Hold up.. what should you do while reading Gurbani?

Vaheguroo Ji Ka Khalsa Vaheguroo Ji Ki Fateh

Today, I’d like to take a moment to pause and reflect on an important topic: Pausing.

In Gurbani, we don’t have any commas. However, that doesn’t mean that every line is just read continuously. On the contrary, there are inherent pauses in each line and we ourselves have to know when to pause while reading. Correct bisraams (pauses) help to convey the right meaning, while an incorrect bisraam can completely change the meaning of the tuk. Most of the time the pause is intuitive and we can naturally tell where it is as we read. Other times we have to make a conscious effort to figure it out and understand. This is important because a slight difference in bisraam can convey a message completely opposite to a line’s actual meaning.

For the sake of getting this point across – Here are some examples where incorrect placement/pronunciation of a comma can completely change the intended meaning.

English example:

  1. “Woman, without her, man is worthless.”
  2. “Woman, without her man, is worthless.”

Two entirely different meanings conveyed just by changing the comma placement (Bisraam)!

Punjabi example:

  1. ਰੋਕੋ ਨਾ, ਜਾਣ ਦੋ। “Roko na, Jaan do”  – Don’t stop them, let them go.
  2. ਰੋਕੋ, ਨਾ ਜਾਣ ਦੋ. “Roko, na Jaan do” – Stop them, don’t let them go.

Example from Gurbani (commas added for illustration):

ਗੁਰੁ ਅਰਜੁਨੁ, ਘਰਿ ਗੁਰ ਰਾਮਦਾਸ, ਭਗਤ ਉਤਰਿ ਆਯਉ ||੧|| ( ਅੰਗ ੧੪੦੭)
In the House of Guru Raam Daas, the devotee of the Lord, Guru Arjun was born. ||1||
If we put the bisraam after ghar and say “Gur Arjun Ghar, Gur Raam Daas..” it would mean that Guru Raam Daas ji was born into the house of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, which doesn’t make any sense!

So how do we know where the bisraam is? Usually our doubts can be cleared by stopping and doing vichar on the meanings of the lines or reading some steeks/meanings. Sometimes it is not clear or there are conflicting translations. We can rely on research and translations of previous Gursikhs and the context of the shabad to try our best to understand where the pause is. Typically there we can tell if the meaning is contrary to Gurmat and therefore not likely. We may not always be correct, because our understanding is limited and Gurbani is above and beyond our intellect. However, we should still make our best effort.

This is especially important for Keertanis – they should create and adjust their tunes based on the Shabad, rather than fit the Shabad to the tune. Unfortunately most of us do the latter, often without realizing it. Even if it doesn’t make a huge difference to the meaning, it is still important because we are supposed to be using music as a tool to bring out the mood and meaning of a particular pangti (line). Some times we sing a line for the first time on stage, without knowing the correct pauses and just separate it according to the tune or taal. Ideally we should have read and understood the shabad before singing it. Fortunately, knowledgeable Gursikhs will often correct us so that we can sing it properly.

The following is a list of some common bisraam mistakes that people usually make because they aren’t often discussed or are easily overlooked. Some of these I have observed during kirtan or paath, while others I have learnt from my father or other Gursikhs. I have added spaces in the lines to signify where a pause “should” be.

 

ਗਾਵੈ ਕੋ      ਜੀਅ ਲੈ ਫਿਰਿ ਦੇਹ || (ਅੰਗ ੧)
Some sing that He takes life away, and then again restores it.
If we put the bisraam after jeea, or the third word in every line of this pauri, as is commonly done, we would say “some sing of life, takes then gives.” Clearly “take” goes with “life”, so they should be together as one phrase. It should be “Gaavai Ko, Jee Lai Phir De”. Most of the lines in this pauri have the bisraam after “Ko”. (ex: Gavai Ko, Gun Vadiaayeea Char. Gaavai Ko, Vidhia Vikham Veechar)

 

ਚਰਨ ਸਤਿ      ਸਤਿ ਪਰਸਨਹਾਰ || (ਅੰਗ ੨੮੫)
His Lotus Feet are True, and True are those who touch Them.
Many people read these together as one word, like “Charan SatSat Parsanhar”. But one sat is for charan, the other is for parsanhar. The pause in between makes that clear. This is the same for all of the other lines in this padhaa of Sukhmani Sahib.

 

ਹਰਿ      ਜੀਉ ਗੁਫਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਰਖਿ ਕੈ    ਵਾਜਾ ਪਵਣੁ ਵਜਾਇਆ || (ਅੰਗ ੯੨੨)
The Lord placed the soul to the cave of the body, and blew the breath of life into the musical instrument of the body.
For most of my life I had been reading this all together and thought “Har Jeeo” meant “Respected Lord”. It actually means that Vaheguru places the soul(jeeo) into this body cave. There is a bisraam after “har”, as in “hari (ne), jee guffa (de) andar rakh ke..”.

 

ਸੁਣਿ ਕੈ    ਜਮ ਕੇ ਦੂਤ    ਨਾਇ ਤੇਰੈ     ਛਡਿ ਜਾਹਿ ||  ਅੰਗ ੯੬੨
Hearing Your Name, the Messenger of Death runs away.
We often read this all together, or split it in the middle. However because Guru sahib put the words in an unconventional order (almost backwards), with the common pause style the meaning would be wrong. To me, when you say “naae terai chhad jaae” it sounds like it would mean “they left your Name”. But the meaning is “by listening to your name, the jamdoots (pause) leave you”.  So in my opinion there should be a bisraam before chhad jaae  – “Sun Kai (Jam Ke Doot) Nae Terai, Chhad Jaae”.

 

ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਮਰਿ ਜਾਈਐ     ਮੇਰੇ ਠਾਕੁਰ   ਜਿਉ ਅਮਲੀ ਅਮਲਿ ਲੁਭਾਨਾ ||੨||  ਅੰਗ ੬੯੭
Without the Name, I would die; the Name of my Lord and Master is to me like the drug to the addict. ||2||
This is another  one that always bothered me, because most tunes separate this as “Bin Naavai Mar Jaeeyai Mere Thakur”, Which almost sounds like “my thaakur dies without naam”. But it is not my thaakur who is dying, it’s me! So to make that clear I would have a short pause before mere thakur: “Bin Naavai Mar Jaeeyai, Mere Thakur, Jio Amli Amal Lubhana”.

ਸੰਤ ਕਾ ਦੋਖੀ   ਭੂਖਾ     ਨਹੀ ਰਾਜੈ || ਅੰਗ ੨੮੦
The slanderer of the Saint is hungry and is never satisfied.
If we put the bisraam  after nahi, the whole meaning changes. “Sant Ka Dokhi Bhooka Nahi, Raaje” means the saint’s slanderer is not hungry, he is satisfied. If you put it after “bhooka”, it means he is hungry, not satisfied.

 

ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ   ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ      ਆਵੈ ਜਾਵੈ ॥ Panna 1040
Without the Guru, no one is liberated; coming and going in reincarnation continue.
Very similar to the previous example, if you put the bisraam in the middle, one might say “Bin Gur Mukat, Na Aavai Jaavai”. That would mean “without the guru we are liberated, we don’t come and go in reincarnation”. But according to gurmat we know that is not true. So it must be “Bin Gur, Mukat Naa (pause), Aavai Jaavai. “Without the guru, you are not liberated. You come and go..”

 

ਕਰਮਿ ਮਿਲੈ      ਨਾਹੀ ਠਾਕਿ ਰਹਾਈਆ ||੩||
They are received only by Your Grace. No one can block them or stop their flow. ||3||
One more very similar example. If the bisraam is after naahi, the meaning becomes “spiritual powers do not come through your grace, and they can be stopped. The correct pronunciation would be “Karam Milai, (pause) Naahi Thaak Rahaaeeya”.

 

ਨਾਨਕ      ਪਾਪ ਕਰੇ ਤਿਨ ਕਾਰਣਿ   ਜਾਸੀ ਜਮਪੁਰਿ ਬਾਧਾਤਾ ||੪||੨||੧੪||
O Nanak, she commits sins for their sake; she shall go, bound and gagged, to the City of Death. ||4||2||14||
I recently heard this line being sung as “Nanak Paap Kare, Tin Kaaran.. Jaasee Jampur Baadhata”. Which is basically saying “Nanak commits sins, for them..” But Nanak is not the one committing sins, the sinner who is being referred to was actually mentioned in the previous line. The actual bisraam is after Nanak – “Nanak (pause), Paap Kare Tin Kaaran..” In Gurbani, most pangtees that start with Nanak have a pause right after Nanak because it means “Nanak is saying”. By attaching the word Nanak to the phrase following it, we risk (unknowingly) disrespecting Guru Sahib!
 

I hope this was helpful to some of you. If you would like to learn more about Gurbani pronunciation and viakran, check out the video below by Giani Kulwinder Singh from UK. He talks about pausing as well as the poetic weight/balance and grammar used in Gurbani.

Please forgive me for any mistakes. If you have any additional points, comments, or examples, please post them in the comments below!


Posted in Sikhi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , with no comments yet.

Custom Tablet/Laptop Sleeve

I recently purchased a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (Laptop/tablet) and I needed something to protect it. I didn’t want to spend the time to find the perfect cover to order and then wait for it to arrive. As usual, I would rather spend that same time creating my own solution. I decided to make a sleeve, to maintain its portability and slim profile. I decided to look for some mailing envelopes and see if I could find one that I could cut up and use. Fortunately I was able to find one that was almost the perfect size that I needed! All I had to do was make it look nice and protect better.

First I cut a large opening to make it easy to take the laptop in and out. Since the flap had to be bigger than the opening itself, I had to find another material to make it out of. I used the outer layer of an old notebook which happened to be similar in thickness to the envelope material. After cutting it to the right size and taping it on, I taped strong neodymium magnets to both sides to keep the flap closed. The envelope was strong but it would be nice to add another layer to make it feel nicer and protect better. I found this thin foam bag that computer parts often come in, and covered the whole envelope with that. Now it looked and felt nicer but it could still be better!

After looking around for a while I found an old binder and decided to strip off the plastic/rubbery cover and use that to cover my sleeve with. The material was durable, smooth, water-resistant, and looked nice.My only issue was that I barely had enough material to cover the envelope so I had to be very strategic. I finally found a way to efficiently place and attach it to the envelope (using tape and glue, again :p) Finally I had to cover the places where the binder material joined together and was taped or cut, so I used some pieces of carbon-fiber adhesive (left-over from my briefcase project) to cover up the edges and seal everything up. I think it turned out pretty nice overall! What do you guys think?

 


Posted in Stuff and tagged , , , , , , with no comments yet.

3 Tips to Improve your Gurbani Pronunciation

Today I’d like to talk about 3 simple ways in which one could improve their Gurbani Ucharan. When we read Gurbani, its important to pay attention to the words and how they are spelled. A small mistake in pronunciation could change the meaning entirely, so we should try our best to be shud(clear) when reading Gurbani. Correct pronunciation is even more important when someone else is listening, because that small mistake on our part could cause a larger misunderstanding for the listener(s) since they cannot see the words themselves. If you have taken santhiya, hopefully you will already know these things and pay attention to them. If you haven’t, I hope you can learn from this article and improve. Either way, I hope everyone can find something useful here.

I’m not going to write about any complex topics in here like viakran(grammar), parts of speech, singular/plural, masculine/feminine etc. or controversial stuff like whether or not we should pronounce bindis and all that. These are just 3 simple tips that I think everyone across the board can agree on, no matter your background.  I’m not an expert by any means, these are just basic things I have learned and observed over the years so I wanted to share them for everyone’s benefit. Each “tip” is followed by examples from common Nitnem baanis.

 

1) Know the difference between laav/laa and dulaava/dulaiya. This is very important and unfortunately one of the most common mistakes I hear everyday. People just don’t seem to know the difference, or they don’t care to pay attention. If you have taken santhia you should know that one makes an “ay” sound such as in “hay” or “bay” and the other makes an “ai” sound such as in “cat” or “mat”. Majority of the people I’ve heard read Gurbani mispronounce these and don’t differentiate between them  I would like to very briefly narrate a sakhi here to explain the importance of this point. I’m sure you can find this saakhi online in much more detail if interested. But basically, once time Guru Sahib asked a sikh to recite Gurbani for him, and the sikh was doing a wonderful job and Guru sahib was very happy with him. Then he got to the line

ਕਰਤੇ ਕੀ ਮਿਤਿ ਕਰਤਾ ਜਾਣੈ ਕੈ ਜਾਣੈ ਗੁਰੁ ਸੂਰਾ ||੩||
karathae kee mith karathaa jaanai kai jaanai gur sooraa ||3||
Only the Creator Himself knows His own extent; or the Brave Guru knows. ||3||

But he pronounced kai as ke. Guru sahib stopped him right there and ordered sikhs to give him some sort of punishment (according to some accounts he was “caned” or slapped), because by saying “kay”, the meaning of the line changed from “…. or the Brave Guru knows” to “…what does the Guru know?”, meaning the Guru knows nothing. This seemingly small mistake translated into a huge insult toward Guru Sahib.  Although I’m not sure how accurate this incident is because we know Guru Sahib is forever merciful, it still illustrates how important it is to pronounce Gurbani correctly, to the best of our ability.

More examples:

ਮੰਨੇ ਕੀ ਗਤਿ ਕਹੀ ਨ ਜਾਇ ||
ma(n)nae kee gath kehee n jaae ||

(Japji Sahib) Notice the first manae pauri in Japji Sahib uses Manae

ਮੰਨੈ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਮਨਿ ਬੁਧਿ ||
ma(n)nai surath hovai man budhh ||

(Japji Sahib) while the next 3 pauris use Manai. The difference is due to meaning.

ਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਅਨੰਦੁ ਹੋਆ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਮੈ ਪਾਇਆ ||੧||
kehai naanak ana(n)dh hoaa sathiguroo mai paaeiaa ||1||
Says Nanak, I am in ecstasy, for I have found my True Guru. ||1||

(Anand Sahib) Many people say Kahay, correct pronunciation is kahai.

ਸੁਣਿ ਕੈ ਜਮ ਕੇ ਦੂਤ ਨਾਇ ਤੇਰੈ ਛਡਿ ਜਾਹਿ ||
sun kai jam kae dhooth naae thaerai shhadd jaahi ||
Hearing Your Name, the Messenger of Death runs away.

(Rehraas Sahib) first one is kai, second is kay. They have different meanings.

ਸੁਣਿ ਵਡਾ ਖੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਇ ||
sun vaddaa aakhai sabh koe ||
Hearing of His Greatness, everyone calls Him Great.

(Rehraas Sahib)  Many people say aakhay, correct pronunciation is aakhai.

ਤਿਤੁ ਸਰਵਰੜੈ ਭਈਲੇ ਨਿਵਾਸਾ ਪਾਣੀ ਪਾਵਕੁ ਤਿਨਹਿ ਕੀਆ ||
thith saravararrai bheelae nivaasaa paanee paavak thinehi keeaa ||
In that pool, people have made their homes, but the water there is as hot as fire!

(Rehraas Sahib) many people say Sarvarray, correct pronunciation is sarvarrai.

 

2) Know the difference between Siharee and Biharee. The former has is an I sound, such as in “bit” or  kit”, while the latter has an ee sound such as in “beet, meet”. These are easy to overlook and people often say one in place of the other.

ਗਾਵਨਿ ਤੁਧਨੋ ਇੰਦ੍ਰ ਇੰਦ੍ਰਾਸਣਿ ਬੈਠੇ ਦੇਵਤਿ ਦਰਿ ਨਾਲੇ ||
gaavan thudhhano ei(n)dhr ei(n)dhraasan bait(h)ae dhaevathiaa dhar naalae ||
Indra, seated on His Throne, sings of You, with the deities at Your Door.

(Japji Sahib) Many people say devteeaa, correct pronunciation is devtia.

ਗਾਵਨਿ ਤੁਧਨੋ ਸਿਧ ਸਮਾਧੀ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਗਾਵਨਿ ਤੁਧਨੋ ਸਾਧ ਬੀਚਾਰੇ ||
gaavan thudhhano sidhh samaadhhee a(n)dhar gaavan thudhhano saadhh beechaarae ||
The Siddhas in Samaadhi sing of You; the Saadhus sing of You in contemplation.

(Japji Sahib) Many people say bichaaray, correct pronunciation is beecharay.

ਮੋ ਰੱਛਾ ਨਿਜ ਕਰ ਦੈ ਰਿਯੈ ||ਸਭ ਬੈਰਨ ਕੋ ਆਜ ਸੰਘਰਿਯੈ ||
mo raashhaa nij kar dhai kariyai ||sabh bairan ko aaj sa(n)ghariyai ||
Give me Your Hand and protect me. Destroy all my enemies today.

(Chaopei Sahib) We often hear kareeyai and sanghareeyai, correct pronunciation is kariyai, sanghariyai.

ਦੇਹ ਨਿਮਾਣੀ ਲਿਵੈ ਬਾਝਹੁ ਕਿਆ ਕਰੇ ਵੇਚਾਰੀ ||
dhaeh nimaanee livai baajhahu kiaa karae vaechaareeaa ||
The body is dishonored without devotional love; what can the poor wretches do?

(Anand Sahib) We often hear vecharia, correct pronunciation is vechareea.

ਥਾਲ ਵਿਚਿ ਤਿੰਨਿ ਵਸਤੂ ਸਤੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੋ ||
thhaal vich thi(n)n vasathoo peeou sath sa(n)thokh veechaaro ||
Upon this Plate, three things have been placed: Truth, Contentment and Contemplation.

ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਕਾ ਜਿਸ ਕਾ ਸਭਸੁ ਅਧਾਰੋ ||
a(n)mrith naam t(h)aakur kaa paeiou jis kaa sabhas adhhaaro ||
The Ambrosial Nectar of the Naam, the Name of our Lord and Master, has been placed upon it as well; it is the Support of all.

(Rehraas Sahib) We often hear people pronounce them both the same way, but they are both pronounced differently.

ਜਿਨ ਕਉ ਲਗੀ ਪਿਆਸ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸੇ ਖਾਹਿ ||
jin ko lagee piaas a(n)mrith saee khaahi ||
Those who feel thirst for You, take in Your Ambrosial Nectar.

(Rehraas Sahib) Most people say “Say-ee”. but its actually “say-i”.

ਰਖੇ ਰਖਣਹਾਰਿ ਆਪਿ ਉਬਾਰਿਅਨੁ ||
rakhae rakhanehaar aap oubaarian ||
O Savior Lord, save us and take us across.

(Rehraas Sahib) We often hear ubareean. The whole pauri has siharees, so correct pronunciation is ubarian, savarian

 

3)Pause between words. I learned this from my Dad and I’ve never heard any one else mention it, but it makes quite a difference. When one word ends with a certain letter and the next word starts with the same letter, if we speak too fast we tend to blur the words together into one word. However, if we pause even for a short amount, there is a clear space and the letters are pronounced separately. Examples:

ਸਹਸ ਸਿਆਣਪਾ ਲਖ ਹੋਹਿ ਤ ਇਕ ਨ ਚਲੈ ਨਾਲਿ ||
sehas siaanapaa lakh hohi th eik n chalai naal ||
Hundreds of thousands of clever tricks, but not even one of them will go along with you in the end. (Japji Sahib)

ਜੇ ਹਉ ਜਾਣਾ ਆਖਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹਣਾ ਕਥਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ||
jae ho jaanaa aakhaa naahee kehanaa kathhan n jaaee ||
Even knowing God, I cannot describe Him; He cannot be described in words. (Japji Sahib)

ਪੰਚੇ ਸੋਹਹਿ ਰਿ ਰਾਜਾਨੁ ||
pa(n)chae sohehi dhar raajaan ||
The chosen ones look beautiful in the courts of kings. (Japji Sahib)

ਪੰਚ ਦੂਤ ਤੁਧੁ ਵਸਿ ਕੀਤੇ ਕਾਲੁ ਕੰਟਕੁ ਮਾਰਿਆ ||
pa(n)ch dhooth thudhh vas keethae kaal ka(n)ttak maariaa ||
Through You, we subdue the five demons of desire, and slay Death, the torturer. (Anand Sahib)

ਜਿਨ ਨ ਨਾਮ ਤਿਹਾਰੋ ਕਹਾ ||ਦਾਰਿਦ ਦੁਸਟ ਦੋਖ ਤੇ ਰਹਾ ||੨੪||
jin nar naam thihaaro kehaa ||dhaaridh dhusatt dhokh thae rehaa ||24||
One, who repeats Your Name, Will be relieved from poverty and saved from attacks of foes. (Chaopei Sahib)

ਹੂਜੋ ਸਦਾ ਹਮਾਰੇ ਪ੍ਨਛਾ || ਸ੍ਰੀ ਅਸਿਧੁਜ ਜੂ ਕਰਿਯਹੁ ਰ੍ਨਛਾ ||੫|| ੩੮੧||
hoojo sadhaa hamaarae paashhaa || sree asidhhuj joo kariyahu raashhaa ||5|| 381||
Remain always on my back. Protect me, a graceful (Lord) with sword on Your Banner! (Chaopei Sahib)

ਰਿ ਰਾਸਿ ਮੇਰੀ ਮਨੁ ਵਣਜਾਰਾ ||
har raas maeree man vanajaaraa ||
The Lord is my capital; my mind is the merchant. (Anand Sahib)

ਸੁਣਤੇ ਪੁਨੀਤ ਕਹਤੇ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਰਹਿਆ ਭਰਪੂਰੇ ||
sunathae puneeth kehathae pavith sathigur rehiaa bharapoorae ||
Pure are the listeners, and pure are the speakers; the True Guru is all-pervading and permeating. (Anand Sahib)

 

Just paying attention to these three things will  force you to focus on what you’re reading and help keep your mind from wandering.  As we implement these tips our Gurbani pronunciation will become clearer and more understandable.  They can also help us when trying to read Larrivaar Gurbani (the original form where words are written without spaces in between). At the same time let us not forget that the most important aspect of all is reciting with love. May Guru Sahib accept our best effort and forgive all our mistakes.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

-Vikram Singh

—–Update 3/23/2016—–

I just wanted to add this image I found containing a list of common gurbani pronounciation mistakes from a Gurbani Ucharan book written by Bhai Joginder Singh Talwara Jee. I think a lot of people might find it useful.

talwara_jee_common_mistakes


Posted in Sikhi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , with no comments yet.

Degh Fateh: The Unsung Heroes

Image by LiteLens Photography

     Ever since I can remember, I’ve been sitting on Gurdwara stages with my father – playing tabla, harmonium, or crying in my mother’s lap. Appearing on stage often meant we were constantly under the spotlight and given plenty of attention from sangat. Uncles and aunties frequently came up to me to give compliments on my tabla playing, since I was so young. Almost everyone knew who we were, and many people would meet or greet me with love because I was the son of a Bhai Sahib. We were constantly given respect by the sangat, due to our being at the forefront of the scene.

     But today I would like to focus on someone else. Not the committee members, kathavachaks, or famous Raagis (all whom deserve respect and play vital roles in the Panth and Gurdwara ecosystem). Rather, today I would like to discuss the people who are left in the background. The average Joe (or Jeet) who spends hours doing seva but doesn’t get any fame, respect, or recognition. For the longest time, I took for granted just how complex it was to run the Langar in just one Gurdwara. Countless volunteers joining together to feed the sangat, with no personal gain in mind – now that is true selfless service. Every time I visit the Langar Hall, I see so many different faces – all pegs in this giant wheel, turning and churning to continue the operation of Langar. Just normal, random people, making rotis, washing dishes, rolling dough, setting plates and serving food. People of all ages, from little boys to old women and everyone in between.

     The sevadaars who serve food in the Langar line are visible to the sangat, but the people washing dishes or cleaning are often hidden in the back. We all eat and put our dishes away, but how often do we think about what happens next? How would the system work without all of these people doing their part? Have we ever stopped and thought, if there weren’t enough volunteers, how would the dishes get washed?

     On random days of week, at odd hours of the night, you can find people there, ever ready to serve. It amazes me that there is always someone who sees a pile of dishes and decides to take out his or her time to do something about it. The necessary tasks somehow always gets done, relying on random sevadars to come do them. There are times when no one is taking care of a seva and other times when there are so many volunteers that there is no space to join them! From dumping trash to mopping the floors, the Sikh spirit of seva is still alive. Seeing it always fills me with happiness and inspiration. These are the real heroes, wonderful selfless sevadars without whom the whole system would collapse!

Image by Manprem Kaur Photography

It never fails to amaze me how random and mixed the group of volunteers is. They’re not all amritdhari or even kesadhari. Countless people who don’t fit the typical “Gursikh” image are always doing seva, vacuuming, rolling rugs, being involved and helping out. These people deserve the real praise and recognition. This is not the same as getting time on stage and showing how fancily you can play harmonium, how vocally skilled you are or what bols you can play on a tabla, activities which are usually followed by praise or compliments. In fact, most of the background sevas don’t come with any credit or recognition. There is a reason Guru Gobind Singh Ji told Bhai Nand Lal to wash the dishes of the Khalsa, why Gursikhs often advise us to dust the shoes of Sangat. Sevas like these are meant to keep us humble.

     Whatever our motivation may be, ego usually tries to poke its head in. That’s why many people try to do seva in private. To be honest, I often face an internal struggle between not wanting anyone to see me while at the same time secretly hoping someone will! It’s tough not to become egotistical once you start doing a lot of seva. Something that is supposed to create a sense of humility can also give rise to more ego. In order for it to be truly fruitful, it is important for seva to be done without ulterior motives or expectation of rewards. It is even more beneficial if one were to do Simran at the same time.

     I always wondered, what is the motivation and drive behind it? Why do people do it? And let me tell you, the only way to find out is by trying it yourself. It’s an amazing feeling, standing side by side with a stranger, with the same purpose and goal: to be one of many in this huge effort. No obligations, no expectations. I can say from personal experience that the feeling of peace and contentment you get doing seva is incomparable. Just knowing that you are doing something, however small, is satisfying. The contentment and sense of purpose I get from it is just.. I’ve never felt that anywhere else. And I’ve barely done any seva in my entire life!

Now, getting to the title of this post:
We’re all familiar with the famous Sikh Slogan “Degh Tegh Fateh”. Notice that the word “Degh” comes first. The Degh part is just as important to victory as the sword, or the warrior (sipahi) spirit. This means victory to the “cooking pot”, representing the concept of feeding and serving the community, making sure everyone is well fed in addition to providing protection and being politically victorious.

     Over 500 years ago, Guru Nanak Dev Ji made the best investment of all time with only 20 rupees. To this day, that true bargain is paying off for the thousands who are getting fed around the world through the institution of Langar. If that’s not a good deal then I don’t know what is! People in all parts of the world are sitting together like equals and eating meals every single day, for free, all thanks to Dhan Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Ji.

Image by Manprem Kaur Photography     Those who kept the Langars going and kept the Khalsa Army fed played a vital role in our Panth’s history. I say unsung heroes because we tell tales and sing ballads about the bravery and valor of our heroes who wielded the sword, but what about those selfless Sikhs who fed and served the Khalsa? The Sikhs who did seva in the Langar, like Bhai Manjh? Who sacrificed their families, comfort and personal health for the Guru’s institution of Langar? Sikhs like Bhai Taru Singh who gave up their lives for the Khalsa? For the amazing Khalsa Langar, where royalty and highly educated people like Bhai Nand Lal washed away their egos and purified their mind. That same Langar where emperors had to come sit at the same level as common people. Dhan Guru Ka Langar which even the enemy was welcome to come partake in!

     It really humbles me to see kids, couples, families, and seniors on random days all cleaning the dishes. The feeling they get upon seeing a pile of unwashed plates, with no one there washing them, that feeling of shared responsibility, that, “Yes, I want to do something, to contribute, to make a difference.” The thought that “I’m willing to stick my hands in a sink full of yellow water and people’s leftovers rather than go home 15 minutes early.” It is very inspiring. It gives me hope. There is something glorious about it.

     These are real heroes that we don’t acknowledge. But then again, maybe that’s what makes it special. There is something magical about coming outside and seeing all the shoes arranged in a neat line without knowing who did it. Perhaps recognizing these people and giving them awards would ruin it and take it all away. If you do these sevas, I salute you. If you truly serve, selflessly, I respect you. You are hundreds of times better than me and perhaps many others who preach from stages. And if you don’t, you should try it sometime. It’s an amasingh feeling.

 


Posted in Sikhi and tagged , , , , , , , , , with 2 comments.