News & Views




  I S C

  Research Projects

  About Us


Gur Panth Parkash

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




ਜਨਿ ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੀ ਆਏ

Legendary Pioneers in Sikh Studies
Life & Works of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha

Prof Kulwant Singh

Writing about the evolution of human personality/ character, Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1978) says, “one thing is certain that the well-developed personality is the highest product of evolution, the fullest realization we know of in the universe.” It is the simultaneous blossoming of human body, mind and soul or a state of equilibrium with "blood, imagination and intellect running together" to quote a phrase from W.B. Yeats, “The New Poetic”. Of all the human beings who walk on this planet, it is a very small fraction of them who have fully developed personalities which have not only enlightened themselves in their respective fields but they have also benefitted rest of the mankind immensely with their enlightened ideas. They are trail blazers, path-breakers and trend setters. Such eminent individuals, be they scientists, philosophers, spiritual savants and thinkers, are colossuses among men and women under whose shadow and influence rest of humanity walks and thrives. They are harbingers of knowledge, fresh ideas and dispellers of obsolete myths, ignorance and the ever-engulfing darkness of retrograde ideas. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha (1861-1938) was one such enlightened Sikh scholar, Sikh/ Gurmat ideologue, versatile and polyglot literateur, linguist, punjabi lexicographer, political thinker and mentor, social reformer, eminent diplomat and an efficient administrator all rolled into men. What is unique about him is that he accomplished so much in the world of letters and rose to such positions of eminence without any formal education. His innate curiosity to learn, digest what he learnt, critically evaluate what he learnt and express and articulate in writing what he formulated enabled him to write more than three dozen books on diverse aspects of religion including Sikhism/ Gurmat, Punjabi language and literature, politics and social reforms climaxing into the so far biggest encyclopaedia of Sikh religion, Punjabi language and miscellaneous subjects named Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahankosh. Before elaborating on his works, it would be beneficial to have a short glimpse into his genealogy, family background and environment which contributed to the flowering of his genius and produce a formidable body of literary works and attain a status of eminence in the then feudal society. Like a lotus flower, his genius flowered in the midst of a quagmire of feudal dominance, wide spread illiteracy and conservative belief systems.

Born on August 30, 1861 in the farmer’s family of devout Sikh parents in the Malwa region of Punjab with his father being the exegete and custodian (Mahant) of Sikh seminary Gurdwara Ajapal Singh Nabha, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha was initiated into the Sikh religious ethos and Sikh way of life even when he was an infant. He was enabled to read the sacred Sikh scripture the Sri Guru Granth Sahib at the tender age of five years. With his innate curiosity, congenial environment at home and inspiring influence of his saintly and scholarly father, he learnt to read and write Punjabi, Sanskrit, Hindi under the guidance of well-known traditional teachers like Bhai Bhoop Singh, Bawa Kalyan Das, Pandit Bansi Dhar, Bhai Vir Singh Jalalke, Baba Permanand, Bhai Bhagwan Singh Dug and Jawahar Singh to name a few which enabled him to become well versed in Hindi, Punjabi grammer, vedant, Nyaya Shastra and prosody etc. Along with these, he learnt music, musicology from Mahant Gajja Singh of Mehraj Gurusar – all by the age of twenty years. Feeling still incomplete and unsatisfied, he escaped first to Delhi incognito and than to Lahore in 1883 to learn English and Persian and Arabic and remained incommunicado for almost four years. At Lahore, he learnt English from Prof Gurmukh Singh of Oriental College and a leading light of then emerging Sikh renaissance in the form of Singh Sabha Lehar along with his learning of Persian and Arabic under the guidance of teachers of these two languages. He also read a lot of Sikh literature and Sikh classics in Punjabi and Persian like Zafarnama, Diwan-i-Goya from Bhai Sant Singh of Gurdwara Dehra Sahib of Lahore. Thus, by the age of twenty four years, he became a polyglot linguist, a Sikh/Gurmat scholar and enlightened youngmen and returned home to Nabha. He was now fully well-versed in Sikh religion and gurmat and became competent to grasp, interpret the Gurmat/ Sikh philosophy and linguistic intricacies of several languages, especially Punjabi and launch on a creative phase of his life. He married thrice but, due to the untimely demise of his first two wives, he begot a son from his third wife and named him Bhagwant Hari.

Before elaborating on his major Gurmat, literary and academic works on politics, social reforms and his vast literary oeuvre, we feel it is better to highlight his thoughts and views subject wise expressed in his works rather than in their chronological order as it has so far been done by some eminent scholars like Shamsher Singh Ashok, Devinder Singh Vidyarthi and Dr Jagmail Singh Bhathuan to name a few. The author is indebted to Dr Jagmail Singh Bhathuan for his very well researched and well-documented book in Punjabi on Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s Life and works for the writing of this article and to which we shall be referring quite often.1

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, being both the product and leading light of the Sikh Renaissance, Gurdwara Reforms and Singh Sabha Movement of the 1920’s, he has written extensively on the Sikh/ Gurmat issues both on their practical as well as conceptual ethos. Soon after the fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire and Punjab’s annexation into the British Empire, an all pervasive influence of Christian missionaries, lack of proper propagation of Sikhism by Sikh political leadership and Sikh clergy and the consistent assertion of Sanatanist Hindus about the non-existence of a separate Sikh identity and Sikhs being Hindus, and the chief Court of Punjab’s decision of rejecting the petition of the widow of Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia’s widow challenging her husband’s will transferring his entire property to a trust under the Hindu law of inheritance, there had started an erosion of Sikh values and Sikh identity among the Sikhs. As Sheena Pall has stated, “In the wake of growing awareness about identities and relative numerical proportions towards the end of nineteenth century, the Sanatnist Hindus started asserting that the Sikhs were Hindus.”2 Since the Singh Sabha Lahore had been founded in 1897, its leading lights, prominent among them being Prof Gurmukh Singh (1848-1898) Giani Dit Singh (1853-1901) and Bhai Kahn singh Nabha (1867-1938) played a crucial role in increasing the consciousnesses among the Sikhs about their distinct Sikh and religious identity. In order to rebut the Hindu claims of Sikhs being Hindus, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha wrote his first book Ham Hindu Nahin (1897) in Hindi. Written in a conversational, dialogic style between a Hindu protagonist and enlightened votary of Sikhism, the entire book, consisting of arguments and counter arguments is based on the references and quotations from their respective religious scriptures. The Hindu progogonist’s main arguments put forth in his book consist of the Sikhs having emerged out of the Hindus, Guru Nanak having belonged to the Bedi caste of Hindu Kshtriyas, Sikh Gurus’ acknowledgment of the validity and  and sanctity of Vedas, Hindu scriptures and Hindu shastras and other brahminical scriptures and repeated references to these scriptures in the sacred Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, invocation of Bhagauti (A Hindu Goddess) in the beginning  of daily Sikh prayer, Sikh belief in incarnations (Avtars) as mentioned repeatedly by Guru Gobind Singh in some sections of Dasam Granth, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s sacrifice to save and protect the Hindu’s religious marks of Tilak and Janaeu, Sikhs’ sharing food and matrimony with the Hindus, Sikhs being residents of Hindustan and the existential necessity for the Sikhs to be a necessary part of the Hindus due to their very small numerical strength for their own security and prosperity. As rebuttal to the above mentioned Hindu arguments, the Sikh protagonist’s arguments consist of Guru Nanak’s rejection of caste system, varan asharma, refusal to wear Janaeu, composition of his/their own sacred verses of the Gurbani by the Sikh Gurus as recorded in their own sacred Sikh scripture and other Sikh Classics, Sikh Gurus and their followers’ refusal to worship Hindu gods and goddesses, idol worship, and non adoption of prevailing Hindu rituals, ceremonies like aarti, sandhya Tarpan, undertaking of fasts, performing sharadhs for the propitiation of the Souls of their dead ancestors, consulting Brahmins for the auspicious days and timings (Shubh Lagan & Mahoorat) for the performance of their family functions and belief in observing Tantric practices and several other Hindu practices. On the contrary Sikhs observe their own distinct Sikh practices based on their Sikh scripture on the occasions of birth of a Child, betrothal, marriage, death in their families, live a distinct Sikh way of life and conduct, dress code, keeping unshorn hair and beards, distinct Sikh place of worship the Gurdwara, sharing food with others irrespective of differences of caste, creed and social status. Moreover, the Sikhs, unlike the Hindus, have goodwill and regards for all the Indians belonging to other religions. Based on these arguments, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha implicitly defined the distinct religious identity of the Sikh community with its distinct religion, history, language and political organization which have contributed to make it a full-fledged religion and nation. The publication of this book and its wide circulation had a seminal influence on the Sikhs and succeeded to some extent in puncturing and diluting the wide spread Hindu sanatanist propaganda about Sikhs as an offshoot of Hinduism. Its arguments were a successful rebuttal of the anti-Sikh campaign being launched against the Sikh assertion of their distinct identity. Its logical arguments are equally relevant and valid in the present times as well when the aggressive Hindutva forces and its fountain head the Rastriya Swam Sewak Sangh the RSS is actively trying to assimilate the Sikhs into its fold through the creation of its own Sikh entities like the Rashtrya Sikh Sangat. The Hindu crusade against the religious distinctiveness of the Sikhs was as calculated a move then as it is now. The Sikhs have to guard against this religious onslaught consistently. 

After addressing this immediate challenge before the Sikhs about upholding their distinct religious allegiance and identity, Bhai Sahib turned towards providing the proper interpretation and explanation of some of the concepts and theoretical ideas of Gurmat Philosophy as enshrined in the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib under the title Gurmat Parbhakar (1898). For this purpose, he culled out 843 words symbolizing major Sikh/concepts, arranged them in the alphabetical order and provided an explicit interpretation and explanation of each word from the Gurmat point of view. Extensive footnotes and word meanings of difficult words have been provided along with the comparison of their Gurmat meanings with similar concepts and meanings given in other religious scriptures belonging to other religions in order to highlight the clear meaning and message of Gurmat philosophy. It was a very laborious and scholarly task, undertaken at the behest of his favourite student and beloved patron (heir apparent) Tikka Ripudaman Singh which was aimed at providing a foundational treatise and reliable dictionary of Sikh concepts for both the Sikh preachers and devout readers of the sacred Sikh scripture. The composition of this dictionary determined the direction of Bhai Sahib’s academic literary journey for the rest of his life which culminated in the composition of his greatest work, the Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahankosh (1926).

The next work after Gurmat Parbhakar was Gurmat Sudhakar (1899). As the very name is suggestive, this work deals with the several supposedly miraculous deeds, rituals, supersititions and misconceptions erroneously associated with Sikh religion. The belief and practice in some of these rituals by the Sikhs brings in Brahminical practices and distorts the real import of Sikh Gurmat philosophy. Referring to some of these occurrences in some of the Sikh classics like Dasam Granth, Janam Sakhi, Gurbilas, Guru Nanak Parkash, Suraj Parkash, Panth Parkash, Sau Sakhi, (Gur Rattan Mal) like those of Kavi Santokh Singh, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Nand Lal and Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha provides a clear perspective about the import and message of each incident from the standpoint of the Gurmat as enshrined in the sacred Sikh scripture. Gurmat Sudhakar is, thus, an evaluative work of the existing Sikh classics which clearly points out some of the aberrations and distortions in these works and the urgent need to streamline and crystallize the Gurmat philosophy. These two works, taken together, present Bhai Sahib’s image of an enlightened and thoroughly enlightened Sikh ideologue. His views and conclusions given in these two books cleared the confusion about some of the Sikh concepts created by the contemporary traditional Sikh preachers and exegetes and laid down a clear roadmap for the devout Sikh readers to read the Sikh scripture from the Gurmat point of view in order to grasp the real import and message of Gurbani text.

In the next book: Gurgira Kasauti (1899) which was a further extension of Gurmat Sudhakar Bhai Sahib tried to dispel the several seemingly noticeable paradoxes and contradictions in the Gurbani text on the basis of Gurmat ideology and to show the forever flowing clear stream of Sikh spiritual ideas and a progressive thought process underneath leading to human emancipation below the apparently paradoxical references at the surfacial level. He showed that the entire body of Gurbani text is one composite whole meant to take the inquisitive spiritual seeker on a spiritual voyage by observing the Gurmat way of life. Unfortunately, this well-written work could not be published due to the internal factional differences among the Sikhs and the stubborn attitude of the contemporary traditional Sikh exegetes. Later on, after a a gap of thirty eight years, Bhai Sahib published a comprehensive volume on Gurmat theology under the title Gurmat Martand (1938)  which also remained unpublished during his life time but was published  in two volumes by SGPC in 1962, twenty four years after his demise. It is more or less a compilation of three earlier works namely Gurmat Parbhakar, Gurmat Sudhakar and Gurgira Kasauti on Gurmat theology and philosophy. He himself sums up the motive behind compiling of this granth in a very meaningful poem in the introductory part of this work. We reproduce this poetic piece under the title Ghanakashri in original along with its English translation below:



ਏਕ ਹੀ ਉਪਾਸਯ ਨਿਰਾਕਾਰ ਗੁਣਾਧਾਰ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ

ਖੇਲ ਮਾਤ੍ਰ ਕਰੈ ਭਰੈ ਹਰੈ ਜੋਉ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਅੰਡ

ਤਿਸ ਹੀ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਸਿਮਰਨ ਉਦੇਸ਼ ਦਾਤਾ,

ਜਾਤਿ ਪਾਤਿ ਭੇਦ ਭ੍ਰਮ ਕਸ ਕਰੈਯਾ ਖੰਡ ਖੰਡ

ਭ੍ਰਾਤੀ ਭਾਵ, ਸੇਵਾ ਜਥੇਬੰਦੀ ਕੇ ਪ੍ਰਚਾਰਕ ਹੈ,

ਗੁਰੁ ਰੀਤਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਪ੍ਰਦ ਸਤਯਭਾਸ਼ੀ ਹੈ ਉਦੰਡ

ਗੁਰ ਗਿਰਾ ਕਸ਼ਪੱਟੀ ਗੁਰੁਮਤ^ਪ੍ਰਭਾਕਰ,

ਸੁਧਾ^ਕਰ ਸਾਰ ਯਹਗੁਰਮਤ ਮਾਰਤੰਡ

(I) am a devotee of the transcent,

And immanent Divine cosmic power,

Who, in His sports like carefree mood.

Creates, energises and fulfils His creation.

In whose service and devout meditation

And his generous dispensation of His gospel

Have (I) endeavoured to completely dismantle,

The differences of caste, status and superstitions.

Being a preacher of fraternat love and  service,

And organizational issues of Sikh Panth,

Have (I) fearlessly and truthfully propagated,

The Divine Guru’s tration of loving devotion and love.

In my four compositions of Gurmat Parbhakar

Guru gira Kasauti and Gurmat Sudhakar,

Of which my composition Gurmat Martand

 Is the summarized version of the first three compositions.

Ghanakshari according to Mahankosh is an ancient poetic literary device with our syllabic variations in prosody.

It clearly beings out Gurmat perspective about the Sikh view of cosmic Divine power with its immanental and transcendental attributes and the Sikh way of spiritual meditation, Sikh corporate and organizational management and basic tenets of Gurmat in this combined compilation and Bhai Sahib’s honest and frank views about these Sikh issues.

As Gurmat Parbhakar is a kind of dictionary of major Sikh concepts as enshrined in the sacred Sikh scripture and their interpretation and explanation and Gurmat Sudhakar is a decisive treatises on the rejection of several myths and superstitions associated with Sikhism with illustrations from the several major Sikh classics, Gurmat Martand contains the more explicit explanation of major Gurmat Sikh concepts in a more systemic, lexicographic pattern in order to highlight the real import and message of the basic tenets of Sikh philosophy. These two volumes of Gurmat Martand remain important milestones in Gurmat / Sikh studies for both Sikh exegetes and inquisitive readers of Gurbani and Sikh philosophy. It is unfortunate that most of Bhai Sahib’s views given in this granth based on his painful observation of the existing dichotomy between some of the Gurmat principles and the actual practices prevalent in Sikh society have neither been taken serious note of or have been deliberately ignored in order to perpetuate these ungurmat practices by the vested interests. As rightly pointed out by Devinder Singh Vidyarthi, this book was an attempt to eliminate some of the existing malpractices, distortions and misconceptions violative of Sikh/ Gurmat tenets which have been propagated and preached by the ignorant and half-baked protagonists of Sikhism. The poetical introduction to this eight hundred page two volume composition is Bhai Sahib’s elegiac and regretful treatise (Marasia/wo;hnk) on the lack of taking a logical consideration among the Sikhs of the enlightened views of an enlightened and thoroughly dedicated Sikh scholar. It is equally unfortunate that some of the issues highlighted in this volume still continue to remain unresolved. Nevertheless, this volume still remains a reliable  collection and dictionary of authentic Gurmat tenets based on Gurbani text.3 

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s whole body of work on Gurmat literature reaches its climax in his magnum opus called Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahankosh on which he spent fifteen years from 1912 to 1926 for collection, assimilation, interpretation, explanation of words, terms, phrases and usages used in diverse sources including the sacred Sikh scripture and more than a dozen Sikh classics like the works of Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Mani Singh, Kavi Santokh Singh et all in Sikh history and relevant words from other religions, history, geography, science, medicine, language, mythology, prosody, rhetoric and diverse other disciplines. It consists of 646263 words and their explanations with relevant quotations and illustrations. As Devinder Singh Vidyarathi states that this whole corpus broadly divided into five categories has recorded words beginning with Rigveda upto the end of the 19th century Indian philosophy, history, mythology and scriptural knowledge especially those words which are related in one way or the other to Sikh philosophy and history.4

As principal Teja Singh explained in his foreword to Gurshabad Ratanakar Mahankosh:

1.    All references to the Vedas and Shastras, the Bible, the Quran and other religious books are fully traced. The different religions and their respective terms and symbols are adequately dealt with, comments being made in a very liberal spirit without showing any trace of sectarianism.

2.    The historical references are explained concisely but exhaustively, advantage being taken of the most recent researches. The author does not hesitate to point out different errors of fact occurring in the standard works.

3.    The geographical places, especially those belonging to Sikh History, are located correctly, the most helpful part being the information about Gurdwaras illustrated with maps.

4.    The names of trees and herbs are explained with corresponding botanical terms used in European Science.

5.    The names of diseases and medicines have been so fully dealt with that one could gather a complete pharmacopæia from it.

6.    Names connected with natural philosophy have, as far as possible, been fully explained

7.    Musical and metrical systems. are discussed comprehensively, and their distinctions are supported with quotations ànd authorities.  The information given on Prosody and Rhetoric is most complete and handy.

8.    Metrical riddles, so common in old literature but now so difficult to understand, are also explained.

9.    Each word is treated etymologically, and the different meanings, with apt illustrations, are given in Punjabi and Hindi under serial numbers.

10. It embodies more than seven thousand Arabic and Persian words. To show their correct derivation and pronunciation, they are also given in the Persian characters. In like manner the Sanskrit words are given in the Devnagri characters.

11. The book is profusely illustrated with maps and pictures.5 

The words recorded have been arranged in an alphabetical order, explaining their origin and derivation of words traced, and the meanings and relevance of loaned words taken from other languages. Beginning with collection and explanations of Gurbani words recorded in earlier two Punjabi lexicographical works or dictionaries namely Pandit Tara Singh Narotam’s Gurgirath Kosh (1898) and Giani Hazara Singh’s Sri Guru Granth Kosh (1900), Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha came across some volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica published upto his times and decided to make his work more broad based to include words from other disciplines which led to name his collection as Mahankosh while retaining its Sikh scriptural character in its first part namely Gurshabad Ratankar and making its collective name as Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahankosh. Thus, this collection contains words and elucidations related to Gurbani, Sikh history, Sikh classics, ancient Indian mythological, religious and philosophical works, geography, vegetation, ancient Indian medicine systems and diseases, Indian classical music, and astronomy, names of persons and places, locations of places especially of Sikh shrines with maps and photographs and miscellaneous issues. His three years long correspondence with Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid bears a testimony to his inclusion of words relating to multiple diseases, medicines, medicinal plants and herbs in large numbers.

What makes this work unique and distinctive from other dictionaries is the originality and comprehensiveness of explanation and depth of meaning of each recorded word as Devinder Singh Vidyarthi has rightly pointed out.6

The story of its first publication was as arduous as its preparation. Since Bhai Sahib’s two royal patrons who had promised to fund its publication had ceased to exist with Maharaja of Faridkot having been dead and Maharaja Nabha dethroned the measly amount required for the publication of one thousand copies could not be arranged despite wide publicity in the press. Finally, the first eleven hundred copies were published after being funded by Maharaja of Patiala. The words annotated by Bhai Sahib during the last years of his life consisting of 91 pages were included in the end of this work. Since, then countless editions of this work have been published and its Hindi and English versions are being prepared. Even after almost a century of its publication, it remains a standard reference work for readers of Gurbani and Sikh studies.

Another small book named “Sad ka Parmarth (1901) also has been written by Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha to interpret and clarify the several seemingly Hindu words and terms and names belonging to Hindu terminology used in the Ramkali verse named “Sadd” on page 923 in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is believed to have been composed by Baba Sundar on the eve of Guru Amardas’s demise written in the form of a commentary (Teeka) by Bhai Sahib. It highlights the real meanings of words like Keso, ‘Gopal’, ‘Pandit’ from the standpoint of Gurmat philosophy and exposes the designs of certain brahminical vested interests who try to prove that Sikhs are Hindus by highlighting the literal meaning of these words used in this verse. Its stance throught this treatise is Hindi like that of his Hindi diction used in his earlier work Ham Hindu Nahin (1897).

In the last 423 page book Guru Mehma Ratnavali ((1954) which Bhai Sahib could not complete, there are biographical notes about 99 ancient poets and specimen pieces from their poetic compositions. The namuscript of this incomplete book was later on edited and published by Prof Pritam Singh of Guru Nanak Dev University. Although all of these poetic pieces are not in praise of the Sikh Gurus, yet this book contains devotional poems and highlights the relevance of ancient manuscripts in Sikh studies. It is Bhai Sahib’s labour of love to collect and preserve these rare manuscripts.

Thus, in all these books discussed above on Gurmat and Sikh philosophy, Bhai Sahib has clearly interpreted and explained the words and usages in the Sikh scripture and other texts in a scientific manner and fearlessly expressed their true Gurmat import and message.

Apart from his own works, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha assisted the great Christian-turned Sikh British Bureaucrat serving in India and Sikh scholar Max Arther Macauliff in writing his pioneering work: The Sikh Religion in six volumes. Throughout Macauliffs’ English translation of the selected Gurbani verses and writing the biographical accounts of Sikh Guru’s lives and in writing of his six-volume book on Sikhism and its publication in English, Bhai Sahib remained his mentor, guide and authoritative consultant in deciding every tenet of Sikh/ Gurmat philosophy  including publishing his entire work in six volumes. Bhai Sahib not only visited London thrice between 1907-1908 but stayed there to read and finalise every typed proof before it was sent to the printing press. No wonder, Macauliffe bequeathed the copyright of his voluminous work in the name of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha before his demise.

Besides Bhai Sahib’s books on Gurmat and Sikh literature as discussed in section I of this article, he has also written commentaries (Teekas) on three ancient Hindu pauranic compositions in Hindi diction written in Gurmukhi script. The reasons for writings these commentaries, on Pauranas were two fold, One because his royal patron and employer Maharaja Hira Singh of Nabha was an admirer of Pauranic literature as his two ancestors Raja Jaswant Singh Raja Devinder Singh were followers of Pauranic sects and second because Bhai Sahib himself was of  the firm opinion that ancient Indian texts were a treasure house of knowledge, moral and ethical values which need to be read, understood and their values imbibed and cultivated in life. As a result, he wrote three commentaries on three Pauranic texts namely Teeka Gemini Asavmedh (1890) Teeka Natak Bhavarth Deepika (1897) and Teeka Vishnu Puran (1903). Since Maharaja Nabha’s heir apparent Tikka Ripudaman Singh was Bhai Sahib’s student and some part of these text were part of his students’ curriculum, Raja Hira Singh himself used to participate actively during these tutorial sessions and express his own views during some of these reading sessions. These commentaries are believed to be a joint venture of Bhai Sahib and Maharaja Hira Singh but written in a suitable literary, impressive language by Bhai Sahib and published under Bhai Sahib’s authorship. Gemini being one of the prominent disciples of Rishi Ved Vyas is the author of Gemini Asavmedh Granth. Consisting of six Chapters. It is a valuable a summary and essence of ancient texts on religion, irreligious politics, wars, selfless community service, female anatomy, various aspects of Mantras. In this commentary, Bhai Sahib emphasizes the need to read these texts in order to develop one’s own mental faculties, sense of discriminating between good and evil and enrich one’s own character. This commentary reflects Bhai Sahib’s independence of thought and adoption of new scientific progressive ideas such as the harms of getting married before reaching adulthood.

In Natak Bhavarth Deepika, Bhai Sahib has written a commentary on the meaningful summary of Hanuman Natak written by the poet Hirday Ram. The original text of Hamuman Natak was written by a Sanskrit Poet Hanuman. This commentary (Teeka) by Bhai Sahib is a very lucid explanation of the main contents of this text including Maharaja Hira Singh’s Comments. As Jagmeet Singh Bhathuan has summarized: This text and Bhai Sahib’s commentary inspires the reader to inculcate moral values of good conduct, judicious outlook and good moral character. This granth deals with issues like Sati tradition and its condemnation, encouragement of widow marriage, importance of good female moral conduct, supremacy of leading a householder’s life, basic rules of good health and personal hyegine, awareness of major cosmic laws, perfect unity between words and deeds, faithfulness towards one’s motherland and acquisition of knowledge of the highest international level. This commentary also reflects in abundance not only Bhai Sahib’s scholarship but also his independent views and freedom of expression. For instance, he praises the ancient tradition of giving freedom to women to choose their life parteners such as Ravana’s sister searched for a suitable husband.7 

The commentary on Teeka Vishnu Puran has also been written in Hindi diction in Gurmukhi script. This Pauran/ Granth is one of most prominent compositions among the eighteen Puranas which describes the life and philosophy of various incarnations of Vishnu. Bhai Sahib has interpreted and commented on major episodes of this text and their import and message. Implicitly, this commentary reflects the views of Maharaja Hira Singh. Bhai Sahib has also put forth his independent and modern views. His explanation of various concepts of this text reflects his brilliance, scholarship and originality of approach.

Apart from writing extensively on Gurmat and other Sikh and Pauranic texts, reflecting his image of being a Sikh/Gurmat ideologue, his image of being a prolific, versatile literary critic and master analyist of literary poetic texts, poetic forms, prosody, poetic craftsmanship and literary embellishments comes out brilliantly from his writings on various poetic forms used in diverse ancient texts. These writings consisted of Gurchhand Diwakar, Gurshabadlankar, Roopdeep Pingal, Naam Mala Mahankosh, Anekarth Mahankosh and Gurbani Akhar te Muhavre etc. In Bhai Sahib’s times, some of these books were prescribed for the students of matriculation level of students of Gurmat and Punjabi.

In his book Gurchhand Diwakar (1924), he has analysed and elucidated the linguistic ingredients of a poetic form called Chhand used in the prominent Sikh and religious texts. According to JSB, this is perhaps the first scientific analysis of the various grammatical components of a chhand such as Matra, Lagh, Gur, Dagadh, Akhar, Varnic Jan, and Matric gau as well as given the definition of this poetic form and its use by different ancient poets in their poetic classics.8 As Prof Pritam Singh has also rightly pointed out, this is the only book which provides a reliable information about this poetic from in Gurbani and other Sikh texts.9 For writing this treatise on chhand form, he had consulted about two dozen Sanskrit and Persian texts like chhand Ratanavali and Gulzaray Sukhan etc. He also highlighted how some of the Sanskrit phonetic sounds have been transcribed in Punjabi language written in Gurmukhi script as per Devinder Singh Vidyarthi.10 Gurshabad Lankar (1924) contains Bhai Sahib’s perceptive treatise on the various kinds of literary devices/ embellishments like similes, metaphors, parallelism etc which decorate and beautify the concerned poetic pieces in which these embellishments have been used for their aesthetic and literary merit as well as their poetic, recitative and rhythmic quality. Earlier, Kavi Santokh Singh had written on these literary embellishments in his commentary (Teeka) Garbh Ganjni on Japuji. But its scope was limited. Bhai Sahib has made a catalogue of major embellishments (Alankars) in the alphabetical order used in Gurbani and other Sikh classic texts. Dividing these embellishments into four categories namely shabad lankar Artha Alankar, Ubhyalankar, Chitralankar, Bhai Sahib has enlisted all these embellishments in very lengthy introduction to the catalogue as mentioned by DSV.11 This scholarly treatise brings out the literary and aesthetic merit of these otherwise religious and spiritual texts.

Bhai Sahib’s equally knowledgeable and illuminating Book Roopdeep Pingal (1925) is a revised and improved version of the 1719 book written by the celebrated poet Jai Kishan of Lahore under the same title. This book is believed to be the first attempt/ book on the craftsmanship of poetic form Chhand which was prescribed as a textbook for the examinees of Vidvan examination. As recorded in Bhai Sahib’s Mahankosh Ancient Indian sage (Rishi) Pingal is believed to be the original author/ creator of the treatise on chhand poetic form which became the brand name of all the treatises written on this poetic form. Since this treatise suffers from several literary and linguistic infirmities, Bhai Sahib published its revised and corrected version in 1925. It contains a catalogue of fifty two chhand forms in the alphabetical order and the intrinsic intricacies of each form has been explained in the body of the revised text with foot notes of difficult words.

The scholarly and linguistic interpretation and explanation of this highly complicated poetic forms reflects the literary expertise of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha.

The next two literary works Anekarth Kosh (1925) and Naam Mala Kosh (1938) were originally written by ancient Hindi poet Kavi Nand Das. As these two texts had number of linguistic and literary infirmities despite having been revised earlier by some scholars, Bhai Sahib has painstakingly revised and corrected these texts with his scholarly brilliance. The original text of Anekarth Kosh contains the multiple meanings of 117 words to which Bhai Sahib has added 114 more words with their multiple meanings and his edition of this work now contains 231 words and their multiple meanings. This book proved very useful for students and teachers of Gyani examination. Similarly, his work Naammala Kosh which is also known by another name. Man Manjri Naammala contains several synonymous words of all the words recorded in this ancient text which revolves round a short episode relating to Lord Krishna’s consort Radhika and her dignity. Bhai Sahib, in his revised version, not only correctly explained the meanings of these sanskritized words but also added several new words of the same category. It has recorded these words in the alphabetical order in the Index at the end of this work. Bhai Sahib’s revised version has given word meanings of some words in both  Devnagri script and even some Latin names as those of some fruits and plants which enhances the reader’s understanding of these words. Both these works not only reflect his linguistic skills and scholarship but also his incredible labouriousness and capacity to work.

Besides these works, he has interpreted and explained the history and meaning of the world Chheepa but he attributes its emergence from the professional skill of tailoring rather than to its caste identity as majority of persons attached to this profession belong to the traditional caste of tonk Khshtriyas. Another work Gurbani Akhar te Muhaware which is unpublished contains opt-repeated proverbs, aphorisms and maxims from Gurbani and completed it in 1936 as recorded in his personal diary.

Finally, apart from being a distinguished Sikh scholar, Gurmat ideologue and a literary and linguistic lexicographer and critic of eminence, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha was also a politico-social trail-blazer and reformer of political and social evils. He wrote three books namely Raj Dharma, Thug Leela and Sharab Nished on these issues. Raj Dharam (1884) is based on the discussion between his royal patron Maharaja Hira Singh and himself about the required public and private virtues of a ruling monarch. Written in a conversational question/answer style between a Sikh protagonist and a peasant citizen, it emphasizes that a ruling personage should beware of his sycophant courtiers, resist early marriage, not indulge in excessive drinking and womamsing and lead a life of self-restraint in every human craving like eating excessive and spicy food, accumulating wealth through dishonest means and lead a balanced life based on service and duty towards the state and its people and lead a life based on self discipline, self-sacrifice and legitimate consumption of sex. Similar instructions have been recorded for grooming the royal progeny in order to make them responsible heir apparents. These guidelines and and instructions have been endorsed through illustrations from vedant, Gurbani and other Indian classics.

In Thugleela (1899), he exposes the corrupt and exploitative practices of Brahmins through the narration of an episode about alluring a princess to join Vaisakhnavita Mahakal worshiping sect practiced by the priests of Ujjain located at Mahakal Temple.  It is illustrated through narration of 266th episodes (Charitars) taken from Chritropakhyan section of Dasam Granth in which this princess condemns the corrupt and exploitive practices of Brahmins and by quoting a very biting satirical poetic piece (kabit) from the Krishan Avtar section of Dasam Granth. This fifty four page tract written in Hindi poetic diction in Gurmukhi script is a severe indictment of corrupt and exploitative practices in religious places. In another pamphlet Sharab Nished (1907) like some other tracts such as those of his other contemporary Sikh authors with social reformist dispositions like Giani Dit Singh, Dr Charan Singh and Bhai jawahar Singh, Bhai Kahn Singh wrote articles and poems against the ill effects of drinking alchol on health, family, wealth and social honour and respect. As mentioned by Jagmail Singh Bhathuan, partly due to the Singh Sabha Movement inspired Sikh renaissance zeal and partly due to his own personal experience of once getting mentally unstable due to accidental consumption of milk laced with few ounces  of brandy given by his personal attendant under the instructions of an ignorant medical doctor about Bhai Sahib’s otherwise being a teetotallar during his forced participation in a hunting spree during a winter night with the higher officials of the State and spraining his foot, Bhai Sahib in his pamphlet Sharab Nished highlighted the corrosive effects of alcohol on human body and health with reliable statistics and data taken from medical journals and Aurvedic, Unani medical literature. He warns the Sikh community against the increasing damage being done to the reputation of Sikhs by their excessive alcoholism among the comity of nations against their image of being a community of sturdy hard workers, warriors and morally better human beings written in an impressive expression.

Apart from these major works, Bhai Sahib has written two more books Chandi Di Var Steek (1935) Ithas Bagrian (1936). In addition to these, he wrote several essays, articles on diverse issues, hundreds of letters and a few travelogues some of which remained unpublished during his life time. Chandi Di Var Steek (1935) which is an annotated version of this text which forms an integral part of daily prayer of followers of Namdhari text, Ithas Bagrian (1935) traces the history of this illustrious Sikh family one of whose first ancestors Bhai Roop Chand became a disciple of Guru Hargobind and later partook Khande di Pahul from Guru Gobind Singh and a later ancestor Bhai Arjan Singh Bagrian was Bhai Sahib’s contemporary who had been instrumental in resolving some disputes between the two Sikh princely States of Nabha and Patiala.

To conclude, it can be safely stated, on the basis of the above discussion about Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s life and works, that he was an exceptionally streamlined person and a strict disciplinarian, a self made enlightened scholar of Sikh Gurmat philosophy without receiving any formal education, a Gurmat ideologue, a polyglot linguist and literateur, an accomplished lexicographer, a literary theorist of poetic prosody, political guide and mentor, a social reformist and an activist Sikh religious crusader and a prolific, versatile writer. As G.S. Bhullar well-known Punjabi literateur and native of Bhai Sahib’s village, Pitho states, “The impact that his schlolarly views created on the rural environment around him is undoubtedly immense and he having lived beside being born, bred and grownup among the monarchical, feudal environment and having lived his whole life among the people with puritanical and fanatical religious learning, his own views remained highly scientific and humanitarian which enhance his esteem still further among his readers.” (translated from his latest book: Kalma Wale, People’s forum Bargari, 2021)

In another words, he was one of the best specimen of a human being and nature. Borrowing an analogy from Shakespeare’s historical play Julius Caesar describing another best specimen of humanity named Marcus Brutus, we can safely sum up Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s life and personality as well: His life was gentle and the dements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world. This was a Man!"



1.  Dr Jagmail Singh Bhatuan (JSB): Yug Purush Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Arsee Publishers, Chandni Chowk Delhi, 2007

2.   Sheena Pall: Issues of Sikh identity: Sanatnist Sikh Debate, Panjab University, Chandigarh,

3.   Devinder Singh Vidyarathi (DSV): Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha: Jeevan te Rachna, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patna, 1920.

4.    Ibid., p. 109

5.    Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha: Mahankosh, Foreword by Principal Teja Singh, Published by Bhasha Vibhag Punjab, Patiala, 1974.

6.    Op. cit. Devinder Singh Vidyarthi, p. 108.

7.    Jagmail Singh Bhatuan, p. 50

8.    Ibid., p. 77

9.    Op. Cit. Devinder Singh Vidyarthi, p. 77

10.  Ibid., p. 96










©Copyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2022, All rights reserved.