Tuesday, June 12, 2007

'Amrit' the Elixir of Life

Amrit’ means the elixir of life. One is believed to attain immortality after having partaken the same. The ‘Devas’ and ‘Danavas’ (the gods and demons of Indian mythology) both fought for it and churned the ocean for obtaining the same.

However, the meaning of 'Amrit ' has remained as elusive as 'Amrit' itself.

Recently there was some controversy and commotion in parts of the northern Indian states, where the leader of a particular sect was shown in advertisements, practising the ritual of giving ‘Amrit’ to his followers, a ritual, believed to have been practised by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, when he laid the foundation of the 'Khalsa panth'. The practice is now being continued by the Sikh clergy to initiate Sikhs into 'Amritdhari' ones and make them so called 'puran gursikh' (the complete Sikh).

Guru Gobind Singh had taken up arms against the Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb , who was forcibly converting Hindus and Sikhs to Islam and committed tortures and atrocities on them if they resisted. In the fight against the Mugals, his family members, including his four young sons and his father, Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, sacrificed their lives. To fight the strong force of the enemy, Guru Gobind Singh had to raise an army of brave men and women, drawn from all sects of society. In the year 1699, he laid the foundation of Khalsa panth at Anandpur Sahib, where he called for a large gathering in which he first invited five men on the condition that they should be prepared to die for the sake of the country. The five came forward and the Guru baptised them by giving them 'Amrit' and called them "Panj Piyaare" (the five beloved). 'Singh' was added to their names which later became the second name of all the Sikhs. Even the name of Guru Gobind Singh was Gobind Rai till that day. After that others followed and thus, a small beginning turned into a large army of self sacrificing men and women and also gave birth to the first classless society in the country. The Sikh soldiers were given a dress code for the ease of fighting as well, as for distinction from the enemy forces. These were :-

i) Kesh (long unshorn hair carefully tucked under the turban)

ii) Kirpan (a sword as a personal weapon)

iii)Kangha (a wooden comb to be kept tucked in the hair)

iv) Kara (a thick iron bangle, perhaps as a safeguard of the forearm in a sword fight)

v) Kachhehra (a garment stitched in a particular fashion, resembling short pants for ease of running).

Each of these items had significance in the battlefield and suited the life style of the Sikh soldiers, who had to stay on the battle front for long periods. Even to this day, as a mark of respect and tribute to the sacrifices made by the Sikh Gurus and other Sikh martyrs, the five items, as mentioned above, are being worn by most of the Sikhs religiously and followed more stringently by the 'Amritdhari'. However, there are other Sikhs and non Sikhs who, though do not actually follow the said dress code in its complete form yet, follow the principles of Sikhism ie,.

i) 'naam jappna' (to repeat the name of almighty all the time so that all our actions are guided by Him)

ii) 'vand ke chhakkna' (to share with our brethren whatever we get to eat) and

iii) 'kirt kamaayee' (to earn ones livelihood by the sweat of one's brow).

Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh guru, laid the very foundation of Sikhism to rid the society of false religious pretences and rituals. He had a unique way of sending his message across to his disciples and the public in general. Once he deliberately lied down at a famous religious place, pointing his feet towards the sanctum sanctorum. When asked by the priest to move his feet away from the seat of the Allah, the Guru requested him to move them towards the direction where the Almighty did not live. The priest was speechless. Guru Nanak Dev had driven home his point that the Omnipresent does not live within the four walls alone. On another occasion, after watching pilgrims offering water to the Sun on the banks of Ganges, he started throwing water towards the opposite direction. When questioned, he told, that he was trying to irrigate his fields, which were hundreds of kilometers away. He argued that if the water could reach the Sun then why not his fields. Every single verse of ‘Guru Granth Sahib’, the holy book of Sikhs, calls upon us to shun affectations and follow the teachings of the great gurus and saints which repeatedly mention that God is only one ('Ek Onkaar').

Over the centuries, the Sikhs have been identified as a brave and hard working race. They have not only been providing largest quantity of food grains to the country, but have also been contributing largest number of manpower to the Indian Army. By their sheer grit and hard work, they have converted many a barren land, in some parts of the country, into green farms, particularly in some desert and hilly areas. They have achieved success in almost every walk of life and have migrated to almost every part of the world. This is one community, the members of which, owing to their great sense of humour, have the ability to laugh at themselves. The Sikh functions are designed to be simple and sober. In Sikh marriages, no horoscopes are matched to find the brides and the grooms. The marriage is held on any convenient day selected by the families of the bride and the groom, mostly Sundays, without getting into the rigmarole of 'Muhurats' etc. The marriage is solemnised by taking four rounds of the holy book ie., 'Guru Granth Sahib' by the marrying couple during day time preferably before twelve. However, now most of the Sikhs have started indulging in the 'spirited' revelry during almost all the functions in addition to adding all kinds of pomp and show in a race to compete with one another.

While the Sikhs have become synonymous with hard work, bravery and high spirits, they have also demonstrated tolerance and humility. In a ‘gurudwara’ (a Sikh shrine) all are welcome, regardless of their cast, creed, colour or culture. At the end of every religious congregation, all sit on the floor and eat together, as a mark of equality of mankind. Guru Gobind Singh, a military General par excellence, a great writer and a poet was known as ‘Sant Sipahiie., saint soldier.

The recent show of strength by Sikhs, where they were seen marching in the streets, brandishing bare swords and other weapons, destroying public property and disrupting normal life, in protest against the incident as mentioned at the beginning, was just unfortunate. The Sikhs have been ordained to raise the sword, but only in the face of extreme injustice, being meted out by the strong and powerful to the feeble and helpless. Guru Gobind Singh wrote :

" सूरा सो पह्चानिये, जो लड़े दीन के हेत" ' soora so pahchaaniye jo ladey deen ke hait' (the brave is identified as the one, who would fight for the interest of the poor)

In today's strife torn world, the need of the hour is universal brotherhood, tolerance, peace and harmony, that is demanded time and again in the ‘Gurbani’ -- the teachings of Sikh gurus and other great saints from different religions like Kabir , Farid, Namdev, Jaidev, Ravidas etc, recorded in ‘Guru Granth Sahib’, which is worshipped as the embodiment of the ten Sikh 'gurus'.

So far as the meaning of ‘Amrit’ is concerned, let me quote from 'Guru Granth Sahib' itself :

"ਅਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮ ਪਰਮੇਸ਼ਵਰ ਤੇਰਾ
ਜੋ ਸਿਮਰੇ ਸੋ ਜੀਵੇ "

“अमृत, नाम परमेश्वर तेरा,

जो सिमरे सो जीवे ।”

"amrit naam parmeshwar tera,

jo simrey so jeevey"


Amrit’ is thy name oh Almighty!

The one who bears it (in the mind) lives on.”


Anonymous said...

Very Well written, So called Religious Thekedar of panth should read this. But then they have to close their Money Minting Shop. Try to send this article to Tribune & Ajit online Papers. Maybe some change will come.


Mampi said...

Very nice Balvinder.
Some day when I write something on sikhism,
i would like to link it, Permission granted?

Balvinder Singh said...

Thank you Manpreet, i will be honoured by the link.

Amrit Kaberwal said...

Thank you for writing this . It is great