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From Pothi to Guru Granth Sahib

The Perfect-Genius of Guru Arjan Sahib

Monday
,
12
September
2022

From Pothi to Guru Granth Sahib

The Perfect-Genius of Guru Arjan Sahib

Monday
,
12
September
2022
Sikhism
Guru Granth Sahib
Guru Arjan Sahib
⟵ Back to articles

From Pothi to Guru Granth Sahib

The Perfect-Genius of Guru Arjan Sahib

Monday
,
12
September
2022

Guru Arjan Sahib gifted the eventual Guru Granth Sahib to humanity. Why did the Guru envision it? How did the Guru compile it? What did the Guru curate?

Guru Arjan Sahib gifted the eventual Guru Granth Sahib to humanity. Why did the Guru envision it? How did the Guru compile it? What did the Guru curate?

Guru Arjan Sahib devised a superb method to curate an anthology that harmonized societal elements in a brilliant framework. The term editor comes from Latin, implying the one who puts forth, brings forth, produces, or publishes. In this context, Guru Arjan Sahib was also the editor and not its current restrictive meaning of a person who edits or makes changes. Guru Arjan Sahib was a perfect-genius. He was a compiler and editor, musician and musicologist, planner and organizer, curator and publisher, author and poet, composer and instrumentalist, producer and director, and much, much more. The Guru is also the lover of the Beloved and the Beloved of us seekers-lovers.

Guru Arjan Sahib (1563-1606) is beyond the mark of excellence.

At age 18, what traits and characteristics does one exhibit to be anointed as the leader of a nation? Guru Arjan Sahib was declared the fifth Sovereign in the line of Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of the Sikh faith.

At age 28, what methods and resources does one galvanize to inaugurate the center for all people? Guru Arjan Sahib was the architect of Sri Harimandar Sahib (popularly the Golden Temple) in the middle of a pool in the city of Amritsar in the Panjab and developed the city and its markets.

At age 41, what vision and skills does one possess to publish an anthology that becomes the global source of eternal wisdom? Guru Arjan Sahib envisioned and completed the first recension of Guru Granth Sahib, the textual source the Sikhs call their Guru.

At age 43, what love and justice paradigm does one live to be martyred by the state? Guru Arjan Sahib was tortured to death by the Mughal emperor for disrupting the political and religious hegemony.

In Guru Granth Sahib itself, Guru Arjan Sahib is described by a Bhatt (bard) as Divine-like: “Mathura says there is no difference, Guru Arjan is the manifestation of Hari -- All-Pervasive, 1-Light, Fear-Eliminator, 1Force” (1408).

The Sabad - the word and the sound that brings the infinite wisdom to us - has been there since the beginning. Guru Nanak Sahib graced humanity with the Sabad, which initiated a new Raj, a new form of governance that resulted in a new form of rule. The collection of those Sabads was safeguarded in the Pothi by each Guru and handed over to the next Guru, who added more sabads. In Indic tradition, even today, Pothi refers to a text, manuscript, or book. Guru Arjan Sahib in Guru Granth Sahib (1226) shares his experience:  

[The wisdom in] the Pothi is the abode of 1-Supreme-Being.
Singing virtues of 1-Earth-Knower in the company of awakened beings,
the wisdom about 1-Absolute is received. Pause-reflect.

Guru Arjan Sahib collected all the Pothis and initiated the definitive anthology. It was commenced in 1604. It is also known as Adi Granth or Kartarpuri Bir.

Guru Gobind Singh Sahib added the sabads of Guru Teghbahadar Sahib and elevated its status to Guru Granth Sahib in 1708. It is also known as Damdami Bir.

Guru Arjan Sahib envisioned and published the Guru Granth Sahib. Why?


The South Asian world was divided between the Hindu and the Islamic constructs of gods or God. Guru Nanak Sahib addressed IkOankar, 1Oankar the 1Force, beyond geography or gender. 1Force is how to transcend particularisms and creeds that continue to occupy people. This is a deep quest for the 1, for all peoples and nations. In 1 are all relationships, the Creator and the Creation, the mother and the father, the lover and the Beloved.

Sikhi was gaining adherents. The infinite wisdom of the Sabad was transforming the masses. The people understood the Sabad and were becoming reverential toward it. They began to experience the 1 via Nam, Identification with the 1. Counterfeit Sabads started during Guru Amardas Sahib’s reign and started to gain currency during the reign of Guru Arjan Sahib. Guru Arjan Sahib’s brother Prithi Chand and his gifted son Miharban wrote sabads under the signature of “Nanak,” too. In the introduction of Sirdar Kapur Singh’s Guru Arjan and His Sukhmani, Mandanjit Kaur and Piar Singh record:

Stray compilations of them [sabads] were in circulation. Conscious or unconscious interference in their text, often prompted by a desire to round off a word or a phrase or to regulate its metrical flow in accordance with the whim of the singer, was not an uncommon phenomenon. To check this, the need to place an authentic version of the bānī in the hands of the readers seemed paramount. The corpus of the bānī left by the third and the fourth Gurus, as also composed by Guru Arjun himself, had grown enormously. There was a need to regulate it, lest it should be lost. There was a danger of its being interpolated by imitators too. Guru Arjun, therefore, thought it fit to compile the whole corpus of gurubānī in a befitting way and, thus, leave behind himself an authorized version of the Sikh Scripture.

Guru Arjan Sahib compiled and edited the Guru Granth Sahib. How?

The Sabad compositions were assigned to thirty-one rags or musical modes as well the folk tunes and rhythm. Singing was the recommended mode to harmonize with the verses in the Sabad fully. A combination of season, time, sentiment, flavor, taste, atmosphere, aesthetics, emotions, and moods transports the seeker to feel the 1Force; this is not possible without singing. The contributor arranged poetic genres and forms filled with imagery in a numerical structure and format. The language of love-songs was many, for there were no barriers or restrictions by region, religion, or status. A new Gurmukhi script was employed to capture the experience that is full, dynamic, sensuous, intimate, and profound. Guru Nanak Sahib introduced Gurmukhi letters, organized into Gurmukhi script by Guru Angad Sahib. No one knows what to call this language, no label is possible, but it has elements of Hindustani, Panjabi, Braj, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Prakrit, and Apbransh. It is the language of love, scripted to provide wisdom-centeredness via metaphors, smilies, and symbols that everyday people understand and relate to.

Guru Arjan Sahib set up the numerical system by the contributors of compositions, the digital order, the heading style, invocation, meter, numbering, rahau (pause), and so on assumed the form. The compositions were ordered in genres deemed philosophical, literary, and folk. This was a master planning and methodological technique by Guru Arjan Sahib as the perfect-genius.

In brief, Guru Granth Sahib as a large volume can be understood by its format-arrangement:  the compilation and the methodology. Without understanding the compilation-methodology, its form-system cannot be fathomed. Through the knowledge of compilation-methodology, the basic principles working therein can be understood. The contributor of the Guru Granth Sahib, numeral-arrangement, composition-enumeration-system, invocation-system, Rag-system, numeral-numeralization, heading-system, ghar-system, dhuni-system, rahau-system, present Guru Arjan Sahib as a conscious planner and an accomplished musicologist. Through these systems, the love-songs become highly melodious and artistic. Guru Arjan Sahib utilized the spirit of unity in plurality to unite people of different backgrounds through the 1.

The Sabad is full of beauty, music, poetry, and much more. The Sabads are love-songs for the Beautiful 1. Puran Singh in the Spirit Born People implores us to go beyond the cognitive meaning of the Sabad:

Like Guru Grantha, whose one hymn has the same sculptured idea in it, as is inlaid in the whole of Guru Grantha, Sukhmani too is the repetition of beautiful songs of the same. One sun of the face of the Beloved. But the very first message, both of Guru Grantha and Sukhmani, is not the meaning but the music of the beautiful. As when a beautiful woman suddenly appears before you, it is the music of her personality which thrills you, not the meaning. Music is higher than poetry in this sense. Poetry has meaning, but the highest poetry or music has no meaning, it has a subjective presence of the beautiful. It is the setting of a right spiritual attitude in us. It is the music of the Beautiful, the peace that the meeting with the Beloved gives.

Guru Arjan Sahib curated and contributed to the Guru Granth Sahib. What?

The voluminous constitution of 1430 pages involved sustained labor of love and rigorous intellectual discipline. The selection of poetic, personal experiences of the 1, the songs of love with the 1 by Hindu and Muslim divine-lovers, was a monumental task. The vast eons of knowledge material lay before the Guru that was not selected. The love-songs the world needs must have personal intimacy, not an abstraction. This was not a mixing of Hindu and Muslim; it was a new understanding of the 1. Guru Arjan Sahib’s personal extraordinary experience of the 1 grace the work he carried out without any complexity or fear. The selection of the four Gurus who narrated the unnarratable narrative of the 1, fifteen Hindu and Muslim truth-exemplars of medieval South Asia, ten bards from the region trained in eulogies, and three contemporary Sikhs who documented the Guru’s message for all times formed the anthology.

The inquiring mind wonders why there are no women contributors. No one really knows. What is known unquestionably is that the Sabad’s voice is feminine, the great relationships to explore love are via mother and feminine-friends, and the protagonist is a bride in pangs of separation.  Dr. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, in The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Transcendent, explores:

The very fact that the male Gurus identify with the female affirms a human situation. The ardor of their longing for the Infinite Reality is expressed in her voice. Male authors and poets in the Guru Granth do not confront the female, but seek to merge themselves with feminine feelings and thoughts. The male-female duality, which violates the wholeness of human nature and deprives each person of the other half is overcome, establishing, in turn, the significance of being human. Men and women are united and share their human angst and human hope.

Guru Arjan Sahib asked his Sikh, Bhai Gurdas (1551-1637), to be the scribe. Mahakavi (great-poet) Santokh Singh in Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth (ras 3, adhiai 41) records why the Guru chose Gurmukhi script:

In a perfect state of oneness, the Guru called Gurdas in his presence.
Seating him close by, [the Guru] voiced the purpose: “Bhai, listen to our hope.3
Create cohesive benevolent Grinth-Anthology in the Gurmukhi [alphabets].
In Patti composed by revered Nanak, beautiful are the thirty-five [alphabets].4
Scribe the entire Gurbani in them; it is very easy to study them.
Those graced with great intellect shall practice it to learn.5
They will study and reflect for many years, then they may realize the essence.
With heart filled with devotion, scribe that essence in Gurmukhi with ease.6
Intellectuals can scribe it in Sanskrit and [Perso-Arabic] language of the Turks.
It will spread all over quickly as the oil over water.7
Householders [busy] earning have less wisdom;
those seeking education can study it with ease.
The great pathway will be revealed, and those treading it will never go astray any time.8
Therefore, scribe them in Gurmukhi alphabets; it will be availed in the whole world.
Devoted ones will study with ease; they will realize freedom is in Hari-1’s remembrance.9
Their greatness is very beautiful; Gurmukhi’s identity will be known in the world.
Ones who will witness, study, and scribe will respect it,
ones who acknowledge it as the eliminator of sins-transgressions will love it.”10

Grinth is a common word for Granth in the Braj language.

Guru Arjan Sahib asked his Sikh, Baba Buddha (1506–1631), to be the first Granthi (the one who knows the Granth) to be the custodian at Sri Harimandar Sahib. Baba Buddha was carrying the Granth on his head; Guru Arjan Sahib was waving the chaur (royal-whisk). The beautiful revered Harigobind was also part of the procession. Atmosphere was divine: sound of many sankh (conch), vibrations of dundabhi (drums), and cheers of jai-jai-kar (hail or praise). Mahakavi Santokh Singh in Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth (ras 3, adhiai 50) records the Guru asks Baba Buddha to take the Hukam (the Command in the Sabad):

Arrived at Hari Mandir, ragis were singing in rags’s high notes.
Placed Grinth with manji, then Guru own-self sat nearby.31
Listened to [Asa-ki-]Var with focused mind, then at end revered Arjan spoke.
“Buddha, open Sahib Grinth, make [Sabad] resound, [let] the whole Panth listen.”32
After listening to [Guru’s] ask liked by mind, [Buddha’s] mouth spoke statement is true.
Then, with respect, Grinth was opened, Buddha’s mouth voiced the [Sabad] resound.33

Ragis are those who sing Sabad in rag (musical mode). Manji is a raised bed or cot where the sovereign sits. Manji in the Sikh system of Raj already existed as the Sikh administrative unit. Guru Amardas Sahib started Manjis to parallel the Mughal empire. Panth is the way as well as the community or nation that follows the way. Sikh Panth, Gurmukh Panth, and Khalsa Panth are common parlance in Sikh ethos.

Referring to the Guru Granth Sahib’s architect in verses 78 and 79, Bhai Nand Lal ‘Goya’ (1633-1713) alludes to the perfect-genius of Guru Arjan Sahib in Ganjnamah (originally in Persian):

Reflective poems on the Eternal descend to him,
Enlightening compositions on faith-conviction are his.
Dialogue of the Eternal illuminates through him,
Beauty of the Eternal radiates through him.

16 September is the Gugaddi Divas of Guru Arjan Sahib; the day Guruship was enthroned to the Guru in 1581. How can busy householders celebrate that amazing and beautiful memory? The perfect-genius of the Guru Arjan Sahib in Guru Granth Sahib (185) graces us:

When I opened to see the ancestral treasure,
then my mind was filled with enrichment.

Are we ready to witness the treasure?

Unless otherwise indicated, all translations or transcreations from the original source are done by Harinder Singh.

Revised:

This Content has been made available for educational purposes only. SikhRI does not make any representation concerning the completeness of the Content. This Content is not intended to substitute research or a deeper understanding of the topic. SikhRI encourages readers to read multiple authors to gain a complete understanding of the topic.

The Sikh Research Institute recognizes its responsibility to correct any factual, minor, or significant errors promptly. Please contact us via email to request a correction if you have identified one.

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Written By

Senior Fellow, Research & Policy

Harinder Singh is the Senior Fellow at the Sikh Research Institute. He holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering from Wichita State University, an MS in Engineering Management from the University of Kansas, and an MPhil from Punjab University in the linguistics of the Guru Granth Sahib. 

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