THE SIKH TIMES
Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World
In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics
Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us
Kolkata's Sanatan Sikhs
By HIMADRI BANERJEE
A vivid example of the reality of diversity within Sikhism and, by extension, all religions. Kolkata's Sikhs are further evidence of the truth that religion is internal to each human being and that ivory towers cannot regulate religion no matter how hard they try. No rahit maryada [code of conduct] issued by the S.G.P.C. can prevent each Sikh from continuing to define his/her own spirituality, orthodoxy, comfort zone, and position on the Sikh-Hindu continuum. Those interested in learning more about Sanatan Sikhs and how they were overshadowed by the more orthodox Tat Khalsa Sikhs during the Gurdwara Reform Movement (1920-1925) should refer to Harjot Oberoi's essential work, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. This book argues that pre-1925 Sikhism was a flexible faith. The hard demarcation we see today between Sikhism and Hinduism was artificially created; the result of politics not religion.
Sikh-Diaspora (Yahoo! Groups), Jul. 22, 2003
"In Kolkata [West Bengal, India], we have a small concentration of Agraharis. They mostly originate from Sasaram, but there are a few representing other Bihar districts. [They owe their origin to a visit from Guru Teg Bahadur on his way to Patna.]"
"They are very particular about their kesh [unshorn hair] and turban. However, their turbans are of the patka [small] type and do not follow the model practiced by Punjabi Sikhs. Their womenfolk wear saris [female wrap dresses] and put on sindoor on their foreheads [a reference to the Hindu custom of applying red powder to signify married status]. They generally do not follow Punjabi dress code. On the contrary, they often wear dhotis [male wrap dresses] and pyjamas. They speak Hindi [Bhojpuri] and are around 3000 to 4000 in number. They maintain three gurdwaras [Sikh places of worship] in Kolkata. They often call themselves Takhurbaris, Hindu-Sikhs, or Sanatan Sikhs. They celebrate gurpurabs [birth and death anniversaries of Sikh Gurus] but do not hesitate to worship Durga and Kali and other Hindu idols."
"Yesterday, I visited their most important gurdwara called Chhoti Sangat. Their kirtan [collective singing of sacred hymns] singing style also differs from the usual. They use Bihari dholak [drum]. Another thing that strikes me is the presence of a large number of children at the time of their Sunday gathering for prayers. This gurdwara has a large number of printed phtographs of the Gurus and Sikh martyrs. They are the sorts of photographs that may be found in W.H. McLeod's Popular Sikh Paintings."