A Sikh has a brand but he does not have to advertise it. Wherever he goes people turn their eyes to look at his unique appearance, the way people do when a leader arrives. Yes, a leader, that is what ‘Sardar’, the title every Sikh has, means.What is more, people call him Sardar Ji, as a mark of respect for what he is and what he stands for. The Sikh brand commands respect and attention.
The Sikh ladies also keep their hair intact. The pronoun ‘he’ is used in this article as a generic term and also applies to the female gender.
People respect a Sikh because he has dared to keep intact the form, the Almighty gave. He keeps his hair the way they naturally are. He respects his hair and keeps them covered with a carefully tied turban. When his beard grows he looks after it as well, keeping it unshorn. If he tampers with his hair the brand will be lost.
A Sikh refuses to join the rat race of people who, wanting to look like others, trim their beards or cut their hair. Those who do so lose the brand as they are not looked at as Sikhs any more. Such people seem to forget their heritage or have not known it at all. Sikh history is replete with examples of sacrifices made by the gurus and innumerable Sikhs, not only to preserve their own faith, but to fight for the sake of those oppressed, irrespective of their faiths.
Who can forget that the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjun accepted to sit on a hot plate with hot sand poured over his body and then be placed in a boiling cauldron, rather than give up the right to his faith? He accepted sacrifice to uphold the faith. Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru accepted being beheaded fighting for the rights of the Hindus to retain their religious symbols, although he himself did not believe in them.
The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh had four sons. He personally sent his two elder sons, Baba Ajit Singh and Baba Jujhar Singh, 11 and 9 years old respectively, to fight the attackers. They both went down fighting. The two younger sons, Baba Zorawar Singh and Baba Fateh Singh aged 7 and 5 years respectively, were offered lots of temptations to give up their faith, but they refused. They were both made to stand and a brick wall was built around them. They did not waver, as faith was more important to them than their lives.
When Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred the authorities challenged any one to come forward and claim his head and body. There were Sikhs there but did not have a brand yet. No one showed the courage for fear of being persecuted. They ran away.
Guru Gobind Singh therefore, gave the Sikhs a form such that a single Sikh would stand out in a million. The brand in the form of unshorn hair with a turban to cover them was given by the Guru. Some people say this was required then and is no longer so. But a brand is not established as a short term measure it is permanent.
Every one is not branded. Gurbani, the Guru’s word, says being branded is a benediction deserved because of past deeds. Those who deserved to be branded Sikhs were chosen before birth and were born in Sikh families or embraced the faith. Branding demands high standards of conduct to maintain its reputation. In corporate world a brand requires to be protected both against poaching and laxity in quality of the product. The Sikh is similarly expected not to succumb to temptations and to maintain the high standards of conduct laid down by the Guru.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the Sikh scripture, elaborates:
ਪੂਰਬ ਜਨਮ ਹਮ ਤੁਮ੍ਹ੍ਹਰੇ ਸੇਵਕ ਅਬ ਤਉ ਮਿਟਿਆ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥
ਤੇਰੇ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਧੁਨਿ ਸਹਜ ਕੀ ਮਾਥੈ ਮੇਰੇ ਦਗਾਈ ॥੨॥
ਦਾਗੇ ਹੋਹਿ ਸੁ ਰਨ ਮਹਿ ਜੂਝਹਿ ਬਿਨੁ ਦਾਗੇ ਭਗਿ ਜਾਈ ॥
ਸਾਧੂ ਹੋਇ ਸੁ ਭਗਤਿ ਪਛਾਨੈ ਹਰਿ ਲਏ ਖਜਾਨੈ ਪਾਈ ॥੩॥ ਕ ੯੭੦
I was your devotee in the past life and cannot be any different now O Lord;
You bestow the highest spiritual state with which I have been branded. 2.
Those who are branded fight in battle, the unbranded flee;
One who controls his mind understands what devotion is;
Such a person is accepted by God. 3. (Kabir, p 970).
Guru Gobind Singh bestowed Amrit, the life giving ambrosia, and created the Khalsa. He did the Sikhs the favor by awakening them to the realization that they were chosen to be branded. With this he also laid down certain responsibilities which are a debt that a Sikh owes to the Guru. A Sikh is therefore, thankful to God and the Guru and also expected to repay the debt by living up to the requirements.
It is amazing to find that such things had already been stated in Gurbani nearly a century earlier. The fourth Guru said:
ਹਮਰੈ ਮਸਤਕਿ ਦਾਗੁ ਦਗਾਨਾ ਹਮ ਕਰਜ ਗੁਰੂ ਬਹੁ ਸਾਢੇ ॥
ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੁ ਪੁੰਨੁ ਬਹੁ ਕੀਆ ਭਉ ਦੁਤਰੁ ਤਾਰਿ ਪਰਾਢੇ ॥੨॥ ੪ ੧੭੧
Being branded is a debt I owe to the Guru;
This is a big favor because I am given the ability to cross the world ocean through the laid down conduct (M: 4, p 171).
It is interesting that the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament shows a similar situation. According to that the Jews had gone to Egypt, were enslaved over a long period of time and were suffering. God took pity on them and decided to help them. A covenant was made between God and the Jewish leader Moses, with God saying:
“I shall take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7).
This made God exclusive to the Jews who consider themselves the chosen ones. In this case also the twin factors of benediction of safety and responsibility of acknowledging God were laid down. As may be seen this arrangement was to save the Jews from further suffering and in return the Jews were expected to live in God-consciousness.
However, according to Gurmat, there is no agreement but God’s command grants the benediction and lays down the responsibilities. Only those whose devotion is recognized by God are branded.
Guru Nanak describes a cause and effect situation in which God chooses those who would live by His Will and then enables them to do so. This results in a successful life, meaning, the soul merges into God:
ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਹੋਇ ਦਇਆਲੁ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਤਾ ਸਾਈ ਕਾਰ ਕਰਾਇਸੀ ॥
ਸੋ ਸੇਵਕੁ ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰੇ ਜਿਸ ਨੋ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਮਨਾਇਸੀ ॥
ਹੁਕਮਿ ਮੰਨਿਐ ਹੋਵੈ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ਤਾ ਖਸਮੈ ਕਾ ਮਹਲੁ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥
ਖਸਮੈ ਭਾਵੈ ਸੋ ਕਰੇ ਮਨਹੁ ਚਿੰਦਿਆ ਸੋ ਫਲੁ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥
ਤਾ ਦਰਗਹ ਪੈਧਾ ਜਾਇਸੀ ॥੧੫॥ ੧ ੪੭੧
A person on whom God is kind is enabled us to act as ordained;
Only such a person really serves who lives by God’s will;
One who lives by God’s will, qualifies to reach the Master’s abode;
Such a person is liked by the Master and achieves what he wishes;
He gets to the Master with honor (M: 1, p 471)
That this applies to the Sikhs is clear when the fourth Guru thanks God for it and the tenth Guru shows what the brand is. Such branding is not found anywhere else.
The Sikh brand is characterized by two other distinct but inter-connected features – those of inner experience and obviating the need for a priestly class. Guru Nanak describes God talking to man or woman directly:
ਸਭਿ ਘਟ ਮੇਰੇ ਹਉ ਸਭਨਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਜਿਸਹਿ ਖੁਆਈ ਤਿਸੁਕਉਣੁ ਕਹੈ ॥
ਜਿਸਹਿ ਦਿਖਾਲਾ ਵਾਟੜੀ ਤਿਸਹਿ ਭੁਲਾਵੈ ਕਉਣੁ ॥
ਜਿਸਹਿ ਭੁਲਾਈ ਪੰਧ ਸਿਰਿ ਤਿਸਹਿ ਦਿਖਾਵੈ ਕਉਣੁ ॥੧॥ ੧ ੯੫੨
Every existence is mine; I am present in all;
If I make some one go astray who can show the way?
If I show the way to some one no one can mislead.
If I put some one on the wrong path in the beginning no one can show the way (M: 1. p 952).
The motivation for man and woman to choose the path comes from within. No one else can teach this. The priests remain so embroiled in rituals and superstitions that the real message is lost:
ਕਬੀਰ ਬਾਮਨੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਹੈ ਜਗਤ ਕਾ ਭਗਤਨਕਾ ਗੁਰੁ ਨਾਹਿ ॥
ਅਰਝਿ ਉਰਝਿ ਕੈ ਪਚਿ ਮੂਆ ਚਾਰਉ ਬੇਦਹੁਮਾਹਿ ॥੨੩੭॥ ਕਬਿਰ ੧੩੭੭
The Brahmin is guru of the (ignorant) folks, not of God’s devotees;
He wastes time embroiled in the (the rituals of) the four Vedas. 237. (Kabir, p 1377).
The fourth Guru says that those who try to connect with God can do what the Brahmin is expected to do.
This message comes from within by shedding ego with the Guru’s Grace:
ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬਿੰਦਹਿ ਤੇ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣਾ ਜੇ ਚਲਹਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਭਾਇ ॥
ਜਿਨ ਕੈ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਹਰਿ ਵਸੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਰੋਗੁ ਗਵਾਇ ॥ ੪ ੮੫੦
Those who connect with God through the guru’s teachings are the Brahmins;
This is possible by shedding ego because God then abides in the mind (M: 4, p 850).
The fourth Guru describes how God’s presence can be identified within the mind and in all, everywhere. We should also heed the inner voice:
ਏਕ ਜੋਤਿ ਏਕੋ ਮਨਿ ਵਸਿਆ ਸਭ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਇਕੁ ਕੀਜੈ ॥
ਆਤਮ ਰਾਮੁ ਸਭ ਏਕੈ ਹੈ ਪਸਰੇ ਸਭ ਚਰਨ ਤਲੇ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ॥੬॥ ੪ ੧੩੨੫
There is only One Lord who abides in the mind;
We should develop such sight as to see Him in all;
The Lord within is also all-pervasive we should surrender to the Infinite. 6. ((M: 4, p1325).
This awakening enables us to remember, disseminate and try to live according to Divine virtues. Everybody
can then be a priest. Guru Arjun says:
ਆਪਿ ਜਪਹੁ ਅਵਰਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਾਵਹੁ ॥
ਸੁਨਤ ਕਹਤ ਰਹਤ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਵਹੁ ॥ ੫ ੨੮੮
Remember God yourself and motivate others to do so;
Listen, remember and try to emulate God’s virtues and be saved (M: 5. p 288).
The Guru of the Sikhs, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib has a number of unique features and has a brand of its own. It is the only scripture among those of all religions which has the status of an eternal living Guru. It not only contains the compositions of the Sikh Gurus but also saints and bards of other faiths making it widely acceptable.
Unlike scriptures of many other faiths there is no doubt about the authorship of the compositions as they are clearly shown. The compositions of the Gurus were authenticated by them and those of the others by Guru Arjun who compiled the first version of the compositions. The compositions of the ninth Guru were authenticated and added by the tenth Guru to give the Granth its final shape. The numbering system of hymns is such as to prevent additions or deletions.
The scriptures of almost all other religions were written much after the events. They are based on stories and linked with geographical locations and are therefore time and place sensitive. This is not so with the SGGS as it is laid out in the form of teachings which are universal in nature. Since it addresses the Soul, its teachings are relevant to all times.
‘Sikh’ is a brand because of the form and also because of the unique position of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Let us each maintain the brand that is ‘Sikh’.