Compilation of the Scripture : Guru Arjan Dev Ji

The Sikhs are called a people of the Book because they are followers of the message contained in their Holy Volume, called the Guru Granth Sahib. Also, the word ‘sikh ‘ literally stands for a disciple who is a learner in religious discipline: this disciple is deeply attached and devoted to his Guru, an office now bestowed on the Guru Granth Sahib for all times to come. This Holy Volume was first compiled under the personal supervision and care of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikh faith. When the appropriate moment to begin work on this stupendous project of compiling the scripture came, Guru Arjan selected a beautiful spot in a dense forest by the side of a water pond, Ramsar, about a mile towards east from the Harimandar in the newly founded town of Amritsar.This was the place where the Guru had earlier spent some time composing his Sukhmani. A memorial, called Gurdwara Ramsar, stands at the place where the Guru used to sit during the writing of Sukhmani and compilation of the scripture. He took Bhai Gurdas, the well known Sikh exegete and a poet in his own right, with him to act as his amanuensis.

Why Guru Arjan Dev undertook the task of compilation of the scripture has been variously explained in different Sikh chronicles.

One most commonly given argument is that the compilation and codification of the Gurus’ compositions into an authorized volume was taken up so as to preserve the originality and authenticity of the genuine compositions of the Gurus by precluding all possibilities of interpolation by leaders of certain schismatic groups who had also begun to compose hymns under the pseudonym of Nanak. However, this threat of interpolation cannot be accepted as the sole reason for Guru Arjan Dev taking up the work of compilation, though it sure was one of the important reasons.

The importance of bani and the need for its preservation were equally important factors: it remains a fact of history that the preceding Gurus realized the importance of preserving their compositions and that they had also expressed this view in some of their hymns. Thus, we are of the view that Guru Nanak and his successors were all preserving their hymns: they handed over the codex/codices containing their bani to their respective successors as the time came.

Among the Sikh sources which consider the apprehension of interpolation as the sole reason include the Gurbilas Chhevin Patshahi (1718), Sarup Das Bhalla’s Mahima Prakash (1776), Bhai Santokh Singh’s Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth (1843) and Giani Gian Singh’s Tawarikh Guru Khalsa (1892). The Gurbilas and the Suraj Granth are almost unanimous in their view that Guru Arjan took up the work of compilation when the

apprehensions of interpolation of kacchi bani (unauthentic, not genuine hymns) were shared by certain Sikhs, and that the Guru borrowed the two codices containing bani of the preceding Gurus from Baba Mohan, elder son of Guru Amar Das, who then lived in Goindval.

Of these two sources, the latter says that Guru Arjan Dev took up compilation only after two Sikhs spoke to the Guru about their apprehensions of interpolation whereas the former is of the view that the apprehension of interpolation expressed by a Sikh only strengthened the Guru’s resolve to compile the scripture.

Both these sources agree that the Guru first sent Bhai Gurdas and then Baba Buddha to borrow the codices from Baba Mohan.

Both of them called on Baba Mohan who each time refused to part with the said codices. Then the Guru himself went to Goindval, “sat in the street below Baba Mohan’s attic serenading him on his tamboora, a stringed instrument. Mohan was disarmed to hear the hymn and came downstairs with the manuscripts”.

The hymn said to have been sung by the Guru here to please and appease Baba Mohan is found included in the Guru Granth Sahib, under measure Gauri: the hymn is obviously in eulogy of LordGod but is said to have been sung by the Guru here to please and appease Baba Mohan. The Guru Granth Sahib, which is revelatory in character, cannot contain anything in praise of anyone other than God: it would be blasphemous.

Giani Gian Singh, in his Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, differs from both the above-pientioned chronicles as to how Guru Arjan Dev got hold of the bani of the preceding Gurus. He says that the Guru sent out messengers with hukamnamas addressed to

individual Sikhs as well as to congregations in areas far and near requesting them to send or bring to him any hymns of the preceding Gurus they might have in their possession. Thus, the Guru took several years collecting bani from different sources and then sifting the genuine from the fake. Talking of Baba Mohan, he says that the codices of hymns with him had very little bani. Gian Singh also makes a reference to one Bhai Bakhatu, of Jalalpur of parganah Hasan-Abdal, who is believed to have resided with the preceding Gurus and had prepared a hand-written volume of their hymns.

Bakhatu, as says the Tawarikh, had also obtained on the manuscript nisan from each of the four Gurus, suggesting the authenticity of the text. The said Bhai Bakhatu responded to the Guru’s message and brought the volume to his presence. The Guru, says the Tawarikh, marveled at the huge size of the holy manuscript which was so huge and heavy that one could carry or handle with great difficulty. This contained such a large number of hymns that it served as the source material for the scripture.

If we analyze the above two different views, we come out with several discrepancies. The first view depends on the codices with Baba Mohan, but the second view negates its significance by saying that it had but very little bani. Also, both these views presume that Guru Nanak and Guru Angad Dev had given over the codices of their hymns to their respective successors as the time came. Then it does not stand to reason that Guru Amar Das did not give these over to his successor, Guru Ram Das, but instead gave them to his son, Baba Mohan. Reference to Bhai Bakhatu in the second view is obviously exaggerated. One, a codex with only the hymns of the first four Gurus cannot be so voluminous and heavy. Second, it also seems unlikely that he got signatures of all the four Gurus to the effect that the hymns recorded were authentic and genuine: Bakhatu could not possibly have lived such a long life.

Both the above views presume that the preceding Gurus did not think of preserving their hymns and even now the idea came to Guru Arjan from the Sikhs. The question now arises: if a person knows well the importance of his sayings, why will he not put them into writing or take some other measures so as to preserve them. Guru Nanak in one of his hymns, says that ‘the message of a holy man for an individual is always actually meant for the whole mankind – parthai sakhi maha purakh bolade sajhi sagaljahanai.

And a message could not be useful for the whole mankind, if arrangements for its preservation and propagation have not been duly made. Second, preachers give discourses, poets recite poems and scholars give lectures. People come and listen to them, but almost none cares to put the spoken word to pen: only the author has to bear this responsibility if he wants to preserve his writings for posterity.

All these sources referred to above are of the view that the bani of the Gurus had been preserved by different devotees of their own, there being implicitly no effort on the part of the Gurus.

The argument has very weak legs and does not stand to scrutiny.

Guru Nanak during his lifetime travelled a lot and he visited many far-off places. He uttered several hymns during such preaching odysseys, addressing them to some particular persons in some specific historical situations. In several of these situations, the person being addressed to by the Guru was not sympathetic to him or his view-point.In that situation, no one except the Guru himself could write down and preserve the hymn. For example, Guru Nanak uttered a hymn relating to the atrocities perpetrated on the masses during the invasion of Babar. At that time the situation was so chaotic and people so dreadful that expecting people at that moment to write down and preserve the hymns uttered by Guru Nanak would have been asking for too much. In such situations, none except the Guru could have thought of writing down the hymns.

Among the modern writers, Dr G.B. Singh researched in this direction and put his findings in the form of a book, Prachin Biran. Dr. Singh believes that Guru Nanak who calls himself a shair or poet might have preserved his bani in the form of a pothi.

Bhai Gurdas, in one of his vars, also refers to Guru Nanak carrying under his arm a pothi, possibly a collections of such banis. Dr.

Singh also cites several reasons to support his view.However, he errs thereafter when he says that Guru Nanak did not give over this codex to Bhai Lahina when he appointed him his successor, rather this pothi reached the hands of Baba Sri Chand after Guru Nanak’s passing away. Dr Singh further says that Sri Chand also failed to realize the importance of this sacred pothi. Consequently, the codex was offered to the river Ravi along with the body of Sri Chand.

Baba Sri Chand, as the Sikh tradition stands witness, visited Guru Ram Das and later Guru Arjan Dev, and held them in high esteem. Sri Chand (1494-1629) who passed away during the lifetime of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), the sixth Nanak, had visited Guru Arjan as he was composing his Sukhmani and might also have been aware of Guru Arjan taking up the compiling of the scripture. Moreover, if the Guru had sent messages to other Sikhs, why did he not send the message to Sri Chand as well: the Guru could not possibly be ignorant of Sri Chand having the hymns in his possession? Baba Sri Chand had patched up with the Sikh mainstream during the later phase of his life, especially when he called on the fourth and fifth Gurus and when he requested Guru Hargobind to give him one of his sons for appointment as his successor to lead the Udasi tradition. By then the Udasis had become a preaching class for the Sikhs and they did commendable work looking after the Sikh shrines during the days of their severe persecution. Since Sri Chand had by that time developed high regard for the Gurus, his attitude would not have been of indifference toward the pothi and he would certainly not have permitted his followers to put it into the Ravi along with his body.

It does not sound convincing at all, as some scholars say, that Guru Arjan thought of compiling/canonizing the scripture only after the suggestion of a Sikh or that the preceding Gurus did not realize the importance of preserving bani and the idea of preserving it came to Guru Arjan only. Interpolation of bani by some pseudoGurus posed a serious problem and the preservation of its original character was an important issue, but this cannot be accepted as the sole reason for taking up the work of compilation/canonization.

Therefore, we tend to agree with the other view which holds that the work of preserving/compilation of bani had already started with the preceding Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak himself.

They were well aware of the importance of bani and thus had already started the process of preserving and compiling their hymns.

The Pur at an Janam Sakhi, universally accepted to be the oldest account of the life of Guru Nanak and a near-contemporary source to the compilation, has in it a lot to throw light on the issue of compilation of the scripture. Although the manuscript is not dated yet various scholars have considered it to be a work composed sometime towards the end of 16 th or the early 17 th century. The historians have testified to the veracity of most of the details of the life of the Guru, and if we extend this argument further, there is thus every possibility of its contents as regards the compilation of the scripture also being closer to truth.

The Puratan Janam Sakhi accepts the fact that Guru Nanak had during his lifetime put his hymns into written form. There are also instances when someone of the devotees, accompanying the Guru at the given time, acted as the scribe. For example, it says that the Majh ki Var and the Sidh Gosti were recorded by Bhai Saido Gheeho who accompanied the Guru at that time. Similarly, it mentions that Malar ki Var was put to pen by Hassu and Shihan who were the Guru’s companions during his tour of Kashmir.

Guru Nanak’s stay at Kartarpur during the last years of his life was the most productive and eventful for the development of the Sikh scribal tradition. During these days many codices of Guru Nanak’s bani were prepared by devotees for their use. It is also here that Guru Nanak asked Bhai Lahina, who later succeeded him, to recite as well as to write down the Japu and also to recite it daily in the morning. Bhai Gurdas (Varan, 1.32) also seems to agree with this view as he refers to Guru Nanak holding a notebook (possibly containing his own hymns as well as those of other holy men he might have noted down from different places) under his arm as he travelled about – asa hathi kitab kachhi kuja bang musalla dhari. A modern-day scholar and exegete, Professor Sahib Singh, has also argued that Guru Nanak preserved his

compositions in writing and bestowed on his successor as the time came; the following Gurus preserved this codex, added to it their own hymns and each one of them handed it over to his successor. There is also a view that the compositions of Guru Nanak were earlier recorded perhaps in different anthologies, but during his last years at Kartarpur, Bhai Lahina was entrusted the job of arranging all these compositions into a pothi. Thus, this first redaction of Guru Nanak’s bani, which had been turned into a codex, was then bestowed on Guru Angad at the time of his appointment as successor to Guru Nanak.

We tend to agree with the above sources that there existed a written codex of Guru Nanak’s hymns by the time he passed away and this codex he bestowed on his successor, Guru Angad.

It is obviously unrealistic to believe that Guru Nanak bestowed Guruship on Bhai Lahina but did not give over to him the notebook containing his hymns, with the implication that the said notebook perhaps went over to Baba Sri Chand. Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, decided to continue the succession of Guruship because he knew that a continued, sustained endeavour was called for to accomplish the objective of spiritual and moral regeneration of mankind. It could not be that he might not have taken care to preserve what, as the scripture itself says, was the revealed word and what he wrote for posterity. After Guru Nanak, each of the following Gurus might also have handed over the codex/codices, comprising his own bani as well as of his predecessors, to his successor while bestowing spiritual succession on him.

Also, doctrinally, the Gurus were equally aware of the

distinction between themselves (person of the Guru) as God’s bards and the message entrusted to them(6aw), the deliverer of the message and the message itself, human Guru and the Word.

Each of the immediate successors of Guru Nanak would certainly have followed the example of preserving his predecessors’ codex of bani, adding to it his own and making it over to his successor as the time came. This implies that efforts were continuously and consistently made for the preservation of bani during the pontificate of first four Gurus before Guru Arjan gave it the final shape. This in no way belittles the unique contribution of Guru Arjan but the fact of history needs be stated as it is.

There has been available enough internal evidence as well to suggest that bani of the preceding Gurus was available with each of the successor-Gurus. Guru Nanak composed his hymns in certain specific poetic meters and ragas or musical measures.

The later Gurus have also composed their verses generally in the same meters and measures earlier used by Guru Nanak. There has been close proximity, both of thought and even of words, between some verses say of Guru Nanak and Guru Angad or Guru Amar Das or Guru Ram Das. This could have been possible only if the later Guru had the text of the bani of the preceding Gurus with him. The aim throughout had been two-fold:to preserve the bani as guiding principle for mankind for all times to come and also to retain the originality of the Gurus’ hymns against attempts at interpolation by the pseudo-Gurus who had begun to compose their own verses under the name Nanak. The Gurus are also believed to have codices prepared of their genuine sacred writings for subsequent circulation among sangats and individual devotees.

Now a brief comment on how the bhagat-bani was collected, selected and included in the scripture. Although among the contributors other than the Gurus, there are Sufis, Bhatts and others also along with the Bhagats, but for the sake of popular understanding all of their compositions are clubbed together as bhagat-bani. There is a view that the entire bhagat-bani has been interpolated in the post-Guru Arjan era through the intrigues of Prithi Chand and Emperor Jahangir. Thus, the entire bhagat-bani should, according to this view, be treated as kacchi banl. This view has been convincingly and thoroughly rejected by almost everybody except the followers of the Panch Khalsa Diwan of Bhasaur who were especially against the swaiyyas of the Bhatts and the Ragmala. Babu Teja Singh, a prominent leader of this Diwan was excommunicated by the Akal Takht on 9 August 1928 for holding on to and propagating this view.

According to the Suraj Granth and the Gurbilas, these Bhagats came to Guru Arjan in their subtle bodies. They were led by Kabir and they had come to request the Guru that their verses should also be included in the Holy Volume he was going to prepare. The author of the Tawarikh does not seem to be clear on the issue: he refers to the two views but does not say which he believes to be true. One, the souls of these Bhagats came, presented themselves to Bhai Gurdas and dictated their hymns. Two, Guru Arjan selected the bhagat-bani from the pothis he borrowed from Baba Mohan.

To us, all these views seem to be far from truth as they have been rejected by most of the scholars. Of course, some contemporary poets might possibly have approached Guru Arjan to have their compositions included. The case of Kahna having visited the Guru and the latter rejecting his claim can be cited in this regard.

The close proximity of thought between the slokas of Farid and of Guru Nanak shows that Guru Nanak had access to the slokas of Farid: in other words, the bani of Farid was available with Guru Nanak. The same proximity can be seen between certain hymns of Farid and those of other Gurus, of certain other Bhagats and of the Gurus. This implies that Guru Nanak while on his preaching udasis might have collected and preserved bani of these holy men from wherever he could get it. This collection might have reached the succeeding Gurus along with Guru Nanak ‘s own compositions. The following Gurus, especially Guru Arjan also might have made efforts to somehow collect such hymns and then by sifting the genuine from the fake included them in the holy volume.

Thus, the first thing that can be said with certainty about the history of the Sikhs scripural text is that it is not of obscure nature: its origins are traced to Guru Nanak Dev. No doubt, these hymns were remembered and sung by many followers but this oral tradition, also known as the kirtan sampardai, was neither the first method nor the only way of preserving bani: rather, oral tradition in Sikhism, though a popular mode, follows the scribal or written tradition. Guru Nanak and then his spiritual successors tended to record it on its very manifestation. We have given in the preceding pages several arguments to prove this contention. Thus, the scribal tradition was the premier tradition which flourished under the watchful eyes of the first four Gurus before it reached Guru Arjan. In fact, scribing of volumes of bani had developed into a pastime with the more devout among the Sikhs. In other words, we can say that the mother tradition of gurbani in scribal form had been an ongoing process which was co-extensive with the pontificate of the preceding Gurus. It came down to Guru Arjan at the time of his succession in a well nurtured form. No doubt, the oral tradition also continued along side the scribal tradition: the former is also known as the musical or kirtan tradition because it involved remembering hymns for singing. However, it had no independent origins or growth, rather it thrived purely on the scribal tradition.

We thus begin with the assumption that Guru Arjan had with him at the time of his succession codex/codices comprising most of if not all the hymns of the preceding Gurus as well as of some other holy men. Of course, he might have made efforts through messengers and otherwise to ensure that no genuine hymns are left out. But we cannot say with any sense of certainty as to exactly on which day Guru Arjan started work on the compilation of the scripture, but it is sure that Bhai Gurdas completed the job of writing down the main text of the scripture on Bhadon vadi ekam Bikrami 1661 (1 August 1604). This is what we find written in the hand of Bhai Gurdas at the head of the contents of the bir or recension said to have been hand-written by Bhai Gurdas and now extant with a Sodhi family of Kartarpur. It seems Bhai Gurdas gave the date before beginning to write down the list of contents – a job which might have taken about a week or ten days to complete. The holy volume was then called Pothi (literally volume) or Pothi Sahib {sahib is an honorific used here as a suffix). After getting this hand-written volume duly bound, it was installed in the newly completed building of the Harimandar (now popularly known as the Golden Temple): the Sikh tradition believes that it was Bhadon sudi ekam of 1661 Bikrami when the scripture was installed for the first time.

As the holy volume or Pothi Sahib was installed in the

Harimandar, Guru Arjan appointed Baba Buddha, a much venerated holy man in Sikh tradition, the first granthi or officiant. At that time it contained compositions of the first five Sikh Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Arjan Dev, apart from those of some other holy men. It has since then remained unaltered except the inclusion of the hymns of the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur.

This was done by Guru Gobind Singh in 1705 at Talwandi Sabo, also called Damdama Sahib, in the present-day Bathinda district.

This Volume which Guru Gobind Singh got written in the hand of Bhai Mani Singh and which included the compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur is no more extant today. It is believed that it got lost/ destroyed during the Vadda Ghallughara or the Great Holocaust which took place on 5 February 1762 at Kup-Rahira, near Malerkotla in Sangrur district of the Punjab. In this carnage, the Sikh loss of life is estimated at about 25 to 30 thousand.

Let us here briefly refer to the story of Bhai Banno taking the holy volume to Lahore via his village Khara Mangat and using this time to get a copy of it made without the knowledge of Guru Arjan. This story has been refuted by various scholars in such detail as we need not repeat here the reasons for its rejection. One thing that appeals even to the simplest of minds is that Guru Arjan could not be so indifferent to the fate of such an important volume prepared after such long labour that Bhai Banno could take as many days and months as he wished on the pretext of getting it bound. We know that Guru Arjan gave much respect to the Volume which means he might have got the work of binding done either at Amritsar itself by hiring the services of a binder or through a more reliable person like Bhai Gurdas or Baba Buddha. Moreover, we know the Volume was installed in the Harimandar soon after its compilation, the question of it being taken away by someone for such a long time does not arise. As an internal evidence indicates, the work of writing down the Banno recension was completed on Assu Vadi 1, Bikrami 1661, i.e. about one month after the writing of the main text of the Kartarpur recension.

Obviously, Bhai Banno or his nominees might have made the copy from the original version installed in the Harimandar.

The volume as compiled by Guru Arjan Dev was originally called the Pothi or the Pothi Sahib: the word pothi in Punjabi means a book or a volume, and sahib is an honorific used here as a suffix just to show one’s reverence for it. Bhai Gurdas, the scribe, while recording the fact of completing the job of compilation, called it the Pothi. It was a little later that it came to be called the Adi Granth: the word adi means the premier as well as the eternal, and the granth implies the volume or the book. It was so called perhaps to distinguish and differentiate it from the volume of compositions by Guru Gobind Singh. The latter came to be called the Dasam Granth or the volume containing compositions of the tenth {dasam) Guru vis-a-vis the volume prepared earlier which was premier historically as well as in importance because it was revelatory whereas the Dasam Granth has by the author himself been called, as recorded by Kesar Singh Chhibbar in his Bansavalinama, his ‘poetic pastime’. It went through another change in nomenclature when it was called and acknowledged as the Guru Granth Sahib: it was in 1708 just before his passing away that Guru Gobind Singh bestowed on it the office of the Guru.

Ever since the Sikhs have considered and addressed it as such.

No doubt, the Adi Granth came to be called and regarded as the Guru Granth Sahib only after Guru Gobind Singh had formally bestowed on it the office of Guru in 1708, but indications were available earlier as to this future development. There are several references within the text itself which equate the bani or Word with God as well as the Guru. For example, Guru Amar Das says: vahu vahu bani nirankar hai tis jevad avar na koi – hail, hail, the word of the G uru, which is the Lord Formless Himself; there is none other, nothing else to be reckoned equal to it (GGS,III,515).

Again, Guru Ram Das, the fourth among the ten Sikh spiritual preceptors, reiterates the same as he says: bani guru guru hai bani – the bani or the Word is the Guru and the Guru is the bani or the Word (GGS,IV, 982). Guru Arjan, in one of his hymns, calls the pothi or volume containing the divine Word as the dwelling-place of God (GGS, V, 1226). In the Sikh tradition also there are instances when the person-Guru showed great reverence to the Granth Sahib or more precisely to the Word as contained therein. It is said that when the scripture was ready and it was installed in the Harimandar, Guru Arjan Dev placed it on the manji sahib (i.e. on a higher platform) and himself slept on the bare floor (i.e. on the lower platform). Even earlier, it is said that as the manuscript was brought to the Harimandar, the Guru himself walked barefoot as the Holy Volume was put in a palanquin.

The Holy Volume is unique among other sacred literature of the world for certain reasons. One, it has been the only scripture among the world scriptures which was compiled under the personal care and supervision of the preceptor or prophet himself.

Most of the other scriptures have been composed or compiled by some disciples or others much after the prophet had passed away.

Thus, there can never be any question about the authenticity and genuineness of the contents of the Sikh scripture. Second, it happens to contain within it the spiritual heritage of about five hundred years. Chronologically, Sheikh Farid, one of the contributors to the scripture, has been the first having been born in 1 173, and Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs who courted martyrdom in 1675, has been the last. Third, its editorial scheme used by Guru Arjan has been such as to preclude any possibility of later interpolations. It has withstood the test of time, and so far its contents have remained safe from any such attempt.

Four, it is unique among the scriptural literature of the world over in that in contains hymns of holy men coming from its own traditions as well as from others. Interestingly, all these hymns may they be of Guru Nanak or of Kabir or of Ravidas or of Farid are held equal in importance and reverence. Also, this is perhaps the most voluminous poetic anthology of medieval times. Last though not least, this scripture has the rare distinction of having been bestowed on it the title of Guru. The followers acknowledge the scripture as their living Guru, and any injury or harm to it has invariably been taken a harm or injury to a living being.

After canonization and codification by Guru Arjan, any change in the scripture was neither permissible nor possible. The opinion held by some that the work of compilation and editing of hymns went on even after the canonization of the scripture by Guru Arjan is obviously an attempt at misleading. An efffort is made to justify this contention by referring to the plethora of different recensions which were prepared in the post-Adi Granth years. A careful analysis of these recensions would reveal that transmission of bani in the pre-and post-Adi Granth period had continued through various different ways and means. There were several schismatic traditions such as the Bhalla and Mina traditions which ran parallel to the main Sikh scribal tradition all through these years. They prepared various manuscripts which were not strictly canonical but aimed at serving their respective sectarian interests. These traditions were in the ascendancy especially when the Sikh Gurus shifted from the central Punjab to the Sivalik hills. Such manuscripts should have become redundant and lost all religious significance for the Sikhs after the codification of the scripture, but unfortunately such manuscripts continue to surface and cause confusion. The only change after canonization by Guru Arjan that has been accepted in the Sikh tradition is the addition of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s hymns by Guru Gobind Singh around 1 705.

However, unfortunately, none of the manuscripts belonging to mainstream Sikh scribal tradition of the pre-Adi Granth period is extant today, but the disappearance of such valuable sources can be well understood if and when we study the history of Sikhs during the first half of the eighteenth century when prices were fixed on their heads, uttering of the name of the Guru was prohibited and reading of bani of Guru Nanak was a taboo; anyone found disobeying this decree was liable to be arrested and his belly ripped open.

The entire corpus of bani available in the present printed form of the Guru Granth Sahib is sacred to the Sikhs. It comprises 1430 standard pages and Guru Arjan while compiling it divided the entire corpus into three different sections. The first section, comprising the first thirteen printed pages of the scripture contains banis not assigned to any particular musical measure and which also form part of the daily regimen of a Sikh. The second section, the major part of the scripture (pp. 14-1352), comprises thirtyone sub-sections, each given to a raga. Each sub-section begins with the hymns of Guru Nanak followed by those of the successive Gurus and the bhagats and others. The third section (1353-1430), is also not assigned to any ragas and it concludes with Guru Arjan’s Mundavani which literally means seal beyond which nothing can be added. At the end, however, is appended the Ragmala the authorship of which is unknown.

In its present form, the Guru Granth Sahib contains hymns of six of the ten Gurus of the Sikh faith and those of some holy men from other traditions including Hinduism and Islam. Among those coming from the Hindu tradition mostly belong to the Bhakti movement and they include Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Trilochan, Jaideva, Dhanna, Ramanand, Parmanand, Pipa, Sadhna, Sain, and Beni. In this category are also included the Bhatts who composed swaiyyas eulogizing the Gurus, and Rai Balwand and Satta, two bards, who used to sing hymns in the court of Guru Arjan and who also composed a var in Ramkali measure which apart from other things stresses the spiritual oneness of all the Gurus. Those from the Muslim background are the famous Sufi saint Shaikh Farid, and Bhikhan. There is another category in which we can inculde persons coming from the Gurus’ families and others who were otherwise closely connected with the Gurus, and this includes Baba Sundar, the great-granson of Guru Amar Das, who contributed one Sadu included in the Guru Granth Sahib under Ramkali measure and Bhai Mardana who accompanied Guru Nanak on his preaching odysseys. All these contributors other than the Gurus are popularly called Bhagats, and the bani of all these contributors is generally clubbed under one nomenclature bhagatbani. Theologically, all the scriptural hymns, may they be of Guru Nanak or Farid or Kabir or Ravidas are held in equal respect by the Sikhs: none is superior or inferior to the other. These hymns of the Gurus as well as of the Bhagats as a whole constitute the bani which has been given the status of the Guru, the Guru Eternal for the Sikhs.

Most of the scriptures of the world begin with an invocation to God or some deity seeking divine blessings for the successful completion of the venture. In secular literature also the same practice had been prevalent and we find most of the poets in ancient and medieval times beginning their works either with such an invocation or a eulogy of the human patron. In this case, however, such a device is used both to seek Divine blessings as well as to secure financial assistance/rewards from the human patron. Even in our daily routine, a religious person would begin each of his ventures even to the small job of writing a letter with an invocation. If the work – may it be of spiritual or secular content – happened to be divided into several sections and sub-sections, the practice was to repeat the invocation, either in full or in part as the author wished, at the head of each section and even subsection.

Guru Arjan has also recorded at the opening of the Sikh scripture what is popularly called the Mul Mantra: it is not given any title – either Mul Mantra or Invocation or any other. The text of the Mul Mantra comprises a few words/terms suggesting the attributes of God as articulated by the Sikh Gurus. Transliterated into Roman script, the text of the Mul Mantra would run as follows: ikoankar satinamu kartapurakhu nirbhau nirvair

akalmurati ajuni saibhan gurparasadi

A free rendering into English of the above text would mean that the Creator-Lord is one; Call Him Eternal Truth; He is the supreme Creator-Being who is immanent in the creation; He knows no fear and is at enmity with none; His Being is formless and beyond time; He is not born in any form; He is self-existent; and it is only through the grace of the Divine that one can realize Him.

It seems Guru Arjan has used the Mul Mantra here as an

instructional invocation: in this kind of invocation, the author sings praises of what he is going to deal with in the following text. This invocation thus also introduces the person or thing the author/ authors is/are going to deal with in the coming pages. The ‘invocation’ here eulogizes God as articulated by Guru Nanak, and this Real One in all its aspects and with all its immenseness was to be the subject-matter of the following text of the scripture.

We also find that Guru Arjan has repeated this Mul Mantra at the head of different sections and sub-sections of the scripture, but it is found written in five different forms – sometimes in full and sometimes in various abbreviated forms.

No doubt, the scripture as such stands as a one single

whole, but an analysis of its structure reveals that there are in between the prologue (Mul Mantra – invocation) and the epilogue (Mundavani – the prayar of thankfulness) at the end, thirty-three sections and various sub-sections. The first of these thirty-three sections following the Mul Mantra comprises the first thirteen printed pages and contains liturgical banis not assigned to any particular raga or musical measure. The hymns included in the first section include Japu(ji), So Daru (which forms part of the Japuji and of the Rahiras, and then appears independently in Asa raga), Sa Purakh which also is part of the evening prayer Rahiras and Sohila (propularly called the Kirtan Sohila and the bani to be recited daily at bedtime). All these compositions also form part of the daily regimen of a Sikh.

Guru Arjan Dev has assigned the following thirty-one sections to a raga each. When the Guru first compiled the scripture, it had only thirty ragas, and raga Jaijawanti in which only Guru Tegh Bahadur composed his hymns came to be added when Guru Gobind Singh made the latter part of the scripture. These thirty-one ragas are as follows: Siri, Majh, Gauri, Asa, Gujari, Devgandhari, Bihagara, Vadhans, Sorath, Dhanasari, Jaitsari, Todi, Bairari, Tilang, Suhi, Bilawal, Gaund, Ramkali, Nat Narain, Mali Gaura, Maru, Tukhari, Kedara, Bhairau, Basant, Sarang, Malar, Kanara, Kalian, Parbhati and Jaijawanti. Each of these ragas is to be sung at a particular given time during specific season. Of these thirtyone ragas, Guru Arjan has composed bani in twenty ragas. All the 7Y7g<2-sections have almost the similar structure: each such section opens on a fresh folio/page and begins with the MulMantra.

After this each typical raga-section is broadly divided into two parts – the first carries the hymns of the Guru and the second comprises bhagat-bani, i.e. hymns of contributors other than the Gurus. Each part has several sub-sections, and each sub-section begins with the Mul Mantra in its full or abbreviated form and comprises hymns of a particular author under one poetic genre.

The order of the genres included in the scripture begins with the padas (including ikpada, dupada, tipada, chaupada, panjpada, chhipada and astpadi) and is followed by chhant, miscellaneous smaller compositions, larger compositions and Vars at the end.

Since all the Gurus composed hymns under the pseudonym of Nanak, Guru Arjan has put Mahla, I, II, III and so on at the head of these hymns to indicate the specific authorship of a given hymn: here Mahla I stands for the first Guru, Guru Nanak, and Mahla II for the second Guru, Guru Angad, and so on.

After the banis of the Gurus {padas, chhants and the titled compositions including both the smaller and the longer ones) in each raga-section is included what we popularly call bhagat-bani, the compositions of various saints and bhagats (other than the Sikh Gurus). This section begins with the verses of Kabir and is followed by those of Namdev, Ravidas Jaideva and so on.

Interestingly, order is strictly followed in the case of the bani of the Gurus, but in the case of Bhagats the order is not strictly chronological. The reason may be the uncertainty about their years: scholars have not been unanimous as to the dates of these contributor-Bhagats even till date. The hymns of the Bhagats are not found in all the ragas, and scholars hold different opinions as regards the question whether they did or did not indicate the raga at the head of their compositions or they just composed verses in different poetic metres, and not in any ragas. It seems some of them might have indicated ragas and in the case where raga was not indicated Guru Arjan might have used his editorial prerogative to assign those verses to the appropriate ragas.

Following these thirty-one sections assigned to different ragas, we again have a section comprising miscellaneous compositions which are not assigned to any particular raga but have been composed in different poetic metres. This section (1353-1430) begins with the Sahaskriti Slokas by Guru Nanak (4) and Guru Arjan (67) and concludes with the Ragmala. In between these two compositions are placed the banis like Gatha, Phunhe, Chaubole, slokas by Kabir and Farid and swaiyyas both by the Gurus and various Bhatts.

“Rahau” has a very significant place in Gurmat music: that is why we find it used only in the compositions assigned to different ragas, and not in the others. It comprises the verse or verses which the singers repeat at regular intervals while singing the compositions wherein it occurs. It is also said that the verses titled “rahau” contain the central idea, the essence of the relevant compositions. The Rahau verses in the Sukhmani are generally believed to contain the essence of the bani. Similarly, the ‘Rahau verses’ in the beginning of the Sidh Gosti also reflect the author’s ideology which stands resolved in the following text with the help of questions and answers. This can be illustrated by numerous examples from other compositions in the scripture. It has also been said that while explaining a hymn, one should begin with an explanation of the ‘Rahau verse(s)’: this would make the exegete’s job much simpler and the listener will also be able to comprehend the meaning easily. There are hymns in the scripture which contain more than one Rahau. It has been explained that if there are two ‘Rahau verses’, the first one is the question and the second gives the answer. There are also instances of more than two verses of Rahau – actually they go up to six at some places. In all these cases the Rahau verses help us understand the relevant hymn. In the case of vars, rahau occurs only in one such var – Var Ramkali Mahla III and here it is meant to be sung after the recitation of each stanza of the var.

Guru Arjan’s Mundavani, is a sort of epilogue to the scripture.

The exegetes have interpreted the word ‘mundavani’ variously.

Some take it to mean a riddle while more commonly it is taken as seal or stamp: by affixing his seal to the holy writ, the Guru precluded the possibility of any apocryphal additions. It has two parts: in the first part, the scripture has metaphorically been referred to as a salver containing three articles – truth, contentment and contemplation. Then the fourth viand is mentioned – the nectar of Name Divine which sustains all. He who partakes of this fare is saved. In the second part, there are two couplets by way of thanksgiving. Herein the Guru recites the praises while rendering his gratitude: Thou made me worthy of this task, Lord. I know not the limit of Thy favour. Meritles am I – without merit. That was thine own mercy…. 1

However, as it happens, the scripture in its present printed form concludes with the Ragmala which comes after the

Mundavani: the authorship of the Ragmala has been a matter of controversy and how it came to be added to the scripture has so far remained a mystery. Of course, it has no thematical affinity or integrity with the other compositions included in the scripture, and it has no spiritual or instructional significance. The Sikh Rahit Maryada or the Sikh Code of Conduct which generally governs the Sikh way of life strangely refuses to take a clear position on the issue. It remains undecided on this vital issue but proclaims that the printed version of the scripture must carry at its end the Ragmala, though the question of its recitation along with the preceding hymns has been left to the local practice.

Guru Arjan who compiled the scripture has adopted a very meticulous method of numbering the hymns so as to negate every possibility of interpolation and to clarify the quantum of bani composed by a particular author in any given meter and raga. The system followed is so worked out that a monograph like this is not sufficient to explain, in some detail, all its intricacies and complexities.

Thus, an analysis of its structure reveals certain characteristic features of it such as its typical numbering of hymns so as to preclude any possibility of apocryphal interpolation; following the standard pattern of begining with an invocation and concluding with a prayer of thanks giving; using the invocation at the beginning of each section and sub-section; introducing the subject-matter, in the invocation, being dealt with in the coming pages; using a concluding hymn both as the seal beyond which nothing could be added and as a summary of the contents of the preceding volume; and so on. The scripture has since been acknowledged the medium of revelation that descended through the Gurus. All ideals, institutions and rituals of the Sikh faith derive their meaning from it. It makes and moulds the Sikh concept of life, is central to all that happens in the Sikh life and is the presiding deity in all Sikh shrines the world over.