Guru Granth is well known as the Holy Book of Sikhism. But it is not a scripture as commonly understood; it is a voluminous anthology of the sacred verses by six of the ten Sikh Gurus and hymns of some fifteen Hindu and Muslim Bhaktas, Sufis or holy men. Its compilation in 1604 A.D. by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, made the year a landmark in the development and growth of Sikh religion. By this time, the Sikhs had an authoritative line of the Gurus, a sacred script – Gurmukhi, an organized religious community and a religious capital at Amritsar with its central shrine Harmandir Sahib.
The primary feature that lends uniqueness to the Guru Granth is authenticity of its contents and the variety of its contributors who came from different social and religious backgrounds – high and low, Muslim and Hindu. Some of them are represented by only a verse or two, and some voluminously like Kabir with over a thousand verses. Another exclusivity that Guru Granth can rightly claim is that it is treated by the followers of the Sikh faith as,
Word Incarnate, the embodiment and presence manifest of the spirit of ten historical Gurus – Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh.
Guru Granth commands the reverence that was shown to the living Gurus. It remains at the centre of all Sikh usage and ceremony. The Sikhs had been told to revere the bani or the revealed word right from the times of Guru Nanak who himself had said,
Hail the word of the Guru
which is the Lord formless himself.
There is none other, nothing else
to be reckoned equal to it.
Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru, says,
The bani is Guru
and the Guru bani.
For the Sikhs, Guru Granth is the perpetual authority, spiritual as well as temporal. The Sikh scripture does not contain historical narratives. Except a few cryptic references to contemporary events in some of the hymns of the Gurus or Swayyas of Bhatts or prose teachings as found in the New Testament. But the doctrine that is enshrined in the hymns of Guru Granth is uncompromising monotheism and is enunciated right in the beginning of the Mool Mantra, at the head of Japji Sahib. This daily prayer of a Sikh which he/she is also expected to memorize has been composed by Guru Nanak in rhymed verse and is not in accordance with the tune of a raga as is the case with the rest of the Guru Granth.
The Mool Mantra is a statement of affirmation of faith whose main burden is monotheism which means belief in one God. Guru Nanak's monotheism presents God as indivisible and with a fully universalized complexion. The teachings enshrined in the Guru Granth reject asceticism, celibacy, austerities, ritualism and formalism in totality. There is no palpable heaven or hell according to the Sikh belief. The idea of liberation in Sikhism distinctly differs from the idea of Mukti in the traditional Hindu concept; Jiwan-Mukt is the ideal of life upheld by the Sikh Gurus in Gurbani. This is not liberation after death. Such a liberation is achieved through a life dedicated to devotion,
Liberated is one who by love of God
whose senses are under restraint
and who abides by discipline
and whoever on the Master's word
Such devotion to the Lord is
In the Sikh religion, outlined and explained in the Guru Granth, the seeker yearns to be bestowed with the grace of the Almighty Lord. He/she does not pray or meditate for the sake of material benefits. On the other hand it calls for complete surrender with a yearning to be endowed with such a grace as to enable him/her to tread the righteous path within the orbit of His will. This is the key to what can be termed as salvation in the Sikh religion.
We draw heavily from Bani of the Gurus while trying to decipher the teachings enshrined in the Guru Granth. But we have to remember that the whole corpus of the Bani of the Bhaktas and Muslim Sufis is equally relevant in this exercise. Guru Nanak's pronouncement, There is no Hindu, no Musalman is well illustrated in Kabir Bani. As Kabir defied all attempts of being labelled as either a Hindu or a Muslim.
Interestingly, four Shabdas and 112 Slokas of Farid, founder of the famous Chisti Sufi order in India, find place in the Guru Granth. He is known to be a devout preacher of Islam. This fact did not deter Guru Arjan to include his bani in the Guru Granth. In fact, the motive seems to have been to initiate a spiritual dialogue that could further the idea of peaceful co-existence, tolerance and equality. Farid is known to have written in a vein that represents vairagya – renunciation, or tanha – loneliness, in Indian and Sufi terminologies respectively.
Although major concerns of the Guru Granth remain spiritual, the contributors have expressed equal concern for the quality of life in its totality . The social, economic or even political matters have not escaped the scrutiny of the Gurus as well as the Bhaktas. The Gurus delve deep into the doctrinal matters and visualise a world wherein equality and monotheism are absolute so as to obliterate social strife and religious fundamentalism that surface because of emphasis on formalism, ritualism, priestly hegemony or caste hierarchy.
It will be unfair to miss an important postulate of the teachings of the Guru Granth, i.e. the significance of the Guru, the spiritual guide or the holy preceptor. In Gurmat, as the teachings of the Guru Granth are referred to in Sikh terminology, the Guru is no ordinary mortal being like any of the professed heads of the so–called numerous Sampardayas – sects. He is an inspired soul, completely attuned to the Supreme Being, Akal – who is beyond time and space, and is identical with Him. That is why the Guru has been called Satguru as well. This is not to be misconstrued as man worship. As in case of identification of Guru Bani or Shabda with God, the Guru has to be revered for his divinely God experience. The designation of the Granth – the repository of divine knowledge – as Guru in the Sikh system is to be seen in this perspective.
The message of Guru Granth can best be described in the words of Professor Puran Singh,
Man is one. There is no such thing as Hindu, Musalman, Sikh or Christian, eastern or western. Man is man and man is one.
In other words, a follower of the teachings of Guru Granth is the product of God’s universal love and compassion and by his very birth, he becomes a citizen of the world.
Written by Prithipal Singh Kapur.