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So Said Guru Arjun Dev

A Review by Dr Madanjit Kaur

Author: Dr Harnam Singh Shan
Publisher: Information & Public Relation Dept, Govt of Punjab
Pages: 423; Price Rs.
Edition: 2006

The book under review has been published in commemoration of the 4th centenary of the Martyrdom of (1606-2006) of Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. The government of Punjab has already published three such anthologies prepared by Dr Harnam Singh Shan under the title - Five Hundred Thoughts of Guru Nanak, Sayings of Guru Gobind Singh and So Said Guru Angad Dev. All these volumes have been specially prepared commemorating historic events of the Sikh history to enable Sikh devotees and people in India and abroad to cherish the holy bani (hymns) of Sikh Gurus in corporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, (the scripture of the Sikhs) along with English translation of the original text in Gurmukhi in handy volumes. So Said Guru Arjun Dev is a welcome addition in this sphere.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib was compiled and edited by Guru Arjun Dev. After laying the foundation of the Hari Mandir (also called Darbar Sahib and Golden Temple), the central shrine of the Sikhs at Amritsar in 1589 AD, Guru Arjun Dev took the tremendous task of collecting, compiling and editing of the holy scripture of the Sikhs, Adi Granth (later named Sri Guru Granth Sahib). For this purpose, Guru Arjun Dev undertook to search genuine devotional hymns of his predecessor Gurus and compile these at one place; adding to them his own compositions. The aim was to prepare an authentic volume of the Sikh Gurus’ teachings in an accurate form with scientific editing, stamped with set musical measures (ragas) and numericals so that no interpolation could be attempted in the Saachi Bani for posterity. Besides predecessors and his own compositions, Guru Arjun also included selections from the devotional poetry of fifteen Hindu and Muslim saints, most of whom belonged to the so-called lower castes and untouchable classes from different regions, cultural and linguistic strains. The Adi Granth was completed and installed in the Harimandir at Amritsar in 1604 AD. Thus was created the first interfaith scripture of the world delivering the message of unity of God and unity of man seeking spiritual and social emancipation of mankind at the global level. The selection was based on the merit of the devotional Bhakti of the Supreme Reality without any sectarian binding and lyrical and living value of the message implied in the holy song for the welfare of the humanity. Out of the large store-house of hymns incorporated in the Adi Granth, Guru Arjun’s contribution was the largest and included some of the sublime pieces like Sukhmani (the Psalm of Peace) which, being free from any touch of sectarianism, has been a favourite reading with the non-Sikhs also ever since. The chief qualities of Guru Arjun Dev’s compositions are spiritual yearning, intellectual vigour, classical restraint and serenity of emotions arising from practical needs of life. There is in his hymns a still sad pang of noble soul for the suffering humanity, love, compassion and a lyrical cry coming from the very depth of the heart that has known suffering and had found peace and solace in the Divine Will even in adverse treatment inflicated upon him for calling rule of justice and fear of God in the mundane affairs by the cruel governance of the time. It is tranquility and poise behind which lies a tremendous struggle of virtuous human being with atrocities, pain and compulsions of human existence against evils and atrocities. The message of Guru Arjun’s bani lies in a tremendous human struggle and suffering ultimately culminating in victory. It explains Guru's mission to commence his journey on noble mission for martyrdom (30 May 1606 AD) at the order of the contemporary orthodox Sunni Mughal Emperor Jehangir, who considered mass popularity of Guru Arjun in Punjab (among the Hindus and even Muslims) as a great danger to the autocratic Mughal State. (Tuzak-i-Jehangiri, Memories of Jahangir stands testimony to this fact).

The creed of Guru Granth Sahib as preached by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, has been delineated in Guru Arjun’s bani as uncompromising monotheism, unattributed, transcendent and immanent of operating in the creation and preservation of the universe. Devotion to holy name (nam/sabad) is the root from which stems all virtues, Guru Arjun Dev’s bani also brooks the fear of God and applauds that devotion to the holy name is the greatest blessing which is possible only through the Grace (Mehar) of the Supreme Being, which is further related to Karma (good deeds) and comes in a inscrutable manner by the Divine Will (Hukam/Raza). The path to attain Divine Grace is hard yet possible for those who completely surrender themselves to Lord’s will. Devotion to the holy nam or sabad is the root from which stems liberation (Mukti/Parampad). There is no room for empty rituals and barren austerity. Sehaj Dhian and nam simran gets the central place in ethico-spiritual scheme prescribed by Guru Arjun Dev. The virtue of Sehaj basis itself on the awareness of duty in the world oppressed by evil. Beneficent humanitarian activity and ultimate attainment of liberation move hand in hand in the bani of Guru Arjun Dev. Guru Arjun Dev’s preaching lays stress on the notion that nam is the sole medium through which the Lord may be approached. Worship is due to Sabad which is Guru for the Sikhs. Guru Arjun’s bani militates against hypocrisy, casteism, ego, cruelty, hatred, injustice, and aims at preaching of unity of God and brotherhood of man. The Guru aspired for the establishment of a just social order for the welfare of humanity at the global level. His message is for all, without any consideration of caste, creed, gender, and cultural, linguistic or geographical barriers.

Guru Arjun proclaims that Divine Law Hukam is operative in every pain and pleasure of our life. The path of escape from suffering lies in resignation to the Divine Will. Men with faith in God can bear the suffering of life with equanimity. Guru Arjun’s bani also affirms that Divine Law and Grace of Lord will ultimately train and emancipate people from shackles of life. All these theological and philosophical thoughts of Guru Arjun are clearly evident from the So Said Guru Arjun Dev (text of Guru's hymns). The above explanation of the significance of Guru Arjun's bani justifies the choice of Dr Harnam Singh Shan to select this project. This noble cause has been admirably accomplished in a most appropriate manner.

The framework of the book has been designed comprehensively in five parts with a modern scientific approach. The aim and the purpose of the work have been defined in the Introduction. A detailed descriptive subject index has been recorded scientifically. The Bani of Guru Arjun Dev consisting of 647 hymns incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been translated into English. The translation text is followed by the original text in Gurmukhi with the corresponding page number of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the right hand margin. The numbering of hymns also follows the original pattern. The translation is preceded by a scholarly exposition of Guru Arjun bani in the Introduction by the translator. A glossary of important terms and keywords has been appended to facilitate the understanding of the text by the readers and scholars. An exhaustive Bibliography helps the reader not only to appreciate the expertise of the translation but also to make its use for further study on the subject.

Dr Harnam Singh Shan is a scholar of great repute and is highly acknowledged as authority in Sikh Studies in India and abroad. He has devoted his lifetime to the study of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Sikh History and Punjab Culture. His mastery over Indian and foreign languages, Gurmukhi, Hindi, Urdu, Persian and English and the subject matters is a great asset for his erudite scholarship. With his extraordinary brilliant academic career and highest degrees from reputed universities, Dr Shan has contributed maticulously in the field of Sikh religion, history, Punjabi literature and Punjabi culture and heritage. He is an institution in himself. With his scholarly writings and impressive participation in the national and international conferences on Sikh studies, Dr Shan has spread the message of Sikh Gurus in right perspective. We are deeply impressed with his understanding of Gurbani and quality of his translation. The Volume – So Said Guru Arjun Dev is a faithful poetic rendering close to the original, taking into account verbal nuances and the vision enshrined in it. Dr Shan has translated the original text with deftness of a master scholar skill. His verse has sufficient vigour to stir emotions to sensitive level. His linguistic mastery and scholarship combined with his familiarity and affinity with Gurbani make him a translator par-excellence. It is an accepted fact that, understanding and interpretation of the Scripture is a difficult job. Its philosophical and mystical vocabulary has to be interpreted with careful attention. The translator has to make special efforts to understand the message and meaning of its symbols and metaphysical language. We know that, although a part of the language, vocabulary, metaphors, symbols, signs and terminology used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is common with traditional mystic poetry of various cultural strains of medieval India, but we have to keep in mind that the usage of languages and terminology in Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been given a special orientation. It has a distinct cultural and religious connotation. The words used in medieval period of Punjab in the Punjabi language were different from what these are today. Moreover, the bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib being in poetry, its compact syntactic and linguistic structure has its own difficulties of comprehension. There is a special grammatical, musical and numerical system used in Gurbani and translator can only do his best if he understands Sikh teachings adequately. Dr Shan's deep involvement in the Sikh studies for more than six decades makes him fully skilled and equipped to accomplish the challenging job in a very satisfactory manner. The various aspects of Sikh philosophy intercepted in the bani of Guru Arjun have been classified successfully by the translator by using appropriate terminology, the message and matter of the hymns of Guru Arjun Dev have received equal importance in this translation. In choosing terminology, words, expression sings and symbols, the translator has used nearest aesthetic and linguistic equivalents, taking into consideration the Sikh theology, philosophy, ethics and ethos of the Sikh devotees, who daily recite Gurbani with full faith and adoration. Linguistically, the translator is sincere and accurate.

The Volume has been prepared and published with utmost care. Dr Harnam Singh Shan has done a laudable job for the benefit of the readers and scholars interested in the Sikh scripture and understanding Sikhism.

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