TEXT BY PRABHDEEP SINGH MATHARU
PHOTOS BY AANCHAL MALHOTRA
New Delhi, India
It was back in 2013, after I’d given my exams and awaiting results, that I wondered what to do next with my life. It was in this period, that for very the first time, I got to explore the city I’d be born into- Delhi. I’d hop onto my dad’s scooter and would visit the museums, watch theatre performances, attend concerts, occasionally peruse the Delhi Public Library in Sarojini Nagar- all alone and would sometimes half-heartedly visit gurdwaras with my mom. She would insist on me accompanying her to various historical gurdwaras across city to meet people from the Sikh community, especially women, who were given a chance to perform kirtans in the afternoon. I would sit inside and listen to the kirtan being performed in untrained voices, but more than that, I loved to walk around and observe the people who worshipped there.
My mother often also encouraged me to read literature found in locally managed libraries inside the gurdwaras, but there was hardly ever anyone of my age there. There were always these old men, like permanent fixtures, reading newspapers in Punjabi and Hindi, discussing politics and staring at you.
It was on one such a trip in 2013, on a hot summer Thursday afternoon, that I visited the Moti Bagh Gurudwara in South Delhi. On seeing my mum arrive, a lady came over rushing towards her and whisked her, with a sense of urgency towards the library. She was the librarian. She told my mother that the authorities were keen on discarding old and torn books, and knowing her love for all things from the past, the librarian thought it best to ask my mother if she wanted to take them before they were all tossed out. Perhaps this was her way of showing her friendship and loyalty, as the two had worked quite closely within the gurudwara in the past.
A new ritual of burning old books had begun amongst some Sikhs. They called it ‘Antim Sanskaar of birdh beerha’ or ‘funeral of the old revered/religious books’. It’s quite heartbreaking if I think about it, and even worse if I equate it to humanity. If an elderly person in our family is sick, we go and call a doctor to cure the disease, rather than burning them alive! So naturally, when the librarian told us that these books were going to be ‘cremated’, my mum and I immediately went through the pile to find books of our interest. Amidst them, we found this ‘granth’ or a sacred scripture, lying unattended.
When my mum opened it, she was left amazed. I could see the excitement in her eyes from across the pile and I asked her what she had found. Through her smile, she whispered, ‘Sri Dasam Granth’ – the sacred scripture containing texts composed by the Tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
The ‘treasure’ we found was brough home. When we carefully opened the granth, its first page mentioned its description in Gurmukhi as follows: ‘Dasam Patshahi Ka Guru Granth Sahib Jo Kattak Sammat 1952 Anglo Sanskrit Chhaape Khaane Lahore Bazaar Anarkali Vich Chhap Kar Pragat Hua’ (The Granth of the Tenth Master, printed in the month of Kattak in the year 1952 Sammat, at Anglo-Sanskrit Press located in Lahore’s Anarkali Bazaar).
This left us both astonished and still has, as we keep wondering who it belonged to, how it was procured, how it travelled to this side of the border and then serendipitously made its way to us. There’s hardly any account kept of people who donate their books at the gurdwaras so finding out was near impossible. In some ways this anonymity of its past, has made finding the book feel like destiny or fate.
The granth is now preserved in a protective cloth and is placed in a small wooden almirah in our home. The words are written in ‘larreevaar’ or in an unbroken form, the pages are old and brown, some even torn. The original Sri Dasam Granth is said to have been compiled by Bhai Mani Singh Ji, a companion and disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, after the tenth Guru’s death. It is believed that Bhai Mani Singh spent nine years at this task, by getting copies from other disciples and filling in some of the gaps by memory. There are many compilations in existence and many are still being discovered. There are three ‘main’ editions which are well known.
This copy of the granth has 1286 pages in all, although the original granth is said to have 1428 pages. It could be that a few of the texts are missing or not compiled in this copy, but I consider this copy to hold a lot of historical significance and is evidence that even before we owned it, it was extensively read. Our family considers it a blessing of the great Guru and feels it a responsibility to protect and preserve it as long as we can do.