IK ONKAR & IK OH

Let me say at the outset that I have not read Devinder ji’s writings on the subject of ik onkar or ik oh except cursorily looking at some of the messages on the forum. My intent therefore is not to join the debate in its narrow interpretive context that curiously seems to be centered around pronunciation rather than meaning or message. The purpose it is said repeatedly is to explore a fresh understanding using scientific method and to free our thinking of Vedantic interpretive thought.

With regard to pronunciation actually the doubt seems misplaced because onkar version has come down uniformly and I am not aware of any tradition where the open oora is pronounced as oh. If there is any evidence in the oral tradition to support this version it would certainly at least make the issue of pronunciation debatable.

The words oh and onkar both have been used and spelt in Gurbani. There has been some explanation regarding the use of onkar as referring to God’s immanence vis a vis ik onkar relating to His transcendence. The word oh has been used far more frequently – for God, man and even for other things as one would in conversation – witness in Japji sahib itself

  • oh vaykhai onaa nadar na aavai
  • oh jaanai jayteya muhi khaey
  • bhariye mat papaan ke sang, oh dhopai naavai kai rang

This does not seem to make a case for ik oh version. In any case I am not clear how the way we pronounce the word will alter the content or identity of our understanding of the precept or our liturgical practices. The chant satnam wahiguru seems by far the more preferred mode of referring to and connecting with the Divine in praxis rather than ik onkar or ik ho.

In fact somehow I am not too convinced about the Vedantic slant theory in interpretation of Gurbani. I think that this reasoning for searching newer meanings into truths enshrined in Gurbani is rather self-defeating because it starts on a defensive premise that is neither warranted nor edifying to Gurbani. Theology does change even as the believers engage with diverse thought and the Gurus have not at all suggested that gyan, so essential for spiritual elevation, is to be circumscribed or frozen in time.

So one should go ahead and use scientific kasoti to relate understanding of Gurbani to contemporary discourse as some others may well do hundred years hence based on any new areas of knowledge that may emerge and capture their fancy. However to term it as a cleansing exercise to rid our minds of impurities that may have crept in may be rather premature at this stage.

We should also ponder over materiality of what we are propounding – if it changes the paradigm of Sikh thought as popularly understood in a concrete manner, if it influences the way we are persuaded to live our lives, if it alters our value package for us to make a difference – by all means we should wage a struggle to rid ourselves of what is obscure. Otherwise let us have the humility to accept that we may after all know very little and even as we share our thoughts we may have more to learn than to teach.

Pay not much heed to what I say for my case is of the oh who – boojhai naahee ek sudhakhar oh saglee jhaakh jhakhaeeai – does not understand the divine word but keeps waffling all over. [p 216]

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