Ritualizing or Spiritualizing?

By Karminder Singh Ph.D (Boston)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This article has two objectives: to bring about genuine appreciation of Sukhmani Sahib within the Sikh reader’s mind; and secondly to help remove the plethora of dera-concocted myths and tales that have succeeded in turning Sukhmani recital into a ritual.

After Japji and Rehras, the Sukhmani is believed to be the most widely recited banee. Why then is there a need to bring about appreciation of banee that is already widely read? The reasons have to do with the motivations underlying our recitation. The basic argument is that if our motives are misplaced, our reading of a banee, even if done on a nitnem basis renders it ritualistic. Gurbani, is divine enlightenment. And enlightenment is, in essence, the anti-thesis of ritual. But if our Gurbani reading is reduced to ritualistic reciting and chanting, then there can be no greater folly in the realm of one’s spiritual journey.

SUKHMANI AND DERA-WAAD. Few Sikhs would care to dispute the notion that no institution has played a greater role in popularizing the reciting of Sukhmani amongst modern day Sikhs than our deras and their babas, sadhs and sants. The Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) does not mention Sukhmani as a nitnem banee, but due to the parchar of the deras, a substantial number of Sikhs – especially Sikh women – have made Sukhmani a nitnem banee. The dera practice of “collective reciting” of Sukhmani has become part and parcel of the maryada of diwans even in mainstream gurdwaras. The SRM specifically states that the maryada of a diwan of a Gurdwara is kirten and Katha. But one would readily find Gurdwara diwans that do no more than recite Sukhmani. The agenda of an Isteri satsang diwan in the Gurdwara is hardly beyond just reciting Sukhmani “collectively”. The practice of doing the same during home-based diwans is also commonly observed.

While on the surface, the popularizing of Sukhmani may appear to be in line with the Gurmat principle of propagating the reading of banee, a careful analysis of the methods used and the motivations of the propagators are both necessary and helpful. This article is a call for the discerning Sikh to think in terms of both our actions (wide scale ‘collective’ reciting of Sukhmani as a ritualistic phenomenon) and our motives (why are we really doing it?). In spirituality, motives matter prominently. This article is a call to re-orientate our personal and spiritual connection with Sukhmani, via a re-examination of our motivations. It is a call to not merely recite Sukhkmani, but to connect spiritually – in the real sense – with the true messages of this marvelous banee. It is further a call to revert to the SRM sanctioned maryada of diwans – Kirtan and Katha. Put in other words, this article is a call for the Sikh to stop ritualizing Sukhmani and begin to spiritualize with it.

WHY SUKHMANI? Virtually every Gutka of Sukhmani, and every book extolling the virtues of reciting Sukhmani bears the stamp of one dera or other. Deras have invested heavily in producing beautifully bound Sukhmani Gutkas and flooded our homes and Gurdwaras with them. These Gutkas contain introductory essays whose core message is that tremendous worldly good would fall into the laps of Sikhs who recite Sukhmani daily. It is worth noting that these deras have yet to produce a single decent and genuine translation of Sukhmani. Getting Sikhs to understand Sukhmani is not their concern, getting to Sikh masses to keep reciting and chanting it is. So much so that it appears as if getting Sikhs to mis-understand Sukhmani appears to be the underlying agenda.

To this end, deras have ventured to produce relevant material. The latest book Nine Wonders of Sukhmani by Guriqbal Singh of the Mata Kaulan Dera[1] is illustrative. While appearing to be an explanation of Sukhmani, that is what it is precisely not. It provides nine “reasons” why Sikhs should recite Sukhmani as one’s daily prayer as well as “collectively” (in a Sangat). These nine “reasons” would be analyzed in a later section of this article.

It is clear that the underlying reason why our deras have placed great emphasis on the Sikh masses reciting Sukhmani has nothing do with spiritual altruism but everything to do with the fact that three of the 24 Astpadees (chapters) use the vocabulary of Sadh, Sant and Bhram Gyani. These 3 chapters – through mis-intreration – allow for the continuous propagation of the agendas of derawaad. Astpadee number 7 expounds Godly virtues using the terminology of “Sadh.” Astpadee number 8 does the same using the term “Bhram Gyani” while number 13 deploys the term “Sant.” These are the three titles that dera fellows have bestowed upon themselves and their ancestors. The direct implication (through purposive mis-interpretations) is that these three Asthpadees are really about derawallahs. The implied (and false) claim is that Sukhmani is primary evidence that Sadhs, Sants, and Bhram Gyanis are part and parcel of Gurmat, they have a special place in Sikhi, and Sikhs in general ought to provide reverence and unquestionable obeisance to these self acclaimed and self appointed people. The basis of such a false assertion by these dera fellows is the false notion that Guru Arjun himself bestowed such a place in Sukhmani (and hence in the GGS) to mortal Sadhs, Sants and Bhram Gyanis.

To the derawallahs, it hardly matters that Guru Arjun was not referring to any physical or human sadhs, Sants and Bhram Gyanis – let alone the fraudulent people who are now laying claim to these terms. These terms were non-existent for use for human beings during the times of the Gurus. Guru Nanak’s lifelong companion was called Bhaee Mardana. The writer of the first copy of GGS (pothee sahib then) was given the same title and called Bhaee Gurdas by the fifth Guru. During Guru Teg Bhadur’s time – the three Sikhs who were sawn into two, boiled alive and burnt to death were referred to as Bhaee Mati Das, Bhaee Dyala and Bhaee Sati Das. Decades after the Gurus, the Sikh community referred to its countless martyrs as BhaeeBhaee Taru Singh, Bhaee Sukha Singh, Bhaee Mehtab Singh, Bhaee Manee Singh etc. The term “sant” was not used even during the reign of Sikh Raj.[2]

But for those who desired to mis-appropriate elevated terms of spirituality for themselves, it also did not matter that Guru Arjun has provided explicit definitions (within Sukhmani itself) regarding these three terms. For instance, Bhram Gyani Aaap ParmesarAstpadee 8 (meaning: Bhram Gyani is God Himself). Nanak Sadh Prabh Bhed Na BhaeeAsthpadee 7 (meaning Sadh and God are without distinction, one and the same). Nanak Sant Bhavey Taan Laye Milaye – (meaning if God is pleased, He allows for union with Him). Taken in totality, none of these terms refer to the physical being. It further does not matter that the essence of Sukhmani is not to connect with the physical being but with God. Manus Kee Tek Birthee Sabh Jaan, Devan Ko Ekay Bhagwaan Astpadee 14 (Meaning : the reliance on a human is sheer waste, because there is only one giver God).

What mattered was simply that these dera-wallas hijacked these terms for themselves. What further mattered was that the Sikh masses perpetually remained misinformed about the real meanings of the words Sadh, Sant and Bhram Gyani. The word “Bhaee” implied equality. How could these frauds be equal to the masses? What the dera-wallas wanted was a much higher status in title and name – even if they were utterly unworthy. Consequently, they bestowed the title of Sant to themselves, some called themselves sadhs, and some claimed they were Bhram Gyanis. They realized they needed a spiritual and Gurbani-based stamp of approval for their fraudulent titles. And they found an answer to their devious agenda in the mis-interpretation of Sukhmani. This banee has 83 verses that use the term Sant, 124 verses that use the term Sadh, and 74 verses that use the word Bhram Gyani. This was a gold mine for them. And so long as the reader Sikh did not bother too much with the real meaning of the words as used by Guru Arjun, lots of people could be fooled.[3]

Such an agenda however could only be achieved if the reciting of Sukhmani was popularized amongst Sikhs to the extent that it would become part of Sikh life; encroach into Sikh Maryada and become pivotal activity of our Diwan Maryada. The aim therefore was to let the mere recital of Sukhmani become the central pillar of Sikh parampra – especially relating to the practices of Sangat based spirituality. Diwans that begin and end with collective reciting of Sukhmani was the aim. Even if there was to be Kirtan after the Sukhmani recital it would be limited to one or two shabads since the recital had already taken an hour and half to two hours. Katha (Gurbani discourse) was obviously un-necessary altogether. The sangat was already too tired after a ninety minute collective recital of Sukhmani.

Such a goal was to be achieved by the publication and distribution of countless Sukhmani Gutkas and the creation of a whole plethora of fables, stories, sakhis, and mythological reasons of the greatness of reciting Sukhmani. Equally important was that the understanding of Sukhmani and its real and intended messages remained beyond the reach of Sikhs in general. This is probably why no dera has ventured to produce a translation of Sukhmani that is worth talking about.

RECITE, RECITE, RECITE, SUKHMANI. The most basic argument why Sikhs should recite Sukhmani at every available opportunity is stated in the vocabulary of a pseudo science that fits nowhere except within the precincts of a dera. There are five corollaries of this pseudo scientific theory,[4] namely: (i) There are 24 hours in a day. (ii) The human being takes 24,000 breaths per day. (iii) The Sukhmani has 24,000 Akhar (words) – 1,000 words in each of its 24 Ashtpades. (iv) One Sukhmani (24,000 words) is daily daswandh for 24,000 breaths (v) If a Sikh partakes in such daswandh, his or her entire 24 hours and 24,000 breaths become blessed (safal) as a result.

Needless to say, a cursory examination will reveal that all five corollaries are patently false. Let us begin with the second; that the human being takes 24,000 breaths per day. Common sense will indicate that the number of breaths taken by an individual per day would depend on one’s age, gender, state of health, emotional state, and level of physical activity, the weather and a myriad of other factors. If one follows the estimates of the medical professionals that provide a range of 14 -60 breaths per minute[5], this translates as 20,160 to 86,400 breaths per day. But the dera-wallas insist it is 24,000 to the dot for every human being that walks the face of the earth.

The Nanaksar dera has taken this figure to a higher level of absurdity. In the Sukhmani Gutka published by this group, they have included a couplet[6]:

Baithat Baran, Chalat Atharan, Soey Jaengey Tees. Maithan Kartey Chausath Javey, Kion Na Bhajey Jugdees.

This fraudulent composition is given the form of a salok, perhaps to fool the reader into believing that this couplet is from Gurbani or even Sukhmani. It is not.[7] The meaning: Sitting takes up twelve (breaths per minute), while walking and sleeping takes 18 and 30 respectively. While copulating 64 breaths per minute are gone, so why not contemplate on God? Anyone with basic understanding of the human body will know that one’s breathing slows down considerably while asleep, but Nanaksari science says that sleeping requires more breaths per minute than walking. The fact that copulation and Godly contemplation can be put together within one couplet says quite a bit about such science and its adherents. Canadian writer Gurcharan Singh Jeonwala, in critiquing the Nanaksar group asks a revealing question: the Sants and Babas of Nanaksar are supposed to be celibate, how then do they know that 64 breaths per minute are expanded during the sex act?[8] To this one may add another revealing question: what exactly do these fraudulent Babas do in their sleep to be expanding 30 breaths per minute when even Wikipedia says that the average breathing rate for adults (when awake) is 14 – 18 breaths per minute.[9]

The third corollary of dera science says that Sukhmani has 24,000 Akhar (words) or 1,000 words per Asthpadee. This is an equally fraudulent assertion. These derawallahs did not know then, (and probably still don’t know) that due diligence will reveal this lie quite simply. The word count for the entire Sukhmani is 12,871. If one elects to remove the dandees that punctuate every line because they are not words, then the figure is 10,603. There are a total of 2,268 punctuation marks. If one then proceeds to remove even the numerals that are used by Guru Arjun to keep count of the Saloks and Asthpadees, (total 240 numerals) the resultant figure is 10,363 . There is simply no way one could arrive at the magical 24,000 figure given by these dera fellows. If the argument is that by Akhar they mean not words but characters, then the count for characters for Sukhmani is 42,260.

So why are the derawallahs fixated on the 24,000 figure? The author’s guess is that this is a case of building a series of lies on a single contemporary truth. The contemporary truth is the simple notion of a 24 hour day; and the fact that Sukhmani has 24 Asthpadees. The figure of 24 is thus falsely extrapolated into 24,000 breaths per day and 24,000 words. The “daswandh” (10 percent) of 24 hours works out just nice too – just over 2 and half hours – for the duration of a diwan or even personal reading of Sukhmani. So long as one has a believing lay audience and believes that no one would venture to manually do the math for the number of words in Sukhmani, such pseudo science will stand. The reality is that it can crumble even without having to do any math.

The truth of the matter is that during the time of the Gurus, the concept of a 24 hour day was non-existent in India. So the first corollary that there are 24 hours per day – is also false when applied to the period of Guru Arjun. The manner of determining time intervals then was pehrs. The day and night was divided into four pehrs each, with counting beginning from dawn. Each pehr was then divided into gharees (roughly 24 minutes in today’s measure). The smaller units were Chasas. The terms pehr and gharee are found repeatedly in the GGS when time is being talked about. For instance in this verse of Guru Nanak on page 357 of the GGS

ਵਿਸੁਏ ਚਸਿਆ ਘੜੀਆ ਪਹਰਾ ਥਿਤੀ ਵਾਰੀ ਮਾਹੁ ਭਇਆ ॥ ਸੂਰਜੁ ਏਕੋ ਰੁਤਿ ਅਨੇਕ ॥

Chasas, Gharees, Pehers, Weeks, Thiths, Months and Seasons all originate from the one sun. Guru Arjun on page 106 of the GGS uses the term peher to denote one complete day

ਨਾਨਕੁ ਦਾਸੁ ਕਹੈ ਬਬੇਨੰਤੀ  ਆਠ ਪਹਰ ਤੁਧੁ ਧਿਆਈ ਜੀਉ ॥  Nanak Das Khaiy Benanti Aath Peher Tudh Dhiyayi.  Nanak Prays that I may Contemplate on You for Eight Pehers (day and night).

Cororally four – that reciting Sukhmani’s 24,000 words is daily daswandh for 24,000 breaths – is the height of general illogic. The meaning of daswandh is ten percent. Ignoring the math of it still leaves one with the questions as to how words can be daswandh for breaths. It must take a very placid mind to not see such a fraudulent assertion. Imagine if one wins a lottery of 24,000 Euros and takes out a daswandh in Indonesian Rupiahs! Better still, offer 24000 paper clips as daswandh of winning 24,000 Euros!

Finally corollary (v) of the pseudo dera science states that if a Sikh partakes in such daswandh, his or her entire 24 hours and 24,000 breaths become blessed (safal) as a result. Daswandh is a concept that can apply to material things and it forms the guiding principle when it comes to giving money or material for benevolent activities. So if someone earns $1,000 a month, the general rule would be that he or she would set aside $100 per month for such a purpose. The rest is for the individual to use as he / she pleases. How this individual uses the remaining $900 does not affect the $100 that was donated. One may indeed lose it all remaining $900 to a thief, give it back to the employer or throw it down the well. It is not a clever thing to do, but it would not affect the $100 that has already been given out.

But daswandh cannot be applied to the notion of time when it comes to spirituality. In the spiritual realm, the measure is not how long we sit down to pray or how much banee we have read, but how much of our mind has been applied in the process. Going by such reasoning, we could have a person sitting down and reciting banee, or even listening to paath or Kirtan for 2 and half hours, but having one’s mind on other things for the entire time except, say, 5 minutes. Cursory reading of banee tells us that it is the 5 minutes of dhyaan (contemplation) that count, not the 2.5 hours of sitting and reciting or hearing. As opposed to the money example in the preceding paragraph, what this individual does in the remaining time of the day WILL affect his 5 minutes of spiritual earning. What if he/she comes out of his/her 2.5 hour Sukhmani session and picks a 15 minute quarrel with another person? What if one indulges in 15 minutes of malicious gossip, slander or backbiting or decides to steal something (a 20 second act) after completing his/her 2.5 hour session? Is anyone going to say that the 15 minutes of quarrel, gossip, slander, backbiting or the 20 second act of stealing etc don’t matter because daswandh has already been fulfilled when reciting Sukhmani? A more logical answer would be that they not only DO matter, they would actually negate the 5 minutes of spiritual earning that was gained during the 2.5 hour sitting. For such reasons alone (and there are others), daswandh cannot, does not and should not be applied to time or volume of banee being recited.

Recent literature on dera-science provides new twists to this fable of 24,000 words and breaths. The claim now is that the figure for 24,000 breaths is indeed correct, but that the Sants only take 21,624 breaths per day[10]. The balance of 2,376 is saved. Similarly Sukhmani actually has 21,624 complete characters. There are 2,373 incomplete (half) characters. That makes a total of 23,997, three short of 24,000. To make up for the shortcoming, Guru Arjun converted the word Sant to Santan in three verses in Asthpaddee 13, thus achieving the magical figure of 24,000. Our dera fellows have taken us Sikhs to be extremely dim-witted to accept such nonsense. Yet that is exactly what this whole obsession with words, characters and breaths is all about. Pure and plain nonsense. By a bunch of frauds and scammers.


Derawallahs further claim that if one recites Sukhmani once, 21 succeeding generations of the reciting Sikh will be saved.[11] What they mean by being “saved” is anybody’s guess. Seven of this saved generations would be on the maternal side, 7 from the paternal side and 7 from the matrimonial side. Now these figures are much less complicated than the 2,400 words, 24,000 breaths stuff. Yet they are equally illogical and fraudulent.

One generation is 30 years. 21 multiplied by 30 gives us 630 years. It has been 413 years since Guru Ajun composed Sukhmani. This means that all of us Sikhs today are within the time frame of 630 years and within 21 generations. Surely each of us will have at least ONE ancestor who would have recited ONE Sukhmani sahib at least in the last 413 years. Going by the illogic of this argument, chances are we are all actually very much already saved. There is no real need to do anything anymore. Further, there are 217 years still remaining from the 630. This means that the next 7 generations of ours need do nothing too. They are also safe by virtue of the same ancestor who saved us.

The fact that such claims are rubbished by Gurbani is of little concern to these derawallahs. The basic principle of Gurbani and Gurmat is that our actions – and not those undertaken by our ancestors – decide our fate.

ਜੈਸਾ ਬੀਜੈ ਤੈਸਾ ਖਾਵੈ ॥  Jaisa Beejaiy Taisa Khaveiy. GGS 366 You reap as you sow.

ਆਪਣ ਹਥੀ ਆਪਣਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਕਾਜੁ ਸਵਾਰੀਐ ॥ Aapan Hathi Aaapnna Apay Hee Kaaj Swareaiy. GGS 474. One’s own actions resolves one’s own affairs.

ਬੀਜੇ ਬਿਖੁ ਮੰਗੈ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਵੇਖਹੁ ਏਹੁ ਨਿਆਉ ॥ Beejaiy Bikh Mangaiy Amrit Vekho Eh Niyao. GGS 476 He sows poison, and expects Ambrosial Nectar. Behold — what justice is this?

Another pseudo claim perpetuated by our fake Sadhs, Sants, and derawallahs rests on the basic need for Sukh amongst the masses. They tell us that the word Sukhmani means this banee is the source of Sukh or joy. This distortion is fed by a myriad of concocted stories. In his book, derawallah Guriqbal Singh narrates the story of a woman with breast cancer who was given ten days to live[12]. She instead chose to recite Sukhmani over a jot (oil lamp) fueled by purified ghee and then applied the butter on her affected breast. She was cured in ten days. The fact that Guru Arjun – the writer of Sukhmani himself set up a leper home in Taran Taran, Amritsar and hired medical men of the times (hakeems and vaids) to treat them escapes the dera fellows. The dera crowd needs to tell us why Guru Arjun did not read Sukhmani over oil lamps and rub that oil over the lepers.

An equally pseudo story talks about a “muslim” trader who asked a Nanaksari Baba for a way to stem his business losses. The Baba “gave” the trader half a couplet from Sukhmani – Nirdhan Ko Dhan Tero Nao and told the trader to recite it one hundred times daily. One year later the trader came back and told the Baba he had followed the Baba’s instructions and amassed immense wealth to last many lifetimes. His problem now was that he needed a long life to enjoy his wealth. The Baba then “gave” him the second part of the couplet Nithavey Ko Nao Tera Thao. The moral of the story is that repeated recitations of mere half couplets can do wonders even to a non-Sikh, imagine what good can be attained by reciting the whole banee. The choice is the couplet is deliberate. The first half contains the word “dhan” (wealth) twice, and the second “thao” (place) twice. The lay folk can be fooled into believing the Baba’s humpty dumpty tale and that the Baba had a realistic formula indeed. It matters little that Guru Arjun is saying that for a Sikh, real wealth comes from acquiring Godly virtues (Nirdhan Ko Dhan Tero Nao).

As the fifth “wonder” of reciting Sukhmani, Guriqbal Singh says farmers can double the harvest of their farms if they recited Sukhmani over the water that is used to irrigate the crops. Going by such logic one could recite Sukhmani over documents (resume, loan applications, medical records!); clothes, furniture, food, and just about anything and expect positive results. One wonders if the English language even has a term for the proponents of such absurdity.

The underlying claim of such distortions is the suggestion that one’s disease, sorrow, pain, loses and negative situations go away if one recites Sukhmani. The thinking Sikh would want to know if reciting Japji or Rehras or any banee other than Sukhmani brings disease, sorrow and pain? Isn’t all of Gurbani for the benefit of us Sikhs? The discerning Sikh would also want to know why Gurbani then tells us to accept the Hukum, the Raza of God, to rise above Joy and Sorrow? Guru Nanak says in Japji:

ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥ Kiv Sachiara Hoeay Kiv Kurray Tuttay Paal. Hukm Rajayi Chalnna Nanak Likhya Naal. SGGS 1. Meaning: how can one become truth imbued? And how can the wall of separation (between Man and God) be torn down? O Nanak the path to becoming truth –imbued is to obey the Hukam of His Command, and walk in the Way of His Will. || 1 ||

Guru Teg Bahadur ji illustrates the meaning of living in accordance with His Will as follows:

ਜੋ ਨਰੁ ਦੁਖ ਮੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਨਹੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥ ਸੁਖ ਸਨੇਹੁ ਅਰੁ ਭੈ ਨਹੀ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਕੰਚਨ ਮਾਟੀ ਮਾਨੈ ॥  1 ] Jo Nur Dukh Mein Dukh Nahi Manaiy. SUkh Sneh Ar Bhaiy Nhi Ja Kaiy Kanchan Matti Manaiy. SGGS 633. He who is not affected by pain or pleasure, affection or fear, and who takes gold to be dust; || 1 || Rahao || Who is not swayed by slander or praise, nor affected by greed, attachment or pride; who remains beyond joy and sorrow, honor and dishonor; || 1 || Who is not touched by desire or anger; within his heart, God dwells. || 2 || That man, blessed by Guru’s Grace, understands this way. O Nanak, he merges with the Lord of the Universe, like water with water. || 3 ||

So why are the derawallahs pushing Sukhmani as the magic potion for Sukh? For one thing, they have understood the psychology of the masses – namely a need for Sukh. Secondly, the dera fellows have found a way to latch on the dera agenda of self-propogation on Sukhmani. This banee has three full sections devoted to Sadhs, Sants and Bhram Gyanis. Sukhmani has a whopping 281 verses that reinforce these terms into the Sikh mind and psyche. So long as these terms remain mis-understood, the pseudo Sants and Babas are able to fool the Sikh masses into achieving their agendas and goals. Such a goal cannot be achieved through popularizing Bawan Akhree, or Ramkli Sadd or Sidh Ghosat, or Oangkar, or any other banee. It has to be Sukhmani.

The popularization of Sukhmani is thus done at the most basic level by equating Sukhmani to Sukh. The dera argument is that the meaning of Sukhmani is suKW dI mxI Sukha(n) dee Manee. In the world of snake charmers, mxI (manee) refers to the topmost vertebra of a particular species of a snake that is used as the cure-all for snake bites.[13] Being the snake-oil salesmen that our present day fraudulent Sants and Babas have become, it comes as no surprise that they would chose to distort the meaning of the title of this wonderful banee. Such distortion aids them in their agendas. It works because the Sikh masses desire Sukh and have accepted that banee is simply a mantar or magical spell to achieve this Sukh.

The truth is that within the 24 Saloks and Ashtpadees of Sukhmani, there is only a single Rahao line. Since the Rahao acts as the summarized title of the shabad or banee, and contains the jist of the composition, the meaning of Sukhmani is therefore to be derived from this Rahao verse, as follows:

ਸੁਖਮਨੀ ਸੁਖ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ ਭਗਤ ਜਨਾ ਕੈ ਮਨਿ ਬਿਸ੍ਰਾਮ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ GGS 262. Sukhmani is about the joy derived from knowing the ambrosial virtues (amrit prabh naam) of God. Sukhmani is about His beloved people (bhagats) wanting these virtues to reside within their minds.

This then is the jist of the banee and the meaning of the word Sukhmani. The rest of the banee is a long, serialized, step by step exploration and explanation of the ambrosial virtues of God. Every Asthpadee describes a different facet of God and encourages the Bhagat Sikh to accept those virtues. The concluding verse of Sukhmani sums it all up:

ਸਭ ਤੇ ਊਚ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਸੋਭਾ ਬਨੀ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਇਹ ਗੁਣਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਸੁਖਮਨੀ ॥ Sabh Tay Uch Ta Ki Sobha Bni. Nanak Eh Gunn Nam Sukhmani. Highest of all spiritual actions is to praise (sobha) Him. Nanak, Sukhmani is therefore about these descriptive virtues (Gun Naam) of God.

Sukhmani is certainly NOT about any particular class of human beings. It is NOT about some people labeling themselves as Sadhs, Sants, or Bhram Gyanis. It is also not about people wanting to ward off physical dukh and replace it with sukh. If one must view Sukhmani in the context of Sukh and Dukh, then this banee is intended to give the Sikh the courage and strength to bear and accept all dukh that come with the hukam and will of God. Because this is exactly what Guru Arjun the author of Sukhmani did when he endured the epitome of physical dukh in the form of unspeakable tortures leading to his martyrdom. This single fact alone ought to make any Sikh ponder as to whether Sukhmani is intended to be a sukh inducing mantar.


The Maryada of the Sikh Diwan as prescribed by the Sikh Rehat Maryada is as follows:

(ਹ) ਗੁਰਦੁਆਰੇ ਵਿਚ ਸੰਗਤ ਦਾ ਪ੍ਰੋਗਰਾਮ ਆਮ ਤੌਰ ਤੇ ਇਉਂ ਹੁੰਦਾ ਹੈ:- ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਦਾ ਪ੍ਰਕਾਸ਼, ਕੀਰਤਨ, ਕਥਾ, ਵਖਿਆਨ, ਅਨੰਦ ਸਾਹਿਬ, ਅਰਦਾਸ, ਫ਼ਤਿਹ, ਸਤਿ 
ਸ੍ਰੀ ਅਕਾਲ ਦਾ ਜੈਕਾਰਾ ਤੇ ਹੁਕਮ।  Translation: The program of the Sangat within a Gurdwara normally is as follows: The Prakash of the SGGS, Kirtan, Katha, Lecture, Anand Sahib, Ardas, Fateh, Jaikara of Sat Sri Akaal and Hukumnama.

It is clear that collective recitations of Gurbani are NOT part of SRM Diwan Maryada. There are good reasons for it. The first relates to the nature of Gurbani. In the Sangat atmosphere Gurbani is sung as Kirtan to allow for comprehension and appreciation of its inner messages. The singing (in raag and taal) slows down considerably the rate of banee read-out. This slowed rate and musical rendition allows for some understanding of the messages to take place. The Katha (by definition it is the lay explanation of Gurbani) is an integral part of the Diwan because Gubani is meant to be understood, appreciated, internalized and then walked upon. Kirtan and Katha help accomplish these follow up actions that Sikhi demands.

Reciting Gurbani in the Sangat can produce no understanding and internalization of its messages except for one or two individuals who have studied Gurbani. This is because Gurbani is NOT prose. Gurbani is composed in poetry which is condensed, idiomatic; complex at times, and deploys a number of different languages. Hence reciting banees is not the Maryada of our Diwans. Reciting Gurbani falls within the domain of individual contemplation.

Collective recitation of Gurbani has its own problems. People walk in at any time, pick up a gutka and join in just about from anywhere. Usually when the Sukhmani recital begins, the granthi is all alone or joined by a handful of dedicated people. By the time the recital ends, a large number would have joined it – some from midway some from the closing sections. There are issues of speed – the one leading it recites fast and many are simply lost trying to catch up. More than numerous mistakes are made; words, entire lines and even whole couplets being glossed over. This is gross disrespect of Gurbani. At the end of it, in the Ardas, a lie is propagated by the Ardasia who tells the Guru that the Sangat has done byAMq multitude / countless of Sukhmani recitals. A multitude of people sitting down with a multitude of open gutkas does NOT constitute a multitude of Sukhmani recitals. Obviously no understanding of any kind takes place, because the entire objective is to get it over with. The end result is that we have made collective Sukhmani recital into a ritual.

Sukhmani is an ਇਕਾਂਤੀ ਬਾਣੀ (ekantee banee). It is to be read alone, in deep contemplation, with a desire to praise God using innovative names (Prabh, Sadh, Sant, Bhram Gyani etc) and to understand God using novel virtues. The ultimate aim is to understand and apply these concepts in our daily lives.

Even though the SRM has specified a Sikh’s Nitnem banees, Sikhs can add on to one’s personal nitnem, it is indeed laudable that Sikhs make Sukhmani or Oangkar or Sidh Ghosat or Ramkali Sad of any other banee from the 1430 pages as their Nitnem. The SRM actually calls for the Sikh to individually and personally keep doing a Sehej Paath (slow and contemplative) reading of the GGS from start to end – 5 – 10 pages a day as part of one’s nitnem. Yet the underlying objective must be spiritual, not ritualistic, and certainly not a means to material gains such as Sukh.


The source of it all is a discredited and panth-banned book called the Gur Bilas Pathsai 6.[14] Even though eminent Sikh researchers have rubbished large portions of Gurbilas, it remains the core source for deras and granthis, parcharaks and ragis who are dera trained or identify with dera thought. The entire story of the dera science as narrated above appears on pages 92 – 94 of Gurbilas 6 as follows:

Simrat Shastar Bed Bkhaney. Chavee Hazaar Swas Nar Thaney. As Upav Kareay Ko Ta Tay. Swas Safal Hovey Sabh Yaa Tey.

Verse 378. Translation: The Simratis, Shastars and the Vedas reveal that the human being takes 24,000 breaths per day. (They further reveal) the need to undertake specific efforts to purify the entire number of breaths through those efforts.

Sukhmani Gur Muknon Ucharee. Munn Maal Mano Gur Dharee. Chavee Hazaar Akshar Eh Dharey. Upma Aap Sree Mukh Rarey.

Verse 396. Translation: The Guru recited Sukhmani. In His heart he resolved that it was the panacea vertebrae (mxI) for material (gains). Twenty four thousand words therein. Such praise the Guru recited Himself.

CONCLUSIONS. The results of the dera-initiated and dera-inspired effort with regards to Sukhmani have been as follows:

One, there is now wide spread and wide scale mindless reciting / chanting of Sukhmani in our Gurdwara and Home based Diwans. Such reciting involves disrespect to the banee, given the severe limitations of collective reciting of any banee. Untold errors, people joining in half way, people leaving halfway, glaring omissions, etc make a mockery of the recital. For all intents and purposes – this collective reading has become a ritual and a very distorted one.

Two, such collective reciting takes away the time that a Sangat can devote to Kirtan and Katha – two very crucial spiritual activities of our Sangat-bases spiritual life. 2.5 hours of Sukhmani recital leaves no time for Kirtan and Katha.

Three, no real understanding comes from such collective recitation. The ritual of collective recitation has been going on for decades, yet its readers in particular and Sikhs in general have not gotten any wiser as to the messages of Sukhmani. If at all, collective reading has created misconceptions about the Banee.

Four, wide-scale and wide-spread recitals of Sukhmane has resulted in the instillation of fear amongst lay Sikhs from the class of individuals who call themselves sadhs, sants and bhram gyanis. It appears that large numbers of Sukhmani reciting Sikhs have swallowed hook line and sinker, the dera wallahs agenda that the terms Sadh, Sant and Bhram Gyani as used in Sukhmani refer to them and that Guru Arjun has provided the spiritual approval for these class of people. Any attempt to educate the lay Sangats with regards to the destructive ways of these group of frauds called Sants and Babas is often met with dire warnings with quotations from Sukhmani. Sant Ka Dokhee , Sant Ka Nindak, – is (mis) translated as ‘Someone who expresses disapproval of these present day self acclaimed ‘Sants’, ” and literal translations follow.ਸੰਤ ਕੈ ਦੂਖਨਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਸਭੁ ਜਾਇ Sant Kaiy Dukhan Sukh Sabh Jaye – Criticizing the ‘Sant’ takes away all your Sukh. ਸੰਤ ਕੈ ਦੂਖਨਿ ਨੀਚੁ ਨੀਚਾਇ ॥ Sant Kaiy Dukhan Neech Nichaye. The critique of the “Sant” is lowliest of all. ਸੰਤ ਕੇ ਨਿੰਦਕ ਕਉ ਸਰਬ ਰੋਗ ॥ Sant Kaiy Nindak Ko Sarb Rog. The critique of the ‘Sant’ will be inflicted with all the diseases. ਸੰਤ ਕਾ ਦੋਖੀ ਅਧ ਬੀਚ ਤੇ ਟੂਟੈ॥ Sant Ka Dokhi Adh Beech Tay Tutay. The critique of the ‘Sant’ will break into two in the middle.

The real meanings are of course different and related to the human mind denying God, challenging God’s authority and Wisdom. The Sukh Sabh Jaye in ਸੰਤ ਕੈ ਦੂਖਨਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਸਭੁ ਜਾਇ therefore refers to the spiritual joy explained in the Rahao line of the banee:

ਸੁਖਮਨੀ ਸੁਖ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ ਭਗਤ ਜਨਾ ਕੈ ਮਨਿ ਬਿਸ੍ਰਾਮ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ Sukhmani Sukh Amrit Prabh Nam. Bhagt Jna Kaiy Mun Bisram.

Similarly Aadh Beech Tay Tutey in the verse ਸੰਤ ਕਾ ਦੋਖੀ ਅਧ ਬੀਚ ਤੇ ਟੂਟੈ Sant Ka Dokhi Adh Beech Tay Tuttay refers to the midway breaking of the journey of spirituality that Sukhmani is all about. The derawallahs would want us to belief that Aadh Beech Tay Tutey means that anyone who critiques their Sants and Babas will have end up with his body broken into two right in the middle.

It appears therefore that the pseudo dera-wallah sadhs, sants and bhram gyanis have succeeded in their agenda of not only fooling the Sikh masses into accepting them, but overwhelmingly succeeded in creating fear in the minds of those who would want to question their fraudulent ways.

It is ironical that the author of Sukhmani was able to bear untold tortures and unfathomable pain with immense courage and bravery. Yet the Sikh masses who recite this same banee in unprecedented numbers are sinking into the depths of unfathomable fear and immense fright of a bunch of frauds whose only aim is to deceive us. This is simply because we have not attempted to UNDERSTAND the messages of Sukhmani.

Such then, is the result of our having made Sukhmani recital into a ritual. Any and

every ritual, in essence, dulls the mind, paralyzes the intellect and euthanizes spirituality.

WHAT TO DO? Educating ourselves and sharing it with others is perhaps the way to come out of the situation we have landed into. Some suggestions at the individual level are as follows:

One, if you are planning to sponsor a Gurdwara Diwan or have a Diwan in your home for any purpose at all, stick to the SRM mandated maryada of Kirtan and Katha. You will obtain the blessings of the Guru and the Panth for doing what is right.

Two, educate your family, friends and relatives about the issue. If you can find the courage within your convictions, tell them you will not attend a diwan which breaks the maryada of the diwan and which especially makes a mockery of banee in the so called “collective reading.” As explained above, this collective reading is no more than a group of well meaning Sikhs getting together to collectively disrespect a wonderful banee – joining in as and where they please, opting out wherever convenient and skipping entire verses when the going gets too fast for them.

Three, if Sukhmani is your personal nitnem, continue to do so but make it a point to start UNDERSTANDING it – one couplet a day, one paragraph a week, one Asthpadee a month. Get a decent translation and a dictionary. Prof Sahib Singh’s translation is a good start. Keep in mind that a vast number of Sukhmani “translations” are little more than manifestos of dera-wallahs aimed at converting ordinary Sikhs into becoming hordes of Sukhmani chanting ritualistic people.

Four, if your Gurdwara is blessed with an educated granthi, parcharak, ragi or Kathakar, persuade them to explain Sukhmani to the Sangat using a series of lectures – perhaps one Ashtpadee at a time. Do keep in mind that a vast number of our granthis, parcharaks, ragis and Kathakaars are dera-trained or dera affiliated. Instead of helping the Sangat understand the true messages, they may re-enforce dera agendas instead. If such is the case, look for independent and enlightened members of the sangat who may be willing to do such a sewa.

Five, if you are a parbhandhak, recognize that it is your duty to have the Sikh Rehat Maryada instituted in your Sangat. Educate the management and Sangat that Kirtan and Katha are the sanctioned maryada. Asa di Vaar diwans for instance, cannot and should not be replaced by collective Sukhmani recitals. Nor should any other diwan be. If families insist on collective Sukhmani recitals, then ensure that such recitals are done outside of the prime diwan time (two hours before a diwan begins or some time after it has been concluded).

Six, as members of the Sangat, we have a collective right to expect and demand that our Gurdwaras serve the objective of providing Gurbani enlightenment. Each and every time we attend a Gurdwara diwan as part of the Sangat, the reward ought to be in the form or food for the soul (Kirtan) and Gurbani gyan (Katha and Vikhyaan). The Gurdwara is no place for maryadas of derawallahs or individualized practices (12 hour chanting of Japji, Chaupai, lights-off chanting of this or that mantar etc).

It is natural that when we have such issues and challenges we look for guidance from our Sikh institutions. The stark reality however is that our institutions themselves have succumbed to such follies. In some cases, they have become part of the problem. The issue at hand, as is the case with a vast majority of Sikh spiritual challenges is among those that require solutions at the individual level. As Guru kay Sikh, it is incumbent that we educate ourselves and those around us, and at the very least refuse to be part of any wrong or deviant practice.

Sikh readers and Parbhandhaks who wish to circulate or republish this article in their publications may request soft copies from the author at


  1. Bhai Guriqbal Singh, Sikhmani Sahib Deean Nau Visheshtaeeaan (Nine Wonders of Sukhmani) (Punjabi), Amritsar: Bhai Chattar Singh Jeewan Singh, 2008.

  2. My own research indicates that the first Sikh individual associated with the term “sant” was Attar Singh of Mastuanna (1866 – 1927) who was bestowed the “title” by the British in 1902. He was a soldier in the British Army. Though his student and biographer, Teja Singh (1877-1965) too went on to use the term for himself, its popularization had to wait till the Akali political leaders such as Fateh Singh (1911-1972) added it to their names. Its widespread and indiscriminate usage came about in the aftermath of the Indian government attack on Darbar Sahib and Akaal Takhat, leading to speculation that a large number of these ‘sants” and their deras were propped up by the machinations of the authorities to weaken the authority of genuine Sikh institutions.

  3. Sukhmani uses the word Prabh in 280 verses. Other references to God (Guru, Satguru, Parmeshar, Ram etc) similarly used in the verses. This gives the reader the sense of Guru Arjun’s style of picking one name of God and then writing an entire Asthpadee or more using that name. Within such appreciation, it becomes clear that Guru Arjun is using Sant, Sadh and Brhram Gyani to refer to God too.

  4. Gyani Gurbachan Singh Khalsa Damdamee Taksaal, Gurbanee Paath Darshan, (Punjabi), Amritsar: Bhai Kirpal Singh Jawahar Singh Bazar Main Sewan, 1969, page 34.

  5. Medical professionals provide the respiratory as follows: birth to 6 weeks: 30–60 breaths per minute; 6 months: 25–40 breaths per minute, 3 years: 20–30 breaths per minute; 6 years: 18–25 breaths per minute; 10 years: 15–20 breaths per minute; adults: 14–18 breaths per minute See Wilburta Q. Lindh; Marilyn Pooler; Carol Tamparo; Barbara M. Dahl in.Delmar’s Comprehensive Medical Assisting: Administrative and Clinical Competencies. Cengage Learning, 2009 p. 573

  6. Page 14 of Sukhmani Gutka, Nanaksar Dera. This argument is credited to Baba Isher Singh Rarre Walley.

  7. The source of this couplet is Gurbilas Patshahi 6. The (unknown) author of this Akaal Takhat banned publications attributes it to the Bachittar Natak Granth.

  8. “Clarifying the lies relating to Sukhmani Banee by Babey, Sadhs and Sants and Frauds” in SIKH BULLETIN, December 2008.

  9. See

  10. This argument is provided by Bhai Guriqbal Singh, Sikhmani Sahib Deean Nau Visheshtaeeaan (Nine Wonders of Sukhmani).

  11. Bhai Guriqbal Singh, Sikhmani Sahib Deean Nau Visheshtaeeaan (Nine Wonders of Sukhmani). The head granthi of Harmandar Sahib Gyani Gurbachan Singh has called this nonsensical book a “must read” for all Sikhs. He refered to it as “the illumination of the journey of Sikhi.” See Rozana Spokesman of 4th May 2008.

  12. See The Third Wonder, in Nine Wonders of Sukhmani., op.cit.

  13. See Punjabi English Dictionary, Punjabi University Patiala, 2002 Edition, pp662.

  14. Published in 1718 by an unknown author who harboured anti-Sikh and anti-Gurmat agendas, it purports to recount the life of Guru Hargobind, the Sixth Guru. Its anti-gurmat messages and anti-Gurbani messages and in particular its overt bhramanical tones are clearly evident. The Sikh panth, in 1920 decided that Gurbilas should not be preached in Sikh Gurdwaras. In 1998, the Dhram Parchaar Committee of SGPC (of all institutions !) re-published the book under the authorship of Akaal Takhat Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti and Dr Amarjeet Singh. In what appeared to be a concerted effort to have the book accepted by the Sikh masses, this republished version carried acknowledgments from the Who’s Who of Sikhs such as the SGPC chief Tohra, the Jathedars and Granthis of the Takhats, Preachers such as Sant Singh Maskeen, Jaswant Singh Parwana, and writers such as Joginder Singh Talwara. Shortly after its re-publication, Gyani Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afgana in a book titled Gurbani di Kasvati Tay Gurbilas Patshai 6 diligently and systematically exposed the folly of not just Gurbilas 6, but the agenda behind its republication. Kala Afghana’s book took on each story of Gurbilas and analyzed it on the touch stone (Kasvati) of Gurbani. He managed to establish that virtually every story in Gurbilas 6 was a fabrication. The result was that in October 2000, the SGPC banned the book (its own book, really) a second time. Kala Afghana’s suggestion that the republication of Gurbilas was a conspiracy involving the highest echelons of the Sikh establishment including the Akaal Takhat which had been infiltrated by dera thought seemed to have proven in the fact that while no action was taken against any of the 15 Who’s Who, Kala Afghana earned the wrath of Jathedar Vedanti who had him excommunicated subsequently (in 2003) even though Afghana (a British resident) did not appear at the Akaal Takhat (on the basis of ill health) to answer the charges against him. In what has become a sad state of affairs for Sikhi parchaar, even though banned, Gurbilas 6 seems to have become the primary source of Katha and parchar by Sikh Kathakaars, parcharaks, ragis and granthis – especially those who are dera-alinged or dera trained.