GURU GRANTH - A SCRIPTURE WITH A DIFFERENCE
Prithipal Singh Kapur
Guru Granth is well known in history as the holy book or scripture of Sikkhism. But it is not a scripture as commonly understood: ‘holy writings of a religion.’1 It is a vohuminous anthology of sacred verse by six of the ten Sikh Gurus and hymns of some Fifteen Hindu & Muslim Bhaktas, Sufis or holymen. It’s compilation in 1604 A. D. by Guru Arjan. the fifth Guru, made the year a landmark in the development and growth of Sikh religion. By this time, ‘the Sikhs had an authoritative line of the Gurus sacred script ‘Gurmukhi’ an organised religious community and a religious capital at Amritsar with it central shrine” Harimandir.2 The primary feature that lends uniqueness to the Guru Granth is authenticity of its contents and the variety of its contributors who came from different social and religious backgrounds; high & low Muslims & Hindus. Some of them are represented by only a verse or two and some voluminously like Kabir with over a thousand verses.3 This peculiar feature of the Guru Granth led Macauliffe to describe the Guru Granth “probally the most difficult work, sacred that exists and hence the general ignorance of its contents. “Another exclusivity that Guru Granth can rightly claim is that it defies the definiation that is usually given to religious scriptures viz. ‘Scriptures are meant to be quoted, not to be questioned or doubted’4 Guru Granth is treated by the followers of Sikh Faith as ‘Word incarnate, the embodiment and presence manifest or spirit of the ten historical Gurus (Nanak to Gobind Singh). Guru Granth commands reverence that was shown to the living Gurus. It remains at the centre of all Sikh usage & ceremony.5 The Sikhs had been told to rever the Bani or the revealed word right from the times of Guru Nanak who himself said:
“Vahu Vahu Bani Nirankar hai
Tis jevad avar na koe”
Hail hail the word of the Guru which is the Lord formless himself. There is nothing else to be reckoned equal to it. Guru Ram Das the fourth Guru says:
The Bani is the Guru
and the Guru is Bani
The finality of Guru Granth is a fact rich in religious & social implications of Sikh system. It remains the acknowledged medium of revelation descended through the Sikh Gurus. For the Sikhs it is the perptual authority, spiritual as well as historical.
The Sikh scripture does not contain any historical narrative (except a few references to the contemporary events in some of the hymns of the Gurus) or prose teachings as is found in the New Testament. The main thrust of the Bani of Guru Granth Sahib is the spiritual key . It is the poetry of pure devotion. But the doctrine that is enshrined in the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib is uncompromising monotheism and is enunciated right in the beginning in the Mool Mantra, at the head of Japuji. This daily prayer of a Sikh which he/she is also expected to memorize has been composed by Guru Nanak in rhymed verse and is not in accordance with the tune of a raga as is the case with the rest of Guru Granth . The Mool Mantra is a statement of affirmation of faith whose main burden is monotheism which means belief in one God. Guru Nanak’s monotheism presents God as indivisible with a fully universalised complexion. This is more apparent in his rejection of the doctrine of incarnation in totality:
Shiva, Brahma, Devis
All laud thee
shining in splendour
given by thee
Indira on his throne
sings praise at thy doors
( Japuji Pauri 27 )
The teachings enshirened in the Guru Granth systemetically proceed to explain that monotheism does not mean deification of God that will lead the individual to resort to idol worship or such other practices with a view to attain the favour of God/gods in a manner that would mean the negation of the established order of the universe which in the words of Guru Angad is the dwelling place of God Almighty himself.6 In this way the unity of God implies the sanctification of all relative existance.7 This is how the teachings enshrined in the Guru Granth reject, asceticism, celibacy, austerities, ritualisn & formalisum in totality. There is no palpable heaven or hell according to the Sikh belief. The idea of liberation in Sikhism differs from the idea of Mukti distinctly from the traditional Hindu concept. As compared to this, Jiwan-Mukt is the ideal of life set forth by the Sikh Gurus in Gurbani. This is not liberation after death. Such a liberation is achieved though a life dedicated to devotion :
Liberated is one who by love
of God is inspired
whose senses are under restraint
and who abides by discipline
And whoever on the Master’s word meditates;
such devotion to the lord is pleasing.
Guru Granth, 122 -
Rag Majh Ashtpadi 20
Mahila - III
For those practising Yoga and Severe austerities, Guru Nanak uses strong words to being out the futility of such practices vis-a-vis attainment of liberation:
Yoga lies not in the patched quilt nor in carrying a staff;
Yoga lies not in ear rings, nor in close cropping the head nor in blowing the horn. To abide undefiled amid.
Maya defilement, is the true way to attain success in Yoga Parxais. (Guru Granth, 730, Suhi Mahila I)
In the Sikh scheme of religion, outlined and explained in the Guru Granth, the seeker yearns to be bestowed with the grace of the Almighty Lord. He/She does not pray or meditate for the sake of material benefits. On the other hand it is game of complete surrender with a yearning to be endowed with such a grace as to enable him/her to tread the righteous path within the orbit of His Hukam or Raza. This is complete surrender before the will of the Lord which remains key to what can be termed as path of salvation in the Sikh religious system.
We draw heavily from Bani of the Gurus while trying to decipher the teachings ensrined in the Guru Granth. But we have to remember that the corpus of the Bani of the Bhaktas and Muslim Sufi holymen is equally relevant in this exercise. Guru Nanak’s pronouncement: “ There is no Hindu, no Musalman” is well illustrated in Kabir Bani. One can safely conclude that Kabir defies all attempts of beings labelled either as a Hindu or a Muslim.8 Such is the powerful dissent and insightful discourses contained in his Bani that legends or myths were floated by Brahminical people that Kabir was born of a Brahmin widow to show as to all wisdom belonged to the Brahmins. Even doubts were cast about the marriage & parentage of Kabir. This was to uphold the relevance of asceticism in the religious scheme. It is interesting to come across a tradition that even the Qazi was reticent to announce the word from the Quran that gave name Kabir to the child of a poor weaver because it meant ‘most exalted’ in the Arabic Language.9 Likewise Ravi Das the cobbler saint dared the Brahmins by addressing God:
“When I am Thou and Thou art me
then where is the difference’
Here Ravidasa in fact ehoes the words of Guru Arjan :
ijn k ipAws qumwrI pRIqm iqn kau AMqr nwhI
Interestingly four Shabdas and 112 slokas of Farid, the Sufi founder of famous Chisti order in India, find place in the Guru Granth. He is known to be a devout preacher of Islam. This fact did not deter Guru Arjan to include the Bani of Farid in the Guru Granth. In fact the motive seems to have been to initiate a spiritual dialogue that could further the idea of co-existence, toleration, equality and universal concept of religious living. Farid is known to have written in a vein that represents vairyagya or tauba in Indian and Sufi terminologies respectively. Guru Arjan appended a hymn of Guru Nanak alongside Farids’ hymn which appeared to view the future of human soul in a pessimistic light. In the Slokas too, we find a Saloka by Guru Amar Dass serving as a corrective to another averment by Farid.10 Although major concern of the Guru Granth remain spiritual, but its contributors have expressed equal concern for quality of life in it’s totality. The social economic or even political matters have not escaped the scrutiny of the Gurus as well as the Bhaktas. The Gurus delve deep into the doctrinal matters and visualise a world wherein equality and monotheism are absolute so as to obviate social strife and religious fundamentalist tendencies that surface because of emphasis on formalism, ritualism, priestly hegemony and caste hierarchy. In the Guru Granth, the Bhaktas carry on their forceful tirade against Brahminism in a practical way but in no way ignoring the spiritual concerns.
It will be unfair to miss an important postulate of the teachings of the Guru Granth i. e. the significance of the preceptor. In Gurmat, as the teachings of the Granth are referred to in the Sikh terminology, the Guru is no ordinary mortal like any of the professed heads of the so-called numerous sampardayas. He is an inspired being, completely attuned to the Supreme Being, Akal (who is beyond time & space) and is identical with him. But that has not to be misconstrued as man worship. As in case of identification of Guru Bani or Shabad with God, the Guru has to be reverenced for his divinely experience.11 The designation of the Granth - the repository of divine knowledge - as Guru in the Sikh system is to be seen in this perspective. The unique ness of the teachings enshrined in the Guru Granth has also to be viewed with regard to the fusion of the temporal & the spiritual elements and presentation of God as transcendant as well as immanent in relation to the mundane world thereby providing an opportunity to all human beings to self realisation in order to attain union with God.12
The message of Guru Granth Sahib can best be described in the words of Professor Puran Singh “Man is one. There is no such thing as Hindu, Muslman, Sikh or Christan, eastern or western Man is Man and Man is one.”13 In other words an adherent of Sikhism and follower of the teaching of Guru Granth is the product of Universal Love and Compassion of God. By his very birth, he remains a citizen of the world.
Notes & References
1. Cambridge International Dictionary of English, 1273, Cambridge University Press 1996 (Low Priced Edition).
2. Loehlin C.H., The Sikhs an Their Scriptures, 29, Lucknow Publishing House, Lucknow 1953.
3. Ibid, 30.
4. Kulandai Swamy V. C., The Immortal Kural 4, Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi; 1994.
5. Harbans Singh (Ed.) Encyclopaedia of Sikhism Vol.IV 239, (Punajbi University, Patiala).
6. Shashi Bala, The concept of monothilism, a Comparative Study of Major Religious Scriptures, 62, ABS Publications, Jalandhar,1993.
7. Sethi V. R. Kabir: The weaver of God’s name, 6-8, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1984.
9) For details see Giani Gurdit Singh, Itihas Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 340 - 356. Sikh Sahit Sansthan, Chandigarh, 1990.
10. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (English Translation), G.S. Talib Introduction, XCV, Punjabi University, Patiala 1984.
11. Sashi Bala, The Concept of Monotheism 189. op. cit.
12. Here the world Man refers to humanity, Puran Singh, The Spirit Born People, 117, Languages Department, Punjab, Patiala, 1970.