Introduction to Sikhism:The Sikh Scriptures
THE SCRIPTURES I
Guru Granth Sahib
The holiest of the Sikh scriptures is Guru Granth Sahib. It was called Adi Granth (first scripture) until Guru Gobind Singh conferred on it the title of the Guru in 1708, after which it was called Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Granth Sahib is the only world scripture which was compiled during the life time of its compiler. All other world scriptures were compiled many years after the death of the prophet. (compare it with Vedas, written at least thousand years after their pronouncement; Bible, written about 60 years after the death of Christ; Koran, written about 80 years after the death of Mohammed, Three Baskets and Angas written about 40 years after the death of Buddha and Mahavir).
Guru Granth Sahib was compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. The work of compilation was started in 1601 and finished in 1604. The Granth, called by Guru Arjan as Pothi Sahib, was installed at Golden Temple (then called `Harimandir’ – the house of God) with great celebrations.
Guru Arjan included the hymns of the following in the Granth:
Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas and himself (Guru Arjan), 15 renowned saints of both Guru period and pre – Guru period. Farid and Bhikhen were Muslims and others were Hindus. Hindu saints were from both higher and lower castes, e.g., Ravidas, Sain, Sadhna and Namdev were from lower castes, whereas Parmanand, Surdas, Jaidev and Ramanand were Brahmins. The Bhagats also represented different parts of India, e.g., Farid was a Punjabi, Dhanna was a Rajasthani, Jaidev was a Bengali, Namdev, Parmanand, Trilochan and Pipa were Maharashtrians, Sadhna was a Sindhi, Sain was from Madhya Pradesh, and Kabir, Bhikhen, Beni, Ramanand , Ravidas and Surdas were from Uttar Pradesh.
17 bhatts (court poets) most of whom were Brahmins.
3 other disciples Bhai Mardana, a Muslim, Sunder, and Satta & Balwand, Muslims.
Guru Gobind Singh, later (1706), added the hymns of Guru Tegh Bahadur in it and declared it to be the Guru of the Sikhs.
Like most of the world scriptures, the text of the Granth is:
Praises of God
Search of God
Means of communication with God
Methods to realise God.
Rules of morality
The Sikh theology
All copies of the Granth have 1430 pages. It is divided into 39 chapters.
The languages used in the Granth are:
Panjabi – Sikh Gurus , Bhagat (saint) Sheikh Farid and others
Sindhi – Guru Arjan
Sanskrit – Guru Nanak, Guru Arjan and others
Influence of Arabic and Persian – Bhagat Namdev
Western Panjabi/Lehndi – Guru Arjan
Gujrati and Marathi – Bhagat Namdev and Trilochan
Western Hindi – Bhagat Kabir
Eastern Hindi – Court poets
Eastern Apabhramas – Bhagat Jaidev
The text of Guru Granth Sahib is composed in poetry and is arranged in Musical measures. Thirty one out of the 39 Chapters have a musical measure as a heading. Musical measures refer to the timing, rhythm, and mood of singing a particular hymn. There are 31 musical measures (ragas) used in the Granth.
The structure of the compositions differ from hymn to hymn.
The popular formations are as follows:
Couplets (sloaks), varying from 2 line to 6 lines
Hymns (shabads) of 2-16 verses
Ballads (vars) (made of pauris (hymns) of different sizes and sloaks)
Stanza (Swayas) of different length and measures.
Verses of praise (Chhants) of different lengths.
Each composition composed by the Sikh Gurus ends with the name Nanak as the composer. The heading of the hymns, however, indicates the name (number ) of the Guru who had actually composed it. For example a hymn composed by Guru Arjan , the fifth Guru, will be headed `Mehla 5’, where the word `Mehla’ means `Refer to’ and number 5 means the fifth Guru.
Guru Arjan has used a numeral system to number the hymns included in Guru Granth Sahib to avoid later interpolations by others. For example a number 4/1/34 at the end of a hymn would mean:
First number 4 – means the number of verses in the hymn
Second number 1 – means the number of composition of the present writer,
Third number 34 – means the cumulative total of all the compositions in the chapter.
The Sikhs regard Guru Granth Sahib as the living Guru and give it utmost respect. The Granth is always wrapped in clean sheets. It is ceremoniously opened every morning and closed at night time. It is placed on the small cot with cushions under and on its sides. Sheets are used to cover the Granth when it is open. The open copy of the Granth must be placed under a canopy. Every devotee must bow to it when he/she comes in its presence. (The only other religion which shows similar type of respect to its holy book is Judaism)
THE SCRIPTURES II
Other scriptures/holy books/sources
1. The second holy book of the Sikhs is called Dasam Granth, the book of the tenth Guru.
2. This Granth was compiled three years after the Guru’s death.
3. Mata Sundri, the widow of the Guru, asked Bhai Mani Singh, a contemporary of the Guru, to collect all the hymns composed by the Guru and prepare a Granth of the Guru. It was completed in 1711.
4. In its present form it contains 1428 pages.
5. The languages used in the Granth are:
6. The Granth contains sixteen compositions versified in different forms of poetry in the following order:
Bachitar Natak ( autobiography of the Guru)
Akal Ustat (praises of God)
Chandi Charitar I & II (the character of goddess Chandi)
Chandi di Var (a ballad to describe goddess Durga)
Gian Prabodh (the awakening of knowledge)
Chaubis Avtar (24 incarnations of Vishnu)
Brahm Avtar (incarnation of Brahma)
Rudar Avtar (incarnation of Shiv)
Shabad Hazare (ten shabads)
Swayyae (33 stanzas)
Khalsa Mehma (the praises of the Khalsa)
Shaster Nam Mala ( a list of weapons)
Triya Charitar (the character of women)
Zafarnama (epistle of victory, a letter written to Emperor Aurangzeb)
7. In addition to the praises of God, the Granth gives a description of the contemporary life as it existed at that period of time. For example, Bachitar Natak gives some life details of earlier Gurus and Guru Gobind Singh’s own mission. The Zafarnama describes the political corruption of the time and also explains the exploitation of the masses by the bureaucracy.
Sarab Loh Granth:
The authorship of this Granth is not known. Many writers, however, suggest that some parts of the Granth were written by Guru Gobind Singh. The Granth was found in Punjab in the late eighteenth century.
OTHER SOURCES OF SIKH RELIGION:
The Hukam Namas:
The Gurus wrote a number of letters, during their lifetime, to their disciples containing instructions, orders and notices. These letters are known as Hukamnamas. A Sikh research team was appointed by Shrimoni Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee in the sixties to find and collect such letters. So far the following letters have been discovered from the descendants of the famous Sikh families:
Guru Hargobind – 3 letters
Guru Harkrishen – 1 letter
Guru Tegh Bahadur – 30 letters
Guru Gobind Singh – 31 letters
These letters are a very rich and authoritative source of the Sikh history
Varan Bhai Gurdas I & II:
Bhai Gurdas I was a first cousin of Mata Bhani, mother of Guru Arjan Dev. He was the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib. He was a scholar of great repute. His book `Varan’ was designated as the `Key to Guru Granth Sahib’ by Guru Arjan Dev. The varan, inter alia, describes the life stories of the Gurus and is composed in poetry.
Bhai Gurdas II was a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh. His compositions also known as `Varan’ describe the time period of Guru Gobind Singh.
The Janam Sakhis are the life stories of the Sikh Gurus. They are not biographies but hagiographies. They describe the life of the Gurus in stories and in anecdotes. Numerous dialogues and parables are included to convey the teachings of the Gurus.
The important Janam Sakhis are:
Bhai Bala’s Janam Sakhis dated 1540
Mehrban’s Janam Sakhis dated 1650 (Mehrban was a nephew of Guru Arjan)
Puratan or Hafizabad or Wilayatwali Janam Sakhi dated 1635 (This book was found by an Englishman named Cole Brooke. He brought it to England. Most of the Sikh historians have drawn references from this book)
Sri Gur Sobha by Sainapat, (a court poet of Guru Gobind Singh) dated 1711
Gyan Ratnavli, by Bhai Mani Singh dated 1712
Gurbilas Padshahi dus, by Koer Singh dated 1751
Bansiwala Nama dus Padshahian, by Kesar Singh Chibber dated 1769
Mehma Prakash Vartik, by Bawa Kirpal Singh dated 1776
Mehma Prakash Kavita, by Sarup Das Bhalla dated 1776
Gurbilas Dasvi Padshahi, by Bhai Sukha Singh dated 1797
Other sources include:
Works of Bhai Nand Lal, a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh
Dabistan-e-Mezahib by Mohsin Fani: work of a Persian writer who was a contemporary of Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind and Guru Harrai.
Akbar Nama by Abul Fazal, an account of Punjab during the time period of Guru Amardas to Guru Arjan.
Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri: the memoirs of Emperor Jahangir
Khulasat-ut-Twarikh: A history book written by Sujan Rai Bhandari dated 1695. It contains details about the growth of Sikhism and also gives very valuable topographical details.
Suraj Prakash by Bhai Santokh Singh dated 1843.
Prachin Panth Prakash by Gyan Singh dated 1880
A number of Europeans wrote papers and books on the Sikhs which are classified as secondary source material. These books/papers include the following:
History of the origin and progress of the Sicks by Major James Brown dated 1788.
The Siques by Antonine Louis Henri Potier dated 1787
Observation of the Sikhs and their College at Patna by Charles Wlkins dated 1781.
Observation of the Sikhs by George Foster dated 1798
Memorandum on Punjab and Khandhar by John Griffith dated 1798
The history of the reign of Shah Alam by William Franklin dated 1798
Sketch of the Sikhs by Colonel Malcolm dated 1812
The History of Sikhs by McGregor dated 1846
History of the Sikhs by Captain Cunningham dated 1849
The Adi Granth by E Trump dated 1877
The Sikhs and the Sikh wars by Charles Gough and Arthur Innes dated 1880
A short history of the Sikhs by C.H. Payne dated 1900
The religion of the Sikhs by Dorothy Field dated 1901
The Sikh religion by McArthur MacCauliffe dated 1909
Excerpts taken from: