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A History of the SikhsVolume 1: 1469-1838$

Khushwant Singh

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195673081

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: October 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195673081.001.0001

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(p.294) Appendix 2

(p.294) Appendix 2

Adi Granth or the Granth Sahib

A History of the Sikhs
Oxford University Press

(p.294) Appendix 2

Adi Granth or the Granth Sahib

The Adi Granth or Granth Sahib, as it is popularly known, was compiled by the fifth guru, Arjun, at Amritsar. His immediate problem was to get hold of the genuine compositions of his predecessors and to weed out the spurious writing which had been introduced by some of the unsuccessful aspirants to guruship and their followers. Arjun expanded this task to preparing a sacred book for the community. He sent out scouts to locate and collect all the available texts and went personally to Mohan, the son of the third guru, Amar Das, and persuaded him to hand over the writings of the first three gurus which were in his possession. (This process of collecting the writings of the preceding guru had been started by the second guru and was followed by the third and fourth.) Arjun also invited followers of other religious denominations and contemporary writers of religious verse to send in contributions for consideration. When all this material had been collected, the Guru selected a spot south of the city called Ramsar and began to dictate the text to Bhai Gurdas. They finished their great task in August 1604. The Granth was then formally installed in the Harimandir with Bhai Buddha (1518–1631) as the head Granthi.

Since communities of disciples were scattered all over northern India, it became necessary to have copies of the Granth made available to them. In the very first transcription, minor changes were made by the copyists. Editions based on the transcription are consequently not the same as the original dictated by Arjun. Exactly a hundred years later, the last guru, Gobind Singh, took upon himself to compile a final and revised version of the Adi Granth with the compositions of his father, the (p.295) ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur, inserted at the appropriate places. This compilation was lost in the Vaḍā Ghallūghārā of 1762. Fortunately, many copies of Guru Gobind’s compilation had been made before the disaster. These are somewhat different from the two earlier editions. There are therefore three main versions (bīṛs) of the Adi Granth.

  1. 1. KARTĀRPUR VĀLĪ BĪṚ, dictated by Guru Arjun to Bhai Gurdas. The compilation was made at Amritsar and later removed to Kartarpur, where it has remained ever since. The opening lines of this volume are in the hand of Arjun himself. It also bears the signature of his son, the sixth guru, Hargobind,1 at the end. It has several blank pages in it. According to tradition, these were left by Arjun for the compositions of his successors. The location of the blank pages does not lend support to the traditional view.

  2. 2. BHĀĪ BANNO VĀLĪ BĪṚ. Soon after completing the writing, Guru Arjun asked one of his followers, Bhai Banno, to take the manuscript to Lahore to have it bound. In the course of the journey to and from Lahore, and while it was being bound, Bhai Banno had a copy made for his own use. In this edition he inserted a few extraneous hymns. Bhai Banno’s copy is still with his descendants. Some transcriptions based on Bhai Banno’s bīṛ are available.

  3. 3. DAM DAMĀ VĀLĪ BĪṚ. The two earlier editions had only the hymns of the first five gurus and the works of some saint-poets. The sixth, seventh, and eighth gurus did not write, but the ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur, and his son, the tenth guru, Gobind Singh, were prolific writers of religious verses. Blank pages in the first editions dictated by Guru Arjun did not provide enough space to take this additional writing; nor indeed did the placing of these blank pages indicate that the fifth guru necessarily intended the additions to be inserted in the same volume. Guru Gobind Singh did not insert his own compositions in the Adi Granth. (His disciple, Mani Singh, collected them in a separate volume called the Dasveṉ Pādśāh kā Graṅth.) Gobind did, however, wish to find a place for his father’s compositions in it. It appears that he inserted them at Anandpur and, after the destruction of the town, redictated them to Mani Singh at Dam Dama in the few months of respite from battle in 1704. The editions of the Adi Granth (p.296) currently in use in Sikh gurdwaras are based on the copies of Bhai Mani Singh’s bīṛ written at Dam Dama.


The Adi Granth which is now recognized as authentic and used for worship in gurdwaras is an enormous volume consisting of nearly 6000 hymns. Its contributors can be divided into four categories:

  1. (A) SIKH GURUS. These include the first five gurus and the ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur. The largest number (2218) are from the pen of Guru Arjun, followed by Guru Nanak (974), Amar Das (907), Ram Das (679), Tegh Bahadur (115), and Angad (62).

  2. (B) HINDU BHAKTAS AND MUSLIM SŪFĪS. Hymns of sixteen Bhaktas and Sūfīs are in the Granth. In chronological order they are Jai Dev of Bengal; Farid of the Punjab; Nam Dev, Trilochan and Parmanand of Maharashtra, Sadhna the Sindhi; Beni and Ramananda of Uttar Pradesh; Dhanna of Rajasthan; Pipa, Sain, Kabir, and Ravidas of Uttar Pradesh; Mira Bai of Rajasthan; Bhikhan of Uttar Pradesh; and Sur Das, the blind poet of Oudh. Of these the greatest number are those of the Muslim weaver of Benares, Kabir, and Farid, the Sufi mystic of Pak Pattan. The hymns of the Bhaktas and Sufis in the Granth Sahib represent four centuries of Indian religious thought. They do not, however, correspond strictly to the versions now current in Hindi, Marathi, or the other languages in which they are said to have been originally written. Apparently, by the time they came to be known in the Punjab, they had undergone certain linguistic alterations. But once they had been incorporated in the Granth, no further changes were introduced in the text. It is more than likely that the only genuine compositions of the Bhaktas and Sufis that exist are those found in the Granth: others now ascribed to them have been touched up by their followers.

  3. (C) BHATTS OR BARDS. There were several bards in the courts of the gurus. Their compositions were largely panegyrics in praise of their masters. It is not easy to determine the exact number of the Bhatts, since most of them used poetic names which merged in the hymn as if they were an integral part and not mere pseudonyms. The Bhaktas, Sufis, and Bhatts between them account for 937 hymns.

  4. (D) OTHER CONTRIBUTORS. The compositions of men like Mardana, the Muslim companion and disciple of Guru Nanak; Sundar, who is the author of an elegy, the Rām Kalī Sad and the eulogistic ballad (vār) of Satta and Balwand, do not fall within the three categories listed above.

(p.297) Arrangement

The hymns of the Granth are not arranged by authors or subject matter but divided into 31 rāgas or musical modes in which they are meant to be sung. What the Sikh gurus wished to emphasize more than the way of good deeds (karmamārga), knowledge (gyānamārga), or devotion (bhaktimārga) was the path of worship of the name (nāmamārga). They considered divine worship through music the best means of attaining that state of bliss—vismād—which resulted in communion with God. The selection of rāgas was carefully made. Those that aroused passions of any kind were omitted. Megh and Hindol were not used because of their jubilant tone; Jog and Dīpak were likewise rejected for their melancholy. The instructions to singers were to avoid indulging in exposition of the intricacies of the rāgas, but to sing them in such a way that the meaning of the words was easily and gently conveyed to the listeners.

Within the rāgas, the compositions of the gurus intermingle and are followed by those of the Bhaktas.


The compositions of the gurus were always considered sacred by their followers. Guru Nanak said that in his hymns ‘the true Guru manifested Himself, because they were composed at His orders and heard by Him’ (Vār Āsā). The fourth guru, Ram Das, said: ‘Look upon the words of the True Guru as the supreme truth, for God and the Creator hath made him utter the words’ (Vār Gauṛī). When Arjun formally installed the Granth in the Harimandir, he ordered his followers to treat it with the same reverence as they treated their gurus. By the time of Guru Gobind Singh, copies of the Granth had been installed in most gurdwaras. Quite naturally, when he declared the line of succession of gurus ended, he asked his followers to turn to the Granth for guidance and look upon it as the symbolic representation of the ten gurus.

The Granth Sahib is the central object of worship in all gurdwaras. It is usually draped in silks and placed on a cot. It has an awning over it and, while it is being read, one of the congregation stands behind and waves a fly whisk made of Yak’s hair. Worshippers go down on their knees to make obeisance and place offerings of cash or kind before it as they would before a king: for the Granth is to them what the gurus were to their ancestors—the Sacā Pādśāh (the true Emperor).

With the influx of Hindus into the Sikh fold, a number of ceremonies associated with the worship of idols have grown around the Granth. In (p.298) the morning, it is opened with elaborate ritual, which is repeated in the evening, when it is wrapped up and put away for the night. On special occasions, there is a non-stop reading of the hymns (akhaṅḍ pāṭh) by a relay of readers. This takes two days and nights. A seven-day reading is known as the saptāh pāṭh. Another variation is to read a favourite hymn after each one in the Granth. A non-stop reading of this kind (sampaṭ pāṭh) can take fifteen days. None of these forms of ceremonial recitation have the sanction of the gurus and apparently came into vogue in the latter part of the 19th century. (There is no mention of ceremonies of these sorts in the diaries of Ranjit Singh’s court.)

On the birthdays of some of the gurus, the martyrdom of the fifth and ninth gurus and those of the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh, the Granth is taken out in a procession in the bigger cities.

Despite these customs, the Granth is even today not like the idol in a Hindu temple nor the statue of the Virgin in a Catholic cathedral. It is the means and not the object of worship.

Language and Literary Quality

The Granth contains the writings of poets of many parts of India speaking different languages. The earliest contributor, Jai Dev, lived in the 12th century; the last guru, Tegh Bahadur, in the 17th. Despite a span of five centuries between the earliest and latest compositions and the distant regions from which they were gathered, there is a certain unity of theme and language in them. Guru Arjun chose only those hymns which echoed sentiments he wanted to inculcate in his own community. He did not have much difficulty with the language, since most saint-poets of northern India wrote in the Sant Bhāśā, which was a sort of esperanto composed of a vocabulary common to northern Indian languages and used extensively for writing religious verse. In addition, as already stated, whether the poems were from Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, or Maharashtra, the version which was accepted by Guru Arjun was obviously one which the Punjabis could understand. Although the language is now somewhat obsolete, it is easily intelligible to anyone with a knowledge of Hindi and a background of Hinduism. The main appeal of the Granth as a scripture is its non-esoteric character and its utter simplicity.

The Adi Granth has some of the greatest writing in the Punjabi language. Its two chief contributors, Nanak and Arjun, have been the inspiration of many later poets.


(1) Rev. C. H, Loehlin, who examined this volume, doubts the authenticity of the writing by the fifth guru and the signature. (The Sikhs and Their Books). Later publications by this author do not say anything on the subject.