The Sidak Retreat, San Antonio, Texas, USA
Guru Granth Sahib is replete with references to the mythical tyrant-oppressor Harnakash and his arch-enemy and victim, his own infant son Prahlad.
As the story goes, Harnakash was initially a pious man who had spent years in prayer and service of the gods. So much so that they were immensely impressed by his devotion and offered to reward him with anything he desired.
Harnakash was intelligent and innovative. He gave it considerable thought and figured out all the possible loopholes, and came up with a perfect list of powers he wanted from his mentors. Knowing that mortality was the lot of all who were born, he had figured out a way to beat death.
Grant me these wishes, Harnakash asked of the gods: Let neither human nor animal, neither things animate nor inanimate, have the power to kill me. Neither a god nor a mortal should be able to harm me. May I be free from the reach of Death anywhere inside my home … or anywhere outside it. Death should be unable to touch me either in the light of day, or under cover of darkness … neither on the earth nor in the water …
And so carried on and on the list of powers Harnakash had concocted to obtain in order to turn himself invincible. The gods, though having promised him a carte blanche, were concerned that they were thus creating an entity more powerful than themselves, but felt compelled to keep their word. Reluctantly, begrudgingly, they granted him all that he asked for.
It didn’t take long for Harnakash to feel the full extent of the powers he had thus acquired. And, he quickly became the supreme ruler of the land. The extraordinary, super-human powers he now enjoyed went to his head, and he turned into a tyrant and oppressor.
His son, Prahlad -- though still a young boy -- had continued the early lessons in piety he had imbibed from his father and continued along his spiritual trajectory unabated, until he had outgrown the idols and the petty gods and goddesses and was now connected directly with the One Lord of all Creation, Waheguru.
So, when King Harnakash issued an edict that all in the land were to worship him, Harnakash, henceforth and pay homage to no other, his son Prahlad refused.
What ensued was a steady escalation of Harnakash’s ire against Prahlad until the tyrant felt he had no choice but to kill Prahlad in order to protect and secure his suzerainty.
Harnakash resorted to every weapon and method of torture imaginable to strike terror in the hearts and minds of the people. Prahlad remained steadfast, though, and appearing docile and helpless, always escaped injury and death. Because the all-powerful Waheguru always stepped in -- albeit secretly and behind the scenes -- at the last moment and rescued the child from harm.
Things got worse as Harnakash encountered one defeat after another, his rage magnified by his frustration that though he had all the powers he had asked for, he was unable to overpower a child.
His atrocities became worse by the day until Harnakash’s own mentors, the gods, admonished him. But he spurned their overtures and became more strident than ever, confident that they were impotent against him.
In desperation, they turned up at the door of the Supreme One, Waheguru. “Help us, O Lord, to destroy the monster we have created. Because we too are powerless before him!”
Prahlad had made no entreaties, but Waheguru, being Waheguru, knew … and was particularly moved by Prahlad‘s predicament.
Later that day, in the twilight hour -- when it was neither day nor night, Harnakash was about to leave his palace. As he stepped over the threshold -- which was neither inside his home nor outside, he found himself in the grip of a Nar-Singh -- a creature being half man, half lion, that was neither human nor animal. Neither was it a god or a mortal.
['nar' = human; 'singh' = lion.]
The Nar-Singh slung Harnakash over until he was in mid-air -- touching neither ground nor water -- and tore out his entrails with his fingernails.
And so, goes the tale, Harnakash met his end. The fingernails that were used to dismember him were, as promised, not ‘living’, being ‘dead’, and they weren’t an inanimate object, having once been ‘living‘.
The world was free to live in peace again … and Prahlad could worship as he pleased.
* * * * *
It is not a coincidence, I believe, that the Guru Granth refers to the Harnakash - Prahlad story at least 27 times. Used as a metaphor, it reminds us over and over again of our role as Sikhs in society -- every society that we live in -- and of our duty and obligation to confront every Harnakash to the best of our ability.
1984 and the years that have followed have demonstrated to us that we now have the challenge of having to grapple with an arrogant regime which has turned into a Harnakash at the hands of short-sighted, narrow-minded religious Hindu fanatics. Drunk with power and immunity, the citizenry is being oppressed, and we, the Sikhs, are bearing the full brunt of it.
It is time once again for Prahlad to appear -- not one but a legion of Prahlads, because our Gurus exhort us to live the life of one who the Guru Granth confers the honorofic of ‘bhagat’ (saint) -- Bhagat Prahlad!
The Sikh vision of Prahlad has an added dimension to him and her. Each Prahlad is a Nar-Singh as well! Combined … a sant-sipahi … saint-soldier.
True to form, in response to the Harnakash era that we find ourselves in, Sikhs have begun to rise to the occasion. I see, slowly but steadily, Nar-Singh - Prahlads springing up wherever I go, whichever way I turn.
Here at the Sidak Retreat in San Antonio, in the land of The Alamo, I see them amongst those who lead … and I see a whole crop of them in the making amongst those who are here to learn from those who lead.
Man-Lions and Woman-Lionesses -- Singhs and Kaurs of a new mettle … and made of a new metal. Armed with iPhones and iPads and laptops, ready to take on and overcome every mischief any Harnakash can conjure.
The man from whose vision Sidak was born is himself one such Nar-Singh - Prahlad.
* * * * *
Harinder Singh was born and brought up in Jhansi, a small town -- a city, in western terms -- in southern Uttar Pradesh (“U.P.“), a state in India located in the Hindu-Hindi belt bordering the state of Madhya Pradesh (“M.P.“).
He was 12 years old when he accompanied his parents and siblings -- an elder sister and a younger brother -- first to Amritsar, from where they took a train to Lahore, Pakistan, for a tour of the historical gurdwaras -- Punja Sahib, Nankana Sahib, Dera sahib, et al -- all now on the wrong side of the border since the partition of the Sikh homeland in 1947 and the creation of two new countries, Pakistan and India.
It was May 25, 1984, the day they left for Lahore.
Two weeks later, on the eve of their scheduled return, while still in West Punjab, they heard about the Indian army’s assault on the Darbar Sahib … but no more than skeletal information was forthcoming.
They remained stranded in Pakistan for days, sensing that something had gone terribly wrong back in India, but not knowing exactly what. When they were finally allowed to head back, their train was sealed as it left Lahore and did not stop until it was in Ambala, Haryana. En route, with its 1300 passengers hungry and tired, the train silently chugged through a mournful city under the shroud of darkness; all they could discern through closed windows and shutters were billows of smoke still emanating from various points on the horizon.
* * * * *
Six months later, while asleep at home in Jhansi late one night, Harinder and his family were awakened by a mob hollering outside on the street.
It was November 1, 1984.
The day before, Indira Gandhi -- India’s prime minister and the architect of the criminal attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar -- had been summarily executed in far away New Delhi by members of the government’s own elite security unit, specially trained to protect India’s Constitution. The executioners belonged to the Sikh Faith. As to who exactly had directed the operation through the crack unit’s chain of command, has yet to be aired publicly with any real transparency.
Wheels of a highly organized pogrom were put into motion within hours of Indira’s death, led by ruling party politicians, with full complicity of cabinet ministers, members of parliament, the police and the military. Thousands of innocent Sikhs -- men, women and children -- were murdered on the streets and within their homes, in broad daylight.
The mob outside 12 year-old Harinder’s home was shouting slogans of revenge. Revenge, here in distant Jhansi, several hundred miles away? The only nexus was the same as in New Delhi: the occupants of the house belonged to the same religion as the executioners in India’s capital, and that the mob was comprised of fanatic Hindus.
Harinder and his siblings were removed for safety by a neighbour, himself a Hindu, from a few houses away. Harinder’s home was partially burned by the mob, but his parents too managed to escape injury.
It was discovered a few weeks later that the mob had been instigated and directed by their immediate next-door neighbour who was a card-holding member of the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the present day Hindu right-wing BJP-RSS party, which is currently led by wannabe-prime-minister Narendra Modi.
No charges were ever laid against any member of the mob … or the instigator.
Not long thereafter, Harinder’s parents -- his father was an officer with India’s Central Railways, his mother a professor of English at a local college -- applied for immigration to the United states.
A year or so later, they landed, first in Des Moines, Iowa … and then moved to Kansas, where they made their first home in the Land of the Free.
Harinder -- the future co-founder of SikhRI and Sidak -- was then 14 years old.