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  Gur Panth Parkash
Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh







The Guru Granth Sahib-some of the variations on the tide being Adi Granth, Sri Adi Granth or Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib- is the religious Scripture of the Sikhs as well as Guru eternal for them. The basic word in the expressions listed is granth meaning a book, sahib and sri being honorifics, guru indicating its status as successor in the Guruship after Guru Gobind Singh and adi, literally original, first or primary, distinguishing it from the other sacred book of the Sikhs, the Dasam Granth, which contains the poetic compositions of the  Tenth (Dasam) Guru.

The Guru Granth Sahib is an anthology of the sacred compositions of the Gurus and of some of the medieval Indian saints. The latter came from a variety of class and creedal  background-Hindu as well as Muslim, high-caste as well as low-caste. One criterion for choosing their verse for the Guru Granth Sahib apparently was its tone of harmony with the teaching of the Gurus. The anthology was prepared by Guru Arjun, the Fifth Guru, in 1603- 4. To it were added by Guru Gobind Singh, the compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Guru.

Even before the time of Guru Arjun, pothis or books in Gurmukhi characters, existed containing the holy utterances of the Gurus. A line in Bhai Gurdas, Var I. 32, suggests that Guru Nanak during his travels carried under his arm, a book evidently comprising his own compositions. According to the Puratanjanamsakhi, he handed over such a manuscript to Guru Angad as he passed on the spiritual office to him. Two of the collections of hymns or pothis prior to the Guru Granth are still extant. They are in the possession of the descendants of Guru Amar Das. One of the families in. the line lives in Patiala and the potbi it has inherited, is on view for the devotees in their home on the morning of the full-moon day every month. A collateral family which is in possession of the second potbi lives in the village of Darapur, in Hoshiarpur district of the Punjab.

The bani, or word revealed, was held in great veneration by the Sikhs even before the Holy Volume was compiled. It was equated with the Guru himself. “The bani is the Guru and the Guru bani”, sang Guru Ram Das in Raga Nat Narain. The bani echoed the Divine Truth, it was the voice of God - “the Lord’s own word”, as said Guru Nanak in the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Amar Das says:

vabu, vahu bani nirankar hai
tis jevad avar na koe

Hail, Hail, the word of the Guru, which is the Lord Formless Himself, There is none other, nothing else to be reckoned equal to it.

The compilation of the Holy Book, a momentous event in Sikh history, is generally described in the briefest terms. The Sacred Volume was prepared by Guru Arjun (A.D. 1563- 1606) and the first copy was calligraphed by Bhai Gurdas 0551-1636) at his dictation - this is all we learn from most of the sources. What amount of planning, minute attention to detail and diligent and meticulous work it involved, is slurred over. An old text which gives some detailed information is the Gurbilas Chhevin Patshahi. Written in A.D. 1718, this, in fact, is the oldest source. Although it does not go into the technical and literary minutiae, it narrates the entire process from the beginning of the transcription of the Holy Volume to its installation -in the newly-built Harimandir at Amritsar.

Why Guru Arjun undertook the task is variously explained. One commonly accepted assumption is that the codification of the Guru’s compositions into an authorized volume was begun by him with a view to preserving them from garbling by schismatic groups and others. According to the Mahima Prakash (A.D. 1776), he set to work with the announcement: “As the panth (Community) has been revealed unto the world, so must there be the Granth (Book), too.” By accumulating the canon, Guru Arjun wished to affix the seal on the sacred word. It was also to be the perennial fountain of inspiration and the means of self-perpetuation for the community.

Guru Arjun called Bhai Gurdas to his presence and expressed to him the wish that the compositions of the Gurus as well as those of some of the saints and sufis be collected. Messages were sent to the disciples to gather and transmit to him the hymns of his predecessors.

Baba Mohan, son of Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, had manuscript collections of the Gurus’ hymns inherited from his father. Bhai Gurdas travelled to Goindwal to bring these pothis, but the owner refused to see him; Bhai Buddha, one of the oldest Sikhs from Guru Nanak’s days, was similarly turned away from his door. Then Guru Arjun went himself. He sat in the street below Mohan’s attic serenading him on his tambura. Mohan was disarmed to hear the hymn. He came downstairs with the pothis and presented these to the Guru. As says the Gurbilas, the pothis were placed on a palanquin bedecked with precious stones. The Sikhs carried it on their shoulders and Guru Arjun walked behind barefoot. He refused to ride his horse, saying that the pothis were the very spirit, the very light of the four Gurus-his predecessors.

The cavalcade broke journey at Khadur Sahib to make obeisance at shrines sacred to Guru Angad. Two kos from Amritsar, it was received by Hargobind, Guru Arjun’s young son, accompanied by a large number of Sikhs. He bowed at his father’s feet and showered petals in front of the pothis. Guru Arjun, Hargobind, Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Buddha now bore the palanquin on their shoulders and marched towards Amritsar, led by musicians with flutes and drums. Reaching Amritsar, Guru Arjun first went to the Harimandir to offer karahprasad in gratefulness.

To quote the Gurbilas again, an attractive spot in the thick of a forest on the outskirts of Amritsar, was marked out by Guru Arjun. So dense was the foliage that not even a moonbeam could pry into it. The site was peaceful and picturesque. A tent was hoisted in this idyllic setting. Here Guru Arjun and Bhai Gurdas started work on the sacred volume. The making of the Granth was no easy task. It involved sustained labour and a rigorous intellectual discipline. Selections had to be made from a vast amount of material. Besides the compositions of the four preceding Gurus and of Guru Arjun who himself was a poet with a rare spiritual insight, there were songs and hymns by saints, both Hindu and Muslim. What was genuine had to be sifted from what was counterfeit. Then the selected material had to be assigned to appropriate musical measures and transcribed in a minutely laid out order.

Guru Arjun carried out the work with extraordinary exactness. He arranged the hymns in thirty different ragas, or musical patterns. A precise method was followed in setting down the compositions. First came sabdas by the Gurus in the order of their succession. Then came chhands, vars, and other poetic forms in a set order. The compositions of the Gurus in each raga were followed by those of the Bhaktas in the same format. Gurmukhi was the script used for the transcription. According to Bhai Gurdas’ testimony, the text had been transcribed by Bhadon Vadi Ekam 1661 BK. At the head of the index he recorded: “Sammat 1661 miti bhadon vadi ekam pothi likh pahuche, i.e. on Bhadon Vadi Ekam 1661 he had reached this spot where the index was to begin after completing the writing of the book.” The index, giving the opening words of each sabda or hymn and pagination, is itself a marvel of scholarly fastidiousness. A genius, unique in spiritual intuition and not unconcerned with methodological design, had created a scripture with an exalted mystical tone and a high degree of organization. It was large in sizenearly 7,000 hymns, comprising compositions of the first five Sikh Gurus and fifteen bhaktas and sufis from different parts of India, including Shaikh Farid, Kabir and Ravidas. The Sacred Volume consisted of 974 leaves, or 1948 pages, 12" x 8", with several blank ones at the end of a raga when there were not sabdas enough to fill the section assigned to it. The site of these marvellous labours is now marked by a shrine called Ramsar.

The completion of the Granth Sahib was, says the Gurbilas, celebrated with much jubilation. In thanksgiving, karahprasad was prepared in huge quantities. Sikhs came in large numbers to see the Holy Book. They were rejoiced in their hearts by a sight of it and bowed before it in veneration. Among the visitors was Bhai Banno who had led a group of Sikhs from Mangat, in western Punjab. Guru Arjun who knew him as a devoted Sikh, instructed him to go to Lahore and have the book bound. Banno sought the Guru’s permission to be allowed to take the Granth Sahib first to Mangat for the Sikhs there to see it. The Guru allowed this, but enjoined him not to tarry at Mangat, or at any other place, more than a night.

As Banno left Amritsar with his sacred charge, it occurred to him to have a second copy transcribed. The first copy, he argued, would remain with the Guru. There must be an additional one for the sangat. The Guru’s direction was that he should not stay longer than one night at a place, but he had said nothing about the time to be spent on the journey. So he proceeded with his plans and’ sent a Sikh to purchase paper. He proposed to his companions that they should travel by easy marches of five miles a day. The time thus saved was utilized in transcribing the holy text. Sikhs wrote with love and devotion and nobody shirked his duty whether it was day or night. By the time they reached .Lahore, the second copy was ready. But Banno had added to it some apocryphal texts. He had both volumes bound and returned to Amritsar as fast as he could.

At Amritsar, he was received with due ceremony, though Guru Arjun was not a little surprised to see two volumes instead of one. Bhai Banno spoke truthfully: “Lord, there is nothing that is hidden from you. This second copy I have had made for the sake of the sangat.” But the Guru accepted only the volume written in Bhai Gurdas’s hand. He enjoined the Sikhs to own the Granth equal with the Guru and make no distinction between the two. “He who would wish to see the Guru, let him see the Granth. He who would seek the Guru’s word, let him read the Granth with love and attention.

Guru Arjun asked the Sikhs where the Granth Sahib be installed. Bhai Buddha spoke, “You are omniscient, Master. But there is no place more suitable than the Harimandir.” “The Guru was happy to hear these words “like one who has sighted the new moon.” He then recited the praise of the Harimandir: “There is nothing like it in all the world. Harimandir. Harimandir is like the ship-the means for the people to cross over the worldly ocean triumphantly. A new joy pervades here every day. A sight of it annuls all sins.”

It was decided to spend the night at Ramsar and return to Amritsar the next morning. The Granth Sahib rested on a seat under the canopy, whereas the Guru and the Sikhs slept on the ground. A disciple had to be chosen to take charge of the Granth Sahib. As says the Gurbilas, Guru Arjun lay awake through the night reflecting on the question. His choice finally fell on Bhai Buddha whose devotion was universally applauded. As they awoke, the  Guru and his Sikhs made ablutions in Ramsar. The former thereupon practised his wonted meditation. At dawn, the entire sangat marched towards Harimandir. Bhai Buddha carried the Holy Book on his head and Guru Arjun walked behind swinging the flywhisk over it. Musicians sang sabdas. Thus they reached the Harimandir.

The Granth Sahib was ceremonially installed in the centre of the inner sanctuary on Bhadon Sudi 1, 1661 BK/August 16, 1604. Bhai Buddha opened it with reverence to obtain from it the divine command, as Guru Arjun stood in attendance behind. The following hymn was read as God’s own pronouncement for the occasion: He Himself hath succoured his saints in their work, He Himself hath come to see their task fulfilled. Blessed is the earth, blessed the tank, Blessed is the tank with amrit filled. Amrit over floweth the tank: He hath had the task completed. Eternal is the Perfect Being, His praises Vedas and Puranas sing. The Creator hath bestowed on me the nine treasures, and all the chrisms, No lack do I suffer now. Enjoying His largesse, bliss have I attained. Ever-expanding is the Lord’s bounty.

Guru Arjun directed that during daytime the Holy Book should remain in the Harimandir and by night, after the Sohila was read, it should be taken to the room he had built for himself in Guru-ka-Mahal. As evening advanced by two watches, Bhai Buddha recited Sohila and made the concluding ardas or supplication. The Granth Sahib was closed and wrapped in silks. Bhai Buddha held it on his head and marched towards the chamber indicated by Guru Arjun. The Guru led the sangat singing hymns. The Granth Sahib was placed on the appointed seat, and the Guru slept on the ground by its side. Daily in the small hours of the morning as the stars twinkle in the pool below, the Holy Book is taken out in state to the Harimandir and brought by night to rest-now, in a room at the Akal Takht. The practice continues to this day. But the volume is not the same. That original copy was taken to Kartarpur when Guru Arjun’s successor, Guru Hargobind, left Amritsar in 1634.

There it passed into the possession of his grandson, Dhir Mall. It has since remained in that family.
In the Sikh system, the word Gum is used only for the ten prophet preceptors — Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, and for none other. Now this office of Guru is fulfilled by the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sacred Book, which was so apotheosized by the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, before he passed away in 1708. No living person, however holy or revered, can have the title or status of Guru. For Sikhs, Guru is the holy teacher, the prophet under direct commission from God-the Ten who have been and the Guru Granth Sahib which is their continuing visible manifestation.

Guru Gobind Singh manifested the Khalsa in 1699. In 1708, he supplied another permanent-and final-feature in the evolution of the Sikh faith when he installed the Holy Scripture as Guru. This is how the Bhatt Vahi Talauda parganah find describes the event:

Guru Gobind Singh mahall dasman beta Guru Tegh Bahdur ka pota Guru Hargobindji ka parpota Guru Arjunji ka bans Guru Ram Das ji ki Surajbansi Gosal gotra Sodhi Khatri basi Anandpur parganah Kahlur muqam Nander tat Godavari des dakkhan sammat satran sai painsath Kartik mas ki chauth shukla pakkhe budhvar ke dihun Bhai Daya Singh se bachan hoya Sri Granth Sahib lai ao bachan pai Daya Singh Sri Granth  Sahib lai ay Gumji ne panch paise narial age bheta rakha matha teka sarbatt sangat se kaha mera hukam hai meri jagah Sri Granthji ko janana jo Sikh janega lis ki ghal thaen paegi Guru tis ki bahuri karega sat kar manana.

Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master, son of Guru Tegh Bahdur, grandson of Guru Hargobind, greatgrandson of Guru Arjun, of the family of Guru Ram Das, Surajbansi Gosal clan, Sodhi Khatri, resident of Anandpur, parganah Kahlur, now at Nanded, on the Godavari bank in the Deccan, asked Bhai Daya Singh, on Wednesday, Shukla chauth of the month of Katik, 1765 BK (October 6, 1708) to fetch the Sri Granth Sahib. The Guru placed before it five pice and a coconut and bowed his head before it. He said to the sangat, “It is my commandment: Own Sri Granth ji in my place. He who so acknowledges it will obtain his reward. The Guru will rescue him. Know this as the truth.”

According to Giani Garja Singh to whom we owe the discovery of this entry, the author was Narbud Singh Bhatt, who was with Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded at that time.

Bhatt Vahis are a new source of information discovered by Giani Garja Singh 0904-77), a dogged searcher for materials on Sikh history. The Bhatts were hereditary panegyrists, genealogists or family bards. (A group of them were introduced to Guru Arjun by Bhatt Bhikkha who himself had become a disciple in the time of Guru Amar Das. According to Bhai Gurdas, Var XI. 21, and Bhai Mani Singh Sikkhan di Bhagatmala, he had earlier visited Guru Arjun with the sangat of Sultanpur Lodhi). Those of them who came into the Sikh fold composed hymns in honour of the Gurus which were entered in the Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjun.

These Bhatts also recorded events of the lives of the Gurus and of the members of their families in their scrolls called vahis. Some of these vahis are preserved to this day in the descendant families, especially at the village of Karsindhu, in Jind district of Haryana. The script in which they are written is called bhatakshri- a kind of family code like lande and mahajani. The only known scholar to have worked with these materials was Giani Garja Singh.

Apart from this new testimony culled by Giani Garja Singh from the Bhatt Vahis, another contemporary document which authenticates the fact of Guru Granth Sahib having been invested with the final authority, is a letter issued by reference of Guru Gobind Singh’s wife, Mata Sundariji. To quote from the original, which is now in the possession of Bhai Chet Singh, of the village of Bhai Rupa, in present day Bhatinda district, to whose ancestors it was addressed:

Ikk Oankar Wahguru ji ki fateh. Sri Akal purkhji ka Khalsa yak rang jina dithia Wahguru ji chit avai. Bhai Sahib Dan Singh ji, Bhai Duni Singh ji, Bhai Jagat Singh ji, Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh ji, Ugar Singh ji, Bhai Ram Singh ji, sarbatt Khalsa Wahguru Akal – purkh ji ka pase likhtam gulam Khalsa ji ka Kahn Singh, Nival Singh, Mul Singh ji, Sujan Singh, Gaja Singh, Mahan Singh sarbatt Khalsa, Wahguru Akal purkh ka Wahguru ji ki fateh vachani khusha karma ki Wahguru Akal purkh ji har dam chit avai sukh hoe Khalse ji ka bol bala hoi ardas tusadi maifat Bhai Dulcha Singh ke hath pahuti parhkai Khalsa ji bahut khuswaqat hoiya tusade bab Khalsaji dayal ho kai hath jore hai jo rakhya hove. ‘Jo jan harika sevako hari tiske kami “, Guru Guru japna Wahguru ang sang hai fajal karkai rakhia hovegi Khalsaji Bhai Kahn Singhji kau Mata Sahibji ne gumastgiri Amritsar ji ki mukarar kiti hai Khalsaji ne gurmata karke HarimanrJ,ir ate bagh di murammat imarat ka kam shuru kita hai, Sri Mata Sahibji ne likha hai ke Wahguru Akalpurkh ji ki nagari hai langar jarur karna Khalsa Sri Wahguru ji ka suchet bibek budh chahie jo sivai Akalpurkh duje no janai nahi. Dasam patshahian tak jamai paidhe yarvin barvin Banda Chaubanda Ajita vagaire te aitkad lai avana hatiya hai. Hor hatiya Guru japan nal dur hosan, par ih hatiya gunah bakhshiaiga nahi jo manmukh ke jame upar aitkad karenge. ‘Mukh (mohi) pheriai mukh (mohi) jutha hoi.’ Khalsa ji tusan sivai Akal duje no mannana nahi. Sabad dasvin patshahi tak khojna. “Sabad khoji ihu gharu lahai Nanak taka dasu. Guru ka nivas sabad vich hai. “Guru mahi ap samoi sabad vartaiya.” jian andar jiu sabad hai jit sahu milava hoi. Wahguru ji ki fateh. Bhai Mehar Singh tahlia Bhai Bule ke pattar ke khasmane vich rahina Guru nal gandh paisi. Ikk Oankar Wahiguru ji ki Fateh

The Khalsa, of the Timeless Himself, immersed in the One, and whose sight brings Wahiguru to mind. Addressed to Bhai Sahib Dan Singh ji, Bhai Duni Singh ji, Bhai Jagat Singh ji, Bhai Gurbaksh Singh ji, Ugar Singh ji, Bhai Ram Singh ji, the entire Khalsa of Wahiguru, the Timeless One. From the slaves of the Khalsa ji, Kahn Singh ji, Nival Singh ji, Mul Singh ji, Sujan Singh, Gaja Singh, Maha Singh Wahiguru ji ki Fateh to the entire Khalsa. May you be rejoiced in constant remembrance of the Timeless Wahiguru. May prosperity prevail; may supremacy belong to the Khalsa. Having received your missive through Bhai Dulcha Singh, Khalsa ji is highly pleased. Khalsa ji happily prays with folded hands for your security. “He who to Lord surrenders himself, his affairs the Lord will set to rights.” Repeat always the name of Guru. Wahiguru is by your side. He will extend to you His grace and protection. Khalsa ji, Mata Sahib ji has appointed Bhai Kahn Singh ji to the superintendence of Amritsar ji. The Khalsa ji, through a gurmata, has taken in hand the construction and repair of the Harimandir and the garden. Sri Mata Sahibji has written that langar must be run in that place which is the abode of God Himself..... Wahiguru’s Khalsa must always be alert, possessed of discriminating wisdom. The Khalsa must believe in none other than the Timeless One. There have been only Ten Masters in human form; to believe in the eleventh and twelfth, Banda [Banda Singh Bahadur], Ajita [Ajit Singh, adopted son of Mata Sundari ji], etc. is a mortal sin. Every other sin can be got cancelled by repeating the Guru’s name, but this sin of believing in human form will not be remitted. “The faces turned away from the Guru are faces perverted.” Khalsa ji, you must believe in none other except the Timeless One. Go only to the Ten Gurus in search of the Word. “Nanak is the slave of him who by seeking the Lord’s name obtains his goal.” The Guru resides in sabda. “The Lord hath merged His own Self in the Guru through whom He hath revealed His Word.” “The Word is the life of all life, for, through it, one experiences God.” Victory to the Lord. Bhai Mehar Singh, the messenger, son of Bhai Bula; keep the letter secure in your custody. You will gain the Guru’s favour.

From this letter it is clear how the Sikhs after Guru Gobind Singh believed that the Guruship had passed to the sabda, i.e. the Word as contained in the Guru Granth Sahib. None in the human form after the Ten Gurus was to be acknowledged by the Sikhs as Guru. Those who, like some of Banda Singh’s or Ajit Singh’s followers, called their leaders Gurus were committing a mortal sin. All their sins, says the letter, could be forgiven by repeating the Guru’s name, but not the sin of believing in a living Guru after the Ten Masters of the Sikh faith. Several other old Sikh documents also attest the fact of succession having been passed on by Guru Gobind Singh to the Guru Granth Sahib. For instance, the Rahitnama by Bhai Nand Lal, one of Guru Gobind Singh’s disciples, remembered to this day for his Persian poetry in honour of the Gurus. In his Rahitnama, or code of conduct, Bhai Nand. Lal, who was at Nanded in the camp of Emperor Bahadur Shah as one of his ministers at the time of Guru Gobind Singh’s passing away, thus records his last words in his punjabi verse:

He who would wish to see the Guru, Let him come and see the Granth. He who would wish to speak with him, Let him read and reflect upon what says the Granth. He who would wish to hear his word, He should with all his heart read the granth, or listen to the Granth being read.

Another of Guru Gobind Singh’s disciples and associates, Bhai Prahlad Singh, records in his Rahitnama the Guru’s commandment: By the word of the Timeless One, Has the Khalsa been manifested. This is my commandment for all of my Sikhs, Thou shalt acknowledge Granth as the Guru. In Gurbilas Patsbabi 10 (author Koer Singh; the year of writing 1751), Guru Gobind Singh is quoted as saying:

This is no more the age for a personal Guru to be anointed. I shall not place the mark on anyone’s forehead All sangat is owned as Khalsa now, under the shelter of the Almighty Himself, They are now to the Word attached. He who believes is the Sikh par excellence. On the Guru Granth should he put his reliance, To none else should he direct his adoration. All his wishes the Guru will bring to fulfilment, This he should believe, Casting away all dubiety.

Another authority that may relevantly be quoted is Devaraja Sharma’s Nanakacandrodayamabakavyam, an old Sanskrit manuscript which has recently been published by Sanskrit University, Varanasi. It records Guru Gobind Singh’s proclamation that the Scripture would be the Guru after him. “While the Master lay on his deathbed, Nand Lal (?) came forward and asked the following question: ‘Who shall be our teacher now? Whom shall we salute and see and what shall be the object of our discourses ?’ The Master replied, ‘The Granth, which itself is the doctrine of the Gurus, shall be your teacher. This is what you should see; this is what you should honour; this is what should be the object of your discourses.’” The original, in Sanskrit, reads as follows:
Nandalalas tadaprecbat ko asmakam adbuna gurub kam namena ca pasyema kasmai varta vadema ca uce gurusty yusmakam grantba eva gurumatab tam nameta ca pasyeta tasmai varta vedata ca. (Nanakacandrodayamabakavyam, XXI, 227-229) This point has been laboured somewhat lengthily for the reason that cavil is sometimes raised. Certain cults among Sikhs still owning personal Gurus ask for authentic evidence to the effect that Guru Gobind Singh had named the Guru Granth Sahib his successor. No archival testimony can be presented, unless the Bhatt Vahi entry be included in that category. But evidence bequeathed through tradition written as well as oral-supports this fact. This is what has come down through Sikh memory. Had there been the 11th Guru, the name could not have been effaced from the pages of history. Guru Gobind Singh brought to an end the line of personal Gurus and declared the Holy Word Guru after him.

Alongwith the Guru Granth Sahib, the Khalsa was now the person visible of the Guru. The word Kbalsa is derived from the Arabic Khalis, meaning pure or pious. Guru Gobind Singh used the term in its symbolic and technical sense. In official terminology, Khalsa in Mughal days meant lands or territory directly under the king. Crown-land was known as Khalsa land. As says a contemporary poet, Bhai Gurdas 11, Guru Gobind Singh converted the sangat into Khalsa. Sikhs were the Guru’s Khalsa, i.e. directly his own, without any intermediary or local sangat leaders. On that point, we have the evidence of Sri Gur Sobha by Sainapat, a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh, and Guru Gobind Singh’s own hukamnamas. To quote from the former:

A day preceding the event [i.e. passing of Guru Gobind Singh], The Sikhs gathered together And began to ask: “What body will the lord now take?” The Guru at that moment spoke: “In the Khalsa wilt thou see me; “With the Khalsa is my sole concern: “My physical form have I bestowed upon the Khalsa.”

Guru Gobind Singh, in his hukamnama issued on Phagun 4, 1765 BK/ February 1, 1700, to the sangat of Pattan Farid, modem Pakpattan, refers to the sangat as “his own Khalsa.” Hukamnamas are letters written by the Gurus to sangats in different parts of the country. Some of them have been traced in recent years and two collections were published in 1967 — one by Dr. Ganda Singh (Punjabi University, Patiala) and the second by Shamsher Singh Ashok (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar). Most of the hukamnamas are common to both anthologies. These hukamnamas are another valuable source of information on the lives of the Gurus and on the Sikh communities forming in far-flung places.

That the Guru Granth is Guru Eternal for it has been the understanding and conviction of the Sikh community since the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh. In their hard, exilic days soon afterwards when they were outlawed and had to seek the safety of the hills and jungles, the Sikhs’ most precious possession which they cherished and defended at the cost of their lives, was the Guru Granth. The Holy Book was their sole religious reference, and they acknowledged none other. In the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who established sovereignty in the name of the Khalsa, personal piety and court ceremonial centered upon the Guru Granth Sahib. As contemporary records testify, Ranjit Singh began his day by making obeisance to the Guru Granth Sahib. On festive occasions, he made pilgrimage to Amritsar to bow before the Guru Granth Sahib in the Harimandir. For the Sikhs in general, Guru Granth Sahib was the only focus of religious attachment. None other existed otherwise, in either human form or symbolically. In all Sikh literature after Guru Gobind Singh, the Holy Book is uniformly referred to as Guru Granth.

The personal Guruship was ended by Guru Gobind Singh himself. Succession passed to the Guru Granth Sahib in perpetuity. This was a most significant development in the history of the community. The finality of the Holy Book was a fact rich in religious and social implications. The Guru Granth became Guru and received divine honours. It was acknowledged the medium of the revelation descended through the Gurus. It was for the Sikhs the perpetual authority, spiritual as well as historical. They lived their religion in response to it. Through it, they were able to observe their faith more fully, more vividly. It was central to all that subsequently happened in Sikh life. It was the, source of their verbal tradition and it shaped their intellectual and cultural environment. It moulded the Sikh concept of life. From it the community’s ideals, institutions and rituals derived their meaning. Its role in guaranteeing the community’s integration and permanence and in determining the course of its history has been crucial.

The Word enshrined in the Holy Book was always revered by the Gurus as well as by their disciples as of Divine origin. The Guru was the revealer of the Word. One day the Word was to take the place of the Guru. The line of personal Gurus could not have continued for ever. The inevitable came to pass when Guru Gobind Singh declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be his successor. It was only through the Word that the Guruship could be’ made everlasting. This object Guru Gobind Singh intuitively secured when he pronounced Guru Granth Sahib to be Guru after him. The Guru Granth Sahib was henceforthfor all time to come - the Guru for the Sikhs.

Since the day Guru Gobind Singh vested succession in it, the Guru Granth has commanded the same honour and reverence as would be due to the Guru himself. It is the focal point of Sikhs’ devotion. The object of veneration in Sikh gurdwaras is the Guru Granth Sahib. Gurdwara is in fact that place of worship wherein the Guru Granth is seated. No images or  idols are permitted inside a gurdwara. The Holy Volume is opened ceremonially in the early hours of the morning after ardas or supplication. It must be enthroned, draped in silk or other pieces of clean cloth, on a high seat on a pedestal, under a canopy. The congregation takes place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, with the officiant, who could be anyone from among those present, sitting in attendance, with a chavar or whisk in his hand which he keeps swinging over it in veneration. The singing of hymns by a group of musicians will go on. All the time devotees have been coming and bowing low to the ground before the Holy Book to pay homage and taking their seats on the ground in front. The officiant or any other learned person who will take his place behind the Guru Granth Sahib, will read out a hymn and expound it for the audience. At the end of the service, the audience will stand up in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, with hands folded in front in reverence and one of them leading the ardas or prayer. At the end of the evening service the Holy Book will be closed, again after a short prayer, and put to rest for the night. The Guru Granth Sahib is similarly kept in some Sikh homes, where a separate room is set apart for it. It is opened in the morning and put to rest in the evening in the same style and manner. Before starting the day’s work, men and women will go into the room where the Guru Granth has been ceremonially installed, say a prayer in front of it and open the book at random and read the first hymn which meets the eye to obtain what is called vak or the day’s lesson or order (hukm). Breviaries contain stipulated banis from the Guru Granth which constitute the daily offices and prayers of a Sikh.

A very beautiful custom is that of akhand path or uninterrupted recital of the Guru Granth Sahib from beginning to end. Such a recital must be completed within 48 hours. The entire Guru Granth, 1430 large pages, is read through in a continuous ceremony. This reading must go on day and night, without a moment’s intermission. The relay of reciters who take turns at saying Scripture must ensure that no break occurs. As they change places at given intervals, one picks the line from his predecessor’s lips and continues. When and how the custom of reciting the canon in its entirety, in one continuous service began, is not known. Conjecture traces it to the turbulent days of the 18th century when persecution scattered the Sikhs to far-off places. In those exilic, uncertain times, the practice of accomplishing a reading of the Holy Book by continuous recital is believed to have originated.

Important days on the Sikh calendar are marked by akhand paths in gurdwaras. Celebrations and ceremonies in Sikh families centre upon akhand paths. The homes are filled with holiness for those two days and nights as the Guru Granth, installed with due ceremony in a room, especially decorated for the occasion, is being, recited. Apart from lending the air sapctity, such readings make available to listeners the entire text. The listeners come as they wish and depart at their will. Thus they keep picking up snatches of the bani from different portions at different times.

Without such ceremonial recitals, the Guru Granth, a very large volume, would remain generally inaccessible to the laity except for banis which are recited by Sikhs as part of their daily devotion. In bereavement, families derive comfort from these paths. Obsequies in fact conclude with a completed reading of the Guru Granth Sahib and prayers are offered in its presence at the end for the departed soul. There are variations on akhand path as well. A common one is the saptahik path wherein the recital of the text is taken in parts and completed within one week. A sahj or slow-reading path may continue for a longer time, even for months. At such paths the Holy Book is recited or intoned, nor merely read. This brings out tellingly the poetic quality of the bani and its power to move or grip the listener. But it must be listened to in silence, sitting on the floor in front of it in a reverent posture.

The bani of the Guru Granth Sahib is all in the spiritual key. It is poetry of pure devotion, lyrical rather than philosophical, moral rather than cereberal. It prescribes no social code, yet the Guru Granth is the basis of Sikh practice as well as of Sikh devotion. It is the living source of authority, the ultimate guide for the spiritual and moral path Pointed by the Gurus. What ever is in harmony with its tenor will be acceptable; whatever not, rejectible. Guidance is sought from it on doctrine, on the tenets of the faith.

The Sikh Panth as a whole will resort to the Guru Granth as will the individuals in moments of perplexity or crisis. Instance comes to mind of the early days of the Gurdwara movement aiming to reform the ritual in Sikh places of worship. On October 12, 1920, a meeting of Sikh backward castes, sponsored by the faculty and students of the Khalsa College at Amritsar, was held in the Jallianwala Bagh. The following morning some of them were taken to the Golden Temple, but the granthis in control refused to accept karahprasad or sacrament they had brought as an offering and to say the ardas on their behalf. There was an outburst of protest against this discrimination towards the so-called low-caste Sikhs, totally contrary to the Sikh teaching. A compromise was at last reached and it was decided that the Guru’s direction be sought. The Guru Granth Sahib was, as is the custom, opened at random and the first verse on the page to be read was:

He receives the lowly into grace, And puts them in the path of righteous service.
The Guru’s verdict was clearly in favour of those whom the granthis had refused to accept as full members of the community. This was a triumph for reformist Sikhs. The karahprasad brought was accepted and distributed among the sangat.

Singly or in groups, in their homes or in congregations in their places of worship, Sikhs conclude their morning and evening prayer, or prayer said at any other time as part of personal piety or of a ceremony, with a supplication called ardas. Ardas is followed by the recitation of these verses:

Agya bhaei Akal ki tabhi chalayo panth Sabh sikkhan kau hukm hai Guru manio Granth. Guru Granth ji maniyo pragat Guran ki dehi Jo Prabhu ko milibo chahai khoj shabad main lehi.

By the command of the Timeless Creator, was the Panth promulgated! All Sikhs are hereby charged to own the Granth as their Guru. Know the Guru Granth to be the person visible of the Gurus. They who would seek to meet the Lord, In the Word as manifested in the Book shall they discover Him. This is the status, the significance of the Holy Book in the Sikh way of life.




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