The blessed land of Gurus
Reviewed by Kanwalpreet

Life-style of the People of Punjab
Pages 204. Rs 295.

Sikh Religion: Democratic Ideals and Institutions
Pages 179. Rs 250. Both the books by Dr Sudarshan Singh. 
Singh Brothers, Amritsar.

A fertile State with robust, hard-working people and home to a young but a modern, dynamic religion, Sikhism, Punjab has been the focus of research by various scholars. Sudarshan Singh has dealt deftly with Punjab and its various facets in his two books. In Life-style of the People of Punjab, he mentions about the society, culture and the way of life of the people of Punjab in the past as well as in the present times. Sudarshan’s study has been intense, for there is a liberal use of material through which he compares the rituals, customs of the people down the ages. For example, he compares the position of women during the earlier and later Vedic Age and puts forth the views of the Ten Gurus regarding the status of women and how each of the Gurus worked to achieving that respect for women by exhorting their followers. He proves this by quoting from the holy Guru Granth Sahib.

The Vedas offer insight into the lives of the Aryans and the others living in that era. So, Sudarshan discusses the life of the people during those times by selectively consulting the Vedas. He elaborates on the various ways of recreation, amusement of the people along with discussing the ills that were making the society redundant. Thus, the chapter discussing the socio-religious reforms is on a serious note, where he lists the efforts of various organisations like the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj and Singh Sabha that worked towards eradicating the evils that afflicted the society at large.

The chapter Changes in Punjab Under the British Administration sets the pace of the book, discussing the development of education in Punjab, the changes made in the measurement of land and how the British government made landmark changes in the administration of the possession of land. This chapter is a virtual repository of facts. Another chapter, The Religious Beliefs and Customs of the People, is on a lighter note, where the common concepts of nazar (the evil eye), jara or mantar (animal magnetism) and mock marriage are explained.

The second book, Sikh Religion, Democratic Ideals and Institutions, is aptly titled because it discusses the democratic institutions like sangat, langar and the Khalsa brotherhood that are in the Sikh fold. The author puts forth his views regarding the democratic ideals as enshrined in Sikhism. The book follows a set pattern. After giving the background of the society in which these institutions originated and flourished, they are discussed in detail. The author goes a step further by discussing how each Guru moulded the respective institution. He beautifully weaves the comparison of the laws prevalent in different times in the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim societies. At places, he even puts forth the views of the Buddhist and Jain sects. He quotes Buddha’s views regarding women joining the sect: "Buddha was not in favour of their inclusion in the Buddhist order and when he reluctantly agreed, he said that Buddhism would not stay for long".

The need for an institution like langar is discussed. He writes, "He (Guru Nanak) started the langar as a crusade against social injustice, oppression and tyranny of the caste system. In this institution, the ideals of love and service, fraternity and equality were taught and practiced by the followers of the Guru. He taught the people that all men were the children of God and, as such, all were brothers."

The book is rich with information but is abrupt at times. It seems that the author is in a hurry to put all the material in print and share it with his readers. For example, the illustrious life of Sayid Buddhu Shah, who sacrificed his sons and 500 followers, has only got a cursory glance from the author. For the layman, it becomes difficult to fathom the role of Buddhu Shah and his supreme sacrifice for the Tenth Guru. On the whole, the books are enriching and interesting.