Sri Guru Granth Sahib: Parkash & Gurgadee Diharas

By Karminder Singh Dhillon, Ph.D (Boston) Kuala Lumpur.

Gurpurab[1] is the term Sikhs use to celebrate events relating to our Guru. The Gurpurab of the highest significance relates to our present Guru – Guru Granth Sahib Ji.  Sikhs celebrate two purabs relating to the Guru Granth Sahib – Pehla Parkash Dihara and Gurgadee Dihara.

The Parkash Dihara (literally installation day) refers to the incident when the Pothee Sahib (as the Granth Sahib was called then) was completed by Guru Arjun Dev Ji at Ramsar and installed for the first time at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Baba Budha Ji was installed the first Granthee (minister of the Granth). Guru Arjun Dev paid obeisance (matha tekna) and the Pothee became a permanent feature of Sikh diwans from then on.

The Gurgadee Dihara refers to the incident of Guru Gobind Singh re-compiling, at Sabo Ki Talwandee,  the Pothee Sahib (by adding the Banee of Guru Teg Bahadur) and installing it at Nader Sahib. The tenth Guru paid obeisance, installed Bhai Mani Singh as the Granthee, and declared that from then on, the Guru of the Sikhs would be in the form of the Shabad within the Guru Granth Sahib Ji

The months of September and October saw Sikhs all over the world celebrate these two Diharas. This article is written in the celebratory mood of these Diharas – particularly Gurgadee Dihara which sees its three hundred and fifth year in 2013 – with a view of providing a brief overview relating to Gurbanee and the Granth Sahib.

Understanding the Structure of GGS.

The Guru Granth Sahib contains 1430 pages of Gurbanee. The Granth is organized into 31 chapters based on 31 Raags[2]. Some of these 31 Raags have sub-raags or misrat (combined) rags[3] which makes the total raags into 48[4]. The banee within each raag is arranged in the order of the Gurus. Guru Nanak’s followed by Guru Angad’s and so on.. The banee of the Gurus is further arranged in this poetic order –  shabads, astpadees, chants,  and vaars.  Then comes the banee of the Bhagats. The Guru Granth Sahib contains the banee of six Gurus – Gurus Nanak, Angad, Amardas, Ramdas, Arjun and Teg Bahadur[5]. Guru Angad Dev’s banee consists of saloks only – all of which are incorporated in the vaars. The GGS further has the banee of 16 Hindu and Muslim bhagats.  It further has the banee of ten Bhatts [6](contemporaries of Guru Arjun and originating from south India), two ragees / kirtenias of Guru Arjun’s time(Bhai Satta and Bhai Balwand), one poet (Sundar), and Bhai Mardana. Amongst the Gurus, the most number of shabads belong to Guru Arjun followed by Guru Nanak and the least to Guru Teg Bahadur.[7]  Amongst the bhagats, Kabeer has the most, with some bhagats having only a single shabad.[8]

The above mentioned information is contained in the heading of every shabad. For instance: the heading Bilawal Mahala 1 Chant Dekhni (GGS page 843) means the shabad comes from the Bilawal  raag chapter. Dekhni  indicates a sub-raag namely Southern Bilawal  or Karnatik Bilawal as opposed to Northern Bilawal or what is now called Hindustani Bilawal (and was hence sung in Karnatik Bilawal originally upon composition), and is the banee of the 1st Guru. Chant tells us the kind of poetic order namely that the shabad is written in six lined rhyming verses. Dupdey, Chaupdey and Astpadee would mean 2, 4 and 8 lined rhyming verses respectively. At the end of every shabad there is a numeral or a number of numerals as shown for instance in this pangktee taken from GGS page 848:

            Nanak Jal Jaleh Samaya Jotee Jot Meekauy Raam .[ 4 ] 2 ] 5 ] 9 ]

This is an intricate locking and counting system deployed by Guru Arjun when he compiled the Pothee Sahib to keep count of shabads by Gurus or Bahagats in particular poetic orders. This shabad is therefore the fourth one by the same Guru in the current context, second in the running poetic order, 5th in the sub heading, and 9th in the chapter.  This locking and counting system has made it difficult for anyone to adulterate the Granth by adding or subtracting shabads.

Most shabads in the GGS have a rahao line. Literally, rahao means ‘to pause’. But rahao in a shabad does not mean to pause. There is no need for the reader to pause at a particular line.  To understand what rahao stands for one need to look at the context of a shabad. Just like the word “stop” means just that. But when one sees this sign at a road junction for instance, it has to be understood contextually – within the context of a road, a junction and vehicle driving individuals. Contextually it means stop, look left and right, give way to who has right of way, and then go (ironical, because ‘to go’ is the exact opposite of stop). If we took the literal meaning of stop to mean stop, all road junctions would be full of stopped traffic, and every junction would be a parking lot. To provide another instance, the word “stop” in a telegram or telex message means end of the sentence and not that the reader has to stop reading there. If the literal meaning was taken, no telegram would be read beyond its first sentence.

Every shabad in the GGS has three main contexts. First it is poetry. Second it aims to render a message. And third, it is a musical composition. Rahao thus has three meanings – one for each of these contexts. Every poetic composition has a title; hence rahao is the title of the poetry that forms the particular shabad. Since the title line of the shabad is used to denote the writer, the raag and sometimes the taal, the title of the poetry had to placed within the shabad as the Rahao line. So essentially, the Rahao is the title of the poetry of the shabad,  

Second, every shabad has a core message around which sub-messages revolve. In this context, Rahao means the core message, summary meaning or gist. The rest of the shabad’s multiple messages revolve around or further explain and exemplify the rahao. Hence the best way to understand a shabad is to first understand the rahao – once you get the core message, the rest of the messages fall into place. So in this sense, the Rahao line is the core message.

Third, the shabad is a musical composition. In Indian classical music, the order of singing a musical piece is asthai and antra. There is usually one asthai and multiple antras. One starts singing with the asthai and goes to antra 1, returns to asthai and goes to antra two, returns to asthai and proceeds to antra 3 and so on. The song must start and end with the asthai. So in this (musical) context, rahao means asthai. The rahao is the line one should use to start singing the shabad. It makes perfect sense to do this because the asthai contains the gist of the meaning and all the remaining lines (as multiple antras) will further help the listener understand the message of the shabad.

A majority of our ragees go against this principle – they pick and choose their own asthai by taking the catchiest line, the line that fits easily into their chosen tune, or a line that is simplest in its understanding. As if kirten was a jingle. The deras have descended even further: they compose their own asthai, called dhaarna and sing that as the chorus of the shabad that they are singing. The dhaarna is akin to Kachee Banee (since the wording is self-constructed and composed by the dera singers)[9].  The commercialization of kirten has resulted in this rather unholy practice. A great majority of our ragees further do not sing the shabad in the raag it was composed by the Gurus. Such a rendition requires effort, and our ragees take the easy way out by fitting shabads into tunes that are ready made for them either by the film industry, ghazal singers or pop/folk musicians. A good majority of ragees master no more than 4 or 5 raags and fit their selected shabads into these.[10] The dera singers have again taken this transgression a step further: they have discarded raags all together (some ‘sants’ are openly heard demeaning raags and ridiculing those who use them) and have adopted the dholki chimta[11] “kirten”[12] called “jotian dian dhaarna.”[13]

The language and grammar of the GGS is a subject of its own. There is a whole host of languages and dialects in the GGS – the most common is Brej Bhaashaa, also known as Sant Bhaashaa. This is a blend of a number of regional languages and has a style that is suited for spiritual, poetic and musical uses all rolled into one. This style is dominant enough to even appear in shabads that use foreign languages. For instance Guru Nanak’s shabad in Persian in Tilang Raag on page 721 in GGS uses the Brej version of Persian and not pure Persian per se. Guru Arjun has also used a fair amount of ancient languages – sanskrit, prakrti and gatha.


Understanding the History of Gurbanee.

The origin of Gurbani as coming from the source, or root or the Creator Himself is provided by Guru Nanak in his verse in Tilang Raag as follows: 

Jaisee Mein Aivey Khasam Kee Banee, Teisra Karee Gyaan Vey Lalo.” GGS pg 722. Meaning, the Banee as I say comes to me from the Master, and I say it just as it comes.

Extrapolating this verse, we can roughly figure the process of the composition of Gurbanee. Guru Nanak, in deep contemplation and deep communication with God is stirred to sing His praises. The nature and substance of the praise would determine the poetic structure. And the manner of Guru Nanak’s emotions as connected to the substance of the subject matter of the Godly praise would determine the choice of  raag[14]. As the composition formed in Guru Nanak’s inner being, he requested Bhai Mardana to provide the background notes of the particular raag, and then proceeded to sing the composition within the parameters of the music. Guru Nanak’s spiritual discipline, and more importantly, his vision and mission (of eventually linking the Sikh soul and spirit to the Shabad) required that the Banee be recorded – something which he did personally and kept with him on person at all material times. Bhai Gurdas provides testimony of this fact in Bhaiji’s writing to describe at least two events: Guru Nanak’s travels and the succession ceremony.  Bhai Gurdas ji writes for instance of Guru Nanak’s dialogue with the learned Islamic leaders of Mecca and Medina;

“Puchn Gal Imaan Dee, Kazee Mulan Ekathey Hoee.

Vadda Saang Vartayea Lakh Na Sakey Kudrat Koee.

Puchan Phol Kitab Nu, Hindu Vadda Key Musalmanoey.

Baba Akhey Hajian, Shubh Amlan Bajho Dono Roey.”

Translated: And the Kazis and Mullas gathered to engage Guru Nanak in a spiritual discourse. They said despite all their efforts, none could understand Nature. And they asked Guru Nanak, please research your book and tell us which way of life is superior – the Hindu way or Muslim one? Baba replied, Oh Hajjis, from the point of view of virtuous deeds, both are lacking,” Two points are clear – one that Guru Nanak carried a “book” on his person during his travels, and two, that His answer as condensed (by Bhai Gurdas) talked about deeds. Bhai Gurdas has summarized, but it is likely that Guru Nanak referred to a number of shabads from his written collection that talked about virtuous deeds (it is very likely he recited parts of Assa di Vaar here, because some of its saloks address this issue of deeds and because we know the dialogue took place immediately after the morning Muslim prayer (which coincides with Asa Di Vaar time) in the precinct of the local mosque). Guru Nanak also had a dialogue relating to the creation of the universe, and it is likely he referred the Mullahs to Oangkar Banee in Raag Ramkli (GGS page 929) Bhai Gurdas also records that when the Gurgaddi was passed from Guru Nanak to Bhai Lehna, the ceremony involved, amongst other things   the offering of a paisa, circumambulation and the handing over of the ‘book of banee.’ This is how banee got passed from one Guru to the succeeding one, who in turn added their own.

The question of bhagat banee remains. A majority of the Bhagats mentioned in the GGS were cotemporaries of each other as Gurbanee provides the evidence in the form of each mentioning the other including cross mentions[15]. Some (Fareed for instance) preceded Guru Nanak by more than a century. There is record of Guru Nanak stopping at the ashrams of these Bhagats or their successors during his vast journeys. There is record of dialogues (either with the Bhagats of the GGS or their followers) and Guru Nanak collected the banee of these bhagats. His collection was highly selective, though. He chose writings that were in line with Gurbanee beliefs. For instance, Kabeer’s writings in the Beejak Granth (used by his followers today) are up to ten times the volume that is found in the GGS. Guru Nanak included his selection of bhagat banee in his pothi.  When the pothis (books) eventually got to Guru Arjun, he decided to compile it into one main volume – the Pothee Sahib, rearranged the banee in the format as described above, added his own, that of his contemporary bhagats, edited and clarified those portions of the banee of the bhagats that had potential of being misunderstood. For two years at Ramsar,  the Guru narrated the Pothee Sahib verse by verse and  Bhai Gurdas transcribed it. The Pothee Sahib had 915 pages and 5751 shabads. Once completed, the Guru checked and signed the seal of approval by writing out the Manglacharan (opening verse)  from Ek Oangkar to Gurparsaad in his own handwriting. This Pothee Sahib (also called Kartarpuree Bir (volume) because that is where it is currently kept) had 30 raag chapters. It was then installed at Darbar Sahib. The date was 1st of Bhadon month. The year was1661 .    

Towards the final two years of Guru Gobind Singh’s life, the tenth Guru re-compiled the Pothee Sahib.  He had the entire granth re-written because Guru Teg Bahadur’s banee had to be inserted in a variety of places.[16]  A new rag chapter (Jaijawanti) was added by Guru Gobind Singh which contains the banee of Guru Teg Bahadur only. This work took nine months at Sabo Kee Talwandee with the Guru narrating and Bhai Mani Singh transcribing. This bir has 31 raag chapters in 1430 pages. It was installed at Nader Sahib and is sometimes called the Damdami Bir. Guru Gobind Singh gave it the name we use today – Guru Granth Sahib after dictating to the Sikhs that he was passing on, that there would be no physical human Guru after him, and that the Shabad within the Granth would be the eternal living Guru of the Sikhs.

Understanding Gurbanee as Guru

This command of Guru Gobind Singh is often described as the starting point of a revolutionary idea in human spirituality relating to Shabad Guru (literally the word as the Guru). Yet the Guru Granth Sahib can be traced back to Pothee Sahib, and the Pothee Sahib to the Pothi which Guru Nanak regularly wrote in, carried on his person and passed on to succeeding Gurus. The concept of Shabad Guru is similarly traced back to Guru Nanak. The tendency is for Sikhs to think and conceptualize the Guru physically in the form of Guru Nanak till Guru Gobind Singh, and only think of Shabad from the starting point of Guru Granth Sahib. But Gurbanee, Sikh philosophy and the teachings of our Gurus do not transcribe to this view. When Guru Nanak had his discourse with the Yogees, they raised the question of the Guru and asked him

Kavan Guru Jis Ka Tu Chela” (GGS page: 942 )  Translation: What sort or who is the Guru  whose disciple you are. And Guru Nanak replied: 

Shabad Guru Surat Dhun Chela. Translation: The Shabad is my Guru and my contemplation (mind) its follower.

The fourth Guru made it clear : Banee Guru, Guru Hai Banee, Wich Banee Amrit Sarey: (GGS page 982) Translation:  The Banee is the Guru, and the Guru is Banee, the whole of the nectar of spirituality is within the Banee. So it is evident that even during the physical life spans of our ten Gurus, the shabad within them was considered the Guru. Now this shabad is within the Guru Granth Sahib. From within the souls and spirits of the ten masters, the same shabad now resides within the Godly parameters of the messages of the Guru Granth Sahib. As the daily ardas dohera goes:  Jo Prabh Ko Mil Bo Chahey, Khoj Shabad Mei Lei. Translation: And he who desires to meet with God, research / find Him within the Shabad.

The physical existences of the Gurus – as important as they were in bringing about the spiritual awareness that embodied Sikhi – still take a step back when the existence of the shabad within all then of them is considered. As Satta and Balwand say in their Ramklee Vaar about the Gurus up until their time:-

Jot Oha, Jugat Saye, Sei Kayan Fir Palteeah. GGS pg 966.   Translation:  Their (meaning the first to the fifth Guru) methods were similar,  the light within them (shabad) was one and the same, only their physical forms (bodies) changed.  

There were many who witnessed daily, served closely and saw repeatedly the physical Gurus with their own eyes, but only those who could see and get to the Shabad within them were transformed. Prithi Chand, had a maternal grand father (Guru Amardas, father (Guru Ramdas), a brother (Guru Arjun), and a nephew (Guru Hargobind) as Gurus.  He was born and stayed most of his life within the confines of a Guru household. The physical presence of four Gurus was available for him, yet he remained a sworn enemy of the House of Sikhi, because he was unable to see the Shabad within and beyond the physiques of the four physical Gurus that nature bequeathed into his fate. The same can be said of countless other beings who were not able to go beyond the physical. On the other hand, there were those who never met the Gurus in person, but were able to be touched by the Banee, or Shabad. Guru Amardas captures this as follows: 

Satgur No Sab Ko Dekhda, Jeta Jagat Sansar. Dithiya Mukat Na Hovaee, Jichar Shabad Na kre Vichar.  (GGS page: 594) Translation: Everyone here does see the True Guru. But seeing will not provide emancipation / salvation that will only happen when the shabad is contemplated upon.


Sikhs and the Guru.

The 305th anniversary of the Gurgaddee Dihara should inspire the Sikh to get connected to the Guru. This can be achieved by self reading, understanding, knowing or researching the GGS. It would be most beneficial if every Sikh would undertake to read or listen to the entire Granth for the year that begins with the 305th anniversary and ends with the 306th. It works out to four pages per day. Better still, read these four pages from a Teeka[17], or translated version. Given the technology that exists, the GGS and a variety of transliterations, translations and audio versions are available at our fingertips. End.

The writer can be contacted at Editor.

[1] The word purab literally means an incident of importance. The prefix Gur is used to denote the incident’s link to the Guru.

[2] The 31 Raags and their sub-raags (in parentheses) in the order that they appear in the GGS are as follows:  Sri, Majh, Gauree (Guareri, Cheti, Bairagan, Purbee, Malwa, Dekhni), Assa, Gujree, Devghandaree, Bihagra, Vadhans (Dekhni), Sorath, Dhanashree, Jaitsree, Todee, Bairari, Tilang, Suhee, Bilawal (Dekhni) , Gaund, Ramklee (Dekhni), Nat Narayan, Malee Gaura, Maru (Dekhni), Tukhari, Kedara, Bhairon, Besant, Sarang,  Malar, Kanra, Kalyan, Parbhati (Dekhni),  Jaijawanti.

[3] ,   The misrat raags in the GGS are (i) Gauree Maajh, (ii) Assa Kafee, (iii) Tilang Kafee, (iv) Suhee Kafee, (v) Suhee Lalit, (vi) Bilawal Gaund, (vii) Maru Kafee, (viii) Basant Hindol, (ix) Kalyan Bhopali, (x) Parbhati Bhibhas and  (xi) Asawaree (within Assa).

[4] Total (as illustrated in footnote 2 above) is 31 main raags, 11 sub raags, and six additional raags to create the misrats namely Kafee, Lalit, Hindol, Bhopali, Bhibhas and Asaawaree. Total raags 48.

[5] The remaining Gurus did not compose Gurbanee, and Guru Gobind Singh’s writings are said by some quarters to be found outside the Guru Granth Sahib. In the mid 1800s, writings attributed to the tenth Guru were compiled into a collection titled Bachittar Natak Granth (BNG). The subject matter of these writings is vast, ranging from spirutial and rewrites of mythology to historical narratives. A large portion of the writings in the BNG appears to be written by poets other than the Guru – some contemporary to the Guru and some that came much after him. The name gives an indication that the contents are less spiritual and more mythological/historical. In the early 1900s some Sikh groups, re-named the BNG as Dasam Granth and some have installed it in Gurdwaras beside the Guru Granth Sahib. This move resulted in intense controversy within the Sikhs. A positive result of this controversy was that the BNG, after being given such prominence has undergone intense scrutiny by Sikh scholars and theologians over its contents. Such scrutiny has established fairly certainly that major portions propagate ideas that go against the tenets of the Guru Granth Sahib, and that moves to bring BNG into prominence is inspired either by anti-Sikh elements or sheer ignorance amongst Sikhs themselves. The Sikh Rehat Maryada is clear that no other book can be installed parallel with the Guru Granth Sahib.

[6] The Bhatt banee takes the poetic form of Swayeas – an intricate and highly rhythmic form of poetry.  Bhai Gurdas ji has used Swayeas as his choice poetic measure.

[7] The banee of the Gurus in the GGGS (number of shabads in parenthesis) is as follows: Guru Nanak (947), Guru Angad (63), Guru Amardas (969), Guru Ramdas (639), Guru Arjun (2312), Guru Teg Bahadur (115).

[8] The banee of the Bhagats and others in the GGS  (number of shabads in parenthesis) is as follows:Kabeer (534), Fareed (123), Bhaatts (123) Namdev (62), Ravidas (40), Satta Balwand (8), Sundar (6), Tarlochan (5), Dhanna (4), Beni (3), Mardana (3), Bheekhan (2), Jaidev (2), Surdas (2) and one each for Sadhna,  Sain, Ramanand and Pipa ji.

[9] An example is as follows:  Asthai: Mein Sobha Sun Kay Aiya, Ucadar Babe Nanak Da. Antra: Uoch Apaar Beant Swami, Kaon Janey Gun Terey. Gavtey Udrey Suntey Udrey, Binse Pap Ghanere. The Antras are from Gurbani, from a shabad  which is the composition of Guru Arjun and appears on page 802  of GGS. But the entire wording of the Asthai is created by the singers and hence NOT Gurbani. This is the standard form of dera kirten.  The Sikh Rehat Maryada, as certified by the Akaal Takhat states clearly that such a practice is un-acceptable. It is criticized as manmat and deemed to go against the principles of Gurmat. The keen listener will readily note that the Asthai degrades the level of spirituality that is found in Guru Arjun’s  shabad. This asthai further distorts the meaning of the Guru’s shabad. In most cases the asthai has nothing to do with the core messages of the shabad. Guru Arjun’s shabad is about the unfathomable glory God, the creator. The bogus asthai (translation: I have come back from hearing that the position of Baba Nanak is high) makes it seem that the shabad is in self praise (Guru praising himself) ! Something the Gurus never indulged in. Its semantics are virtually nonsense: “I have come back”, from where?

[10] Raags have orders of difficulty.  Relatively easier raags  are known as light raags (Kalyan for instance) and are favorites of entertainers of lay audiences. Another common and light raag is  Bhairavi (not found in the GGS but used extensively by kirtenias). A good number of the raags in the GGS are of the complex order. The GGS starts with Sri Rag – which is considered to be the most difficult to render. Ramkalee, Jaijawante, Vadhans, Maajh are amongst the other difficult ones.

[11] In the world of Indian classical music (which is deftly applied by our Gurus in the GGS), the dholkee and Chimta are absolute misfits. The author would venture far enough to say that the dholkee is anti-thesis to raag and taal, while the Chimta destroys them both. No classical beat can be created on the dholki, and or chimta. This is because the variety of bols (sounds) that can be created from these are extremely limited.  Hence their use in folk songs, bolian and dance only. How these lowly “instruments” crept into our raag and taal based kirten system is reflective of the level of musical ignorance that is prevalent within the Sikh community. The Sikhs are the only religious group that is blessed with a scripture that is deeply imbued in Godly music, yet we have somehow managed to descend to such musical lows. 

[12] Some deras introduced the term “Gargajj Kirten” to refer to such style. Since “gajj” means to roar or to thunder, it was perhaps meant to indicate the inspirational aspect of their style.  It seems clear that the inventors of such terminology had little understanding of the subtlety of music, the sweet stirrings of gurbanee, and the softness of melody – all of which combine to create heavenly kirtan as envisaged by our Gurus.

[13] This type of “kirten” is a further degradation of the type as described in footnote 7 above. Here, not only is a bogus asthai created by the singer, but some or all lines of the antra are fictitious as well. Dera singers are frequently heard mixing one or two Gurbani pangktees with 6 or 7 of their own.  Some don’t even bother to include any Gurbani at all. That a wide majority of the modern sangat is  Gurbanee-illiterate is the reason why we  fall prey to such “kirten” or chimta dholkee noise passing off a music.

[14] Every raag has a different rus (essence, taste, feeling, mood). The intended emotions of a particular  raag are created within the listener upon correct rendition. For example Bhairaon’s  rus is love,  Bhariavi’s  is  adornment and Jaijawanti’s is Vairaag (detached love).

[15] For instance, Bhagat Ravdas on page 1106 has this sentence in his shabad: Namdev, Kabeer, Tirlochan, Sadhna, Sain, Tarey. On page 972, Bhagat Namdev writes: Kehet Namdev Suno Tirlochan, Balak Palan Paudealey.

[16] The view that Guru Arjun left some blank pages at the end  of the Pothee Sahib to include the banee of the succeeding gurus is wrong because the ninth guru’s banee is included not at the end, but in a variety of places within most of the 30 raags.

[17] If one has to recommend a Teeka (Punjabi translation, none beats Prof Sahib Singh’s Darpan). English translations are aplenty ranging from Manmohan Singh’s early translation to Sant Singh’s simplified one.