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'Seva', the Sikh langar, from Bhai Kanhaiya to Delhi Violence, 2020

Ishmeet Nagpal 29 Feb 2020

Bhai Kanhaiya

As I coordinate with someone in Delhi who wanted to make a donation of rice to a Sikh Langar intended to serve riot hit people in North-East Delhi, I get asked for the 100th time- “How do Sikhs do it? How, despite all the persecution they have been through, they are always looking to help others in times of crisis? How do Gurudwaras never run out of food for Langar?” As the pogrom against Muslims unfolds in the nation’s capital, for some Sikhs, the memories of 1984 are all too fresh. We, as a people, have seen endless violence in the name of religion. We know what it looks like, we know what it does to people- the generational trauma lives in our very bones.

I grew up with stories about the Sikh Gurus and their followers. The best story that illustrates why Sikhs are always ready to extend a helping hand is that of Bhai Kanhaiyya ji. He was a disciple of the ninth Sikh Guru- Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, and continued living with the Sikh community after his death. During the ongoing skirmishes between the Mughal army and the Sikhs in 1704, the Mughal armies surrounded Anandpur, where the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- was living, and cut off all food and water supply to the city to starve out the Sikh soldiers.

Every day, the armies would battle and hundreds of wounded soldiers would be seen lying in the battlefield begging for water. Bhai Kanhaiyya would go around the battlefield with a mashak (goat skin bag to carry water) and quench the thirst of wounded soldiers irrespective of which side they were fighting for. The enemy soldiers and generals also started recognizing him and his bag, and thus he became like the Red Cross- providing help to anyone who needed it, gaining right of way from both sides as the battle raged on.

While Bhai Kanhaiyya was providing water as Sewa(service) which is one of the core principles of Sikhism, fellow Sikhs did have their doubts. Some even complained to the Guru pointing out that with Bhai Kanhaiyya’s help, the fallen enemy soldiers would recover more quickly and start fighting again. They were also worried about sharing their water supply with the very people who had cut off the passage of food and water to their city. Guru Gobind Singh ji summoned Bhai Kanhaiyya and explained that he had received a complaint about his actions on the battlefield.

The Guru asked him, “These brave Sikhs are saying that you go and feed water to the enemy and they recover to fight them again – Is this true?”

Bhai Kanhaiyya Ji replied, "Yes, my Guru, what they say is true. But Maharaj, I saw no Mughal or Sikh on the battlefield. I only saw human beings. Guru Ji, they all have the same God’s Spirit. Guru Ji, have you not taught us to treat all God's people as the same? Our Sikh heroes destroy enemies by killing them, but I destroy enmity by giving them water."

With a smile, Guru Gobind Singh ji blessed him and said,"Bhai Kanhaiyya Ji, you are right. You have understood the true message of Gurbani". He gave a medical salve to Bhai Kanhaiyya to provide further help to the wounded, and told the Sikhs to follow Bhai Kanhaiyya’s example of selfless service.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji cited the words of the fifth Guru- Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who wrote-

I have totally forgotten my jealousy of others,

since I found the SaadhSangat (the holy congregation).

No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone.

Whatever God does, I accept that as good. This is the sublime wisdom I have obtained from the Holy.

The One God is pervading in all. Gazing upon Him, beholding Him, Nanak blossoms forth in happiness.”

(Guru Granth Sahib Page 1299 line 55528)

I still don’t know what to say when people ask me about the state sanctioned pogrom in Delhi. I have always lived in fear of markers that identify religion. A Sikh’s turban, when identified in the right context can mean that you know you can reach out to this person for help. This is partly why Sikhs had originally started wearing turbans and dressing in a particular way, so that in times of battle, people knew who they could trust, so that people could identify the friendly community. For a long time, I questioned the identifying markers of Sikhs and wondered why they are important in contemporary life. I would exclaim, “But we are not at war anymore!”, yet, years later, we are. We are at war. The Sikh’s turbans were identified as targets and cost them their lives in 1984. Today, the Prime Minister tells us to recognize terrorists by the clothes they wear. Somewhere, a man is shaving his beard, and a woman is contemplating whether to wear her hijab, a child was burnt inside a house and an 85-year-old woman who survived the Partition, was killed by the mob in 2020.

Will Langar solve these problems? Will it bring back the people and livelihoods and memories lost? Maybe not. But at least people are doing what they can. If you are a civilian and want to help out but don’t know where to start- volunteer at the nearest Gurudwara. When the state washes its hands off its responsibility, unfortunately, we need common people to be heroes. As I remember and salute the acts of Sewa by my Sikh brothers and sisters, I wish for the day their service will no longer be needed, and my child will be able to say, “We are not at war anymore”.

 

Related articles:

1. Stories of Harmony over Hate: Delhi violence
2. Sikh-Muslim friendships started with Guru Nanak Dev Ji
3. Is the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, so intrinsic to Delhi, being made irrelevant?

 

 

'Seva', the Sikh langar, from Bhai Kanhaiya to Delhi Violence, 2020

Bhai Kanhaiya

As I coordinate with someone in Delhi who wanted to make a donation of rice to a Sikh Langar intended to serve riot hit people in North-East Delhi, I get asked for the 100th time- “How do Sikhs do it? How, despite all the persecution they have been through, they are always looking to help others in times of crisis? How do Gurudwaras never run out of food for Langar?” As the pogrom against Muslims unfolds in the nation’s capital, for some Sikhs, the memories of 1984 are all too fresh. We, as a people, have seen endless violence in the name of religion. We know what it looks like, we know what it does to people- the generational trauma lives in our very bones.

I grew up with stories about the Sikh Gurus and their followers. The best story that illustrates why Sikhs are always ready to extend a helping hand is that of Bhai Kanhaiyya ji. He was a disciple of the ninth Sikh Guru- Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, and continued living with the Sikh community after his death. During the ongoing skirmishes between the Mughal army and the Sikhs in 1704, the Mughal armies surrounded Anandpur, where the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- was living, and cut off all food and water supply to the city to starve out the Sikh soldiers.

Every day, the armies would battle and hundreds of wounded soldiers would be seen lying in the battlefield begging for water. Bhai Kanhaiyya would go around the battlefield with a mashak (goat skin bag to carry water) and quench the thirst of wounded soldiers irrespective of which side they were fighting for. The enemy soldiers and generals also started recognizing him and his bag, and thus he became like the Red Cross- providing help to anyone who needed it, gaining right of way from both sides as the battle raged on.

While Bhai Kanhaiyya was providing water as Sewa(service) which is one of the core principles of Sikhism, fellow Sikhs did have their doubts. Some even complained to the Guru pointing out that with Bhai Kanhaiyya’s help, the fallen enemy soldiers would recover more quickly and start fighting again. They were also worried about sharing their water supply with the very people who had cut off the passage of food and water to their city. Guru Gobind Singh ji summoned Bhai Kanhaiyya and explained that he had received a complaint about his actions on the battlefield.

The Guru asked him, “These brave Sikhs are saying that you go and feed water to the enemy and they recover to fight them again – Is this true?”

Bhai Kanhaiyya Ji replied, "Yes, my Guru, what they say is true. But Maharaj, I saw no Mughal or Sikh on the battlefield. I only saw human beings. Guru Ji, they all have the same God’s Spirit. Guru Ji, have you not taught us to treat all God's people as the same? Our Sikh heroes destroy enemies by killing them, but I destroy enmity by giving them water."

With a smile, Guru Gobind Singh ji blessed him and said,"Bhai Kanhaiyya Ji, you are right. You have understood the true message of Gurbani". He gave a medical salve to Bhai Kanhaiyya to provide further help to the wounded, and told the Sikhs to follow Bhai Kanhaiyya’s example of selfless service.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji cited the words of the fifth Guru- Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who wrote-

I have totally forgotten my jealousy of others,

since I found the SaadhSangat (the holy congregation).

No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone.

Whatever God does, I accept that as good. This is the sublime wisdom I have obtained from the Holy.

The One God is pervading in all. Gazing upon Him, beholding Him, Nanak blossoms forth in happiness.”

(Guru Granth Sahib Page 1299 line 55528)

I still don’t know what to say when people ask me about the state sanctioned pogrom in Delhi. I have always lived in fear of markers that identify religion. A Sikh’s turban, when identified in the right context can mean that you know you can reach out to this person for help. This is partly why Sikhs had originally started wearing turbans and dressing in a particular way, so that in times of battle, people knew who they could trust, so that people could identify the friendly community. For a long time, I questioned the identifying markers of Sikhs and wondered why they are important in contemporary life. I would exclaim, “But we are not at war anymore!”, yet, years later, we are. We are at war. The Sikh’s turbans were identified as targets and cost them their lives in 1984. Today, the Prime Minister tells us to recognize terrorists by the clothes they wear. Somewhere, a man is shaving his beard, and a woman is contemplating whether to wear her hijab, a child was burnt inside a house and an 85-year-old woman who survived the Partition, was killed by the mob in 2020.

Will Langar solve these problems? Will it bring back the people and livelihoods and memories lost? Maybe not. But at least people are doing what they can. If you are a civilian and want to help out but don’t know where to start- volunteer at the nearest Gurudwara. When the state washes its hands off its responsibility, unfortunately, we need common people to be heroes. As I remember and salute the acts of Sewa by my Sikh brothers and sisters, I wish for the day their service will no longer be needed, and my child will be able to say, “We are not at war anymore”.

 

Related articles:

1. Stories of Harmony over Hate: Delhi violence
2. Sikh-Muslim friendships started with Guru Nanak Dev Ji
3. Is the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, so intrinsic to Delhi, being made irrelevant?

 

 

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