The following transcripts are my interpretation of a lecture excerpt by Professor Jagdish Singh. I have endeavoured to express the words spoken by the speaker, to the best of my ability, in the context of the subject matter that he is covering, thus this should not be considered a transliteration.
The lecture in it’s entirety can be heard at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FB5iLoKzLQ
“The word culture (in a Punjabi context) is not the dance form of bhangra alone, nor is it the dialect we speak, or that we wear trousers and shirts whilst the English wear this or that. This isn’t culture. That definition is for the people who don’t really want to understand reality and simply look from the outside. Let’s look at bhangra as an example – it is performed with such force that in my opinion no other people in the World could accept it. Bhangra is performed with such passion and fervour, that only the way of life symbolised by the Khanda could contain it; a moderate, less Worldly way of life or religion would ban it, such as Shaivism; I mean no insult (to them) but it cannot accept it, nothing except Sikhi could harness the passion of people who perform bhangra. The Christian Church cannot control the passion of Punjabi folk dance, the abandonment with which Punjabi women dance. Do not think of dance as mere movement – it is the purest form of art that exists!
If I speak directly about culture for a moment, let’s consider Punjab’s folklore (which is at the heart of it’s culture). Please read the works of Professor Puran Singh, particularly his anthologies ‘Sisters of the Spinning Wheel’ and ‘Spirit of the Oriental Poetry’; in these he presented Punjab’s scripture, literature, history and folklore without distinction. It is a great boon that he was able to do this – he presents it all as One. Those here who are young might not understand this fully and might find this blasphemous… Professor Puran Singh calls Ranjha a Sikh of the Guru! Why?! Because he has characteristics within him that embody the culture of the Punjab that yearned for Guru Nanak’s arrival. As Bhai Gurdas says, ‘Sunnee pukar dataar prabh, Guru Nanak jagg mahe pathaiya’. Before Guru Nanak was born, the World was praying for a saviour, they were anticipating his arrival; without that anticipation and desire for him he would not have come. Punjab was awaiting Guru Nanak, the people demanded his birth here with religious zeal, and how did that desire for emancipation manifest? It was through the various forms of Punjabi culture. How this is borne out in our folk songs is there to see. Contrast it with the English speaking World, the West doesn’t have the same depth of folk songs that Punjab has; our suhaags, ghorian, pyaar de geet (love songs) – they are such intense forms of music, unrivalled in the West.
When the Singh Sabha movement came about there was a diminishing of these arts, call it that or a lessening of its influence… The Singh Sabha movement wasn’t able to promote these art forms – our way of life was facing such annihilation they had little option but to proceed as they did for the betterment of the Panth. But our way of life today will need to revisit what we really believe about things… now what arises will need to recognise what authentic Sikh culture is – based on our principles, what is our song? When we say that Sikhi is not a religion like other faiths, it is because we uniquely consider this World to be the abode of our enlightenment – ‘Sache tere khand, Sache Brahmand’. Conversely the Hindu says ‘Jagat mithiya’ (the World is not real) this is why they renounce the World, or why politics and religion are kept apart (by the Abrahamic traditions). Our Akaal Takht exists because we understand this World to be a reality in which we can achieve emancipation. Sikhs embrace the Earth and the pains and pleasures that we find here, we face them head on.
As Professor Puran Singh says ‘ann da swaad we naam da swaad hai’ (the pleasure that comes from eating grain is the same pleasure that comes with Naam). Even the daily eating of roti in Punjab is considered heavenly because as the tongue tastes it, our words and thoughts are divinely transformed; the belief being Guru Nanak ploughed the fields of Punjab so the crops that we harvest are blessed by his touch. There are farmers in the state of Haryana, there are Muslim farmers, why is the farmer of Punjab the toast of South Asia? It is because Guru Nanak ploughed the fields in Punjab and instilled a dedication to loving-toil in to the farmer here, so much so that when a Sikh farmer plants seeds they are in that act living out the Sikh way of life. The Karah Parshad we eat is this very grain that we harvest – do not think of it as mere blessed food… All of these things are connected.”
“75 years the Communists have wasted in Punjab through writing… in the field of literature, we [Sikhs] really need to show who we truly are.
The Left has portrayed Sikhs in a negative way when the reality is that the Sikhs have created so much in Punjab, so much that Professor Puran Singh’s words are more apt, “If Punjab continues to flourish it is because of the House of Guru Nanak”.
This is it, you see.
Why aren’t you [Sikhs] writing novels? We need to make it happen. Bhai Vir Singh initiated the movement for Sikh literature, we left it behind. We went down the road of preaching, talking about Sikhi has this rule, or that it preaches this or that… We need to leave these things behind.
When real Sikh cinema comes to be, it won’t be like these films ‘Ucha Dar Babe Nanak Da’. The Sikh way of life won’t be presented in this linear format. How Sikhs see the World and everyday life – this is the type of art that will truly represent Sikh cinema. Real Sikh cinema is not to produce films portraying the Gurus and their sacrifices; we will showcase Sikhs and this way of life in its true form, how our ideology can solve issues that impact modern life. These are the artistic endeavours that will reflect true Sikh cinema. Let us do it!
However, watch someone will start to make films on Sikh history in the guise of the rubbish that [Indian cinema] creates. And then we will be embarrassed (at an artistic level). I’ve seen Akali leaders talking about making these films saying this is how we will spread awareness of who we are in the World, but this is a falsehood. These people [Akali leaders] hamper our creativity and devour our spirit.
These Akali leaders have a background as drivers, rabble rousers, union leaders; then they gather their supporters to become our ‘leaders’ and come along to instruct artists about what they should be doing. They don’t listen to anyone who is an expert in their field. I’ve heard from so many wise people, people with the souls of poets, that if you’re going to meet with the Akalis, protect your turban throughout because they will remove it from you otherwise. They embarrass thinking Sikhs in this way. We can’t live without the Akalis though, they are part of our Sikh family and we will socialise with them, but we must reinvigorate Sikhi and regain control of it from them.
Be creative, create literature which is most needed today.
Why aren’t Sikhs writing poetry? Leftists have their poetry published weekly in newspapers and magazines. The Left has created so much poetry, it’s everywhere… why aren’t we creating poetry? The likes of the Sikh Missionary College present such banal poetry that anyone who hears it will be put off forever. Look at the levels poetry has reached (globally) and what we Sikhs are creating as poetry today, we are corrupting our young people with such banal literature. Poetry is not what Punjab’s Sikhs are currently presenting. Poetry presents the inner dimensions of a person’s expression – as Sikhs we keep writing about topics in a rudimentary format, but poetry is not like that at all.
If we can produce poetry as it really is, we will show the World who we are and defeat the Left that I have been speaking of. It is not that we are creating this just to get one over on the Left, but because we need to show through art how our creativity has been eroded by the left who have helped to heap misery on the Punjab in the last 75 years. This is how the Left has destroyed the soul of Punjab. We need to reflect ourselves as we really are, provide an impression of what Guru Nanak stood for, if we are truly his Sikhs
In this way there are so many other things that will come out from this direction (that I have been sharing), but what I really want to get across to you today is that the Sikh Panth should give rise to intellectuals [artists, thinkers, scholars], those who become World renowned… We go on and on about ‘Martin Luther’ said this or this ‘Martin’ said that… why are we not producing experts and then we can cite that this ‘Singh’ said this or this ‘Singh’ said that? We have the ultimate doctrines for all manner of World topics [in Guru Granth Sahib], why aren’t we publishing work in this way? Read any political science text and there is no sign of Sikh ideology. Instead we question what is in there proffering no alternative of our own, but still our children will continue to read those textbooks.
So when we are going to work on anything we must do it properly, with passion and in sight of an ultimate vision.”