By Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)
Inspiration at Amritsar
I was in Amritsar in 2001 for the International Conference on the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), held on the campus of the Guru Nanak Dev University. One suggestion that came out of the talks was to prepare a Concordance – which is a list of significant words and their meanings found in the SGGS.
The words and phrases would be listed alphabetically and include short essays. With cross-references for verses, it would make it easy to comprehend the meaning of terms. It will also take into account the context in which our Guru selected those words for his messages of Wisdom. It would further project the Wisdom embedded in those messages.
Langar To Quench the Soul
Being in the international language, the Concordance would be a step forward to fulfilling a Guru’s prophecy. Guru Arjan foresaw the world community establishing and disseminating the Guru SABD Langar worldwide across cultures and across religious boundaries. Let me explain.
The term Langar is associated with the Sikh Institution and is recognized the world over. However, its full meaning and impact are far from being realized.
The Sikh tradition supports two types of Langar. One is the Guru Ka Langar – the daily meal that takes care of the needs of the human phsysical body as it satiates physical hunger. That is only the one Langar.
The Guru also emphasized a Langar to meet the needs of the human mind and its intellectual hunger. That is the SABD Langar. This SABD Langar provides the needed spiritual nourishment – the Sacramental Food.
It is odd that our intellectuals, our institutions and the clerics have paid little attention to the SABD Langar. Gurbani neither forgets it, or ever gets tired of reminding us about the SABD Langar.
The Guru Granth defined and described the institution of the SABD Langar as:
ਲੰਗਰੁ ਚਲੈ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦਿ ਹਰਿ ਤੋਟਿ ਨ ਆਵੀ ਖਟੀਐ॥ ਖਰਚੇ ਦਿਤਿ ਖਸੰਮ ਦੀ ਆਪ ਖਹਦੀ ਖੈਰਿ ਦਬਟੀਐ॥(SGGS, p 967)
The Langar—the global community kitchen of the Guru’s SABD (Sacramental Food of the Gur-SABD Langar) will stay open for perpetual or non-stop dissemination of the SABD Wisdom worldwide. The liberal and unrestricted distribution of the Gurmat knowledge will never make its stocks run short. Its supplies were given by the Creator to be shared, and it was so endowed that more they are shared greater will their stock rise.
To our luck, the Guru Nanak Dev University Senate met when I was still in Amritsar in 2001. The Vice Chancellor, Dr. Harbhajan Singh Soch, made the proposal, and the Senate enacted the approval of the resolution unanimously. The Senate also provided the budget.
The Senate funded a professor’s position for some years, and the University soon after filled the post. The professor thus named asked me to raise money for five post-doctoral scholars to assist in the project. For those funds, I first contacted Dr. Daljit Singh, famous ophthalmologist of Amritsar and son of late Professor Sahib Singh.
Professor Sahib Singh was a well-known translator of the Guru Granth Sahib whose commentaries on Sikh scripture are used worldwide. Thus, it was easy for his son to immediately grab the opportunity to contribute. He promised that he would release funds for one post doc scholar, to begin with, and would follow by engaging additional research scholars as and when the actual need arose.
Alas, the project at Amritsar did not go any further. The professor got ill and was bed-ridden for an extended period, and the project support expired in due time. Meanwhile, the Academy of the Guru Granth studies in the USA did its part. It selected the first 300 words to work on. Sardar Mohan Singh of Nishkam who was earlier a teacher of Gurbani in a college in Delhi added the literary meaning of those Punjabi terms and searched relevant verses explicating each word. But to my knowledge, not much was done in Punjab. The post of the post-doctoral researcher was advertised, but no suitable candidate found.
At that stage, I gave up and began looking for opportunities elsewhere. Some groups expressed interest, but the project did not get off the ground to my knowledge.
AWAT: A Word, A Thought
Then suddenly a ray of light from the East pierced into my office. Baljit Kaur wrote a letter describing a project called AWAT, and asked me to get involved. For me the answer was easy; I was only waiting for such call.
AWAT means A Word A Thought, and is a free complimentary email service sent daily to its subscribers.
Each email features a word taken from Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) highlighted in a verse from the Granth. The Word is meant to represent a thought. The description of the thought fills a page. The readers are encouraged to revert with their critique, and/or their own interpretation of the thought. I, as a reader, did so a few times and found the AWAT members very open minded in accepting ideas and very appreciative of the critique.
The AWAT Management
The AWAT group consists of Dr. Jaswant Singh, Harcharan Singh, Sohan Singh, Ravin Kaur, Raspal Kaur, Balwinder Kaur, and Baljeet Kaur, among others scattered all over the world. They serve as the managing and editorial group and take help wherever they can and wherever they need. While the foundation is based in India, the group is from all around the globe.
They contribute a lot of time and other resources to interpret the thought for a general audience that includes the Sikh community everywhere. AWAT is designed so that it does not overwhelm anyone but is just enough to set you thinking about the vast wisdom in the SGGS.
To manage the project as non-profit, the founding volunteers registered, in India, the Shabad Foundation, a religious and educational service organization.
To date, over 800 words out of a total of 398,697 have been written about. Two books have been published as hard copies. Nearly five thousand readers have subscribed. I consider that to be well planned and well subscribed. AWAT is entering fourth year of operation.
The Foundation has not told me the costs they bear, and I have not seen any appeals for donations. I can judge that there is a significant financial cost to the Foundation and any funds donated ought to be appreciated. I sincerely hope that you will consider sharing your Daswand for this purpose.
While expressing full confidence in the team and the contributors spread all over the globe, I do not wish to hide an aspect that I feel genuinely. Bearing in mind the worldwide audience that we hope to grow further, I feel it is important for the AWAT posts to be edited by professionals trained in the West. These professionals specialize in journalism, and in editing articles for Western readership. They too need your financial support to fund the cost of professional editing of every AWAT posted.
I realize that it is expensive to employ the American editors, but they are necessary to draw the attention of readers beyond the Punjabi diaspora.
I call upon my readers and my colleagues everywhere to help expand the AWAT readership. Let us wish to be Guru’s tool to implement the Guru’s wishes. Let us go out of our way to see the Guru’s vision of SABD langar fully realized right in front of our eyes.
For a no-cost membership for the Punjabi and/or English version, please visit: http://awordathought.com/. When you are ready to contribute in any way, financially or otherwise (editing etc.) please do write to AWAT team here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send all communications to:
Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)
Professor Emeritus & Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neurosciences, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Professor Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.
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