Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Shaheedi Saka Nankana Sahib

Today we remember the massacre the occurred at Nankana Sahib Feb 21, 1921. Here is the history.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh reconstructed Gurdwaras destroyed by Mughals, and gave the “Mahants” (caretakers of these Gurdwaras) property rights and land attached to the Gurdwaras. Original mahants were individuals who spread the message of Sikhi, but soon they were just corrupt individuals hungry for money generated at the Gurdwaras. At the same time, the British were afraid that if the Sikhs took control of the Gurdwaras this would further unify the Khalsa against them and cause a revolution. 

Mahant Narayan Das was supposed to be the caretaker of Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. He was corrupt, and allowed many bad things to happen at the Gurdwara Sahib including sexual assaults. The Sikh congregation decided to take action and approached the mahant to change his ways in October 1920. He refused to change and instead turned against the Sikhs. His anti-sikh group was going to have a conference on Feb 20, 1921 in Lahore. On three different opportunities the Shiromani committee offered to meet the mahant to discuss the issues peacefully, however he never showed up. The Sikhs had a congregation on Feb 16 at Gurdwara Khara Sauda and made a decision to go in jathas to take over the Gurdwara peacefully on Feb 20 while the mahant was away. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar and Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali were to take their jathas.  

Meanwhile, the mahant cancelled his plans for the conference and hired 400 mercentaries and made plans to kill the Sikh leaders. He contacted the British Commissioner of Lahore and acquired firearms with the help of the government (this letter exists to this day). He furthered his plan by making holes in the walls for shooting at the Sikhs, strengthening the Gurdwara gate and he got paraffin. 

On Feb 19, the parbandhak committee met and decided that the jathas should not go. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar was present, and dispatched a sikh to send a message to Bhai Lachman Singh Dharowali. Bhai Lachman Singh, still following the original plan, was waiting for Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber’s jatha. At that time Jaethedar Tehal Singh’s Jatha arrived and encouraged them to move forward. They did ardas and took a hukamnama. They left at 10 pm to reach the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib at amrit vela. More Sikhs joined for a total of 200. Although women and children were asked to go back, one child, Darbara Singh refused to leave because he was inspired by stories of shaheeds and he joined the Shaheedi Jatha. 

Upon arrival at the railway crossing near Nankana Sahib, Chaudry Paul Singh Hyallpuri (another source lists that it was actually Bhai Waryam Singh) arrived to convey the decision of the Shiromani committee, however Jathedar Tehal Singh said that the ardas had already been done and the time had come for them to act. The jatha arrived at the Gurdwara and did Asa Di War. Then the mahant ordered his mercenaries to kill the Sikhs. The bullets fired hit the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and many Sikhs. The rest were slaughtered with saws and swords, and some were burned alive including the 9 year old Darbara Singh. Bhai Lachman Singh was tied to a tree upside down and burnt alive. 

News spread and Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber arrived with 2200 men. Mr. Curry, Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, had his army surrounding the Gurdwara and warned Bhai Kartar Singh that they would shoot the Sikhs if they approached. Bhai Kartar Singh stated that they were not afraid of death, and in seeing this, Mr. Curry became worried and handed over the keys. The mahant and a select few of the mercentaries were sentenced to death (one source says that this didn’t happen and that in fact the mahant was given security). 

This is the history of how the Shaheedi jatha of Sikhs, who went to peacefully take back Gurdwara Nanakana Sahib from the hands of the corrupt mahant, were martyred. We remember these Sikhs every day in our ardas. May we forever remember their sacrifice and bravery in standing up for what was right. 


Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Over the last week I have been thinking about a conversation I had with a friend about new experiences. She said that in our society today we put a lot of value on individuals who crave adventure and new experiences, even when they are at the expense of relationships and spirituality. This is a big topic amongst my classmates as we figure out where to spend the next years of our lives after graduation. Many of them have mentioned that their criteria for choosing where to go is mainly based on seeking out new adventures. It was interesting to see how people were making their choices and to see how my own factors have changed over time. 

When I think back to a couple of years ago, I craved the feeling of an exciting experience as well. It sounds thrilling to be the surgeon saving lives, or the ER doc running trauma codes. I knew those specifically didn’t fit for me, but I was planning on doing a different 5-year specialty on the other side of the country. It seemed like a cool idea… until I didn’t end up liking the specialty I thought I wanted, or even the location! They simply didn’t fit me, and I fell in love with a different area of medicine. Interestingly, one of friends said the same thing about her experience as a police officer. The popular thing to be is an undercover or “drug cop” but it isn’t a good fit for everyone so most people end up pursuing something different. I think its important to choose what you like and what fits you even if doesn’t sound as bold and adventurous.

I think this idea transcends careers into our other areas of life as well. A lot of times young people get caught up in what is exciting instead of going by what they value. It’s easy when society emphasizes spontaneity over planning and stability. So they leave their home after high school, move to bigger cities, might end up in programs they don’t like, or make major life decisions based on external pressures to make an “interesting” or bolder choice. It’s sold as the idea of “freedom.” Apparently to choose otherwise is not to be free, open-minded, or flexible! I remember one of my friends wanted me to move in and be her roommate. I think at a different time in my life I might have been caught up in the fact that independence is heavily valued over family life in western culture, but I was at a point where I knew that didn’t fit who I am. I knew that family has meaning beyond just people who support and love me, but also spiritually as part of my journey as a Sikh. 

One of the biggest things I have learned is that the adventure I was craving was never on the outside, and could in fact only be found inside myself. The journey of my mind has been the biggest adventure I have undertaken, but I don’t think I would have been able to do it without some external stability in my environment. To allow my mind to grow and change so much, it has been important to have some comforts and supports. As I travelled for my electives this year, I appreciated the growth from them but I also missed my community, our Gurdwara, and my family. It reminded me how special those are for me. It reminded me that I’m allowed to be content with where I am in my journey and I don't have to go outside to look for what I already know exists within me. 

In the past, I’ve been guilty of judging other people for making the more “comfortable choice” but I understand now. It’s about being content with who you are, where you are, and knowing your values. It’s okay if others don’t see what you see because different people value different things. It has been great to make this big decision about what to do and where to live based off of what is important to me rather than thinking about what is right or popular according to someone else’s standards. Maybe to someone else it seems like I’m making all the boring choices, but that doesn’t matter because there’s nothing wrong with knowing that I love and value my spirituality, my interpersonal relationships, my community and the very roots in the place that shaped me. There's a time and a place for spontaneity and new adventures, but there's also an important place for contentment and stability. I’m excited to find out what comes next for me. I trust wherever God brings me because I know the right path will find its way to me, just as my calling as a healer found me. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Heart and Stroke Fundraiser

My sister is raising money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The team name is "Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team." Please visit to donate under the team name. Shoppers is matching donations. Here is her message: 

Hello, I am Prabhnoor Kaur Sidhu. I am the Team Captain of the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. I am 12 years old and I am in Grade 7 in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. This is my second year collecting donations for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and this is my first year being a captain of the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. My family has been collecting donations for the Heart and Stroke Foundation for several years.

Heart illnesses and strokes affects many people in the world. I want to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation because we need to find cures for heart illnesses and strokes and help people get better from having these terrible diseases. We also need to educate people about the effects of heart illnesses and strokes so, we can prevent the heart illnesses and the strokes from happening. We also need to raise awareness about the prevention of heart diseases and strokes, so, we can prevent heart illnesses and strokes from happening. 

Please donate as much as you can to the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, so, everyone can help find cures for heart illnesses and strokes and help educate people about the heart diseases and strokes. To donate to the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team and the Heart and Stroke Foundation you can go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation Website: and go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation Canvass and search for the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team to donate to.
All donations made to the Heart and Stroke foundation between February 1st and February 28, 2018 will be matched by Shoppers Drug Mart. The minimum amount of money you have to give to be matched is $5.00, and the maximum amount you can donate to be matched is a total amount of $250,000. All donations made to the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team for the Heart and Stroke Foundation will go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Thank you in advance for your support.

Prabhnoor Kaur Sidhu Captain of the Chaar Sahibzaade Sikh Team for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wedding Kirtan Videos

I thought I'd share these beautiful videos. The first one is a clip of a married couple singing "Viah Hoya Mere Babula" at their own wedding together. I've seen a few videos of the bride doing kirtan, and occasionally the groom is playing tabla next to her, but it was really special to see them singing together! What a blessing. The second is a bride singing "Sarab Sukha Ka Data Satgur" at her wedding.

Second video:

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dajh (Dowry)

Due to the humungous amounts of snowfall it was a snow day yesterday! So I was trying to get back to my goal of reading a couple of pages of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji daily. I read this:  
O my father, give me the Name of the Lord God as my wedding gift and dowry
Give me the Lord as my wedding gown, and the Lord as my glory, to accomplish my works (In Punjabi is further translated as instead of wedding jewellery, give me the wealth of Naam and with that my wedding will look beautiful)
Through devotional worship to the Lord, this ceremony is made blissful and beautiful; the Guru, the True Guru, has given this gift (dowry).
Across the continents, and throughout the Universe, the Lord’s Glory is pervading. This gift (dowry) is not diminished by being diffused among all (There is no other dowry that can compare to this).
Any other dowry, which the self-willed manmukhs offer for show, is only false egotism and a worthless display.
O my father, please give me the Name of the Lord God as my wedding gift and dowry. (Ang 79)

This is the first time I found out that dowry is directly mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Secondly, Guru Ji tells us what a true gift is. It made me really curious about the history of dowry, so I’ll share what I learned below.

Beginnings of Dowry
Kaminsky and Long write in the book India Today that dowry started around 1000 BCE  in India (1). During this time both families gifted each other, however from 4th century BCE on, women received a stridhana (fixed amount of gifts), and sulka (flexible) from the groom’s family (1). That way if the marriage couldn’t happen, she still kept the gifts, and if she died they went to both her children, and her parents (1). Sometime between 4th BCE and 2nd century CE, there was a change due to Hindu texts promoting a hierarchal structure of castes in addition to taking away women’s inheritance, religious rights, and ability to be divorced (1). Men no longer had to give gifts, and women were married young with no education or vocational training (1). Due to this inequality, women were to be given gifts from her family to support her in her new home (1). The dowry also served other functions: helping a daughter of lower caste to move up socially, helping the groom’s family if they were poor, and helping his family pay for own daughter’s weddings (2). Scholars have shown that this was voluntary and there was no violence or punishments as harming a child-bearing woman would be considered a great crime (2). When the shift became towards benefitting the groom and no longer the bride, it was reasoned that this was to ensure she was treated well, and to “make up” for the fact that the groom’s family would financially support her since she didn’t work outside the home (2,3). Over time this system became more and more corrupted towards the harm of women and the financial benefit of the groom’s family.

Violence Erupts
In 1961, India passed the Dowry Prohibition act banning dowries given from either the married couple or parents of the married couple to each other, but this still allowed for “gifts” (2). Further legislation on this matter included the 1984 the Dowry Prohibition Amendment Act, Criminal Law Act (1983), and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) (2). Despite the legislation, Indian police reports indicate that 8618 female homicides and 3239 suicides were related to dowry in 2011 alone (2). The Asian Women’s Human Rights council estimates 25,000 deaths in India by suicide/homicide of women aged 15-34 annually, due to under-reporting and those dowry deaths that were mislabeled as “accidents” (2). Banerjee writes, “The dowry system is a cultural practice that perpetuates the oppression, torture, and murder of women” (2). Not only is the price of dowries increasing (some studies reporting up to $130,000 US), but the violence is also on the rise as murders are happening when women’s dowries are deemed to be too low (2,4). Banerjee writes “Research points to a direct relationship between the practice of dowry and the harassment, maltreatment, poor mental health, and homicides of women in India. When dowry demands made by the groom’s family are considered unsatisfactory, the brides’ journey into a world of daily humiliation, harassment, and verbal and/or physical abuse begins, often ending in murder or suicide” (2). The most common methods of murder are burning (often hidden as an accident), then drowning, and poisoning (2). The expenses drive many bridal families into poverty and thus dowry has also been linked to female infanticide and abortions because parents know they will not be able to afford the marriages (4).

Anderson studied modernization of Europe, which also used to have a dowry system and concluded that because European social status is about wealth and not about hereditary caste, dowry ended with modernization (4). In contrast in India despite modernization, caste is still predominant determinant of social status, which is supporting the propagation of the dowry system (4). The situation is worsening because of something called “marriage squeeze.” (3). In Indian culture, women from lower status usually marry “higher status” men in the same caste so the higher the status of a woman, the less men available (3). Now there is decreased fertility in the higher status families so fewer men means more competition and men making decisions based off of who will give them the most financial gain (3). Also I thought since there are less girls being born eventually it would catch up, Banerjee suggests this may actually open up the door for exploitation of females by kidnapping and being sold (2).

This situation is also due to the social circumstances in which women live, as described by Bloch. For example, culturally, women are not allowed to refuse to marry, most weddings are arranged, they are not allowed to divorce to escape abuse, they are expected to move in with their husbands (which isolates them from their families), they aren’t allowed to move back with their parents, they have no access to household income, and they have no skills or resources to survive on their own (5). She states this creates a “hostage” situation for the young bride (5). Can you imagine how trapped a person would feel in that situation? They are all culturally imposed norms, but very powerful.

Moving Forward
Blotch suggested that it is important to create options for women such as later marriage, possibility of non-marriage and divorce, and jobs, which would decrease the incidence of dowry (5). Ultimately need to change the way we see women in society, and increase their power and autonomy (5). This means valuing the life of a female child from birth. Banerjee comments that although this is very complex and there is no easy solution (despite many people advocating for change there doesn’t appear to be much changing), she suggested accurate reporting by police, acceptance of choice-based marriage and divorce as options, more convictions, tougher legislation, and bystander legislation making it mandatory to report dowry-related violence (or be considered a co-conspirator) (2). In terms of perpetuating caste, this too needs to stop and is done among Punjabis as “malwa, majha and doaba.” When we break down the systems on which dowry violence survives- the devaluing of females and the propagation of caste systems, then we can stop it.

Obviously when we no longer value social status, dowry will not be an issue. In Canada I see a lot of families burning through their savings spending large amounts of money on weddings from both sides (bride and groom), in order to fulfill their ego and show others what a big party they can hold. I think this is really wasteful as this is money that either could be donated to a better cause, or be invested into the couple’s future life together like getting a house or saving for a child. On top of that, people here practice dowry too when they go to India to get married. This really needs to be changed.

Going back to what the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji tells us, we learn that Naam should be our wedding gift, as nothing else compares to this gift. “Any other dowry, which the self-willed manmukhs offer for show, is only false egotism and a worthless display.” So let us learn from this. Clearly, Guru Ji has instructed us to stop the practice of dowry as it is seen today. Not only is it a tool of violence against women, it is also just serving to feed ego. Let us follow the path of liv to Waheguru and not the path of dhaat to maya!

1 Kaminsky, A. and Long, R. (2011). India today. Santa Barbara, Calif [u.a.]: ABC-CLIO.
2 Banerjee, P. (2013). Dowry in 21st-Century India. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 15(1), pp.34-40.
3 Srinivasan, P. and Lee, G. (2004). The dowry system in Northern India: Women's attitudes and social change. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(5), pp.1108-1117.
4 Anderson, S. (2003). Why Dowry Payments Declined with Modernization in Europe but Are Rising in India. Journal of Political Economy, 111(2), pp.269-310.
5 Bloch, F. and Rao, V. (2002). Terror as a Bargaining Instrument: A Case Study of Dowry Violence in Rural India. American Economic Review, 92(4), pp.1029-1043.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Alcohol in Punjabi Culture vs Sikhism

I'm particularly interested in this topic because from the time I was a child, I have known countless individuals affected by alcoholism. When I was young one of the community "Uncle Jis" died from his addiction by aspirating on his vomit. This had a big impact on me and from all the destruction I saw in families, I always knew that I'd never drink. I stayed true to that. I think it is a lot more challenging for men though, due to culturally ingrained ideas about drinking. I'm going to preface my post by saying I'm not an expert in this area, and this is not intended as advice (you should seek professional help if you need it). I read over a hundred pages of research to write this post because I wanted us to have a starting point for a conversation. I hope this gets you thinking about alcohol in your community, your family, and in relation to yourself. I don't want to delve too much into alcohol as a substance/it's effects or traditional models of recovery, but rather the cultural aspects of alcohol use and the spiritual aspects of recovery.

Magnitude of the Problem
There are low levels of awareness about problem drinking in the South Asian community (1). Sandhu comments on the growing concern about the high levels of alcohol consumed by Punjabis in the UK, Canada, and US (2). UK studies showed Punjabi Sikh males consuming more alcohol and having more alcohol-related problems compared to Causian or other South Asian men (3). Johl states “evidence indicates that this high level of alcohol consumption among Sikh men is seen to be steadily rising with numerous associated psychological and physical health problems, including an increased rate of death due to liver cirrhosis” (4). He also commented that the burden of caring for alcoholic males falls on female family members who suffer adverse negative impacts on their own mental health (4). There is also a high rate of concurrence of alcohol use and intimate partner violence (5). Thus, this is an important problem that we should address as a community. 

What’s driving the drinking? 
It’s important for us to understand the emotional pain that leads people to want to numb with alcohol. I think there is an aspect of collective trauma from living in Punjab, and from our history. For example, one individual I met talked about how his brother was murdered in front of him. I was surprised that this wasn’t mentioned in the papers I read, but I also know that people don't like to talk about it and it may not have been recognized as a source of the drinking in interviews. Research does mention that individuals resort to drinking to cope with “Acculturation Stress”; this means immigrants facing discrimination, language barriers, loss of traditional values, and culture clash (6). It also is about second-generation individuals adjusting to living in two different cultures (2). Lastly when we think about stress, drinking can be about dealing with problems at home, to reduce loneliness or to relax (5).

Sandhu describes that from a Sikh point of view, the alcoholism can be used as self-medication to “sedate the suffering that arises from the desire for satisfaction from material or worldly pursuits” (2). From a cultural point of view, he describes that in Punjab, alcohol is a status symbol for the upper classes, and self-medication for strenuous labor for the working class (2). He describes alcohol as a part of the definition of masculinity in Punjab; since Punjabi men have traditionally been an important part of protecting India against invaders, a Punjabi man’s identity was about bravado, adventurousness, and a strong physique (2). He describes “alcohol is perceived as a ‘fortifying’ drink, so that many Punjabi males, especially among the factory workers, believe alcoholic beverages enable a man to worker harder and longer than if he did not take alcoholic drink...” (2) It is also a part of male bonding culture and thus is a part of any Punjabi social event, bhangra, and music (2,7). Although traditionally Punjabi women do not drink, it should be noted that this too is changing because of western society (2). I can definitely notice this difference in my own observations between the dramatic difference in my mom’s generation and mine because most Punjabi girls I know that are my age not drink, but binge.

Differences in Culture and Religion
Punjabi culture has a heavy emphasis on drinking. This is demonstrated in the famous Gurdas Mann song “Aapna Punjab” where the second line is “Ghar Di Sharab” (promoting drinking alcohol). Sikh religion on the other hand teaches us against drinking. The Reht Maryada states “A Sikh must not take hemp (cannabis), opium, liquor, tobacco, in short, any intoxicant” and this is also found in the Rehtnama of Bhai Chaupa Singh and Bhai Desa Singh (2). Our ultimate guide is the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Here are some sections related to alcohol (sharab is translated as wine in English translations), for example:
One person brings a full bottle, and another fills his cup. (Punjabi translation states the individual brings a bottle full of alcohol, from which more people fill their cups). Drinking the wine, his intelligence departs, and madness enters his mind; He cannot distinguish between his own and others, and he is struck down by his Lord and Master. Drinking it, he forgets his Lord and Master, and he is punished in the Court of the Lord. Do not drink the false wine at all, if it is in your power. O Nanak, the True Guru comes and meets the mortal; by His Grace, one obtains the True Wine. He shall dwell forever in the Love of the Lord Master, and obtain a seat in the Mansion of His Presence. (Ang 554)
Those who are deluded by sensual pleasures, who are tempted by sexual delights and enjoy wine are corrupt. (Ang 335)
Kabeer, those mortals who consume marijuana, fish and wine - no matter what pilgrimages, fasts and rituals they follow, they will all go to hell. (Ang 1377)
Even if wine is made from the water of the Ganges, O Saints, do not drink it. (Ang 1293)

Thus, we are prohibited because our goal is to merge with Waheguru, and alcohol and drugs impair our consciousness from getting there (2).

Recovery from a Religious Perspective
Evidence supports that religious involvement is not only a protective factor in development of addiction, but also leads an individual out of addiction (7, 8). Sandhu explores how the path of manmukh and Gurmukh differ, where the manmukh turns to intoxicants to cope with suffering, but it blocks his consciousness from being aware of his atma (soul/part of God), while the Gurmukh describes the very process of merging with God as intoxicating (2). He says “In sum, the path of the manmukh can be regarded as the Sikh perspective on the root cause of addiction (self-medicating to alleviate existential suffering), whereas the path of the gurmukh can be viewed as the Sikh perspective on its cure (personal integration through self-realization) (2).” This is also described in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, as maya is described as an intoxicant there as well:The Dark Age of Kali Yuga is the vessel, filled with the wine of sexual desire; the mind is the drunkard. Anger is the cup, filled with emotional attachment, and egotism is the server. Drinking too much in the company of falsehood and greed, one is ruined.  So let good deeds be your distillery, and Truth your molasses; in this way, make the most excellent wine of Truth. Make virtue your bread, good conduct the ghee, and modesty the meat to eat. As Gurmukh, these are obtained, O Nanak; partaking of them, one's sins depart.” (Ang 553). Thus the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji tells us our solutions. 

Sandhu also talks about how Sikh approaches are similar to and differ from Alcoholics Anonymous and the bio-psycho-social model. For example AA has a Judeo-Christian concept of God, a focus alcoholism itself as a disease, and participants continue to believe they are alcoholics even after being abstinent (2,7); while Sikh views emphasize that the root of suffering is our mind's separation from Waheguru, and the focus is on the individual to overcome ego and have a deeper understanding of suffering rather than describing the ego's ('I') experiences of suffering (2,7). In this setting, individuals describe feeling they are cured after being abstinent (2,7). He provides an example of including Sikh religion into a person’s treatment:
“One Punjabi-Sikh patient who began exploring his Sikh roots, disclosed to the author that it was his religious duty to abstain from alcohol so that he might be the ‘pride of the community’ for his family, upon whom he had brought shame through his drinking behavior. This patient was surprised to hear that the Sikh world-view contends that one must strive to renounce the ego and the sense of pride, and to detach oneself from the deeds that he/she performs. He later disclosed that he was relieved to hear this religious teaching because his parents had pressured him to become a doctor, and when he was not accepted into medical school, he resorted to alcohol as a means to cope with his feelings of failure, disappointment, and sadness. The author thereafter utilized the ‘path of the manmukh’ – especially the role of the five thieves – to help him understand his alcohol dependency, and how he could use the ‘path of the gurmukh’ – especially meaning and purpose – to aid in his recovery efforts” (2).
Gurbani builds coping skills to deal with the challenges of life, it teaches us how to move out of maya, and our religion teaches us that God is within us in Nij Mahal, and therefore our body is actually a temple which we must respect by not drinking (9). Religious experiences help an individual to change their inner journey in order to change their behaviors. Gurbani tells us, “One who trades in this Nectar - how could he ever love the wine of the world? The Teachings of the Guru, the Ambrosial Bani - drinking them in, one becomes acceptable and renowned.” (Ang 360). A lot of young people seem to think they are missing out on enjoyment, when as Guruka Singh says that we don’t even know what enjoyment IS when we say that (9). True enjoyment comes from that merger of being One with the creator and the creation!

Marjaria-Keval’s research involved interviewing 15 Sikh men to find out how spirituality and Sikhism fits into the process of recovery from alcoholism (7). Her research shows that change started when these individuals realized the consequences of their behavior due to a significant life event- for example, the effect on their health, family, work, or social standing (7). Then they started the process of making sense of their life by revisiting religious, cultural and spiritual beliefs which usually involved assistance from the Gyani Ji at the Gurdwara (7). The participants talked about the importance of increased faith and involvement in their religious community, and many became Amritdhari through their process of recovery (7). Some of them even lived at the Gurdwara sahib early on, which provided them with discipline, supervision, and guidance on the teachings of Sikhism (7). As Amritdhari Sikhs, they felt they had a higher level of responsibility to uphold their boundaries and a physical reminder to do so (7). (I wondered if this was because there is a high deal of respect for Amrit. No one would pressure a person to drink after taking amrit while when there is no such boundary I have seen a lot of men pressure others even when they say no repeatedly). The participants also mentioned sewa as a source of not only keeping busy and spending time in an environment where you can’t drink, but also to erase previous paaps (7), as well as doing Ardas for forgiveness and letting go of their past. (7) Lastly, they described purifying the body and mind (washing the mind using Naam) (7). Through this process, they described transforming their lives to being more fulfilled and rediscovering their purpose by reconnecting with Sikhi (7).

The above information obviously suggests that those who work in addictions care need to be aware of the spiritual, cultural and religious factors in an individual’s care (2). To overcome the general fear of gossip, lack of awareness and understanding of addiction services, community leaders can hold lectures which are less threatening but effective in getting the information across (4,5). For example driving cultural change that hospitality means forcing a person to drink (4,5).

We can conclude that re-connecting to Sikhi is an important piece of recovery for Punjabi Sikhs. I think it’s important for us to especially do our part in prevention with our younger generation given that there is a lot of peer pressure AND pressure from Punjabi culture. This includes making a strong connection to Sikhi early on, having role models in the family and in media (I saw Sardar Mohammed yesterday and it was one of the first movies I can remember in a very long time that had no scenes of alcohol! There was also no revenge plot, not the typical couple-loves-eachother but the parents are enemies. I was really proud of the way it was written as good role models). Men obviously have a huge role in role modeling for other men- when there is a party and you don’t drink it really shows young boys that they have an option. I think it is important for each of us to just examine our own belief systems and see if we are following the Guru's teachings. May we walk the way of Gurmat. 

1 (2018). Alcohol as a problem for the South Asian community - IAS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018].
2 Jaswinder Singh Sandhu (2009) A SIKH PERSPECTIVE ON ALCOHOL
3 COCHRANE, R. and BAL, S. (1990), The drinking habits of Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and white men in the West Midlands: a community survey. British Journal of Addiction, 85: 759–769. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.1990.tb01688.x Link:
4 Nicholas Johl (2017) An exploration of alcohol services’ staff experiences of providing support to relatives of alcohol-dependent individuals from the Sikh community, Sikh Formations, 13:3, 207-224, DOI: 10.1080/17448727.2016.1147178. Link
5 Gurjit Thandi (2011) REDUCING SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE IN PUNJABI SIKH COMMUNITIES, Sikh Formations, 7:2, 177-193, DOI: 10.1080/17448727.2011.593299 link
7 A. Marjaria-Keval and H. Keval (2015). Reconstructing Sikh Spirituality in Recovery from Alcohol Addiction, Religions, 6(1), 122-138, doi:10.3390/rel6010122. Link:
8 Asesha Morjaria-Keval (2006) Religious and Spiritual Elements of Change in Sikh Men with Alcohol Problems, Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 5:2, 91-118. Link
9 (2018). Is drinking permitted in Sikhism? | Sikh Answers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018].

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Prakash Divas Guru Har Rai Ji

This weekend we will have an Akhand Paath to celebrate the Prakash Divas of Guru Har Rai Ji. Guru Har Rai Ji was born in January 1630, to parents Baba Gurditta Ji and Mata Nihal Kaur Ji in Kiratpur Sahib. As his father died when he was young, (Guru) Har Rai Ji was raised by his grandfather, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji. He married Mata Krishen Dev at age 11 (young marriages were common during those times) and went on to have children Baba Ram Rai and (Guru) Har Krishan.

There is a sakhi that shows us what Guru Hargobind Ji taught young (Guru) Har Rai. Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji used to feed that birds and then eat langar. One day, there was one particular crow who persisted, and was approaching Guru Ji’s thal (plate). One of the sewadars hit it using a slingshot, and the bird flew away. The next day Guru Ji asked where that crow was, and the man admitted what he did. The crow was present, but far from the rest of the birds and was injured. Guru Ji nursed it back to good health and it would come daily then for langar. This taught (Guru) Har Rai Ji great compassion, and teaches us additionally that we need to teach our children by being a role model. 

Another sakhi is that (Guru) Har Rai was walking in the garden one day, and noticed that the flower he had previously been admiring was not there. He discovered that his clothing had caught and the flower had broken off, and he began to cry. Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji told him it was important for him to be careful with his clothing. This also teaches us, just like our clothing for our soul is our body, we have responsibility not to hurt others or break anyone from this path. Guru Har Rai is commonly said to have used this quote by Fareed Ji very often: "All men's hearts are jewels; to distress them is not at all good; If thou desire the Beloved, distress no one's heart."
Har Rai became Guru at age 14. He started katha along with the tradition of kirtan. He made 52 gardens and started a herbal hospital for the ill. Guru Har Rai Ji was a hunter, however instead of killing the animals, he fed them and protected them in a zoo. He additionally kept a force of 2200 soldiers, however he never had the need to deploy them. Guru Ji also traveled extensively.

One particular Sakhi about Guru Har Rai Ji emphasizes the importance of Gurbani. The Sikhs asked whether we get any gain from reading Gurbani if there is no understanding. When the Guru Ji came across a broken pot with butter in it, the sun was melting the butter onto the pot, he said, "Look my Sikhs, broken pot shards - when they are heated, the butter that adhered to them readily melts. As the grease adheres to the potshards, so to do the Gurus' hymns to the hearts of his Sikhs. At the hour of death the Gurus' instruction shall assuredly bear fruit. Whether understood or not, it has within it the seed of salvation. Perfume still clings to a broken vase." From this sakhi we learn the value of Gurbani, even if we do not yet have an understanding.

Dhir Mal, the older brother of Har Rai, gained support from Shah Jahan, and turned against Guru Hargobind (and thus was not named successor). He went on to corrupt the masand system set up for collecting daswandh, and tried to divide the Sikhs. Guru Har Rai Ji set up a Manji system to try to unite the Sikhs, with Sikh missionaries sent to certain regions. He also appointed new masands who became successful in spreading the messages of Sikhi.

When Emperor Shah Jahan’s son Dara was poisoned by Aurangzeb, there was no one that could help. Upon Shah Jahan’s request, Guru Ji gave the necessary medicines and Dara’s life was saved. Aurganzeb manipulated that Guru Ji was supporter of Dara, and when he became emperor he summoned Guru Ji to his court. Guru Ji sent his son Ram Rai was sent in his place with the instructions to not give up his principles at any cost, and God would protect him. Ram Rai started to show miracles, and changed one of the lines of Gurbani to please Aurganzeb. Aurganzeb, in turn, decided to keep him in Delhi with the idea that he would be able to control him when he succeeded Gur Har Rai. Guru Ji excommunicated him for changing Gurbani and nominated Guru Harkrishan as his successor at the mere age of 5. Guru Ji became Jyoti Jot at the mere age of 31, in October 1661.

So let us apply these lessons learned from the life of Guru Har Rai Ji:
-Nature is God’s creation- we should treat plants and animals with respect. Feeding animals, watering plants, and planting a garden is sewa.
-Be fearless but also gentle
-The benefits of Gurbani are there even if we don’t quite understand yet, so we should always do our prayers
-We need to be careful not to hurt others on our path, or break others from this path.
-We should stand by our principles no matter what and maintain our integrity
-We should unite in the face of those dividing us like Guru Ji did with Dhirmal and the corruption of the masands. This is a big message for us today as we are being continually divided, and there is a lot of negativity. It is important for us to come together for solutions if there are problems, and support each other.


Prakash Purb Bhagat Ravidas Ji

“Thou art me, I am Thou, What is the difference?
The same as between gold and its bracelet and between water and its ripples” (Ang 93)

Today we celebrate the birth of Bhagat Ravidas Ji. He was born in a “low-caste” (Shudra/Untouchable) Hindu family on Jan 30 1399. He was born in Seer Govardhanpur near Banaras (Kashi). Bhagat Ramanand visited the family to bless the child at the age of 5 days. By profession, he was a cobbler (tanned and made shoes). He spent time in the company of saints and would give away his money to those in need. Because of this, he was banished from his home. He made a hut with his wife Lona Devi and continued to work as a cobbler. He had a son, Vijaydas. 

He studied as a disciple of Bhagat Ramanand, along with Bhagat Kabir, Dhanna, Pipa and Sain. He gained many followers, which made the Brahmin priests angry. During those times people spread the messages that low-caste people could not reach God. Ravidas Ji spread the message that rejected caste, and that each individual is a part of God and can merge with Him. He emphasized concentrating on Naam in the 41 compositions which are included in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Here are some sakhis about the life of Ravidas Ji: When Queen Jallbai presented him with expensive clothes and jewels, he said that the Name of God was more precious. This teaches us to put values on Naam and not worldly possessions. It is said that when Maharani Jhally became a follower of Ravidas, her husband became very angry, and decided to test Ravidas. He was invited to the kingdom. The Brahmins refused to eat where he was seated, and Ravidas Ji moved away, however suddenly the Brahmins started to see each person distributing food as Ravidas Ji. The Maharana then became a devout follower of Ravidas.

During his travels to Punjab, he met Guru Nanak Dev Ji who loved his works, and used to use his invested money to purchase langar for Ravidas and his companions.  He met Guru Nanak Dev Ji again in Sultanpur, and again at Guru Ka Bhag. The length of his life is not known, but he is said to have lived well over a hundred years.

Thus, Bhagat Ravidas Ji taught us not to get entangled in caste, or profession. We have achieved the human life after 8.4 million reincarnations, and Bhagat Ravidas Ji reminded us that we can all connect to our creator in this lifetime. For this, we have to let go of maya and meditate on God’s Name.