Sikhism Lecture 3. Sikhs and The Caste System. The Caste System. Sensitive issue in Sikhism Many out-rightly reject there is – but why? Hindu roots of Sikhism inescapable, of which caste very visible Purity/pollution aspect (in certain respects) not as dominant as in Hinduism
The Caste System
No mention of Harijans – is this why “Outcastes?” – aboriginal tribes of India? Or result of mixed caste marriages?
(remember here the importance of langar in a Sikh Gurdwara)
In his following composition, Guru Nanak openly spoke of the worthlessness of caste:
Worthless is caste and worthless an exalted name,
For all mankind there is but a single refuge. (AG 83)
Guru Nanak’s message was also repeated by his successors, in the following hymn Guru Amar Das, the fourth guru, says:
When you die you do not carry your caste with you.
It is your deeds [and not your caste] which will determine your fate. (AG 363)
“all are free to enter a Gurdwara without any consideration of caste or creed”.
Was Ravidas also an heir to the Northern Sant tradition – similarities in teachings:
It is interesting to note a Ravid1s2 child’s description of her identity:
“I know what culture I am, Hindu, but it’s not as if we’re restricted to Hindu because we believe in Sikhism as well. It’s just one thing really.”
Jackson, R. and Nesbitt, E. (1993) Hindu Children in Britain, Staffordshire: Trentham Books,
“Why lookest thou not at Balmik? From what a low caste, what a high rank obtained he? Sublime is the Lord’s devotional service (AG 1124)
My research raised interesting debate about the identity of the Valmikis – are they Hindu, Sikh, neither, or both?
“Who says that Valmikis are different from Hindus and Sikhs? We would like to know. We see ourselves as Valmikis. Hindu and Sikh are extension (sic) to our perception as Valmikis. This is the reason why we find harmony amongst the members of our community irrespective of their religious beliefs”.
Panel of informants – Coventry ValmikiSabha
The Open University in England has produced a video about the Ravidasis, in which one speaker has voiced that, as a low-caste person, he was refused karahprasad in both India and Britain: thus by distributing karahprasad, the Ravidasis exclude no one from the sabha. Open University Video: ‘Man’s Religious Quest – The Ravidasias Birmingham’.
Membership from number of castes – majority from ramgharia, then jats and aroras
M10 died in 1812, living his later life as Ajapal Singh – merely acting out his death: WHY?
Viewed as continued threat to British rule in India – exiled to Rangoon, Burma in March 1872
Ram Singh’s younger brother Hari Singh took over as ‘deputy Guru’
Gora Sikhs adamantly affirm not members of a sect but are mainstream Sikhs, however, position given to Yogi Bhajan and certain practices result in them as being regarded outside of mainstream Panth by many Sikhs
Tension at times between Gora and Punjabi Sikhs, former accuse latter (sehajdharis) of not being ‘proper’ Sikhs – issues of Sikh identity pertinent here
“There is no gursikh unless he is a student of the Guru first. One is never a gursikh because he happened to be born in India. There is no student of the Guru who has the right to reverse or disregard the hukamof his Guru and still call himself a gursikh. You are truly losing sight of your very foundation stone, your very roots. You are sitting on the end of a branch and you are cutting it off of the tree. You have become more concerned with society, more concerned with your image as a social group, and you have totally forgotten that if you are not Sikhs of the Guru, then Sikh means nothing at all. You can be a Punjabi no matter what you do and no matter where you go, but you cannot call yourself a Sikh unless you are living as a Sikh. . . . Those Sikhs, (or rather those born into Sikh families) who have cared more for profit and more for Western convention and fashion, who have cared more for social acceptance and a life of ease – they are not Sikhs.”
PremkaKaur, ‘Rejoinder’ pp. 52-53.
Bhajan often been called the ‘Father of the Woodstock Nation’. At a time when drugs and alcohol were becoming increasingly popular in America, he introduced a way of life that aimed at fulfillment without intoxicants.
“I would like to invoke in you that power that is already yours. It is called Kundalini. Mostly it is dormant, but it’s [sic] very existence creates the radiance to keep you alive. Kundalini will give you what riches and money cannot; it will give you happiness and satisfaction in your life”
‘Message from Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan’ – www.sikhnet.com
“All the participants sit in rows, facing each other. The tantric energy travels in a zig-zag pattern up and down the rows. . . Although it is practiced with a partner, White Tantric Yoga is not a "sexual" yoga. On the contrary, it transmutes the sex energy from the lower chakras (energy centers) to the higher chakras.” Yogi Bhajan website.
By 19th century, Panth had relapsed back into the Hindu way of life – brahmins consulted, superstition, rituals: all against gurbani.
For these earlier Singh Sabhas, both Khalsa initiates andsahajdhariswere Sikhs. There was no such notion at this time that only KhalsaSikhs were proper Sikhs.
At around 1902-1903, a number of the Sabhas had affiliated into a central organization known as the Chief KhalsaDiwan.
The establishment of a branch of the Arya-Samaj at Lahore, Punjab, in the late nineteenth century posed a particular threat to the survival of Sikhism.
British government had appointed its own managers, often mahants, to control main gurdwaras
Struggle of Akalis wholly peaceful, eventually keys to Golden Temple handed over to the Akalis
“1st battle for India’s Independence won. Congratulations”
According to the RehatMaryada, there are generally four types of Sikhs: