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Bhai Gurdas - Sikh Practice
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 28, July 12 - 18





To the question of why Bhai Gurdas did not find a place in the Guru Granth Sahib, an intriguing response was made by a reader: the very asking of the question, it was suggested, is a reminder that we remain mired in the "cultural bugaboo" of self glory and our insatiable quest to be numero uno. That may indeed be true.

The original question, however, remains valid - at least from the perspective of scholarship and research.

Similarly, another reader vigorously contested the notion that Vaar 24.23 alludes to the martyrdom of Guru Arjan. Even if one were to admit the argument, the question of Bhai Gurdas' silence on the matter remains. We may not have the answer here - and doubt that a definitive answer is possible at all. We will leave it to the specialists to try and cobble an explanation.

My hunch is that Bhai Gurdas' silence about Guru Arjan's martyrdom may have been the result of trauma and a threatening political climate as well as a need to protect the interests of a growing community. Discretion in this case, may have been the better part of valor.

THIS WEEK - Sikh practice

This week we have tried to piece together the image of a Sikh - and Sikh practice - as seen through the eyes of Bhai Gurdas. Pointers to Sikhi, its meaning, lifestyle and practice are scattered about in his Vaars and here it would be impossible to list them all out. Accordingly, only two were picked, quite randomly at that, to set the stage for a discussion.

No attempt at a completely new translation of the Vaars has been made; instead, generally available translations have been used with some modifications.

The selected text highlights a Sikh's private and corporate practice - and it is to this that we will turn to in our discussion. There is a specific sequence or structure to a Gursikh's life that is mentioned here - arising before dawn, a bath, meditation (simran), nitnem, kirtan and sangat.


Vaar 12.2
ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਪਿਛਲ ਰਾਤੀ ਉਠਿ ਬਹੰਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan pichhal raatee utdi bahanday|
Salutations to Gursikhs who awaken in the last quarter of night.

ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਵੇਲੈ ਸਰਿ ਨਾਵੰਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan anmritu vaylai sari naavanday|
Salutations to Gursikhs who awaken at Amrit Vela and bathe.

ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਹੋਇ ਇਕ ਮਨਿ ਗੁਰ ਜਾਪੁ ਜਪੰਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan hoi ik mani gur jaapu japanday|
Salutations to Gursikhs who - having awakened - practice Simran with attention.

ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਚਲਿ ਜਾਇ ਜੁੜੰਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan saadhasangati chali jaai jurhanday|
Salutations to Gursikhs who then join in the holy congregation.

ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਨਿਤਿ ਗਾਇ ਸੁਣੰਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan gurabaanee niti gaai sunanday|
Salutations to Gursikhs who sing and listen to Gurbani daily.

ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਮਨਿ ਮੇਲੀ ਕਰਿ ਮੇਲਿ ਮਿਲਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan mani maylee kari mayli miladay|
Salutations to Gursikhs who greet each other whole-heartedly.

ਕੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਭਾਇ ਭਗਤਿ ਗੁਰਪੁਰਬ ਕਰੰਦੇ ।
kurbaani tinhaan gurasikhaan bhaai bhagati gurapurab karanday|
Salutation to Gursikhs who celebrate the Guru's anniversaries with full devotion.

ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵਾ ਫਲੁ ਸੁਫਲ ਫਲਦੇ ॥੨॥
gur sayvaa dhalu sudhal dhaladay ॥2॥
Serving the Guru they achieve success.


Vaar 6.3
ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਵੇਲੇ ਉਠਿ ਕੈ ਜਾਇ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਦਰੀਆਉ ਨ੍ਹਵੰਦੇ ।
amrit vaylay utdi kai jaai andari dareeaau nhavanday|
Arising at Amrit Vela, Sikhs proceed to the river for a bath.

ਸਹਜਿ ਸਮਾਧਿ ਅਗਾਧਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਇਕ ਮਨਿ ਹੋਇ ਗੁਰ ਜਾਪੁ ਜਪੰਦੇ ।
sehaj samadhi agaadhi vichi ik mani hoi gur jaapu japanday|
Then fixing the mind on the Unfathomable, recite the Guru's Jap (Ji).

ਮਥੈ ਟਿਕੇ ਲਾਲ ਲਾਇ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਚਲਿ ਜਾਇ ਬਹੰਦੇ ।
mathei tikay laal laai saadhasangat chal jaai bahanday|
Joining then the holy congregation (sadhsangat).

ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਲਿਵ ਲੀਣੁ ਹੋਇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਬਾਣੀ ਗਾਇ ਸੁਣੰਦੇ ।
sabad surat liv leen hoi satgur baani gaaey sunanday|
And absorbed in the mystical Word (Sabad) they sing and hear Gurbani.

ਭਾਇ ਭਗਤਿ ਭੈ ਵਰਤਿਮਾਨਿ ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵਾ ਗੁਰਪੁਰਬ ਕਰੰਦੇ ।
bhaai bhagat bhai varatimaan gur sayvaa gurpurab karanday|
They go about their lives in meditative reflection and service

ਸੰਝੈ ਸੋਦਰੁ ਗਾਵਣਾ ਮਨ ਮੇਲੀ ਕਰਿ ਮੇਲਿ ਮਿਲਦੇ ।
sanjhai sodar gaavanaa man maylee kar mayl miladay|
Gathering enthusiastically in the evening to sing Sodar.

ਰਾਤੀ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਸੋਹਿਲਾ ਕਰਿ ਆਰਤੀ ਪਰਸਾਦੁ ਵੰਡੰਦੇ ।
raatee keerat sohilaa kari aaratee parasaad vandanday|
Retiring at night to recite the Sohila Aarti and distribution of parsad.

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੁਖ ਫਲੁ ਪਿਰਮ ਚਖੰਦੇ ॥੩॥
gurmukh sukh dhalu piram chakhanday ॥3॥
Gurmukhs gladly taste the fruit of Love.



Amrit Vela: in previous discussions on this forum, we debated the meaning and import of Amrit Vela. Many of us argued that Amrit Vela was not clock time but rather anytime when the mind is free from distractions. Bhai Gurdas is here pointing to a specific time of the day when a Sikh is expected to arise. What do we make of Amrit Vela in light of this Vaar?

"Gur jap japandey," refers to the practice of introversion or meditation. What do readers think about this recommendation?

How does one find sangat on a daily basis living as we do in the West - or for that matter, anywhere?

Why do we find excuses to avoid following this foundational practice of Sikhi?


Conversation about this article

1: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 13, 2010, 10:32 AM.

I am not sure if Vaar 6.3 from Bhai Gurdas ji is for Sikhs, specially for the dressed up Sikhs of today. Also, Sikhs should check the laws of the country before proceeding to the river for a bath. Is Amrit Vela different from country to country? I do not see sincere Sikhs with 'mathei tikay laal laai'. I wish to do Gur jap but how? Sangat is also not always available in gurdwaras. The best was to find excuses.

2: I. Singh (Chelmsford, MA, U.S.A.), July 13, 2010, 10:59 AM.

This is actually in response to Ravinder Singh ji's comment in the first series of this Talking Stick colloquium on Bhai Gurdas - comment #15 on July 01. I am quite surprised that the book "Sikhism and Six Hindu Systems" by Tarlochan Singh (and subsequently edited by his son, Anurag Singh) has not been included as background reading on Bhai Gurdas and his writings. I highly recommend reading this and including it in all bibliographies on Bhai Gurdas.

3: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 13, 2010, 1:15 PM.

Historians say Bhai Gurdas never married. Still, he wrote in the last line of his Kabit 376: 'sakal dharam mai girhastu paradhaan hai'. How does one jive with the other?

4: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), July 13, 2010, 8:58 PM.

Bhai Gurdas studied in Benaras mainly about Hindu religion and in some of his Vaars there is a flavor of Hinduism, and therefore some intellectual preachers avoid it. He also requested Guru Arjan to include some of his vaars in the Adi Granth; Guru Sahib refused but labelled the Vaaran as key to GGS as most of vaars are interpretations of gurbani. Some of the vaars he wrote during the time of Guru Hargobind. Vaar 12.2 is an interpretation of the slok of Guru Ramdas in Vaar Gaudi [GGS:305], which does not refers to Amrit Vela but just as Updesh to wake up early morning as being a fresh and peaceful time to worship. Guru Amardas wrote similarly at GGS:35. In the Guru Granth Sahib, there is no particular time as Amrit Vela.

5: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), July 15, 2010, 12:27 AM.

Vaars 6.3 and 12.2 convey similar thoughts, but with a different emphasis. The language is simple and folksy. The presentation is poetic but not far removed from regular conversation. This style is helpful in understanding certain portions of gurbani in the Guru Granth. His writings have also been used from historic perspective to learn about the religious and social practices of that time. These two Vaars affirm certain religious practices, such as having sangat, parshad distribution, naam japna, bowing to the Almighty, singing and reciting bani, etc. Getting up early in the morning to recite His name or meditate confirms the age old Sikh practice. Bathing in the river early in the morning is good information about the social custom at the time. But these Vaars also generate many questions in the mind of an analytical reader. For example, who is the Guru referenced here. Considering the reverence of Bhai Gurdas and the followers for the living Gurus in those days, is the Guru referenced here the living Guru or The Guru (Him). What was the source of water for bathing of those far removed from a river? Is the custom of bathing in the river extended to both genders? The point is, he provides some knowledge but leaves much more to speculation. Whatever little bit he reveals, he keeps much more to reader's imagination. This is a constant challenge in reading his writings. However, because he wrote so much, he left behind helpful information and was cited for his work by the Gurus themselves; he has earned much deserved respect from Sikhs. His reflection of 'amrit vela' appears most appropriate at the time it was written. The life style in those days evolved around the sunlight hours. People went to sleep early (around 7-8 pm) and were used to waking up early. The mind was rested, fresh and receptive to good thoughts for contemplation or meditation in the early hours. Our mind retains the same traits for those who adopt a similar schedule observed during Bhai Gurdas time. In my view, to look upon the 'amrit vela' suggested practice by Bhai Gurdas or in the Guru Granth from a religious or sacred view is the folly of modern followers accustomed to current life style of going to bed at midnight. Bhai Gurdas shall remain revered by many. He is likely to come across as misunderstood to some as our analysis of his writings is subjected to increased scrutiny. This is likely to happen not because of anything in his writings, but due to lack of our understanding of his reason and intent to write and fall short of the expectation of some of his future readers.

6: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 16, 2010, 5:11 AM.

Nirmal Singh ji wrote about Bhai Gurdas: "However, because he wrote so much, he left behind helpful information and was cited for his work by the Gurus themselves." What reference did the Gurus make to him?

7: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 16, 2010, 10:22 AM.

Amrit Vela was brought up yet again because it is an important concept in Sikh thought that remains shrouded in confusion as to its real nature. My take is that serious spiritual practitioners - across all faiths - have always followed a specific discipline that has included (invariably) arising well before sunrise. This is attested to in Guru Ramdas' slok that Mohan Singh ji references. Nilvi ji points out that this practice was perhaps suited to an agrarian society where the rhythm of daily life revolved around daylight. It might be reasonable to say that instead of getting stuck on thinking of Amrit Vela as a particular time of the day, we ought to read the message as a call to a disciplined life.

8: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 16, 2010, 1:49 PM.

Amrit Vela is when true Naam is 'meditated' upon and its results are contemplated. [GGS:2] A true bhagat does not wait for a particular time ... [GGS:35].

9: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), July 16, 2010, 7:49 PM.

Early morning is the only free time for most of the people, as during the day all have to work to earn a livelihood, and night is to relax and sleep. Moreover air is fresh and silence prevails all over and therefore morning prayers are recommended.

10: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 17, 2010, 8:34 AM.

Balbir Singh ji - a true bhagat indeed does not wait for a particular time. But we are not all true bhagats or gurmukhs. For a Sikh (a novice/ student) aspiring to be a gurmukh, discipline is a must and this includes the discipline of getting up early to practice "Naam Japna."

11: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 17, 2010, 10:38 AM.

Ravinder Singh ji - Naam Japna is the first learning. Sikhi begins and one's dharam is recognized. All that one follows with awareness is the Hukam. No one is out of His discipline.

12: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), July 17, 2010, 12:32 PM.

Balbir ji, as we all have read, the Sikh tradition dictates that Bhai Gurdas was cited by Guru Arjan for his writings to be used as "key" to understanding bani in the Adi Granth. He is credited for reading to the Emperor Akbar a paragraph from the Adi Granth to demonstrate the human values enshrined in it, and a few other similar examples. As we learn from history, he was a close member of Guru Ramdas' family. He played a significant role in compiling the Adi Granth. He was a prominent individual closely involved in Sikh affairs and trusted by all the Gurus of his time.

13: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), July 17, 2010, 1:40 PM.

Ravinder ji, your approach to the need for discipline in "Amrit Vela" is well taken with a caution. Discipline is important in learning and is required for a growing mind. However, the same sense of discipline when carried out with well meant religious ferocity, develops into what we call dogmatic, conservative, zealot minds in every religion. The practice, over time is viewed as sacred and therefore a religious must requirement. Any deviation from the practice can be looked upon as blasphemous. Which in turn leads to fierce conflict among the followers. And eventually becomes a source of split or failure of the enterprise. Therefore, every approach requires careful assessment in implementation. In my view scriptures are essentially knowledge which should be taught to the followers. Its use should be left up to the individuals. After all, the purpose of the scriptures and religion is to improve or help direct individual lives; not to a create a similar minded group or a force, as we do now. A gurdwara should act as a place of learning, worship, weekly refresher course in the scriptures and other religious discourse.

14: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), July 17, 2010, 2:18 PM.

Gurbani does not support that we 'wait' for a special time to do naam simran. I agree with those who insist that naam simran is not reserved for a special time of the day and that it should be practiced all day (and all night). Are we doing it? If not then, how can we profess to know the details of the practice? A hungry bird waits for no special time to eat. But this does not obviate looking for worms at a special hour of the day, regardless of the bird's expertise. In fact, a bird that stops this practice would quickly die in the forest. It seems to me that we can never do simran during our sleep unless we practice it during all moments of our waking hours and we cannot practice it during all moments of waking hours unless we practice it during the last part of the night (along with ishnaan). This, of course, is not all that is necessary. Please share your own experience with us.

15: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 18, 2010, 5:14 AM.

Thanks for your input.

16: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 18, 2010, 10:15 AM.

I completely agree with your comments on discipline, Nilvi ji. And Yuktanand ji said what I was trying to say about Amrit Vela - except that he said it much better! Thanks.

17: Aryeh Leib (Israel), July 19, 2010, 3:37 AM.

From the comments I've seen so far, it strikes me that there's a lot of complaining that circumstances today are different from the way things were within the time and space contexts in which the Gurus lived, therefore it's too impractical to take on the Sikh Path according to the recommendations of Bhai Gurdas. My friends, until we get our priorities straight in our own minds and hearts, it will remain thus. I know many Orthodox Jews who awaken every day before sunrise in order to spend the first part of the day in learning and prayer - with a quorum. The tone that this sets, and the effect this has on the entire rest of the day is beyond our ability to calculate. If we have the will, and a group of like-minded friends, it can be done. If I start my day with naam simran, it would seem that it would be that much easier to remain in a state of naam simran as I move through the day. Why should gurdwara attendance be a once-a-week affair? Is there something I'm missing here? And, if not in a gurdwara, why not in someone's home, or outdoors under the open sky? In a religion without clergy it seems to me that it's incumbent upon the individuals themselves to build their own sangat from the ground up. No one is going to do it for us. Please share your thoughts, as I realize that, living in isolation here, my whole take on the matter may very well be more than a bit skewed.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 28, July 12 - 18"

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