DIVINE COMMUNION — Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Siri Japji Sahib
Reviewed by Verpal Singh
by Prof. M.L. Sharma,
Published by Dr Rajinder Singh Bhatia, Ludhiana, 1997
With new awakening in the community (perhaps due to approaching tercentenary of the Khalsa), it seems that each individual wishes to make his contribution towards taking the community forward, which is to be lauded. But, sometimes this urge to do something for the community can end up hurting the community itself. This happens when the missionary zeal ends up becoming misplaced zeal. The case of the book titled Divine Communion is an example of this phenomenon.
The said book is described thus on its inside title-page : “DIVINE COMMUNION – Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s – Siri Japji Sahib – (A POETIC ENGLISH VERSION) – by Prof. M.L. Sharma, M.A. English.”
The question of missionary zeal arises because this book is published by one Dr Rajinder Singh Bhatia of Ludhiana (and he owns all the rights to the book!), and it is being distributed free by him. He has also written an effusive (no other word describes it) Foreword for this book, in which he writes :
“….. [Prof. Sharma’s] presentation is artistically delightful, morally edifying and spiritually exalting. …… Let us welcome this votary of Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and accord him the encomium and acclamation for his classic attempt.”
This makes one really look forward to reading the book despite the sugary effusiveness of Dr Bhatia. But the book comes as a rude shock right from the Preface itself. And suddenly one starts wondering whether it is not a case of misplaced zeal instead of missionary zeal, and by the end one’s apprehension is proved absolutely right.
The author of the book writes in the Preface :
“… but not many people know that Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first Indian Saint who preached this creed (secularism) in the troubled days of the early sixteenth century and did a lot to remove communal tension and bring together the major communities with his message of love and faith in one God — Waheguru. Later the same message fostered the concept of human equality and brotherhood…”
Very cunningly, the author has tried to limit the impact and intent of the most basic of Sikh tenets — Sarbat da bhala — to removal of communal tension amongst Hindus and Muslims. According to him, Guru Nanak’s purpose in life was not propagation of universal brotherhood of man, but the removal of “communal tension and (bringing) together (of) major communities” and it was only incidental that “later the same message (of removal of communal tension) fostered the concept of human equality and brotherhood.” This is nothing but an attempt at obfuscation of the Sikh history and religion. He forgets that there was no communal tension in the 15th century except the hostility between the clerics of both religions (which has always been there whenever the position of Brahmin has come under threat, and it did not matter whether this threat came from Buddhists or Muslims). And it was in the last quarter of the 15th century that Guru Nanak raised the cry of “Na koi Hindu na Mussalman”. This was done to proclaim the universality of human brotherhood and to stop the debate of who was superior (because Hindus called the Muslims malechhas and treated them at par with Shudras, while the Muslims called Hindus kafirs, and this cannot be taken as meaning that there was communal tension unless we can call the divide between upper-caste Hindus and Shudras as ‘tension’, communal or otherwise). Guru Nanak raised the cry of there being no Hindu or Muslim to establish the equality of humanity regardless of whether anyone was a Hindu or Muslim, upper or lower caste, Aryan or malechha. The tension in the beginning of the 16th century (at the end of the first quarter) came due to the invasion of Babar, and it was a tension between the invaded and the invader, never between Hindus and Muslims. Firstly, Babar had invaded the domain of another Muslim king, and secondly, the invader forces had treated the Muslims amongst the invaded at par with Hindus. So where is the question of ‘communal tension’ ? Guru Nanak’s lament (tay ki dard na aya) was against cruelty of man against man and the silence of God, and not against ‘Hindu-Muslim’ tension.
Thus, secularism in the Sikh view-point is the result of its basic tenet of universal brotherhood and not the other way round as Prof. Sharma has tried to portray. But he does not stop here. He further says :
“This secularism, however, does not mean adherence to one’s own faith and tolerance for other faiths; for, tolerance in my view implies contempt and disregard for faiths other than one’s own. Secularism must show full regard for all religions, as all religions are different paths to approach the same ideal — God who is our common goal…..”
The author has attempted to foist the Hindu supremacist view of secularism upon the Sikhs and tried this in the name of interpreting Sikh philosophy. What he means by this view of secularism is that we should forego our right to condemn any irrational belief being propagated by Hindus or any other religion. He seems to disregard the fact that the condemnation in Sikhism is not to prove our superiority or someone else’s inferiority, but to point out actions which are against His Hukm and, as such, harmful to His created order’s harmony, and to rid man of irrational thoughts leading away from God. What the author means by this view of secularism, I will make clear presently.
In pauri 16 of Jap Ji, Guru Nanak questions the Hindu myth of the earth being supported by a bull. He asks a very logical question — if the bull is supporting this earth then there must be another earth to support the bull and another bull to support that earth and still another earth to support that bull and so on. Now imagine what weight the last bull is carrying and who is supporting this last bull ? In answer to the question, Guru Nanak refutes this myth and says that it is not a bull but His Hukm that supports this earth and this is true of His whole creation. It is that eternal principle — His Hukm — which is sustaining this whole creation. This is what Guru Nanak has written. But obviously, this is a condemnation of a Hindu belief which, according to the author’s definition of ‘secularism’, makes Guru Nanak un-secular. So what does the author do ? He does the following :
“… The earth supporting Bull
Faith and kindness’s Scion (sic)
Patiently sustains the earth
And keeps it well intact.
Who understand this truth
Is surely well informed.
What weight upon this Bull.
Causes us all to shudder.
Many worlds beyond this world;
All supported by this bull…”
Thus, instead of accepting that his definition of secularism is wrong (because by no stretch of imagination can anyone call Guru Nanak ‘un-secular’ or communal), he indulges in misinterpretation of Gurbani. He cannot accept even in this scientific age that Hinduism propagates many irrational thoughts (like the bull supporting the earth) and instead, in the name of secularism, will like the Sikhs to accept these irrational beliefs of the Hindus.
The whole book, written by Prof. M.L. Sharma, is an affront to the Sikhs. There are 128 spelling mistakes and mistakes in putting full stops (for example in pauri 3, there is no full stop put after “…Vadiaia chaar” while in pauri 4, a full stop is put after “Sacha Sahib Sach Nai” and again after “Amrit Vela Sach Nau” — instead of ‘Sach’ there is written ‘Bach’, i.e., Amrit Vela Bach Nau.) Perhaps the author is unaware that Gurbani spelling and punctuation marks are sacred to the Sikhs and cannot ever be changed. And 128 mistakes can be deliberate or very very shoddy proof-reading. Even the translation itself is much below the standard of other translations available. At places, it is not even true to the original text, another grave omission. For example, in pauri 32, he translates the first two lines as “Should I have a lac of tongues instead of one in mouth; Then each grow into twenty, And all twenty times;” Whereas the correct translation is, “Were man’s tongue to become a hundred thousand, and even twenty times that;” (by G.S. Talib)
The worst part of this book is the author’s attempt to translate Gurbani in such a way (through mis-translation, or choosing wrong words or deliberately glossing over the real meaning) that it seems to justify casteism. This is highly deplorable. I give you the following examples with translation by Prof. G.S. Talib given alongside :
In pauri 2
M.L. Sharma : “… By His Will they are placed ‘high’ or ‘low’” p. 5
G.S. Talib : “By Divine Ordinance are beings marked with nobility or ignominy.”
In pauri 18
M.L. Sharma : “… Countless are filthy, who eat filthy (sic) as food.” p. 39
“Countless are dirty creatures, living on orts and filths.” p. 40
G.S. Talib : “Innumerable those of impure minds(10)
Living on base filth.(1)
Footnotes : 10. Original Malechh.
1. Implies wealth acquired by foul means.
In pauri 25
M.L. Sharma : “… Liberation from bondage is by Thy Will, No one else can have any say in it…” p. 55.
“Whether they live in bondage, Or free, at large, they live. Who can brag and say he follows his own will ?
The fool who finds fault with God, rues at last.” p. 56
G.S. Talib : “Liberation from the bondage of transmigration
comes by His grace — None in this can intercede.”1
Footnote : 1. That is, the attainment of liberation is a primal mystery which by no effort may be forced. Nor can man know how this blessing descends.
In pauri 32
M.L. Sharma : “Listening to talks of Heaven, Might make the worm aspire.” p. 76
G.S. Talib : “Even worms1 emulate those thus ascending2,”
Footnotes : 1. Implies hollow and false practitioners of various cults.
2. Refers to the high-flying birds, such as swans (hamsa) which symbolise the pure spirits, God-inspired.
In pauri 33
M.L. Sharma : “ Of ownself none has power to speak or to keep silent,
Of ownself none has power to demand or to give.
… … …
Nanak, by ownself, no one can become
High or Low.” p. 77
G.S. Talib : “Utterance nor silence lies within man’s power;
Neither to ask nor to give.
… … …
Saith Nanak : All before Him are alike —
none high or low.”
I do not think I need say more. I would like, however, to advise Dr Rajinder Singh : let those who know how to — handle this kind of work. If an individual wishes to contribute towards the progress of the community then route it through an institute so that these small contributions may come together and might achieve something big, and in themselves do not become a case of misplaced zeal.
Finally, on the inner flap of the back cover in the information about the author it is written that “… the author belongs to a Brahmin family.” I wonder if it is meant to be a distinction of the author or a warning to the reader !