Sikh Missionary Society
Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Charity No: 262404
Sikhism & Word Concepts
The psychology of language (A theo-national
Was the foundation of Hindutva, resulting in the partition of
the Indian sub-continent, laid down by the surreptitious introduction
of Vedic terminology into the language of the Indian National Congress?
In his Saachi Sakhi, late Sardar Kapur Singh thought so.
Let us first look into the question of language psychology.
“Wordpower is to the mind what horse-power is to a car.........In the
mind we have words which take ideas and group them together to make
them tangible and usable. Words are convenient packages. With the right
word you may express a complicated idea that would be difficult to
express without that word.” Says the well-known Edward De Bono in his
introduction to “Word Power”.
I recall reading about an experiment reported in a science journal some
years ago. A human child and a baby chimpanzee born at about the same
time, were brought up together in the same environment. In the first
six months the baby chimpanzee was well ahead in learning and doing
things while the human child appeared to be content with making
inarticulate sounds. However, things started changing quite
dramatically once the human child started uttering and understanding
words. Poor chimp ! If only it could speak.
It has long been established that we think in word patterns i.e. words
act as triggers for certain thought patterns which have meaning for us
and we act and behave accordingly. Words arouse feelings and add
quality to emotions and passions which make up the common
characteristics, the ethos of a community sharing the same language.
Language and cultural values have a direct relationship as the second
and third generation children of immigrant communities in the west are
finding out. They are unable to associate themselves with their “root”
cultures due to weakened language links.
The fact is that words cannot be translated accurately from one
language to another as a truly bi-lingual person would confirm. It
would be difficult to convey in another language the exact connotative
meaning of many Punjabi words some of which would rouse immediate
feeling or emotion in a Punjabi: words like darshan, nihal, sewa
and barkat, or expressions like Karak kalejay mahen, Sarbat
bhala or Kurbaan jaon. Translations do not create
the same thought patterns or rouse the same feelings and emotions. How
could one possibly experience the original message of the Guru or
experience the Punjabi romance of Hir-Ranjha or Mirza-
Sahiba(n) in English? That is the reason for the great
sensitivity which attaches to the question of language.
Western children of ethnic minority origins are finding it increasingly
difficult to associate themselves with their “root” cultures, not
necessarily because these children are living in the West, not because
they speak English, not because they are bombarded with Western ideas
through Western media, but because they no longer speak their cultural
languages. They no longer experience the thought patterns of their
immigrant parents which can convey to them the fullness of their own
literature, classical music, poetry, humour, relationships and other
As an example, the romance of Romeo and Juliet can only be understood
and felt in English and the romance of Hir-Ranjha can only
be fully appreciated in colloquial Punjabi. Punjabi children in the
West who do not speak Punjabi have therefore lost an important cultural
sense-ability. Children who still speak their ethnic languages are also
more likely to appreciate their own cultural values. In fact, the
bilingual types are better able to appreciate their own and the
majority community’s cultures. It is these latter types who add to
their own personal values most constructively. They bring about a
healthy and evolutionary interaction of cultures without detracting
from the ethos of any community.
We can now briefly return to Bharat Maata (Mother India),
and how apparently such warm sentimental expressions sowed the seeds of
division. At pages 70to 73 of his great work, Saachi Saakhi,
Sardar Kapur Singh gives a researched account of how the Hindu majority
leaders of the Indian National Congress started introducing Vedic
terminology into the language of the national freedom movement. Leaders
like Bal Gagadhar Tilak (who was succeeded by Mahatma Ghandi) were also
very religious people. By design or by accident they carried their
religious convictions and terminology into what was supposed to be a
national level secular political arena.
The Hindu Goddess Kali (Kalika-Mata) was identified with Bharat-Mata
(Mother India) at a time when the horrendous rituals and practices
associated with Kali cults were receiving universal condemnation. “We
have to save the rising generation from walking in false paths and to
guide them into right ones.” (Lord Curzon speaking at Culcutta
University in 1901.)
As was to be expected, the Muslims reacted almost immediately to such
backdoor Hinduisation of the professed secularism of India and the
National Congress. So did some Sikh intellectuals like the great
scholar Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha who published his famous book “Ham Hindu
Nahin” (We are not Hindus). The rest is now part of the history of
What about Punjab? The Punjabi language has evolved as the language of
the Muslims and the Sikhs of Punjab. To my knowledge, no great work of
Hindu literature has been written in Punjabi by a Punjabi Hindu. Unlike
the Muslims and the Sikhs, even though Punjabi has always been spoken
by Punjabi Hindus who probably number more than the Punjabi Sikhs, for
communal reasons alone, they have not regarded Punjabi as their
cultural language. As a result over ten million of them disowned
Punjabi language in the census held in 1951. “It was a
misrepresentation of colossal magnitude in Indian History.” (Hindu Sikh
Conflict in Punjab- a report by non-Sikh Indians produced in December
1983). The creation of a mini-Punjab in 1965 after much agitation and
the what followed was a direct consequence of betrayal by Punjabi
Hindus of their mother tongue. The cultural impact of such estrangement
from own language becomes apparent today: unlike Punjabi Hindus,
Gujarati, Tamil and Bengali Hindus enjoy rich language based cultures.
However, languages, religions, communities, rich cultural varieties and
skin shades do not divide. Political games do! The relationship between
language and the cohesion and progress of a community is clear. It also
explains why people are, quite rightly, so sensitive about their
language rights in a multi-cultural society.
Let young Sikhs, parents and institutions ponder these issues. Punjabi
language is our way of life and the common bond which keeps the
community together. It is the way we think, behave and enjoy our
cultural lives; it complements the study of the host national language
by providing our children with the tools for cultural discernment. It
makes the process of cross cultural interaction smoother without giving
up what is our own.
Punjabi is the link between our present environment and our rich past -
our roots. Only Punjabi language will convey to us Guru Nanak’s pain
when he tried to explain to the vaid (doctor) "Karak
Translation will not do.
End note: When writing the above, I am also conscious of the special
effort which American and other converts to Sikhism (through inner
conviction) make, to study original key Gurbani Word-concepts
and experience Gurbani Kirtan (Sikh music) to Gurbani raag
bases. Children born in Sikh families in the West are in the same
position as these Sikhs who accept and adopt a Sikh way of life after
deep study. They are the true Sikhs according to the Gurbani definition
of Sikhism as "Sikhi sikhia Gur vichaar" (Sikhim is the study
of the Guru's Teaching.)
The above discussion about the psychology of language, which is closely
associated with culture, ethos and other characteristics of a "people"
(qaum), would also have a bearing on the distinctive Sikh non-racial
"ethnicity" as defined by the UK's House of Lords in the famous Mandla
Please acknowledge quotations from this article
Articles may be published subject to prior approval by the author
Return to the top of the page.
Copyright (©)2011 by Sikh Missionary Society (U.K.)
All Rights Reserved.