by Shashwati Talukdar
Religious practices have a way of spilling out of prescribed boundaries. The figure on the poster of Shri Chand, in the front of the bus is what tempted me to go to Punjab. It’s the same image that is in the Guru Ram Rai Durbar in Dehradun, and one of the threads that connects Garhwal and Punjab.
Shri Chand, the son of Guru Nanak is considered the founder of the Udasins. It is a branch of Sikhism that has gone its own way. Or it could be said their practices place them ‘outside the parole’ of Sikh institutional authority as represented by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC). And as NK Aggarwal would argue, taking religion beyond the simple of binary of orthdox and heterodox.
In the bus we took, juxtaposed with images of Shrichand, were the images of leaders of Deras. Further complicating my understanding of Sikh institutions being solely the purview of Gurdwaras. Deras have leaders, and the following of live gurus in not part of the religion, event though the leader of the Dera might preach from the Sikh scriptures.
On our bus was an image of Sant Baba Ranjit Singh Ji Dhandriawale. This was a small poster among so many that populate the surfaces of any Indian city, but something about this caught our attention. Maybe it was the Khalsa imagery or his quizzical gaze. (translated kindly by Amandeep Sandhu1)
We have since found out that he is a big tent preacher, with a very large following, and based in Dera Dhadrianwala. Our friend Jass informed us that he is a staunch protector of the faith, in the sense of disapproving of popular musicians like Babbu Maan who take on religious posturing, on the other hand he does not support the Khalistan movement (a movement for a separate state for the Sikhs) and has an on again and off-again relationship with the SGPC. Here is a video of Babbu Maan responding in song to criticism by Baba Ranjit Singh:
(Go here for the first post in the series)