The Sacred Writing of The Sikhs

Item Code: NAG086
Author: Trilochan Singh et al
Publisher: Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 9788125017905
Pages: 288
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 270 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This may be described as an authorized version of certain of the Sacred Hymns of the Sikh Scriptures. It is the fruit of the joint labours of the most distinguished contemporary Sikh theologians and scholars who worked under the direction of the late Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, noted Indian philosopher and statesman. The contents comprise selections mainly from the Adi Granth, generally regarded as the greatest work of Punjabee and Hindi Literature, of which the principal authors were Guru Nanak and Guru Arjan, the first and the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus. A remarkable feature of the Adi Granth is that it contains writings of teachers in the other religious including Hinduism and Islam and thus, as Dr. Radhakrishan writes, ''maintaining the tradition of India which respects all religions and believes in the freedom of the human spirit."The book was previously published in the UNESCO Collection of Representative works (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization). This edition, copublished by UNESCO and Orient Longman, is in commemoration of the Tercentenary of the Khalsa.


This translation is the first that has made the Adi Granth accessible, in more than short extracts, to the English-speaking public. Its publication is therefore an important event in the history of the now rapidly increasing contact between different peoples and civilizations in the fields of literature, religion, and other provinces of spiritual life. The Adi Granth is part of mankind's common spiritual treasure. It is important that it should be brought within the direct reach of as many people as possible. Few readers of English will have had the opportunity of hearing the Adi Granth being chanted in the Golden Temple of the Sikh religion at Amritsar; and few, again, of those who have heard the chanting have been in a position to understand its meaning. Here is the book in English. Readers of English can now not merely read it put ponder over it. A book that has meant, and means, so much to such a notable community as the Sikh Khalsa deserves close study from the rest of the world. The Adi Granth is remarkable for several reasons. Of all known religious scriptures, this book is the most highly venerated. It means more to Sikhs than even the Qur'an means to Muslims, the Bible to Christians, and the Torah to Jews. The Adi Granth is the Sikhs' perpetual guru (spiritual guide). It was formally invested with this function by the last in the series of the human gurus that began with the founder of the Sikh religion, Nanak. Perhaps Nanak himself would have modestly disclaimed the title of 'founder.' He might have preferred to say that he was merely bringing to light, and gathering together, the cardinal religious truths and precepts that had been scattered, in explicit form or implicitly, through the religious legacies of a number of forerunners of his. For Nanak the fundamental truth was that, for a human being, the approach to God lies through self-abnegation; and this is indeed the chief message of most of the higher religions that have made their appearance up to date.

Nearly all the higher religions that count in the world today- in fact. all of them except oastrianism-have originated in one or other of two regions: India and South-West Asia. The Indian and the Judaic religions are notoriously different in spirit; and. where they have met. they have sometimes behaved like oil and vinegar. Their principal meeting-ground has been India. where Islam has impinged on Hinduism violently. On the whole. the story of the relations between these two great religions on Indian ground has been an unhappy tale of mutual misunderstanding and hostility. Yet. on both sides of this religious barrier. There has been a minority of discerning spirits who have seen that. at bottom. Hinduism and Islam are each an expression of the same fundamental religious truth. and that these two expressions are therefore reconcilable with each other and are of supreme value when brought into harmony. The Sikh religion might be described. not inaccurately. as a vision of this Hindu-Muslim common ground. To have discovered and embraced the deep harmony underlying the historic Hindu-Muslim discord has been a noble spiritual triumph; and Sikhs may well be proud of their religion's ethos and origin.

This religion is the creation of ex-Hindu religious inquirers who adopted monotheism and rejected caste under the inspiration of Islam. The greater part of the Adi Granth consists of hymns written by Nanak and the gurus who succeeded him until the succession of human gurus was closed in favour of their holy book. But the Adi Granth is a catholic anthology. It also includes hynms written by earlier Indian seers in whom Nanak and his successors recognized kindred spirits; and some of these contributors to the Granth are Hindus. While others are Muslims. Their writings have found a place in the Adi Granth because the compilers of it held. And this surely with good reason. That these seers were Sikhs in fact. Though they lived and wrote before the Sikh religion took institutional form. They were Sikhs because they brought out and emphasized the universal spiritual truths contained in their respective religious traditions; and these truths belong to all ages and to all faiths.

Mankind's religious future may be obscure; yet one thing can be foreseen: the living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before, in these days of increasing communication between all parts of the world and all branches of the human race. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion, and its scriptures the Adi Granth, will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world. This religion is itself a monument of creative spiritual intercourse between two traditional religions whose relations have otherwise not been happy. This is a good augury.


UNESCO entrusted the task of translating a selection of the Sacred Writings of the Sikhs to the Sahitya Akademi (Indian Academy of Letters). In pursuance of this mission the Akademi called a meeting of eminent Sikh Scholars. Under the presidentship of Dr S. Radhakrishnan. Vice-President of the Indian Republic. Amongst those who attended the meeting and advised in the selection of translators and hymns was the venerable poet. The late Dr Bhai Vir Singh. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of S. B. Teja Singh. Retired Chief Justice of High Court. and a panel of translators whose names appear in this book was chosen. Dr Trilochan Singh was the convener of this committee. The translations were revised from the point of view of English style by G. S. Fraser. Working with Khushwant Singh. This volume is the fruit of the joint labours of the most eminent Sikh theologians and scholars of the day and is the first publication of what might be described as an authorized English version of some of the Sacred Hymns of the Sikh scriptures.


The sudden widening of the spatial horizon has widened at the same time the horizons of the mind. There is an eagerness to know the ideas and beliefs by which other people live. This translation of a few selections from the Adi Granth is a small attempt towards the better understanding of other peoples' ideas and convictions. The Adi Granth, which is regarded as the greatest work of Punjabi literature, is largely the work of Guru Arjan, the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus He brought together the writings of the first four Gurus and those of the Hindu and Muslim saints from different parts of India. Guru Arjan's successors made a few additions and the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, said that there would be no more Gurus and the Granth should be regarded as the living voice of all the prophets: Guru-Vani. William Penn says: 'There is something nearer to us than scriptures, to wit, the word in the heart from which all scriptures come.' Japji says: 'gurmukh nadam gurmukh oedam;' 'the Word of the Guru is the music which the seers hear in their moments of ecstasy; the Word of the Guru is the highest scripture. By communion with the Word we attain the vision unattainable.' Guru Arjan says that the book is the abode of God: 'patm paramesvar ka than.' The hymns are set to music. We find in Adi Granth a wide range of mystical emotion, intimate expressions of the personal realization of God and rapturous hymns of divine love. The Sikh creed includes belief in the ten Gurus and the Adi Granth.

A remarkable feature of the Adi Granth is that it contains the writings of the religious teachers of Hinduism, Islam; etc.This is in consistency with the tradition of India which respects all religions and believes in the freedom of the human spirit. Indian spiritual tradition is not content with mere toleration. There can be no goodwill or fellowship when we only tolerate each other. Lessing, in his Nathan the Wise, rebuked the habit of condescending toleration. We must appreciate other faiths, recognize that they offer rich spiritual experiences and encourage sacrificial living and inspire their followers to a noble way of life. The Sikh Gurus who compiled the Adi Granth had this noble quality of appreciation of whatever was valuable in other religious traditions. The saints belong to the whole world. They are universal men, who free our minds from bigotry and superstition, dogma and ritual, and emphasize the central simplicities of religion. The great seers of the world are the guardians of the inner values who correct the fanaticisms of their superstitious followers.

The Hindu leaders neglected to teach the spiritual realities to the people at large who were sunk in superstition and materialism. Religion became confused with caste distinctions and taboos about eating and drinking. The Muslims were also victims of superstition and some of their leaders were afflicted with the disease of intolerance. I Saints arose in different parts of the country, intent on correcting the injustices and cruelties of society and redeeming it: Jnanesvar, Namdev, and Eknath in Maharashtra, Narsingh Mehta in Gujarat, Caitanya in Bengal, Kabir in Uttar Pradesh, Vallabhacarya in Andhra and others. All these stirred the people with a new feeling of devotion, love and humanity. They stressed that one's religion was tested not by one's beliefs but by one's conduct. No heart which shuts out truth and love can be the abode of God.

At a time when men were conscious of failure, Nanak appeared to renovate the spirit of religion and humanity. He did not found a new faith or organize a new community. That was done by his successors, notably the fifth Guru. Nanak tried to build a nation of self-respecting men and women, devoted to God and their leaders, filled with a sense of equality and brotherhood for all. The Gurus are the light-bearers to mankind. They are the messengers of the timeless. They do not claim to teach a new doctrine but only to renew the eternal wisdom. Nanak elaborated the views of the Vaisnava saints. His best known work is Jap Sahib or Japji, the morning prayer. Guru Arjan's popular composition is Sukhmatti.

The Sikh Gurus transcend the opposition between the personal and the impersonal, between the transcendent and the imminent. God is not an abstraction but an actuality. He is Truth, formless nirguna, absolute, eternal, infinite, beyond human comprehension. He is yet revealed through creation and through grace to anyone who seeks Him through devotion. He is given to us as a Presence in worship. The ideas we form of Him are intellectualizations of that presence. A great Muslim saint observed: 'Who beholds me formulates it not and who formulates me beholds me not. A man who beholds and then formulates is veiled from me by the formulation.' It is the voice of theology to define rather than to express, to formulate rather than to image or symbolize the indefinable. Silence is the only adequate expression of that which envelops and embraces us. No word, however noble, no symbol, however significant, can communicate the ineffable experience of being absorbed in the dazzling light of the Divine. Light is the primal symbol we use, of a consciousness ineffably beyond the power of the human mind to define or limit. The unveiled radiance of the sun would be darkness to the eye that strives to look into it. We can know it only by reflection, for we are ourselves a part of its infinite awareness.

Muhammad adopted the rigid monotheism from Judaism. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth's Ramananda was hostile to the worship of images. If God is a stone I will worship a mountain. Kabir says: Nanak was greatly impressed by the monotheism of Islam and denounced image worship. One God who is just, loving, righteous, who is formless and yet the creator of the universe, who desires to be worshipped through love and righteousness that is the belief that has dominated Sikhism. When at the temple of Jagannath, Nanak saw the worship in which lights were waved before the image and flowers and incense were presented on gold salvers studded with pearls, he burst into song: God is not limited to anyone incarnation but sends His messengers from time to time, to lead struggling humanity towards Him. It is the law of the spiritual world that whenever evil and ignorance darken human affairs, morality and wisdom will come to our rescue. The Guru is the indwelling Divine who teaches all through the gentle voice of conscience. He appears outside in human form to those who crave for a visible guide. The enlightener is the inner self. Nanak is, for the Sikhs, the voice of God arousing the soul to spiritual effort. Faith in the Guru is adopted by both the Hindus and the Muslim Sufis. The latter emphasize the need of a religious teacher, Pir, to guide the initiate in prayer and meditation. The Gurus are human and not divine. They are not to be worshipped. Guru Gobind Singh says: 'Whosoever regards me as Lord shall be damned and destroyed I am but the servant of God.'

God alone is real. The world is real because God animates it and is found through it. The created world is not in an absolute sense. It arises from God and dissolves into Him. How came the Changeless to create a world of change? How did the One go forth into the many? If the one is compelled to create, it suffers from imperfection and insufficiency. But total perfection cannot have this insufficiency. The question assumes that the Eternal at one moment of time began the task of creation But Eternity has no beginning and no end. If its nature is to create, it eternally creates. The idea of a God absorbed in self-contemplation and then for some unknown reason rousing himself to create a universe is but a reflection of our human state. We alternate between activity and rest, between inertia and excitement. Divine beatitude consists in a simultaneous union of contemplation and of act of self-awareness and of self-giving. A static perfection is another name for death. Nanak looks upon the creative power of the Supreme as maya. It is integral to the Supreme Being. The way to the knowledge of God is through self-surrender. It is not ceremonial piety; it is something inward in the soul. Those who, in the humility of a perfect self-surrender, have ceased to cling to their own petty egos are taken over by the superhuman Reality, in the wonder of an indescribable love. The soul rapt in the vision and possession of a great loveliness grows to its likeness. Surrender to God becomes easy in the company of a saintly teacher, a Guru. Man is a child of God. He is mortal when he identifies himself with the perishable world and body. He can become immortal through union with God; until then he wanders in the darkness of the world. He is like a spark from the fire or a wave of the ocean. The individual comes forth from God, is always in Him as a partial expression of His will and at last, when he becomes perfect, manifests God's will perfectly.

We have to tread the path which saints have trodden to direct union with the Divine. We have to tread the interior way, to pass through crises, through dark nights and ordeals of patience. Nanak says: 'Yoga is not the smearing of ashes, is not the ear-rings and shaven beard, not the blowing of conches but it is remaining unspotted amidst impurity, thus is the contact with Yoga gained.' Nanak was critical of the formalism of both the Hindus and the Muslims. He went to bathe in the Ganges as is usual with devout Hindus. When the Hindus threw water towards the rising sun as an offering to their dead ancestors, Nanak threw water in the opposite direction. When questioned, he said: 'I am watering my fields in the Punjab. If you can throw water to the dead in heaven, it should be easier to send it to a place on earth.' On another occasion, he fell asleep with his feet towards Mecca. An outraged Mulla drew his attention to it. Nanak answered: 'If you think I show disrespect by having my feet towards the house of God, turn them in some other direction where God does not dwell.' Nanak says: 'To worship an image, to make a pilgrimage to a shrine, to remain in a desert, and yet have the mind impure is all in vain; to be saved, worship only the Truth.' Nanak tells us: 'Keep no feeling of enmity for anyone. God is contained in every bosom. Forgiveness is love at its highest power.' Nanak says: 'Where there is forgiveness there is God Himself.'

When Ajita Randhava asked Guru Nanak about ahimsa, Nanak replied: Belief in a separate self and its sufficiency is the original sin. Self-noughting is the teaching of the seers of all religions. Jesus says: 'If any man would follow me, let him deny himself.' Meister Eckhart declared that the Kingdom of God is for none but the thoroughly dead. We should aim to escape from the prison of our selfhood and not to escape from the body which is the temple of God. Until we reach the end we will have other lives to pass through. No failure is final. An eventual awakening for all is certain.

Nanak and his followers believe in the doctrine of karma and rebirth. We are born with different temperaments. Some are greedy and possessive, others fretful and passionate. We come into the world bearing the impress of our past karma. Circum- stances may stimulate these qualities. We may by our effort weaken the evil dispositions and strengthen the good ones. True happiness cannot be found in perishable things. It is found only in union with the Supreme. We are caught in the world of sarnsara or change, in the wheel of births and deaths because we identify ourselves with the physical organism and the environment. We can be freed from the rotating wheel of sarnsara by union with God attained through devotion. We must accept God as the guiding principle of our life. It is not necessary to renounce the world and become an ascetic. God is everywhere, in the field and the factory as in the cell and the monastery.

The Sikhs, like some other Vaisnava devotees who preceded them, denounce caste distinctions. Ramananda said: Let no one ask of caste or sect; if anyone worships God then he is God's. As God dwells in all creatures none is to be despised. When we become one with God through wholehearted surrender, we live our lives on earth as instruments of the Divine. The aim of liberation is not to escape from the world of space and time but to be enlightened, wherever we may be. It is to live in this world knowing that it is divinely informed. To experience a timeless reality we need not run away from the world. For those who are no longer bound to the wheel of samsara, life on earth is centered in the bliss of eternity. Their life is joy and where joy is, there is creation. They have no other country here below except the world itself. They owe their loyalty and love to the whole of humanity. God is universal. He is not the God of this race or that nation. He is the God of all human beings. They are all equal in His sight and can approach Him directly. We must, therefore, have regard for other peoples and other religions.

Nanak strove to bring Hindus and Muslims together. His life and teaching were a symbol of the harmony between the two communities. A popular verse describes him as a Guru for the Hindus and a Pir for the Muslims. The transformation of the peaceful followers of Nanak into a militant sect was the work of the sixth Guru, Har Gobind and of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru. The tenth Guru converted the young community of disciples (Sikhs, sisyas) into a semi-military brotherhood with special symbols and sacraments for protecting them. When his father Guru Tegh Bahadur was summoned by Emperor Aurangzeb who faced him with the alternative of conversion to Islam or death, he preferred death and left a message: I gave my head but not my faith.

His four sons also gave their lives in defense of their faith. On the New Year Day in 1669, Guru Gobind initiated five of his followers known as Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones), into a new fraternity called the Khalsa or the Pure. Of these five, one was a Brahmin, one a Ksatriya and the others belonged to the lower castes. He thus stressed social equality. They all drank out of the same bowl and were given new names with the suffix Singh (Lion) attached to them. They resolved to observe the five K's, to wear their hair and beard unshorn (Kes).' to carry a comb in the hair (Kangha), to wear a steel bangle on the right wrist (Kara) , to wear a pair of shorts (Kaccha), and to carry a sword (Kirpan). They were also enjoined to observe four rules of conduct (rahat), not to cut their hair, to abstain from smoking tobacco and avoid intoxicants, not to eat meat unless the animal has been slaughtered in the manner prescribed, and to refrain from adultery. A new script, a new scripture, new centres of worship, new symbols and ceremonies made Sikhism into a new sect, if not a new religion. What started as a movement of Hindu dissenters has now become a new creed.

It is, however, unfortunate that the barriers which the Sikh Guru laboured to cast down are again being re-created. Many pernicious practices against which they revolted are creeping into Sikh society. Worldly considerations are corrupting the great ideals. Religion which lives in the outer threshold of consciousness without conviction in the mind or love in the heart is utterly inadequate. It must enter into the structure of our life; become a part of our being. The Upanishad says: He alone knows the truth who knows all living creatures as himself. The barriers of seas and mountains will give way before the call of eternal truth which is set forth with freshness of feeling and fervour of devotion in the Adi Granth.



  Foreword to the first edition 7
  Preface to the tercentenary edition 10
  Preface to the first edition 11
  Introduction 17
  Part One  
  Selections from the 'Adi guru granth'  
1 The Hymns of Guru Nanak 27
2 Hymns of Guru Angad Dev 120
3 Hymns of Guru Amar Das 125
4 Hymns of Guru Ram Das 141
5 Hymns of Guru Arjan Dev 154
6 Hymns of Guru Tegh Bahadur 205
7 Hymns of the 'Pre Nanak Saints' 211
8 Hymns of the 'Contemporary Saints' 248
  Part Two  
  Selections from the 'Dasam Granth'  
9 Hymns of the Guru Gobind Singh 266
  Glossary 276
  Index 282

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