The making of the eternal Guru
It was in October 1708 that the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, elevated the Adi Granth as the eternal Guru in Nanded, Maharashtra and discontinued the tradition of the succession of human Gurus. While the tercentenary of the Gurta Gaddi is being celebrated on a grand scale nation-wide on October 30, a look at the Holy Book and how it came to be what it is now. S. HARPAL SINGH
Photo: G. Sanjeev reddy
Guiding spirit: A Granthi reciting the Guru Granth Sahib at the Takhat Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib Gurudwara, Nanded.
Encapsulated in the Holy Book of Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, the appeal of the compositions of the reformer-poets and minstrels of the Bhakti movement of the medieval period continues to be strong and relevant even today. Because it was elevated to the exalted status of the perpetual Guru of Sikhs, it helped the Holy Scripture endow upon these soulful compositions the aura of sanctity.
The tercentenary of the elevation of the Guru Granth Sahib to the position of the perpetual Guru is being celebrated on October 30, which also brings the contents of this revered book into sharp focus. The weaving together of the Shabads or hymns and sawaiyyes or poems of the saintly personages of those times makes for the texture of the content while its spirit hinges primarily on the praise of God and the right way to life and reflects universality of thought in relation to these two aspects.
For scholars like Dr. Jagbir Singh, retired Professor of Delhi University’s Punjabi Department, the Guru Granth Sahib is a true representative of India’s spiritual legacy. “It encompasses the compositions of not only the Sikh Gurus but Hindu saints and bards and Muslim Sufis. It is secular and the appeal of the ‘Gurbani’ is universal because the dividing lines between communities get obliterated here”, observes Dr. Jagbir Singh.
Essence of bhakti
The history of the Sikh faith as well as Guru Granth Sahib has much to do with the tumultuous Bhakti movement of medieval period (800 to 1700 A.D.) when religious bigotry was known to be at its peak. Wandering minstrels, saints and sufis were spreading the message of the love of God and brotherhood all over the country.
The Guru Granth Sahib is a 1,430-page compilation of shabads, shlokas, vars or ballads arranged in three parts. The first part consists of the Mool Mantra, Japji and Keertan Sohela composed by Guru Nanak while the second part comprises compositions of the first five Sikh Gurus and 15 Bhagats who were the Minstrels and Bhats who were bards. The third portion comprises the compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur who was Guru Gobind Singh’s father and the Ninth Guru of Sikhs.
The Holy Scripture has composers belonging to diverse backgrounds and verses in diverse languages like Persian and Khadiboli, Awadhi and Braj and Punjabi. Sant Kabir was a weaver, Namdev was a calico printer, Ravidas a cobbler, Trilochan was a Brahmin, Dhanna was a cultivator, Sain was a barber, Jaidev was a poet (of Geeta Govinda fame), Pipa was a King, Surdas was a blind poet, Baba Sheikh Farid was a Sufi Saint and so on. The rest of the 15 contributors are Parmanand, Sadhna, Beni, Ramanand and Bhikhan, all considered Saints during their time.
Most of today’s ritualistic activities like keertans in temples, qawwalis at Dargahs and the singing of Gurbani, the sacred text contained in the Guru Granth Sahib in Gurudwaras originated during Medieval period. Guru Nanak, the first of the 10 Sikh Gurus, used to sing the compositions of venerated Saints of the Medieval period, thereby giving birth to the tradition of Gurbani, the sacred text contained in Guru Granth Sahib being sung. He always carried the rabab, the stringed instrument, thereby laying emphasis on singing of the Gurbani.
In fact, the shabads in the Bani are set to 31 ragas and raginis of Hindustani classical music, each of these centred around different times of the day and corresponding moods. Every Shloka contained in the Gurbani begins with the name of the raga to which it is set, followed by the name of the composer.
The tradition of singing the Gurbani has given rise to the tradition of ragi jathas or troupes of musicians trained in Hindustani classical music exclusively for singing Gurbani. These musicians are trained at “Taksals” or mints. The ragi jathas are comprised of a minimum of three musicians though usually four or five of them make up a typical jatha. Harmonium, tabla and sarangi are the basic instruments while some musicians also use the rabab.
The origins of the Guru Granth Sahib can be traced to the Pothis, where the Saintly wisdom of that time was accumulated by various Sikh Gurus. The Pothis were then compiled into a single book called the Adi Granth also known as Kartarpuri Bir. Bhai Gurdas scripted the Book under the supervision of Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru who got it consecrated as a Holy Scripture at Amritsar’s Golden Temple or the Gurudwara Harmandir Sahib in 1604.
There was no addition to the Adi Granth until the advent of Guru Gobind Singh. He included the Bani of Guru Tegh Bahadur to give it the final shape.
The political turmoil of the early 18th century had forced the last Sikh Guru to visit Nanded, where he succumbed to injuries inflicted by the spies of the Governor of Sirhind. The two spies had stayed with the Guru for sometime, pretending to be his followers. They stabbed him when he was asleep.
The Guru had perhaps foreseen the times ahead and as a step of precaution he did not name a human successor to the Guru Gaddi or the throne of the Guru. Instead, he elevated the Adi Granth as the eternal Guru of the followers of Sikh faith in October 1708, just a few days before he departed for the heavenly abode.
The dictum “Agya bhai akaal ki tabhi chalayo panth, Sab Sikhan ko hukam hai Guru manyo Granth....” is contained not in the Guru Granth Sahib but in the Rehat Nama written by Bhai Prahlad Singh. Guru Gobind Singh is believed to have decreed that Sikhs consider the Granth as the Guru as per the wishes of God.
It is only after the elevation of the Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Guru that the outlook of Sikhism took the shape that is visible today. The celebrations associated with the completion of 300 years of the momentous occasion are also being held on a grand scale, the refrain being “Tinn sau saal Guru de naal, har vela har dam Guru de naal....” (Three hundred years with the Guru, every moment and always with the Guru).
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