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Guru Granth Sahib

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Guru Granth Sahib
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Nishan.jpg
Illuminated Guru Granth folio with nisan ( Mul Mantra) of Guru Gobind Singh.
Predecessor Guru Gobind Singh

The Guru Granth Sahib (Punjabi: ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ [ɡʊɾu ɡɾəntʰ sɑhɪb]), or Adi Granth, is the living Guru of Sikhism. It is a voluminous text of 1430 Angs, compiled and composed during the period of Sikh gurus, from 1469 to 1708. It is a collection of hymns ( shabad) or baani describing the qualities of God and why one should meditate on God's name. Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708), the tenth guru, affirmed the sacred text Adi Granth as his successor, elevating it to Guru Granth Sahib. The text remains the holy scripture of the Sikhs, regarded as the teachings of the Ten Gurus. The role of Adi Granth, as a source or guide of prayer, is pivotal in Sikh worship. The Adi Granth was first compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev (1563–1606), from hymns of the first five Sikh gurus and 15 other great saints, or bhagats, including those of the Hindu and Muslim faith. After the tenth Sikh guru died, many copies were prepared for distribution by Baba Deep Singh.

It is written in the Gurmukhī script, in various dialects – including Lehndi Punjabi, Braj Bhasha, Khariboli, Sanskrit and Persian – often coalesced under the generic title of Sant Bhasha.


During the Guruship of Guru Nanak, collections of his hymns were compiled and sent to distant Sikh communities for use in morning and evening prayers. His successor, Guru Angad, began collecting his predecessor's sacred writings. This tradition was continued by the third and fourth gurus.

When the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan, was collecting the writings of his predecessor, he discovered that pretenders to the Guruship were releasing forged anthologies of the previous gurus' writings and including their own writings alongside them. In order to prevent spurious scriptures from gaining legitimacy, Guru Arjan began compiling a sacred book for the Sikh community. He finished collecting the religious writings of Guru Ram Das, his immediate predecessor, and convinced Mohan, the son of Guru Amar Das, to give him the collection of the religious writings of the first three Gurus. In addition, he sent disciples to go across the country to find and bring back any previously unknown writings. He also invited members of other religions and contemporary religious writers to submit writings for possible inclusion. Guru Arjan selected hymns for inclusion into the book and Bhai Gurdas acted as his scribe.

While the manuscript was being put together, Akbar, the Mughal Emperor, received a report that the manuscript contained passages vilifying Islam. Therefore, while traveling north, he stopped en route and asked to inspect it. Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas brought him a copy of the manuscript so far, and after choosing three random passages to be read, determined the report to be false. He also granted a request from Guru Arjan to remit the annual tax revenue of the district because of the failure of the monsoon.

In 1604, Guru Arjan's manuscript was completed and installed at the Harmandir Sahib with Baba Buddha ji as the first granthi, or reader. Since communities of Sikh disciples were scattered all over northern India, copies of the holy book needed to be made for them. However, in this first transcription a number of minor changes were made by the copyists.

The sixth, seventh, and eighth Gurus did not write religious verses, however the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur did and the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh included Guru Tegh Bahadur's writings into the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh had his writings compiled in a separate granth, which today is called Dasam Granth Sahib. It is not revered as Guru by the sikhs. The Guru is only Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

In 1704 at Damdama Sahib, during a one-year respite from the heavy fighting with Aurengzeb which the Khalsa was engaged in at the time, Guru Gobind Singh and Bhai Mani Singh added the religious compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur to the Guru Granth Sahib to create a definitive version. During these months of "intense literary activity" they used the original volume prepared by Guru Arjan by borrowing it from the descendants of Dhirmal, the elder brother of Guru Har Rai and inserted Guru Tegh Bahadur's verses in the appropriate places. The religious verses of Guru Gobind Singh were not included in the Guru Granth Sahib, but some of his religious verses are included in the daily prayers of Sikhs. During this period, Bhai Mani Singh also collected Guru Gobind Singh's writings as well as his court poets and included them in a non-religious volume known as the Dasam Granth.

This final compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib had many copies made. However, the original was lost in the Sikh holocaust of 1762. The edition used in Sikh Gurdwaras today is based on the copies produced at Damdama Sahib by Bhai Mani Singh.

Meaning and role in Sikhism

A copy of Guru Granth Sahib, the eternal Sikh Guru

Sikhs consider the Granth to be a spiritual guide for mankind, and it plays a central role in "guiding" the Sikhs' way of life. Its place in Sikh devotional life is based on two fundamental principles: that the text is divine revelation, and that all answers regarding religion and morality can be discovered within it. Its hymns and teachings are called Gurbani or "Word of the guru" and sometimes Guru ki bani or "Word of God". Thus, in Sikh theology, the revealed divine word is written by the past Gurus. There are numerous holy men, other than the Sikh Gurus, who are collectively referred to as Bhagats, or "devotees." Their writings were included in the Adi Granth and are referred to as Bhagat bani, "Word of Devotees". These saints belonged to different social and religious backgrounds, including Hindus and Muslims, cobblers and untouchables. Guru Granth Sahib is said to be the sole and final successor of the line of gurus.

Elevation of Adi Granth to Guru Granth Sahib

The Adi Granth was conferred the title of "Guru of the Sikhs" by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, 1708. The event, when Guru Gobind Singh installed Adi Granth as the Guru of Sikhism, was recorded in a Bhatt Vahi (a bard's scroll) by an eyewitness, Narbud Singh, who was a bard at the Guru's court. There are a variety of other documents attesting to this proclamation by the tenth Guru.

Thus, despite some aberrations, the Sikhs overwhelmingly accept that the Guru Granth is their eternal Guru. This has been the understanding and conviction of the Sikhs, since that October day of 1708.

Guru's commandment

Punjabi: "ਸੱਬ ਸਿੱਖਣ ਕੋ ਹੁਕਮ ਹੈ ਗੁਰੂ ਮਾਨਯੋ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ"
Transliteration: "Sab sikhan kō hukam hai gurū mānyō granth"
English: "All Sikhs are commanded to take the Granth as Guru."

- Guru Gobind Singh,in October, 1708, Nanded

A close associate of Guru Gobind Singh and author of Rehit-nama, Prahlad Singh, recorded the Guru's commandment saying "With the order of the Eternal Lord has been established [Sikh] Panth: all the Sikhs hereby are commanded to obey the Granth as their Guru".(Rehat-nama, Bhai Prahlad Singh) Similarly Chaupa Singh, another associate of Guru Gobind Singh, has mentioned this commandment in his Rehat-nama.


The Sikh Gurus developed a new writing system, Gurmukhī, for writing their sacred literature. Although the exact origins of the script are unknown, it is believed to have existed in an elementary form during the time of Guru Nanak. According to Sikh tradition, Guru Angad is said to have invented the script, and popularised its use among the Sikhs. It is stated in Mahman Prakash, an early Sikh manuscript, that the script was invented by Guru Angad at the suggestion of Guru Nanak during the lifetime of the founder. The word Gurmukhī translates as "from the mouth of the Guru". The script was used, from the outset, for compiling Sikh scriptures. The Sikhs assign a high degree of sanctity to the Gurmukhī language script; it is also the official script for the Indian State of Punjab.

The end part of the handwritten Adi granth, by Pratap Singh Giani, located on the first floor of Harmandir Sahib

The Guru Granth Sahib is divided into fourteen hundred and thirty pages known as Angs (limbs) in Sikh tradition. It can be divided into three different sections:

  1. Introductory section consisting of the Mul Mantra, Japji and Sohila composed by Guru Nanak
  2. Compositions of Sikh Gurus followed by those of Different Bhagats who just know Only the God, collected according to chronology of Ragas or musical notes (see below).
  3. Compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

The poems are divided on the basis of their musical setting in different ragas. A raga is a series of melodic motifs, based upon a definite scale or mode, that provide a basic structure around which the musician performs. The ragas are associated with different moods and times of the day and year. The total number of ragas in the Sikh system is thirty one, divided into fourteen ragas and seventeen raginis (less important or less definite ragas). Within the raga division, the songs are arranged in order of the Sikh gurus and Sikh bhagats with whom they are associated.

The various ragas are, in order: Raga Sri, Manjh, Gauri, Asa, Gujri, Devagandhari, Bihagara, Wadahans, Sorath, Dhanasri, Jaitsri, Todi, Bairari, Tilang, Suhi, Bilaval, Gond (Gaund), Ramkali, Nut-Narayan, Mali-Gaura, Maru, Tukhari, Kedara, Bhairav (Bhairo), Basant, Sarang, Malar, Kanra, Kalyan, Prabhati and Jaijawanti. In addition there are twenty-two compositions of Vars (Traditional ballads). Nine of these have specific tunes and the rest can be sung to any tune.

Sanctity among Sikhs

The Mool Mantar in the handwriting of Guru Har Rai

Sikhs observe total sanctity of the text in the Guru Granth Sahib. No one can change or alter any of the writings of the Sikh Gurus written in Adi Granth. This includes sentences, words, structure, grammar, and meanings. This total sanctity was observed by the Gurus themselves. Guru Har Rai had disowned his elder son, Ram Rai, because he had attempted to alter the wording of one of Guru Nanak's hymn. Ram Rai had been sent to Delhi, by Guru Har Rai, to explain Gurbani to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. To please the Emperor he altered the wording of some hymns of Guru Nanak. The matter was reported to the Guru, who was displeased with his son and disowned him. Later when aged, Ram Rai was forgiven by Guru Gobind Singh.


Translations of the Guru Granth Sahib are available. Sikhs reject the concept of a Sacred language and believe that the Guru Granth Sahib can be accessed in any language.


A Granthi reciting from Guru Granth Sahib

The Adi Granth is always placed in the centre of a Gurudwara, on a raised platform known as Takht (throne). The Guru Granth is given the greatest respect and honour. Sikhs cover their heads and remove their shoes while in the presence of Guru Granth. Before coming into its presence, they bow before the Granth. The Guru Granth is normally carried on the head and as a sign of respect not touched with unwashed hands or put on the floor.

The Guru Granth Sahib is always the focal point in any Gurudwara. It is attended with all signs of royalty, as was the custom with Sikh Gurus. It is placed upon a throne, and the congregation sits on the floor. It is waved upon by a chaur (type of fan), which is made of fine material to clean the air, and a canopy is always placed over it. The devotees bow before the Guru as a sign of respect.

The Guru Granth Sahib is taken care of by a Granthi. He is responsible for reciting from Guru Granth and leading the Sikh prayer. The Granthi also acts as the caretaker of Guru Granth and collector of the devotees' money. This function may not be performed by any other person. Guru Granth Sahib is kept covered in silken cloths, known as Rumala, to protect from heat, dust, pollution etc. Guru Granth Sahib rests on a manji sahib under a rumala until brought out again.


The editing of Guru Granth Sahib is done by the official religious body of Sikhs based in Amritsar. It is the sole worldwide publisher of Guru Granth Sahib. Great care is taken while making printed copies and strict code of conduct is observed during the task of printing.

Before the late nineteenth century, only hand written copies of Guru Granth Sahib were prepared. The first printed copy of Guru Granth Sahib was made in 1864. Since the early 20th century Guru Granth Sahib has been printed in a standard 1430 pages.

Any copies of Guru Granth Sahib which are too badly damaged to be used, and any printer's waste which has any of its text on, are cremated with a similar ceremony as cremating a deceased person. Such burning is called Agan Bhet. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji is currently printed in an authorized printing press in the basement of the Gurdwara Ramsar in Amritsar, with the waste printing being cremated at Goindval. However, unauthorised copies of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji have also been printed.

Panjab Digital Library, in collaboration with the Nanakshahi Trust, began digitization of centuries old manuscripts in year 2003.


Max Arthur Macauliffe writes about the authenticity of the scriptures:

The Sikh religion differs as regards the authenticity of its dogmas from most other theological systems. Many of the great teachers the world has known, have not left a line of their own composition and we only know what they taught through tradition or second-hand information. If Pythagoras wrote of his tenets, his writings have not descended to us. We know the teachings of Socrates only through the writings of Plato and Xenophon. Buddha has left no written memorial of his teaching. Kungfu-tze, known to Europeans as Confucius, left no documents in which he detailed the principles of his moral and social system. The founder of Christianity did not reduce his doctrines to writing and for them we are obliged to trust to the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The prophet Muhammad did not himself reduce to writing the chapters of the Quran. They were written or compiled by his adherents and followers. But the compositions of Sikh Gurus are preserved and we know at first hand what they taught.

Pearl Buck gives the following comment on receiving the First English translation of the Guru Granth Sahib:

I have studied the scriptures of the great religions, but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in these volumes. They are compact in spite of their length, and are a revelation of the vast reach of the human heart, varying from the most noble concept of God, to the recognition and indeed the insistence upon the practical needs of the human body. There is something strangely modern about these scriptures and this puzzles me until I learned that they are in fact comparatively modern, compiled as late as the 16th century, when explorers were beginning to discover that the globe upon which we all live is a single entity divided only by arbitrary lines of our own making. Perhaps this sense of unity is the source of power I find in these volumes. They speak to a person of any religion or of none. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind.


Some of the major messages can be summarized as follows: -

  1. Women are equal to men (see also Women in the Guru Granth Sahib).
  2. One God for all.
  3. Speak and live truthfully.
  4. Control the five vices.
  5. Live in God's hukam (will/order).
  6. Practice Humility, Kindness, Compassion, Love, etc.
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