KATHA is the noun form of the Sanskrit word kath, meaning to speak, describe, narrate or interpret. In religious terminology, kathd stands for exposition, analysis and discussion of a passage from a scripture. It involves a full length discourse on a given text, with a proper enunciation of it and elucidation with anecdotes, parables and quotations, of the underlying spiritual and theological doctrines and ideas. Since scriptural utterances and verses were generally pithy and aphoristic, they needed to be expounded for the laity and there emerged in the Indian tradition forms such as tikd (paraphrase), sabddrlha (gloss) and bhdsya (commentary), with pramdnas or suitable authoritative quotations from religious and didactic works to support the thesis or interpretation.
These three modes of elucidation converge in the Sikh kathd which is verbal in form. Kathd of the Upanisads, the Rhdgavadgitd and Puranas and of the epics, the Ramdyana and the Mahdbhdrata, has continued to be delivered from the rostrum. But in Sikhism it has become institutionalized as part of service at major religious assemblies. The tradition of kathd in Sikhism has its formal beginning in the time of Guru Arjan (1563-1606), who compiled the Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, and who is said to have ordained Bhai Gurdas, who had transcribed the Holy Volume, to expound briefly and precisely, daily a hymn which had been read from the Guru Granth Sahib.
The masands, i.e. sangat leaders, appointed by the Gurus, started delivering kalhd in a like manner at local gatherings. Since sabda forms the essential base of Sikh spirituality and religion, correct interpretation of the sacred texts is of the utmost importance. Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) is said to have himself instructed Bhai Mani Singh in the explication of the Holy Writ. From Bhai Man! Singh originates what is known as the Giani school of interpretation of gurbdm.
The performance of kathd has continued in the Sikh system over the centuries. There are numerous institutions, classical as well as modern, training scholars in the an.Kalhd is generally delivered in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The kathdkdr, the performer, will in fact recite reverentially the hymn he proposes to expound from the Holy Book itself. The choice may have been premeditated or utterly impromptu.
To describe the format, which certainly allows for variations, after awellpuncluated, clean, melodious and rhythmic recitation of the hymn, its central theme is brought into focus and explained. Then, the difficult words are explicated and verse wise paraphrase of the entire sabda is given. Care is taken to sustain the context and point out the relevance of each verse to the main argument.This is followed by a thematic analysis of the hymn, bringing out its spiritual and doctrinal significance. Notice may also be taken of its literary graces.
To support his interpretation, the kathdkdr quotes, all from memory, passages from the religious texts, and anecdotes from the lives of the Gurus. Before concluding the discourse, the argument is summed up and the original text recited again. At kathd session in gurudwaras are also expounded major Sikh historical works such as Sri Gur Pratdp Suraj Granth and Panth Prakash. But this happens generally in the afternoons, outside the morning and evening services.
1. Kahn Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Martand. Amritsar, 1962
2. Mani Singh, Bhai, Sikhan di Bhngnt Mala. Amritsar, 1955