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Sikhism: A symbol of India's secular ethos (Book Review)

Source : IANS
Last Updated: Thu, Dec 27, 2012 10:20 hrs

Title: Sikh Heritage: Ethos & Relics, Authors: Bhayee Sikander Singh and Roopinder Singh, Pages: 191, Publisher: Rupa & Co, Price: Rs.1,500

The book harps on the secular spirit of India, epitomised by Sikh history that abounds in lores of inter-faith bonhomie and deep spiritual experiences.

Syed Badr-ud-din, popularly known as Pir Budhu Shah, was a Muslim saint from Sadhaura village in Ambala district of Punjab.

An admirer of the 10th Sikh Guru Govind Singh, he joined him with his sons and 700 disciples to fend off an attack the hill chiefs had mounted on the guru.

The Muslim saint's mausoleum at Sadhaura has since become a popular spiritual destination for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike.

A devout Sikh, Bidhi Chand had been once a bandit. His life changed when he came in contact with a follower of Guru Arjan Dev. He became one of the closest aides of the guru.

Anecdotes such as these explore the liberal spirituality of Sikhism in the book, "Sikh Heritage: Ethos & Relics", an illustrated anthology of the lesser-known history of the Sikh faith, founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century.

It digs family archives of the traditional custodians of Sikh faith in the former princely estates to bring out rare souvenirs and heirlooms tracking the journey of the religion for nearly 500 years.

Authored by Bhayee Sikander Singh and Roopinder Singh, the volume has been supported by the Smithsonian Institution's Sikh Heritage Project.

The writers believe that the spirit of philanthropy and participation make Sikhism different from other faiths.

The 'langar' or free community eateries captures this spirit of bonding at Sikh shrines.

Narrating a slice from history, co-author Roopinder Singh told IANS: "It was during Guru Angad's time that the langar began to feed the pilgrims. By the time of the third Guru Ram Das, it became an institution."

In 1577, Guru Ram Das obtained a grant of a site along with 500 bighas of land from Emperor Akbar on payment - on which Amritsar now stands.

"Most artifacts documented by us have been preserved by old families in the hinterland who trace their lineage to the Sikh gurus. They were given to the custodians as personal gifts and handed down the generations as heirlooms," Roopinder Singh said.

A number of Sikh relics "that have been with the government has not been taken care of as well as the ones with the families," co-writer Bhayee Sikandar Singh said.

The book is divided into two sections - "Ethos" and "Heritage".

"Ethos" looks at the land and its people, the guru or the spiritual leaders and the evolution of the Sikh kingdom.

The section on "Heritage" is an account of the local relics in the homes of local custodians in erstwhile princely states like Bhai Rupa, Bagrian, Phulkian, Patiala, Nabha, Bilga, Darauli and Sursinghwala.

The writers had access to their respective family archives - dating back to more than 450 years - as well.

The artifacts documented range from Guru Govind Singh's comb with a clump of his hair, battle armours, "pahadi" miniature paintings of the seers, their families and their fetishes, and rare manuscripts like the "Janam Sakhis" (life stories of spiritual leaders) and "Hukkumnamah" (concepts of faith).

The gurus were bird-lovers - with a passion for rearing birds of prey and colourful species from the hills.



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