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History & Composition of Siri Guru Granth Sahib
Guru Nanak brought the Word of God to manifestation upon the Earth. Through his Hymns and Prayers, he inspired and uplifted humankind to live a life of truth, righteousness and spirituality. These enlightening words were sung by his companions, Bala and Mardana, and by the Sangats which grew up around Guru Nanak. In his later years, at Kartarpur, it became customary for the members of the Sikh community to sing certain hymns on a daily basis: Japji in the morning; So Dar and So Purakh, the beginnings of Rehiras, in the evenings.
Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das all composed Shabads, and the Sikhs began to collect these in books called Pothis. Chanting these Shabads, the Sikhs became vehicles for the vibrations of the Word of God, and they achieved a state of higher consciousness, a transcendent meditative union with God and Guru.
Even early in Sikh history, however, there were malcontents, and pretenders to the Throne of Spirituality. The elder brother of Guru Arjun, Prithia, composed his own hymns and passed them off as writings of Guru Nanak. There were many different collections of Shabads, and many differing versions of the same Shabads. Guru Arjun realized that a standardized, authenticated collection of the Guru’s Bani was needed to preserve the integrity of the Shabad.
The most complete collection of Shabads of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das was in the possession of Mohan, a son of Guru Amar Das. Guru Arjun sent Bhai Gur Das to Mohan’s home in Goindwal, to request this collection of Shabads. Mohan felt slighted at having been passed over for Guruship—his father, Guru Amar Das, had seen the Divine Light in Guru Ram Das, and had bestowed the Guruship upon him. Mohan refused to answer the door when Bhai Gur Das knocked, and Bhai Gur Das returned to Guru Arjun empty-handed.
Guru Arjun then sent Bhai Buddha to Mohan’s house. Bhai Buddha was by then a very old and respected man in the Sikh community, having been a disciple of all the Gurus, from Guru Nanak through Guru Arjun. When Mohan did not answer Bhai Buddha’s knock, he entered the house anyway. Inside, he found Mohan in a deep meditative trance. Mohan’s younger brother convinced Bhai Buddha not to disturb him, and Bhai Buddha also retured to Guru Arjun empty-handed.
So it was that in 1603, Guru Arjun found it necessary to proceed himself to Mohan’s house, to retrieve the Shabads. When Guru Arjun approached his house, he called out in a sweet voice, but there was no response. The Guru sat upon his doorstep and began to sing,
"Oh, Mohan, your mansion is so lofty, there is no other place like yours. Oh, Mohan, even the Saints adorn the door of your temple. Show compassion and kindness, Oh Kind Lord—be merciful to the poor. Says Nanak, I am thirsting for the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan Grant me this gift, and I shall be happy."
Mohan is a name of God, calling upon Him as the Beloved. When Guru Arjun sang this Hymn, he was singing the Praises of God, in the form of a song to win Mohan’s heart. Mohan threw open the window and called out to Guru Arjun, "You stole the Guruship from my family, and now you come to steal what remains of my heritage!" Guru Arjun responded with sweet words,
"Oh Mohan, your words are like no others, and your behavior is exemplary. Oh Mohan, you believe in the One God and treat all others as garbage. Says Nanak, please preserve my honor - all your servants seek Your Sanctuary."
Mohan grumbled and protested, muttering about his claim to the Shabads. But finally, he came down and sat by Guru Arjun, as the Guru continued to sing,
"Oh Mohan, the Sadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, meditates upon You, and yearns to obtain the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan. Oh Mohan, at the very last moment of life, death shall not approach You. All who worship You in thought, word and deed shall obtain Your Gifts. Even the impure, the stupid and the foolish obtain Divine Knowledge upon seeing You. Says Nanak, Oh God, You are present within all, You are above all."
Gazing upon Guru Arjun’s enlightened face, feeling the love and radiance emanating from him, hearing the sweet words of love and humility, Mohan’s heart was softened, and opened at last. He acknowledged Guru Arjun’s true place upon the throne of Guru Nanak, and gave all of the Shabads in his possession to Guru Arjun.
Guru Arjun then set to compile the Shabads into a single volume, the Adi Granth. He sifted through the Shabads which had been passed down from the first four Gurus, and filtered out those which had been added by imposters. Bhai Gur Das was the scribe who recorded the Words of Guru Arjun. When he asked Guru Arjun how he could distinguish between the true and the false Shabads, Guru Arjun replied, "Even in a great herd of cows and calves, the mother cow will recognize the cry of her calf, above all others. Just so, the True Shabad resonates truly, and is easily distinguished from the false."
Guru Arjun added a great many of his own Shabads to those of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das. He also added Shabads of thirty-six Hindu and Muslim Saints, among them Kabir, Ravi Das, Naam Dev, Trilochan and Sheikh Farid. This was the first time any religion incorporated the works of sincere devotees of other religions into its own scripture; it reflects the universality of thought which underlies the Sikh belief in One God, and the one family of humanity as children of God.
Guru Arjun left some blank pages in the Granth. When Bhai Gur Das asked the purpose of this, he answered that one of the Gurus to follow him would add the Shabads in their proper place at the proper time. In time the shabads of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Manifestation of the Guru’s Light, were added by Guru Gobind Singh and thus the Siri Guru Granth Sahib was complete.
The Adi Granth was completed in 1604, and installed in the Golden Temple where Baba Buddha was appointed Guru Granthi. Guru Arjun told his Sikhs that the Adi Granth was the embodiment of the Guru, and should be treated with all the respect accorded to himself. When Guru Arjun first completed the Adi Granth, he placed it upon his own bed and slept on the floor.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last of the Sikh Gurus to take human form, dictated the entire Granth Sahib at Damdama Sahib. Dhir Mal, the son of Baba Gurditta and grandson of Guru Hargobind, had taken possession of the Adi Granth; he refused to give it to Guru Gobind Singh when the Guru asked for it. Dhir Mal taunted the Guru, "If you are a Guru, then prepare your own." Guru Gobind Singh proceeded to dictate it to Bhai Mani Singh, who recorded it. While some have questioned the authenticity of this story, it is well for us to remember that, of course, Guru Gobind Singh was no ordinary person at all. And, in the old days of bards and story-tellers, it was not unusual for them to recite from memory entire epic poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. Guru Gobind Singh included the Shabads of his father, Guru Teg Bahadur, but he did not include his own Shabads; instead, he placed them in a separate Granth, the Dasam Granth. The Dasam Granth is not revered as Guru, however.
Guru Gobind Singh installed the Siri Guru Granth Sahib as Guru on October 30, l706. This day is celebrated today as Guru Gadi Day. At the time of his death, he declared that the Word of God embodied in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib was to be Guru for all time. He said, "O Beloved Khalsa, let any who desire to behold me, behold the Guru Granth. Obey the Granth Sahib, for it is the visible body of the Guru. Let any who desire to meet me, diligently search its Bani." Thus the Word of God, which has manifested as Guru in Nanak, and had passed through the ten incarnations of Guru, was now returned to its form as the Word, the Bani, the Shabad.
Structure of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib
Within it's 1430 pages, the Shabads of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib are arranged in thirty-one Ragas, the traditional Indian musical measures and scales. Within the Ragas, they are arranged by order of the Sikh Gurus, with the Shabads of the Hindu and Muslim Saints following. The Shabads are written in various meters and rhythms, and are organized accordingly. For instance, Ashtapadi - eight steps, or Panch-padi - five steps. The Siri Guru Granth Sahib is written in Gurmukhi script, but the Shabads were written in many different languages including Panjabi, Sanskrit and Persian.
Historical Volumes of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib
KARTARPUR VAALI BIR: As described above, Guru Arjun dictated the Adi Granth to Bhai Gur Das. This first volume, or Bir, was made in Amritsar and later transferred to Kartarpur, where it remains today. The opening lines are in the hand of Guru Arjun, and it bears the signature of Guru Hargobind at the end. There are several blank pages, left by Guru Arjun to hold the writings of Guru Teg Bahadur. BHAI BANNO VAALI BIR: After completing the Adi Granth, Guru Arjun asked one of his Sikhs, Bhai Banno, to take the manuscript to Lahore to have it bound. During this journey, Bhai Banno had a copy made for his own use. He inserted a few Shabads of his own choosing, however. This version remains with his descendents. DAMDAMA VAALI BIR: This is the volume dictated by Guru Gobind Singh at Damdama Sahib to Mani Singh. In it, Guru Gobind Singh included the Shabads of Guru Teg Bahadur. The volumes of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib which preside over our Gurdwaras now are copies of this edition.
Using the Gurmukhi Bir and the English Translation
In the West, it has become common to use the English translation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib in Gurdwara programs and Akhand Paaths, because many of the Western Sikhs are not fluent in Gurmukhi. This has served to bring many to the Feet of the Guru who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to experience the Shabad Guru. It should be noted, however, that it is ideal to install the full Gurmukhi Bir in the Gurdwara in order to fully experience and develop a relationship with the Guru. The English translation can be installed on a separate Palki on the side and serve to illuminate the sangat in the meaning of the Words of the Guru. The English translation may be used during an Akhand Paath in which the participants are not fluent in Gurmukhi. However, if a special Gurdwara program is being planned, the English Akhand Paath days can be accomodated so that the full Gurmukhi Bir of Siri Guru Granth Sahib presides.
A Sikh is encouraged to learn to read Gurmukhi so as to deepen his or her experience of Gurbani and so that the full body of the Guru may be installed in the Gurdwara.