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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Sikh Religion

The Making of Sikh Scripture by Gurinder Singh Mann (Oxford University Press) At present numbering 20 million adherents and spread the world over, the Sikhs represent a monotheistic tradition founded by Guru Nanak (1469‑1539) in the Punjab, a region that served as a cultural bridge between the Middle East and South Asia. The Sikhs are fortunate to have in their possession a large number of early sacred manuscripts, including sixteenth‑ and seventeenth‑century protoscriptural texts. This unique context makes it possible for scholars to trace the history of Sikh canon formation with a degree of accuracy unimaginable in other major religious traditions.

Based on a close examination of the extant manuscripts and other early Sikh sources, Gurinder Singh Mann presents a detailed reconstruction of the making of the Adi Granth ("original book"), the primary Sikh scripture. In the process, he traces its origin, expansion, canonization, and place within the institutional development of the Sikh community. His findings on many key issues differ from the traditional Sikh position, as well as the hypotheses of other twentieth‑century scholars. Mann's revised and expanded history of the text and institution of Sikh scripture will be of interest to scholars of Sikhism and comparative canon formation.


The Role of the Adi Granth

The Adi Granth, as the repository of the divine revelation in the Sikh belief system, has long served as the principal source defining Sikh theology and creating the ethical code by which Sikhs live. Sikhs have attempted to read, hear, and practice the message of the Adi Granth, and the text has made a deep impact on all dimensions of Sikh life‑devotional, ceremonial, ritual, intellectual, and artistic. The Sikh gurdwara is literally the house of the Adi Granth.

Writing in the opening decades of the eighteenth century, Chaupa Singh leaves little doubt that the Adi Granth enjoyed the status of a living embodiment of divine presence in the community. The text was to be given the respect due to the personal guru in earlier Sikh history. Nothing was ever to be put in it as a marker, and it was always to be accompanied by symbols of royalty. The Adi Granth itself constituted the court of the guru. It was an honor to present oneself before is one had to bow with one's forehead fully touching the ground in front of the text. While in audience one needed to be clean, to sit alert, and always to look toward the text. If one happened to scratch one's nose or body, the hands were to be washed quickly. At the close of every service, karah prashad (flour deep‑fried in clarified butter) was always to be distributed, as always at the conclusion of a royal audience.

From Chaupa Singh, we also learn that the Adi Granth played an important role in Sikh ceremonies ranging from naming children to death rites. The latter centered around a ceremonial reading of the text, to be completed on the seventeenth day after the death, when a prayer for the peace of the soul was to be offered. Compositions such as Guru Nanak's Japji and Guru Amardas's Anand had attained a central role in services of worship, and the study, memorization, and inscription of the text were considered important markers of Sikh devotional activity.31

Sarup Singh Kaushish, writing in the 1790s, offers further details of the Adi Granth's role in Sikh ceremonial life.32 If we bring together his several references to the role of the scriptural text in early Sikh congregational prayers, it becomes possible to reconstruct a sequence of events centering on the physical presence of the sacred text. To begin with, the Adi Granth is always covered with a canopy, placed high on a platform, and accorded constant attendance by a Sikh. The ceremony typically starts with a reading from the text (path), sometimes followed by an exposition (katha) of the passage in question, and is completed by a formal supplication (ardas) pertaining to the occasion at hand. The text is then arbitrarily opened and the first hymn on the page, which is considered to be the divine command (hukam) in reply to the petition just posed, is recited. The ceremony ends with the distribution of the karah prashad.

Kaushish also refers to the role of the text on special occasions. He describes the naming ceremony of a newborn infant. After a formal supplication to the Adi Granth, the text is opened, and the first letter at the top left corner of the page is adopted as the first letter in the name of the child. As indicated by Chaupa Singh, Sikh death rites center around a complete ceremonial reading of the text. Kaushish reports that an unbroken reading (akhand path) of the text also took place at Damdama, Bhatinda, when Guru Gobind Singh prepared to leave for Delhi to meet Emperor Aurangzeb, and adds that Guru Gobind Singh's formal declaration of the Adi Granth as his successor was followed by a complete reading of the text.

From elsewhere in Kaushish's writings, we learn that Guru Nanak's Japji and his vat in rag Asa, along with Guru Amardas's Anand, enjoyed a special role in ceremonies, and we have references to the importance of the exposition of the sacred text in devotional life. For example, when Ramrai was sent to Delhi to present himself before Emperor Aurangzeb, the guru instructed Ramrai and his retinue to read the sacred text and reflect on its contents whenever they stopped to rest during their journey; a scriptural manuscript was prepared to accompany them. The accuracy of Kaushish's claims about the role of the sacred text in seventeenth‑century Sikh ritual life may be open to question, but what he says about the subject leaves little doubt that both the authority of the Adi Granth and its elaborate use in Sikh devotional life were firmly established by the time he himself wrote, at the end of the eighteenth century.

With the establishment of Sikh political supremacy in the Punjab at the turn of the nineteenth century, and the need to centralize the decision‑making authority in the hands of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the idea of a self‑regulating Guru Panth receded. The Adi Granth itself emerged as the sole symbolic center of authority, which opened the possibility that the maharaja could be understood as its chief executor. The text's role in Sikh ritual life also evolved. We have no contemporary reference as to how Sikh marriage was performed in the eighteenth century, but beginning with 1850s, the Adi Granth moved in to preside over this ceremony as well. The Adi Granth has maintained all elements of its unique position since then; any infringement of its authority meets with great hostility within the community.

In present‑day Sikh congregational worship (divan), the text of the Adi Granth continues to be physically located at the head of the assembly. All visitors undergo ritual cleansing before presenting themselves to the sacred text. They then make monetary and spiritual offerings and sit down to listen to the path, kirtan, or katha‑"reading, singing, or interpretation," the three basic components of Sikh worship. This is followed by the ardas, which is enunciated by a representative of the congregation and is addressed to the text of the Adi Granth, and through it to God. The ardas traces Sikh history, registers gratitude for divine help at all stages, seeks help for the Sikh community's future aspirations, and appeals for blessings for all humanity. The worship closes with the taking of the Adi Granth's command (hukam), which is done by reading the first hymn on the left top comer of the page after the text is opened at random. The message of this hymn is interpreted as the divine answer to the ardas made by the congregation.

The Adi Granth plays the same role in family and personal devotion. In many Sikh homes, the text is kept in a separate room and is ceremonially opened in the morning and closed in the evening. Brief readings are performed at both times, the ardas offered, and the hukam taken. The theme of the hymn of the hukam in the morning is considered to be the guiding light of the day, and in many cases Sikhs recite it during their routine activities throughout the day. In case the text of the Adi Granth cannot be kept in the house for lack of proper space, a printed version of liturgical hymns is available. The tradition of keeping these small volumes (gutkas) harkens back to the seventeenth century, and we hear about them as lesser versions of Sikh scripture.

Members of Sikh households perform their morning and evening prayers on the basis of these texts.

The role of the Adi Granth in other aspects of Sikh ritual and ceremonial life is equally central. At the beginning and end of all Sikh ceremonies, the ardas is addressed to the Adi Granth. The first petition is intended to seek divine help for the performance of the ceremony, whatever it may be, and the second offers thanks for its successful completion. Making an ardas, followed by taking the hukam from the Adi Granth, should occur at the beginning of every day, at the new month and the new year, in the event of a birth and at the naming ceremony, at an initiation of the double‑edged sword, at marriage and death ceremonies, and at other significant events in peoples' lives.

On these occasions, as always, the Adi Granth is treated in such a way as to manifest its royal status within the community. It is always robed in silk or expensive brocade and is displayed on a canopied throne, in a well‑lit setting. It is ceremonially opened and closed and carried from one place to another with a proper retinue, who protect it with the fly whisk. If one ever meets a Sikh man or woman in an airport carrying a suitcase on his or her head, rest assured that the contents of the suitcase include the text of the Adi Granth. In Punjabi culture baggage is typically carried on the head, but that position doubtless is one of honor where the Adi Granth is present.

The purpose of Sikh devotion is not merely to present oneself in front of the Adi Granth, but as Chaupa Singh puts it, to listen to and put into practice the divine message enshrined in it.36 The understanding of its message and its translation into one's day‑today activity is at the core of a Sikh's experience of the Adi Granth. In the words of Guru Nanak, meritorious action cannot be understood without the guru and reflection on the divine word. Liberation, according to Guru Amardas, does not come through eye contact with the guru, as might be typical in Hindu practice, but through reflection on the divine word communicated to Sikhs through the guru.Notably, however, this veneration of the divine word does not result in a conviction that sound is efficacious per se. Any argument that the words of the Adi Granth have to be articulated only in a certain way or are beneficial on the basis of simple repetition has no support in the Adi Granth itself. Its emphasis‑and that of the Sikh community­is on understanding the theological and ethical message of the text.

To sum up, the significance of scripture in Sikh communal experience is revealed in at least three ways. First, manuscripts containing the sacred Sikh writings were prepared early in Sikh history, a process that expanded substantially with the arrival of the printing press in the Punjab in the second half of the nineteenth century. Second, the reading and recitation of scripture have apparently always served as the key elements of Sikh worship. Early on, Chaupa Singh asserts that a Sikh who keeps the Adi Granth at home but does not read it himself or has it read by someone else deserves to be punished. And we know that public ceremonial readings of the complete text began early and have evolved over time into a number of distinct forms: akhand path, saptah path (reading completed in a week), and khula path (reading completed over an open‑ended stretch of time).

Finally, we know that a tradition of formal reflection on the text began early in the history of the community. It took the form of oral discourses and commentaries that were first committed to writing early in the seventeenth century, and this tradition has continued ever since. These commentaries, including both the interpretation of the text and the history of its compilation in written and oral forms, have kept the text of the Adi Granth at the center of traditional Sikh learning. As discussed in chapter 2, the first complete written commentary on the Adi Granth was completed in 1883; since then several others have followed.

The influence of Sikh scripture on Sikh life has been all‑pervasive, ranging all the way from art to weaponry. While the Sikh scribes spared no pains in creating illuminated and calligraphically elegant manuscripts of Sikh scripture, eighteenth‑century Sikh blacksmiths inscribed its hymns on swords and shields 39 The artwork visible on the opening folios of the Goindval Pothis expanded in time to include a full lineage of elaborately illuminated and calligraphed manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts include beautiful landscapes on their closing folios, and in rare instances the portraits of the gurus are painted on the opening folios. Nineteenth‑century scribes explored a range of new styles in Gurmukhi calligraphy‑all to apply to the Adi Granth. If ever there was a religion of the book, this is it.


Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth by Nirmal Dass (SUNY: State University of New York Press) This complete and accessible translation of the songs of the saints from the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, provides access to the hymns written by Hindu and Muslim devotional writers of north India, who flourished from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries.

The songs of the saints hold a unique position in Sikhism in that they provide the faith with a prehistory that reaches back to the dawn of north Indian Bhakti and Sant traditions.These works provided a ground upon which Sikh gurus laid the foundations of their faith.

The songs also mark the earliest beginnings of Hindi literature. Although the literary output of these saints comes down to us in various stages of corruption, the works which appeared in the Adi Granth are unchanged since their inclusion in that work in the early 1600s.


The saints, whose works are translated in this volume, constitute a unique component in The Adi Granth, the Sikh Scripture. Their works as preserved in this holy book greatly enrich Sikh tradition and piety whose history stretches back to the twelfth century. As is often the case with Indian hagiography, we know very little about the lives of these saints, and even dates are no more than guesswork. To translate their writings has meant embarking on a journey through the entire breadth of north Indian history and culture, which sees the past as not something foreign, but as an ever present reality that informs and grounds each and every utterance. The songs of these saints are also the earliest‑and often the only recessions that we possess.

 This translation brings together in one volume the songs and proverbs (slokas) of the saints of The Adi Granth. The key figure missing is Kabir, whose work I have translated separately in Songs o f Kabir from the Adi Granth (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991; Delhi, India: Sri Satguru Publications, 1992). Although previous translations of some of these saints exist, there has never been an attempt to bring all of them into one volume.

My primary source has been Adi Guru Granth Sahib Ji, ed. Gyani Mohindar Singh "Ratan" (Amritsar, India: Bhai Chatar Singh Jivan Singh Pustakanvale, n.d.); also indispensable was Kahan Singh Nabha's Mahan Kosh (Patiala, India: Bhasha Vibhag, 1926).


The `songs of the Hindu and Muslim saints (sants) that era translated in this volume are an integral part of Sikh piety and Scripture. The youngest religion of India had its inception with the teachings of Guru Nanak (1469­1539), in the Panjab.

In 1604‑5, the fifth Sikh guru, Arjan Dev (1563‑1606), gave the community its Scripture, The Adi Granth (The primal book which was an anthology containing the standardized and codified songs (bani) of the four previous gurus (plus Guru Arjan Dev's ow, compositions), and the songs of fifteen pre‑Nanak saints. Guru Arjan Dev sought to give his community a compilation that would rival The Rig Veda of the Hindus.'

Many of these saints flourished well before Guru Nanak, but their teachings expounded beliefs that were of paramount imp... tance to Sikhism itself. Thus by apposing the saints with the song, of the gurus, Arjan placed the tenets of the new faith within a religious context that stretched back to the twelfth century, if not ear lier. Consequently, Guru Arjan Dev not only enriched Sikh piety historically contextualizing it, but more importantly he gave it a prehistory. Therefore, the fifteen saints are not merely an adjunct to The Adi Granth, nor are they marginal to the teachings of the gurus; rather they are the intertextual ground from which Sikh piety itself springs ­for prehistory implies continuity. In brief, the words of the gurus complete the utterances of the various saint; the old flows into the new, and the new encompasses the old; both receive and perfect each other.

Radical Indian religiosity has always been liminal: it knows no boundaries; it questions everything; it freely appropriates names, concepts, and places them into new contexts; it forever recaptures texts‑in order to disseminate the Word (shabad), which alone can house the Divine. It is within this liminality that sikhis,, itself inscribes its mark by transplanting/translating previous methods of naming the Divine in northern India within the confirmation of its own creed. It is instructive to briefly examine the various traditions from which Sikhism garners its own identity.

Chief among these traditions is santism,2 which is a constitutive, polysemic approach to the Divine, where the One is seen in the many, and the many give way to the One. The saints of The Adi Granth are firmly rooted in this belief, and they deny all canonized versions of the Divine‑for them anything visible and external can only be a manifestation‑which by its very nature is merely a paraphrase, a metaphor for the Divine. Thus there is no need for ritual, idol‑worship, scriptural authority, Brahminism, divine incarnations (sagun), or castes, since it is not through these that the Divine is realized. Rather the object of devotion for these saints is the Primal Essence, the Being of beings, the Godhead who is internal, without form, unchanging, without attributes (nirgun), unincarnated: "He is unseen I like fragrance in a flower. The externality of systems must give way to the internality of personal experience (parcha): God can only be experienced; He cannot be known through religious systems, rituals, or spiritual discipline.'

The experience of the Divine is brought home by the guru, the essential component in the salvific process of the individual soul. The guru is at the juncture of the crossing of the human and the Divine, at the articulation of the chiasmus where God and human beings intersect. It is there that the position of the guru is marked: "Man becomes god in an instant, / when the guru gives him wisdom". This articulation is the confluence and the dehiscence of the Divine within humanity. Therefore, the guru is not only a teacher, Sheikh Farid (1173‑1266), affectionately known as Baba Farid ("Father Farid"), is the famous Sufi from the Panjab, whose songs and proverbs (in all 134) are second in number only to Kabir (a total of 541) in The Adi Granth. Given Farid's Sufism, his vision fits easily into the broader message of Sikhism, since his emphasis is on God's inviolate oneness. His shrine is at Pak Pattan, Panjab (now in Pakistan).

Farid is also known as Baba Farid Shakar Ganj (hoard of sugar); several legends are given to account for this name. The most popular states that when Farid was a child his mother gave him a lump of sugar every time he said his prayers (Muslims are required to pray five times a day). She would place the sugar beneath his prayer rug and say God left it as a reward for his piety. One day, she forgot to leave Farid's reward, and after the child had finished his prayers, he looked beneath his rug, as was his habit, and found a hoard of sugar, left by God this time. More probably, the name derives from the fact that Farid's followers found his words and message sweet, thus bestowing the title upon him.

Macauliffe believes that the verses found in The Adi Granth were written by one Sheikh Brahm, who was also known as Farid Sani ("the other Farid"); he was a direct descendent of the first Farid. Sheikh Brahm died in 1552. Certainly, there can be no way to authenticate this idea. It is possible that several "Farids" had a hand in composing the various verses attributed to Baba Farid in The Adi Granth. However, there is one important point that needs to be considered: the language of these songs is a very early form of Panjabi. Thus a case can be made that these songs are by Baba Farid himself, based solely on linguistic evidence.

The language of these songs is pure Lehndi (Western) Panjabi, with some admixture of Persian and sant-bhasha.

It is important to point out here that Sufism, as it was practiced in the Panjab, stressed concepts that are in harmony with the basic tenants of Sikhism. Thus Sufism propounds a pantheistic point of view, in that God is present in all His creation and can be found immediately in the human heart. The Sufis state that all creatures emanate from God and the final end of all these is a reunion with God. Also, they believe that all religions are one, stemming from the same source, just as the single sun sends out many rays of light, and that all the world's prophets have preached and propounded similar truths: eternal goodness and eternal truth flow from the primal, World‑Soul, or God. Further, happiness on earth can be attained by inculcating purity of heart, charity, caring for fellow human beings, self‑renunciation, subduing bodily passions, self‑control, self‑sacrifice, and a profound trust in God.

True lovers are those who love with all their hearts.
Those who think of another, speak of another are called false lovers.
Those steeped in the color of God's love abide in His care.
Those who forget His name are a burden upon earth. (Rest)
Those whom He gathers become dervishes at His door.
Exalted are the mothers of such men who gave them birth,
blessed is their coming into the world.
You are caring, infinite, boundless, endless.
Those who have discerned this truth, their feet, their mouths I kiss.
You are my protection, O Lord, my salvation.
Grant to Sheikh Farid the blessing of Your adoration.

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