The scholarly legacy of Giani
Last time (a couple of months ago), HT interviewed Giani Gurdit Singh, committed Sikh scholar, an undisputed authority on Guru Granth Sahib, author, editor, journalist —it was regarding the Shiromani Sahityakar Award conferred on him by the Languages Department, Punjab—celebrating the honour even if it was a classic case of too little too late.
Today, as we write about him, it’s with a heavy heart as he breathed his last on Wednesday. Privately he had joked then ‘at least they have given the award to me in my lifetime’, the refrain echoing the apathy of certain quarters. Of course honours were not new to him. The man who was instrumental in bringing forth resolutions which eventually paved the way for setting up of the erstwhile Punjabi Mehkama (now Languages Department), Punjabi University and Takht Sri Damdama Sahib was designated Gurmat Acharya by SGPC, honoured by Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar, Punjabi Lekhak Sabha, Punjabi University, Patiala, Sikh Cultural Society, New York, as also won UNESCO prizes for his books Mera Pind and Tith Tihar.
Today his words ‘mein aj haan kal nahi hovanga’ may have proved prophetic but, as is with greats like him, his words shall live forever. Words that have spanned over innumerable books, literary biographies, essays and much more.Of course his name has become synonymous with Mera Pind, a classic that has reaped praise ever since it was first published and gone into seventh edition. Critic Dr Sharanjit Kaur hails it as a document which posterity can revisit to know about its long forgotten facets of rural roots and culture. Dr Sukhdev Singh, Reader, Department of Punjabi Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, deems the book as an encyclopaedia of culture, language and folk idiom. He also comments on Giani’s writing style, which appealed to all from an intellectual to a common man. On his work on Sikh scriptures, Dr Mansingh Nirankari, himself an erudite Sikh scholar, who has lost a friend in Giani Gurdit with whom he would deliberate on Sikh scriptures, at length, remarks, “His knowledge of Guru Granth Sahib was unparalleled. In Ithas Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagat Bani Bhag he established how bhagats were influenced by Guru Nanak Dev.In Mundavni he analytically proved that Raagmala is not a part of Guru Granth Sahib”.
Dr Sarabjeet Singh, Lecturer Government College Sector-46, adds, “he challenged many myths and threw light on hitherto ignored facts like precursors to Guru Granth Sahib and delineated the difference between Kachchi bani and Gurbani“.
Indeed his books, Raagmala di Asliat (The reality of Raagmala), Ithas Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagat Bani Bhag have delved into significant aspects of Sikh scriptures. Though he painstakingly studied the old manuscripts, handwritten birs and other ancient works, to write these well-researched tomes,the beauty of his scholarly works lies in that these are not mere cerebral exercises for the academicians to mull over but of great relevance to the ordinary Sikh way of life too.
Rather as S.S. Cheema, an ardent admirer of his writings quips, “its men like him that motivate us to browse through our scriptures in depth and detail”.Though Giani Gurdit had been ailing for past few months, his pen hadn’t stopped moving as he was busy putting finishing touches to Puratan birs, Pind Da Ik Din, Mere Pind De Lok. Now his heart and pen may have stopped his words and deeds—he established Guru Granth Vidya Kendra at Mehrauli and Chandigarh—will continue to leap out to inspire coming generations for times immemorial. But Dr Sarbjeet Singh cautions, “he has set a tall order, and it shall not be easy to follow in his footsteps.”
Published in The Hindustan Times