Are the pictures of the Gurus real ? If not, then why do we hang them ?

Let us first discuss the Sikh philosophy regarding pictures of the Gurus before answering the questions. According to the Sikh principles, not the physical features of his body, but the words said by the Guru are the 'Guru'.

Lessons given in the sacred Gurbaani are the 'Guru'. A disciple who obeys Gurbaani, will surely achieve the goal of human life.

The holy hymns spoken by the Gurus, Bhagats, and other contributions, were compiled and installed as 'Shabad Guru' in the Golden Temple, Amritsar. No pictures or idols of the Guru (none were there), were allowed to be placed in the buildings or depicted on its walls. For making the environment aesthetic and soothing to the mind, flowers, geometrical figures and other artwork was engraved on the walls of the Golden Temple. Pictures and paintings of the Gurus are conspicuous by their absence.

One wonders how the false pictures of the Gurus and even their plastic, wooden and metallic idols appeared, not only in the houses of the Sikhs but also in many Gurdwaras. This is nothing but Brahmanical philosophy displacing the Sikh faith from the Sikh houses and their places of worship.

It can easily be known from the historical records as to how fake pictures and then statues of the Gurus entered the Golden Temple and Sikh houses. What seems to be extremely difficult is, how to throw them out of the Gurdwaras and the Sikh psyche. Not only a few credulous Sikhs, some traditional preachers and even a few educated Sikhs have started believing in Guru pictures. They think that keeping pictures of the Gurus in the houses is the Gurmat method of showing respect to the Gurus and obtaining their blessings. Some Sikhs have been seen garlanding the Guru pictures and serving food to them for 'Bhog', a practice prohibited for the Sikhs.

Not all Sikhs, of course, have reached the stage of worshipping the Gurus' pictures/paintings as the Hindus worship their idols, but a large number of them are on their way to do that. Some scholars want these pictures (all are surely fake) to be destroyed whereas others suggest that only their worship be prohibited.

Bhai Gurdas explains that the picture of the Guru is his "Word", Gurbaani, which a Sikh is to love.

The history of the imaginary Guru pictures is briefly stated below.

When the Keshadhari (Long Haired) Sikhs during the 18th century were forced to leave the villages and live in the forests, the non Keshadhari disciples took care of the Sikh Gurdwaras and the historical places. These disciples did not board the ship of Sikh Faith; they only held it in their hands but keep their feet stuck in the Hindu Boat. The Brahmanical influence, which was still holding their mind, obliged them to depict popular mythological scenes on the walls of the Gurdwaras as they were traditional depicted on the walls of the Hindu temples. When the pictures of the Hindu gods and their consorts appeared on the Gurdwara walls, the pictures of the Gurus had also to appear as a natural sequence. All pictures, of course, differed and were subject to the imagination of the painters. The pictures from the walls moved on to the paper and were printed in large numbers to reach every Sikh house and every Gurdwara. Only a few vigilant managers did not permit any kind of pictures, howsoever 'genuine' or 'superior' they were claimed to be, to come even near the boundary of the Gurdwaras. Once the pictures of the Gurus were accepted as 'true' and 'good' by the masses, how could anyone stop them from taking the form of idols and statues ? Unfortunately, it appears that they are here to stay at least for the time being.

During the 18th century, not only the non-Sikh but anti-Sikh rituals were practiced in Gurdwaras without any objection because the Khalsa had moved to the forests. The sacred places were managed by the Sanatni (Brahmanical) Sikh or by those Mahants who still believed in Hindu rituals even after associating themselves with the Sikh faith.

When the Sikhs lost their Raj in Panjab in 1849, they had time to turn their thoughts towards their faith. They were surprised to find Sikhism already pushed out of the Gurdwaras by Brahmanical rituals. The worship of idols, whether of the Hindu gods or of the Sikh Gurus, is prohibited for the Sikhs. However, both were worshipped by the Sikhs in the precincts of the Golden Temple.

True Picture?

No true pictures of the Guru exist, though some have been claimed to be true pictures. One 'true' picture is totally different from the other 'true' picture. Most of them are modern paintings. Some old sketches / paintings are also available, but all are based on the imagination of the painters. No Guru permitted his painting to be made in his time, because it is against the philosophy of the Sikh faith as mentioned earlier. We should not have Guru pictures in our houses or Gurdwaras. Instead we should have Gurbaani hymns written and hung for our guidance in our house.

Bending/bowing before the pictures or garlanding them is prohibited even if they were true pictures. The Sikh philosophy tells that 'words' said by the Guru are the 'Guru' (now Guru Granth Sahib). We bow not before a book, as some persons think, but to the 'Gian' (knowledge) therein.

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