Saturday, 30 January 2010

Thus spake the saints

Reviewed by D. Goel

Philosophical Contributions of Bhaktas and Gurus to Indian Culture
By Prof Nirbhai Singh.Gyan P.H. Pages XI+317.

THE author reports on the basis of his research from original texts some, still not printed, from medieval India, of saints from different cultures, but largely the Sikh Gurus, from the late medieval Mughal period. He recognises that old Vedantic and Shraman world-negating ideology left Indians groaning under the hoof beats of marauders. The masses were throttled and sense of total despair engulfed their life and beliefs.

In this context, the rebirth of new ideas of saints in the local languages forged a vision of religious and spiritual defiance of the powers of feudal lords both native and alien. Whether it was Kashmir or Rajasthan, common peasants had lost peace and hope of meaningful living. Savage bondage was their fate.

Nirbhai Singh covers all this in his study comprising 11 sections reviewing culture, philosophy, religion, languages and world views an minored in medieval saints collected in Sarvangi, a collection of hymns of Vaisnav, Shaivas and Yogis and of course Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Nirbhai Singh underlines the research objective of this critique of medieval ethos of saints and gurus as crafting a bulwark against medieval despotism. He writes about the efforts of medieval saints and gurus in steeling the will of the subaltern marginalised populace, so that they could confront tyranny and rebel against the cruelty of alien invaders. They unfettered Indians from alien dominance and Muslim servility`85' very obviously, it is true of Miri/Piri posture of Guru Hargobind and surely after the birth of Khalsa in 1699, by Guru Gobind Singh.

But one would hardly find much evidence among other bhaktas like Sant Gyaneshwar, Chaitanya, Mira or even Kabir, of any social mobilisation against period feudal serfdom. They lived truly on momentous higher plane of spiritual transcendence and ecstasy. If one were uncharitable, one could characterise them as those who left broad masses to fend for themselves. Of yogis and shramans alike, it is said "they saw the legions thunder past and plunged in thought again" or in a more telling Urdu line, "Main duniyan mein hun, magar duniya ka talabgar nahin hun, bazaar se guzra hun magar kharidar nahin hoon".

The substantial thesis of the present writer revolus on Sikh version of ‘Gurmukh’ that emphasises familial Sahaj Yog. Not abandoning one’s station and duties. It is not mendicants running away from the trails and tribulations of every family member. A realistic secular reinterpretation of the Gita’s ideal of nishkam karma and seeing eternity in the real present. All these ideas are reiterated more than once in different forms through different parts.

One thing has been underlined by Sikh Gurus is their emphasis on societal will as Sangat and Pangat. Their well-founded symmetry between the guru and chela is fascinating. This communitarian drift and dynamic stress on action and voluntarism make Sikh vision radical.

The old ideas of Bodhisattva and Prajna of Gita, however, do not confine to this world of here and now. Ultimately, one is dissolved in the Unity of Being. So, Sikhism is a definitely newer historical exegesis.

I appreciate author’s hard work hunting parallels in Western traditions of philosophy and other cultural studies. Of course, I cannot cover those learned interpretations, here. I leave this brief review with the thought of George Bernard Shaw "Of God! When this wretched earth would be able to receive its saints’.

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