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2. The story of writing the Banno Bir
The traditional story of copying out the Banno Bir from the Granth of the 5th Guru is that the Guru entrusted to Bhai Banno the job of getting the Granth bound at Lahore, but, Bhai Banno on his way from Amritsar to Lahore, employed many copyists and copied the Granth into what now constitutes the Banno Bir. This is the version given by Giani Gian Singh.51 The story given by S.D. Bhalla in Mehma Parkash (1801 A.D.) is that Bhai Banno got permission to take it to his village Mangat, that he employed many persons to copy it; and halted at every half Kos. That while copying some words were wrongly written, and the Guru signed the Banno Granth on its return.52 Here it is necessary to point out that whereas Lahore is only 20 Kos from Amritsar, village Mangat (Distt. Gujrat, Pakistan) is still 100 Kos further ahead. Mangat being about 120 Kos from Amritsar, the journey would have taken about 8 months one way alone. Gurbilas Chevin Patshahi (1718 A.D.) records. that the Guru asked Banno to have the Bir bound at Lahore, that Bhai Banno got permission to take the Granth to his village for one night, that on way from Amritsar to Mangat, and Mangat to Lahore he employed many copyists to copy the Granth by the distribution of clusters of leaves among the scribes, and halted at a distance of one Kos every day. It is added that an extra material, as described earlier, was introduced in the Banno Bir.53 The Guru put his Nishan on it. This way the journey to Mangat and Lahore would have taken about 7 to 8 months. The fourth version given by Bhai Santokh Singh is that the completed Granth was taken to Mangat by Bhai Banno after taking permission for copying it and taking it to his village for one night, and that he halted at every 5 Kos on his journey. This way it should have taken Bhai Banno about 50 days to complete the journey.54
Dr. Sahib Singh who has considered in great detail the subject of the Banno story in his book, "Adi-Bir-Bare" has on very cogent grounds rejected all these stories to be unreliable and self-contradictory.55 The first version in not tenable for a number of reasons. Sahib Singh believes that it is impossible to imagine that the developed town of Amritsar, which had been there for some decades, had, at that time, no facility for the simple work of binding a book. Secondly, the story is contradicted by the factual position of the Banna Bir. Apart from the impossibility of copying out a voluminous Granth in just 4-5 days, we find that the Banna Bir has been written generally by one hand or at the most by a few hands not exceeding two or three. Second, the copyist has done the job very well Besides, the writing is such as to show that the copyist never wrote it in haste or under pressure of time.56 Third, for evident reasons the work of copying could have been done conveniently only during the outward journey when the Bir was unbound and in bunches which could be distributed among different scribes. As it happened in the Kartarpuri Bir, such a process would obviously leave gaps or blank spaces between different sections, Rags, etc. But this is not the position in the Banna Bir. Fourth, it is difficult to imagine that Bhai Gurdas who did the entire writing of the Granth would not be entrusted with the task of binding the Bir or would not even be associated with it. The other stories of Bhai Banno, having taken the Bir to his village and having spent on way 50 days to seven months to copy it out are even less plausible than the first one. Normally, Bhai Banno would not take the Bir to his village without first having got it bound; and having done that his taking the Bir to his village and keeping it away from the Amritsar for one month to seven months, is not a mere circumvention, but a clear flouting of the orders of the Guru to keep it for only one night at village Mangat. Such defiance on the part of a devoted Sikh of the expressed wishes and directions of the fifth Guru is really unthinkable. And, evidently in the case of a bound Bir the work of copying could not be done speedily. Here too, the character of writing as mentioned above goes against the story of copying from the original bound Bir on way to and from village Mangat. Fifth, it is impossible to believe, as asserted by the Banno family, that twelve copyists could be procured in those times of poor literacy to copy the Granth, written in Gurumukhi script either on way to and from or at village Mangat.
But, the greatest fact in destroying the credibility of the Mangat story is that it is unimaginable that after having prepared this monumental scripture of the Sikhs, the Guru should have entrusted it to Bhai Banno and then have remained unconcerned for one and half to sever. months about the safety or whereabouts of the scripture when the job of binding should normally have taken only a week or less; and that be should even not have deputed a person like Bhai Gurdas, or Bhai Budha to find out the cause of the serious delay during those disturbed days. According to Gurbilas Parshahi 6 the Guru was conscious of the insecure times and bad actually cautioned Bhai Banno not to stay out for long. Nor believable that Bhai Banno should have taken such liberties with the directions of the Guru as to delay the job of binding or copying the scripture for months together and to keep the entire Sangat and the Guru in suspense and anxiety, and, further, to have introduced in the copy flagrantly in violation of the tradition and the very object of preparing an authentic Bir, unauthorized material, including the unbelievably repugnant story of Raja Shivnabh. The story is that Guru Nanak on his visit to Raja Shivnabh expressed the wish to eat the flesh of the only son of the raja; that the queen and the king killed their son to prepare a meal for the Guru who was very pleased, restored the son to life again, and disappeared.57
Keeping in view the basic objective of the Guru, namely to authenticate the revealed Bani so as to avoid the least scriptural or doctrinal deviations, the scrupulous concern in the entire Sikh tradition for the meticulous maintenance of the correctness of the Bani, and the case of Ram Rai who was punished for the slight misquoting of a verse, it is unthinkable that the Guru would allow the very first copy of the scripture to be materially altered and put his Nishan on it as a measure of approval without the comparison with the original Bani. Nor is it credible that any Sikh at the very first opportunity to handle it should dare to flout those objectives and concerns while copying the scripture. The very fact that the Nishan of the Gurus stands pasted on this Bir shows that it was never authenticated or presented to him for the purpose.
Another fact that rules out the very possibility of the Banno story and the absence of the Bir from Amritsar for any period of time, much less for many months is that Bhai Gurdas completed the writing of the text on Sam at 1661 Bhadon Wadi Ekam. Both according to Gurubilas Chevin Patshahi and Bhai Santokh Singh the completed Bir was installed at the Harmandar Sahib on Samat Bhadon Sudi Ekam 1661.58 On a conservative estimate as believed by Sahib Singh and Harbhajan Singh, the completion of the Tatkara, after completion of the text on Bhadon Wadi Ekam, would have taken atleast about 10 to 12 days. The time distance between Bhadon Vadi Ekam and Bhadon Sudi Ekam being only about 14 days, the question of the Bir being taken out to Lahore or Mangat and copied before or after Bhadon Sudi Ekam Samat 1669 does not arise.59 As to the date of installation, it is since then being celebrated as a Gurpurb, and on that day of the year the Guru Granth is formally brought in a procession from Ramsar, where Bhai Gurdas wrote it, to Harmandir Sahib for installation there. As such, the entire Banno story becomes impossible, and self-contradictory and unbelievable. Dr. Sahib Singh has considered the point about the introduction of additional compositions in the Banno and other such Birs. His inference is that the character of the stories, the language, and their identity with some of the language and stories in Bhai Bala Janamsakhi show that it is the Hindalias or Nianjanis who are responsible for these later interpolations, and that even the change of some last leaves in the Banno Bir where these compositions appear, also suggests that finding. Therefore, the entire Banno story, or the propriety of the recording of these additional compositions in the Banno Granth or even there authenticity is a myth that cannot stand any serious scrutiny.
We do not say that the Bir of the Guru was not copied, but the question is when this was done. It is a fact that from the very start the Banno Bir was called ‘Khari’' or an unauthorized version, and not considered fit for scriptural use It is also not understandable why a devout Sikh who had been entrusted with the scripture should do almost the sacrilegious task of introducing superfluous writings, and that also at a time when he had been asked to go to Lahore for getting bound the original Bir, Would Bhai Gurdas or Bhai Budha have ever done that? And where and how he got hold of the unauthorized Bani on his way to Lahore and why did he do it? All these are, indeed, unanswered, questions and any plausible answers to them clearly demolish the Banno stories. These not only destroy each other but are also self-contadictory and impossible. On the other hand, the liklihood is that finding that their act of having introduced unauthorized Bani was being frowned upon by the Sikhs, they floated quite inconsistent and impossible stories to give some credibility to the Banno Bir.
51 Sahib Singh, op. cit, p. 124
52 Mehma Parkash, .op cit, pp. 372-373
53 Gurbilas Chhevln Patshahl. pp. 76-77
54 Sahib Singh. op. cit., pp. 130-132
56 Mahan Singh, Parm Pavitar Adi Bir da Sankalan Kal. pp. 54-57
57 Sahib Singh. op. cit, p. 205
58 ibid, pp. 119-121, 135
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