Sri Guru Granth Sahib
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION, by Kulbir S. Thind, MD
What is Sri Guru Granth Sahib?
It is a religious scripture, a compilation of spiritual/mystical hymns with a common philosophy but written by different spiritual masters, prominent saints (Bhagats) and some others spiritual poets from the Indian subcontinent. The different authors who's writing are included in the scripture lived between the twelfth to the seventeenth century and belonged to different faiths and classes/strata of society. This scripture is also called Adi Granth (Adi means original & Granth means scripture) to differentiate it from another Scripture written by the tenth Sikh Guru.
What is unique about Sri Guru Granth Sahib?
This is the latest of the principal religious scriptures from the Indian subcontinent and this is the only known scripture that contains the original writings from the masters of a major faith know as Sikhism. The compilation of the original scripture was completed by the fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev in 1604. Probably the most unique feature of this scripture is that it contains a universal message of spiritual living for the whole human race.
A brief history of compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (Guru means a teacher, a spiritual guide) who lived between 1469 to 1539 was a mystic from the early age. He traveled far and wide during his adult life, not only in India but also in various other Asian countries and those of Arabia, over a period of about thirty years. Thus he not only studied and interacted with the Indian culture in its minute form but many other cultures as well. At that time Indian society was mostly ruled by Muslim rulers and it mostly practiced various forms of Hinduism and Islam. However, there were very few spiritualists among the Hindus or Muslims and the society was inflicted with numerous social ills. Guru Nanak had the vision of a true spiritual life that he then preached through the mystical hymns that he wrote and sang. The Sikh Gurus that followed Guru Nanak also preached the same philosophy and many of them wrote mystical hymns of their own. The fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev complied Sri Guru Granth Sahib at Amritsar (North West of India), the spiritual center that he created. Besides the hymns that he wrote himself, he collected the hymns of the first four Sikh Gurus and a number of other saints/spiritualists with similar philosophy and thus compiled the Adi Granth. The volume was written by Bhai Gurdas under the direction of Guru Arjan Dev. Guru Arjan gave the volume to a follower Bhai Bano for binding. The later took it for binding to Lahore and on the way prepared a copy of the original volume. That first copy of the original is known as Bhai Bano's copy. Guru Arjan Dev installed the original Holy Book in 1604 at the Sikh temple (Harmandir Sahib) that he had got constructed at Amritsar. A famous Sikh follower by the name Baba Buddha was appointed as the first Granthi or keeper of the scripture. After the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev in the hands of King Jahangir, Guru Hargobind became the sixth Sikh Guru in 1606. Subsequently Bhai Dhirmal, son of Guru Hargobind got hold of the scripture and refused to give it to the Guru. In 1706, the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, when staying at Damdama Sahib (North West India) recompiled Sri Guru Granth Sahib with the help of a close associate Bhai Mani Singh by adding hymns of the ninth Sikh Guru, the father of Guru Gobind Singh, and gave direction to his followers to consider the scripture as the eternal Guru. Thus the scripture is called Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Guru means teacher or guide, Granth means a holy book, whereas Sri & Sahib are respectful adjectives).
Who's hymns are included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib?
The scripture contains compositions of 6 Sikh Gurus (the first five Gurus and the ninth Guru), seventeen saints/Bhagats (Kabir, Farid, Namdev, Ravidas, Beni, Trilochan, Jaidev, Sundar, Parmanand, Sadna, Ramanand, Dhanna, Pipa, Sain, Soorday, Bhikhan, Mardana); poets Balwand & Sata and eleven Bhattas or poets of the Sikh Gurus (Mathra, Jalap, Harbans, Talya, Salya, Bhal, Kulh Sahar, Nal, Kirat, Gayand, Sadrang).
Guru Granth Sahib contains 5894 hymns. 974 hymns are written by the first Guru, 62 by the second Guru, 907 by the third, 679 by the fourth, 2218 by the fifth, and 115 by the ninth Guru. 541 hymns are by sait/Bhagat Kabir. The remaining 381 hymns are by others saints/Bhagats and poets listed above.
Composition (internal structure) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib?
The scripture in its customary form has 1430 pages. The allocation of pages is like this: 1. Japji 1-8. 2. Musical hymns 8-1351. 3. Salok Sahskriti 1352-1359. 4. Gatha 1359-1361. 5. Funhe l36l-1362. 6. Chaubole 1363-1364. 7. Saloks of Kabir and Farid 1364-1384. 8. Swa-ee-ay (poetry of parise) of the Gurus by the Bhattas 1384-1408. 9. Saloks of the Gurus 1409-1428. 10. Rag Mala, the index of musical measures 1429-1430.
Most of the hymns in Sri Guru granth Sahib are classified according to musical forms called Rags. Under each Rag, the hymns are further arranged in the following order :1. Chaupadas, hymns of four verses. 2. Ashtapadas, hymns of eight verses. 3. Long poems. 4. Chhants, Verses of six lines. 5. Short poems. 6. Vars, consisting of two or more Saloks and a Pauri. 7. Poems of Bhagats in the same order.
The hymns are further classified according to the musical clef (Ghar) in which each is to be sung. Although according to the index of Rags in Ragmala, the total number of Rags and Raginis is 84, but only 31 have been used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. So the Granth is arranged firstly according to the Rag, secondly, according to the nature or meter of the poem, thirdly by authorship, and fourthly the clef.
What kind of philosophy do the hymns in Sri Guru Granth Sahib reveal?
Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a treasure of divine knowledge, mysticism and a guide to a spiritual living for anyone who ventures to find instruction from it and live by it. The hymns help us with unwavering belief in God. A description of God is given in the very opening sentence of Guru Granth Sahib, which is called Mool-Mantar (basic creed). and is a Preamble of the first section called Japji: There is One God, He is the Eternal Truth, the Creator, Without Fear, Hate or Enmity, All-Pervading & Everlasting Divine Spirit, Self-Existent, and He is realized by Guru's Grace.
We are guided to live a family life and make a truthful living and share the earning with the less fortunate.
Lord's praise and meditation upon God's name is emphasized as a way to spirituality. According to the hymns 'spirituality' means love for God and his creation, humility/sweetness, empathy/compassion for others, a feeling of brotherhood with all mankind, contentment, forgiveness, devotion to selfless service of others, sharing resources with those in need, truthful & honest living, to be thankful of Gods gifts (that will count many if we attempt), doing one's best, staying on the right spiritual path and leaving the result to Him and accepting of His will.
Hymns tell us that following human attributes take us away from the path of spirituality: Anger, arrogance, self-righteousness, hate/animosity, bigotry, apathy/unconcern for others, being punitive, greed, attachment with worldly goods or beings, lust and falsehood/corruption.
Hymns give us a direction not to treat women as inferior and to shed barriers that divide human race, such as racism & cast system.