Guru Granth – Guru Panth
– Historical Perspective –
The concept of dual Guruship, viz, Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture as a guiding light and corporate will of the entire community of Sikhs, called Panth, is novel and unique in the religious history of mankind. How this concept was evolved is of abiding interest, and is the subject of this paper.
Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhism, during his long travels had dialogues with persons belonging to various denominations. The record of the dialogues is available in the hymns of Guru Nanak like Siddh Gosht, etc., and the first var of Bhai Gurdas Bhalla who was the first writer of events of the life of Guru Nanak during early seventeenth century. He writes that Guru Nanak had an encounter with Siddhas, viz., Hindu ascetics during his sojourn at Kailash Parbat. The Siddhas asked Guru Nanak who was his Guru, viz., spiritual guide, and demanded that he should show them some miracle. Guru Nanak's reply as recorded by Bhai Gurdas was :
Except the holy word and assembly of holy persons he had no other refuge.1
This utterance was the seed and nucleus of dual guruship which subsequently developed into Guru Granth and Guru Panth. It has been recorded by the Muslim writers that wherever Guru Nanak went he organised2 an association of his disciples, called sangat. These sangats remained in contact with the subsequent Gurus also. Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru, devised the Manji system, and Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru founded the Masand system in order to keep in touch with these sangats, which were scattered at different places. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Master organised these sangats into Khalsa as has been stated by Bhai Gurdas the second, contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh :
Guru Gobind Singh made the Sangat Khalsa.3
The hymns of Guru Nanak formed the basis for compilation of Guru Granth. Guru Nanak himself handed over his verses to Guru Angad4, the second Guru. Similarly, verses of Guru Angad and his predecessor were passed on to Guru Amar Das, the third Guru.
The collection of hymns alongwith verses of Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das, reached Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Guru, (1581-1606) who compiled the Pothi Sahib, in 1604 AD. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, (1675-1708 AD) edited the granth, and included in it the verses of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur.
When Guru Nanak was explicitly asked who was his guru, his reply recorded in his famous composition was the ‘holy word’. Guru Ram Das had also reiterated :
The bani or the ‘holy word’ is guru; the guru is bani manifested.6
Bhai Gurdas affirms that :
gurU mUrq gur sbd hY, swD sµgq iml AµimRq vylw [.
Guru's word is Guru's visible form, that is, holy assembly is manifested at early morning.7
Guru Gobind Singh bestowed guruship on Guru Granth Sahib abolishing the personal line of guruship. During his last days he declared that Guru Granth Sahib would be the Guru after him, and that the teachings contained in it represented his spirit as well as that of the Gurus preceding him. He said, “wherever there are five Sikhs assembled who take guidance from the Holy book and abide by it, know that I am in the midst of them. Henceforth, the Khalsa shall be the Guru, and I have infused my spirit into Khalsa.8
The succession thus passed on to Guru Granth Sahib and the Khalsa. The collective will of the community, the Panth, guided by the teachings contained in the Holy Granth carried with it the authority of the Guru.9
The word panth from Sanskrit patha, pathin, or pantham means literally a way, passage or path and, figuratively, a way of life, religious creed or cult. In Sikh terminology, the word panth stands for the Sikh faith as well as for the Sikh people as a whole. Panth for the Sikhs is the supreme earthly body having full claim on their allegiance.
The use of the term panth as a system of religious belief and practice, synonymous with marga or religious path, is quite old. Several medieval cults used it as a suffix to the names of their preceptors, such as Gorakh panth and Kabir panth, their followers being called gorakhpanthis and kabirpanthis. Even the Sikhs were earlier known as nanakpanthis. In the Guru Granth Sahib, the term panth is often combined with an adjective or noun as in mukti panth, path to liberation, uttam panth, the superior path, or unstained pure faith.10
The panth, now called Khalsa Panth, is the Guru Panth. Guru Gobind Singh at the time of his death declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be the Guru everlasting for the Sikhs. The line of an individual being a Guru came to an end, and the Guru Panth became its own leader under the guidance of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Granth Sahib is accepted as Guru by most of the Sikhs. But the crucial question is how the authority of Panth Khalsa can be exercised. In the beginning, the Sikhs followed the Greek method of direct participation of every individual in the counsels of the Panth, and for this purpose had yearly or half yearly gatherings of the Sarbat Khalsa (the whole people) at the Akal Takht. When persecution became rife, these meetings were impossible and the authority vested solely in the Akal Takht. During the rule of the misls, the numbers of Sarbat Khalsa became unwieldly, and it was necessary to have some system of representation. During this time no central association or parliament was possible and the people lost their hold on the first principle of Sikhism and its institutions. When their rule was supplanted by the British, they were too degenerate and brokenhearted to think of representative assemblies. With the coming of education and a knowledge of western institutions, the Sikhs too began to form diwans, or associations to take in hand the work of education and, social and religious reforms. Shiromani Akali Dal was formed in 1920. The sufferings of the 5 years (1921-25), however, has welded them together as nothing else did before, and the Sikhs have learnt to obey one central body. The new law of temples has given them, for the first time in their history, an association representative of their whole community, but it cannot take the place of the central body, which should wield the whole authority of the Panth.
The question of having a supreme Panthic body is most imporant. At the death of the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, when the Sikhs got spiritual home rule and, wielding the power and authority of the Panth, became masters of their own destiny, they had to dispense with the personal leadership of one man. It was inevitable that for the exercise of corporate authority, they should create for themselves a body. What should be the scope of this body ? The main point of issue is whether politics should be included or not in the scope of its working. One thing is clear that politics should not dominate in the supreme Central body. All such issues have to be decided by the apex body. How this apex body can be selected is a debatable point which is not within the scope of this paper.
1. First Var of Bhai Gurdas Bhalla, Pauri 42 gurU sMgq bwxI ibnH dUjI Ft nhIN hY rweI
2. Ghulam Hussain Syahal, Matakharin, Persian : gurU sMgq kInI Kwlsw
3. Var Bhai Gurdas, Pauri 1.
4. Puratan Janamsakhi, Bhai Vir Singh, New Delhi, 1999, p. 207.
5. Siddh Gosht, Guru Granth Sahib, p. 943.
6. G G. Para 982.
7. Bhai Gurdas Var 24, Pauri 11
8. Guru Gobind Singh, Harbans Singh.
9. Gur Sobha Senapat edited by Ganda Singh, Patiala, p. 109.
10. Sikhism - Its Ideals and Institutions, Teja Singh, Orient Longman, 1964, p. 50-51.
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