|Sunday, April 25, 2004|
A landmark in the history of Sikhism, the 400th centenary of the Granth Sahib is a moment of moments for the community, and is, accordingly, being celebrated the world over with great fervour. Already several measures — seminars, kirtan darbars,etc. — are afoot to mark this historic occasion. When completed in 1604, the Guru Granth ushered in a renaissance in Sikh life which was to be made absolute when, later, Guru Gobind Singh gave form, shape and identity to the Khalsa. Few other world scriptures are so encyclopaedic in their range and spread in their catholicity and modernity.
And now to the moment when Guru Arjan Dev thought of undertaking this massive project, almost single-handedly. In this arduous and daunting enterprise, he had, however, the help of Bhai Gurdas, a Sikh savant well-versed in all the languages to be found in the scripture. The Guru Granth was composed in a highly "scientific manner" so that there was no room later for any distortions, deletions or interpolations.
The Guru Granthhas 1,430 pages in all, and carries the gathered material in a well-pondered manner. Its hymns from different sources amount to 5,894. The bulk of hymns come from Guru Arjan’s own pen. The three Gurus — Hargobind, Har Rai and Harkrishan — for some reasons didn’t write hymns but the ninth Guru, Teg Bahadur, resumed the writing of hymns. It was the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who collected his father’s hymns known as Navan Mohalla— written in incarceration before his martyrdom on the orders of the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb.
The tenth Guru did not include his own massive work which appeared separately in Jap Sahiband other compositions. Thus, he gave Guru Granth the status of the Guru, and himself bowed before the volume to make it the last Guru of the Sikhs. Thus, living Gurudom was abolished for ever. All future generations were to pay respects to the sacred scripture, and treat it as the voice of their Gurus.
It’s again important to know how this huge material came into Guru Arjan Dev’s hands. The two pothiscarrying the compositions of the first four Gurus known as Goindwal pothis were, then, in the custody of Baba Mohan, maternal uncle of Guru Arjan Dev, a recluse and a mystic. However, all efforts to secure the pothisfrom him proved futile till Guru Arjan Dev composed a couple of beautiful hymns addressed to Mohan (one of the several names of the beloved Lord), and himself recited those soulful hymns below the window of the room where Baba Mohan lived.
This proved effective, for Baba Mohan was touched, and read the message contained obliquely in the hymns. These pothis, were then given shape and form by the fifth Guru. Again, the uniqueness of this scripture can be measured from the fact that it carried the work of not only the Sikh Gurus, but also of both Bhaktas and Sufi poets.
Guru Arjan Dev saw that Sanskrit which was virtually a dead language would not serve his purpose. Instead, he made use of Hindi in the forms in which it was being used at that time. These forms included Avadi and other dialects used by the bards and Bhaktas of the period. Arabic and Persian had been used by several poets with the advent of Islam and its culture in India, but no compositions in these languages are to be found in the Guru Granth.
The Guru Granth begins with Guru Nanak’s compositions. His most revered and recited bani, Jap Ji, now forms the staple of a Sikh’s morning prayers. The opening word "Ek-Onkar" — "The One All-Pervading Being" — precedes the word Jap and then the poem goes on to 38 pauris or stanzas in a splendid, epiphanic manner. A transcendant vision emerges when in the final pauris,Guru Nanak reaches the heights of his powers. The Janam Sakhis say that when Guru Nanak had just commenced his divine journey to discover the Lord, he once disappeared for three days in a stream called Bein, and when he emerged, he knew his journey had started.
He had seen in that vision in the water the Lord Himself, and received the amrit of naam. The songs uttered after that experience ultimately took him to the heights of his poetic splendour in the Japjiwhich was written later, in his mature years.
The hymns written or uttered by Guru Nanak and later Sikh Gurus described the wonders of the created world, bridging the gulf between this world and the next. The Guru Granth composed 400 years ago has now become a Sikh’s nourishment, for it has irradiated his soul, and saturated his sensibility.
This divine verse gives him a feeling of Sada Vigasor "life of perennial hope and rising spirits". This, I trust, is the Guru Granth’s final message. It serves to keep the Sikh in an upbeat mood, both in times of sorrow and in those of joys.