The Eternal Spirit
– Sociological Perspective of Sri Guru Granth Sahib –
Dr Gurmeet Singh Sidhu
Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) has immortal spiritual light to guide the Sikhs and the entire humankind. In theological studies, scripture is recognized as a nucleus of religion. The study of religion in the sociological perspective demands that it should be distinguished in different modes of its origion and various manifestations. The later focuses on particular sets of beliefs and rituals. In sociological literature, there are mainly two approaches: realistic and functional. Realistic approaches discover the religion in terms of how great it is, whereas the functional approaches observe it in terms of what it does for the society. Generally, the study of religion is taken in the context of its contribution to the social order. The present paper focuses on the nature of Sikh faith as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib it also examines the role and significance of this holy Granth towards the Sikh society as well as entire humankind.
The teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are not only sacred but practicable in the social life of every individual. The Granth has a special eternal spirit and embraces distinct status among the world’s great scriptures. In Sikh tradition, the Guru is not a human being but he is a spiritual being and he is the disclosure of God’s word. The founder of Sikh faith Guru Nanak Sahib says that shabad (hymns or word) is his Guru. W.O. Cole (1996:197) believed that “it is the Guru who brings the love and nature of God to the believer. It is he who brings the grace of God by which haumai or egoity is mastered. The Guru is the witness to God’s love of His creation. He is God’s hukam, i.e. Will, made concrete.” Thus, the Guru has a multifarious significance in Sikhism that way also.
Position of Sri Guru Granth Sahib
The sacred books are corresponding to hubs in the web of religious activities and have usually related with other elements of religion. The study of the scripture is becoming significant to understand the dynamics of religion because all religious organizations and institutions in the contemporary world are breathing with their scriptures. Furthermore, the interpretation of religious texts is changing according to the needs of society. “A large part of the analysis of texts is not only what can be understood from the text itself, but also from how it is interacted within a social and cultural context (Malory; 2003:151).”
Different religious traditions have particular inheritance to their scripture. “Although originating from revelation, defined in different ways, scriptures are designated as such by religious communities and the process of setting up a canon of scripture can take hundreds of years, as with the Christian Bible, or a short time, as with the Quran’s. Either way the scripture is handed down in oral form before it is finally written down. Once it is finalized in written form, it cannot be modified in any way (Rosemary; 1992: 467).” Thus, religious culture has been restructured and retained by their scripture and generally, people know the scriptures as a final declaration of God.
No doubt, every religious community adores its scripture but the scripture of the Sikhs (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) is esteemed as the living Guru and respected by the Gurus and the Sikhs. Secondly, the major scriptures have been written afterward but Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the only scripture in the world that was written by their creators. It has immeasurable significance for the Sikhs because the founders (Gurus) of the Sikh faith have prepared, compiled, edited, and instituted this under their supervision. In addition to that, Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains not only the works of Sikh Gurus but writings from other faiths. Hence, this is a unique junction of inter-faith compositions and provides worldwide importance among the different faiths.
It is significant to perceive that the founder of Sikh faith, Guru Nanak conveyed his message through bani (sacred compositions or scripture) in poetical form and composed it according to the ragas (musical mode). In his bani, the Guru had a novel vision for human life. Guru Nanak shared his revelation and experience among the spiritual personalities of various faiths. It is an eternal tribute to Guru Nanak that he neither recognized God with a specific faith or religion nor any caste, region and creed. As per Sikhism, God is an eternal truth that cannot be identified to particular language or religion. Accordingly, with new revelation Guru Nanak visited the famous centres of different faiths and conversed with saints, sufis, yogis, mullas, brahmins, siddhas, and sadhus. He also collected sacred writings from different regions. Professor Teja Singh notes that “Guru Nanak carried about his own compositions as well as those of the Bhagats (Saints & Sufis) collected by him. While departing he handed them over to his successor. Guru Angad gave his own compositions, along with the collection already made, to Guru Amardas. That Guru Angad had his predecessor’s sayings with him is proved by the fact that many of his own compositions have a direct bearing of Guru Nanak and echo the very expressions of the latter (2004:71).”
The years 1604 and 1708 have special significance for the Sikhs; in 1604, Guru Arjan Sahib completed compilation of Adi Granth. He included his own writings and the compositions of his predecessor Gurus; he also selected the writings of fifteen Bhagats, eleven Bhats, and four Sikh followers along with Gurus bani. The original manuscript was installed in Darbar Sahib (The Golden Temple) at Amritsar in a sacred ceremony on Bhadon Shudi 1 Samvat 1661 (16 August, 1604). Sikh Sangat was present on that occasion and Guru Arjan Sahib was there who sat with the audience. Bhai Budha Ji was the first custodian who took the hukamnama (holy order) of Guru from Adi Granth. The tenth Guru Gobind Singh incorporated the bani of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib (ninth Guru) in the Adi Granth. In 1708, he declared the Granth as the Guru and the Sikhs to obey it. He said before his ultimate departure:
“O Beloved Khalsa (Sikhs) let him who desireth to behold the Guru (sacred teacher), obey the Granth Sahib. It is the visible body of the Guru.”
Sri Guru Granth Sahib has a spread of 500 years (12th to 17th century A.D.), the earliest contributors, Jai Dev, Baini and Farid who lived in the 12th century and the last the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur in the 17th. The Guru Granth Sahib is the first and original and contemporary source of philosophy of the Gurus. “Several incidents of their lives are reflected in their compositions, which have been incorporated into this sacred volume. These compositions also reflect the social, religious, and political atmosphere of those times and views of the gurus regarding the prevailing social customs, religious rites and political conditions in the country (Ganda Singh; 2004: 92).” Furthermore, the Gurus have used the language of common man Punjabi, in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Some hymns are also found in Persian, medieval Prakrit Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit as well as Persian and Arabic but all of these hymns are written in the Punjabi script known as Gurmukhi, standardized by the Second Master; Guru Angad. The special characteristic is that arrangement of this scripture has been based on music and poetry. Guru Granth Sahib is a collection of devotional hymns, which proclaims God. The Granth has a sequence of 31 ragas that is important feature according to which shabads have to be sung. In Sikh tradition, music or raga is a requirement of shabad but it does not dominate over it.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib is considered as a Supreme reality and spiritual light to show the path of liberation to the Sikh community and all humankind. The living Guru is shabad that has massive respect in the hearts of the Sikhs. Sikhism rejects idol worship, so the Guru Granth Sahib is not worshipped as an idol, but rather emphasis is placed on respect of the scripture for the writings, which appear within. So the Sikhs show their reverence to the message of Guru Granth Sahib and not worship it. “The act of bowing to Guru Granth Sahib is an act of showing respect and in no way amounts to worship (Kapoor; 1999: 9).” In order to obtain His grace Sikh faith lays stress on meditation on the True Guru (God). The Sikhs receive spiritual nectar and blessings from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. In the presence of the Granth, the Sikhs bow because the Guru is supreme authority and the entire Sikh community getts direction. “Both the Guru and the scripture are respected within the tradition because of God’s word, which they express (Coward; 2007: 130 ).”
In addition to that, Sri Guru Granth Sahib itself has lot of evidence, which provides it the status of the Guru. The founder of Sikh faith Guru Nanak proclaimed that his guide is the shabad that is a source of divine wisdom for the entire world. In his one bani named Sidha Gosti Guru Nanak conversed with Yogis.
“They asked him who your Guru is. whose believer are you?” (SGGS; 942)
In reply, Guru Nanak replied:
“Shabad is my Guru, and the meditating mind the disciple.
By dwelling on Him I remain detached.” (SGGS; 943)
The entire Sikh community respects Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru. the Granth has a wider message for the of entire world. The holy book of the Sikhs contains the message of one God. The Guru “announced to the world the good news of life lived in communication with the one God who is beyond the religious divisions created by humankind (Dawe; 1997: 167).” The Guru discovered that God is one, which is a Creator of a colourful world. Nature of God is explained by Guru Nanak, that “He (self) have a single colour in itself and also a multi-colour (SGGS; 726)3 . God in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is referred to by several names. Gurbachan Singh Talib (1996; 95) notes such names as “He is called in terms of human relations as father, mother, brother, relation, friend, lover, beloved and husband. Other names, expressive of His supremacy, are thakur, prabhu, svami, sah, patsah, sahib, sain (Lord, Master). Some traditional names are ram, narayan, govind, gopal, allah, and khuda. Even the negative terms such as nirankar, niranjan, etal. are as much related to attributes as are the positive terms like data, datar, karta, kartar, dayal, qadir, karim etc. Some terms peculiar to Sikhism are nam: (lit. name) shabad (lit.word), and Vahiguru (lit. Wondrous Master).” Guru Granth Sahib finds shabad similar to the God’s name (Bani); and Bani and Guru are different but equal. In this regard, Guru Ram Dass says that:
“Bani is the Guru and Guru is Bani
In Bani are contained all the nectars.” (SGGS: 982)
Shabad, ever-present, can be articulated through the human medium, the Guru, so ordained by the Supreme Being. “The historical Gurus of the Sikh faith are believed to have uttered the truth vouchsafed to them by God (Cole; 1996: 199).” In Sikh faith both Guru and God have same spirit and they have an equal regard. Guru Ram Dass describes this combination as:
“The Guru is God and God is Guru
There is no distinction between the two ” (SGGS: 442)
Therefore, from the course of Sikh thought and tradition the Bani became the Guru. Thus, the Guru is a spiritual guide and has an eternal spirit in the Sikh reckoning.
The Faith of Truth
The founder of Sikh faith Guru Nanak (1469-1539) gave a unique and new direction to his faith and granted it for all humankind. At that juncture when he was delivering his message, the world was passing through enormous turmoil. In fifteenth century Europe, especially in Italy, new thoughts in different fields, e.g. social, economic, political, and cultural life were emerging parallel to the religious. The religion religion institutions (especially Church) and their functionaries had dropped their hold on society. At that point, religious leadership became inadequate to answer the new challenges. of the same time, in the Indian region, religious movements (Bhagati and Sufi) were emerging.
Sikhism is one of the latest religions of the world that gives common message to society for mutual harmony and peace for establishing healthy social milieu. Human life in Sikhism is not for individual being, it is the creation of God; the individual has no power even over his/her body, as it is the house of the Creator. Thus, as per Sikh faith the Creator of this colourful world lives everywhere in every-body. To love and serve God it is a prerequisite to love and serve His creation. To provide continuity and faithfulness in new religion Guru Nanak originated new community (Sangat) and directed it with fresh spirit of Nam (God). He organized the Sikh devotees to Nam, his followers into Sangat. They could meet without any discrimination, and all have equal rights and freedom to meet with the Guru’s spirit. “Before the Sikh Gurus, there was no major effort made to alter the model states along with developing a new semiotic that could change the relationships between the individual, the society and the cosmos. At the most, their efforts made were nearly shamanic, like those of the Siddhas or roaming yogis who treated the clinically problematic at the individual level. They were great manipulators of model states, and innovate some through their meditative imagination, depending upon their understanding of the individual and his/her social membership (Gurbhagat Singh; 1999: 14).” Gurbani (The Sikh scripture) has played and is playing an important role to build such a wonderful society (sangat).
Sri Guru Granth Sahib is not only unique in its structure or compositions but it has common memo for true spirit. Guru Amar Dass says about true spirit,
“There is one sole holy text, one Preceptor,
one Word to contemplate.
At the shope of truth is made the holy bargain,
Were of jewels of truth are the stores full.
These by Divine grace are obtained,
Should the Bestower grant them.
In the holy bargain ever is gain made-
the gain of the Name limitless.” (SGGS: 646)
The concept of God in Sikh thought is special from all exclusive religious traditions of the world. Present western theology raises a serious debate regarding the existence of God. After the negative theology (mainly focused on the “death of God”), currently the deconstruction theology gives an idea of impossible God. Postmodernist thinkers are foretelling this impossibility as an endless truth. Derrida’s theology of an impossible God is becoming familiar in this field. As per Derrida faith in God’s impossibility, his messianic failure is a defence against totalitarianism and fundamentalism. “There can be no dogma of the impossible God, because the impossible, undecided God subverts all absolute claims. The impossible God can never be used to justify tyranny, oppression or racism. Furthermore, the impossible God implies-but without the coercion of divine law - the necessity of an ethic of love, hospitality, freedom, forgiveness and openness. These ethical themes - which were central to Derrida’s writings in the 1990s - are hardly strange to Christianity, which values humility, turning the other cheek, respect for the other and love of one’s enemies (Hugh; 2003: 150).”
As compare to negative theology, the Sikh theology is a theology of possibility. In Sikh theology, everything is possible in the nadar (grace) of God. For Sikh faith the attributes of God have been illustrated in mul mantra (basic theme) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as:
“One supreme Being, the Immutable and Eternal Name, the Creative Masculine Principle, Without fear and Without rancour, the Timeless Verity, Unicarnated and Self-Existent, known through His grace.” (SGGS: 1)
The nam or true name of God (shabad) is Wonderful and through His grace, one should get the amrit (holy nectar) from Him. According to Guru Amar Dass:
“Through the holy Word is union with the Lord attained (SGGS: 514).”8
Name of God is one as per Sikh faith that is Primal Being all pervasive, beyond extent and unknowable Creator but such Lord is accessible to the God-directed man/woman (Gurumukh). Guru Ram Dass says:
“Without form and feature invisible unknowable - To the God-directed (Gurumukh) is the inaccessible made accessible.” (SGGS: 448)
It is important to note that His openness deserves complete devotion to Him. Guru Nanak says,
“He is not accessible through intellect or thought mere scholarship or cleverness at argument; He is met when He pleases through devotion.” (SGGS: 436)
The true Guru in Sikh faith is shabad and Sri Guru Granth Sahib is its appearance that is known as Gurbani by the Sikhs. Gurbani is the Divine Light in this world. Through His grace God is accessible and He lives in every human mind as well as in the society. “The Guru builds the Temple of God for man [woman] in the heart of man [woman] (Puran Singh; 1981: 23).” Thus everything is sacred due to His creation. The Sikh faith has incomparable belief in immortal God, the God of humanity, which is indescribable yet not unknowable. He is neither mysterious nor impossible. In Sikh faith, God is attainable; He is omnipresent; and all can take His grace.
Cole, W.Owen (1996) “GURU” in Harbans Singh, ed., The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol.II, Punjabi University, Patiala, pp.196-202.
Coward, Harold (2007) Scripture in the World Religions: A Short Introduction, Oneworld, London.
Donald G. Dawe, (1997) “NANAK GURU (Sri Guru Nanak Dev)” in Harbans Singh, ed., The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol.III, Punjabi University, Patiala, pp.165-83.
Ganda Singh (2004) “The Major Sources Of Early Sikh History” in Sukhdial Singh ed., The Punjab Past and Present, ed., Punjabi University, Patiala, pp.92-97
Gurbhagat Singh (1999) Sikhism And Postmodern Thought, Ajanta Books International, Delhi.
Hugh Rayment-Pickard (2003) Impossible God Derrida’s Theology, Ashgate, England.
Kapoor, Sukhbir Singh (1999) Guru Granth Sahib An Introductory Study, Hemkunt Press, New Delhi.
Malory Nye (2003) Religion The Basics, Routledge, London.
Puran Singh (1981) Spirit Of The Sikh Vol.II, Punjabi University, Patiala.
Rosemary, Goring (1992) The Worldsworth Dictionary of Belief & Religions, Worldsworth Reference, Edinburgh.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Sabadarth, (Four volumes in Punjabi) (1969) Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee, Amritsar.
Talib, Gurbachan Singh (1996) “GOD” The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol.II, in Harbans Singh, ed., Punjabi University Patiala, pp.93-97.
Teja Singh (2004) “The Holy Granth” in Sukhdial Singh ed., The Punjab Past and Present, Punjabi University, Patiala, pp.70-86.
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