Concepts in sikhism



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GURMANTRA (Taran Singh), Punjabi Gurmantar, is that esoteric formula or term significant of the Supreme Being or the deity which the master or teacher confides to the neophyte to meditate on when initiating him into his spiritual discipline. The concept of mantra goes back to the pre-Vedic non-Aryan tradition and to the primitive cults of magic, animism and totemism. It has since been a continuing element one way or another in the religious traditions of the world and traces of it pervade to this day among the most modern of them. The occultist and the tantrist believe that mantras have power over the deity and can make it confer the desired boon or favour. According to the Brahmanical tradition, the universe is under the power of the gods, the gods are under the power of the mantras and the mantras are under the power of the Brahmans. The mantras have power over the gods or forces of Nature, but the Absolute Reality or the Supreme Being is here excluded. The mantras of the occultist comprised words which, in most cases, were merely weird sounds or perversions of meaningful words. The repetition, ceaseless repetition in the prescribed manner, of these was believed to prove efficacious in producing the desired result. Mantras also began to be culled from scriptural texts, and were used for the purpose of propitiating the gods. Similarly, certain mystic words from Scriptures were chosen to be meditated upon to win release or liberation. Om is the highest mantra in the Hindu system.

With the initiation ceremonies of different creeds developed the concept of the gurmantra. In Hinduism, Brahmans were the teachers. Their gurmantras, mantras imparted by gurus or teachers, were neither uncommon nor secret. The usual forms were Hari, Har, Rama, Hare Krsna, etc. Sohang (That I am) and Ahang (I am That) are the mystic gurmantras of the Vedantists. What makes a gurmantra meaningful is that it is whispered into the ear of the disciple by the guru. The disciple repeats the gurmantra as he is told to do to realize the Supreme. Whereas the mantras of the tantrists aim at gaining worldly advantages, the gurmantra is meant to lead one to the ultimate objective of liberation.

In Sikhism, the gurmantra is neither variable nor confidential. It is not whispered into the ear of the disciple, but openly pronounced. The word Vahiguru has been the gurmantra for the Sikhs from the very beginning; Vahiguru is the name by which the Supreme Being is known in the Sikh tradition. Bha Gurdas (1551-1636) makes the statement "Vahiguru is the gurmantra; by repeating it thou hast thy ego erased," (Varan X111.2). In the Guru Granth Sahib, the gurmantra to be practised is referred to as nam, i.e. the Divine Name. Absorption in nam, i.e. constant remembrance of God's Name is repeatedly recommended. "All gains—spiritual and material—flow from concentration on nam" (GG, 290). "Gather the riches of God's Name; thus wilt thou earn honour in the hereafter," (GG, 1311). "Grant me the merit (O God) of remaining attached to thy Name." This nam, according to Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak received in a mystical experience, during his disappearance into the Bein rivulet which is described in the Puratan Janam Sakhi in terms of a direct communion with the Divine Lord. "As the Lord willed, Nanak the devotee was escorted to His Presence. Then a cup filled with amrit (nectar) was given him with the command, 'Nanak, this is the cup of Name-adoration. Drink it. . . Go, rejoice in My Name and teach others to do so. . . I have bestowed upon thee the gift of My Name. . ." It is believed that the Name Guru Nanak revealed was Vahiguru.

The Mul Mantra or root formula with which Sikh Scripture opens defines the Reality. The epithet sati (satya from Sanskrit as) in it means ever-existent, eternal. Onkar, the primal word in the Mul Mantra, is for the temporal world that wonder whose name is sat. Vahiguru directly and verbally echoes the wondrous aspect of the Guru, here the Timeless Being. Vahiguru and Satinam thus convey an identical awareness, the former being implicit and the latter explicit in the Guru Granth Sahib. The Supreme Being is the ultimate Guru (GG, 357). Gurmantra Vahiguru means the wonderful Ever-existent Lord, the Supreme Enlightener.

Sikhism by definition is the faith of discipleship. The Guru is central to the system—the Ten who lived in person and the Guru Granth Sahib which was so apotheosized in 1708 by the last of the Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru's word is for the Sikh the Word Divine, and he is meant to live by it. He to whom the Guru imparts nam mantra, i.e. gurmantra, alone achieves perfection (GG, 1298); he receives bliss transcending all desires, (GG, 318); he has his fear and suffering annulled (GG, 51); he has himself accepted everywhere (GG, 257); and he has his sins cancelled pierced by the arrow of truth (GG, 521). Gurmantra acts as panacea for all ills (GG, 1002). Accursed is he who is devoid of gurmantra (GG, 1356-57). Gurmantra fixes one's mind on Him Who pervades everywhere (GG, 1357).

The initiation ceremony in early Sikhism was known as charanamrit or charan pahul, i.e. baptism by water from the holy foot (charan). The disciple drank water touched by the toe of the Guru who imparted the gurmantra. As the community grew in numbers, local sangat leaders in different parts administered charan pahul. One more practice is said to have originated in the time of Guru Arjan of placing water under the wooden seat (manji) of the Guru Granth Sahib and then using it as amrit to initiate the neophytes. While inaugurating the Khalsa in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh substituted khande di pahul or amrit for charan pahul. At that ceremony, the neophytes quaffed five palmsful of sweetened water churned in a steel vessel with a khanda, double-edged sword, to the chanting of the holy hymns. In response to the Guru's call, each of them shouted Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh, every time he took a draught of the elixir. He thus imbibed the gurmantra Vahiguru. Initiating in this manner the first five Sikhs known as panj piare, the Five Beloved, Guru Gobind Singh had himself initiated by them with the same rites. Since then any five Sikhs reputed for their religious devotion can initiate the neophytes and administer to them the gurmantra. Constant repetition of Vahiguru with full concentration, withdrawing one's mind from the world of the senses, is practising the Sikh spiritual discipline of nam so reverberatingly inculcated by the Gurus in the Holy Book.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Kahn Singh, Gurmat Martand. Amritsar, 1962

2. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Delhi, n.d.

T. S.
GURMAT (Wazir Singh) (gur-mat, mat, Sanskrit mati, i.e. counsel or tenets of the Guru, more specifically the religious principles laid down by the Guru) is a term which may in its essential sense be taken to be synonymous with Sikhism itself. It covers doctrinal, prescriptive and directional aspects of Sikh faith and praxis. Besides the basic theological structure, doctrine and tenets derived from the teachings of Guru Nanak and his nine successors, it refers to the whole Sikh way of life both in its individual and social expressions evolved over the centuries. Guidance received by Sikhs in their day-to-day affairs from institutions established by the Gurus and by the community nurtured upon their teachings will also fall within the frame of gurmat. In any exigency, the decision to be taken by the followers must conform to gurmat in its ideological and/or conventional assumptions.

The 'guru' in gur-mat means the Ten Gurus of the Sikh faith as well as gur-bani, i.e. their inspired utterances recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib. The instruction (mat) of the Guru implies the teaching imparted through this holy word, and the example set by the Ten Gurus in person. Direction derived from these sources is a Sikh's ultimate norm in shaping the course of his life, both in its sacred and secular aspects. The spiritual path he is called upon to pursue should be oriented towards obtaining release, i.e. freedom from the dread bondage of repeated births and deaths, and standards of religious and personal conduct he must conform to in order to relate to his community and to society as a whole are all collectively subsumed in the concept of gurmat.

Theologically, gurmat encompasses a strictly monotheistic belief. Faith in the Transcendent Being as the Supreme, indivisible reality without attributes is the first principle. The attributive-immanent nature of the Supreme Being is also accepted in Sikhism which posits power to create as one of the cardinal attributes of the Absolute or God of its conception. The Creator brought into being the universe by his hukam or Will, without any intermediaries. Man, as the pinnacle of creation, is born with a divine spark; his liberation lies in the recognition of his own spiritual essence and immanence of the Divine in the cosmic order. Fulfilment comes with the curbing of one's haumai or ego and cultivation of the discipline of nam, i.e. absorption in God's name, and of the humanitarian values of seva, selfless service to fellow men, love and tolerance.

The way of life prescribed by gurmat postulates faith in the teachings of gurbani, perception of the Divine Will as the supreme law and honest performance of one's duties as a householder, an essential obligation. The first act suggested is prayer—prayer in the form of recitation by the individual of gurbani, thus participation in corporate service, or silent contemplation on the holy Word in one's solitude. Kirat karni, vand chhakna te nam japna is the formula which succinctly sums up what is required of a Sikh: he must work to earn his living, share with others the fruit of his exertion, and practise remembrance of God's Name. Gurmat has evolved a tradition of observances and ceremonies for the Sikhs, mostly centred around the Holy Book, Guru Granth Sahib. Gurmat recognizes no priestly class as such. Any of the Sikhs admitted to the sangat may lead any of the services. He may lead prayers, perform the wedding ceremony known as Anand Karaj, and recite from the Guru Granth Sahib. The rites of passage, viz. ceremonies connected with the birth of a child, initiation, marriage and death, all take place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. They conclude with an ardas and the distribution of sacramental karahprasad. The recital of six stanzas from the Anand (lit. bliss) is well-nigh mandatory for all occasions, whether of joy or sorrow, wedding or death.

On the ethical plane, gurmat prescribes a code of duties and moral virtues, coupled with the distinctive appearance made obligatory for the Khalsa. A Sikh becomes a full member of the Khalsa brotherhood after he has received the rites of initiation and the vows that go with it. Violation of any part of the code (particularly the four prohibitions) of the Kalsa is treated as disregard of gurmat and renders the offender guilty of apostasy. The tribunal of Sri Akal Takht at Amritsar has traditionally been regarded as Supreme in religious, social and secular affairs of the Sikhs and has the authority to issue edicts for providing guidance to the Panth as a whole and to excommunicate any individual who has acted contrary to its interests or who has been found guilty of attempting to overturn any established Sikh religious convention.

Directional injunctions under gurmat can be issued to individuals or communities by Panj Piare, the five elect ones. They will provide solution to problems that arise or problems brought before them. Or, one 'consults' the Guru by presenting oneself before the Guru Granth Sahib to obtain in moments of perplexity his (the Guru's) guidance which comes in the form of the sabda, i.e. hymn or stanza, that first meets the eye at the top of left-hand page as the Holy Book is opened at random. There are instances also of the community leaders deciding on a course of action through recourse to such consultation. The institution of gurmata (sacred resolution), unanimous decision taken or consensus arrived at in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, dates back to the early eighteenth century.

Some of the conventions and customs established to resolve lingering controversies have become part of gurmat. In regard to the wedding ceremony for instance, the custom of anand karaj has gained universal acceptance which was not the case until the beginning of the twentieth century: any other form of the ritual will not have the sanction of gurmat today. As regards meat-eating, gurmat has not given a final verdict, both vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism being concurrently prevalent. The use of intoxicants is, however, clearly prohibited. Casteism and untouchability are ruled out in principle; any vestiges of it such as use of caste-names as surnames are generally considered against gurmat. The 48-hour- long uninterrupted recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, called akhand path, has over the decades come to be accepted as part of the Sikh way of life.

Gurmat does not approve of renunciation. It insists, on the other hand, on active participation in life. Human existence, according to Sikh belief, affords one a rare opportunity for self-transcendence through cognizing and contemplating on the Name and through deeds of selfless service. One rehearses the qualities of humility, compassion and fraternal love best while living in the world. A householder who works to earn his living and is yet willing to share with others the fruit of his exertion and who cherishes ever God in his heart is, according to gurmat, the ideal man. Even as reverence for the pious and the saintly is regarded desirable, parasitism is forbidden in gurmat. The cultivation of the values of character and of finer tastes in life is commended.

The writings of the Gurus preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth best interpret and elucidate what gurmat is. Some anecdotes recorded in the Janam Sakhis also help explain gurmat principles. A systematic exposition of gurmat principles was for the first time undertaken by Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636), who in his Varan expatiated upon terms such as gurmukh, one attuned to the Gurus' teaching, sangat, fellowship of the holy, and seva, humble acts of service in the cause of the community and of fellow men in general, besides evolving a framework for the exegetics of gurbani. The process of exposition, continued by men of learning such as Baba Miharban (1581-1640), Bhai Mani Singh (d.1737) and Bhai Santokh Singh (1787-1843) and by the writers of Rahitnama literature reached its culmination in the Singh Sabha movement which produced interpreters of the calibre of Bhai Kahn Singh (1861-1938), Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957) and Bhai Jodh Singh (1882 1981).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Kahn Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Martand. Amritsar, 1962

2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Nirnaya. Ludhiana, 1932

3. Caveeshar, Sardul Singh, Sikh Dharam Darshan. Patiala, 1969

4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

W. S.
GURMATA (K. S. Thapar), a mata, i.e. counsel or resolution adopted by the Sikhs at an assembly of theirs held in the name of the Guru concerning any religious, social or political issue. The convention grew in the turbulent eighteenth century to determine the consensus of the community on matters affecting its solidarity and survival. In those uncertain days, Sikhs assembled at the Akal Takht at Amritsar on Baisakhi and Divali days and took counsel together, in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, to plan a course of action in face of an immanent danger or in pursuit of a common objective. The final decision emerging from the deliberations was the gurmata. It represented the general will of the Kalsa and it carried the sanction of the Guru, the assembly having acted by the authority of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The genesis of the gurmata is traceable to the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh and the earliest instances in fact go back to his own time. While inaugurating the Khalsa in 1699, the Guru said that all members of the Panth, the Sikh commonwealth, were equal, he (the Guru) being one of them; all previous divisions of caste and status had been obliterated.

Before he passed away in 1708, he declared that wherever Sikhs were gathered in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, there was the Guru himself present and that the counsel thus taken represented the combined will of the Kalsa.

There are at least two instances occurring in the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh when he let the 'general will' of the Khalsa prevail, perhaps against his own judgement. One such instance was the evacuation of Anandpur (1705). Sorely pressed for want of food and ammunition, the besieged Sikhs decided to accept the promises of safe conduct given by the besieging force in return for withdrawal from the Fort. The Guru was not convinced of the genuineness of the besiegers' word, yet he yielded to the will of the Khalsa expressed in council in his own presence. In the battle of Chamkaur, following the evacuation of Anandpur, most of the Sikhs in train as well as two of the Guru's sons fell fighting against the pursuing host. The few surviving Sikhs suggested to the Guru to leave the fortress, to which he was not agreeable. They then expressed their joint will in the name of the Khalsa calling upon the Guru to escape. This was a gurmata in its nascent form. The Guru had no option but to 'obey'.

Gurmata had emerged as a well-established democratic institution towards the middle of the eighteenth century. European travellers such as George Forster (A Journey from Bengal to England) and John Malcolm (Sketch of the Sikhs), both of whom visited the Punjab, the former in 1783 and the latter in 1805, have left vivid accounts of the functioning of the gurmata. According to these accounts, Sikhs gathered twice a year, on the occasions of Baisakhi and Divai, at Akal Takht to take stock of the political situation, to devise ways and means to meet the common danger, to choose men to lead them in battle, and so on. The procedure was democratic. All those who attended these assemblies of the Sarbatt Khalsa, the entire Sikh people, had an equal say in the deliberations. "All private animosities ceased" and everyone present "sacrificed his personal feeling at the shrine of general good." Everyone was actuated by "principles of pure patriotism" and considered nothing but "the interest of the religion and the commonwealth" to which he belonged. After the gurmata was passed, everyone, irrespective of whether he had spoken for or against it when it was debated considered it his religious duty to abide by it. The assembly met in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth. Inaugural ardasa (supplication) was said by one of those present seeking the Guru's blessing, sacramental karahprasad was distributed and proposals were put forth for discussion. Ardasa, continues John Malcolm, was again recited and all those present vowed, with the Guru Granth Sahib betwixt them, to lay aside all internal disputes and discords. "This moment of religious fervour and ardent patriotism" was utilized to reconcile all animosities. Proposals were then considered and an agreed gurmata evolved, the whole assembly raising shouts of sat sri akal together in token of acceptance.

To cite some of the historic gurmatas, Sikhs resolved by mutual counsel at a general assembly at Amritsar in 1726 to avenge the slaying of Tara Singh of Van and his companions and rise to obstruct the functioning of the government. They attacked treasuries and arsenals and chastised the officials who had been spying on them. When in 1733 an offer of a jagir and title of Nawab was received from the Mughal governor of Lahore, Sikhs by one voice chose Kapur Singh for the honour. Though there was no formal gurmata adopted, the consensus was arrived at in a divan in keeping with the same spirit and procedure. A Sikh conclave took place at Amritsar on Divali (14 October) of 1745 to take stock of the situation following the death of the governor of Lahore, Zakariya Khan, who had launched large-scale persecution, and adopted a gurmata extending sanction to the 25 Sikh groups which had emerged and permitting them to carry out raids on Mughal strongholds. The assembly held on the Baisakhi day (30 March) of 1747 resolved by a gurmata passed to erect at Amritsar a fort which came to be known as Ram Rauni.

By a gurmata passed in 1748 (Baisakhi, 29 March), Sikhs decided to establish the Dal Khalsa, choosing Jassa Singh Ahluvalia as the leader and reducing the number of recognized jathas to 11 (the number having gone up to 65 by then) and providing for a record being kept at the Akal Takht of the possessions of each group in a separate file (misl). A gurmata in 1753 formally endorsed the system of Rakhi introduced by the ruling Sikh clans. In 1765, a gurmata was passed proclaiming the supremacy of the Sarbatt Khalsa over individual leaders. Through another gurmata the same year, a coin was struck with the inscription, Deg o tegh o fateh o nusrat be dirang, yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh (prosperity, power and unfailing victory received from Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh), and on the reverse, "Struck at Lahore, the seat of government, in the auspicious samvat 1822 (AD 1765).

To challenge Ahmad Shah Durrani returning from Sirhind to Lahore at the time of his seventh invasion of India (1764-65), the Sikhs made a gurmata. "All the Sikhs," records Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Prakash, "assembled in a divan. Sitting in one place, they adopted a gurmata that they must now confront the Shah and match arms with him. Every second day, they say, he comes and harasses us. Without fighting him now, we shall obtain no peace. He who survives will be spared this daily suffering; he who dies attains realms divine."

Conquests up to 1767 were made by the misls in the name of the Khalsa, but, with personal ambition and aggrandizement gaining the upper hand over the years, the sense of a corporate Sikh commonwealth gradually wore away. In the days of Sikh rule, the institution of gurmata fell into desuetude. The last semblance of a gurmata was an assembly of Sikh sardars called by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1805 to discuss the situation arising from the entry into Sikh dominions of the fugitive Maratha chief, Jasvant Rao Holkar, followed by British troops under Lord Lake. The word gurmata was resurrected after the lapse of Sikh sovereignty, especially with the rise of the Singh Sabha movement in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Gurmata then referred to any decision on a matter of religious or social import arrived at by common consent at a Sikh assembly in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The Akali movement brought within its orbit political issues as well. The word gurmata is now in everyday use for a resolution adopted at a Sikh religious divan or political conference.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Bhangu, Ratan Singh, Prachin Panth Prahash. Amritsar, 1914

2. Bhagat Singh, Sikh Polity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.

Delhi, 1978

3. Malcolm, John, Sketch of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970

4. Forster, George, A Journey from Bengal to England. Patiala, 1970

K. S. T.



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