image caption: Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha and the cover of his historic book, 'Hum Hindu Nahi',

Interpretation of Gurbani: The Source of Sovereign Sikh Ideology & Identity

       In 1898, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, completed his historic book, Hum Hindu Nahi, one publisher wrote that it was an outcome of polemics prevailing in the religiously polarised and strife-torn society of the late nineteenth century. In a different context, Sikhi is facing similar challenges today.

When the independent existence of an institutional religion is threatened by another, there is a spontaneous reaction to expound and reaffirm the founding principles of that religion to show its uniqueness (niarapan). The famous expression attributed to Guru Gobind Singh starting Jab lag rahay Khalsa naira&hellipis a defiant Sikh response which asserts the uniqueness of the path of Sikhi.

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha did just that at a critical time and showed Sikh scholars the correct approach. The gentle Gursikh scholar did not respond in kind but relied on a rational exposition of Sikh ideology while quoting profusely from original Sikh sources &ndash mainly Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Yet, exposition of the uniqueness of Sikhi must not be a defensive reaction to what other proselytising religions like Islam (ref. Challenge to Sikhism by late S. Gurbachan Siungh Sidhu), Hinduism (via the Hindutva agenda), the Christian missionary activism in Punjab, or even some Budhist preachers (ref. my response to Biba Kamlesh Ahir from Canada**) have been trying to do to the sovereignty of Sikhi. Exposition of the unique Sikhi miri-piri way of life must be traceable back to the Source Bani in Sri Guru Granth Sahib which is Japji Sahib based on the Root Formula, the Mool Mantar. Otherwise, inevitably, any exegesis would lead to many diverse interpretations and give rise to many sects, cults, gurudoms and derawadi traditions.

It was only on reading a recent draft book that I realised that even the concept of Naam, which is central to Sikh thought, has not been properly explained. Is it just inactive parrot-fashion repetition of some holy Word or is it suggestive of a life of Sikhi activism. If so how? Do we climb the Paurris (steps) of Japji without effort or does that step-by-step approach require daily mental and physical udham and ghaal (sustained effort) to be worthy of Nadar. And what is Nadar in Sikhi? These questions are also suggestive of the right answers from Gurbani.

Some years ago, I was sadly amused by at least one reaction when I wrote about an unpublished draft left with me by late Bhai Sahib Subedar Dharam Singh Sujjon of UK. It has the title Sikh Ik Sresht Dharam Kivayn? (How Sikhi is a superior dharam i.e. righteous way of life). Sresht can be interpreted as superior. However, to my mind, the qualification ik (one) is suggestive more of the uniqueness of Sikhi.

Due to external as well as internal ideological challenges, the Sikh reaction today is to re-discover the Root Formula of Sikhi. Next generations in the diaspora are searching for the essence of true Sikhi. They need quality literature in English.

Sikhs need to become aware of, accept intelligently, and take ownership of their unique sovereign identity as Sikhs.

** Sikh Missionary Society UK: See under articles Sikhism & Budhism

Gurmukh Singh OBE