Sparrows and Lions
Fauna in Sikh Imagery, Symbolism and Ethics
Keywords:animals, ethics, Guru Granth Sahib, Religion and Nature, Sikh art, Sikhism, vegetarianism
Given that the Sikhs’ scriptures – the utterances of their Gurus - are works of poetry, this article majors on the daily presence of insects, birds, fish and mammals in the recitation of the image-rich poesy that makes up the Guru Granth Sahib. Appreciation of this imagery requires understanding of the rural Punjabi context and also of earlier Indic compositions, whether sacred or secular. The introduction of certain birds and animals in Sikh parables and miracles will receive attention, and – inevitably in view of the equation of male Sikhs with Singhs (lions, or is it tigers?) – ‘big cats’ will be centre-stage. A (Quaker) poet’s bidding ‘Do not observe, become…’ will provide a stimulus to understand the more than symbolic animal presence in the Sikh universe. So too will ethical issues, centred on dietary discipline (vegetarian or non-vegetarian) and the legitimacy of hunting (the pursuit of two Gurus). Here consideration of Sikh’s relationship to the older, wider Indic matrix calls for discussion, and highlights the differentiation of groupings within the Panth with regard to meat-eating, cow-slaughter etc. Sikh tradition affords creative resources for reconnecting with the environment in the era of a dawning ecumenical attention to ecological distress, whilst at the same time Sikhs, especially in diaspora, are increasingly distanced, culturally and linguistically, from the Gurus’ imagery and from interaction with non-human animals.
Anonymous. n.d.(a) ‘Keeper of the White Falcon.’ Sikh Information, http://www.info-sikh.com/PageBaaj.html (accessed 2 May 2012).
Anonymous. n.d.(b) ‘The Guru’s Blue Horse.’ Sikh Information, http://www.info-sikh.com/PageHorse1.html (accessed 2 May 2012).
Bedi, H. S. 2010. ‘The Evolution of the Sikh Soldiers.’ 3 December available at: www.sikhnet.com/news/evolution-sikh-soldiers-harchand-singh-bedi (accessed 21 August 2013).
Brar, S. S. 2011. ‘Misconceptions about Eating Meat.’ Sikh.org, http://www.sikhs.org/meat.htm (accessed 2 May 2012).
Chahal, S. K. 2005. Ecology, Redesigning Genes: Ethical and Sikh Perspective. Amrtsar: Singh Brothers.
Dave, K. N. 1985. Birds in Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Dogra, C. S. 2011. ‘Grand Truncated History.’ Outlook India, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?272186
Doniger, W. 2009. The Hindus: An Alternative History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dusenbery, V. 2008. ‘“Through Wisdom, Dispense Charity”: Religious and Cultural Underpinnings of Diasporan Sikh Philanthropy in Punjab.’ In V. Dusenbery (ed.), Sikhs at Large: Religion, Culture, and Politics in Global Perspective: 136–62. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Grewal, G. S. 1986. Imagery in the Adi Granth. Chandigarh: Punjab Prakashan.
Jhutti-Johal, J. 2011. Sikhism Today. London: Continuum.
Kaur, G. 2008/2009. ‘Our Environment and Us: A Sikh Perspective.’ Shap World Religions in Education: The Environment. London: Shap Working Party on World Religions in Education.
Kaur-Singh, K. 1994. ‘Sikhism.’ In J. Holm and J. Bowker (eds), Attitudes to Nature: 132–47. London: Pinter.
Kohli, S. S. 1961. A Critical Study of Adi Granth. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Leslie, J. 1998. ‘A Bird Bereaved: The Identity and Significance of Valmiki’s Kranca.’ Journal of Indian Philosophy 26(5): 455–87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1004335910775
McLeod, W. H. 1980a. Early Sikh Tradition: A Study of the Janam-Sakhis. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
— (ed.). 1980b. The B40 Janam-Sakhi. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University.
— 1984. Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
— 1991. Popular Sikh Art. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
— 1997. Sikhism. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Madra, A. S., and P. Singh. 2004. Sicques, Tigers and Thieves: Eyewitness Accounts of the Sikhs (1686–1809). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nayar, K. E. 2011. ‘Sikh Women in Vancouver: An Analysis of their Psychosocial Issues.’ In D. Jakobsh (ed.), Sikhism and Women: History, Texts, and Experience: 252–75. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Nesbitt, E. 1985. ‘The Nanaksar Movement.’ Religion 15: 67–79. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0048- 721X(85)90060-0
— 2005. Sikhism. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
— 2007. ‘Sikhism.’ In P. Morgan and C. Lawton (eds), Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions: 118–67. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd rev. edn.
Nesbitt, E., and G. Kaur. 1999. Guru Nanak. Norwich: Religious and Moral Education Press.
Nihang, N. S., and P. Singh. 2008. In the Master’s Presence: The Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib. London: Kashi House.
Oberoi, H. 1994. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Olivelle, P. (ed.). 2009. The Pañcatantra. The Book of India’s Folk Wisdom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pamme, R. 2010. ‘The Pilgrimage to Takht Hazur Sahib and its Place in the Sikh Tradition.’ Unpublished PhD thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Puri, G. S. 1989. ‘Nature Consciousness in the Sikh Faith.’ World Religions in Education: 32–24. London: Shap Working Party.
Robson, J. (ed.). 2005. Worlds A-part Paintings by the Singh Twins. London: Twin Studio.
Singh, A. K. D. Kaur, and R. K. D. Kaur Singh. 1999. Twin Perspectives Paintings by Amrit and Rabindra K D Kaur Singh. London: Twin Studio.
Singh, J., and T. Singh. 1998. Style of the Lion: The Sikhs. Ann Arbor: Akal Publications.
Singh, K. 1977. A History of the Sikhs, Volume 1: 1469–1839. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Singh, N. G. K. 2011. Sikhism: An Introduction. New York: I. B.
Tauris. Singh, P. 1989. The Golden Temple. New Delhi: Time Books International.
Stronge, S. 1999. The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms. London: V&A Publications.
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.