by SS Siri Ved Kaur, Coarsegold CA
2021 (First Quarter)
In early 1971, when Yogi Bhajan returned from the first India Yatra with 88 students, he brought back enough copies of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib (8-volume sets with English translation) for every ashram. Within a few weeks, we started a non-stop reading of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib at Guru Ram Das Ashram (GRDA) in West Hollywood. I showed up for my assigned reading time, knowing only that I was to cover my head, read aloud, and not stop reading for any reason.
When I arrived, I saw another girl sitting on the floor in the center of the room, reading from a book on a wooden bookstand. I sat beside her, she showed me where to start, she departed, and I began to read. It was different from anything I had ever read before—and hard to understand.
My legs fell asleep, so I lay down on my stomach, turning every which way, all the while keeping up, reading about the Name, the Guru, and not sure what it all meant. Afterward, I felt energized and uplifted, as if I had taken a yoga class, but all I had done was read!
An Early Akhand Path
After GRDA relocated to Preuss Road in 1972 we began having “Akhand Paths” at the ashram every week. Yogi Bhajan instructed us to read for 2½ hours at a time. He said the first hour was just ego about reading, “Oh, I am so holy!” The second hour was the misery of sleepiness, counting the minutes, and thinking about pizza and other things. In the last half hour, the ego is done, and the mind is in bliss.
One night I was reading from 10:00 p.m. till 12:30 a.m. But, 1:00 a.m. arrived and no one had come to replace me. Then came 2:00 a.m. I rang the bell many times, but no one seemed to hear or care. I read as loudly as I could, hoping to wake the sevadar. I thought of the Sikhs who had died in order to keep the Akhand Path going. But I knew someone would eventually come and martyring myself wouldn’t be necessary.
I thought of Bhai Sahib Dyal Singh and how he stayed awake—If you were to come by the ashram during an Akhand Path and hear a sort of slapping sound coming from behind the curtain you would find him every now and then as he caught himself nodding, giving himself a good whack on the face!
While I read in English, the adjacent column was the original Gurmukhi. Bhai Sahib Dyal Singh was teaching some of us how to read the strange but beautiful script.
As I struggled to pronounce each syllable, he reminded me that with practice the natural rhythm would emerge: “Don’t worry; it is already there. It will just come.”
Glancing at the Gurmukhi letters I longed to burst out singing the Gurbani, feeling I already knew this language but was chained to the English alphabet. It was like amnesia, being unable to access the “knowing” I felt within me.
I began singing aloud the English translation with all my heart. I no longer cared if anyone came to relieve me. I was lost in the Guru’s bani. I was found in the Guru’s bani. I realized that even with these odd and stiff old-fashioned English words, the Guru’s bani was so potent that it still reached into my heart, uplifted my spirit, and made me feel Light all around and within.
Finally, people started to arrive for morning sadhana. The curtain moved a little aside and the 4:00 a.m. reader came and took my place.
Now, almost 50 years later, I am struck by the informality and lack of traditional Gurdwara protocols at that first reading in 1971. We had no Manji Sahib, no Palki, no Ramalas, and no Chaur. However, had such formality and protocols been imposed, surely many of us free-spirited souls, hippies, and vagabonds would have turned away.
We innately had special respect, even without understanding what the Siri Guru Granth Sahib was. I am grateful to have begun my relationship with Guru in this way, to have an experience through reciting Gurbani that would bring me to the Guru’s feet. Guru would take it from there.
About the Author
SS Siri Ved Kaur studied Gurmukhi with Bhai Sahib Dyal Singh and Bibi Jasbir Kaur in the 1970s. She went on to teach the Gurmukhi alphabet and reading skills to hundreds of students, as well as to lead adults and youth in Gurbani Kirtan. Siri Ved Kaur and many friends have shared stories from the “early days” of Sikh Dharma in the West on her blog, www.ourtruetales.com, where you can find many firsthand accounts of trials and tribulations on the spiritual path. Her cookbook, “From Vegetables with Love: Recipes & Tales from a Yogi’s Kitchen,” includes hundreds of vegetarian/vegan recipes, yogic teachings on food and diet, and stories from when she cooked for Yogi Bhajan in the early 1970s.