Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sikh conflict 2

Frontline in "Faiths at war" provides some background on the current conflict among Sikhs in India's Punjab, including this description of the use of a very iconic book in intra-religious conflict:

"In 2001, Dalit godman Piara Singh Bhaniarawala set off riots by releasing the Bhavsagar Granth, a 2,704-page religious text suffused with sakhis, or miracle stories, extolling his spiritual powers. According to the godman, the Bhavsagar Granth was written after upper-caste Sikhs in a neighbouring home refused to allow the display of the gurdwara's Guru Granth Sahib in a Dalit home. When Sikh neoconservatives burned copies of the Bhavsagar Granth, Bhaniarawala's followers retaliated by setting alight Birs, or copies of the Guru Granth Sahib. SGPC President Jagdev Singh Talwandi insisted that Piara Singh be booked for murder, claiming that the Guru Granth Sahib is a 'living guru'. Punjab's government balked at this measure but did prosecute Bhaniarawala for inciting communal hatred."


Artemis Spawn said...

It is interesting to note that the term "neoconservative" is used by Frontline in connection with Sikhs. Obviously, there can be an "extreme right" position in virtually any religion. I also notice that the article accuses Sikh neoconservatives of using some of the same strategies that neoconservative Christians in America sometimes use: accusations of inappropriate behavior, for example, and the burning of books.

It is also worth noting that the Sacha Sauda has some material holdings, such as land, social service institutions, and blood donation centers. Is it possible that the "neoconservatives" are hoping to somehow get control of these resources?

What is REALLY fascinating, though, is that the SGPC president wanted to charge some of the book burners with murder!

Jim Watts said...

The request for murder charges against book burners should be understood in the context of the Sikh belief that the scripture is the current and only Guru of the faith. There were ten human gurus of the Sikhs, in the 15th-17th centuries. The tenth compiled the writings of his predecessors and his own to create the Sikh scripture. That is why it is called Guru Granth Sahib. For a survey of Sikh beliefs and practice, see Sikhism (with links to other sources).

The conflict in the Punjab seems to be between orthodox Sikhs who resist any challenge or infringement on the Guru Granth's prestige and those who follow some popular religious leaders who may aspire to be named (or their followers aspire to name them) contemporary human "gurus." As you note, though, the conflict also seems to involve economic, as well as class and caste, issues.