Monthly Archives: December 2007

From Amsterdam To Amritsar

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HARJINDER SINGH

After hesitating for two years and last minute refusals to face the reality that I had really given up my apartment, my job, my life in Amsterdam, and at least for one year all those that I love and care for, even those that I took for granted until I realised how much I would miss even my favourite barmaid, I left Amsterdam.

And what is the program, what is the plan ? One year in India, at least for that year no drinking, no smoking, a year of thinking about me and the rest of my life. Go to Amritsar and find out about those intriguing Sikhs, go to McLeod Ganj and find out more about those Tibetan Buddhists. Go to the Himalayas, hire a donkey, a horse or the combination of the two and go on a long trek. Will that fill a year, will I be happy, will I really be able to give up the booze ? Will I be able for the Indians that never leave one alone ? Will I not go completely bonkers and crawl up against the wall after a month ? And what about my health, and what about my friends, girlfriends ? But I am going, I am going to do it, I will show them that there is still life both in this old body and in the not-so-old mind. To hell with them and their 2.3 children, their second motorcar and their rat race. I am different, I do not need a wife, a God, a job, stability, I am the great adventurer. I do not really need any girlfriend, I am strong and independent, and above all I do not need God, and I can give up the booze without any help. Or can I ?

And thus we land on New Delhi airport on the morning of the 10th of January 1996, only some 4 hours later than scheduled. It is bright and sunny, and rather cold. I pay far too much money for a cab to a far too expensive hotel. In spite of being exhausted I go for my first walk and meet my first sadhu, meet my first Kashmiri hawkers, get an unwanted but unrefusable ride into town by some dodgy fellows, walk around Connaught Place and get an auto-rickshaw back to my hotel. There is a real shower with hot and cold in the room and a television, this is going to be the last room like that in a long time ! Next day to Pahar Ganj, to a hotel off the main market, first 300 rupee for a three bedded room just for me, with windows and attached bathroom, then 200 rupee for 2 bedded same without windows and finally 200 rupee for 2 bedded with windows and excellently positioned opposite the flat roof where they keep the dogs that bark all night. I can also hear the horns of the diesel locomotives at New Delhi station all night.

Things are wonderful and very rotten. Wonderful, because I enjoy the lepers, the cows, the hawkers, the elephants, the soothsayers, the Hindu mandirs, the camels and the down and out Western hippies. My heart is pinched by seeing the kiddies doing very unhealthy looking jobbies on the pavement next to an overflowing drain and crores of smelly 2 wheelers, old cars, trucks and buses passing by, but still I love it. Rotten because I have the big one : spending loads of time in the loo with a bucket in front of me. Going for a meal and after being served and eating two bites leaving in a hurry because I get ‘the feeling of vomiting’ (as the Indian doctor put it). But with the help of a nice Kashmiri boy I find the aforementioned doctor, get antibiotics and get cured. And I take a very serious haircut, because in this hot climate and insufficient hygienic facilities I might as well. And get myself out of Delhi and go to see this Golden Temple. And do not sleep very much, and am rather speedy without the drink. A non-drinking me, Dutch by birth, Irish by choice, can it be done ?

Of course I pay way too much for my train ticket to Amritsar and get unwanted luxury. We only arrive 30 minutes late and I am abducted by a cycle rickshaw wallah to a crummy hotel, charging 150 rupee + 10% tax and not offering too much in return apart from the drunks that gather in the dining room every night. The light is beautiful, the days are very clear, the air is of an almost transparent light blue that in NW Europe only appears on very rare winter days. And on the 19th of January nineteen hundred and ninety six Cornelis Heule, a mere 48 years of age makes his first appearance on the parkarma of Harmandar Sahib. And I am bowled over. The music that is broadcast from the gold-topped building in the middle of the square pond (sarovar) that surrounds it is divine. The beautiful light is there, the marble walkway (parkarma) around the sarovar, the white buildings around that. I spend 4 hours just sitting there, not going into the actual temple at all. And day two I come back for more, and again spend 4 hours, drinking in the atmosphere. Babaji speaks to me, the man who I will get to know very well later, and he points out the 4 open doors of the temple, welcoming every one from all creeds, castes, directions. And I decide to leave my hotel and move into the (free) Ram Das Niwas (guesthouse) of the temple itself. And thereby seal my fate.

In the far corner of room 43 in the dormitory of Guru Ram Das Niwas was a heap of bedclothes, and underneath those was Audrey, Dutch, black, Christian. She took me to the temple, she took me to the ceremony of bringing the Sikh holy book into the temple, and she took me for a Christian as I was reading the Bible. We got on very well and drank in the atmosphere of the place, told each other that the Sikhs were great and got intoxicated on the good vibes. We went for a meal, and we went and talked, and I was speedy and could not sleep. But I was winning. After Audrey there were the German Stephan and his wife, their friend Peter from Tienen in Belgium, John from the north of England who had given up the drink too, and was busy cycling from the North Cape to England going the long way round, Elizabeth from Anchorage, the reformed drunk from Ireland (do not even take a sweet containing liquor in future), and I talked, went to temple morning and night, was speedy and could not sleep. Some nights I fell asleep, utterly exhausted only to wake up after a few hours, and the thoughts would start milling through the head again, and sometimes I was awake all night until at dawn I fell asleep exhausted. And what went on in my mind was incredible, images from a past I hoped I had long forgotten, images from yesterday and even those of tomorrow. There was no stopping it, there was no stopping me, I talked, talked, I talked at a hundred miles an hour, and I could not sleep.

I went to the temple at 5 am for bringing in Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book) and at night at ten I took it to its room again. And why ? Did I believe in God ? There was no need to believe in God, whatever God is, I felt the presence in me and around me from day one. Was I a Sikh ? No, but I was becoming one. One day I was sitting behind the temple, and all of a sudden I started crying, and felt great at the same time, and the next day it happened again. And whenever I felt those massive copper bars of the palki in which we carried Guru Granth Sahib on our shoulders I felt something like an electric current going through me. And finally one night after fervently praying (me ! praying !) and asking for peace of mind I walked back to the dormitory and was suddenly overwhelmed by the ultimate heebee jeebees. I had to drink, I had to smoke, all the devils from the seven hells were shouting at me : drink, drink, smoke, smoke. And I ran, I ran to find my friendly Baba ji, who of course was not in his room, I ran back to my room and there was no one there, I went to the room next to me and flung myself on an American (imagine!) who was great, did not say much but just was there. And after 30 minutes I quietened down, and that was it, the final act, I was not a drunk anymore and I knew that something, someone was out there, playing games with me, and nasty ones at that but, I was cured.

Still I knew nothing about Sikhism, and I definitely did not, and do not know what God is. I started reading Sukhmani Sahib, a part of Guru Granth Sahib, I started reading Guru Nanak’s Jap ji Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh’s Jap Sahib, and through their meditations on God learned that even the Gurus, who were so close to God, were more sure of what God is not, than of what God is. And I learned about meditation, I learned that this indescribable, un-understandable God was everywhere, in waters, on land in you and me, in a worm and an elephant, that God was definitively not and old man having a long white beard living in a place called heaven, that God was one, that God is not linked to any religion, country or nation, that God has no family, that we cannot make any picture or portrait of God, and that whatever we do, we should keep God in mind. And no use retiring from the world and contemplate your navel. Live in the world but be not ruled by hunger for money or sex, be not ruled by anger and pride, and recognise all humans as your brothers and sisters, all the universe as His manifestation.

Everyone is welcomed in the temple, everyone has a right to believe in his own way, but if you want to be a Sikh you will have to wear the 5K’s, as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. First I thought if that is what it takes I will do it, although I do not see why. Later I discovered that having to face the world as a very recognisable Sikh you will have to live up to Sikh standards, be honest, be fair, be compassionate, and travelling to the very Islamic republic of Pakistan in full Sikh regalia and facing all these Musulman successfully, does add to your self confidence. Do not have personal pride, but be proud to be a Sikh. And, we cannot be like St Peter, we cannot deny what we are, and have to face the questions and sometimes the mockery. Does you the world of good !

Part of the ‘barrah maha’ (twelve month) written by Guru Nanak

In Chet agreeable is the spring and
Beautiful the bumble-bee.
The forests are flowering in front of my door.
May my Love return home.

Pleasant is Baisakh,
When the tree-bough adorns itself anew.
The bride is anxious to see God at her door,
‘Come my Love, come, take You pity on me.’

Sublime is the month of Jeth.
Why should I forget my Beloved ?
The earth burns like a furnace.
The bride prays to her Lord.

In Sawan, be you happy, O my soul.
The season has come when the clouds rain.
I love my Spouse with my soul and body,
But my Darling has gone abroad.
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1108

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Tabla!

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REMEMBER THE ONE

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The Sikh scripture (which is our only teacher and Guru) is a universalist and interfaith scripture. As well as hymns/poems written by the lineage of historic Sikh Gurus there are also Hindu and Muslim Sants represented.

Here is a teaching from the SGGS by Kabeer (Kabir) who lived a long life from around 1398-1498. Kabeer was raised by a Muslim weaver couple but he shunned organized religions of his day, and rejected rituals. He is one of Indian’s most famous and influential poets; honored particularly by Sikhs, Hindus and the Sufis (devotional Muslim sects).

REMEMBER THE ONE

Kabeer

Page 326 of the SGGS

You may annoint your limbs with sandalwood oil,
but in the end, that body of yours will be burned with the firewood.

Why should anyone take pride in their body or wealth?
Both shall end up lying on the ground;
they shall not go along with you.

(Pause and reflect on this teaching)

People sleep by night and work during the day,
but they do not remember the One,
they do not call the Beloved’s Name, even for an instant.

People hold the string of the kite in their hands,
and chew betel leaves in their mouths,
but at the time of death,
they get all tied up tight, like thieves.

Please, through Guruji’s Teachings,
become immersed in this Love;
sing the Glorious Praises of Infinity.
Call on the Naam (invoke God) and find peace.

In Mercy, the Beloved One, Creator/Creation
implants the Naam (constant awareness of the Almighty) within us;
inhale deeply the sweet satisfying aroma of the Cosmic One,
the Only Reality and Being.

Says Kabeer, remember Infinity, you blind fool!
Creator/Creation is True;
all your worldly affairs are false.

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Sikh Politics

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Gyani Jarnail Singh’s and Kamalla Rose Kaur’s quick tutorial on “Sikh Politics”.

Note: Gyani Jarnail Singh of Malaysia is an expert on Sikhi. The “Gyani” in his name is added (like Dr.) because he has studied Sikh theology at a university (or Gyanis study for years in Gurdwaras). His parents and grandparents were also Gyanis.

This does not make him a “priest” rather he is a “scholar” – he knows the language, Gurmukhi, and he has studied Sikh history and much more.

How Do Sikhs Govern?

Gyani Jarnail Singh:

In the Sikhi concept of the PANJ (five member group) – no individual has any veto power. Just like the ancient Greeks ‘democracy”..Sikhs have the Gurmatta. This institution held sway until the 1850’s rule of mahara Ranjit Singh. Each Sikh soldier or civilian was invited to a Gurmatta..each one had the right to stand up and speak his mind…and a final decision of CONCENSUS was then taken by the assembly after hearing all. The MISL Leader..the CHIEFTAN..had the same right as the lowly soldier..the footman..the cleaner. Thus once a stable cleaner was chosen to be NAWAB at the Mughal court.After the fall of the Sikh Empire in 1850..the British institution of “secret ballot elections” have taken root in Sikh Society. The Panj system has also been put on the back burner. Now the Panj is highly politicised and serve their political masters.

Is there a Sikhi Central?

Kamalla Rose Kaur:

For a very short time Sikhs had their own country, and then the Brits invaded. The British fought a war against the Sikhs and won, but they fell in love with the Sikhs. Thus the British helped the Sikhs and they also hindered the Sikhs.

Sikh Central is presently in India but Sikhs in diaspora have no representation in the present (British established) Sikh religion administration. Some/many accuse Sikh Central of being infiltrated by nonSikhs or taking bribes, or corporate lobby money. Some/many disagree!

Gyani Jarnail Singh:

Yes the SGPC – elected by the million or so eligible “SIKHS” (according to SRM – Sikh Code of Conduct) every five years according to the British Govt sponsored Gurdwara Act 1925..is a sort of Sikh Central.

Its authority is confined to old Punjab – now divided into Punjab/Himachal/Haryana. Efforts are underway to take away Haryana out of its spehre by forming a Haryana SGPC. Delhi already has a DGPC for Delhi gurdawras and the Patna Takhat as well as Hazoor Sahib Deccan are independently controlled by their states. So not only are the few MILLION Disapora Sikhs not reprsented in the SGPC….so are a few million Sikhs in the rest of INDIA ( those outside Punajb/Haryana/himachal). So in a way the Sikh Central is a very MINORITY sort of “Sikh central”…similar to if the few citizens of Vatican were to be Christian Central on behalf of the 1 billion or so christians…

2. The point to note is that the Govt of India holds the “Elections”… so it decides when and when… For example during the tenure of Jathedar GS Tohra…he was defacto President ( together with his assembly) for a total of FIVE TERMS..25 years ++ as the Govt decided to have NO ELECTIONS. Thus it is a Sikh Central over which the SIKHS have absolutley NO CONTROL. GS Tohra was kept in power for a quarter century….for reasons known/unknown ?? and the SIKHS coundnt do a damn thing about it.

3. Due to the SGPC being a “Financial Powerhouse” Goluck money from all historicl shrines runs into hundreds of millions yearly…anyone in control of it is in POWER. Inspite of the Indian govt using all sorts of “proxies”….newly set up Gurdwar Boards and such…the SGPC has traditionally been won by the Akali DAL…now the personal fiefdom of the BADAL Family/Dynasty…since the 1970’s !!

Thus when “POLITICS” rules the roost..invariably shady chraacters stand and win…through money laundering/vote buying/alcohol flows freely, hoodlums roam freely and drugs etc..every weapon in the arsenal is used to retain the status quo…95% of the SGPC members are TAINTED heavily. The one or two “religious” ones get voted out subsequently or turn over a “old” leaf and join the rascals

As it stands now the SGPC is heavily infested with self serving politicians..more into politics than religion – and thus it is foolhardy to have the Present SGPC do any amendments to the SRM..they are sure to do worse than better- as they already institutionalise Brahminised rules like NO women in Harmandir Sahib (Golder Temple) kirtan and other sewa (women can’t sing or serve) – …they SELL “ritualised readings of SGGS called Akahnd paaths ( readings done by anonymous granthis in anonymous places and times…and this is supposed to help the buyer get wishes !!)…given half a chance they may very well put it ALL this RITUALISATION in writing in the new SRM (Sikh Code of Conduct) . IMHO we are much better off with what we have in the Present SRM !!

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Glory, Peace and Goodwill Towards All

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Kamalla Rose Kaur

In memory of Clarice Wills, dancer, teacher, public speaker, peace activist, chef and art collector – fearless feisty performer.

As I entered the lobby of an elegant retirement center a couple days before Christmas a group of lively elder residents started caroling around the gigantic Christmas tree. I headed right to the elevator and traveled to the third and top floor.  I was there to escort an elder friend, age 91, to a party.  My husband waited outside in the car.

But that didn’t stop me from taking a moment after leaving the elevator, to trot over to the balcony rail and gaze down from three tall stories onto the huge and fabulous artificial Christmas tree and the festive elders below.

Enchanting, the world suddenly lit up with an infinitude of little white sparkling lights with gold dust mixed in, accented by reds and greens.

Such a beautiful sight.  And then the caroling  stopped and there was a lovely hush.  No one looked up.

And I almost changed that.  I almost made a spectacle of myself.  I almost decided that I am a soprano – and when the need arises, I am, I am!  I almost proclaimed,  dramatically,  from on-high, the story of Christmas:

“There were shepherds abiding in the field,

keeping watch over their flocks by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them

and the Glory of the Lord shown round about them.

And they were sore afraid.

The angel said unto them, “Fear not!

For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

For born unto you this day in the City of David,

a savior, which is Christ the Lord!”

But I stepped away without singing and hurried to collect my elder friend.

That section from Handel’s Messiah  isn’t a solo. To really pull it off you have to do the whole passage, including the part where the choir of angels arrive. You must have a fine orchestra.

A grand cathedral works well.  Or maybe the top floor of a local retirement home, for years called The Pink Palace (now locals call it The Cream Castle) looking down over their bedazzling Christmas tree to an audience of big hearted elderly  carolers –  all  Christian and/or intellectual and/or simply  musical enough, to deeply appreciate Handel during the holidays.

In my imagination, it sounded like this:

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The Khalsa and the 5Ks – by Harjinder Singh

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Vaisakhi 1699

In 1699 Guru Gobind Rai the tenth Sikh Guru, called his Sikhs together in Anandpur Sahib in the north of Panjab. He stood before the meeting, holding a sword, and asked for people to come forward who were willing to give their head.

The first five who did so are called the Panj Piaré, the five beloved ones. They were the first members of the Khalsa, the order of initiated Sikhs, those who are totally committed to the Sikh way of life, to doing God’s work. They then in their turn initiated Guru Gobind Rai into the Khalsa, and many others followed. From then on all Khalsa men were known as Singh (=Lion) and Khalsa women as Kaur (=Prince). Thus Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh.

This took place under the rule of one of the more intolerant Mughal Emperors, who then ruled most of the north of India. Being a Khalsa (Knight) involved physical fighting against the oppressors, to achieve freedom of worship for all.

Guru did stipulate that the sword was only to be used as a last resort, after all other means had failed. Guru wanted his Khalsa to be Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldier), who would not fight for material gain or out of anger, but who would defend the defenceless and fight against injustice.

As visible signs of their commitment the members of the Khalsa were to wear five outward signs, the so called Five Ks, and this practice is followed to this day.

Do realise that initiated Sikhs or Khalsas are only a relatively small group within the wider Sikh community or Panth. Many people of Sikh background wear a Kara, and more committed ones also keep uncut hair and wear a turban. It is unlikely that Sikhs who are not initiated wear a Kachhera, while only initiated Sikhs will wear the Kirpan.

The 5 Ks

The 5 Ks are :
Kesh (uncut hair, no cutting, trimming or shaving)
Kara (a steel bracelet)
Kangha (a wooden comb)
Kacchera (cotton boxer short)
Kirpan (small steel sword)
The kirpan stands for this fight against injustice referred to above.

The Five Ks symbolise dedication to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru. For an initiated Sikh or Khalsa the fact that the Guru has asked the Sikhs to wear the Five Ks is sufficient reason and no more needs be said.

The Khalsa cannot be anonymous. Her/His religion is known to all. She/He stands out among people, and any unseemly behaviour on her/his part would be noted as unbecoming of a follower of the Gurus.

Anybody seeing somebody wearing the Khalsa uniform (the Five Ks) should know that they can go to her/him for help. Regardless whether they wear western or Panjabi style clothes, they are visible Sikhs. Unfortunately many Sikh ladies, even initiated ones, choose not to wear a turban, and are therefore not easily recognisable as Sikhs.

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Gamelan in Garden

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