Monday, May 01, 2006

Books on Sikhism - recommendations given and sought

All right, only 4 days since my last post! I'm getting better at this.

I wanted to mention that I've been reading a most excellent book on Sikhism. It is "Sikhism" by Hew MacLeod, an Australian scholar who has published extensively on Sikh religion and culture. He first came to my attention in Professor Arvind Mandair's class at Hofstra. I think the Professor studied with MacLeod and has a similar approach, one I would describe as having a greater socio-historical emphasis than past research on the subject. They don't take a lot of handed down knowledge for granted as historical fact -- if something that has been commonly accepted as history does not have significant documentation to back it up, they'll say as much, however much that might raise the ire of more dogmatic practicioners of the faith. In this sense their work is kind of comparable to the Historical Jesus movement that raised a lot of questions about traditional beliefs towards Christianity.

To follow MacLeod's and Mandair's lead, I really should give some examples from MacLeod's book to illustrate what I'm talking about. The one that stands out in my mind is MacLeod's speculation that 1699 may not have been the actual year that the Order of the Khalsa was created. For whatever reason the year has been institutionalized as historical fact. Sikhism has such a long and legendary history, perhaps it's inevitable that facts get obfuscated here and there, or events get exaggerated. I wonder how many Sikhs really believe that Baba Dip Singh was able to fight off hundreds of Muslim invaders while holding his own severed head in one hand? Still, an image like that certainly fires up the imagination, which I think is ultimately the point, and why there's always going to be a volatile relationship between the history that actually happened and the myth that we carry in our hearts. It's no different that what I am doing as a filmmaker, trying to distill all my experiences and encounters into a story that will work with people.

I was also reading about the emergence of the Tat Khalsa from the Singh Sabha in the 19th century to become the dominant voice in Sikhism and firmly establish the concept that to be a Sikh requires joining the Khalsa, an idea that seems to be taken for granted today but a century ago wasn't so firm. This is the complicated history that I'm still getting my head around,and may not end up being discussed in my film, but it helps to enrich my understanding of the faith and how it evolved through many circumstances. It's important not to take what I understand about Sikhism for granted.

I'm going to try to make it more of a daily habit to write reflections as I keep reading through MacLeod. In the meantime if anyone reading this has any suggestions as to great books on Sikhism, please send them this way.

Also I want to post some pictures from last Saturday's Sikhism parade, but I think I need to free up some drive space first. Too much good stuff to be done!

3 comments:

Evan said...

interesting post.

Innayat Singh said...

I think you might have missed Mandair's point- HISTORY IS NOT THE ULTIMATE source of understanding (faith). Hegelial idealism was way off. The insecurities instilled in our minds by the british presence in punjab have yet to be confronted...
Mcleod is a proof of the shackles of slavery that still burden the Sikhs...

JGAV SCRATCHPAD said...

"I was also reading about the emergence of the Tat Khalsa from the Singh Sabha in the 19th century to become the dominant voice in Sikhism and firmly establish the concept that to be a Sikh requires joining the Khalsa, an idea that seems to be taken for granted today but a century ago wasn't so firm."

-- pls DO comment: This issue is of utmost importance.. the mandate of 'Khalsa' to be considered Sikh is preventing Sikhism from becoming the Universal Path that Nanak had envisioned, it's killing us!