Join Jvala Singh and a global cohort of students for this unique opportunity to explore the lesser-known history of Sikhism and Yoga.
The Sikh tradition—Sikhi, or Sikhism—emerged in the diverse and pluralistic environment of medieval India with the birth of its founder, Guru Nanak (1469-1539). Today Sikhi is one the world’s largest faith groups, and its adherents are located around the world. This course will explore the historical emergence of the tradition, providing a foundation of knowledge and then exploring the philosophy and practices located within its scriptures and performed by its adherents. The Sikh tradition allows for a unique look at the practice of Yoga during the medieval and Mughal period in India, where there were significant interactions and philosophical discussions between Sikhs and Yogis. Students will gain an understanding of Gurmat, or the Guru’s philosophy, from primary sources such as the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth. These texts will be examined in relation to concepts of Yoga which were circulating during that time.
Following a textual examination of scripture, students will explore the pluralistic nature of Sikhi during the 18th and 19th centuries, examining various ascetic groups who resemble and practice some forms of Yoga, including the Udasis. This relationship between normative Sikhs and these ascetic groups will shed light on the shifting and wavering notions of identity related to Sikhi before the advent of colonialism in India. The course will conclude by examining modern day practices and various groups who utilize Yoga in a Sikh context.
Each Module also includes: recommended weekly readings, a PDF handout, and optional quiz.
This module will introduce students to the Sikh tradition, exploring the context and environment from which this tradition emerged out of before engaging with the stories of the first five Sikh Gurus. This module provides an examination of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) to Guru Arjan (1563-1606), exploring their interactions and philosophical interactions with Yogis. In particular, primary sources like the Sidh Ghost, and the Japu Ji will be examined to provide insight into Sikh and certain Nāth yogic thought during this period of the 15th and 16th centuries.
In this second module students will travel through the 17th and 18th centuries, engaging with the later martial Sikh tradition emerging from the time of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), to the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708). This period marks a distinct change in the Sikh tradition in which new forms of literature are created, namely the writings of Guru Gobind Singh in the Dasam Granth. This source will be examined in comparison to the literature of other rival Sikh groups claiming authority, with the aim of understanding Sikh groups understood notions of asceticism, martiality and social engagement.
The third module will explore the pluralistic nature of 18th and 19th century Sikhi, exploring groups and orders outside the Khalsa normative tradition, in particular exploring the celibate ascetic Udasi tradition, started by Guru Nanak’s son Sri Chand. The practices, beliefs, and importance of the ascetic orders of the Udasis and Nirmalas, will be examined as well as their association with Yoga.
The final module will bring the students to the modern day, exploring the effect of colonialism on Sikh thought, practices and belief. This examination of the late 19th and early 20th centuries highlight various groups which promoted Yoga as a Sikh practice.
Jvala Singh is a lecturer for UC Berkeley at the Institute for South Asia Studies. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of British Columbia, where he is examining pre-colonial Sikh historical narratives. His research explores literature in Punjabi and Brajbhāṣā from the 18th and 19th centuries, building off his previous M.A. research completed at the University of Toronto, where he focused on Sikh Brajbhāṣā versions of Sanskrit epics, such as the Rāmāyaṇa.
In furthering the accessibility of pre-colonial Sikh Brajbhāṣā texts, Singh runs the Suraj Podcast, where each episode is a chapter summary in English of the voluminous Sūraj Prakāś (1843 CE)—a historical narrative covering the lives of the ten Sikh Gurus written by Santokh Singh (1787-1844).
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