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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Is Wahe Guru an Acronym for the Names of Krishna?

Many Hindus worship the Sikh Gurus and chant the Name of Waheguru, without abandoning their Hindu identity, and many Sikhs cherish their Hindu roots and respect Hindu gods and goddesses. These people try to syncretise the teachings of Sikhism and the many versions of Hinduism. Indeed, one of the tallest luminaries of Sikhism, Bhai Gurdas [], the scribe of the Adi Granth (the first edition of Guru Granth Saheb) and the author of Varan Bhai Gurdas (called the key to the Guru Granth Saheb by Guru Arjan Dev) has written in Vaar 1 Pauri 49:

ਸਤਿਜੁਗ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਵਾਸਦੇਵ ਵਵਾ ਵਿਸਨਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਾਵੈ।
ਦੁਆਪੁਰਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਹਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਨ ਹਾਹਾ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਾਵੈ।
ਤ੍ਰੇਤੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਰਾਮ ਜੀ ਰਾਰਾ ਰਾਮ ਜਪੇ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵੈ।
ਕਲਿਜੁਗਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਗਗਾ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਨਾਮੁ ਅਲਾਵੈ।
ਚਾਰੇ ਜਾਗੇ ਚਹੁ ਜੁਗੀ ਪੰਚਾਇਣ ਵਿਚਿ ਜਾਇ ਸਮਾਵੈ।
ਚਾਰੋ ਅਛਰ ਇਕੁ ਕਰਿ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜਪੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਜਪਾਵੈ।
ਜਹਾਂ ਤੇ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਫਿਰਿ ਤਹਾਂ ਸਮਾਵੈ ॥੪੯॥੧॥

“In the Age of Truth, the Eternal Teacher is Vasudeva, (and so) ‘V’ for Vishnu Name is chanted.

In the Second Age, the Eternal Teacher is Hari Krishna, (and so) ‘H’ for Hari Hari Name is chanted.

In the Third Age, the Eternal Teacher is Ramaji, (and so) by chanting ‘R’ for Rama one attains happiness.

In the Age of Quarrel, Nanak is the Teacher (and he is called) Govinda (?), (so) ‘G’ for Govinda Name is recited.

The four Names of the four Ages merge into the Panchayana (or the Refuge of the Multitude, i.e., God).

Combining the four letters (V, H, R, G), the Mantra Waheguru is chanted.

Whence (the Mantra) originates, it merges again (i.e., into God).”

Moreover, the Guru Granth Saheb and the Dasam Granth (Sikh scriptures) narrate the stories from Itihasa-Purana about heroic deeds of gods, demons and saints and mention the devotional tradition of Vaishnavism. Thus, Sikhism grows out of Hinduism, especially the Bhakti Movement. Nevertheless, Sikh theology is quite clear on the conception of God, which is inspired by Islam. It states that God is neither begotten nor begets. Both the Guru Granth Saheb and the Dasam Granth (Sikh scriptures) condemn the concept of avatar and compare Rama and Krishna to mere flies who are consumed by the fire of Time. The contradiction can be explained if we understand that Sikhism syncretises the Islamic theology and the Vaishnava devotionalism, condemning the formalistic aspects of both traditions. More specifically,  Sikhism originated from the common philosophy of the Nirgunavad tradition of the Ramanandi sect of Shri Vaishnavism and Sufi tradition in Islam.

Shri Ramananda, a Shri Vaishnava sannyasi abandoned the rigid orthodoxy of doctrines, rituals and caste system, and preached Sita-Rama worship in Varanasi. He was so liberal that he allowed his disciples to develop their own realisations about God and preach them independently. Thus, there emerged two traditions, viz., Nirgunavad and Sagunavad, which deeply influenced Hinduism in North India. Nigunavadi saints like Kabir believed that God can have no objective existence and can be never attained by the methods prescribed in the scriptures. For them, God is a single, homogenous and purely subjective entity; in other words, God is always the seer and never can be seen. We can never see God, but can only become God. For them, any interpretation of scriptures, philosophical discussion or objective manifestation of spirituality (deity worship, fasting, pilgrimage, asceticism, etc.) is an illusionary trap. Meditation on the unity of the self and of the world with God through obedience to Guru, chanting, prayers, social service and honest earning is admitted as the only true religious principle. Interestingly, many ideas of Nirgunvad coincide with those of Sufism, an Islamic tradition. However, human beings are unable to identify with such pristine ideas, so the followers of these traditions have turned
  • to worship of their scriptures, gurus and tombs of saints giving up deity worship;
  • to maintenance of external symbols like turban, beard and talisman abandoning forehead mark, scared thread and tonsure;
  • to observance of birthdays of saints rather than celebrating Janmastami, and
  • to pilgrimage to their own holy sites instead of Kashi or Mecca.

Sagunavad was a reaction to the polemics of the Nirgunavadi saints, who condemned the orthodox precepts of Hinduism. Tulsidas, the tallest saint of this tradition, resided in Varanasi and was a bosom friend of the great Mayavadi (a Hindu school) philosopher, Shri Madhusudana Saraswati. He challenged the ideas of Kabir that there were two different Ramas, one the son of Dasaratha and other the all-pervading God. He declared that the unborn, formless and eternal unity manifests as Sita and Rama for play. That is the conclusion of the scriptures. He defended deity worship, fasting, pilgrimage and asceticism as the manifestations of the emotional attachment to God and detachment from the illusory bondages of mundane life. For him, the emotional worship of Sita-Rama and absorption into their divine play through poetry, music, drama and iconography is the sweetest method for attaining the ultimate unity.  Thus, Sagunavad overcame the Nirgunavadi challenge; developed a Hindu syncretism by combining Vaishnavism and Mayavad (two antagonistic philosophical schools); and emerged as the inspiration for Hindu revivalism, culminating in the Rama Janmabhumi Movement.

Guru Nanak was born in Punjab. Hindu reaction against Brahminical orthodoxy and Sufi mysticism inspired him. He studied both religions, travelled widely and found commonality in the essence of both Hinduism and Islam. Spiritual experience transcended the external features of religions. Guru Nanak considered that chanting Ram, Rahim or any other name of God was sufficient for salvation. However, such an open process could have been detrimental to the creation of a separate religious community, so the name Waheguru was introduced. Bhai Gurdas, the most important Sikh hagiographer and theologian, used the Mantra for the first time and also gave his commentary to the Mantra as an acronym of the Names of Krishna so that it appeals to the general public, who were overwhelmingly Hindu. In the case of Puranic stories, their popularity was utilised to introduce Sikh philosophy where these stories are recognised as allegories explaining higher truths of Nirguna and Name.

As the Sikh faith developed, it was persecuted by the Muslims for the Sikhs refused to accept the sovereignty of the Mughal emperor, for they believed only in the sovereignty of God through His representative, the Guru. Sikhs were also aware of the capability of the Brahmins to absorb any sect into Hindu orthodoxy. Therefore, Guru Gobind Singh, the last human Sikh Guru adopted the Khalsa tradition, in which the initiated Sikhs renounced Hinduism and Islam, and embraced Sikhism as a separate religion. A new understanding of the meaning of Waheguru (Wah: Persian version of wow; and Guru: Sanskrit word for teacher), viz., the Nirguna, the Teacher of the Teachers, the Wow Teacher, is now more popular among Sikhs.

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