Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Indian Culture: Dr. Prem Singh
According to Martin H., ‘Die Sparche ist die Urdichtung in dem lin Volk das sein dichet.’
Language is transcendental poetry or basic poetry in which a nation, a language family or a language group versifies about its existence, recognizes its existence, and expresses this reality through aesthetics, poetry or discourse. A human being is known as such through language. Some one explaining Panini’s writings has said Sarvam Shabdain bhastai, which means ‘The entire universe is seen and revealed through the word. Perhaps it is for this reason that the famous dramatist Sophoclese, in his play ‘Antigni’,talking about the greatness of humanity, tells us how man takes control of the elements and then he talks about language. What he means to say is that the language is the first or basic state of man’s existence. That is why perhaps Gurbani says –
‘Manas janam amolak paiyo Birtha kahai gawaiyo.’
‘The human life is precious Why waste it unnecessarily? Talking about language, the noted French scholar Lyotard says –
‘To speak’s to fight ….but even this pleasure depnds on a feeling for success won at the expense of an adversary – at least one adversary and a formidsable one: the accepted language, and connotation” (P.10)
In the same book, Lyotard says –
‘And it is fair to say that for at least forty years, the leading sciences and technology have had to do with language, phonology and the theories of linguistics, problems of communication cybernatics” (P.3)
‘It is widely accepted that knowledge has become principal force of production over the last few decades”. (ibid, P.5)
The above assertions have a deep relationship with Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the culture of the Punjab in general and Sikh ethos in particular.
The proper use of language and establishing communication with the people at large is very essential because language is the vehicle of communication. Language is a ‘command’ and no one is outside the ‘command.’ Language is a great riddle the solution of which is not easy. What I mean to say is that the entire human behaviour finds its expression through language. But it is also necessary to say that we are not fully aware as to what is the relationship between the meaning of the world and reality. Can the words fully give the import of the meaning? Will my readers understand me fully from what I write? What I am thinking now whether I would be able to understand it in the same way after a year?
This is also the problem of the word and its import in the reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Gurus and the Saints were part of the Bhagti Movement of the medieval times. These writers made use of local dialect, Braj Bhasha or the common lingua made use of for mass propagation of the gospel or some other language also, as required to meet a certain situation. The hymn of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ‘Yak arz guftam…’ was composed in a certain situation but one thing is crystal clear that the writers of the Bhagti Movement made use of the common language of the masses. The saints and the Gurus were very close to the people. They expressed the feelings, experiences, pains and comforts of the people in their language. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries AD, the link language of the people was Braj Bhasha or Sadhukri (language used by the saints to preach to the masses). Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus made use of this language in the Punjab; Shankar Dev used this in Assam and Nam Dev in Maharashtra.
We have touched the topic of language but before this, it is necessary to give a thought to those points and tendencies which link the entire thought process of Sri Guru Granth Sahib with the ancient Indian culture and it is also necessary to talk of those trends which accord a distinct place to Guru Granth Sahib and the Gurus. These are: Our view of language 2. Use of vowel signs and prosody 3. Philosophic and Investigative approach and 4. Novelty.
Our attitude towards language and its use is an integral part of the study of the medieval literature. In ancient India language was viewed in two different ways. This visualization is Sanatani or brahmanic which considers it imperative to make use of Sanskrit for expression and the other point of view is that such expression can be possible only in the language of the masses. The Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Upanishads and other religious books were written in Sanskrit. But about the sixth century BC Sanskrit ceased to be the language of the people. It had become the language of only the learned people. It was for this reason that Buddha and Mahavira did not express their views in Sanskrit but in the language of the people at that time i.e. Prakrit. The common people could not understand Sanskrit, but the Brahminic class considered Sanskrit only as its language. There were many reasons behind this. The first is that the Brahmins thrived on the class division and it necessitated the use of Sanskrit. Secondly the Sanskrit idiom had largely become a determinant factor by that time and Sanskrit was considered as a divine language. It was thus very essential for the priestly class to continue its use. As a matter of fact, by the 6th century BC lot of change had come about in the Vedic Sanskrit and Brahmanic Sanskrit. Panini accepts the following forms in his famous work Ashtadhyayi insofar as lexical roots are concerned.
Lat, Lit, Lut, Larit, late, Lote, Leeg, Ling, Lung, Laring. Of these, the word Late is not found in the old Sanskrit and the word Laring is not found in the Vedic language nor is Lut found in it. Actually, the principles laid down by Panini do not apply to the Vedic language. Panini says this often in the Ashtadhyayi Bahulam Chhandsi which shows that the Vedic grammar is different from that of Panini. But great emphasis was laid on the study of grammar. Patanjali, in his annotation of Ashtadhayi goes to the extent of saying in his Mahabhashya ‘Moksharthai Vykarnam Adhitviyam’ meaning thereby that learning of grammar is essential for attainment of salvation. In the same manner, the priestly class had impressed on the need for grammar to understand the Vedas and Shastras in the name of salvation.
The second thought process is that of language. The Budhist, Jain and Charavak scholars are the votaries of the people’s language. According to them, everyone should use his own mother thongue to express his views, his feelings and contentions. The Budhist Book Chulaavagga (5.33) and Vinaipitika (11.139.1) relates the following story:
‘Two monks, who were real brothers, were Brahmins by birth and their language was polished and style excellent. Kalyanvachaka once came to Lord Buddha and said to him, ‘Your Lordship, your disciples come from different backgrounds, that is from different lands, clalsses and castes as also families. They are polluting your words because they pronounce those words in accordance with their own linguistic use. We seek your permission to translate your words into Sanskrit (Chhandasoarfopega). (Chhand does not mean any special form of poetry. According to Panini word Chhandas means Vedic language – as 3.4.7 Lingarthai Late (Chhandasi) or (Bulam Chhandasi).’ Lord Buddha chided them, ‘You are fools. How can you say that in this way those who do not follow the faith of Buddha shall become the followers of this faith? Lord Buddha gave a sermon exhorting all the monks, ‘You shall not translate Buddha’s teachings into Sanskrit and one who does so, would commit a grave sin. I authorize all the monks to preach the Dharma in their own languages, their mother tongues.’
It is the second tradition that no language is holier than the other one and one’s thoughts, howsoever knotty they may be, can be expressed in all the languages. This very thought process guided Emperor Ashoka’s language policy. The most ancient writing available to us is the inscriptions of Ashoka. The inscriptions were got written in the third century BC. There is another important aspect about these instructions that these inscriptions are written in the local language of the region in which these writings were inscribed. We know that in the west, the language of these inscriptions is akin to Pothohari and that of Girnar is so close to Braj Bhasha. In this way from the linguistic angle, Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira are one with each other to be close to the people’s language. For them the medium is as important as the matter and views. From the point of view of philosophy, culture and usage, the Buddhist, Jain and Charavak scholars showed the new path. All these people were termed as atheists in ancient India. An atheist was the one who did not accept the divinity of the Vedas an Vedangas as the revealed texts. The Charvaks say-
‘Tarya Vedasyo Kartaro Bhand-dhhoorat-Nishchar:
Jarfari Turfari Tiyadi Panditnam vachai samrit’
The writers of three Vedas are the bards, fools and evil spirits and the sayings of the Pandits are without heads or tails.
Another Charavak quote –
‘Pashus Chet Nihit: Mwarram Jyotishtomai gamishyati
Swapita Yajmanain tatar kasmaat na hinsyatai.
If an animal is killed in the sacrificial fire, it goes to heaven (This was the belief), why does the yajman does not kill his father in the sacrificial fire (so that he too could go to heaven)?
The meaning of the above quotes is quite clear now. These quotes warn against superstition, rejecting the divine nature of the Vedas. The Buddhist, Jain and Charavak scholars aimed at rejection of the established superstitions, views and propagation of the new ideas and need for analytic approach towards life and the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib also exhort us towards the same end. Thus the thought process working in Sri Guru Granth Sahib has a connection with the Buddhist and Jain movement which began in the fifth century BC and continued in India upto the third century AD and then, for historical reasons, the Vedic thought and Brahminism regained its old sway.
The Budhist and Jains, not only make use of the people’s language, but also pay special attention to the moral and ethical values. A mention has been made about the rock-inscriptions of Ashoka. Inscription No.4 says – ‘Emperor Ashoka had wells dug for the convenience of the travelers and appointed Vaidyas (medical men) in every region. The physicians not only treated the human beings, but also animals. Medicine plants were grown in different parts of the country. Such views are not found with regard to any other king in any inscription. The Budhists and Jains laid emphasis on personal conduct, morality and truth but there is no place for moral conduct in Vedic and Brahaminial thought. The glaring example of this is the Mahabharata. The morality given in Mahabharata is more in the nature of immorality, the former being simply marginalized. Sometimes it is felt as if Kabir and Guru Nanak were the incarnations of Buddha. I am giving the following quotations from Sutnipat-Dhaniamuta.
‘Lord Budha goes to a farmer’s house. The dialogue that ensued was –
Pakdino dudhkhiro aham asmi (Iti Dhania Gopa)
Antirai mahia samanvayo
Chhana kuti ahitgo (a) gani. Ath ch pathyami pawas deva
Akkobano vigsat khilo aham asmi–iti bhagwa – Anutirai mahia ek ratti vayo Vivta kuti nibuto (a) mani Ath cha pathyasi pabas deva
Gopa mam asswa alola – iti dhania gopa- Samvasia manapa: Tassa na sanami kinchi papam Ath… … … …
Chittam mama swam alolam – iti bhagwa – Digharttam paribhavitm mukantam Papam pan mai na bijjati Ath cha athyasi pavasya deva
Attvaitanbhatto (a) ham asmi – iti Dhania gopo Pus cha samania gharoga Tesam na sunami kinch papam Ath cha pathyasi pbassa deva
Nahat bhatko (a) mami kasachi –itibhgava – Nibithema charasi mamb lokai Atho bhatia na vijatti Ath … …… .
Meaning thereby that I have cooked food at my Place, I have milk and kheer (Rice boiled in milk) and I live comfortably on the bank of Mahia river. My house is nicely built and there is fire burning all the time in the house for hospitality and if it is raining, let it be so, – Thus says the Dhania Jat.
Lord Buddha replies – I am without anger, I have no sense of discrimination. I have to spend a night on the bank of Mahia river. My house is the open sky and my inner fire (passion, anger, greed, attachment, ego) has got extinguished – let it rain, if it does.
Dhania Jat says – My wife is so dear to me and she is not obsessed by lust. We have been living together for so long. She is so docile and likable. I can’t hear anything bad about her – If it rains, let it be so.
Lord Buddha says – My mind is constant and settled and it has been under my control for so long – there is no sin for me – Let it rain, if it does.
Dhania Jat says- I am my own servant (I don’t serve anyone). I have healthy and handsome sons. I hear nothing ill about them – Let it rain if it does.
Lord Buddha says – I do no service of any type. I move about everywhere confidently – I have no allowances or wherewithal. Let it rain if it does.
It is a very lengthy dialogue. The Jat says – I have cows and buffalos yielding milk, horses and mares – I have good land, very fertile and I suffer from no want. The last lines are like this –
Sochti puttehi kputrima – iti bhagba
Momko mohi lath saiv sochti
Upadhi hi naraisa sochna
Na hi sochti yo nirupadhi
One who has sons thinks about his sons (worries about them). One who has cows and cattle, thinks about cattle. This thinking is a disease from which the human beings suffer. It is a malaise. One who is without malaise, has no cause to be worried.
These lines remind us about the similar lines in the Japuji (P.1, SGGS) – Sochai soch na hovayee…Here ‘sochna’ does not mean as is sought to be understood in today’s Punjabi; it means a persons’ care and worry for his material possessions. The idea behind giving the above quotes is that from the language point of view as also from the angle of thought process, how Lord Buddha is so close to the thought process in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. These lines also bring to our mind the following hymn of Saint Dhanna:
Gopal taira aarata
Jo jan tumri bhagat karantai
Tin kai kaaj swaarta. 1. Pause.
Dal sidha mangau ghio
Hamra khusi karai nit jio
Pania chhadan neeka
Anaaj mangau sat seeka.1.
Gau bhais mangau laveri
Ik tajan turu changeri
Ghar kee gihan change
Jan Dhanna levai mangi.2.4. (P.695, SGGS)
These lines are like those of Dhania Jat and Lord Buddha attaches no importance to those things. Lord Buddha favours renunciation of family life and material world; he follows the traditional ascetic path. But the Gurus and the Saints accord a respectable place to a householder’s life. They say –
One can remain detached even as a householder.(Goojri P.494)
One runs away from the duty of a householder without meeting the true guide (Maru M.1, P.1012)
Thou art the greatest Householder among the householders (Goojri M.5. P.507) The life of a householder is held in high esteem in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. While, on the one hand the views held by the Gurus-Saints are so very close to those of the Budhist and Jain faith, they do not follow the latter at all. They saw the ‘completeness’ of the human being as a householder and understood its significance. An ordinary Sikh understands the essence of Sikh way of life – To toil, to recite His Name and to share one’s earnings with others, which is a great truth and that is why Puran Singh says – the Punjab lives in the name of Gurus, which corroborates this.
We have pointed above towards Jainism and I wish to show that a very close relationship exists between Jainism and Sikhism. The Gurus are fully aware of the teachings of the Jain faith. I do not mean to say that Jainism had deeply impressed the Gurus. In reality, Guru Granth Sahib is the essence of and in harmony with the Indian culture and ethos and the Gurus and the Saints carry forward this tradition. I am citing some examples from the Jain texts:
Jai koh dansi sai maan dansi,
jai maan dansi sai mayadansi
Jai mayadansi sai lobh dansi,
jai lobh dansi sai paij dansi
Jai paij dansi sai dos dansi,
jai dos dansi sai moh dansi-Acharang
‘One who knows what is anger, he knows what is ego and one who knows what is ego, he knows what is mayachar i.e. material conduct and one who understands what is material conduct, also knows what is greed, one who knows what is love and hatred, he understands what is attachment and one who is aware of the meaning of attachment, also knows what is the sense of belonging.
The second quote is from Dashwaikalika Suta –
Nidda na hahumaneja sapp haas diwajjai
Mihai kahahai na rahai sajhhayimi ra-ahai saya.
Don’t give lot of respect to sleep, give up laughter and pun, don’t apply your mind to secret tales, ever fix your mind in self-analysis.
App tiyya jain siya, aasu kgpaija va paro
Sawass ton ve bhaseja bhaas ahiyga mili
Never use the hurtful language which causes mental pain and the other person gets angry.
Such views are part of the Jain and Buddha philosophy and this thought process is basis of the renunciation philosophy which later on became the source of the Bhagti Movement.
About the medieval Bhagti period and the Bhagti movement, we have made a mention above. It can be said without any contradiction or hesitation that Guru Granth Sahib is the distinct and unique book, the essence of Bhagati movement and Nirguna (Formless) thought. It is unique in this way also that it does not contain the hymns of the Gurus alone but also those of Sufis and Saints. This Great Book contains the verses of Kabir, Farid, Namdev, Ravidas, Trilochan, Jai Deva, Bhikhan, Dhanna,. Sadhna and Pipa. In this way this is the first Granth in the world of this kind enabling a comparative literary study. Greek anthology is nothing compared to Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This book not only depicts the Punjabiyat (Punjabi culture) but it is also the unique depiction of Indian ethos.
The Sikh Gurus and the Saints of the Bhagati movement have played a leading role towards regeneration of moral and ethical values of life. We have said before that very little thought has been given to such values in the ancient brahminism. The Buddists and Jains cared more for these values. As a matter of fact, the Indian philosophy owes its origin to the emergence of Buddhist thought. The Buddhists and Jains accorded the central place to these noble values. The Sikh Gurus understood the human mind and talked of human morality. There are many wonders in this world but none like the human beings. This line is from Greek playwrite Saphoclese’s play Antigni (line 332) and the Gurus hold the same view. But Gurus go a step further and seek man’s salvation.
There were many aspects of Buddhism known during medieval times. Many aspects and sub-streams had gone far away from the mainstream. Noted among them were the Sakats, Siddhas, Nathas, etc. There is a lot of mention of these cults in Guru Granth Sahib. Gurus hold discussions with the Nathas amd Siddhas and show them the right path. The Sakat’s believed in witchcraft. The following couplets of Kabir are worthy of consideration-
Kabir Sakat tai sookar bhala raakhai achha gao.
Oh sakat bapura mar gaya koi na lehai nao.143 (1372)
Kabir sakat sang na kijiyai, dooreh jaiyai bhag
Basun kaaro parsiyai tau kuchh lagai daag. 131 (P.1371)
The wreteched Sakat is dead mourned by none. (1372)
Kabir condemns the Sakats in the above lines because, under the garb of the Bhagati Marg (Path of devotion) they tread the path of indulgence in passions. In the same way the Gurus condemn the conjuring tricks of the Siddhas. According to Gurus, the meaning of a mantra is prayer, an intellectual and mental effort which helps in enabling man to become a man.
Gurus understood the reasons for decay of Budhism and Jainism. We have stated above that the Budhists and Jains attached no importance to rituals. For this reason, the followers of Budha began to seek refuge in the Brahminical practices for performance of rituals. It is for this reason that Guru Ram Das composed the hymn to be read at the time of marriage. These lavaans (literary, circumbulations) are in the folk language, the last line of which is –
Sayeth Nanak the fourth circumbulation
Connotes attainment of the immortal God.
This combines worldly and spiritual thought. Such a combination is not found in the verse ‘Lamabvali’ in the Rig Veda.(10.85) but to some extent it is found in the ‘Lamavali’ of Atharva Veda (14.5). In this way by using the ritualistic terminology, Granth Sahib has broken all relationship with the brahminical ways. There was another reason for this. Gurus were of the view that any ritual or practice should be understood by the people as spoken in their own language so that they could be enlightened about them.
According to the Gurus, the death should not be a cause of worry. Death is as much a part of human life as life itself. Therefore there is sort of a bliss even in dying. This is also worth considering that every rite ends with recitation of ‘Anand Sahib’ hymns of bliss. Birth is a bliss, marriage is a bliss and death too is a bliss and exhortation to remain in this state of bliss is the greatest contribution of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. I wish to draw attention towards ‘Mahaparivana Sutas of the Buddhas’. Here Lord Buddha points towards this type of bliss –when he says,
Anta hi anta noon sakhaan.
‘Soul is the friend of the soul;
Man is the friend of man
And this is the means of spiritual bliss.
To conclude, I wish say a few words about the prosody of Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Granth Sahib contains the largest number of hymns. Hymn is not of a particular type of meter. Many types of meters have been used in the hymns. There is lot of folklore, like Vaar (Ballad), Patti (alphabetical hymn), Kafi (A Sufi-meter), Phunhai, Chaubolai, Ghoriaan, Alahnian (all folk lore styles). The Gurus adopted these folk styles and gave them a new religious and cultural meaning. From this angle too, the Adi Granth, is part of the folk lore and this Great Book contains Punjabiat in particular and Indianness in general in a very significant measure. I conclude with the words of Serene Kiermarke –
It is not worthwhile remembering that past which cannot become a present.