The Doctrine of Guru Granth and Guru Panth in Sikhism
Introduction: Dr Kharak Singh has mentioned that decision regarding nitnem banis was taken by a committee of topmost scholars and that SGPC accepted this decision in 1945 with a unanimous approval of the Guru Panth. He further states that under the doctrine of Guru Granth and Guru Panth, the decision is considered as Guru’s decision.1 This leaves no doubt that the SGPC did use the mechanism of advice from Sikh scholars for arriving at such an important decision for the entire Sikh Panth. However, if the scholars have made any error of judgment in making this recommendation, there is no harm in reconsidering it in the spirit of proverb: To error is human and forgiveness is divine. The doctrine of Guru Granth and Guru Panth needs elaboration in the light of gurbani of Guru Granth Sahib. In fact a brief history of compilation of Guru Granth Sahib (GGS) will illustrate certain points which would help in providing a clear understanding of the background in order to undertake any discussion of the aforementioned doctrine.
Guru Nanak during his Udasis collected bani of bhagats and including his own bani prepared a Pothi, which he kept close to himself all the time.2 In the story of his visit to Mecca, some Muslim scholars have construed that Guru Nanak carried Qoran with him. According to some Sikh scholars , in fact , it was the Pothi containing this bani. This appears to be the first Granth or Pothi which was given by Guru Nanak to Guru Angad as a token of passing on gurgaddi from first Nanak to the second Nanak. Afterwards Guru Angad, too, passed on gurgaddi to Guru Amardas by handing over this Pothi which contained all the bani, including his own bani . This practice continued upto Guru Arjun Dev for which a slok in GGS provides internal evidence.
pIaU dwdy kw Koil ifTw Kjwnw ] qw myrY min BieAw inDwnw ]
rqn lwl jw kw kCU n molu ] Bry BMfwr AKUt Aqol ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 186
As I opened and viewed the ‘treasure-house’ of my ancestors, my mind was filled with joy to see the ‘true wealth’. There I found the precious ‘jewels and rubies’ which were immeasurable and inexhaustible.
Before Guru Arjun thought of compiling gurbani in a given order in Guru Granth Sahib, the sloka of Guru Amardas ji provides internal evidence from GGS about the attempts of kith and kin of earlier Gurus to manipulate the interpolation of kachi bani.
siqgurU ibnw hor kcI hY bwxI ]
bwxI q kcI siqgurU bwJhu hor kcI bwxI ]
khdy kcy suxdy kcy kcI AwiK vKwxI ]
hir hir inq krih rsnw kihAw kCU n jwxI ]
icqu ijn kw ihir lieAw mwieAw bolin pey rvwxI ]
khY nwnku siqgurU bwJhu hor kcI bwxI ]24]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 920
Utterance of anybody else other than that of the Satguru is false. Those uttering it and listening to it are also false because it is enunciated by the imperfect minds. Though the naam of Akalpurkh is uttered by their tongues yet they are unmindful of what it says. Those whose hearts are misled by maya are given to make glib utterance. Nanak says that the utterance made by anyone else other than the Satguru is false.
A lot of evidence is now available as to the game of impostors who tried their level best to popularise kachi bani as gurbani. This game is going on even today when some publishers are producing junk literature under the name of Sikh literature in Amritsar and elsewhere.
The farsightedness of Guru Arjun is evident in the compilation of Guru Granth Sahib in a manner that interpolation of gurbani is rather difficult. Guru Arjun Dev has arranged gurbani according to raag (musical measure). The bani of bhagats, too, follows a predetermined order throughout the entire body of Guru Granth Sahib. The numbering of slokas and seal of Guru as Nanak and that of bhagats, too, as Kabir, Ravidas etc., are firmly established and uniformly followed in Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Nanak has indicated that whatever he is communicating with the Sikhs is the message of Akalpurkh rather than anything from himself.
AKrI nwmu AKrI swlwh ] AKrI igAwnu gIq gux gwh ]
AKrI ilKxu bolxu bwix ] AKrw isir sMjogu vKwix ]
ijin eyih ilKy iqsu isir nwih ] ijv Purmwey iqv iqv pwih]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 4
The truth of Akalpurkh is expressed in words: By words is His praise sung, and His attributes discussed. Of words are the holy texts made and with the help of words these are chanted.
There is another slok addressed to Bhai Lalo which is also reproduced below with its meaning for favor of attention of the readers.
jYsI mY Awvy Ksm kI bwxI qYsVw krI igAwnu vy lwlo ]
pwp kI jM\ lY kwblhu DwieAw jorI mMgy dwnu vy lwlo ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 722
As the message of Akalpurkh descends upon me, I express it to you. (Babar) has come down from Kabul with a wedding party of sin and forcibly demands surrender of Indian womanhood.
sBu ikCu Awpy Awip hY dUjw Avru n koie ]
ijau bolwey iqau bolIAY jw Awip bulwey soie ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 39
Akalpurkh is the sole and supreme ; and none is equal to Him. A person utters only those words which the person is directed to speak by the Akalpurkh.
From all these hymns it is clear that there is plenty of evidence as to the fact that gurbani of Guru Granth Sahib is a message of Akalpurkh to the Sikhs which has been obtained through the grace of Guru. All the Sikhs are duty-bound to abide by this message of the Akalpurkh.
hoie iekqR imlhu myry BweI duibDw dUir krhu ilv lwie ]
hir nwmY ky hovhu joVI gurmuiK bYshu sPw ivCwie ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1185
Brethren ! All in unison we meet, and by remembering presence of Akalpurkh amongst us , cast off all duality amongst us. As participants in sangat for the worship of Akalpurkh , we sit together as equals to seek guidance from the Guru.
Thus the advice given in this hymn is to settle their differences by sitting together and having a process of dialogue and discussion for reaching a consensus. This meeting is to be of those who practice Sikhism. Since temporal and spiritual life of a Sikh is intertwined together, so all the commands of Guru Granth Sahib are applicable for every situation in the life of a Sikh.
prQwie swKI mhw purK boldy swJI sgl jhwnY ]
gurmuiK hoooie su Bau kry Awpxw Awpu pCwxY ]
gur prswdI jIvqu mrY qw mn hI qy mnu mwnY ]
ijn kau mn kI prqIiq nwhI nwnk sy ikAw kQih igAwnY ]
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 647
The teaching of great men to a particular people at special occasions is applicable to the whole of mankind. Whosoever listens to the message of Akalpurkh gets devoted to Him and realizes his own self. A person, by the grace of Akalpurkh, may appear to die from the life of flesh but lives forever in full faith in Akalpurkh. Those , whose faith in Him is denuded what kind of enlightened teaching, says Nanak, can they provide to others?
This brief discussion of gurbani of Guru Granth Sahib clearly indicates the richness and depth of thought in the Scripture of Sikhism. Somehow Sikhs have not been able to communicate with the people around them who speak different languages and are incapable of learning Punjabi. Sikhs merely revere Guru Granth Sahib as a book rather than make the desired effort to read it as a scripture and understand its gurbani in order to follow it in daily life, as the basis of human conduct.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion, by collecting bani of bhagats and compiling gurbani received from Akalpurkh compiled a Pothi as already discussed. He chose one of his gursikhs, Bhai Lehna as his successor and passed on gurgaddi to him by handing over this Pothi containing gurbani he had collected and that he received from Akalpurkh. This historical process is recorded which was followed by the successor Gurus till Guru Arjun Dev received this Pothi and arranged the whole of gurbani according to raags. The final seal of Nanak and the name of bhagat was stamped to make any interpolation difficult, rather impossible.
During the period of ten Gurus, the Guru was both recipient of gurbani from Akalpurkh and preacher of gurbani in the Pothi. Metaphorically speaking, Guru Panth was led by the Guru as a parent looks after the interests of a small child in order to save it from all kinds of afflictions a young child is likely to suffer.
The gursikhs were invested with the responsibilities of the Guru by Guru Gobind Singh when he declared them to be fit as Khalsa in 1699 AD after imparting them Khande dee Pahul. He was leader of the Guru Panth as well as the representative of Akalpurkh till he announced Guru Granth Sahib as Sabad Guru, the sole Guru of the Guru Panth in 1708 AD at the time of leaving for his heavenly abode. Thus the relationship between the Guru Granth and the Guru Panth became fully effective with the maturity of the Khalsa to understand and obey the commands of Guru Granth Sahib.
The time and opportunity for testing the skills and standing of Khalsa amongst the population of Panjab was provided by the situation which developed after Banda Singh Bahadur was invested with the temporal leadership of the Guru Panth by Guru Gobind Singh. During this period, Khalsa used to assemble at Amritsar in the premises of Akal Takht and all deliberations were held and decisions taken in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, which were binding for all Sikhs. This was not a democracy of numbers as we find it today, malfunctioning in the gurdwara elections, where partisan politics plays a prominent role. This was dialogue and discussion to arrive at a consensus. An independent person used to conduct the meeting and he would declare the decision, arrived at by consensus. This was done with a clear conscience, according to the basic principles of honesty, integrity and impartiality.
In Sikh history the first decision taken by the Guru Panth was in respect of vacating the fort at Anandpur in December 1704 AD when Guru Gobind Singh as a member of the Guru Panth and its leader accepted the consensus supporting it. This decision set a healthy and powerful tradition in the annals of Sikh history which helped a great deal in the liquidation of tyrant rulers from Punjab and its adjoining areas. The period in which Sikhs lost sight of this principle of Sikhism, they lost everything they had acquired through the application of this principle.
Rights and responsibilities of the Guru Panth
In the Guru Panth a true Sikh is one who lives by the principles ordained in Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak cautions about ego :
haumY dIrG rogu hY dwrU BI iesu mwih ]
ikrpw kry jy AwpxI qw gur kw sbdu kmwih ]
nwnku khY suxhu jnhu iequ sMjim duK jwih ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 466
Egoism is a malady but there is a cure for it also. By the grace of Akalpurkh if one follows the advice of satguru given in gurbani, this malady is cured. Nanak says, “Listen mankind ! The malady of egoism is eliminated by following the advice of and living in accordance with the discipline of gurbani of satguru.
The Guru Panth is constituted by the Sikhs who understand and live in accordance with the teachings of gurbani given in Guru Granth Sahib. But how many Sikhs study gurbani and out of these how many follow it in daily life ? These are the question marks which ask for answers from each one of us. We should be proud of being Sikhs but we need not forget our limitations as to our lack of learning from gurbani. Majority of Sikhs think that they can be Sikhs without caring to learn gurbani which, in fact, is the first step to become a Sikh.
Relationship between Guru Granth and Guru Panth
Acceptance of the preposition, that Akalpurkh sent His message, through the Sikh Gurus, leads us to believe that all Sikhs are ordained to listen to this message and understand it. The Guru Granth is supreme, because its Guru Sabad is the message of Akalpurkh in which all Sikhs have an unquestionable faith and depend upon it for every kind of guidance and solace. The Guru Panth as a whole, too, is dependent upon the Guru Granth to seek its advice and guidance in taking decisions on all kinds of Panthic and personal matters. This leads to the conclusion that the Guru Granth remains supreme and in control of all the matters related to Sikhism. The Guru Panth has its identity and entity because of its association and dependence upon the Guru Granth. The moment we move away from this preposition, the Guru Panth may appear to be a jumble of arrogant and obnoxious persons who will tamper with anything called Sikhism with impunity . Under such circumstances nothing would be heard of the Guru Panth, but a gathering of a few people, just like so many other organizations all around the world.
No other bani of any other granth can be equated with the gurbani of Guru Granth Sahib. The corollary of this is that the Guru Panth cannot add any bani from any other granth to the gurbani in Guru Granth Sahib. For a Sikh, the holiest of holy is only Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhs should not care for any other Granth or Book.
1. The Sikh Review, January 2003, p 21
2. Bhai Sahib Singh, Guru Granth Sahib Darpan, Raj Publishers, Jalandhar.
©Copyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2007, All
Designed by Jaswant (09915861422)