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Gur Panth Parkash

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




Bhai Santokh Singh (1787-1843)

Vikramjit Singh*

Bhai Santokh Singh (1787-1843) was a great historian, poet, scholar, commentator and theologian who devoted his entire life to the creation, study and propagation of Sikh literature. By writing Sikh history in highly embellished poetic lingo, he did an important job of preserving history. The ‘Gur Pratap Suraj Granth’ written by him is still propagated in the evening congregations at the historical gurdwaras. His name is included among the earliest scholars of Sikhism.


BhaiSantokh Singh was born on October 8, 1787 in the village ‘SarâiNurdîn’ (Tarn Taran). His father was Deva Singh and his mother’s name was Rajâdî who was professionally cloth-printers. His family was devoted to Sikhism and associated with Gurmat. In this way, he acquired a basic understanding and education of Sikhism from his family. His intellect and his ability to remember was immense as he learned and understood very quickly. Seeing such a response and preliminary education at home, his father sent him to Amritsar where he became a student of Giânî Sant Singh (1768-1832) at Amritsar. At that time, GiânîSant Singh was the granthi and administrator of Sri Harmandir Sahib as well as a renowned scholar. While a student of Giani ji, Bhai Santokh Singh began to study other languages, poetry, Gurbani etc. In Dr Jai Bhagwan Goyal's opinion Bhai Santokh Singh studied with Giânî ji for about 15 years and also learned Sanskrit language while staying here. Thus he had an immense talent and skills for learning.

After having studied Sikh Scripture and history, Sanskrit language and literature, poetics, philosophy and mythology at Amritsar for about fifteen years, he devoted next phase of life to study and writing of Sikh history. He remained under the patronage of rulers of various states and continued to write. Soon the fame of Bhai Sahib’s great scholarship spread far and wide. First of all, Bhai Sahib moved to the then Buria (state), an old town on the right bank of Yamuna in the present Yamuna Nagar district of Haryana. He had an opportunity to serve as a court poet at a very young age in the state of Buria.Thus he was the first to make a poetic translation of ‘Amarkosha’ the famous Sanskrit dictionary into Hindi. This made his name well known among scholars. He established himself there as a writer, poet and preacher. Then he turned his attention to Sikh history. He started collecting data about Guru Nanak DevJi. While, Living here, he got married with Ram Kaur. They had five sons and three daughters. They lived with his family at Buria. His financial condition became very weak. In such a condition, he completed the ‘Nanak Parkash Granth’. After completing this Granth, Bhai Sahib came to Amritsar, where he came in contact with Maharaja Karam Singh of Patiala State through GiânîSant Singh. Maharaja Karam Singh, already aware of Bhai Sahib’s merits, invited him to the state of Patiala. Thus Bhai Santokh Singh Ji was honored to be the court poet of Patiala state. After a short time, Maharaja Udai Singh of Kaithal approached Bhai Santokh Singh to take him to Kaithal. Maharaja Kaithal wanted to get the history of the Ten Sikh Gurus written in poetry. He knew that Bhai Santokh Singh Ji had an ability to perform this service. This is how Bhai Santokh Singh reached the state of Kaithal.

Bhai Santokh Singh ji lived in the state of Kaithal till his last days, during which time he accomplished great deeds. Maharaja of Kaithal, Sardar Gajpat Singh fully supported him in this task. He was provided with a group of scholars, writers and assistants who provided the necessary material for writing history. Meanwhile, he wrote ‘Garab Ganjani Teeka’ (1829), an exhaustive philosophical commentary in Hindi prose on Guru Nanak’s Japu Ji Sahib. This was followed by a poetic translation of the ‘Valmiki Ramayana’ from Sanskrit into hindi. Then, he focused on writing a history of the Gurus. He had already written the history of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, ‘Nanak Prakash’, and completed the history of the other nine Gurus by writing it in ‘Gur Pratap Suraj Granth’(1835-43) at Kaithal. After the Granth was completed, Bhai Sahib took the manuscript of Granth to Sri Amritsar Sahib and presented the Granth there. He received ‘Sirpao’ from Sri Akal Takht Sahib for accomplishing this monumental work.

By this time, Bhai Sahib’s health had deteriorated considerably. He returned to Kaithal, where three months after the completion of the Granth (Gur Pratap Suraj Granth), he passed away in 1843 A.D.

A Great Scholar

Bhai Santokh Singh was a great scholar of Sikhism. He had a great knowledge / understanding of Gurmat, history as well as music, medicine, philosophy, astrology etc. whereas the main body of his works was related to history, interpretation and translation. At the same time his deep insight into politics, medicine, astrology, philosophy can be seen in his works. He had knowledge of many languages. Poetic translation of Sanskrit texts is an important task in itself. By composing the commentary ‘Garab Ganjani Tika’, of Japu ji, Bhai Sahib Ji challenged the hegemonic status of Sadhu Anandghan. He wrote Sikh history in great detail. His vast corpus of work bears witness to his erudition.

A Poet

Bhai Santokh Singh was a great poet. He has written really remarkable poetry. His poetic translation of Amarkosha, Valimiki Ramayana, Atam Purana was a marvel of his great poetic genius. ‘Gur Pratap Suraj Granth’ is a huge historical treatise on Sikh history. This entire Granth is written in the genre of poetry. Bhai Sahib’s poetic skill does not fade in any of the stanzas in such a lengthy Granth. The entire Granth is written in fine poetry. He has a good grasp on the use of rhymes, metaphors, imagery etc. In this verse, he has the ability to create a proper context to narrate history. Therefore, he also earned the title of being an epic poet.

A Historian

Bhai Santokh Singh was a great historian who wrote a detailed history of the Ten Sikh Gurus in a single Granth for the first time. His historiography is not only important to present the past events, he also explained Gurmat along with history. He worked hard to write history. So he collected and scrutinized the resources already available. At the same time, he made great efforts to preserve oral history. So he contacted the descendant families/Sikhs who belonged to the Guru Sahibs and listened to the historical narrations about the Guru Sahib.  He also collected ‘sakhis’ prevalent in the tradition. He went to the places himself or sent his assistants to edit all the written or oral information they received about history and he made it a part of his Granth. Thus Bhai Santokh Singh did a great job of writing the history of the Guru’s period in detail. Many modern historians have written Sikh history on the basis of his works.


Bhai Santokh Singh was also a commentator. His explanations can be seen in his works. Bhai Sahib had a great understanding of Gurmat, Gurbani Interpretation, Principles etc. Dr.Taran Singh has described the interpretation of Bhai Santokh Singh in the first place as the Nirmala System of Gurbani. He commented on ‘Japu’ Ji Sahib Bani at Kaithal as ‘Garb GanjaniTeeka, which he did to excel Sadhu Anandghan. Apart from this, his historical works also explained history as well as Gurmat principles. While writing about the life of Guru Sahib also gave theological explanations of the way of life, manners, principles of Sikhism.

Writings of Bhai Santokh Singh

1.                 Naam Kosh: Naam Kosh is a translation of the ‘Amarkosha’ Granth of Sanskrit. ‘Amarkosha’ written by Amar Singh, is a famous Granth written in Sanskrit. Bhai Santokh Singh made a poetic translation of the Granth while living in the state of Buria (state).

2.    Nanak Prakash: Nanak Prakash is an important and detailed work written after the ‘Janamsakhis’ about the life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Bhai Santokh Singh began writing Sikh history by writing the life of Guru Nanak Dev ji. He wrote excellent poetry in this Granth. It is divided into Purabaradh (73 Chapter) and Uttararadh (57 Chapter). It has a total 120 chapters.

3.    Garab Ganjani Teeka: Garb Ganjani Teeka is the commentary on Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s holy Bani ‘Japu’ Ji Sahib. It was composed by Bhai Sahib in the state of Kanthal. Raja Udai Singh of the Kaithal state requested Bhai Santokh Singh to comment on the ‘Japu’ Bani. Bhai Vir Singh writes that before the Garb Ganjani commentary, Udasi Sadhu Anandghan had also commented on the Bani ‘Japu’ but he did not explain the contents of the Bani properly. In addition, he was proud of his interpretation. For this reason, Maharaja Udai Singh asked Bhai Sahib to interpret the Bani ‘Japu’ in a more scholarly manner which he did.

4.    Valmiki Ramayana: While living at Kaithal, Bhai Santokh Singh translated the Valmiki Ramayana. He also did this translation in the poetic form. At the beginning of the Granth, he praises the ten Sikh Guru Sahibs. It took about two years to compose this Granth. The Maharaja was pleased with the completion of this Granth and gave him a village as a reward.

5.    Gur Pratap Suraj Granth: This Granth is the great treasure of Gurus’ history, in which the life, events, works, principles of Guru Sahibs are recorded along with the account of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s life and achievements. Bhai Santokh Singh composed this Granth with great diligence. This Granth is poetically adorned with innumerable verses, metaphors, images etc. According to the name, the Granth is divided into sun related imagery. It sheds light on Gurus’ history, teachings and principles in great detail.          

       Bhai Santokh Singh worked hard to collect material for this Granth. It contains a vast treasure trove of anecdotes relating to the Sikh Gurus. Every event is embellished with poetic skill, presented in detail. Conversation style has been adopted for story extension. For the composition of this Granth, Bhai Sahib studied Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Bhai Gurdas Ji’s Varans, Bhai Nand Lal Ji’s compositions, Dasam Granth, Janamsakhis, Sri Gursobha, Gurbilas, Bhagatmala of Sikhs etc. Thus, Gur Pratap Suraj Granth is a very important Granth both for its subject and context. Many historians including Dr. Ganda Singh, Macauliffe etc. have used Gurpartap Suraj Granth as an important source for writing Sikh history. Bhai Vir Singh has edited Sri Guru Pratap Suraj Granth by combining ‘Nanak Prakash’ and ‘Gur Pratap Suraj Prakash’ Granth.

6.    Punjabi Siharfi: This is a composition in Punjabi by Bhai Santokh Singh, which he wrote while living in Patiala state in his youth. Bhai Vir Singh made no mention of it, but Piara Singh Padam searched and published some of it. According to him, it was a large Granth, a large part of which was lost, only four pages have been received.


Thus Bhai Santokh Singh was a great scholar of Sikhism, whose personality was full of great qualities and talents. His entire life was spent in studying Sikhism and its propagation. He will forever be known for his great contribution to the field of Sikh history.



Further reading:


1.    ipAwrw isMG pdm, mhW kvI sMqoK isMG, klm mMdir loXr, pitAwlw, 1990

2.    BweI vIr isMG, sRI gur pRqwp sUrj gRMQwvlI dI pRsqwvnw, mYnyjr Kwlsw smwcwr, AMimRqsr, 1954 (qIjw AYfISn)

3.    jY Bgvwn goiel (sM.) BweI sMqoK isMG ricq gur pRqwp sUrj (sMiKpq), pMjwbI XUnIvristI, pitAwlw, 1990 (dUjI vwr)

4.    rqn isMG j`gI, is`K pMQ ivSvkoS, gur rqn pbilSrz, pitAwlw, 2005, pMny 367

5.    fw Ajmyr isMG, is`KW dw mhwirSI bwlmIk (BweI sMqoK isMG), Koj pMQn, lhOr bu`k Swp, luiDAwxw, 2006, pMny 69-91

6.    Harbans Singh (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism Vol. IV, Punjabi University, Patiala, 2011 (Third Edition), p. 51-52









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