Shiromani Ragi Bhai Balbir Singh’s controversial visit at the Dera of godman Ashutosh of Nur Mahal
—A note by Bhai Baldeep Singh

In the last days, there has been Bhai Balbir Singh’s personal matter which has been quite a sensational issue across the world. I am calling it his personal matter as it is he who had decided to visit a God-man, in this case the very controversial Ashutosh who died several months ago, and that there was a recording made at the time in which he is seen urging to the Godman to gift him money. It is another thing that unlike Prophet Adam and his date, Lady Eve, had a single apple to share, Bhai Balbir Singh was granted two red apples. I am unable to understand whether it is Bhai Balbir Singh who has become more worthy than Adam and Eve combined or is it that Ashutosh is more benevolent than God “himself”!

Nevertheless, the video, the intent behind its making and eventual sharing, and the aftermath including the video of apology from Bhai Balbir Singh as well as the videos of Sarabjit Laddi with Bahadur Singh, are saddening, disappointing if not also extremely distasteful.
If Bhai Balbir Singh has erred by singing Gurbani at the feet of a Baba, I find Ashutosh as someone who is totally unaware of any idea of Maan-Maryada that Sadhu’s held dear to their hearts. He comes out an absolute ignorant for any real Sadhu would have immediately sat down and also done more to match Bhai Balbir Singh’s pleading. I take a strong exception to the laughter by Ashutosh and his followers, some who were not on the screen, for it seems a mockery of Gurbani and Gur-Sikhi and to a large extent, humiliation of Bhai Balbir Singh.

It also raises a larger question if not highlighting the fact there is something seriously gone wrong within the Gur-Sikh world. Why does a Shiromani Ragi have to go around pledging and kneading at the feet of these godwomen and godmen for money? Can we not have retirement benefits etc., to ensure they live on with dignity? But for that we need responsible caretakers of Gur-Sikh institutions – these days seldom you come across people who have any concern or respect for the community elders and Vidwans.

In the year 2000, I witnessed a fascinating display of Gur-Sikh Rivaayatt (customs, convention, etiquette, protocol) by Sant Baba Kartar Singh of Sultanpur Lodhi but who was more famous as Patna Sahib-wale for his extraordinary Sewa at the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh. I was shooting a documentary on Gurbani Sangeet at Sultanpur Lodhi those days and I had taken my granduncles and also others including Bhai Ratan Singh and Raghbir Singh – the last generation to have studied at this historic region where logic and arts have been taught for thousands of years. One morning, Bhai Avtar Singh Ragi was invited by Sant Kartar Singh to a Gurudwara at a nearby village for Kirtan. The gurudwara staff had been caught unawares and there was no arrangement whatsoever – microphones, mattresses nor any water of food was prepared for the visitors. Bhai Avtar Singh sat down on the floor with his accompanists, Bhai Swaran Singh and Tejpal Singh, to the left hand side of the Guru Granth Sahib. They were still tuning the instruments when Sant Baba Kartar Singh entered the Gurudwara. After he had offered his customary salutation, he looked the Bhai Avtar Singh and noted that there were sitting on the carpet and not on any platform to sing Kirtan. Sant Kartar Singh asked my granduncle, Bhai Avtar Singh to get up, which they did not knowing what the respected hermit will do next. Sant Kartar Singh took the whole linen cloth from around his shoulders and spread it asking the Ragi Jatha to sit on it. Bhai Avtar Singh was humbled at Sant Kartar Singh’s extraordinary gesture of humility and refused to sit down but who could have argued with Sant Kartar Singh at that moment. What a setting it had become – and one of the finest Kirtan Chownki it was and I was honoured to have savoured it all.

Ashutosh shows by way of his conduct that he has not been groomed by any important sage – he clearly looks like quack who not only has any idea of etiquette expected of saintly souls thriving in Punjab but is ignorant of the values that are very much an intrinsic part of learning at the hermitages and madrasas across South Asia.

I am requesting members of the Gur-Sangat to not to write demeaning words against anyone and especially Bhai Balbir Singh. We need to be protective about him and about other exponents of Gurbani Sangeet including the Rababis. When have we as a community taken care of them? When have we gone and asked them if they needed anything particular? How are they still managing to pay their food and electricity bills? These videos highlight the fact that all of us are at fault – be it the SGPC, DSGMC, the local Gurudwaras, the godmen-women, us, and not just Bhai Balbir Singh Ragi.

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