My dear friend, Inni Kaur, lost her mother to an illness two summers ago. Twenty-one months later, she still feels as if it was yesterday.
"I miss her terribly," she says. "The intense pain has now become a dull ache. My mornings are the hardest. She lived in New Delhi, India, I here in Connecticut, USA. But, she was part of my daily routine.
"Every morning, after I listened to the hukam from the Golden Temple via my computer, I would call her on the phone. It would be around 6:00 p.m. her time ..."
Literally, the word means a royal edict or command. It refers to the first verse read out from the Golden Temple -- chosen that morning by the reader in the sanctum sanctorum of the holiest of holies in Sikhdom, located in Amritsar, Punjab, by opening the Sikh Scripture at random.
Consisting of spiritual and mystical poetry, the verse provides a thought or two to meditate on, to all those who hear it that morning.
"The first thing we would discuss during the telephone call would be the morning's hukam. She would've heard it several hours earlier, at 4:30 a.m. her time, simultaneous to its reading which she would catch on the live broadcast on the TV or radio. She would make a conscious effort to study the passage some time during the day, knowing that I would call. And we would then discuss it ... before moving on to other things."
Listening to, or following, the 'hukam' from the Golden Temple is not religiously mandated. It is not a ritual, nor does it carry any spiritual brownie points. Especially since the hukams are read separately -- each one invariably being different -- in millions of homes and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) around the world.
It's like a spiritual Thought of the Day. It is meditative and it is meant to inspire, to provoke introspection. The process encourages 'vichaar' -- contemplation -- and hopefully keeps the individual mindful of one's spiritual role in life as one goes about the day's worldly chores.
Nothing detracts from those who don't or can't tune into the one read out from the Golden Temple; the one chosen at random differently in the households scattered around the world serve the purpose equally.
"At times," explains Inni, talking about the daily conversations she used to have with her Mom, "I would say to her: 'Ma, listening to today's hukam, I feel the Lord is pulling my ears.' She would laugh and reply, 'Inni, if He does not pull your ears, who will? You aren't one to allow anyone else to pull your ears?'
"Point taken, Mother!"
It is exactly such personal conversations -- between people or within their own minds -- that are hopefully triggered with those amongst the 30 million Sikhs who live in Punjab, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the diaspora, and "take/receive" a hukam that day.
In gurdwaras located in large Sikh communities, especially where daily services are held, a scholar may provide an interpretation or discourse on the concepts covered by the day's hukam selected at that gurdwara. Or the one from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Though the page opened at random may vary from place to place, home to home, what makes this exercise universal and unites the community worldwide is that the actual scripture referred to is exactly the same ... everywhere.
It is the Guru Granth -- which is treated like a living teacher in the sense of The Living Word, but to the nth degree -- and is the sole and ultimate spiritual guide to a Faith which tolerates no human spiritual leadership, not even a priesthood.
The language and script; the number of pages (1,430); the format, layout and pagination; the punctuation ... every element is exactly the same ... everywhere. No translations or exegeses are used for this purpose.
That is, no matter who opens a copy of the Guru Granth, anywhere -- in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, or in my humble home here in Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada, or any other place in between -- it is exactly the same text, with no difference whatsoever in its content.
The idea is that the Sikh -- the seeker, literally -- must seek his or her own meaning, and apply it to his or her life, to the best of his or her wisdom.
But what makes the daily exchange with her mother that Inni describes -- and now misses so poignantly -- so special is the miracle of modern technology that we have been blessed with incrementally within the current generations ... or at least in my lifetime.
Not too long ago -- within living memory -- only those who could be present within the precincts of the Golden Temple complex could hear the actual voice reading the daily hukam, live and contemporaneously.
Those curious as to the exact verse selected in the Golden Temple that day could pick up the citation in a newspaper, for example, the next day. The rest of the Sikh world merely sought guidance from their own, personal hukams 'received' in their own local spheres, respectively.
Then came the radio. Which widened the concentric circle.
And then, television and live broadcasts across Punjab and other parts of the subcontinent.
From that point on, the changes have been in leaps and bounds.
Computers and cable, satellite relays, laptops, iphones and ipads, custom-made ringtones, texting and apps ... each new development seems to add a new dimension, new possibilities, new and quick, nay, instant access!
You can be in a speeding car on a remote highway or flying in a jet over the ocean, if you are even slightly more tech-savvy than I am, you can hear or even see a simulcast. Or access it later, from your own gadget of choice, at your leisure.
This is the marriage of natural evolution and man-made modernity at its best.
The forces of cyberspace have come together at their own pace, on their own will, to bring together as a single, united community every day and at every moment of each day, to listen to the magical sounds and words -- of song and poetry -- emanating from Amritsar.
It is all the more a miracle in that it is not a requirement, has never been recommended any where, never mandated or made a prerequisite to any activity, nor does it promise any rewards.
Those who are pulled by it have surrendered to it voluntarily and willingly, on their own volition.
This morning's hukam from the Golden Temple, for example -- on Monday, June 24, 2013, was as follows. I offer you a loose English translation. Not an ideal or perfect one, it carries none of the magic of the original words or the timbre of the singer. But it serves the purpose, nevertheless.
I am satisfied and satiated
Eating the food of truth.
With my mind, body and tongue
I meditate on the Lord.
Life, spiritual life, is in the Lord,
Consisting of singing His Name
In the company of the pious.
He who sings His praises
Finds himself in raiments rich,
He rides elephants, chariots and horses,
If he finds His path in his own heart.
Meditating at His feet,
Deep within mind and body,
Nanak has found the Lord,
The treasure of peace.
[Composition of Guru Arjan, Guru Granth, 684]
Thus, the people of an entire nation, albeit one that has no boundaries and yet spans continents, tune into a verse, a mystical and spiritual composition every day, and regardless of where they are, what they do, rich or poor, learned or lay, young or old, man, woman or child, of every nationality, every profession and vocation, all bow their heads, and as never before in the Faith's five-century history, listen to their Guru ... in unison.
It is why Sikhs call themselves the panth... a nation united in prayer and service to humanity.
To hear a live recording of the actual delivery of the daily hukam, sung from the Golden Temple, please CLICK here.
To read an English translation of the same daily hukam, please CLICK here.