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Guru Granth Sahib

Guru Granth Sahib (Punjabi: ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ/Punjabi pronunciation: [ɡʊɾuː ɡɾəntʰᵊ saːhɪb]) is the central religious scripture of Sikhism, regarded by Sikhs as the final, sovereign and eternal living Guru following the lineage of the ten human Gurus of the religion. The Adi Granth, its first rendition, was compiled by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev (1563–1606). Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, did not add any of his own hymns; however, he added all 115 hymns of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, to the Adi Granth and affirmed the text as his successor.[1] This second rendition became known as Guru Granth Sahib and is sometimes also referred to as Adi Granth.[2][3]

Guru Granth Sahib
Guru Granth Sahib ji
Illuminated Guru Granth Sahib folio with nisan (Mul Mantar) of Guru Nanak

The text consists of 1430 angs (pages) and 6,000 śabads (line compositions),[4][5] which are poetically rendered and set to a rhythmic ancient north Indian classical form of music.[6] The bulk of the scripture is divided into thirty-one rāgas, with each Granth rāga subdivided according to length and author. The hymns in the scripture are arranged primarily by the rāgas in which they are read.[4] The Guru Granth Sahib is written in the Gurmukhī script, in various languages, including Lahnda (Western Punjabi), Braj Bhasha, Khariboli, Sanskrit, Sindhi, and Persian. Copies in these languages often have the generic title of Sant Bhasha.[7]

Guru Granth Sahib was composed predominantly by six Sikh Gurus: Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, and Guru Teg Bahadur. It also contains the poetic teachings of thirteen Hindu Bhakti movement sant poets (saints) and two Muslim sufi poets.[8][9]

The vision in the Guru Granth Sahib is of a society based on divine justice without oppression of any kind.[10][11] While the Granth acknowledges and respects the scriptures of Hinduism and Islam, it does not imply a moral reconciliation with either of these religions.[12] It is installed in a Sikh gurdwara (temple). A typical Sikh bows or prostrates before it on entering such a temple.[13] The Granth is revered as eternal gurbānī and the spiritual authority in Sikhism.[14]


Guru Granth Sahib

During the time of Guru Nanak Dev, collections of his hymns were compiled and sent to distant Sikh communities for use in morning and evening prayers.[15] His successor Guru Angad Dev began collecting his predecessor's writings. This tradition was continued by the third and fifth gurus as well. When the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev, was collecting religious writings of his predecessor, he discovered that competing claimants to the Sikh guruship were releasing what he considered as forged anthologies of writings of the previous guru and including their own writings with them.[16] In order to prevent spurious scriptures from gaining legitimacy, Guru Arjan Dev began compiling a sacred scripture for the Sikh community. He finished collecting the religious writings of Guru Ram Das, his immediate predecessor, and convinced Mohan, the son of Guru Amar Das, to give him the collection of the religious writings of the first three gurus.[16]

Guru Arjan sent disciples to go across the country to find and bring back any previously unknown religious writings of theirs. He also invited members of other religions and contemporary religious writers to submit writings for possible inclusion.[16] Guru Arjan selected hymns for inclusion in the Adi Granth and Bhai Gurdas acted as his scribe.[17]

While the manuscript was being put together, Akbar – the Mughal Emperor, received a report that the Adi Granth contained passages vilifying Islam. Therefore, while traveling north, he stopped en route and asked to inspect it.[18] Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas brought him a copy of the Adi Granth as it existed then. After choosing three random passages to be read, Akbar decided that this report had been false.[18]

In 1604, Adi Granth was completed and installed at the Harmandir Sahib, with Baba Buddha as the first granthi, or reader.[19] Since communities of Sikh disciples were scattered all over northern India, copies of the holy scripture needed to be made for them.[18] The sixth guru added the tunes of 9 out of 22 Vars. Seventh and eighth guru did not have writings of their own added to the holy scripture; however, the ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, did. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, included writings of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur in the Guru Granth Sahib.[18]

In 1704 at Damdama Sahib, during a one-year respite from the heavy fighting with Aurangzeb which the Khalsa was engaged in at the time, Guru Gobind Singh and Bhai Mani Singh added the religious compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur to Adi Granth to create a definitive compilation.[18] Religious verses of Guru Gobind Singh were not included in Guru Granth Sahib, but some of them are included in the daily prayers of Sikhs.[18] During this period, Bhai Mani Singh also collected Guru Gobind Singh's religious writings, as well as his court poems, and included them in a secondary religious volume, today known as the Dasam Granth Sahib.[20]


The entire Guru Granth Sahib is written in the Gurmukhi script, which was standardized by Guru Angad Dev in the 16th century. According to Sikh tradition and the Mahman Prakash, an early Sikh manuscript, Guru Angad Dev had taught and spread the Gurmukhi script at the suggestion of Guru Nanak Dev which has invented the Gurmukhi script. [21][22] The word Gurmukhī translates to "from the mouth of the guru". It descended from the Laṇḍā scripts and was used from the outset for compiling Sikh scriptures. The Sikhs assign a high degree of sanctity to the Gurmukhī script.[23] It is the official script for writing Punjabi in the Indian State of Punjab.

The end part of the handwritten Adi Granth, by Pratap Singh Giani, on the first floor of Harmandir Sahib

Gurus considered divine worship through shabad kirtan as the best means of attaining that state of bliss -vismad- which resulted in communion with God. Guru Granth Sahib is divided by musical settings or ragas[24] into 1,430 pages known as Angs (limbs) in Sikh tradition. It can be categorized into two sections:

  1. Introductory section consisting of the Mool Mantar, Japji and Sohila, composed by Guru Nanak Dev;
  2. Compositions of Sikh gurus, followed by those of the bhagats who know only God, collected according to the chronology of ragas or musical settings. (see below).

The word raga refers to the "color"[25] and, more specifically, the emotion or mood produced by a combination or sequence of pitches.[26] A raga is composed of a series of melodic motifs, based upon a definite scale or mode of the seven Swara psalmizations,[27] that provide a basic structure around which the musician performs. Some ragas may be associated with times of the day and year.[24]

The Mool Mantar in the handwriting of Guru Har Rai

There are 31 ragas in the Sikh system, divided into 14 ragas and 17 raginis (minor or less definite ragas). Within the raga division, the songs are arranged in order of the Sikh gurus and Sikh bhagats with whom they are associated. The ragas are, in order: Sri, Manjh, Gauri, Asa, Gujri, Devagandhari, Bihagara, Wadahans, Sorath, Dhanasri, Jaitsri, Todi, Bairari, Tilang, Suhi, Bilaval, Gond (Gaund), Ramkali, Nut-Narayan, Mali-Gaura, Maru, Tukhari, Kedara, Bhairav (Bhairo), Basant, Sarang, Malar, Kanra, Kalyan, Prabhati and Jaijawanti. In addition there are 22 compositions of Vars (traditional ballads). Nine of these have specific tunes, and the rest can be sung to any tune.[24] Ragas such as Megh (raga), Hindol (raga) which were jubilant tone or ragas such as Jog (raga), deepak etc. which were melancholy were not selected for these compositions. [28][note 1]


Meaning and role in SikhismEdit

In 1708 Guru Gobind Singh conferred the title of "Guru of the Sikhs" upon the Adi Granth. The event was recorded in a Bhatt Vahi (a bard's scroll) by an eyewitness, Narbud Singh, who was a bard at the Rajput rulers' court associated with gurus.[29] Sikhs since then have accepted Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture, as their eternal-living guru, as the embodiment of the ten Sikh Gurus, the highest religious and spiritual guide for Sikhs. It plays a central role in guiding the Sikh's way of life.[3][30]

A Granthi reciting from Guru Granth Sahib

No one can change or alter any of the writings of the Sikh gurus written in the Guru Granth Sahib. This includes sentences, words, structure, grammar, and meanings. This tradition was set by Guru Har Rai. He sent his eldest son Ram Rai as an emissary to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in Delhi. Aurangzeb, a devout Muslim ruler, objected to a verse in the Sikh scripture (Asa ki Var) that stated, "the clay from a Musalman's grave is kneaded into potter's lump", considering it an insult to Islam. Ram Rai tried to please the emperor by explaining that the text was miscopied and modified it, substituting "Musalman" with "Beiman" (faithless, evil) which Aurangzeb approved.[31][32] The willingness to change a word led Guru Har Rai to bar his son from his presence, and name his younger son as his successor.[32]


A composition or Shabad from Guru Granth Sahib

Guru Granth Sahib is always the focal point in any gurdwara, seated on a raised platform known as a Takht (throne), while the congregation of devotees sits on the floor and bow before the guru as a sign of respect. Guru Granth Sahib is given the greatest respect and honour. Sikhs cover their heads and remove their shoes while in the presence of this sacred scripture, their eternal living guru. Guru Granth Sahib is normally carried on the head and as a sign of respect, never touched with unwashed hands or put on the floor.[33] It is attended with all signs of royalty, with a canopy placed over it. A chaur (fan whisk) is waved above the Guru Granth Sahib.[34]

The Guru Granth Sahib is taken care of by a Granthi, who is responsible for reciting from the sacred hymns and leading Sikh prayers. The Granthi also acts as caretaker for the Guru Granth Sahib, keeping the Guru Granth Sahib covered in clean cloths, known as rumala, to protect from heat and dust. The Guru Granth Sahib rests on a manji sahib under a rumala until brought out again.[33]


Ernest Trumpp – a German philologist associated with Christian missionaries, published the first philological study and a major but incomplete translation of the Guru Granth Sahib in 1877, after an 8-year study of the text and field interviews with Sikh intelligentsia of his time.[35][36] Trumpp included his criticism of the Sikh scripture in the preface and introductory sections, and stated "Sikhism is a waning religion, that will soon belong to history". Many in the Sikh community regarded these introductory remarks to his translation as "extremely offensive".[37][38] According to the Indologist Mark Juergensmeyer, setting aside Ernest Trumpp's nasty remarks, he was a German linguistic and his years of scholarship, translations, as well as field notes and discussions with Sikhs at the Golden Temple remain valuable reference works for contemporary scholars.[39] According to Akshaya Kumar, Trumpp's translation is "literal and mechanical" emphasizing preciseness and fastidiously retaining the words as well as the syntax of the original verses, avoiding any creative and inventive restatement to empathize with a believer.[40]

Max Arthur Macauliffe – a British civil servant, was next to publish a major but incomplete translation of the Guru Granth Sahib, covering the same ground as Trumpp but interspersed his translation between Janamsakhis-based mythical history of the Sikh Gurus.[41][42] A major source of his historical information was Suraj Prakash of Santokh Singh, and his primary translation advisor was the Khalsa Sikh reformist Kahn Singh Nabha – the author of Gurmat Prabhakar and Hum Hindu Nahin.[43][44] Macauliffe's translation appeared embedded in the six-volume The Sikh Religion and was published by Oxford University Press in 1909.[42] Unlike Trumpp who had disregarded the sensibilities and empathy for the Sikhs, Macauliffe used his creative editorial abilities to incorporate these sensibilities.[42] While Trumpp criticized Sikhism and the Guru Granth Sahib, Macauliffe criticized Hinduism and wrote an introduction that presented the hymns of Sikh Gurus as Christian-like with affinities to "Protestant virtues and ethics", presumably for a British audience, states Indologist Giorgio Shani.[45] Macauliffe's translation was well received by the Sikh community and considered by them as closer to how they interpret their scripture.[42] Post-colonial scholarship has questioned Macauliffe's translations and work as "uncritical" and "dubious", though one that pleased the Sikh community.[42] Macauliffe's version has been widely followed by later scholars and translators.[42] According to Christopher Shackle – a scholar of Languages and Religion, Macauliffe's approach to translation was to work with Khalsa Sikh reformists of the 1890s (Singh Sabha) and exegetically present the scripture in a "progressive monotheism" fold that deserved the support of the British imperial power. He used considerable freedom in restating the archaic poetry into a "vaguely psalm-like translation".[46]

ਥਾਪਿਆ ਨ ਜਾਇ ਕੀਤਾ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਆਪੇ ਆਪਿ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਸੋਇ ॥ ਜਿਨਿ ਸੇਵਿਆ ਤਿਨਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਗਾਵੀਐ ਗੁਣੀ ਨਿਧਾਨੁ ॥ ਗਾਵੀਐ ਸੁਣੀਐ ਮਨਿ ਰਖੀਐ ਭਾਉ ॥ ਦੁਖੁ ਪਰਹਰਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਘਰਿ ਲੈ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਦੰ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਵੇਦੰ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਈ ॥ ਗੁਰੁ ਈਸਰੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਰਖੁ ਬਰਮਾ ਗੁਰੁ ਪਾਰਬਤੀ ਮਾਈ ॥ ਜੇ ਹਉ ਜਾਣਾ ਆਖਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹਣਾ ਕਥਨੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥ ਗੁਰਾ ਇਕ ਦੇਹਿ ਬੁਝਾਈ ॥ਸਭਨਾ ਜੀਆ ਕਾ ਇਕੁ ਦਾਤਾ ਸੋ ਮੈ ਵਿਸਰਿ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥੫॥
ਸੁਣਿਐ ਈਸਰੁ ਬਰਮਾ ਇੰਦੁ ॥ ਸੁਣਿਐ ਮੁਖਿ ਸਾਲਾਹਣ ਮੰਦੁ ॥ ਸੁਣਿਐ ਜੋਗ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਤਨਿ ਭੇਦ ॥ ਸੁਣਿਐ ਸਾਸਤ ਸਿਮ੍ਰਿਤਿ ਵੇਦ ॥ਨਾਨਕ ਭਗਤਾ ਸਦਾ ਵਿਗਾਸੁ ॥९॥

थापिआ न जाइ कीता न होइ ॥ आपे आपि निरंजनु सोइ ॥ जिनि सेविआ तिनि पाइआ मानु ॥ नानक गावीऐ गुणी निधानु ॥ गावीऐ सुणीऐ मनि रखीऐ भाउ ॥ दुखु परहरि सुखु घरि लै जाइ ॥ गुरमुखि नादं गुरमुखि वेदं गुरमुखि रहिआ समाई ॥ गुरु ईसरु गुरु गोरखु बरमा गुरु पारबती माई ॥ जे हउ जाणा आखा नाही कहणा कथनु न जाई ॥ गुरा इक देहि बुझाई ॥ सभना जीआ का इकु दाता सो मै विसरि न जाई ॥५॥
सुणिऐ ईसरु बरमा इंदु ॥ सुणिऐ मुखि सालाहण मंदु ॥ सुणिऐ जोग जुगति तनि भेद ॥ सुणिऐ सासत सिम्रिति वेद ॥ नानक भगता सदा विगासु ॥ सुणिऐ दूख पाप का नासु ॥९॥

Guru Granth Sahib Japu 5–9[47] —Transliteration

Translation by Ernest Trumpp (1877)[48]
He cannot be established, he is not made. He himself is the Supreme Being. By whom he is worshipped, by him honour is obtained. O Nanak, if the abode of virtues be praised. If he be praised, heard, if love (to him) be kept in the mind. He puts away his pain and brings comfort to his house. From the mouth of the Guru (God) is the sound, from the mouth of the Guru is the Veda, in the mouth of the Guru it is contained (or absorbed); The Guru is Isar (Shiva), the Guru is Gorakh (Vishnu), Brahma, the Guru is the mother Parbati; If I would know, would I not tell? the story cannot be told. O Guru! let me know the One! That the one liberal patron of all living beings may not be forgotten by me! [5]
By having heard (his name) Isar (Shiva), Brahma and Indra (have been made). By having heard, they praise with their mouth the mantra. By having heard, the skill of Jog (and in) their body the secret (of God). By having heard, the Shastras, the Smriti and the Vedas (are obtained); O Nanak, (his) worshippers are always happy. By having heard, pain and sins are annihilated. [9]

Translation by Max Arthur Macauliffe (1909)[49]
He is not established, nor is He created. The pure one existeth by Himself. They who worship Him have obtained honour. Nanak, sing His praises who is the Treasury of excellences. Sing and hear and put His love into your hearts. Thus shall your sorrows be removed, and you have be absorbed in Him who is the abode of happiness. Under the Guru's instruction God's word is heard; under the Guru's instruction its knowledge is acquired; under the Guru's instruction man learns that God is everywhere contained; the Guru is Shiv; the Guru is Vishnu and Brahma; he Guru is Parbati, Lakhshmi, and Saraswati; If they know Him, should I not describe Him? He cannot be described by words; My Guru hath explained one thing to me – That there is but one Bestower of all living beings; may I not forget Him! [5]
By hearing the Name man becometh as Shiv, Brahma and Indar; By hearing the Name even the low become highly lauded; By hearing the Name the way of Jog and the secrets of the body are obtained; By hearing the Name man understandeth the real nature of the Shastars, the Simritis, and the Veds; Nanak, the saints are ever happy; By hearing the Name sorrow and sin are no more. [9]

Guru Granth Sahib Japu 5–9 Guru Granth Sahib Japu 5–9

The first complete English translation of Guru Granth Sahib, by Gopal Singh, was published in 1960. A revised version published in 1978 removed the obsolete English words such as "thee" and "thou". In 1962, an eight-volume translation into English and Punjabi by Manmohan Singh was published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. In the 2000s, a translation by Sant Singh Khalsa appeared on major Sikhism-related websites such as 3HO/Sikh Dharma Brotherhood's[46]


The Gurudwara Ramsar, the official religious body of Sikhs, is responsible for making physical copies of the Guru Granth Sahib. Until 1864, the Gurudwara Ramsar allowed only handwritten copies. Now the basement of its headquarters in Amritsar houses the only printing press authorized to reproduce the Guru Granth Sahib. Since the early 20th century, it has been printed in a standard edition of 1430 Angs. The printers, chosen for their skill and uprightness, adhere to a strict code of conduct.[50]

Before the late nineteenth century, only handwritten copies were prepared. The first printed copy of the Guru Granth Sahib was made in 1864. Since the early 20th century, it has been printed in a standard edition of 1430 Angs. Any copies of Guru Granth Sahib deemed unfit to be read from are cremated, with a ceremony similar to that for cremating a deceased person. Such cremating is called Agan Bheta. Guru Granth Sahib is currently printed in an authorized printing press in the basement of the Gurudwara Ramsar in Amritsar; misprints and set-up sheets, and printer's waste with any of its sacred text on, are cremated at Goindval.[51]


  1. ^ Following is the list of all sixty Raags under which Gurbani is written, in order of appearance with page numbers:[citation needed] Asa — 8, Gujari — 10, Gauri Deepaki — 12, Dhanasri — 13, Gauri Poorabi — 13, Siri — 14, Majh — 94, Gauri Guarairee — 151, Gauri — 151, Gauri Dakhani — 152, Gauri Chaitee — 154, Gauri Bairagan — 156, Gauri Poorabi Deepaki — 157, Gauri Majh — 172 Gauri Malva — 214, Gauri Mala — 214, Gauri Sorath — 330, Asa Kafi — 365, Asavari — 369, Asa Asavari — 409, Devgandhari — 527, Bihagra — 537, Vadhans — 557, Vadhans Dakhani — 580, Sorath — 595, Jaitsri — 696, Todi — 711, Bairarri — 719, Tilang — 721, Tilang Kafi — 726, Suhee — 728, Suhee Kafi — 751, Suhee Lalit — 793, Bilaval — 795, Bilaval Dakhani — 843, Gound — 859, Bilaval Gound — 874, Ramkali — 876, Ramkali Dakhani — 907, Nut Narayan — 975, Nut — 975, Mali Gaura — 984, Maru — 989, Maru Kafi — 1014, Maru Dakhani — 1033, Tukhari — 1107, Kedara — 1118, Bhairo — 1125, Basant — 1168, Basant Hindol — 1170, Sarang — 1197, Malar — 1254, Kanra — 1294, Kaliyan — 1319, Kaliyan Bhopali — 1321, Parbhati Bibhas — 1327, Parbhati — 1327, Parbhati Dakhani — 1344, Bibhas Parbhati — 1347, Jaijavanti — 1352.


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    The Making of Sikh Scripture by Gurinder Singh Mann. Published by Oxford University Press US, 2001. ISBN 0-19-513024-3, ISBN 978-0-19-513024-9 Page 5. "The language of the hymns recorded in the Adi Granth has been called Sant Bhasha, a kind of lingua franca used by the medieval saint-poets of northern India. But the broad range of contributors to the text produced a complex mix of regional dialects."
    Surindar Singh Kohli, History of Punjabi Literature. Page 48. National Book, 1993. ISBN 81-7116-141-3, ISBN 978-81-7116-141-6. "When we go through the hymns and compositions of the Guru written in Sant Bhasha (saint-language), it appears that some Indian saint of 16th century...."
    Nirmal Dass, Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth. SUNY Press, 2000. ISBN 0-7914-4683-2, ISBN 978-0-7914-4683-6. Page 13. "Any attempt at translating songs from the Adi Granth certainly involves working not with one language, but several, along with dialectical differences. The languages used by the saints range from Sanskrit; regional Prakrits; western, eastern and southern Apabhramsa; and Sahiskriti. More particularly, we find sant bhasha, Marathi, Old Hindi, central and Lehndi Panjabi, Sgettland Persian. There are also many dialects deployed, such as Purbi Marwari, Bangru, Dakhni, Malwai, and Awadhi."
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