Sri Guru Granth Sahib – A brief Overview
On September 1, 1604 Sri Guru Arjan Dev completed the compilation of Adi Granth and installed it in Sri Harimandir Sahib. This was a very significant event in Sikh history that gave us two important institutions. Harimandir Sahib became a special center for Sikh congregations and a tradition of unique reverence for our scripture was established.
In 1708 when Guru Gobind Singh ended the line of Guruship and proclaimed the Adi Granth as the future Guru, he created a new paradigm for his followers. The concept of the Guru as a spiritual teacher was now expanded to include the Gurus’ teachings as the living guide and Guru.
The enhanced definition of the teachings as the Guru, although not formally instituted thus far, was implicit in the writings of the earlier Gurus. Guru Ram Das had foreshadowed the establishment of Bani as the Guru when he stated in Raag Nat:
Bani guru guru hai bani, vich bani amrit saare Gurbani kahe sewak jan mane, patakh guru nistaare
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M.4.page 982
The Bani is Guru, and Guru is the Bani. Within the Bani, the Ambrosial Nectar is contained
When the devotee adheres to the teachings, the Guru manifests and saves the follower
While in the Indian tradition, the Guru was always viewed as a living person, the Bani or the Word as the
word of God was not a foreign concept in the western traditions.
John 1:1 (New American Standard Bible)
Dhur ki bani aayee Tin sagli chint mitaee
Sri Guru Granth Sahib.m.5 page 628
In Judaism, the Old Testament represents the creative act as the word of God (genesis1:3; Psalm32:9)
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, too, equates the Word or the primal sound with the Creative Force.
Keeta pasao Eko kavao
Sri Guru Granth Sahib; Page 3
The entire Universe was created with one Word
In the 1430 pages of the scripture, the newest revelation that came to Guru Nanak, the Sikh Gurus that followed him, and several Hindu and Muslim saints that preceded Guru Nanak, is recorded as the Word of the Creator.
In Raag Tilang, Guru Nanak states;
Jaisi mein aavey khasam ki bani taisra kari byan vey lalo
As the Word of the Lord comes to me, so I have stated O lalo
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.
In Sri Guru Granth Sahib Guru Arjan Dev in Raag Sorath
The Bani emanated from the primal Lord, it eradicates all
The hymns and verses in Sri Guru Granth Sahib cover six centuries of saints from different regions and traditions. To name a few, Jaidev and Sheikh Farid lived in the 12th century, Namdev and Trilochan in the thirteenth century, and Kabir also pre‐dates Guru Nanak and lived in the fourteenth century. The Sikh Gurus span from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century. Amongst the castes represented in Sri Guru Granth Sahib are Brahmin (Ramanada), Vaishya (Trilochan), Jat (Dhanna) Sadhna ( a butcher), Ravidas (a cobbler) and Kabir (He was the illegitimate child of a Brahmin widow who tossed him away; he was found and raised by a Muslim weaver). Saints representing the two prominent religions‐ Hinduism and Islam‐ find place of equal reverence in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
In establishing Sri Guru Granth Sahib as an embodiment of the Guru and including the Word that was revealed to saints and poets of different castes, faiths, regions, and times, Guru Arjan Dev, the complier of the scripture, and Guru Gobind Singh, who established the scripture’s spiritual authority, gave many strong messages that are extremely relevant to our times. Caste, creed, religion, time are irrelevant in the sphere of spirituality. The Word is timeless and continues to be revealed through the centuries to saints and sages of different social orientation. No matter to whom it is revealed, in what language, dialect or under what social conditions, the true Word bears the same message. In every revelation it resonates the same strain. No matter where it emanates, it deserves the same respect.
The word in Sri Guru Granth Sahib comes to us expressed in poetic devotion. It is set to musical compositions – raagas and meters. With the exception of the Jap Ji and the Sawayyas and Saloks at the end, the
entire Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been classified into raagas and raaginies. Furthermore, instruction is given regarding the beat, and in the instance of certain compositions (Vars), the tune in which the verses are to be rendered is also stated. There are 31 raagas in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The origin of some of them is attributed to the Gurus. A change of tune and meter is indicated by “partal”, perhaps because often the verses contained in these compositions make the switch to multiple thoughts.
Guru Nanak pioneered the tradition of singing the hymns. Legend goes that he would ask his companion Mardana to play the rabab (a string instrument) while he channeled the Word in mystical verses. Guru Arjan Dev encouraged the tradition of vocal and instrumental music amongst the Sikhs. The legend goes that when Satta and Balwanda the musicians of the Guru’s court, arrogantly refused to sing, Guru Arjan Dev sang the verses himself and encouraged the sangat to learn to sing and play instruments as well.
The rich musical heritage of Sri Guru Granth Sahib has a lot to offer scholars who choose to explore the source, structure and significance of its raagas, meters, beats, and partals, but it is the core message of the scripture that is of paramount importance and relevance to our inner journey and emancipation from this world. Music is secondary to the teachings, and is to be looked upon only as a tool for maximizing the joy of chanting.
Raaga vich sri raag hai je sach dhare pyar
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M.3 page 83
Amongst the raagas, Sri Rag is the best only if it inspires love for the true one
Sorath sada suhaavni je sacha man hoay
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M.1 page 642
Sorath is beautiful when the mind is imbued with the Truth
First and foremost Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a repository of spiritual wisdom and mystical experiences of saints‐ poets who recount the ecstasy of the union with their Beloved. While it explores the theories of the origin of the Universe, only to say that the Creator alone knows the time and origin of the Universe that has been created and destroyed many times; debunks meaningless rituals, renunciation, austerities and self‐ mortification as spiritual practices; in its quintessential teachings it offers a road map on how to live in divine consciousness and evolve to our purest essence while living as a householder.
On the second‐to‐last page of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Arjan Dev compares the scripture to a platter and tells us what it holds:
Thaal vich tin vastu payeo sat santokh vicharo Amrit naam thakur ka payeo jis ka sabas adharo Jo ko kave je ko bhunche
Tis ka hoye udharo
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M.5 page 1429
Upon this platter three things have been placed Truth, contentment, reflection
Also on the platter is placed the nectar of the Naam
The foundation of everything
The placement of Truth as the number one ingredient on this spiritual offering (platter) is significant. An intimate relationship with the True Creator and practicing integrity at all levels is the beginning of the
spiritual journey. Without contentment there is constant agitation and pain on the road to nowhere. Self‐reflection and thoughtful exploration speeds up the engine of self‐discovery. Without the conscious awareness of the Naam, none of the above can exist.
It is not a co‐incidence that Guru Nanak’s moolmantar defines the One manifested reality of the Creator as the only Truth that is, was, and shall abide. It is also significant that above all virtues Guru Nanak places the virtue of living truthfully.
Sacho ureh sab ko upar sach aacha
Sri Guru Granth Sahib M.1 page 62
Truth is high, higher still is truthful living
There is one Creator, formless and faceless who is present and visible in every particle of creation. Everything that happens is according to the Will of the Creator that is synonymous with Naam, the essence of this bountiful, beautiful energy. Our existence is transitory but real. We are here to evolve to the purest consciousness that we emanated from. We are challenged by five vices that have also been placed within us by the Creator: lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. Life is a playground in which we have to vanquish the vices through applying the Guru’s teaching to our lives. This is ultimately possible only through grace, but individual effort to inculcate goodness is stressed. Compassion is the cornerstone of spirituality, and forgiveness a trait of the Divine that we must practice. Nothing is born and nothing dies. It is all a play. There are many galaxies beyond our planet and solar systems. We cannot fathom the fathomless one; we can only praise, adore, worship, and seek guidance. Prayers are heard. However we reap what we sow. And,
therefore, it is foolish to condemn anyone or play the blame game. Life is a continuum, and until we get it, we will keep coming back to learn our lessons.
As the custodians of a scripture that has a message for all of mankind, it is our responsibility and duty to share it with the world to bring about a better understanding of the Truth. We can only preach or share what we have imbibed and practiced. Are we ready for the challenge?