What is the Sikh attitude to dancing?
Sikhs were given the name ‘Singh’ by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Tenth Guru. ‘Singh’ means lion. Where all other animals can be made to accept slavery and made to dance in circus’ or zoos, a Singh/lion will never accept slavery and can never be made to dance. If one calls themselves a Singh of the Guru then how can he or she perform dances?
Dancing is a mode of entertainment in western countries. Sikhi applies the general test mentioned in Gurbani to any entertainment, namely:
“Avoid that which causes pain or harm to the body or produces evil thoughts in the mind.”
Dancing with partners of the opposite sex is likely to cause sensuous thoughts, for intimate bodily movement rouse the lower passions. Places where there is liquor, meat, and men & women dancing together to lured songs is strictly against Gurmat.
ਤਿ੍ਰਯਾ ਰਾਗ ਸੁਨਿਹ ਚਿਤ ਲਾਇ ॥ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਲਾਲ ਸੋ ਜਮਪੁਰਿ ਜਾਇ ॥੧੭॥
“Those who listen to dirty lyrics and lustful tunes with attention, listen Nand Laal Ji, they will be punished by the angel of death.”
(Rehatnama Bhai Nand Laal Singh Ji)
ਮੇਰੇ ਮੋਹਨ ਸ੍ਰਵਨੀ ਇਹ ਨ ਸੁਨਾਏ ॥
ਸਾਕਤ ਗੀਤ ਨਾਦ ਧੁਨਿ ਗਾਵਤ ਬੋਲਤ ਬੋਲ ਅਜਾਏ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
“O my fascinating Lord, let me not listen to the faithless cynic, singing his songs and tunes, and chanting his useless words. ||1||Pause||”
Following Rehat (disciplined living) leads us to experiencing and enjoying the benefits of Gurbani. Gurbani clearly states “Geeth” (ਗੀਤ), “Naad” (ਨਾਦ), and “Dhun” (ਧੁਨਿ). This incorporates all lyrics, all beats, all tunes of the faithless. If one is singing about the love of women, their caste, their wealth etc they are singing nonsense of faithless cynicism or what leads away from higher consciousness living in accordance to the Guru’s teachings. The Guru is clear in saying:
ਆਵਹੁ ਸਿਖ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਕੇ ਪਿਆਰਿਹੋ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਸਚੀ ਬਾਣੀ ॥
“Come, O beloved Sikhs of the True Guru, and sing the True Word of His Bani.”
Sikhs expressing their joy and making their soul’s dance through Keertan (praising God).
The key to all singing should be the love Waheguru and Guru Sahib, and Naam and Bani is what leads us to the Divine. According to one’s spiritual ambitions and aspirations one chooses to live the way of the Guru. Someone who is focused on spiritually elevating their lives and wishes to live fully immersed in living in the Will of the Guru will express joy and pleasure through singing, listening and delving in the divine-bliss of Gurbani. On the other hand, those who wish to pick and choose aspects of Sikhi or do no aspire to achieve high spiritual consciousness will label Sikhs who do not dance or listen to music as fanatics.
There are religious dances which are performed by the Hindus (as for example Ras-Lila), and also by Muslim Sufi mystics. Such dances are not permitted in Sikhism. The Guru condemned religious dances or dances to please God or invoke divine blessings:
ਭਗਤਿ ਕਰਹਿ ਮੂਰਖ ਆਪੁ ਜਣਾਵਹਿ ॥ ਨਚਿ ਨਚਿ ਟਪਹਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਹਿ ॥
ਨਚਿਐ ਟਪਿਐ ਭਗਤਿ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਰੈ ਭਗਤਿ ਪਾਏ ਜਨੁ ਸੋਇ ॥੩॥
“The fools perform devotional worship by showing off; they dance and dance and jump all around, but they only suffer in terrible pain. By dancing and jumping, devotional worship is not performed. But one who dies in the Word of the Shabad, obtains devotional worship. ||3||”
Gurbani describes dancing as ਮਨ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ (urge of the mind). A Sikh celebrates and marks happiness by pursuing the Guru’s wisdom and the Guru’s instruction rather than following what the mind says. The whole of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji directs us from moving away from our mind’s urges (known as Manmat) and follow the ideals of the Guru (Gurmat):
ਨਚਣੁ ਕੁਦਣੁ ਮਨ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹ ਮਨਿ ਭਉ ਤਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਉ ॥੨॥
“Dancing and jump around is (only) the urge of the mind. O Nanak! The love of God is in those minds whose minds are filled with the Fear of God. ||2||”
What the Guru permitted was ‘the dance of the mind’, and not of the body. The Guru says:
ਨਾਚੁ ਰੇ ਮਨ ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਆਗੈ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਭਾਣੈ ਨਾਚਹਿ ਤਾ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਅੰਤੇ ਜਮ ਭਉ ਭਾਗੈ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
“O my mind, dance before the Guru; If you dance according to the will of the Guru, You will gain happiness, and the fear of death will vanish.”
ਹਰਿ ਜਨ ਨਾਚਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਧਿਆਇ ||
ਐਸੇ ਸੰਤ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਮੇਰੇ ਭਾਈ ਹਮ ਜਨ ਕੇ ਧੋਵਹ ਪਾਇ ||੧|| ਰਹਾਉ ||
“O humble servant of the Lord, let your dancing be meditation on the Lord. If only I cold meet such Saints, O my Siblings of Destiny; I would wash the feet of such servants. ||1||Pause||”
This kind of dance is the result of spiritual ecstasy, and is free from physical jerking and gymnastics.
Similar is the Sikh attitude to clubbing and going to the disco. Disco or clubbing is a blend of physical movements related to loud pop music. As disco or clubbing is likely to arouse sexual feelings, it is not permitted to the Sikhs.
ਕਬੀਰ ਸਾਕਤ ਸੰਗੁ ਨ ਕੀਜੀਐ ਦੂਰਹਿ ਜਾਈਐ ਭਾਗਿ ॥
ਬਾਸਨੁ ਕਾਰੋ ਪਰਸੀਐ ਤਉ ਕਛੁ ਲਾਗੈ ਦਾਗੁ ॥੧੩੧॥
“O Kabeer! Do not associate with the faithless cynics; run far away from them. If you touch a vessel stained with soot, some of the soot will stick to you. ||131||”
Dances purely for the promotion of physical health or fitness are not taboo. For example, ‘Pentra’, a warrior dance to stretch the muscles before engaging in mock battle or martial arts display is part of Sikh tradition.