

I have banished evil, overcome my enemies – the Satgur has made me steadfast in Naam.

First, I renounced my sense of self-importance

Second, I stopped following the way of the world

Third, I learnt to treat friend and foe alike

Fourth I imbibed virtues from the Sangat

In the depths of my being

I saw the Light, heard the Celestial Sound

And experienced bliss by reflecting on the Guru's instruction

Blessed is the wife (soul bride) who is drenched in the love of the Beloved ||3||

In humility does Nanak reflect on the wisdom of God

Harken and go across to the other side

Freed from coming and going

Remain immersed ||4||2||     [Guru Arjan, GGS:370-1]


I paused as I came across this passage during the course of my reading yesterday, struck by its beauty and metaphorical construction. This is the genius of gurbani - to be able to use everyday images and experiences to convey, not only profound philosophical truth, but also provide guidance on everyday living.

It should make for an interesting discussion, I thought.


Guru Arjan refers to family relationships - their structure and interactions - as they existed then, and to a large measure still exist in the joint-family system.

I wondered if he was building on his own experience with his older brother, Prithi Chand, and his wife. Tradition has it that Guru Arjan's sister-in-law devised many a scheme and plotted to get rid of him.

In this context, when a woman marries, she is not simply acquiring a husband, but inherits an existing familial structure - the in-laws.

This passage offers a clue to the woman  (and each one of us, and the soul bride) on how to make a success of her marriage (and our journey through life).

What are the factors (from this passage) that contribute to this success?

Please contemplate the passage since it offers many clues.


January 9, 2012



Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), January 09, 2012, 1:00 PM.

If a culture or tradition is contrary to living in peace and harmony with each other then it is critical that a person can acquire knowledge (like from gurbani) and detach from this evil and meet the people who can engage with you in a pleasant and friendly manner.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), January 09, 2012, 6:10 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji, what a heart tugging and exquisite piece. It has transported me to the days of yore - pre-partition - in Lyallpur when the Sikh bradari (community) lived in close harmony. Life revolved around the Wadda (Big) Gurdwara for all occasions. The Anand Karajs comes foremost to mind. If a daughter was getting married, we youngsters were issued strict instructions to go and help in the wedding house. This was mainly to look after the bridegroom's party, arrange tables and chairs for the junj's (the wedding procession) meals. The halwa-ees (chefs) were engaged to cook the food. The distribution was our duty. On no account were we to eat at the bride's home. It was an austere but joyous occasion. No five star hotels and hired waiters. All the 'seva' was done by the community members. The next morning the Anand Karaj ceremony would start with Asa di Vaar and by 8 - 8:30 it would be over. The ubiquitous sikhya (sermon) would take a tad longer, delivered by the local Bhai Sahib and exhorted the value of the three 'B's - that is, the three 'babbay' - namely Bhalla ji, Bahot Accha ji and Bhulhi ji: a standard cure for all problems, if any. [1. Yes, dear. 2. How wonderful you are. Aand, 3. Sorry.] Mercifully, much of that is changed. Also changed: nowadays, the wedding ceremony starts in the afternoons. On one occasion, I remember the ceremony was further delayed as they couldn't find the bride's father to stand for the initial ardaas when the bride and bridegroom and their respective parents have to stand up for the initial invocation of God's blessings. Now it is all Bollywood style, and the exquisite message of the Guru is lost. Even the crying at the doli is in the filmi style.

3: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), January 10, 2012, 12:37 PM.

Sangat Singh ji, thanks for sharing the three babbay, which reminds me of my father-in-law who visited with us in the summer of 1986. Not that he was evesdropping, but it was hard for him not to hear the bickering and quarrels of a young, recently married couple. Rooted in Punjabi culture as he was, he unfailingly sided with me and would recite the 3 babbay to his daughter ... to no effect, I might add. Thirty years into our marriage, we continue to bicker and quarrel. I suspect we enjoy squabbling; it adds a little spice. In this passage, I see some very important lessons on how to get along with people, whether they are family members or co-workers. Will wait for some others to chime in.

4: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), January 11, 2012, 9:21 AM.

The 3 'Babbey' are really gender friendly, except for the delivery system when 'babba' becomes a 'babh-ak', an empty roar, somewhat higher in decibels. It makes not one whit of difference. Let the last word prevail until the next episode - 'Mein Kehaa ji ... Are you paying any attention to what I am saying?" "Yes, dear, I am ready for the crucifiction."

5: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), January 11, 2012, 2:14 PM.

Let me use an Urdu couplet to share my perspective on the hidden message on a critical human issue in this slok; "ghand agar bandh jai to phir ristey hoo(n) ya doree, lakh karean koshish khulnea mea whakat tou lagta hai" - when a thread gets knotty, it takes time and effort to undo the knot, regardless of the knot being in a string or in human relationships". Guru Arjan is using the bride and family as a back drop to cast a wider net in emphasizing the need for understanding, accommodation and adjustments to make human relationships work. The approach and principles apply to a bride, in-laws, family, neighbors, town, country or the world. Human relationships are prone to be knotty/ messy and need care, understanding and nurturing. Otherwise they are likely to get kinky; needing time, effort and compromises in smoothing the kinks; an aggravating, painful, time consuming and patient testing process. Organized human structures can transform, but not human nature or the approach. This slok has less to do with family, and more to beautifully highlight tricky, deeply ingrained, and convoluted aspects of human nature, requiring attention and efforts to minimize/avoid getting embroiled in conflicts and the struggle that results from ensuing strains.

6: Prakash.Singh Bagga (India), January 12, 2012, 4:18 AM.

The reference to different human relationships in gurbani is basically a metaphor to convey the intrinsic message to establish the significance of ultimately surrendering to Waheguru. There are a number of such passages throughout the Guru Granth Sahib.

7: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 12, 2012, 9:52 AM.

Family relations are God's gift, using them well lies in the genius of gurbani - to convey, the profound truth and provide guidance on everyday living.

8: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), January 12, 2012, 11:38 AM.

Some things are subject to change while some others are supposed to always stay the same. Wisdom lies in knowing this difference. At one time, the daughter was regarded as someone else's property. After marriage, the wife was husband's property. Gurbani uses that model of marriage, a joint family with husband as the master, in its lessons. It does not apply to a marriage today except for the universal in-law scenarios because human nature does not conform to social or political correctness. Even when we sugar-coat it, make it gender-neutral and politically correct, we will have difficulty in justifying its application to the modern family structure today. Thus, in my opinion, we should not use gurbani for where it was not intended.

9: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), January 12, 2012, 11:40 AM.

The long and tiring lectures on the laava(n) during the marriage ceremony are another such example. The Laava(n) were composed for the purpose of singing, and to do so with our attention at Waheguru during a Sikh marriage ceremony, just as we are supposed to do for all our ceremonies. The verses do not represent a physical marriage or any wedding advice in any form, real or metaphoric. Nirmal Singh ji has correctly pointed out (on another forum) that one group uses gurbani to make their life easier and successful in this world while the other group is other-worldly in their application and interpretation of gurbani. In my opinion, worldly success is a natural outcome of proper application of gurbani and many verses apply directly to the worldly matters but gurbani was not written to help us succeed in the world. Even though our inner (spiritual) conduct and outer (social) conduct are connected, the goal of gurbani is parmaarth, which is success in our relation with Waheguru. These verses are meant to teach proper inner conduct.

10: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), January 12, 2012, 11:46 AM.

God lives in the people. Love and service of the people includes love of the family which is the service of God Himself. Tenth Guru Sahib: "jin prem kee-o tin hee prabh paa-yo". There is no choice for a sincere seeker but to accept the life of a house-holder and work for the good of the community.

11: G. Singh (U.S.A.), January 13, 2012, 2:35 PM.

In gurbani, there are references to family relations which are intended as metaphors. Bhagat Kabir ji's shabad, "meri matt bauri main ram visaario ..." - [GGS:482] has a similar usage of terminology. Prof Sahib Singh explains that the in-laws, brother, sister, etc., are but metaphors for maya - attachment and worldly pre-occupations.

12: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), January 14, 2012, 9:04 AM.

Metaphorically speaking, the mother-in-law in this passage refers to Maya, or spiritual ignorance; the "pir", of course, is husband (God, if you will); the sisters-in-law are desire and longing and Death the elder brother-in-law. So, yes, gurbani uses metaphor to teach us about our inner lives or inner environment. But I feel that we can extrapolate a lot of these teachings to our daily (external lives) as well. When I put this passage up for discussion, what struck me was how relevant the instruction could be for a newly wedded bride, a person working in a large organization, or, for that matter, in any situation. Take the corporate world, with which I am familiar. Humility (believe it or not) is the latest mantra that is being preached to corporate leaders and executives, sometimes also expressed in terms such as "servant-leader". That is also the first instruction in this passage (after the rahao). Humility is certainly one of the outcomes of relinquishing haumai. Whether at home or at the office, it pays to tread with humility, by not taking oneself too seriously and thinking big picture, the larger purpose. This is what enables collaboration. The second instruction could be understood as not following the crowd, but marching to the beat of one's own drummer, finding one's own talent and abilities. Third, being non-judgemental, treating foe and friend alike. This would help in any situation. My recommendation would be not to state the obvious over and again - namely, that gurbani uses metaphor, that gurbani is all about the inner life. We know that. What would help is to extract (wherever possible) lessons for daily life.

13: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), January 14, 2012, 1:25 PM.

Our gurbani's origins are in the poetry of Guru Nanak, with an emphasis on human relationships, universe laws, and their close connection. His approach added a tilt towards the divine, and it became a sacred custom to view everything in Sikhi in holistic terms. Over time, we have forgotten the real purpose and utility of Sikh thought in our daily lives; and the unique benefits that accrue from molding our thoughts and actions as advocated in Sikhi. We need to increase our collective efforts that tend to explore this missing but inherent connection. Such exploration is bound to add to our reverence, devotion and holistic significance in Sikh thought.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 72"

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