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FUTURE LANGUAGE FOR TRANSMISSION OF WISDOM FROM THE AAD GURU GRANTH SAHIB

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Abstract

Although teachings of the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) (1) are universal and suitable for all times to come, their dissemination will be a challenge to Sikh scholars and Sikh clergy in the emerging global society. The knowledge-based disseminating will require consideration of the language to be employed in the future. The emerging language of the global village, particularly in the West, will be English for some time to come. Gradual adoption of English alongside Punjabi will be a consideration for Sikhs consistent with the policy that their founders adopted but still a step towards meeting our future needs.
UNDERSTANDING SIKHISM The Research Journal page 16
INTRODUCTION
With the forthcoming Quadricentennial of Compilation
of the Aad Guru Granth in September 2004, there is
concern on transmitting the Aad Guru Granth Sahib’s
teachings to the evolving global village. Either the
language of a culture or the mother tongue of an
individual is essential to promote any idea. The AGGS
based ideas, in the past, have been best communicated to
100 million Punjabi speaking people in the world. But if
we continue to use only Punjabi, the Sikh ideology and
any knowledge of the Guru’s Wisdom will not be
communicated effectively to 500 million Urdu speaking
people, a billion of each Hindi, Spanish, or Chinese
speaking people, or twice as many English speaking
people in the West, whether of Indian origin or others-
unless it is done in a local language, the language people
learn from their surroundings and not have to go to a
Gurdwara school to learn.
PUNJABI AND OTHER LANGUAGES
There is a difference between information and
knowledge. Whereas information can be easily translated
and transmitted in any language and is stored as well as
propagated in any language, knowledge, on the other
hand, cannot be imparted effectively in a language other
than the mother tongue. Mother tongue is a language,
which is acquired without requiring formal instructions
in a school or from a tutor.
The children of the future world would not know the
relevance of the AGGS in their life unless they learn it
through language, which can effectively impart this
knowledge to them. At present, English is the most
spoken language and the language of 75% printed
material in the world.
If you do not believe me, then tell me how many of you
can understand advantage of Macintosh over Windows
in any language other than in English. Why are all
technologists even in Hindi speaking India making all
software in English, why not in Hindi or Punjabi?
We Sikhs take a lot of pride in the universality of the
message of the Gurus meaning that our Guru revealed
their religion for benefit of all peoples and all
communities. Our clerics and our leaders miss no
opportunity to emphasize this characteristic of our
message. Similarly, we speak of our Gurdwaras and
other congregational functions open to every one in the
global village. But we fail to realize that by trussing
Sikh practices far too tightly with Punjabi language and
life style, we totally refuse to share our religion with the
rest of the world.
FUTURE LANGUAGE
FOR TRANSMISSION OF WISDOM
FROM THE AAD GURU GRANTH SAHIB
Harbans Lal, PhD, D Litt (Hons) Professor Emeritus,
University of North Texas Health Science Center and Guru Nanak Dev University.
ABSTRACT
Although teachings of the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) [1] are universal and
suitable for all times to come, their dissemination will be a challenge to Sikh
scholars and Sikh clergy in the emerging global society. The knowledge-based
disseminating will require consideration of the language to be employed in the
future. The emerging language of the global village, particularly in the West, will be
English for some time to come. Gradual adoption of English alongside Punjabi will
be a consideration for Sikhs consistent with the policy that their founders adopted
but still a step towards meeting our future needs.
Editorial Note: Prof Chahal in his article (p-7) explains the importance of Punjabi to give its due status along with
other languages because the Sacred words of Sikh Gurus and Bhagats of India have been written in that language.
Therefore, it is necessary to have good knowledge of Punjabi to understand the philosophy, embodied in the Bani
incorporated in the AGGS, in its real perspective. However, Dr Harbans Lal explains the importance of English and
other languages for the dissemination of that philosophy of the Sikh Gurus and that of the Bhagats embodied in the
Aad Guru Granth Sahib to the humanity of the world. DSC
July-December 2003, Vol. 5, No.2 page 17
Failing to share our heritage with others is far too
obvious in our religious practices. Traditionally we limit
our congregational services and prayers only to the
language of our ancestors, and in doing so we virtually
close doors to others. We even make it harder for our life
partners to connect to our faith if they happened to be
born outside Punjab.
Similarly, we disfranchise even our children and the
young Sikhs growing up in the West from having full
access to the Guru's teachings. It is not difficult to see a
parallel with the days of racial discrimination in
America. When the white population wanted to
disfranchise a black population from their birthright to
vote, they used the hurdle of literacy in a language that
black population had difficulty to be proficient in.
Strict adherence to any one language of a predominant
religion was not the case at the time of our Gurus. Guru
Nanak and his successors traveled to all accessible lands
to spread the Word; they unreservedly used whatever
language would get their message across. In particularly,
they defied tradition set by Brahmins and Mullahs, who
insisted on Sanskrit and Arabic to teach theology; in
contrast, the gurus used the spoken language of the
people as medium of their mission.
Guru Amar Das is known to rebuke a delegation of
religious scholars who came to persuade him to use the
language of the religious elite, the Sanskrit, in order to
impart his message. According to Bhai Santokh Singh
[4], Guru Amar Das told the visitors a metaphor to make
his point. He said, “God’s theology is like water to a
thirsty person. Divine knowledge in Sanskrit or Arabic is
like water in deep well; it takes effort to draw it and then
irrigate crops of only those who own the land and the
means. Guru’s teachings must be in a language that
serves like a cloud burst which turns the crops of every
one and in every field green; it reaches mountains and
valleys alike, birds and mammals alike, animals and
human alike, poor and rich alike.” (English translation
from original Punjabi by the author.)
Guru Amar Das’s response was similar to a popular
biblical parabola where Jesus said that when you light a
lamp; place it at a higher pedestal so that the light can
reach every one. Requiring especially made colored
glasses to see the light will contradict the essence of this
parabola.
There are some Punjabi compositions in the AGGS, but
mostly they are written in many other languages of India
as well as Middle Eastern and South Eastern countries
[3] (Editor: Please also see Chahal’s article on page 7
about the language and script of the AGGS). Guru
Gobind Singh mostly used Braj Bhasha (the language of
Bihar), Persian and Arabic, but not Punjabi in his
compositions. The Sikh rulers similarly used Persian to
conduct their day-to-day business. Maharaja Ranjit
Singh, only two centuries ago, used Persian and so did
Banda Bahadur, a contemporary of Guru Gobind
Singh. He issued coins of the Sikh kingdom with
Persian inscriptions.
The language of the AGGS, the Eternal Guru of the
Sikhs, is so different from modern Punjabi that most
Punjabi speaking people of today do not understand
much of it. I have difficulty myself in understanding
the Punjabi text that is currently being used by Sikh
scholars in India to explain the doctrines in the AGGS.
No wonder that their books find only negligible
circulation in North America or Europe. Even in India
they are not read as is evident from a meager number
of prints that are made of books on Sikhism published
in Punjabi.
History is a witness, that if the Gurus were here in
North America today, they would depart from the past
and use English to communicate. They would use a
language in which more than three fourth of all the
printed material is produced.
Most of the progressive elements in every religion now
use English to communicate. The cyberspace
technology as the medium of future communication
began to require that we speak the cyberspace
language or be eclipsed from the wired communities.
Our youth exclusively use only this language to
conduct their daily lives both at home and at work. It
will be wise not to resist the trend for propagation of
our religion among this generation.
I personally visited many places where Sikh identities
were totally wiped out of existence by the third or
fourth generation primarily because their immigrant
parents would not impart their religious inheritance to
their children in the language of their adopted country.
That left only the rituals or ceremonies of their faith
for the children to relate to and those lost their
meaningless appeal within a generation. You may not
have to go far to see this trend continues even today.
In many communities of North America today, the
only thing children recall to a visitor is the memory of
their grand parents being Sikhs, the term that they can
often not even pronounce correctly. These children
usually preserve, besides photographs, one or two of
their parents’ “prayer books” as the museum pieces in
their homes. It breaks my heart when I visit homes of
this generation. But all I can do is to show some love
towards them and promise to relate their message to
(Continued on page 24)
UNDERSTANDING SIKHISM The Research Journal page 24
(Continued from page 17)
our first generation community here. Many of them do
ask me if I can send them some Sikh literature in
English.
I am pleased to see that Sikh congregations in Pakistan
use Shahmukhi script and Urdu language to publish the
Sikh literature. The newly converted Caucasian Sikhs
in North America use English and Spanish as medium
in their Gurdwaras. A very tiny but gradually growing
population of Sikh children of Punjabi parents in North
America is getting bold enough to break from the
tradition and improvise the religious liturgy in English.
For the conclusion, I would like to quote Dr
Indermohan Singh of the Sikh Foundation. He
recently wrote, “There are very good reasons for Sikhs
of Punjabi origin to want to preserve their language and
culture. There is also no question that for those who can
understand it, Gurbani in its original language is much
more beautiful and meaningful. It is very hard to
capture the beauty and poetry of the original in a
translation. But I believe we should be very clear about
differences between the religious versus cultural and
linguistic issues. And we should make an effort to share
the Guru’s Word using every language and medium that
is available.” [2].
REFERENCES
1. AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint).
Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak
Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession
number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak,
P = Page of the AGGS).
2. Indermohan Singh. 2002. Chardi Kala Network
Archives.
3. Padam, Piara Singh. 1990. Sri Guru Granth Da Bhasha
Parbhadh, In: Sri Guru Granth Parkash, Patiala, p.
307-322.
4. Santokh Singh. 1954. Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth,
Raas 1, Part 46, p. 1518. reprinted Amritsar, Khalsa
Samachar.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, Raas 1, Part
  • Santokh Singh
Santokh Singh. 1954. Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, Raas 1, Part 46, p. 1518. reprinted Amritsar, Khalsa Samachar.
Chardi Kala Network Archives
  • Indermohan Singh
Indermohan Singh. 2002. Chardi Kala Network Archives.
Sri Guru Granth Da Bhasha Parbhadh
  • Piara Padam
  • Singh
Padam, Piara Singh. 1990. Sri Guru Granth Da Bhasha Parbhadh, In: Sri Guru Granth Parkash, Patiala, p. 307-322.