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'When the sun rises the moon leaves sight. When true knowledge illuminates ignorance is eradicated.' - Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee - Ang 791 SGGS

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It’s hard to say anything about ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ really, as it was written and directed by (and probably stars) ‘Guru Nanak’*. These were the words printed across the cinema screen during the opening credits as the audience eagerly awaited this ‘divine wonder on screen’ (Anisha Bedi, Hindustan Times).

What followed next was especially heart-warming, Mr. Sikka made sure to pay his gratitude and thank his powerful, political benefactors: Prime Minister ‘Shri’ Narendra Modi ‘Jee’ (who was then still chief minister of Gujrat), Late. ‘Shri’ Bal Thakeray ‘Jee’ (founder of the nationalist right wing party: Shiv Sena) and incumbent party President ‘Shri’ Uddhav Thakeray ‘Jee’. Aside from the politics of all this (see images below), was Sikka’s devotion so devoid of grace that it couldn’t spare the epithets of, ‘Shri’, ‘Dev’ and ‘Jee’ to ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ when the aforementioned were given tributes? Harinder Sikka, of course, is a Sikh and therefore he could not limit his gratefulness to his ‘RSS – Overlords’; humble tributes to Giani Gurbachan Singh Jee (Jathedar, Sri Akal Takth Sahib) and Jathedar Avtar Singh Jee ‘Makkar’ (President, SGPC) followed (not preceded) humbly in next shot.

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Sri Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Jee and ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ are two different entities – that was made clear at the beginning of the film (in retrospect). Because, the ‘wet glowing man’** shown at the beginning of the film to be the incoming spirit of ‘Nanak Shah Fakeer’ with his long open hair and baggy clothes certainly looked like a ghost. Much of this film was quite like the various biblical movies. Allegedly, Mel Gibson in one of his interviews about his controversial film: ‘Passion of Christ’ like Sikka claimed ‘Jesus guided him’ make the movie . In such a situation it becomes hard to understand what sources Sikka used. ’ The ‘so called’ depiction of Guru Jee and the character Bhai Mardana Jee travelling around crowded cities had an almost gimmicky resemblance to Jesus in Jerusalem.

For the Sikhs, the emergence of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee in this world is a phenomenal occurrence paramount to none other in the history of the universe. It is an understatement to use the term ‘magical’ when it comes to describing the image that Sikhs have when they visualize their Guru being born in Talwandi. We grew up with stories of Daulatan Dhaayee (the midwife) being overwhelmed by the radiance of Guru Jee, with the Vaar of Bhai Gurdhaas Jee describing the sunrise of Guru Jee’s Avtaar and how Satguru Jee did not cry etc. This was the first disappointment for me; in an age (and actually a film) where graphics and SFX are used extensively the portrayal of this scene was especially downplayed in all ways. We drew an inkling here that Guru Jee’s portrayal is going to be humanized.

We want to move away from the debate of whether it is right or wrong to portray Guru Jee or their family members graphically, through actors or otherwise because that brings us into an arena of other issues (pictures, animations and so forth). In defense of this film one of two things are said, one is that it helps universalize and propagate the message of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Jee – in Gurmat terms this is what we call Parchaar and secondly it helps us to historically understand and see the life and era of Guru Sahib. For us three things are important: the message, the history and the way it is all conveyed.

Guru Sahib Jee’s entity made ‘miracles’ happen casually, these convey the power of God Incarnate – examples include the cobra shading Guru Jee and the crops becoming ripe again after being destroyed, there was no emphasis on these at all. A complete humanization of the Guru-Being was present throughout the film.

There were so many historical inaccuracies that it becomes hard to take account of. There were minor mistakes in some Sakhis, for example Sri Nanak Parkash and most other sources say that Guru Jee took Bhai Lalo Jee’s Kodhrey Daa Parshaadhaa in one hand and took Malik Bhago’s Poorhey in the other hand, squeezing firmly but in the film it was shown that the plates themselves began to leak blood and milk. Although one can be skeptical about the purpose of these tweaks, it can be dismissed as misinformation and doesn’t really change the message to an extent – but, it is through these small differences that history loses creditability over the test of time. Others blunders include Guru Jee being arrested by Daulat Khan (and not Babar) when they were offered alcohol and many of the stories relating to the shabadhs were altered (i.e. the uthaanikaa or the pre-stories behind gurbanhee shabads were changed).

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Admittedly, it was enjoyable and refreshing to see some of the main Sakhis played out on screen despite their shortcomings. It serves us a reminder of how rich and meaningful ‘Nanak Leela’ (Gauri, Baavan Akhree) really was. But, unfortunately all this was overshadowed by the depiction of Guru Jee at ‘Kurukshetra’. The meat debate has gone on for decades but one thing is clear neither party (meat-eaters or veggies) have within their prerogative to interpolate historical events in order to push their agenda or view on this or any thing else. It is for this reason that the Hindalis and Kabeer-Panthees are seen as great heretics in Sikh History.

Guru Jee did go to Kurukshetra at the Solar Eclipse Fair (Surya Grehan Mela) – this is a fact. But, was Guru Jee simply there to advocate meat eating to age-old vegetarian Brahmin priests? This is clearly what was being conveyed in the film, and the Gurbanhee translations given in the subtitles clearly conveyed this.

In reality, Guru Jee exposed the hypocrisy of Vaishanism: adherents refrain from all types of meat (even raw onion and garlic are outlawed in some denominations) ;however, they are free to indulge in promiscuity – in the Janam Sakhi/Sri Nanak Parkash emphasis is made on how the Guru challenged them that what difference was it to eat flesh (in the form of meat) than to indulge in the pleasures of flesh covertly?

The shabad ‘Maas Maas Kar Moorakh Jhaghrey’ (ang 1289) is an example of ‘prodyavaadh’ – this is a literary concept where you take the issue of contention and uproot its core, de-layering its substance – other examples of this include the idea of impurity ‘Je Kar Soothak Maneeyai’ (Sri Asaa Dee Vaar, Ang 472). Guru Jee was not against vegetarianism, nor were they against purity and hygiene – this is made clear in the bidhi pakh (teachings of conduct):

Such Hovai Thaa Sach Paiyeeai (Ang 472)
Through purity one attains the truth.

Or regarding meat:

Kabeer Joree Keeyai Julam Hai Kehthaa Naao Halal (Ang 1374)
Kabeer, to use force is tyranny, even if you call it ‘Halal’ etc.

The final portion of the actual sakhi concludes with ‘Kheer’ (rice pudding) being in the cauldron (which initially had deer-meat) and Guru Jee served this to all the Pandits. Their leader, Nanu Pandit accepted Guru Sahib Jee as the redeemer of Kalyug, as he had read about them through a prophecy in the scriptures. This version is accepted by all historical accounts and is even printed across the boards of Gurdwara Sidh Vatti, Kurukshetra (see below). Sikka, did not show this and instead trailed into the realm of both ambiguity and controversy – not really fitting for the kind-hearted message this film promised to deliver. To take from this Sakhi that it is correct to eat meat is like justifying cannibalism on the account that Guru Jee told the Sikhs and Bhai Lehna Jee to eat a corpse (during the test of Sikhi at Sri Kartarpur Sahib).