Study and teaching of the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Dr. Jagbir Singh
Gurbani is the glorious heritage of our word culture. Basically, it is concerned with spiritualism. For a student of lieterature, however, Gurbani is of great importance from the point of view of poetics. In the literary heritage of Punjabi, Gurbani’s place of importance can be easily determined but when we try to study this great treasure and teach it, we come face to face with many problems. The reason thereof is that around Gurbani prevails the sphere of devotion and faith. For a devotee, it is the Divine Word and the Immutable source of spirituality.
Whether it is propagation of the holy faith or the source of spiritual guidance, in both the cases, the religious aspect of Gurbani gets highlighted about the truth of which no question can be raised. But when the historians of literature accepted Gurbani as the poetic disposition of the medieval times a new context of its study emerged. The study of literature has its own limitations and problems which are distinct from religious study. It is very essential to bear in mind this basic distinction because by talking to one another, neither the religious aspect of Gurbani can be truly explained nor can full justice be done to its poetic aspect. The solution to this problem lies in studying fully the distinct nature of Gurbani. Religion and poetry are so very much intermingled in Gurbani which evokes in us the feeling of regarding it a special type of religious poetry. Thus by keeping Gurbani under ‘Gurmat Kavya’, we can open the context of its study and teaching. The accepted compilation of this poetic thought is the compiled Holy volume of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, in which the hymns of many saints, bhagats and the Sufit poet Baba Farid have been incorporated. The overall character of gurbani is multi-lingual. Therefore, along with the Punjabi literature, it can be accepted as the heritage of the entire Indian literature.
The Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been given the name of ‘Gurmat Kavya’ because all the writers of it hold a kind of world view and favour a way of life. The similar view of life, universe and man links this poetic writing with a chain of unity of thought before which the provincial and linguistic distinctions lose meaning.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the great religious personality engaged in transformation of faith, laid the foundation of Gurmat Vichardhara (thought process). He calls himself a poet or a bard in his poems, thus terming his hymns as poetical writings.The other Gurus, treading the path shown by Guru Nanak, wrote Gurbani and thus a poetic tradition of Gurbani was established. While compiling and editing the Bani, Guru Arjan made the universal approach of Gurbani the touch stone for examining the writings of other saints, contemporary and those before Guru’s times, before incorporating the same in Sri Guru Granth Sahib which made this Granth a unique poetic and religious creation.
The basic problem of study of Gurmat Kavya is to recognize its poetic distinctness. There is no doubt that Gurbani, because of its original point of view, is original and distinct but this can be decided in the context of earlier thought and literature. The point for consideration here is as to which were the prevailing tendiecies in the earlier tradition with which Gurbani, for the purpose of building its original charcter, held a dialogue. And which type of universal view influenced the systematized writing of Gurbani in its distinct thought process?
When we consider Gurbani linking it with the All India heritage, it transpires that before its writing the tradition of writings of the Natahas and Sidhas was prevalent. Studying the Gurmat thought process in conjunction with the Sidha and Natha thought prior to it, its originality and distinctness can be easily recognized. The Sidhas were influced by the Sehaj (equipoise) or the Budhist tradition and kept the concept of Nirvana before them. According to them, this world is a bed of thorns and the main cause thereof is ‘Trishna’ (desire). To get free of the effect of desire, they showed the path of restraint. Their doctrine is called the doctrine of restraint ‘Bhog sadhna’ with regard to use of available worldly comforts for which the guidance of a Sidha or a Guru was essential. This way of the Sidhas stood in opposition to brahminism, it seems.
The Sidhabani was mostly written in couplets, songs and hymns wherein mystic symbols had also been used. These were the hymns to be sung during the initiation in the Vam Marga (Tantric mode of worship). Thus the main characteristics of Sidhabani are – Parvirti Marga (Family life) and Bhog (indulgence) Sadhana.
Instead of satisfying the craving through indulgence, Nathbani lays greater emphasis on Yoga and presented the concept of control of body-mind-breaths which is also called the nivirti marga. Shabad, salokas and dohas (hymns, short stanzas and couplets) are found in Nathbani which have been written as a means of preaching. In this writing the conceptual words of Sidhabani have been used, like – sunn, niranjan, bhava, nirvana, surti, shabad, nadi, bind, sahej, sukh. But it should be borne in mind that the Nathas have made use of the basic assumptions of Sidhas by redefining and adopting them in accordance with their own way of life. If the Sidhas had defined these concepts in an indulgence-centric manner, the Sidhas had done so in theYoga-centric way.
The Gurmat thought process, which includes the verses of the saints and bhagats who believed in the worship of the Formless One, builds its structure on the principles and literary basics of Nathbani but an attempt seems to have been made here to intiate a dialogue with the previous traditions. The Nathbani introduced Vairag (renunciation) in opposition to the raga (attachment) and nivirti as opposed to pravirti, the family life; they advocated the life of a recluse. Creating a fusion between these two ways of life, the new concept of ‘girhi mahi udasi’ i.e. living a detached life even as a householder was brought to the fore the intrinsic meaning of which was that in order to give up the worldliness of the world, a special type of distance therewith or detachment has to be established, which is the best way. This has been fully explained in Guru Nanak’s Sidhagoshta.
The common feature of the Siddha-Natha Bani tradition is that it is opposed to the brahminic rituals and caste system and laying emphasis on personal experience, it exhorts one to have the guidance of a perfect guide. But Gurbani and Santbani can be distinguished therefrom basically by the fact that Natha-Sidha Bani does not believe in God while Gurbani/Santbani believes in God. Its concept of God is that of Formless and Attributeless Brahm. The ‘Sunn’ (the zero state) in Gurbani becomes the symbol of the state prior to creation of the universe. As Guru Nanak says in Maroo Solhai –
‘Arbad narbad dhundookara.
Dharan na gagan, hukam apara.
Na din rain, na chand na suraj
Sunn Samadhi lagayenda (SGGS.p.1035)
(There was total darkness, there was no earth or sky, there was only His Hukam (Will). There was no day or night, no moon or sun, there was only the ‘zero’ state.)
In these lines the concept of ‘Sunn’ assumes a new meanring in accordance with the Theiest thought which is quite different from that of Sidhas and Nathas in regard to ‘Sunn’.
After making a comparison with the poetic tradition prior to Gurmat Kavya (Gurus’ poetry), it would be apt to discuss its connection with the contemporary historical times. Gurbani and Santbani establishes its connection with an important cultural movement of cohesion. This movement arose out of the dialogue between the Sufis and the Saints and can be regarded as the movement of Hindu-Muslim cohesion. The Hindu bhagats/saints had laid emphasis on opposition to the brahminic fanatism and the Sufis had opposed the fanatic interpretation of Sahrah by Maullanas and Mullas. Regarding religions as the true path to spiritualism, they had initiated the concept of relationship of man with God through ‘devotional love’ (prema bhakti or ishq haqiqi) and exhorted the people to keep away from communal feelings. The Gurmat Kavya not only supported this Hindu-Muslim cultural cohesion, it also led this movement. Having the foundation stone of the Darbar Sahib (popularly called Golden Temple) laid by a Sufi Faqir (divine) is the symbol of this cohesion. Besides, in Gurmat Kavya, Nirguna Brahm has been described in the Hindu and Muslim conceptual words. For example, Guru Arjan Dev says –
‘Koyee bolai Ram-Ram, koyee khudaye.
Koyee sevai gosayiaan, koyee Allahe.
Karan karan Karim.
Kirpa dhaar Rahim. (SGGS,p.885)
(Some say Rama , others say Khudaye Some serve Gosayeen, others Allahe. He is compassionate, the cause and effect Let’s seek His kindness (all the time !) Which other example could be there of Hindu-Muslim cohesion? Thus examination of the Gurmat Kavya linking it with its prior and contemporary historical context, is the basic need of its study and teaching.All this is the endeavour to recognize its originality and distinct nature as a result of which Gurmat Kavya emerges as an important cultural achievement of its time in history.
The study of the poetic aspect of Gurmat Kavya is also connected with its different poetic forms. All the writers of the Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib made use of the prevalent forms of poetry, like Alahniya (mourning songs), sithnias (satirical songs at the time of wedding). But the basic problem of study and teaching is to go into the metaphoric transformation. For example, Gurbani follows the pattern of the outer form of Var (ballad) like Chhand-order and Pauri (stanza form) but the spiritual aspect of these forms becomes basically different. The problem of teaching is to clarify this transformation. Similarly, the study of other forms of folk lore used in Gurbani demands special attention.
Another problem of teaching of Gurmat Kavya lies in its new definition in accordance with its theological interpretation. Any nation or society can make its heritgage relevant to the present conditions to evaluate it properly. The question that arises is as to what type of awareness of its reality is given by Gurbani, through its distinct character of poetic-diction. It is true that the entire system of Gurbani has been based on the clear methodology of medieval thinking and sensitivies in which the tendency to depict reality as spiritualty predominates. But while defining the spiritual concerns of human life, it comes face to face with the challenges of contemporary cultural conditions and presents the solutions thereof. It recognized the critical state of society of its time and laid emphasis on the spiritual and moral development of human personality. The model of the Highest Divine Power has been placed before man which is indicative of the Absolute Truth, Fearlessness and ‘No enmity’ and inspires man to awaken the latent spiritual possibilities lying within him. It not only inspires man to become cultured and attuned to the universal aspect of Divine Command, but also calls upon him to rise in revolt against falsehood, injustice, exploitation, loot and inequality. Guru Tegh Bahadur says-
Bhai kahoo kau det nahi,
Nahi bhai manat aan. (SGGS, p. 1427.)
(Don’t frighten anyone and don’t fear any one).
The model of the same Divine Power stops man from being tyrannical and subjecting him before tyranny, fearing and frightening. Besides, Gurbani has conceptualized the Divine Power as ‘Sacha Patshah’ (True Emperor) which becomes the symbol of not submiting before the tyrannical system. In these concepts the potential of revolution is hidden in seed form. It is for this reason that the Gurmat Kavya, along with the concept of ‘Sarbat da Bhala’ (good of all) has also instilled the spirit of fighting against tyranny.
We can say that Gurmat Kavya is an extremely glorious heritage of our literary culture but to evaluate this heritage in a realistic manner, there is need to provide right direction to its study and teaching. If the religious aspect of Gurbani inspires us towards the knowledge of theology, its poetic aspect makes a demand on us to consider it from the point of view of poetics. As both these aspects are intermingled in Gurbani, full justice can be done to it only if it is studied in the context of unification of poetics and theology. In other words, to discuss the problems of Gurmat Kavya it is as important as the study of its prosody and imagery, its alankar-vidhan (literary embellishment) or its poetic discourse and other distinct features.