தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  > The Tamil Heritage - History & Geography > Sikhs and Tamils - The Indus Connection

Sikhs and Tamils : The Indus Connection

Dr.N.Muthu Mohan
Reader & Head, Guru Nanak Devji Chair
Kamaraj University, Madurai Tamilnadu-625021

"..The Sikhs and the Tamils have created two great non-Brahmanic cultures at the two ends of India. The Cashmeres, the Marathas, the Assamese or the Bengalis may contest this claim and would like to join in the list. But it is true that the Tamils and the Sikhs are the only people who have openly fought declaring their non-Brahmin ideology in the recent history of India. The two peoples have a political and cultural tradition of non-Brahmanism. I do not think that the non-Brahmin legacy of the Sikhs and the Tamil is of recent origin. It is as old as Indian history..."


It was 9th October 1994. We had a meeting at the Institute of Sikh studies, Chandigarh. It was my first visit to Punjab. After the meeting I was invited to a tea at the house of a former IAS officer who resigned his post responding to the Blue Star Operation on Golden Temple, Amritsar.

In the middle of the tea, the Sikh officer suddenly asked me a question. "Did you ever think of Punjab as the oldest land of your Dravidian ancestors?" I was taken aback by the question. Because I had indeed thought of Punjab-the land of Indus Civilisation-as the possible old land of the Dravidians, my assumed cultural ancestors. It occurred to me a few times, at least, during that visit to Chandigarh.

Although I do not hail from a tradition that very much appreciates Dravidian politics, I myself wondered why such a thought came to my mind. I was born in a family that was associated with the Communist politics and when the anti-Hindi agitations were going on during my student days I was not a supporter of the movement. However, the thought of Dravidian ancestry came to my mind and for a long time afterwards I had many occasions when I kept thinking about that Indus connection between the people of Punjab and Tamilnadu.

Historians tell us that the Indus culture was an agricultural one. I was born and brought up in a peasant family. The Sikhs are basically agriculturists. I find the Sikhs from rural Punjab are thoroughly peasants. The five tributary rivers of Indus are the basic natural endowment of the Punjabis. Land and rivers, land and waters occur repetitively in the Sikh perception. The Sikh religiosity, as I understand it, is fertile with abundant metaphors of land and waters. Indeed I mentioned in one of my articles on Sikhism, that Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh Religion is the Sixth River of Punjab.

Guru Nanak says that the God is the water and the creatures are the fishes in the Water. Do not get separated from the waters, if you do, you are lost. God is the root of the high green Tree and, we are the branches and greens of the tree. Do not get separated from the roots. Culture is the land, water and roots of a people. God is the biggest surplus symbol that the culture has produced.

The songs and dances of the Sikhs inform us about the vibrancy of the Sikh culture and the Sikh love of life. It is a very rare thing in history. The Sikhs are not only the best agricultural producers of the land but also the dynamic peasants of the country. Usually the sociologists portray the peasants as a passive and ritualistic mass of people. This might be true about the peasants of Bihar or Uttarpradesh. Tolstoy and even Gandhi perceived the peasants as passive and inert. Tolstoy and Gandhi idealised the peasant passivity. Peasant passivity became the foundation to their philosophy. Maxim Gorky criticised Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for idealising the passive values of the peasants. Gandhi too could be criticised for the same. But Gandhi and Tolstoy would miserably fail about the Sikhs. Serious sociological studies would find the Sikh peasants as the most dynamic and heroic people.

The Indus is the oldest known agricultural land of Indian subcontinent. The archaeological evidences of the Indus culture tell us that the people of Indus were producing rice and wheat 5000 years ago as they are doing today. The Indus culture celebrated fertility, particularly the fertility of land. The Indus religion was a religion of fertility. The Indus people symbolised the land as the Mother and commemorated the fertility of the Land-Mother. The material prosperity and fertility were the objects of worship and celebration to the people of Indus, the Dravidians and the Sikhs.

Tamil culture in Tamil land too starts from celebrating the fertility of land, mounts and waters. The ancient Tamil Grammatical work, Tolkaappiam, divides the landscape into four- Kurinji, Mullai, Marutham and Neithal. Kurinji is associated with the hilly regions, Mullai with forestlands, Marutham with rivers and fields, and finally, Neithal with the banks of the sea.

It was a nascent and native division of lands, people, their professions and their culture. It is a naturalistic division of the people and their ethos. The ancient Tamils agreed to have four different deities corresponding to the different ethos of the people of four different landscapes. There was no attempt to pose one superior to the other or to unite the four into one, under one umbrella. Multiplicity is another name for fertility.

The culture was land and river based. Every classical and modern poet of Tamil celebrates the rivers Thamiraparani, Vaigai and Kaveri. The rivers and their cultures on the banks of the rivers have distinct identities. Kaveri is associated with the Chola kingdom, Vaigai with the Pandya kingdom and the Thamiraparani with the late Pandyas and the south of it with the Chera kingdom.

The rivers have their inalienable links with the birth and growth of Tamil language too. The Tamil took its birth, as the myth goes, on the mounts where the Thamiraparani originates, the three ancient Tamil Sangams flourished in the city of Madurai on the banks of the river Vaigai, and the Chola kingdoms on the banks of Kaveri patronised the greatest Tamil poets to create the classical Saivite epics.

The Tamils often claim that their ancient culture was more of a secular type. I do not think that the ancient Tamils were truly atheists. The ancient Tamil literature including Tolkaappiam went through the editorial work of the Jains and Buddhists who occupied the Tamil culture some 2000 years ago.

Consequently the edited volumes of ancient Tamil works have acquired a non-religious look. The Tamils did have their old mythology and deities most probably having the characteristics of the fertility culture. Somehow they surface in the post-Buddhist devotional period.

The ancient Tamils had another understanding of life. Aham or life of love and Puram or life of war and heroism are the two fundamental values that were celebrated by the ancient Tamils. Aham and Puram could also be translated as internal and external. It means the internalised personal life of the humans and the external and outspoken life.

Some scholars may extend the internal to the spiritual and religious, and the external into temporal and social. If one accepts this type of classification, the ancient Tamils stood for correct combining of the spiritual and temporal values. This idea of correct combination of internal and external may take us to the Sikh concept of MiriPiri, the unity of spirituality and temporality. The dialectics of aham and puram or that of miri and piri may suggest the rich interaction of religious and social, spiritual and temporal, transcendent and immanent.

The Indus civilisation really witnesses two types of religiosity, one, the fertility brand of religion that was more of an externalised and the other, the anthropocentric or internalised. About the first we spoke earlier.

The second one needs some explanation. The Archaeological residues of Indus valley contain the stamps of a bull-faced male figure sitting, apparently in a yogic posture. Let us call it proto-yogic. I take this figure as the evidence of the existence of an anthropocentric culture in the Indus civilisation. It must be in vogue at least at the upper quarters of the society.

The proto-yogic figurine may be the Shaman of the ancient tribal communities. The Shaman is the elder, leader, magician, medical man, astrologer and captain of the ancient communities. The proto-yogic might have evolved into the ascetic of the Jainism and Buddhism of later years in Indian History.

The Jaina literatures describe the genealogy of the 24 thirtankaras travelling into the very past of ancient Indian culture possibly reaching the Indus period. The proto-yogic is the originator of internalised thinking and mysticism in the history of Indian culture. The mystic lived with various names in Indian culture. He was the Siddha, Shraman, Arahat, Bhikku, Bhodhisatwa, Sadhu, Sant, Guru and so many others. Interestingly, both Tamil and Sikh cultures gave birth to almost all of these types of holy persons. The religiosity of the Tamils is connected with saints like Alwars, Nayanmars and Siddhas, and the Sikhs too are related with the Gurus, Siddh yogis and Babas.

Indus religion in total was the combination of the fertility culture and the anthropocentric culture. It was either the combination, or the rupture of the two. When it was a rupture, it was a creative rupture. One is outwardly and the other is inwardly. One resisted the other and reformed the other. One is a mass phenomenon and the other is comparatively elite-oriented. One is more of ethical type and other is celebrative and carnivalistic. One interesting aspect of both the trends is that they are world-affirmative.... I shall stop saying here only that both the Sikh religion and the religions of the Tamils basically reflect the features I have just now described, that is the combination of, or rupture between, the internalised-anthropocentric-mystical and the externalised-popular-fertility culture. Should I call them the religions of Miri and Piri or Aham and Puram?

The Non-centric cultures of India

The Sikhs and the Tamils have created two great non-Brahmanic cultures at the two ends of India. The Cashmeres, the Marathas, the Assamese or the Bengalis may contest this claim and would like to join in the list. But it is true that the Tamils and the Sikhs are the only people who have openly fought declaring their non-Brahmin ideology in the recent history of India. The two peoples have a political and cultural tradition of non-Brahmanism. I do not think that the non-Brahmin legacy of the Sikhs and the Tamil is of recent origin. It is as old as Indian history.

As it has been mentioned earlier, Punjab hosted the ancient Indian culture well before the arrival of Aryans into India. It is said that the Aryans entered into Indian subcontinent through the Indus landscapes. But it seems that the Aryans did not stay in the lands of Punjab for a long time. The Sanskrit literatures inform us that the Aryans found the Indus land highly unsafe and ethnically threatening. Consequently they did not hang about on the Indus and carefully moved into the interior lands of India, approximately towards the banks of river Yamuna and the western Ganges.

The sacred geography of Aryavarta that was constructed by Aryans does not include the Punjab region and it is around the western Ganges covering mostly the central India. The Sanskrit literatures evidence that the Aryans considered the lands of Punjab as polluted and banned their own people to cross the rivers westwards to reach Punjab. Some texts prescribe compensatory rituals if one visits Punjab on any compulsion. The people of Punjab are described as thieves, robbers and more particularly, Punjab is mentioned as the land of people of mixed marriages. These references confirm us that the people of Punjab from the most ancient days onwards were of different ethnic origin and the Aryans were afraid of them.

The ethnic fear of the Aryans compelled them to be separate from the people of Punjab and to be careful of the Punjabis. It has to be noted that the ethnic fear of the Aryans, particularly the Aryan priests, played the most determining role in the ancient history of Indians in the making of a varna system.

Untouchabilty was the basic principle of the Aryan culture. The Aryans considered the land of Indus as a polluted and the people untouchables.

I would remind at this juncture that not only the land of Punjab was considered polluted by the Aryans; it was the case even more distinctly with the southern lands on the other side the mounts Vindhyas. Almost all the peripheral lands of present India was considered by the Aryans as polluted and untouchable.

The Aryan concept of non-Aryan lands contributed to one interesting phenomenon in Indian history. The so considered non-Aryan lands became the avarna territories in India. Otherwise said, the non-Aryan lands automatically became the lands where the Varna system was not systematically cultivated. The varna system found its 'natural' home only at the Aryavarta. It might be true that the peoples of the non-Aryan lands at some historical stage of their development started imitating the Aryans and began imposing the Varna model in their own territory too.

But it has to be remembered that the imitated model is of secondary nature and not practiced among the original stock of the Aryan population. The Punjabi and the Tamil people hail basically from the non-varnic and pre-varnic tribes of these regions untouched by Aryan obscuring of the native people. Thus the non-Brahmanic legacy of the Tamils and the Sikhs has its very old history.

The land of Punjab again contains certain adverse remarks in the Sanskrit epics. It occurs at the end part of the Ramayana story. Rama, after being crowned as the King of Ayothya, meets the problem of public slander of his wife, Sita. Failing to close the slandering mouths of the people he decides to part with his wife. He asks Lakshman, his loyal brother to lead Sita out of his country, into the thick forests. After a lot of sympathetic hesitation, Lakshman agrees to do the job.

The forestlands selected to drop Sita seems to be the lands of Punjab or bordering it. Sita was left alone in the forests and the Rishi Valmiki renders shelter to Sita. Sita was pregnant at that time and she gives birth to Lava and Kusa, the twin-sons of Rama. Locating the geography described in the episodes we understand that Sita was dropped in the lands of Valmiki.

As we see, Valmiki is the name of the Dalits and tribes who were populating the lands of Punjab in the old days. Even today the Dalit associations of Punjab are called with the title name Valmiki. They are Dalits in the Maharashtra and the South, Ravidasis in the central and west India and Valmikis in the North-west.

The story of Rishi Valmiki in the Ramayana too is symptomatic. Rishi Valmiki was originally a way-side robber turned into an ascetic due to some peculiar reasons. The 'robber' Valmiki coincides with the usual characterisation of an ancient rival tribe in the Sanskrit literature. It is the typical Sanskrit nomenclature to the other. And the naming has continuity with the earlier portrayal in the Ramayana about the Indus people that they were 'polluted and thieves'. Let us tolerate all this nonsense and look at them as history.

Ramayana contains similar type of portrayal, even worse, of the people of South India. The Ramayana story unfolds as the expansion of an Aryan kingdom into the South. Rama is sent out of his country and he keeps himself moving into the depths of South. In the earlier part of the stories Rama keeps quarrelling and killing the Rakhshasas of the forests who were disturbing the Yajnas of the Brahmanic rishis. It is a clash of civilisations.

Rama appears with the values of the kingdom of Ayothya where the people of the forests outside of the kingdom might have lived with their own values. The charge that the forest dwellers disturbed the Yajnas of the Rishis is problematic because the rishis themselves must be the intruders into the forest lands of the original inhabitants.

The epic depicts the things from the point of view of Rama and it must be biased. If the forest dwellers would have written their epic, they would have represented it as an encroachment into their territory, colonising and eliminating them. The story again moves into the South. Sita is 'stolen' from Rama by Ravana who is showed as a pious Saivite.

The association of Saivism with the South has interesting implications. Ravana is a wonderful musician too. Lord Siva had passionate affection to the music of Ravana. What is the meaning of these combinations of Lord Siva, Music and the South? How an 'uncultured' South was having a developed religion, an organised kingdom and a sensitive aesthetics?

Rama defeats Ravana and turns Ravana's brother into his own man. Is it not the story of infiltration of Vaishnavism into the Saivite South? The episode of Hanuman too witnesses the conversion of a Saivite into a Vaishnavite. Hanuman by birth is said to be the Rudra-avatara. Rudra is the old name for Sivan in his ferocious form. Hanuman is an aspect of Siva. Hanuman achieves his might and power through Lord Siva. Hanuman as a celibate is symbolising the ascetic supremacy of Lord Siva, the Mahayogi. But what happens to this staunch Saivite in the course of Ramayana?

Hanuman is transformed into the symbol of Vaishnavite devotion itself! Hanuman is the symbol of a low-caste devotee who absolutely surrenders before the Vaishnavite God. Open the heart of Hanuman, you will find Rama and Sita sitting there! Why is there a necessity to open the heart of Hanuman? Because originally he was a Saivite. You have to check the loyalty thoroughly! Hanuman is thoroughly checked and he had voluntarily become the slave of Rama. Hanuman symbolises not only the conversion of the South to Vaishnavism but also the type of devotion prescribed to the low-caste masses of the North.

In North India, temples for Hanuman are more in number than the temples for Rama. Hanuman has travelled through the entire history of North India as the first and best devotee of Rama. So this is the story of the colonisation of the South by Vaishnavism. Either you have to be converted or to be annihilated. Either get colonised or you would be eliminated. The civilised model is the Aryan King Rama. Rama is often called as uththama purusha, literally the true noble man. By face, a monkey, and by heart, a bhakta of Rama. Hanuman is colonised and made into a hybrid. He is neither of the two. He is the third. As Frantz Fanon would say, black skin and white mask. The body is Hanuman's but within that body sits Rama, thus making the polluted body into a holy shrine. Vaishnavism speaks about the Sarira-sariri bahava. Hanuman has got the meaning of his life, he emancipated himself.

The Buddhist Substratum in the Sikh and Tamil cultures

There seems to be a strong residue of Buddhism both in the regions of Punjab and Tamilnadu as well as in the religiosities of the Sikhs and the Tamils. This is not at all to reduce the Sikh religion and the Religions of the Tamils to Buddhism. Buddhism has come to stay in Punjab and Tamilnadu as a trait in the cultures of these people. A discussion about Buddhist substratum in the Sikh and Tamil cultures is important because it was that Buddhist moment in these cultures that might have contributed to resist the Brahmanic encroachments into these cultures during the entire medieval period. In other words, the non-Brahmanism of the Tamils and the Sikhs is conditioned in a big scale by the Buddhist substratum in them.

From Later Vedic Texts--The Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanisads  "The cult of sacrifice stressed encyclopedic memorization of the sacred texts and the painstaking performance of the sacrificial rites--essentially a question of technical profiency over a large body of knowledge. It was a hereditary profession, in which sons gained the necessary training from their fathers, and the access to this training was restricted to a small group of people, who called themselves brahmanas (i.e., brahmins). Braahmanas tended to live in society as householders, since it is difficult to sustain a hereditary group unless it reproduces itself. Their religious practice was public, "traditional," and "establishment"--since their major patrons were the kings and nobles, the sacrifices performed tended to benefit these ruling groups, either addressing their personal concerns (e.g., no sons) or for the more general welfare of the kingdom.

The opposing model of religious life was not based on learning, memorization, and/or technical proficiency over a body of knowledge, but on an individual's personal insights and realization into the nature of the universe. Such sorts of essentially mystical insights depends more on an individual's efforts and innate capacities, rather than his/her education and family, and because of this predominant emphasis on individual effort, people on this path were called shramanas ("strivers"). Shramanas tended to lay far less emphasis on the importance of learning, hints of this can be seen in the selections from the Chandogya Upanishad in the following section. The Shramanas are believed to have lived outside society (as the name "forest-books" hints), and their religious practice is private, non-hereditary, and internalized. Given their individualized practice, and the stress on working with a teacher, the shramanas were a diverse group. Some groups accepted the Vedas as sacred texts, whereas others rejected this notion (among them, the Buddhists and Jains). What these groups shared was not so much a body of ideas, but a commitment to a certain "style" of religious life. And is from the first such group, who saw themselves as working within the tradition of the Vedas, that we get the Upanishads."

Historically the Tamils were under the overwhelming influence of Buddhism, broadly under the influence of Ajivika, Jainism and Buddhism, in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was a period the Tamil society was transforming itself from its tribal past into the civilised history or as the Marxists say, into the class society. In other words, it was the Shramana tradition of the North that made its first appeal on the Tamil culture that was in its transition stage.

It has to be noted that before the advent of the Shramanas, the Tamil land did not have the influence of the Vedic culture. The Early Tamils had their nascent Tamil Sangam culture and then it was followed by the Shramana coating upon it.

The presence of the Shramanas in ancient Tamilnadu is important in two aspects. As it has been mentioned earlier, the Shramana ascetics collected and classified the pre-Shramana literature of the Tamils on the one hand and composed new literature with Jaina-Buddha influence on the other hand. It was such a massive work that Tamil language, literature and culture are unimaginable without the works of the Jainists and Buddhists during the ancient period. The early Jains and Buddhists, as foreigners to this culture, paid their attention to language, its construction, grammar and the specificities of the culture.

The ancient Tamil Grammatical work Tolkaappiam is believably a work of Jaina monks. It has no reference to the Vedic gods and rituals. It is in a thorough secular mode of presentation. Its understanding of language takes it close to the philosophies of Jainism and Buddhism.

As a first work of Grammar, Tolkaappiam has a continuous influence in the later Grammar works too. The Jains and the Buddhists have a continuous contribution to Tamil Grammar till back to the late medieval ages.

Once the monks have done with the editorial work of language and existing literature,  they went on to compose their own literature. The Five classical epics of the Tamils-Seevaka Sinthamani, Silappathikaaram, Manimakalai, Neelakesi and Kundalakesi - are composed either by the Jaina or the Buddhist monks. Many things are notable here. By composing the classical epics the Jains and the Buddhists had got the historical opportunity to decide the literary patterns and modes of the Tamils. The Tamil idiom somehow was created with the active epistemological participation of the Shramana -non-Brahmanic- religions.

Another big corpus of writings that comes across is the didactic literature of the Tamils - Thirukkural, Naaladiyaar, Naanmanikkadikai, Achaarakkovai, Elaathi, Thirikadikam etc. It is a rich ensample of writings that cover the entire personal and social life of the Tamils. Should I call them ethical literature or the literature that determined cultural patterns of the Tamils? The foods, dresses, manners of eating and dressing, manners of speech and behaviour, family values and hospitality, manhood and womanhood, commitments to society and citizenship, love and child-upbringing, education and knowledge, kinghood and ministry- almost everything amazingly was discussed and structured in the Jaina and Buddhist didactic literatures. It is many times more than mere influence.

Now I must say something about the Buddhist contribution to the making of Sikh culture. In the history of Punjabi culture one finds the early influences of Buddhism. We read in the textbooks of Buddhism that the western India had a considerable following of Buddhism in the first centuries of the Christian era. Possibly, Buddhism flourished in this part of the country during the rule of Kanishka dynasty. Kanishka was a patron of Buddhism and many other religions. Taxila, one of the popular Universities of Buddhism where thousands of Buddhist monks used to gather and deliberate issues of religion and philosophy, was situated in the North-western India.

It is said that one of the schools of Buddhism, Sarvastivada got its birth in the Taxila University. Sarvastivada attracts the philosophical curiosity of mine, particularly from the point of view of Sikhism. Sarvastivada says that matter is as real as the mind or vice versa. It renders equal reality to both the spiritual and the physical. This is an interesting standpoint. Philosophers for ages have debated among themselves with the question: What is primary, matter or spirit? History of philosophy shows that the armies of philosophers divided among themselves into materialists and idealists.

The Sarvastivada position is interesting from the point of view of this long debate of philosophers, because it attributes equal reality to the physical and the mental worlds. The two realities are different in their characteristics but both are true. The problem does not end with attributing truthfulness to both the types of realities. It expands to the question about the type of relationship the material side has with the spiritual side. If both are equally true, one potential answer is that even in their relations there must not be any hierarchy. It means that they relate among themselves equally, moderately and a perfect balance is presupposed here. I am tempted to compare this concept with the Sikh idea of Miri-Piri. Sikhism holds the principle of miri-piri as its basic and methodological principle.

The term miri means earthly, worldly and temporal wealth and success. The term piri means spiritual, transcendental, divine and beyond. Sikhism by putting the two words together, by making them into one means a dialectical relation between the two. It asserts the reality of the two. It does not propose to achieve spiritual success at the cost of earthly welfare as well as it does not advocate to sacrifice our entire spirituality to a successful man/woman in the temporal life. A temporality devoid of spirituality may become thoroughly corrupted and a spirituality without any commitment to social welfare may become an useless ideal.

Thus the Sikh philosophical position is to recombine the severed two in the history of religions and synthesise them. As a person trained in some amount of Marxist dialectics, I am attracted to this concept of miri-piri. I find this concept to be of very fertile nature with so many important and fundamental implications. I think that this understanding of Sikhism is a major contribution of this school of thought to the world philosophical process. Suddenly Sikhism comes very near to some of the recent European thoughts. If I am allowed to compare this concept of miri-piri to any other concept in Indian history I shall compare it only to the Buddhist concept of middle path or Madhya marga.

The Sarvastivada position that arose in the North-west Indian soil, in my understanding, was trying to explain the Buddhist middle path to which I compared the Sikh principle of miri-piri. I do not dare to engage in a historical exercise to prove that Sarvastivada had travelled in history to become the principle of miripiri in Sikhism. That will be an unjustified and unnecessary exercise. I am neither an historian to engage myself in such exercises. My only interest is that a wonderful idea of past finds its repetition in Sikhism in a different historical and cultural surroundings. I do not think that even the term 'repetition' is appropriate. My intention is to bring closer the three concepts I have referred in the last paragraph namely the dialectics, the Buddhist concept of Madhya marga and the Sikh concept of miripiri.

The Early Devotion and Late Devotion

Once we start to look at the religiosities of the Sikhs and the Tamils we find that both are part of the devotional tradition for which Indian medieval period was famous. This is not to say that India had a unified devotional movement. Some scholars are inclined to see that the Hindu Devotional movement is symptomatic of a pan-Indian culture, otherwise a Hindu culture. But we have to state that the Bhakti traditions of Indian subcontinent do not inform us about the existence of any pan-Indian culture, on the other hand they represent the plurality and variations of cultures existing and articulating themselves.

Tamil Saivism and Vaishnavism, Maharashtra worships of Vitthal and Vishoba, Kashmiri Saivism, Bengal Vaishnavism, Basava's religion of Lingayats in Karnataka or Sikhism in Punjab tell us not about the unity of religion but the varieties of religious experiences in the regional linguistic paradigms. Notably every such religious outpouring of culture is the powerful assertion of regional, linguistic and cultural identity of that particular people. The multiplicity of cultures in today's India could find its origins in the medieval expressions of devotionalism, in the varieties of devotionalism.

It has to be noted that as such the devotional culture in the North or South emerged out of the Sanskritic fold. Devotion does not have origins in the Vedic culture. The Vedic culture as such is centred upon the Yajna sacrifice and the fire symbolism associated with it. The Universe comes into existence from and goes back into the Yajna fire. Even the deities are less important in the Vedic culture in comparison to the Yajna sacrifice. If the procedures are rightly followed and the mantras are correctly pronounced, the deities inevitably appear to satisfy the needs of the yajna performer.

In such a relationship, devotion does not play a prominent role. References about the existence some forms of Bhakti appear in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. In the Bhagavat Gita there is a consistent attempt to synthesise the Vedanta philosophy with the popular religiosity to create the theism of Vaishnavism. However, it was Bhakti from above. That is, Bhakti had been adopted into the Vedanta fold due its popularity among the masses.

The Brahmanic culture first tried to reject the space for Bhakti. Sanskrit sources tried to put down Bhakti as that of non-Aryans and of Sudras. However, it was compelled to accept the devotional culture due to its unavoidable popularity. Although we are not inclined to reject a source of Bhakti in the north Indian non-Brahmin culture, it had not articulated in the North in so fundamental a way as in the South.

Tamilnadu is said to be one of the ancient cradles of devotional culture. The Alwars and Nayanmars of Vaishnavite and Saivite brands represent the early articulation of devotion in South India from the 5th century onwards. Jainism and Buddhism that were dominating the Tamil land for more than 300 years were replaced by the Tamil Saivism and Vaishnavism.

The meeting point of Jainism-Buddhism and Saivism-Vaishnavism has so many historical complications. We do not indulge in those problems for the present. It is said that Bhakti as a woman born on the banks of the river Tamraparani travelled to Karnataka and Maharashtra along with her two sons, and then into the interior parts of India. Thus it can be said that Tamilnadu was one of the sources of Bhakti culture.

The Alwars and Nayanmars sang and danced under the spell devotion. The Tamil poetry of Bhakti is full of emotion. Bhakti emerged as a burst out of native and nascent feelings in overflow. The dry theoriticism of Jainism and Buddhism was displaced by the fame of God. The water-tight rules of karma were substituted by the loving Grace of God. God can interfere into the rigidities of Karma and save the devotees from the difficulties of existence.

If Tamilnadu could be identified as the land of early bhakti, Punjab must be said to be the land of late Bhakti. Both the positions have their advantages. About the first feelings of bhakti we referred earlier. Now we must talk about the advantages of late bhakti. The Sikh Gurus had the advantage to go through the complications of Bhakti culture during the entire medieval period.

The spontaneity of devotional feelings found in the early bhakti soon vaporised to give way to Sanskritisation and institutionalisation. Ritualism took hold of the entire bhakti movement. The nascent emotions of bhakti were contained by the temple culture associated with the Mutts. The Mutts became the centres of landlordism and elitism. Theologising of religious feelings and philosophising became prominent. Saivism became Saiva Siddhanta and Vaishnavism became Vishistadvaita. Casteism re-entered into bhakti.

It is at this juncture of institutionalisation of Bhakti appeared the Siddhas with their acidic criticism of the ritualism, casteism and hypocrisy of bhakti forms. The Siddhas put a stress on the inward forms of devotion. They talked about the inward purity and criticised the externalism and ritualism of the known religions. The Siddhas laughed at the idol worships, pilgrimages and the puranas of the devotees. The Siddhas raised serious ethical problems about the devotional values. It must be also added that in their severe criticism of the devotional forms, the Siddhas became critical of mass forms of worship and prayer, and tilted themselves into the elite form. In other words, the ethical questions they raised and the yogic forms they used for internal practices made them more and more egoistic. The Siddha thought represented the corruption of devotional tradition on the one hand and rejection of popular forms devotion on the other hand.

Guru Nanak had the opportunity to see both the ends of the devotional culture. He understood the strength of Devotion as a true and popular feeling as well its historically corrupt developments. He had the opportunity to travel all over India and even out of India, and encountered the available forms of religiosity in the length and breadth of the land. The Janam Sakhis tell us about the different types of religious personalities Guru Nanak met and forms of worships in various parts of the land. The Gurus had intimate contacts with the Siddh yogis and the Sufis. Guru Granth Sahib has the wonderful recording of the encounters between Guru Nanak and the Siddhas. The encounters with Islam and Sufis are another interesting chapter in the annals of Sikhism. Guru Nanak could see the results of political patronisation of religion as well as the religion serving at the hands of the rulers. The Sufi thought as a mystic and internalised trend within Islam represented another variation of Siddha thought. The rich experiences of Guru Nanak help to work out a new religiosity in the name of Sikhism.

Sikhism appears in the map of devotional traditions of India as the most mature and the most experienced constituent. The Sikh Gurus could inherit the best out of the earlier traditions and as well vehemently critical of the corrupt aspects. The Guru revives the nascent and spontaneous emotions of devotion on the one hand and careful to avoid the temple-mutt-ritual complex of Saivism and Vaishnavism on the other hand. The Gurus does not accept the mythology of Puranas and the doctrine of Avatarhood of God. Guru Nanak's God is one, nameless and formless, without birth and death. Guru Nanak although inspired by the Siddhas and the Sufis, does not taken away by their unworldly path to truth. Again the Guru inherits the ethical-inward approach to themes of religiosity on the one hand and very particular to avert the egoistic and elite moments of the Sddhas and Sufis on the other hand.

 Thus, Guru Nanak synthesises the early spontaneous devotion and the inner purity of the Siddhas and the Sufis. It was a great experiment, a great historical and cultural experiment. The Gurus pushed out the ritual, mythological and caste aspects of the devotional traditions. Equally, the Guru was critical about the egoistic and elite moments of the mystic creeds of the Siddhas and the Sufis. The popular dimension is reintroduced but along with an ethical rigour. It is a very difficult thing to achieve. To popularise ethics, to make ethics into a mass phenomenon, it is very difficult. But the Gurus are decisive in their commitments. Sikhism comes into the scene.

The Narrative and the Musical

If we go for discussing the devotional culture in the North and in the South in a comparative perspective, a clear distinction is there between the two, namely the North Indian Bhakti is dominantly a narrative tradition whereas the South Indian Tradition is of musical and emotional form. This distinction has its far reaching implications.

Bhagavat Gita, Hari Vamsa, the eighteen Puranas are the major sources of Bhagavata tradition in the North in the early medieval period. While Bhagavat Gita contains certain amount of philosophising in the terrain of Bhakti, the entire remaining literature is of narrative form. The Puranas contain stories about the birth, activities and the end of the incarnations and Lilas or plays of the Gods. It is difficult to consider them as writings of individual authors, they could very well be the folk lore of people edited badly or goodly by the intellectuals of the respective religions. However one is astonished by the overwhelming narrative mode in which the Bhakti motive is expressed.

Why so much stress was given to the narrative form? One of the answers is that the narrative mode itself is not the discovery of the Bhakti tradition. The narrative mode existed well before the emergence of devotion, in the jaina and Buddhist tradition. Narrative mode had a philosophical justification in the Jaina and Buddhist traditions because it is aimed to 'prove' the concept of karma to the common public by means of telling the life-stories of prominent people who committed the acts of karma and consequently, met the implications of those karma acts. Narrative form is linear and structured by means of the principle of karma and its effects.

When the devotional culture started replacing the Shramana culture, it continued to follow the narrative tradition because the people are accustomed to the narrative form. Even more to that. The Saivite and Vaishnavite traditions too were followers of Karma theory, they too followed the narrative form adopted to it. Well, these are some of the reasons for the north Indian Devotion remained Narrative dominantly.

The South preferred the emotional and musical form of expression of devotion. The Alwars and Nayanmars were poets of classical type and their compositions are in musical metres till date. The Tamil saints repeatedly say that their songs are composed in spontaneous but complete and total involvement with the divine. The Alwars and Naayanmaars, as it has been already mentioned, sang and danced in total divine madness. They called every bhakta to reach a similar state and merge with the idea of God. The Alwars are particular to propose an absolute surrender by the devotee to the person of God. The state of surrender is a hopeless situation to the devotee except the only and final hope, that is God. In such a state psychological thrown-ness into the idea and person of God is absolute. Music and poetry overflows from such a state. It is true that references are there in th songs of Alwars and Nayanmars about the avtarhood or leela of God. But they are mere references without disturbing the general course of music of the songs.

A close study of the narrative and musical modes may reveal that the narrative is of objective type and the musical is of subjective and existential type. The narrative in general moves around episodes described in a particular temporal order. It may contain accounts of places, characters, actions and reactions. The narrative may have a linear structure unfolding in time and even when the structure is not linear explicitly, its could be worked out in the process of reading. Thus linearity is one of its distinguishable characters. Although the narrative is the construction of the narrator, the narrator is often hidden behind the narration.

The context is very much alive in the narrative and the narrative is responsive to so many other texts existing contemporenously. Not only the narrator is absent or hidden in the narrative, the addressee too unknown in the narrative. The musical is very much different from the narrative form. In the musical form the subjective moment is actually present. The musical is emotionally immersed. The musical does not possess a linear structure and its inherent spontaneity breaks down any possible linearity. In a musical mode of addressing the God, the devotee and the God are present in emotional relations.

  It is interesting to note here that the devotional culture of the Tamils and the Sikhs very thickly picked up the musical mode of approaching the God different from the puranic narrative mode of the North Indian Vaishnavism. The Sikh Scripture of Guru Granth Sahib is not a text like the Bible or the Quran with mixed genres of prose, parables and poetry. Guru Granth Sahib is a book of songs that were composed in 31 ragas. The Sikh Gurus appropriate to their aim of revoking the nascent feelings of devotion have preferred the musical emotional form. In a sense, the hymns of the Gurus do not contain particular thematic ordering but are recited as creative outbursts. Nature, society, people of so many religious orders etc, are referred in Guru Granth sahib.

But describing the nature or society or religious orders is not the thematic motive of the Sikh Scripture. In the Guru Granth Sahib the Gurus are addressing and readdressing the divine again and again. The greatest originality of the Editorial work of Guru Granth Sahib is that the editors have not made any attempt to order the songs of the Gurus in theoretical or thematic row. The 31 chapters of the Guru Granth Sahib are the 31 ragas in which the hymns are composed. The hymns of the Gurus starting from Guru Nanak come first in the order and then the songs of Hindu Bhagats and Sufi saints. Every chapter-raga contains the same pattern.

The most wonderful part of Sikh history is that for the last five hundred years of the existence of Sikhism in this land, the Sikhs have become Sikhs not by reading and learning Guru Granth Sahib as a religious text, but by reciting it in part or in full as a musical text. Having in mind the literacy rate of ordinary Sikhs in the past centuries, one can confidently say that the Sikhs inherited the faith for generations through listening or reciting the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib. The highly appealing mode of perception of the message of the Gurus has made the Sikhs intensely committed to their ideals.  

 

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